THE NEW CITIZENSHIP CEREMONIES
Important references to The Queen and the Monarchy
The current arrangements for considering applications for naturalisation or registration as a British Citizen are essentially bureaucratic in character. The applicant sends in a form by post and the certificate is issued by post with just the requirement to make an Oath of Allegiance before a solicitor or JP.
Parliament has decided to greatly change this. As well as changed requirements relating to knowledge of English, of British institutions, and of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, there will be the requirement to attend a significant ceremony at which Citizenship will be formally conferred.
Following the passage through Parliament of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 successful applicants will be sent notification by the Home Office informing them that they meet requirements for citizenship and that they are now required to attend a citizenship ceremony to take the Oath and Pledge and to receive their certificates. There will be discretion to exempt people from this requirement but only in exceptional circumstances.
The Government also strongly feels that the citizenship ceremony is the first stage in a programme of familiarisation with the institutions, the customs and the history of the nation whose nationality they are achieving. The ceremony is an important opportunity for providing information as to what educational opportunities there are in the locality to enable new citizens to do this. In particular it has been specified that knowledge of British national institutions and their significance is particularly important such as the role of the Monarch and the Monarchy, the Prime Minister, Parliament and the Cabinet and the roles of parties, pressure groups, the importance of national European and local elections, concepts of British life, adherence to human rights, values of toleration, fair-play, freedom of speech and open government.
Extensive consultation has taken place with regard to the nature and content of these ceremonies and this has resulted in very strong support and they have been welcomed by local communities. Agreement has been reached which has resulted in the Government outlining in broad terms the structure and content which there will be but the detail will be left to the discretion of local authorities. For all people whose application for citizenship is received on or after the 1st January 2004 such a ceremony will be obligatory and part of the naturalisation process.
Parliament has decided that the ceremony shall provide an opportunity for the local community to formally welcome their new citizens. It has been decided that ceremonies will be conducted by Superintendent Registrars and Deputies throughout the country and it is hoped that ceremonies will be supported by prominent members of the local community such as the Member of Parliament, the Mayor, the Leader of the local Council and other dignitaries.
The government does not wish to be prescriptive about the detail of the content of any speeches given at citizenship ceremonies and hopes that each person speaking will personalise their ceremony speech according to personal preference and local circumstances. But it is hoped that the speeches will include a reference to what it means legally to become a British Citizen for example the right to vote and other rights and responsibilities.
There has been considerable discussion as to whether national symbols such as the Union Flag and the National Anthem should form part of the ceremony and there has been overwhelming support for this. The government feels that national symbols and the national anthem are important and integral features of citizenship ceremonies. This is so in other countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. It is felt that most people in the United Kingdom and many of those becoming citizens would expect to see the same here.
The taking of the new citizenship Oath and Pledge is at the heart of the citizenship ceremony, it will be a legal requirement and this will be the key moment at which citizenship is conferred. The oath and pledge will be announced with a short explanation of their meaning. The Pledge is new but the Oath has been used for very many years. The Pledge which will run on from the Oath seeks to encapsulate the fundamental values associated with British citizenship. It is the present practice in other places where oaths are taken to have available copies of the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran and applicants will be able, if they wish, to bring to a citizenship ceremony a holy book of this nature. Alternatively people will be able to affirm the Oath if they prefer.
The Oath will be as follows:
I swear by Almighty God (or I do hereby affirm) that I will be faithful to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II her heirs and successors according to law.
The Pledge will be:
I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values and will observe its laws faithfully and will fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.
It is felt important for new citizens to have a commemorative certificate and possibly a momento of the event particularly one which represents the local authority in which citizenship was achieved. Citizenship certificates will be issued to from the Home Office to local authorities for conferment at the ceremonies. Each of the new citizens will be called up one by one to be presented with their certificate and information pack in graduation style. The nationality certificate is presented on behalf of the Home Secretary and is an important document used to support applications for British passports and to prove that the and individual is a British citizen.
It is felt fitting that local authorities should keep a register of some kind and that the signing of this should take place at the ceremony.
It will then be said by the person officiating:
We welcome you on behalf of The Queen, Government, Parliament and People of the United Kingdom and on behalf of the local authority to British citizenship which confers the right to participate fully in British society.
The Home Office will make payments to local authorities for the standard ceremony which will come out of the composite fee charged for consideration of an application for British citizenship.
It is also envisaged that, as with other ceremonies provided by the Registration Service, there could be an opportunity for an individual and his family to have a personal citizenship ceremony for which an extra fee will be payable. It is also the case that a particular family or group of families might want to hold a reception afterwards as a celebration following the ceremony.
Parliament is particularly anxious that young people who are becoming citizens at the same time as their parents participate in the ceremonies even though there will be no legal requirement for them to attend or to take the oath or pledge so it is the intention to treat ceremonies as family and community occasions.
Becoming a naturalised citizen of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland should be no ordinary matter. It is a significant life event. Parliament is very anxious to help to raise the status and significance of becoming a British citizen. The new citizenship ceremonies will help people to mark this as a most important and special event. They will make gaining citizenship meaningful and celebratory rather than simply a bureaucratic process and the CMA notes with pleasure that the Oath to The Queen and the references to the Monarchy are important parts of these ceremonies, as they should be.