Minority Ethnic and Religious Communities: Cultural and Economic Contribution — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:14 pm on 24th May 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour 1:14 pm, 24th May 2012

My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to this debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on securing it.

The contributions of many of today's speakers-not only to the debate but through their own life stories-bear testimony to the many varied and vital contributions the religious and ethnic minority communities make to this country. The huge part played by immigrant communities in Britain's economic and social development since the Second World War is now widely recognised. Their role in creating a more diverse and tolerant society is indisputable.

I echo the question to the Minister of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on international students. Our key competitor nations-the USA, Australia and Canada-all class international students as temporary migrants and exclude them from the calculation of net migration. Why cannot the UK do the same?

In 21st century Britain, we live in a truly multi-racial society. Estimates updating the latest census figures suggest that ethnic minorities now make up some 12 per cent of the population in England and Wales. London, our capital, is one of the most ethnically diverse cities on earth, with over 300 languages spoken. In particular, the creative industries, which have been among the fastest growing and most important to the capital's economy, owe much to London's cultural diversity. The capability of London's businesses to communicate in many languages across cultures means that London's creative industries can flourish on a global scale.

Over the next 10 years, ethnic minorities will account for more than half the growth in the working-age population. Nowhere is this more evident than in my home town of Bradford. Bradford has the youngest, fastest-growing population outside London. Some 22% are of British-Asian origin.

As a former textile capital of the world, Bradford has a long history of immigration and, as a result, has become enriched as one of the north's most culturally and ethnically diverse cities. The German merchants who settled there in the 19th century were followed by Italians and eastern Europeans, then by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, particularly Pakistan, who came to work in the mills. As the textile industry declined, the workforce moved to other sectors of the economy so that today the city has a thriving Asian business community. Engineering, printing and packaging, chemical, financial, banking and export industries, as well as high technology and the media industries, are all part of the local economy.

Culturally, it is buzzing. Its National Media Museum is the most visited museum outside London. It was the first of the two UNESCO Cities of Film. It has the world's first Fairtrade café. It has the internationally renowned Hockney Gallery in Salt's Mill, where I try to make an annual pilgrimage. The Bradford Mela-which, back in 1988, was the first such festival in Europe and is now the biggest of its kind outside Asia-takes place in a couple of weeks. It attracts thousands every year, who come together to share and celebrate their cultures.

Other speakers have lauded the work of ethnic chefs. Bradford is also, of course, famous for being home to some of the best curry houses in the country and was last year crowned Curry Capital of Britain.

I could continue with my ode to Bradford but I simply urge noble Lords to visit and enjoy it for themselves.

With my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port I happily acknowledge the talent, entrepreneurialism and creativity that ethnic and religious minorities give to our country. I add my congratulations to those of others on the 150th anniversary of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, celebrated with such passion and warmth by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria.