I beg to move,
That this House has considered financial security and inequality in the Caribbean.
It is an honour to conduct the debate with you in the Chair, Mr Davies. Before embarking on such debates, it is customary for Members to declare any interests that might influence them in the debate at hand. Heritage is rarely one of them, but I would, for the purposes of this debate, like to declare that I am a son of both Britain and the Caribbean island of Grenada, and therefore have a vested interest in these matters.
What are these matters? I would contend that we cannot debate our Government’s role in promoting financial security and reducing inequality in the Caribbean without discussing the elephant in the room—namely, the preceding 400 years of exploitative colonial history and the urgent need for some form of reparatory justice.
I am not the first person to raise the issue. Indeed, I would not be here discussing it today without the understanding and analysis of Caribbean giants such as Frantz Fanon, who wrote “The Wretched of the Earth”; Eric Williams, who produced the seminal work “Capitalism and Slavery”; Walter Rodney, who wrote “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”; and Sir Hilary Beckles, who wrote “How Britain Underdeveloped the Caribbean”.
While those people, in their own way, gave us the theoretical and academic arguments for the case for reparations for colonialism and slavery, I want to thank another group for the compassion and leadership they have shown on the issue—namely, the Trevelyan family, some of whom I believe are here today in the Gallery, fresh from their visit to Grenada, where, as the descendants of slave owners, they did what no British Government have ever done. They apologised for their ancestors’ part in the exploitation of the 1,000 slaves they owned on six plantations. They acknowledged the financial and cultural advantage that had generated for them, and urged the British Government, as I do today, to enter meaningful negotiations with the Governments of the Caribbean in order to make appropriate reparations.
The Trevelyan family did not leave it there. They set up an educational fund worth £100,000, and in so doing opened the door of the debate just a little wider. Thank you very much for all that you have done.
The issue of reparations could simply be dismissed as the obsession of a small group of so-called woke extremists. We have seen in this country a political backlash, often from Members on the Conservative Benches, against any notion that we should reassess our history as regards colonialism and slavery, and the impact they have had, and continue to have, on the lives of millions across the globe and here in the United Kingdom.
Whether it is the pulling down of slaver statues or campaigning against the National Trust’s efforts to educate the public about the link between slavery and the financing behind many of our stately homes, this is a live issue that evokes great passion and sometimes anger. That is entirely understandable, because when anyone questions the very story we tell ourselves and the world around us about who we are and what we represent, that is challenging—triggering, even. People who have been in a relationship will know this.
Relationships can be difficult because our partners often challenge those notions of who we think we are: “What do you mean I snore? What do you mean I’m tight fisted? How dare you say I leave the toilet seat up?” Learning things about ourselves and others can either end in denial, argument and divorce, or result in growth and development. That is what those calling for dialogue on this issue are striving for. The Commonwealth is a relationship between Britain and her former colonies, which, like a partner who has endured 400 years of the most hideous abuse, seek not charity but restitution.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. He is making an impassioned speech. Does he agree that the case for former colonial powers paying reparations to the descendants of enslaved people is particularly strong, given that the UK Government were making payments to compensate the descendants of enslavers—families and organisations—as recently as 2015? Reparations are the right and fair thing to do not only because of the legacy of slavery and because the wealth that countries such as ours extracted underdeveloped those societies, but because of our role in the climate crisis, which threatens the very future of the Caribbean.
I thank my hon. Friend for her points, which I will come to in my speech. One key thing she pulled out is that successive Governments have made many arguments about why this should not happen, but they should be making the argument about why it should. I want to pick up on one thing she said that I will not have time to cover in my speech. One argument that Governments have often made over the past 20 or 30 years, in the post-colonial period, for why we should not pay reparations for the slave trade and colonialism is that it was legal at the time. Not only do this Government make that argument, but our Labour Government made it in the noughties. We have to remember that throughout history, including in the 20th century, countries treated people brutally and exterminated them ostensibly under their own laws, so we cannot allow that argument to be made against reparations.
I speak as the chairman of the all-party group on St Kitts and Nevis. All Members will be incentivised and motivated to ensure that there is the greatest flow of capital to our allies in the Caribbean, but does the hon. Gentleman not think that giving the Caribbean states tariff-free access to the United Kingdom, the world’s fifth-largest economy, is more important than reparations? That would contrast with the protectionist racket they have experienced from the European Union, which, inherently, tried to restrict the flow of goods from the Caribbean to the EU.
The hon. Gentleman will not find me defending the EU on the matter of the Caribbean. Later, I will explain why, like the United Kingdom, the EU also owes a debt to the Caribbean.
When we look at how the Caribbean has been systematically underdeveloped, it makes no sense to say, “Let’s not worry too much about the past. You can now take advantage of tariff-free access to UK markets.” If those countries do not have an economy to take advantage of that tariff-free access, what is the point? We first have to build up the economies in the Caribbean and structurally invest in those countries’ people and infrastructure to enable them to make use of that tariff-free access.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful speech. We often hear the argument, “Let’s forget what happened.” Reparations are about making amends for centuries of violence and discrimination against those countries. It is interesting that people say, “Let’s forget what happened,” when those countries are still in debt, their jewels and artefacts are in museums in this country and we refuse to give them back. A lot of reparation is needed, whether it be economic reparations or an acknowledgement of what happened. Does my hon. Friend agree that any arguments against that are not only a betrayal, but collusion in what happened many centuries ago?
I thank my hon. Friend for her wonderful intervention—it is almost as though she is reading ahead in my speech, and I will come to some of those points. I would go further: this country will be unable to move on as a cohesive whole until these issues are resolved. I think that everyone in this room would want to see that happen as this country goes forward, post Brexit, into the big, wide world yonder.
I was in the middle of my discussion about the Commonwealth being a relationship—a relationship between Britain and her former colonies, which, like a partner that has endured 400 years of the most hideous abuse, seek not charity but restitution. The alternative is divorce, in the form of growing republican sentiment across the Caribbean. Abusive partners who cannot say sorry cannot change, can never grow and can never develop. Who in their right mind would want to stay in an abusive relationship like that?
But do not take my word for it. King Charles III, through his goddaughter Fiona Compton, has shown an intimate understanding of the necessity for this national conversation—knowing, as he does, that he could well be the last king of anything resembling an international Commonwealth. As such, the monarch has shifted positions. He believes, we are told, that British history “should not be hidden”, and that, in the same way that we are taught about the holocaust,
“we should be open to speaking about Britain’s involvement in the slave trade”.
For it seems that this country still finds it easier to remember the transgressions of other nations than it does its own.
Let me turn to the issue of those transgressions. What happened such that Britain, or any other European colonial power, should be expected to apologise and pay reparations? As any student of history would attest, history is littered with ancient atrocities and what would now be called crimes against humanity that elicit no such reactions or demands. Why is what took place in the Caribbean so different?
Sir Hilary Beckles, a historian and vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, nails a key part of the explanation in his book “How Britain Underdeveloped the Caribbean”. He states:
“The modern Caribbean economy was invented, structured and managed by European states for one purpose: to achieve maximum wealth extraction to fuel and sustain their national financial, commercial and industrial transformation. Therefore, for each European state, the Caribbean economy was primarily an external economic engine propelling and promoting national economic growth.
No other large and lucrative colonized economy in the five-hundred-year history of Western economic development has ever been created for such a singular purpose. No such economy has ever been as intensively exploited as that of the Caribbean by imperial entrepreneurs and nation states.”
It continues that European countries, Britain chief among them,
“called into being a new, immoral entrepreneurial order that defined the Caribbean…economy as a frontier beyond the accountability of civilization, where crimes against humanity became a cultural norm”,
with the ability
“to accumulate wealth without cultural or ethical constraints.”
“the institutionalization of piracy and plunder, genocide and slavery, violent hostility and hatred, and notions of black subhumanity. These were the driving forces in Europe’s wealth extraction as it rose to economic dominance”—
a dominance that, we know, it still enjoys to this day.
Sir Hilary goes on to describe slavery as “systematic genocide”, because although around 3.5 million Africans were brought to the Caribbean in those 400 years, only 600,000 were in the region by the time of emancipation, which is unsurprising, given that the average useful lifespan of a West Indian slave was five to 10 years. That went on for 400 years, so extreme was their treatment. British history books might tell us that the first African slaves landed in the British empire in 1624, but when we listen to that, the reality is that black people, Africans, did not land in the British empire; the British empire landed on them. That is what happened in 1624 and continued to happen for 400 years, to this very day.
This is not just about Africans. Indians were also forcibly indentured in the Caribbean by the British. Let us not forget the 3 million indigenous peoples estimated to have inhabited the Caribbean in 1700. I have some Carib Indian in me, which I can trace back through my great-grandmother. Those people were deliberately wiped out by those European forces, so now only 30,000 survive.
As the fabulous research of University College London shows, even the abolition of slavery in the 1830s saw no justice, because it was the slavers, not the slaves, who received the vast sums of compensation—billions in today’s money—that taxpayers in the UK, including the Caribbeans who came here in the post-war period to rebuild this country, after it had fought a war ostensibly against racism and fascism, finished paying off in 2015, so vast was the debt. Let us think about that: the people who had been brutalised and exploited for 400 years came back to the mother country, after it had fought a war against racism, to rebuild this country, leaving theirs in poverty, and paid taxes to pay their former slave masters.
This does not end there. Some of those same people, decades later, having worked for this country, were deported as illegal immigrants in the Windrush scandal. You could not make this up. If it was written in a book, some would say it is fiction. It gets worse, because the Windrush compensation scheme was made so difficult to apply for that fewer than one in four people eligible for compensation have received it. That is not a scandal; it goes beyond scandal.
The hon. Gentleman is making an impassioned speech. He is talking about immigration and the rights of people. As the first Polish-born British Member of Parliament, who came to this country from Poland, I say to him that one reason I campaigned for Brexit was that I felt the current immigration policy was racist. We gave automatic access to fellow white Europeans to the exclusion of Commonwealth citizens.
I want everybody to be treated in the same way when they are at our border, irrespective of their colour, religion or where they are from. It should be based on their skillset. The Labour party and the SNP—[Interruption.] I hear chuntering from the SNP—campaigned for a system that would have allowed that ongoing racism to take place: automatic access for Europeans to the exclusion of Commonwealth citizens.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those points. We can have both a fair immigration system in this country, which we do not have at the moment, and justice for the Caribbean. The two are not controversial or incompatible.
The money paid to the slave owners in the 1830s poured into the British economy, paying for Victorian infrastructure and modernisation. That includes the embankment over there, across from where we sit; the first underground, the Metropolitan line; and new modern insurance companies, with the capital to go global. That was all generated by the investment that came from the compensation given to slave owners.
That compensation in part funded what would eventually become the insurance giant Aviva, based in my Norwich South constituency and formerly known as Norwich Union. It financed vast cultural and learning investment in universities, the creative arts and science. It financed a modern 19th-century military industrial machine, one finally able to colonise Africa and vast swathes of Asia in that fast phase of 19th century colonialism, finishing what had been started in the centuries before.
For former slaves in the Caribbean, there was no such economic renaissance. The century after emancipation was one of racist brutality, the suppression of basic human and labour rights, bloodshed and massacre. Even in the 1930s, people in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and St Kitts witnessed violent suppression and death at the hands of British colonial police forces for seeking basic labour rights in the colonial sugar factories, mines and fields that they still toiled in, for poverty wages—and all the time, the profits rolled out of the Caribbean, not into it.
Already I can hear the howls of those opposed to the reparations and the apology that no British Government have ever given: “Move on! Get over it! Don’t linger in the past; look to the future!” But there is no future worth looking forward to in the Caribbean until we confront the past. If people go to the Caribbean, what they will see is the past alive and well today. There is poverty, racism still, inequality, and debt. But do not confuse an honest appraisal of the situation across much of today’s Caribbean for victimhood, because although the peoples of the Caribbean have been wronged, they are a proud and capable people, whose 400-year baptism of fire has made them strong and resilient, with great potential—potential that now needs to be realised.
Let us take, for example, the University of the West Indies. Despite the past, it ranks among the top 1.5% of universities globally. That is evidence of how far ahead the Caribbean could have been had three quarters of the population not been unable to read or write just 60 years ago. That was the condition they were left in when they were given independence—illiteracy rates of 60% or 70%. So when, as happened this week, the Prime Minister of Grenada, Dickon Mitchell, invites British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, another son of empire, to discuss reparations, he does so with full understanding of that potential.
It is potential that CARICOM—the Caribbean Community—and its 10-point plan for reparatory justice also recognises. Its reparations commission is working with initiatives such as Repair, set up by the entrepreneur Denis O’Brien. Their joint mission is for an EU and UK 25-year, multibillion-pound programme of reparation and repair and investment in the Caribbean, involving education, physical infrastructure, and science and technology, replicating the EU’s structural investment funding, which transformed the poorest countries and regions of the EU, including Ireland and Poland. The same can be done for the Caribbean. It can be given the tools to prosper, to make the jump to clean energy technologies, and to adapt to the climate crisis, by which it will be disproportionately affected. There have been centuries of carbon-intensive manufacturing, which the bodies of its people financed, but it receives no share of the bounty. The irony of the climate crisis is never lost on me—or on millions of other people around the planet.
I am sure that the Minister will tell us today of the largesse of Britain and its generous overseas development packages. Let us unpack that. Forget for now that this Government oversaw a 21% drop in aid spending since 2020, as a result of their decision to cut aid budgets from 0.7 of GDP to 0.5% of GDP. I have the Library figures for the British Government’s overseas aid to Caribbean countries in millions of pounds, not adjusted for inflation, over a series of years. For Grenada, the figures are 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.1, 0.2. This is the reality of overseas aid for the Caribbean. Let us go down the table. For St Lucia, the figures are 0.0, 0.0, 0.2, 0.2, 0.1. The 0.2 is a fraction of a million—hundreds of thousands of pounds. St Vincent and the Grenadines: 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.1. We get the picture.
My hon. Friend is making such a powerful speech. Does he agree that development aid is often given to developing countries through a middleman, and not directly to the countries, or to small businesses in those countries that do valuable work? It is often difficult to find out who the middlemen are, but we know how they worked during covid.
We do. They certainly took their cut, and they continue to. We want something completely different. We want to give the victims of slavery and colonialism the tools and ability to help themselves. They do not want a handout; they want a hand up, and they want to be able to build for themselves. There must be a reckoning with the primary reason why empire was created: to materially enrich some people at the expense of others. Its afterlife is not an issue of identity politics, but a key contributor to global inequality and its corrosive impact on democracy.
I will conclude on a personal note. The BBC’s Laura Trevelyan, who made such a moving BBC documentary on her journey of discovery about her ancestors’ part in this story, shared with me the comments of a Caribbean woman who worked in the NHS. After watching the programme, the woman told her how the lack of justice, combined with the Windrush scandal, meant that for the first time in her life, she felt she did not belong in this country, despite being born here and working here all her life. Many other black people in this country will be able to relate to that; I can relate to it.
We as a country and as a Parliament have to remember that until we acknowledge the past, play our part in resolving matters, and help to build a better future, we will never be able to heal and move forward, and a significant number of people will never truly feel a part of this country. That cannot be allowed to happen. We should live up to our words; we often talk in this place about collectively wanting to take our country forward into a bright future. The issue of reparatory justice must be confronted now. If this Government do not do it, the next Government, whoever they may be, will find the arguments growing stronger by the year, by the day, by the week.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Davies. I start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) for securing this debate. I want to offer him some form of cross-party collaboration focusing on the Caribbean.
This country—I speak as an immigrant myself—has benefited enormously from the British-Caribbean diaspora, not just in London but across the whole of the United Kingdom. That community has some of the greatest skillsets imaginable; we want to harness the skills in the diaspora to help us build a bridge between London and the Caribbean, post Brexit. The paucity of Members attending this debate is rather regrettable, bearing in mind how important the Caribbean is to the United Kingdom and to our relations with that western sphere of the world.
I chair two all-party country groups: the APPG on Poland, not surprisingly, which is the third-largest in the House of Commons. We now have 97 parliamentarians in that APPG. We make regular visits to Warsaw with Members of Parliament who have never visited Poland. I also chair the all-party parliamentary group for St Kitts and Nevis, which we set up last year. One reason why I set it up is that I am particularly interested in evaluating how, post Brexit, the United Kingdom will strengthen links with the Commonwealth.
You and I entered the House in the same year, Mr Davies, in 2005. We were both Brexiteers. One of the reasons why I campaigned so assiduously for Brexit is that I recognise the extraordinary power of the Commonwealth—a global network of 54 nations around the world, representing a third of the world’s population. In our obsession with the European Union over the last 50 years—this tiny, almost inconsequential continent, whose population as a percentage of the global population, and whose GDP as a percentage of global GDP, is shrinking every day—we attached ourselves to a shrinking market, and allowed protectionist barriers to be imposed between us and the Commonwealth. That is probably one of this country’s greatest acts of self-harm in our lifetime.
What I want from this Government, post Brexit, in a country freed of the European Union’s artificial constraints, is for us to turn the Commonwealth into something meaningful and economically viable. The hon. Member for Norwich South said that King Charles may be the last titular head of the Commonwealth. I do not believe that. I believe that Prince William will continue in that role, as will his children, but only if we demonstrate to these 54 nations that we want to give them the maximum tariff-free access to our markets and build up those economic partnerships. Politicians are transient figures, here today, gone tomorrow. It is businesses and economic joint ventures that solidify and strengthen links between countries.
This year, we enter the CPTPP—the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. It is a partnership with the world’s largest trading bloc in the far east. We should also focus on the Caribbean, and on making sure that we challenge our American allies’ position as the major investor and exporter to the Caribbean. As you will know if you have visited the Caribbean, Mr Davies, the vast majority of products there, whether it be a car, or a pencil in a school, come from the United States of America. In this modern era of transportation, with high-velocity cargo ships crossing the Atlantic, we can compete against the United States of America. That is the best way to strengthen our relationship with the Caribbean.
When we set up the APPG for St Kitts and Nevis, would you believe, Mr Davies, that it was the first time that such an APPG had been set up in this Parliament since 1983, when St Kitts and Nevis achieved independence? I find that staggering. St Kitts and Nevis may have a small population, but let us not forget that it has one vote at the United Nations. There are only 195 votes in total—there are 195 countries in the world. St Kitts and Nevis has one of those precious votes. We ought to do everything possible to demonstrate to our partners in St Kitts and Nevis that we do not take their votes at the UN for granted, and we are doing everything possible to show them a genuine partnership.
I am very honoured to be hosting His Excellency Dr Kevin Isaac, the high commissioner to St Kitts and Nevis, today in the House of Commons. He has been the high commissioner for St Kitts and Nevis to the Court of St James’s since 2011. When I spoke to him this morning—I do not want to embarrass him—he said he could not remember reference being made to St Kitts and Nevis in the British Parliament in the last few years. He could not tell me the last time he heard such a reference. Between us, we need to make as many references to St Kitts and Nevis as possible. His Excellency Kevin Isaac was awarded diplomat of the year from North America and the Caribbean in 2015 and 2022. That is an award adjudicated by other diplomats and senior political figures. He has won it twice. If someone wanted to understand about international diplomacy, they should go and talk to him.
In my discussions with His Excellency Kevin Isaac, we have talked about an important project in his country: the construction of a major bridge from the island of St Kitts to the island of Nevis. I will talk to bridge builders in my constituency of Shrewsbury; we have a famous bridge builder in Leebotwood, Shropshire, and I will write to them about this opportunity. It is essential that the Minister is cognisant of this huge infrastructure project that St Kitts and Nevis is investigating. Can the Minister give me an update on what his Department is doing in conjunction with the Department for International Trade to ensure that there is a British proposal on the table to build that highly strategic and important bridge?
The Government of St Kitts and Nevis are building a climate-smart modern hospital and a senior high school. They are also seeking support for extending their international airport. There should be British construction proposals for all those projects. I am keen to hear from the Minister what we are doing to ensure that we bid for those important projects. Speaking as one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, it is important that we use UK Export Finance to help British companies bid for those projects. UK Export Finance has billions of pounds at its disposal, with which it can give companies soft loans and credits to help them compete against Chinese construction companies.
I have a great concern about the way that the Chinese are taking over the whole of the Caribbean, in terms of infrastructure projects and commercial opportunities. It is not just Africa where the Chinese are stealing a march on the United Kingdom; it is also in the Caribbean. If we look at the figures for investment in the Caribbean nations, we will see that we have fallen behind the communist dictatorship of the People’s Republic of China in this critical part of the world—a part of the world that has such historical links to the United Kingdom, and that is so close to our major ally, the United States of America. Somehow, this Government are allowing the Chinese to steal a march on us in the Caribbean. You couldn’t make it up, Mr Davies.
Before I conclude my speech, I will make one strong appeal. We need a trade envoy for the Caribbean. I know that the Minister is from the Foreign Office, but I would like him to take that message to No. 10 Downing Street and to the Department for International Trade. As one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, I have dozens of meetings every month in the House of Commons. The trade envoy is like a telephone switchboard operator, putting British commercial entities in touch with opportunities from the jurisdiction that they represent. Here in the House of Commons, we take advantage of the prestigious building that we work in to bring together people from the UK with people from the country to which we are trade envoy. We ensure that Britain is doing everything possible to take advantage of the opportunities. We need an envoy for the Caribbean. We had one in the past. A trade envoy acts as a totem pole; they encourage, facilitate, represent, and lobby on behalf of British business. They work with not only the Department for International Trade, but, most importantly, UK Export Finance.
Lastly, let me refer to compensation. I could see how emotional and passionate the hon. Gentleman was, and I am not going to demur from anything he said as it would be inappropriate for me so to do, even though he and I might not entirely agree on the matter. However, I would say to him that I have campaigned for many years for compensation for Poland from Germany, because 98% of the city of my birth, Warsaw, was destroyed in 1944. The Germans still refuse to pay that compensation, so I entirely understand his motives and strength of feeling. I respect that and his right to raise the issue, but I say to him again—gently, delicately and irrespective of the differences we have—that I hope we can agree to work together to slash those tariffs and restrictions, which have existed for decades with respect to Caribbean countries and their commercial entities.
We have been part of the European Union. As I said, I go around universities in this country and try to explain to young people that we gave automatic access to Poles—fellow white European Poles—but that somebody from the Caribbean would have to go through a different channel and jump over higher hurdles to get into this country. That is pure, unadulterated racism. It is staggering that for so many years we accepted a system—I look to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who actively campaigned to remain in the European Union—that tolerates such extraordinarily profound discrimination between European citizens—fellow white Caucasian citizens—and Caribbean citizens. That is an absolute outrage.
I want every single individual at the border crossing to be assessed on their skillsets, their ability to learn English and their ability to convince a British entity to hire them. Those are the attributes that should be tested, not which part of the world the individual is from.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South on securing the debate. I hope that he and I can stay in touch and work together to facilitate and send a strong signal to Caribbean nations that we value their partnership and their friendship, and that we are determined to create the strongest possible economic links between us.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) on securing the debate. I also congratulate him on bringing some important and challenging issues to the House during what has turned out to be an extremely lively debate, involving brief but passionate and important contributions from the hon. Members for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) and for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), and indeed the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski).
I echo the welcome from the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for the high commissioner from St Kitts and Nevis. I quickly checked Hansard when the hon. Gentleman was speaking: since 2005, there have been 16 on-the-record references to St Kitts and Nevis—I suspect that by the end of the debate he will have gone a long way to doubling that. The name “Nevis” is derived from the Spanish for Our Lady of the Snows, which is appropriate considering the weather we are experiencing today.
I cannot speak to lived experience of the kind described by the hon. Members for Norwich South and for Shrewsbury and Atcham, but it is my privilege as Member of Parliament for a Glasgow constituency to represent an incredibly lively and diverse community, particularly those constituents with Afro-Caribbean heritage. That community itself is extremely diverse, and it draws on the heritage and experience of many different cultures. As we have heard, the Caribbean is not a homogenous entity, place or territory; it is culturally, politically and economically diverse. The region encompasses some of the most and least privileged communities in the world.
In choosing the title for the debate, the hon. Member for Norwich South was right to draw attention to the inequalities across the region and the challenges they bring. Take the disparities between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, for example. They are two countries on the same island—not a concept we are unfamiliar with in the United Kingdom—but a person born in Haiti is two and a half times more likely to die as a baby, has a much shorter life expectancy, and will grow up to be almost 10 times poorer than a counterpart on the other side of the island.
The hon. Gentleman is also right that the Caribbean’s social, political and economic landscape cannot and must not be understood outside the region’s colonial past, the effects of which live on to this day. It has been irrevocably shaped by the history of western imperialism, the slave trade and the colonial—and perhaps ongoing—extraction of natural resources.
The juxtaposition of extreme wealth and poverty across the region speaks to wider global challenges that emerge when excessive concentrations of wealth come at the expense of sustainable public services and transparency. Transparency International said:
“far from being victimless crimes, corruption and tax evasion deprive citizens around the world of much-needed public services while at the same time undermining institutions and democracy. Developing countries alone lose an estimated US$1 trillion each year to illicit financial flows.”
The UK Government know that only too well because several of their overseas territories in the region effectively operate as tax havens. The Cayman Islands alone are home to 85% of the world’s hedge funds and an estimated 100,000 registered companies, and report banking assets in excess of $500 billion.
The UK Government have to step up and play their part in tackling the illicit finance in their overseas territories. They could establish an illicit finance commissioner to monitor the presence of assets in overseas territories and Crown dependencies. They could ensure that their refresh of the integrated review has a dedicated focus on countering illicit finance flows and addressing corruption. They could establish a transparent and accurate ultimate beneficial owner register, enhance verification of that register, initiate investigations into known weaknesses, and accelerate timelines for entries linked to British overseas territories.
The Government also have to step up and do more to address challenges at the other end of the spectrum, as the hon. Gentleman said, including high poverty levels, instability and the legacy of slavery and colonialism. I talked about the extremes of inequality and instability that Haiti has experienced in recent years, through a combination of natural and man-made disasters that have made it the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The UK could take simple steps such as uplifting its emergency aid provision, working with the non-governmental organisations that are still present in the country, liaising with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when he makes an official visit, and exploring what the UK embassy in Port-au-Prince can do to formally document and escalate human rights abuses witnesses by British diplomats on the ground.
As the hon. Gentleman said, climate change is another major driver of inequality and instability. Again, people in the Caribbean are particularly at risk. Of the 511 natural disasters worldwide since 1950 that have hit small states, 324 have been in the Caribbean, killing more than a quarter of a million people and affecting more than 24 million through injury and the loss of homes and livelihoods. It is expected that by 2050, 1 billion people in low-lying coastal areas will face escalating climate risks that undermine adaptation efforts. Of the Caribbean’s 40 million inhabitants, 28 million live on the coast.
In addressing financial security and reducing inequality, the UK Government ought to address some of those points. They could learn from the Scottish Government’s commitment to a comprehensive sustainable loss and damage package to help developing countries tackle climate change. They could pledge to target the most climate-vulnerable countries first, which would include nations in the Caribbean. Of course, they will find it difficult to do that precisely because of the aid cuts that the hon. Gentleman spoke about.
Of course, the majority of the hon. Gentleman’s speech focused on the legacy of colonialism. He spoke incredibly powerfully about that, and he is right to put challenging questions to the UK Government and all of us in positions of responsibility.
The distribution of aid should be determined on a needs basis, and it would be easier if there was more of the pot to go around. As I understand it, under the OECD and official development assistance rules, there are issues with how much of their budget the UK Government can give to countries that are essentially their own territories and have that counted as aid. However, they should be providing support of the kind that has been discussed, to enable those countries to raise themselves and their people to the standard of living that the rest of us take for granted. That is why I spoke earlier about addressing the impact of tax evasion and financial corruption. Huge amounts of money are flowing through some of these countries, but not everybody living in them is feeling the benefit. Perhaps if there was more transparency and fair taxation, some of those issues would be addressed.
I turn back to the question of colonial legacies. In recent years, many Governments and authorities across the United Kingdom, the US, Europe and other countries with historical involvement in the slave trade and colonialism have been asked, or are asking themselves, searching questions about how that legacy can be recognised and understood, and how amendments and apologies can best be made. The hon. Member for Norwich South was right to acknowledge the ambitious and pioneering actions of the Trevelyan family, who I know are paying close attention to today’s debate. I think we can all recognise that, in many cases, there is still quite a distance to go before justice is fully served, but there are exemplars and initiatives that point in the right direction.
In recent years, the city councils of both Glasgow and Edinburgh have examined their historical involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, and have adopted motions of regret and apology for that. The review for City of Edinburgh Council was chaired by Sir Geoff Palmer, who was Scotland’s first black professor, and Glasgow’s report was conducted by Dr Stephen Mullen of the University of Glasgow and championed by Councillor Graham Campbell, Glasgow’s first councillor of Afro-Caribbean descent, who has been a real driving force in taking this issue forward.
When the report into Glasgow’s connections was published, the leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, said that
“the tentacles of the slave economy reached far into Glasgow and helped build and shape this city. It also talks about the legacy of enslavement in the form of institutionalised racism in today’s Glasgow.
And this must be publicly acknowledged. We need to be honest about Glasgow’s history, our involvement in the slave economy, the attempt at creating a Scottish empire and our deep role in the British Empire. There are people who live every day with the legacy of their ancestors having been enslaved. We need to step up and apologise, to express contrition and sorrow for our part in the moral atrocity of slavery.”
As I said, the basis of that report came as a result of work by Dr Stephen Mullen of the University of Glasgow, who audited the city’s connections to the transatlantic slave trade. The university, which I am proud to represent in this House, has taken its own steps and committed to pay £20 million over the next 20 years in reparations, in recognition of its role in the slave trade. That money will be used to support a centre for development research at the University of the West Indies, which the hon. Member for Norwich South spoke about so highly.
There are therefore calls for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to act at a national level in this regard. Of course, there is a time of change upon the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, so perhaps some of the concerns should be drawn to the attention of those aspiring to be our next First Minister. But we are here today to hold the UK Government to account, so I hope the Minister will look at the steps being taken by local authorities, universities and other institutions across the UK, and consider how the Government can recognise and respond to the legacy of slavery and colonialism, in which their predecessors were complicit.
It is clear from the debate that people in the Caribbean, like people anywhere on this planet, deserve to live lives of dignity and respect, and enjoy basic financial security and freedom from stark inequalities. There have been significant suggestions today as to how the UK Government can work to achieve that, and I hope the Minister will respond appropriately.
It is a pleasure to serve under your direction this morning, Mr Davies.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) for securing today’s rather timely debate, and for his powerful and impassioned speech. It gave us all a lot to think about. I knew that my hon. Friend had mixed heritage; I was not aware that he was part-Grenadian. We do not have a big Grenadian diaspora in Leeds, but we do have a large diaspora from St Kitts and Nevis, which I will elaborate on a little more shortly.
Our country has a long-standing and historic relationship with the Caribbean. Our friendship with our Caribbean partners and allies is rightly based on mutual respect, trust and shared values, which is especially true for those nations that are members of the Commonwealth. It is really important that we continue to nurture these relationships as Caribbean countries attempt to tackle the existential threats posed by climate change and widespread inequality, and it is vital that the UK plays its part through the United Nations and other international bodies to help ensure that people in the Caribbean can live prosperous lives, free from the threats of violence and poverty.
Of course, one of those bodies is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and it is vital that Caribbean countries are able to engage with and work within the OECD to secure additional support for food security programmes, debt relief and other initiatives that seek to improve the lives of people living in the region.
As we know, much of the financial uncertainty in the Caribbean stems from the unfiltered flow of so-called “dirty” money into Caribbean countries’ financial systems, whether in the form of tax evasion, fraud or other financial misdemeanours, all of which undermine the economic stability of too many countries in the region. This has led to states such as Anguilla, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Trinidad and Tobago being severely limited following their inclusion on the European Union’s tax blacklist. I would be interested to hear from the Minister today how the UK is working with these countries to ensure that they are not centres for tax avoidance and other financial crimes, and how his Department is working with our European friends and allies on tackling fraud of this nature.
I turn now, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) did in his speech, to the crisis engulfing Haiti. As one of the poorest countries in the world and the poorest in the western world, as the hon. Member said, Haiti already faces a barrage of socioeconomic problems, alongside the threat posed by climate change. Labour supports the Haitian people in trying to restore political legitimacy to their country and in trying to bring the dreadful wave of gang violence and kidnappings to an end. There are over 200 gangs operating as the de facto authorities in Haiti, which is having a severe impact on the lives of all the Haitian people, as well as destroying their already significantly limited economic prospects.
As His Majesty’s official Opposition, we are willing to work with the Government to help to resolve these issues, which, at their heart, stem from vast inequality and financial insecurity. Alongside this, Haiti is currently facing a cholera outbreak, with the World Bank saying that this has led to high levels of infant and maternal mortality, with prevention measures stagnating or declining, especially for the poorest households. This outbreak has already claimed hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Haiti is another country in the Caribbean that is having to suffer as a result of its tattered economy and political instability.
It is therefore vital that the United Kingdom supports free and fair elections in Haiti, so that its economy can begin to recover. Can the Minister say what plans he has to enhance the UK’s support to tackle criminal activities on Haiti through our contributions to the UN’s integrated office on the island? Working with our international partners and allies is the only way that this appalling situation will be resolved, particularly following the Haitian Government’s request for support from the international community, which must be considered properly at the UN Security Council. I hope that the Minister agrees and I would be very interested to hear his response to the Haitian Government’s request today.
We welcome the fact that the UK Government have joined our allies in the United States and Canada in imposing sanctions on the Haitian gang leader Jimmy Chérizier, after he was found to have committed acts that constituted serious human rights abuses. I think the Minister would agree that more must done, and quickly, to challenge those who threaten the peace and economic security of Haiti.
The situation in Haiti is extremely serious, and any further destabilisation would be catastrophic. Ninety-six per cent. of Haiti’s population is vulnerable to further earthquakes. As we have seen in Turkey and Syria recently, as well as in Haiti in the past, the financial implications for countries impacted by those natural disasters are horrific.
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) mentioned the rise of the Chinese Government in the Caribbean region. With a more aggressive Chinese Government, tackling financial security and chronic inequality in the Caribbean takes on a new geopolitical significance, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, for both us and our closest ally, the United States. As it is in many regions across the world, China is looking to expand its political influence in the Caribbean, owing to the extremely advantageous location of the islands.
For example, China has already offered Jamaica loans and expertise to build miles of new highways, and it has donated security equipment to military and police forces across the region. Those initiatives are clearly an attempt by China to gain influence and expand its footprint in the Caribbean through Government grants and loans, investments by Chinese companies, and diplomatic, cultural and security efforts. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham pointed out, China has done just that in Africa.
That Caribbean financial markets are generally small and there is a lack of raw materials in the region shows that China is keen to secure geographical strategic advantages, which could pose a direct threat to democracy and freedom in the Caribbean. Alongside the obvious moral reason, that is yet another reason why we must play our part on the international stage to secure a safer future for all the peoples of the Caribbean.
I am proud to represent Leeds North East, a constituency that prides itself on its rich diversity. We have a large Caribbean diaspora, and many of the families came to this country to contribute to the economy and to our local culture. As I mentioned earlier, that includes the large community of people of St Kitts and Nevis heritage—indeed, it is the largest diaspora outside the islands themselves.
Many years ago—before 1997, when I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Leeds North East—I was privileged to attend a meeting in the Leeds West Indian Centre. I was the only white person, and the only person not of St Kitts and Nevis heritage. The occasion was to hear a speech by the then Leader of the Opposition on the islands, Dr Denzil Douglas. If a politician could be combined with a hellfire preacher, that was embodied by Dr Douglas. He was absolutely brilliant and captured the attention of the 200 or so people there. He also wished me well as the Labour candidate for Leeds—we actually have eight MPs in Leeds, but he thought I was the candidate for Leeds. We kept in touch over the years. When he became Prime Minister, he made another visit to the United Kingdom, and he came to Leeds to meet the diaspora. Indeed, his sister was one of my constituents.
I feel a strong connection to St Kitts and Nevis—not least through my connection to the high commissioner, Dr Kevin Isaac, who is in the Public Gallery, but also through one of my closest friends, Arthur France MBE. Arthur France is of St Kitts and Nevis heritage, and he is proud of the islands he came from. He was the founder of the oldest West Indian carnival in the United Kingdom, the Leeds West Indian carnival. It is one year older than the Notting Hill carnival, and celebrated its 50th anniversary a few years ago.
More importantly, Arthur was very active on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom earlier this century. He led the way, with people descended from all over the Caribbean but based in Leeds, to make sure that those in Leeds who were not from the Caribbean understood the important effect of slavery on those islands, and how they were trying to overcome the terrible catastrophe that had happened to the people of his heritage and background.
When I am out and about in the constituency, I am sometimes reminded that my constituency is made up of people of different heritage. We have a large Caribbean diaspora—I mentioned St Kitts and Nevis, and I should also mention the Jamaican and Barbadian peoples who make up the diaspora in my constituency—and we also have a big Jewish community. When I go to the West Indian centre, people say, “But you do not understand, Mr Hamilton, what it is like to be the child of an immigrant.” I say, “Well, I do, because my father was an immigrant.” They say, “But you are not black.” But that does not matter. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham pointed out, a person does not have to have different colour skin to be the child of an immigrant and to understand the trials and tribulations of being an immigrant to this country—especially when one’s first language, as in my father’s case, is not English. Indeed, today, I am going to the United Nations in Vienna, and I will do some further work to study my father’s background; he was born in Vienna, and his parents married there in 1921. That should be very interesting.
One of my closest friends, who is sadly no longer with us, was a man called Norris Pyke. Norris was from Nevis. He was terribly proud of the fact that he met my mother, who visited Leeds some years before her death, and I introduced the two. They could not have been from more different backgrounds and could not have been more different from each other, but they got on very well. Norris died of cancer about 15 years ago. His life’s ambition was to see a bridge built between St Kitts and Nevis. He never achieved it, but he never stopped talking about it. I will never forget Norris Pyke, whom I want to commemorate today, and the contribution that he made to the people of those islands.
We share a long history of friendship with Caribbean countries, particularly those in the Commonwealth. It would be morally, politically and economically wrong to abandon them as they face truly difficult economic circumstances and rising inequality.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) on securing this important debate. It has been good to hear the views of colleagues, and to recognise those who have joined us today in the audience, notably His Excellency the high commissioner for St Kitts and Nevis—the island that I think has had more mentions than any other—and the Trevelyan family. I feel at a bit of a disadvantage, because I have not been to that country and I do not have any diaspora in my Macclesfield constituency.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) for his contribution, which was, as always, very considered, and I will come to some of the points that he made. He described Denzil Douglas in quite a—
Yes, a colourful way. Denzil Douglas would be very proud of the way that the hon. Member for Norwich South conducted himself. I think it was in the same tradition. We recognise that.
We want to work with the Caribbean to solve shared problems, from climate change to gender inequality. We share important values, which is why, in partnership, we are taking steps to promote democracy, peace, prosperity and opportunity. Of course, many of our friends in the Caribbean region are part of the unique Commonwealth family of nations. Members have rightly highlighted the threat of climate change to the region. As small island developing states, the countries of the Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and economic shocks.
These are challenges that we must help to address, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic and Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. The war may feel quite distant from the region, but it has big implications for the cost of energy, fuel and, for some in the area, fertiliser. As stewards of the ocean, Caribbean countries have a vital role to play in tackling climate change and protecting biodiversity, and I welcome the historic achievement at the United Nations at the weekend of a new treaty to protect marine biodiversity—a huge step forward that was acknowledged around the world.
The UK’s vision for small island developing states, or SIDS, is set out in our international development strategy. We want to help them build economic and climate resilience by 2030, by supporting them to adapt to climate change, improving access to finance and preventing biodiversity loss. I will spend more time on access to finance later. Of course, that requires other countries and international organisations to share our vision. The fourth international conference on SIDS next year will be a key moment for the global community to come together and commit to action.
We continue to pursue an overseas development aid programme in the Caribbean region, focusing on strengthening disaster and climate resilience in eligible countries. We had a long debate on overseas development aid in this room a couple of weeks ago. Around £35 million a year is devoted to building climate-resilient infrastructure, to help countries withstand natural disasters and recover faster from catastrophes such as hurricanes. We are also supporting better access to employment for vulnerable groups, and fostering small and medium-sized enterprises.
The UK is also supporting climate action and disaster response by strengthening the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and social protection systems. Through the UN’s EnGenDER project, we are working to address gender inequality in climate change and disaster response work. We also support the Climate Resilience Execution Agency for Dominica, whose goal is for Dominica to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation. Meanwhile, eligible Caribbean countries can also access two dedicated programme funds for SIDS, totalling £76 million, to help them benefit from international finance and realise the potential of marine economies.
The hon. Member for Leeds North East highlighted the situation in Haiti, which is a source of real concern to us both. There are implications not just for the people of Haiti, but for the region as a whole and beyond, because of the potential impacts of irregular migration and the violent activity that could flow should the situation deteriorate even further. We are actively engaged with the UN Security Council on that issue. We encourage international partners to work together to assist in Haitian-led efforts to tackle underlying causes of gang violence. We have seen positive progress on the ground, with economic and political accords, which are unusual on that island. The UK is funding multilateral partners, contributing more than £20 million each year to development in Haiti, including programmes to improve the resilience of infrastructure to natural disaster.
I want to come on to the importance of development finance on a global scale. We are working with partners towards reform of the international financial institutions to make more capital available, including to Caribbean countries. That is pivotal to the Caribbean and a subject I have discussed with many interlocutors. I am determined that we make progress across all SIDS, but particularly, given the role that I hold, in the Caribbean. As set out in the Glasgow climate pact, vulnerability criteria should be considered by multilateral organisations, including the World Bank, in their financing and allocation decisions.
We welcome innovation and reform in that regard. The new drive launched by Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the very important Bridgetown initiative, aims to do just that. We are working closely with her and getting behind the drive to reform international financial institutions. We are demonstrating leadership in financial innovation, such as climate resilient debt clauses, which will allow Caribbean countries to suspend repayments to UK Export Finance in the wake of a climate disaster such as a hurricane. We are shaping initiatives to expand the amount of development and climate finance available from multilateral development banks by hundreds of billions of dollars.
Those are very significant opportunities, which I am sure people recognise across the House. We are also working to get more subsidy for climate for middle-income countries and SIDS. We are engaging actively with the development of the new loss and damage fund agreed at COP27, which was raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). That is absolutely important. We are part of a 24-member transitional committee; the first meeting is happening at the end of March. We will work closely on that vital area.
We are also keen to help drive economic growth through trade and investment. We recognise China’s interest in the Caribbean and we are working closely to focus on trade and investment opportunities. Others have talked about illicit finance. Work is ongoing with our overseas territories, and the Government and the Treasury are providing support in the form of technical expertise to tackle those challenges.
I am delighted that my predecessor as Minister for the Caribbean, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), launched British International Investment’s first Caribbean investment when he visited Jamaica last autumn. That will build a new wave of investment in clean, green infrastructure, bolster businesses, create jobs and boost trade. We are also working with our Caribbean partners to ensure that the terms of our economic partnership agreement are fully implemented to boost trade.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) mentioned the importance of duty-free trade. Our economic and partnership agreement with the Caribbean Forum countries provides duty-free and quota-free access to UK markets for all goods. We are working with the Governments in the region to ensure that the agreement is fully implemented. We can talk more about that separately.
The hon. Member for Norwich South made a really important point about the legacy of slavery. I would like to say some important words on that subject, which means a lot to many people in this room. I have listened with care to the points that have been made today. Slavery is abhorrent. We acknowledge the role of British authorities in enabling the slave trade for many years before being the first global force to drive the end of the slave trade in the British empire. We deeply regret this appalling atrocity and how it harmed so many people. We acknowledge that the wounds and feeling on this issue run very deep.
We believe that the most effective way for the UK to respond to the cruelty of the past is to ensure that current and future generations do not forget what happened, that we address racism, and that we continue to work together to tackle today’s challenges, such as climate change, through the initiatives that I have set out. Those need to be hard-hitting initiatives that will make a difference in people’s lives and help Caribbean nations move forward.
We have had a series of positive engagements with our friends across the Caribbean over the last year. I mentioned my predecessor’s visit to Jamaica. In November, I was privileged to visit the Dominican Republic, the largest economy in the region, for a packed agenda of high-level meetings on trade, environment, security and many other issues. My colleague the Minister for Overseas Territories, Lord Goldsmith, was in Guyana last week. All these activities are designed to help build relationships and to move the agenda that I have talked about forward.
I plan to make a further visit to the region before the end of the month, and numerous senior leaders from Caribbean countries have visited the UK recently, including Prime Minister Skerrit of Dominica, who I was honoured to meet two weeks ago. We look forward to hosting Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth member countries next week, and to the UK-Caribbean forum and the UK-Jamaica strategic dialogue in May.
The UK will continue to work with our partners in the Caribbean to empower people, protect the environment, address climate change and boost prosperity. We will also use our voice on the international stage to advocate for issues that are important to Caribbean countries. That is how, together, we will make progress on challenges and make the most of the valuable opportunities that our deep and long-standing friendships in the region have to offer.
I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I wish there were more here. There aren’t, but perhaps in the future there will be, because this issue is not going to go anywhere. I will play my part in ensuring that St Kitts and Nevis is mentioned a number of times in Hansard, but it would be remiss of me not to say: Grenada, Grenada, Grenada, Grenada, Grenada, Grenada! My father, probably watching this in Gouyave at some point, would never forgive me if I did not mention his island in this debate.
This is part of the complexity of the issue—that a descendant of former slaves, a part of that injustice, can find themselves centuries later in the British Parliament making the case for reparations. That is the complexity of the issue; this injustice has been done, and yet it is this country that has given me the opportunity to stand here today to make this argument. We all acknowledge that the issue is complex, but life is complex, history is complex, and it is our job as politicians to be able to navigate that.
I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for turning up—I am looking at some empty Benches on both sides of the Chamber. He spoke, as have others today, about China. People in the Caribbean are well aware that China has its own motivations—not all of them honourable—for wanting to invest in the Caribbean, but it is investing and it does not have the colonial hang-ups and history that that money from the United Kingdom, which is not coming in, would have. It does not have that complex history, so we can understand why people in the Caribbean accept Chinese investment.
I welcome the hon. Member’s comments on accepting the comparison between German-Polish reparations and British-Caribbean ones; it was an important and gracious point to make, and I thank him for it. I disagree with him, though, on the matter of racist immigration policies and the EU’s part in that. Of course the EU has racist immigration policies. “Fortress Europe” is a term that I am well aware of when it comes to immigration into the EU, but we have to remember that the campaign for Brexit was a complex campaign with many different actors and motivations. However, it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge that a key part of the Brexiteers’ campaign was one based on a fear of all immigration—east European, European, and from across the globe. It would be wrong not to acknowledge that.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) mentioned, as have others, Haiti and the severe situation that it finds itself in. As I was listening to him, I could not help but think of CLR James and “The Black Jacobins”, and Toussaint Louverture, the black Spartacus, because Haiti, of all Caribbean countries, has paid a heavy price for the defiance it showed at the turn of the 19th century when it freed itself from slavery. It has suffered for centuries the wrath of western countries—the United States and Europe—because it freed itself from slavery. I think it is fair to say that Haiti is still, to this day, paying a price for that resistance.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North also spoke about the sorrow that his country and party feel about slavery. We have heard sorrow expressed by Labour and Conservative Governments and now the SNP, but I am afraid that sorrow is not enough. There is a question for the SNP as we move into the future: if it one day extracts itself from what it might call English imperialism—I know some do—what will the SNP’s position be on reparations, and all the economic benefits and advantages that that country now enjoys, in part because of what happened in the Caribbean? The Campbells and many other surnames testify to the Scottish slave owners and the benefits that came back to Scotland. It will be interesting to see where the SNP goes on that in the future. I will monitor that closely, and I think there are questions for them to answer.
It is always a pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) speak; he is so eloquent, kind and compassionate. I particularly appreciated the connection between what it is to be a Jewish immigrant and what it is to be a black immigrant. While there are differences, there are lots of similarities in the experience. I also acknowledge that it is way above his paygrade to be able to make any substantial position changes from where the last Labour Government were on this issue.
I understand that for my party this is a difficult issue, especially in the so-called red wall seats, where we feel such issues could alienate potential Labour voters. It is for the Labour party to make the argument and the case as to why this is the right thing to do. I think that people will listen, because there is a connection. At the end of British colonialism, the deindustrialisation that occurred in many of the former glorious cities of Leeds, Bradford and Manchester damaged those communities. That was an integral part of decolonisation. The pivot of British capitalism away from manufacturing, leaving so many of those people and communities bankrupt and broken, is something we are still paying for today. That is why we have the levelling-up agenda. British capitalism pivoted to financialisation, and those communities paid a price for that. We can never forget that that is connected to colonisation, slavery and our history.
There is a message here for an incoming Labour Government—we do not know if that will happen, but I am confident and hopeful that it will. I would tell my Front-Bench team that this issue will not go away. It will be there, and it will land on the desk of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who I hope will be the first Caribbean Foreign Secretary. It will be on his shoulders to say yes or no on this matter; and many people will be waiting with bated breath in anticipation of his decision, and the decision of a potential future Labour Government. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East will pass that on to the Labour Front Bench.
Turning to the Government, again, there is the question of paygrades. I did not really expect the Minister to be able to come here, issue a formal apology and then set out in detail the reparations that will be coming to the Caribbean. What I have done today is put down a marker. However, I will comment on some of the things the Minister talked about that got my goat a little bit. He talked about capital investment finance and new finance deals; those are about sucking yet more money out of the Caribbean, because although there is investment, a return is taken out. The whole issue of reparations is about not taking any more. After 400 years, we have taken enough from the Caribbean. Now it is time to put back into the Caribbean, not to continue the financialisation and extraction processes.
Today we kept hearing about the bridge between St Kitts and Nevis. Bridge building is what reparatory justice is also about; it is about building a bridge between the past and the present, between injustice and justice, and between Britain and the Caribbean—a bridge to a more prosperous future for all.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered financial security and inequality in the Caribbean.