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Prof. Lord Bhikhu Parekh: Effective Arguments for Immigration Debate

Posted by peacedevelopmentnetwork on November 24, 2009

‘Effective Arguments for an Immigration Debate’ *

Prof. Lord Bhikhu Parekh

House of Commons, ‘Immigrants Contribution to the UK’

24th November 2009

Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh

Lord Bikhu Parekh, Chair of ‘Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain’ Report in 2000, started with the classification of the audience. He mainly classified the audience into two groups: converted (ie generally supportive of immigration) and racists or nationalists. “What I would like to do is to ask a different kind of question: We can easily talk to the converted and convince them that immigration is a wonderful thing; because we are all immigrants; this is the kind of things they want to hear. So it is easy to convince the converted.  It is impossible to convince the racists. Those who are racists, those who don’t like black and browns at all and those who are nationalists in the mould of Enoch Powell, either  don’t want black people or want to keep a certain way of life.”

Referring to the points of remittances mentioned by Best, Lord Parekh said, “Keith made a very beautiful argument that when you go to Bangladesh or to Mirpur or to India there are villages where remittances from immigrants here have made a profound difference. Now if I go to the audiences here and say look with the same kind of argument; they will say I don’t know what you are trying to tell me. This argument has a meaning only if I have a moral obligation to help people in that part of the world. I don’t recognize any such obligation. So while that argument is very attractive to us but it will not cut any ice with this audience I am thinking about.”

Britain had no tradition of immigration
Lord Parekh mentioned that Britain had no tradition of immigration. “It is worth bearing in mind that until now certainly in Britain we have had people coming from outside but they are not immigrants. They are asylum seekers; refugees; we never positively went out to recruit immigrants, in a way that Canada and Australia and the United States did. Therefore, we have no tradition of immigration and therefore we have no vocabulary in terms of which we can talk about immigration. That is the first point to bear in mind,” said Lord Parekh and added, “When people came in the 1880s; 1920s, they were not immigrants; they were asylum seekers, they were refugees. So what kind of immigration that we are talking about.”

Immigration is a post-war phenomenon
Lord Parekh said, “It is a post-war phenomenon. Therefore, it’s a new to British life. We must bear that in mind. Because there are no old arguments, the traditional arguments upon which we can rely; we have to create our own tradition of arguments.”

Lord Parekh in the aftermath of that report on immigration went round the country and began to ask himself: “Can I speak only to satisfy my conscience or do I want to achieve something? And if I wanted to achieve something; how do I relate to the audience; what is my audience? Racists I cannot touch, converted I don’t want to touch. In the middle there are 75% to 80% of the people. What language they do understand?  At the same time  it’s not enough to know what language they do understand is also important that I should share the value of that language.”

i) Migrant will do dirty work
“For example, I can go and ask them who will do the dirty work? So, allow this people to live but in the very course of that argument, I am spreading the racist argument and the racist idea that they are here only to do the dirty work. And therefore that argument will be: bring them in to do this kind of work but don’t let them go in the hierarchy and become our bosses. So that argument important as it is but has a sting to it. So I would not use that kind of argument,” said Lord Parekh.

ii) Demography pension
Second argument of demography vis-à-vis pension was examined by Lord Parekh who said, “The second kind of argument I can make it. Look there is a logical demography. Our population is aging; who is going to provide for the pension; these people are going to work and therefore we need this chap from outside who can provide the pension and maintain you. Powerful argument. But again there is a catch. They are there only in order to serve us. They are not important in their own right. But it is still an important argument.”

iii) Highly skilled people
The third argument one can make as Keith has made is that immigrants are highly skilled people and we need them badly. Lord Parekh mentioned, “I remember making this argument in the presence of Margaret Thatcher several years ago. We are talking about foreign aid. I said Madam do you know there are 10,000 south Asian doctors, in the UK, mainly Indians. They are from India and it takes about 100,000 pounds to train a doctor in this country. So this 10,000 people multiplied by 100,000 come to one billion pounds and a south Asian doctor has saved us one billion pounds; or if you want to put it differently the poor countries of south Asia have subsidized us, given us foreign aid to the tune of one billion and that is only to talk about doctors. Boring professors like me, well-established businessmen and if you add them all up. Once I was in the CRE when I was deputy chair doing the calculations. They told me it comes to like just under two billion pounds of subsidy that the poor countries are giving.”

“Highly skilled people are fine but the argument has a catch mainly we don’t want to deprive them of their own country people or in fact there is a bill recently; there is a government statement; in fact, there will be no recruitment of doctors and nurses from the developing countries. So the highly skilled argument important in one context but has also small catch.”

Therefore, what Lord Parekh was trying to do is to find out both strength and the weakness of the argument, in the hope in the end of the day, “what are the arguments we should be making which are free from this drawback,” Lord Parekh said.

iv) Enormous contribution
Fourth argument one can make is that the enormous contribution that immigrants make. About this argument, Lord Parekh said, “Those immigrants don’t take away jobs; that they produce jobs; they also pay more in taxes than the average population because they are younger than the  population average. It is also the case although you give the welfare benefit they give far more to the country than they draw in terms of welfare benefits. So there is a net contribution of something like three to four billion pounds as a result of immigrants. That’s an important argument.”

“The catch to the argument is that the contribution of four billion pounds to the economy is  abstract.  It does not translate easily into a particular area where immigrants are concentrated; people have to wait longer in the queue in hospital or finding children going to school where 90 per cent of children don’t speak English. So they would say, look: four billion pounds you are talking about is an abstraction, like GDP is an abstraction, how does it translate in terms of day to day life? So you can make this argument,  it is an important argument, but at the same time we must be prepared that this argument has a negative implication,” mentioned Lord Parekh.

So far Lord Parekh made all the arguments are economic argument. He said, at the end of the day economic arguments always have a problem. It’s a matter of statistics. He mentioned, “There are two other kinds of argument which one can make for immigration.”

a) More resourceful and more enterprising
Lord Parekh argued, “Those who come in as immigrants are invariably determined, more resourceful and more enterprising. Because in order to get out of the society where you lived you must be more resourceful, more capable to take risk and therefore we are getting an input of infused talent, motivation, inspiration that  is good for our society. Not just in economic terms it means, it is new vitality, new sources of energy.”

“The second point is that although it is intangible you would generally find immigrants are more resourceful, more enterprising and more dynamic. This shows not just in business but shows in terms of column you write, that shows your quality, that shows your lots of lots of intangible benefits.” maintained Lord Parekh.

b) In terms of variety, in terms of culture
The other argument is not in terms of new vitality but in terms of variety and  of culture. Lord Parekh said, “Those immigrants bring in, not different kinds of food, they are here to serve us, so they cook food for us; so they can go to Indian Restaurant and hate Indians. In fact, go to Indian Restaurants and therefore hate Indians because the idea is we go there, we expect them to serve well food and we don’t expect them to be Nazir or Bikhu Parekh or anybody else. Don’t say Lord, you are here to serve food. So when people like to enjoy Indian food but you hate Indians. It’s a paradox. It’s obvious.”

Lord Parekh argued, “It is not an argument in term of food but in term of arts, in term of culture; in term of music; in term of literature. That in all these areas, the fact of human spirit. Immigrants bring new vitality. The only catch in that argument is that most people we want to convince have no interest in art or literature or whatever.”

c) Build bridges
And the last argument one can make for immigration, argued Lord Parekh, is: “In this globalizing world we need to build bridges to other parts of the world. We want to understand what’s going on specially a country like ours; which was once a great Empire, still applying internationally minded country, far more internationally minded than the many other countries I can think of and for this country not to lose a baring golden at large. And what every new immigrant brings another country, another continent another way of life. So the wider the range of immigrants the greater the number of immigrants the wider be the view of your life and the way of life.”

Lord Parekh concluded by saying “These are the kinds of arguments I would want to make in favour of immigration. But always bear in mind that a) no argument by itself is comprehensive and b) every argument – all of these arguments push beyond a certain point can also be an argument against immigration and form racism, if you are not careful. If you say they do the job they want, right, this is what they are fit for. They bring variety of food, right; that should be they should be doing. So please remember that the audience we are trying to persuade is a very complex audience. They operate at various wave lengths and therefore the idioms in which we talk have to be equally multilayered.”

*Speech given during ‘Immigrants Contribution to the UK’

Credit to Dr Mozammel Haque and The Muslim Weekly for transcribing this speech.

One Response to “Prof. Lord Bhikhu Parekh: Effective Arguments for Immigration Debate”

  1. […] Prof. Lord Bhikhu Parekh: Effective Arguments for Immigration Debate […]

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