Skip to main content

Slavery: Legacy

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 14 March 1996

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

9.18 p.m.

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make appropriate reparation to African nations and to the descendants of Africans for the damage caused by the slave trade and the practice of slavery.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Question raises an issue which is being debated with increasing vigour and intensity by African people around the world; and by African people I mean people of African descent, wherever they live, whether in Africa itself, in the United States, in Great Britain or in the Caribbean, where I now live and practise law.

The issue is this. The under-development and poverty which affect the majority of countries in Africa and in the Caribbean, as well as the ghetto conditions in which many black people live in the United States and elsewhere, are not, speaking in general terms, the result of laziness, incompetence or corruption of African people or their governments. They are in a very large measure the consequences—the legacy—of one of the most massive and terrible criminal enterprises in recorded human history; that is, the transatlantic slave trade and the institution of slavery.

The thesis that I advance tonight is that in accordance with international law and with basic human morality, measures of atonement and reparation are due from the successors of those who instigated and carried out the trade and who profited massively from it, to the descendants of the victims of the criminal enterprise who still suffer in many different ways from the effects of the crime.

The horrendous nature of the enterprise of African slavery is well known and documented. Around 20 million young people were kidnapped, taken in chains across the Atlantic and sold into slavery in the plantations of the New World. Millions more died in transit in the dungeons of the castles such as Goree, Elmina and Cape Coast, or in the hell holes under the decks of the slave ships. It was without doubt, in the fullest sense of the term, a crime against humanity.

A vast proportion of sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal right round to Angola and on the other side from Mozambique into Malawi and Tanzania was depopulated. Its young men and women were taken away. Population estimates show that Africa's population remained static at around 100 million between 1650 and 1850 while in the same period the populations of Europe and Asia increased between twofold and threefold. It is small wonder that the great kingdoms of Africa such as Mali, Songhai and Ghana fell into decline while the slave-trading nations prospered mightily. Whole cities such as Liverpool and Bristol grew wealthy on the triangular trade of manufactured goods going to Africa, slaves going from Africa to the colonies, and sugar coming back from the colonies to Britain. No calculations can measure the loss suffered by the African continent from that massive depopulation of its young people, for which no compensation was ever paid.

African governments today, who have tried to rectify the under-development which they have inherited from history, have borrowed from the financial institutions of the West and are now in a virtually uncontrollable spiral of debt. In reality—and in morality—I suggest that it is the West which is in debt to Africa, not Africa which is debt to the West.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the African captives were cut off from their families, their land and their language. They were forced to be owned as chattels and to work as beasts of burden. When, finally, emancipation day came—in the British colonies, in 1838—the ex-slaves received nothing. It was the ex-slave owners who were compensated for the loss of their property.

The slavery experience has left a bitter legacy which endures to this day in terms of family breakdown, landlessness, under-development and a longing among many to return to the motherland from which their ancestors were taken. Once again, in the Caribbean the need to finance development programmes has bound Caribbean governments and peoples in fresh shackles, the shackles of debt. In Jamaica, where I live, between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. of the national budget has had to be paid out in debt servicing over the past 10 years. In many African countries, the proportion is much higher. The effects are crippling in that every public service, such as schools, health facilities, transport and roads, prisons and justice systems, is so squeezed that it is failing to deliver at even a minimum standard.

As well as the consequences in Africa and the Caribbean, there is a further element in the legacy of the slave trade, which is the damage done within Britain, within the United States and other Western societies. The inhuman philosophy of white supremacy and black inferiority was inculcated into European peoples to justify the atrocities which were being committed by a Christian people upon fellow human beings. That philosophy continues to poison our society today.

On one short visit back to Britain this month, I come across reports of racism in the Armed Forces and the police. Equal rights legislation has not been enough. It is necessary to look more deeply, to understand why the crimes of the past are poisoning the present for all people, white and black, and then to do something effective to repair the wrong. That will assist both African and European, black and white, to lance the poison and to heal the wounds.

The concept that reparations are payable where a crime against humanity has been committed by one people against another is well established in international law and practice. Germany paid reparations to Israel for the crimes of the Nazi Holocaust. Indeed, the very creation of the State of Israel can be seen as a massive act of reparation for centuries of dispossession and persecution directed against Jews.

Japan apologised only last year, 50 years on, for its wartime atrocities and is still being urged, rightly, to pay compensation to the victims. The USA made apology and restitution for the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. Going further back into history, Her Majesty the Queen, only last November in New Zealand, personally signed the Royal Assent to the Waikato-Raupatu Claims Settlement Bill through which the New Zealand Government paid substantial compensation in land and in money for the seizure of Maori lands by British settlers in 1863. She apologised for the crime and recognised a long-standing grievance of the Maori people. Other indigenous peoples have similar just claims for the dispossession which their ancestors suffered.

African people, too, have a massive and long-standing grievance. It is no use saying that it all happened a long time ago, and we should just forget about it. The period of colonialism which succeeded the period of slavery, continued the exploitation of Africa and the Caribbean in new ways. Further acts of brutality were committed, and the peoples of those regions, until recently, were denied the status of sovereignty and independence with which alone they could themselves demand the redress of the wrongs which were done.

But the wrongs have not been forgotten. The peoples of Africa and the Caribbean live with their consequences still. A group of eminent Africans under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity is beginning to articulate the claim for reparation.

What is meant by the claim for reparations? The details of a reparations settlement would have to be negotiated with an appropriate body of representatives of African people around the world. I would anticipate that some of the elements of an appropriate package would be, first, as with other precedents, an apology at the highest level for the criminal acts committed against millions of Africans over the centuries of the slave trade. His Holiness the Pope set the example when he visited the slave dungeons of Goree in Senegal in February 1992 when he said:

"From this African sanctuary of black pain, we implore forgiveness from Heaven".

Secondly, there would be the cancellation of the intolerable burden of debt, which has overloaded the economies of Africa and the Caribbean. There are powerful economic and social argurnents for debt cancellation which were most recently deployed by former President Kaunda of Zambia during a visit to Scotland in February 1996. He said of the present state of Africa:

"It is a human tragedy. People are dying by their thousands every day, children are dying. These things bring social disorder to countries".

Thirdly, there would be the return of treasures and works of art which come from the African continent, many of which are to be found in Britain's museums as a result of acts of theft and robbery. I refer, for instance, to the Benin Bronzes in the Museum of Mankind. Fourthly, there would be measures to facilitate the repatriation and resettlement of those who wish to return to Africa. The word "repatriation" has an ugly ring in the mouth of racists who want to drive black people out of Britain. However, it expresses, too, a yearning among many descendants of Africans which is as powerful as was the yearning of the Jewish people for the Promised Land.

Fifthly, there would be a reparations settlement which would involve programmes of development, without strings attached, in Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil and elsewhere, including programmes to promote equal rights and justice within the countries of the West.

As we move to the next millennium, none of us can deny that there is a growing divide between north and south, between black and white, across frontiers and within frontiers. It is in the interests of all of us to recognise that the reasons for that divide lie in a shameful past. If we realise that, we will be on the way to doing something to repair the wrong which was done, even though it may cost heavily in terms of pride and revenue. The steps to be taken will bring a happier world for all our children.

In asking this Question on an issue which may be new and difficult for many of your Lordships, I ask the Government and the Opposition parties for a positive and open-minded response. I believe that this issue will remain with us and will gather momentum. Today's governments and parties are not guilty of fostering the slave trade but they would be responsible if they did nothing to remedy the injustice, the suffering, the poverty and the racism which the slave trade and the institution of slavery inevitably engendered into the present day.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell the House which country first stopped the slave trade?

My Lords, after carrying it on and profiting massively from it, the slave trade was stopped by the nations of Europe. I pay tribute to the ancestor of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who played a leading part in stopping the trade. However, no compensation was paid when it was stopped and the unredressed grievance remains with us today.

9.33 p.m.

My Lords, I fear that seldom have so few people come together to do so little. I respect the noble Lord's concern and no doubt your Lordships were enlightened by his exposé of the slave trade, albeit slightly coloured by his attitude to the Question. However, I too wish to point out to the House that Britain was the first country in Europe to stop the slave trade 30 years before it was stopped in America. It is not remotely realistic to start talking about reparations at this stage. Reparations can be dangerous; one only has to think of the Versailles Treaty to realise what reparations brought in their wake. Reparations breed envy and distrust and stir up hatred. Far better is what we have done, which is to give aid to help countries to rebuild their prosperity and future.

Britain has a good record in relation to aid to sub-Saharan African countries. I have looked up some of the figures. I am able to tell the noble Lord that between 1979 and 1995 Great Britain paid out 11,610,000,000 dollars to sub-Saharan Africa. Even the noble Lord, Lord Judd, might agree that that is not just small change; it is a considerable sum of money. Even if a regrettable amount of that goes into the pockets of neo-Marxist military dictators, it is to be hoped that some of it is properly administered and will help the developing countries in Africa.

If the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, is concerned about slavery, perhaps I may suggest that he should direct his energies towards the countries which are still practising slavery today. A number of countries are doing that, including countries which are more developed; for example, India and China.

While I am on the subject of money, as a fully paid-up member of the taxpayers' club, I wonder whether the Minister will tell me how much it has cost to research the answer to this Question which seems to me to be slightly irrelevant in terms of reality. I respect the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. But is it realistic to talk about reparations when so much has been done by this country and other countries to help Africa? I do not believe that it is. I should like to hear what the noble Lord has to say about that.

I had not intended to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for asking this Question but I am indebted to him because, looking at the clock, I find that I have missed my train home and I shall claim appropriate reparations by way of an overnight allowance.

9.37 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful, as no doubt are other noble Lords, for this opportunity to ascertain something of the Government's views on slavery, the slave trade and its consequences, even though I have difficulty with some of the tenor of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford.

I declare at once an interest in this subject as a joint president of Anti-Slavery International. I agree with the noble Lord that, in principle, one cannot object to the idea of the concept of compensation to individuals for wrongs which they have suffered. There is certainly no wrong more grievous, after the wronged loss of life, than loss of liberty. There is no doubt that compensation has been paid in certain circumstances to individuals who suffered ascertained wrongs. The noble Lord referred rightly to the compensation to the Jews and the Jewish nation which was directed by Chancellor Adenauer and to the compensation paid by sections of German industry to individual Jewish persons and refugees.

There are other cases. The noble Lord mentioned some. One could mention the situation of the Sudeten Germans who have been individually thought to be entitled to compensation. On the Japanese side, it is true, I believe, that Japanese prostitutes in the course of the war have received compensation for the wrongs they endured.

However, in all those cases one finds unquestioned guilt and unquestionable responsibility of a particular person. In the case of the Jews, it was the German state. There are identifiable victims of the wrong and direct and assessable consequences. I do not find that those conditions are satisfied, or anywhere near satisfied, in the present case.

Of course, there is still slavery in Africa. One notices that the Question refers specifically to compensation to African nations and compensation to be paid by the British Government, but not international compensation to a whole mass of people all over the world.

We know that slavery still exists in Africa and that there is still slave trading in the area. But for neither of those things can the responsibility realistically, fairly or properly be laid on Her Majesty's Government. On the contrary, as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke indicated, ever since 1833 when slavery was abolished in the British Empire (which covered a great many of the states of Africa), British governments have striven by law, by force, by use of their navy, by influence and by the expenditure of money, to have slavery abolished in African countries, to stop the trade in human beings, and to mitigate the consequences. The difficulty of assessing the consequences and reparation were adverted to by the previous speaker. I feel sure that the Minister will deal with that view of the matter supported by facts. I am quite happy to leave that aspect of the matter to him.

However, I believe that we should carry the case a little further. For that I believe we are indebted to the noble Lord who tabled the Question. We can perhaps look wider than the precise narrow point outlined by the noble Lord. I shall put my main point very shortly. However good our historical record may be—and I believe it to be a very good one—however much direct responsibility for the existence of slavery and of the slave trade may rest now upon independent states in Africa and elsewhere, however difficult, indeed impossible, it is to assess compensation or reparation, we nevertheless—and this also applies to other western and first world countries—have a very strong moral responsibility now and always to do two things; first, to bring about as far as possible the abolition of slavery wherever it still exists, and, secondly, to do whatever we can both practically and realistically to alleviate the consequences.

On the first task, we know that slavery exists in Africa. There are the known examples of the Sudan, Mauritania and probably Mozambique. It is worth underlining again, with reference to the noble Lord's Question, that, in the case of Mozambique, responsibility there is entirely that of the Portuguese who ruled the country until 1974. We have no conceivable responsibility either directly or indirectly. On the other hand, our duty is a strictly humanitarian one., owed by man to man.

What we have to do and what we can do as regards abolishing slavery is, first, to establish beyond doubt where it exists and in what countries. That means supporting with money directly and indirectly those organisations, of which ASI is one, which are able to do so. We must support the United Nations with influence and money, particularly its working groups and reporters who are charged with ascertaining the facts. Again, we must support with influence and, if necessary, money, the higher organisations in the United Nations which are able to bring about change. For example, in Mauritania slavery still exists, although it was abolished by law in 1980. However, we know that that is not the end of the matter; indeed, it is only the beginning of the story. What is needed to make progress is land reform, education and a new labour system based on liberty, all of which need strong international support and someone to give a lead. I believe that we can fairly look to Her Majesty's Government in that respect.

Above all, we must press—this is something we can do and which we do do—all countries which have not done so to ratify the supplementary convention of 1956. There are many African countries among the non-signatories. So much, very briefly, for taking action to abolish slavery where it still exists. I have rather confined myself to Africa because that was the tenor of the noble Lord's Question.

We have a moral responsibility—I go along entirely with the noble Lord to that extent—to do what we can to mitigate the consequences of slavery, either of pre-existing slavery, as in 19th century economic slavery, or of existing slavery, as it has been in our time. The main consequences which we can identify and which we are in a position to do something about are well known. They are low prices for commodities and the burden of debt, which is itself a form of slavery. This has been referred to, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made a persuasive point at Question Time yesterday. The proportion of income from exports that is now needed to pay for debts is impossibly large and is bringing about what is, in effect, a state of economic slavery in many areas. There is also the question of unfair trading, which can be attacked through application of the Uruguay Round. Civil wars which have existed in so many countries, and which still exist in Africa, bring about, inevitably, conditions of slavery, and the consequences of that. I need only mention the Sudan in that connection.

We all know that these consequences of slavery occur. We can see them. I believe that Her Majesty's Government use their influence internationally to mitigate those consequences. I hope that the Minister will comment on the possibility of action to combat those consequences. Often this matter is discussed in the context of self-interest. It is argued that if we attack forms of slavery, that will bring prosperity to us. I have no objection to the argument of self-interest being used; any argument which helps in this connection is welcome. However, I still believe that the case is basically a moral one based on the history of the western powers and their development—if I may use that colourless word—of Africa and its resources in the past. I believe that the case rests on the drawing of boundaries by the western powers which has led inevitably to stress, wars, poverty and under-development. That point was touched on by the noble Lord who tabled the Question.

I wish to reaffirm that I believe that the case for action and any sort of compensation should not be based on guilt, nor on an expedient expenditure of money. We should base the case for giving help on morality. That is entirely in line with the beliefs of the original great reformers. Just west of this House, in Westminster Abbey, there is a bust of Zachary Macaulay, one of the original strong abolitionists. As your Lordships' know, he was governor of Sierra Leone—a colony of freed slaves. The bust is dedicated to a man,
"who during 40 successive years rescued Africa from the woes, and the British Empire from the guilt of slavery and the slave trade".
The case now is not one of guilt but of morality. I commend it as such to your Lordships.

9.48 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, painted a moving picture of the slave trade, and one cannot argue with the picture he painted. Slavery is an age-old matter. It goes back to the Greeks and the Romans who had slaves on their galleys. Slavery has existed on all continents for as far back as can be recorded. Some people were enslaved by press gangs, or were enslaved after being captured in wars. Others were enslaved as a form of punishment. One must not forget that many slaves were sold into slavery by their parents or by the chiefs of their villages. There is the case of the blacks in the sugar plantations but, as has already been mentioned, slavery has occurred in many countries and people were enslaved in Europe during the past war. It is a phenomenon which is far from confined to the black nations.

As regards compensation, therefore, one has to ask how far it would be proposed to go back in time. The noble Lord suggests that we go back 300 years to the slave trade, and the descendants of those involved. Why not go back 1,000 years to the descendants of the Greeks? Where would it stop? And who would pay compensation? Almost every country was responsible for slavery in those days, including the French, the Spanish and the blacks themselves. Therefore, it is absurd to ask Her Majesty's Government to make reparations for the slave trade.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Of course I recognise that if there were a positive answer to this Question that would give a lead to the other European governments which profited similarly. It would be a joint international venture.

My Lords, I appreciate that. However, the suggestion is particularly rich because, as has already been mentioned, the British led the anti-slavery campaign. We can read about Gordon, whose object was entirely anti-slavery. Then there was the struggle for central Africa in the 1880s. Again that was a matter of Europeans going into Africa, and often fighting the Arab slavers who ran the slave trade. A new book entitled The Scramble for Africa paints the whole picture.

The purpose of my speaking was not to go into history but to reinforce the remarks about modern day slavery. We cannot do much about the slavery of old, but we can and we must do something about the slavery that is going on at the moment.

There was a television documentary the other day which showed that, for example, Filipinos were going to Saudi Arabia, having been promised wages. However, when they reached Saudi Arabia their employers took their passports away and they were not paid. If they attempted to escape they were accused of theft, with the obvious consequences if they were found guilty. Slavery of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia is rampant. That is only one example. There are many examples in other countries, which have already been mentioned.

The General Assembly of the United Nations issued a declaration in 1948 about the abolition of slavery, which was fully agreed. However, it has not been implemented by many countries in Africa and in Asia.

All possible action must be taken by the Government to try to stop slavery now. Aid should be restricted to countries where slavery takes place. The Government should bring great pressure on every country where slavery is known to take place even though it may not be legal. It is unacceptable for slavery to be so widespread in 1996.

9.53 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for giving us the opportunity today to speak on a very complicated subject. I agree broadly with a good deal of what the noble Lord said. I agree also with the noble and learned Lord, but I part company with him to some extent on the tone of his speech, and in particular some of the phrases that he used and the way that he ran some of the issues together, although, in view of the constraints of time, I understand why he did that.

I made my maiden speech in this House some 12 years ago, late at night about this time, on the subject of the problems in sub-Saharan Africa. That is a subject about which I know something because for 10 years I had done a good deal of work in East Africa. In that debate I had the great privilege to have as fellow speakers some very distinguished noble Lords, many of whom are not with us today. One in particular, who became a particular friend of mine in this House, was the late and great Lord Pitt of Hampstead. If the noble Lord had been alive today, I am sure that he would have spoken in the debate. He himself was the descendant of a slave. He came from the island of Grenada. My father lived in Grenada for some years. Like many of the inhabitants of that island, Lord Pitt had a particular charm and an easy going nature, but underneath a firm resolve to deal with problems of racism and those of sub-Saharan Africa in which he took a close interest.

I have always taken an interest in history and I knew a certain amount about slavery at that time. However, Lord Pitt introduced me to the works of Eric Williams, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and perhaps the greatest West Indian historian of his period.

Slavery is a fascinating and at the same time horrifying subject. Apart from the fact of our mercantile growth through slavery over a period of a century or more, one of the great shames is that subsequently in our education in schools so little attention has been paid to slavery as a factor governing the development of this country as we now know it. Barbados was the jewel in the colonial crown at the beginning of the 17th century. One can make a quite clear link between the first importing of slaves from the coast of West Africa into the Caribbean islands, in particular Barbados, and the growth of our mercantile trade and our struggles with other countries which sought to outdo us, through financing the Industrial Revolution to where we find ourselves today. To that degree, I agree absolutely with what the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, said. Where I part company with him is the way in which he has somewhat abbreviated and compressed history.

I agree absolutely that racism has been one of the legacies of slavery. It was not racism that caused slavery, it was economic necessity. Before slaves were taken to Barbados, other West Indian islands and certain colonies in the United States, we used other forms of labour. That has been referred to by other noble Lords. We used petty criminals who had not been condemned for capital offences. We press-ganged—if that is the right word; I believe that it was called "Barbadosing"— vagrants and others who seemed superfluous in our society and bundled them off in ships to the islands where they were to all intents and purposes slaves. Those people were probably treated worse than the slaves themselves because they were there for a limited time and not until perpetuity. The flogging and the misery were suffered as much by those of European origin as by slaves later.

The reason that slavery suddenly developed in our islands was through our race against other nations to develop agricultural products. The great prize of expansion was to replace minerals. There was a great race to develop the sugar crop. Sugar has been and is still the great evil. I have given it up for Lent. Sugar is the crop that perhaps has created the most misery and degradation of all the agricultural crops. It was a luxury product which then became a common product in more advanced countries for sweetening tea and coffee.

The cane sugar plant originally came from Polynesia. It was tried by the Portuguese who first used slaves in Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands. It was then taken by he British to Barbados but it could only be produced in economic quantities with a supply of labour which was robust and relatively docile. The West Africans filled that bill and thus the great triangular trade began which has been accurately referred to by other noble Lords. There was the movement of goods from Britain, Manchester, down to the west coast of Africa, then slaves to the West Indies and then back again with products. That resulted in about 12 million slaves—I am not sure of the figures—in that trade in the 18th century going from West Africa.

I pay tribute to the great reformers. Presumably one of them was the direct ancestor of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. I must include the Quakers who were persistent opponents of slavery in these islands: the great Joseph Sturge whose descendant, the noble Baroness, Lady Eccles of Moulton, sits in this House today. He was a great and popular Quaker reformer in Bristol.

My Lords, the noble Viscount is interesting and erudite in his history, but I am sure he will accept that it was the Danes who were the first European nation legally to abolish the slave trade. We followed them six years later.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, as I am sure are other noble Lords, for answering a point which was put to him. I do not wish to sound cynical but I am sure that there were reasons other than philanthropic ones for abolishing slavery in this country. When it was abolished, the sugar islands became uneconomic. We hastened the end of slavery because we did not wish competitors to continue in the islands which they held which were still marginally fertile. I agree that it was a hideous crime against humanity which was used for economic reasons. A great deal of wealth was created which had a well-known effect on our history.

Reparation was the main drift of the noble Lord's speech. Whether it is appropriate I do not pretend to know. I look forward with anticipation to what the Minister will tell us. Even having heard the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, it seems to me a complicated area. How does one judge whether reparations are appropriate? How much should they be? What mitigating factors should be taken into account? It has not yet been mentioned that the end of slavery in West Africa caused a great deal of upheaval among African native slave traders and the kingdoms because they made a good deal of profit from the trade. In particular, what is now southern Nigeria and the Bight of Benin, a highly populated part of West Africa, found themselves in a position where they had to go back to old and barbaric ways of thinning out their populations. They were paid compensation by the British in many cases for their loss of revenue from the slave trade. I believe that the experiment in palm oil was an agricultural activity promoted—rather like our groundnut scheme centuries later—in order in some way to try to compensate.

That is a different matter from the reparations to which the noble Lord refers. The way we viewed it was that our reparations should be to compensate those who had helped us. That is where I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, when he referred to kidnapping. It would have to be taken into account. If we considered reparations, we would have to calculate the amount of co-operation that took place at that time with the African states.

I shall say no more about the history of slavery. I absolutely agree that it is an appalling episode in the history of the world. It can be explained. It is well documented. I do not like to confuse what we were discussing on that night in 1984—namely the proper support of sub-Saharan countries, with the debt that it is proposed we owe either African nations or others for the slavery period. The need for us to take a completely new, more positive and more constructive look at the need to help the development of Africa stands on its own feet.

The situation facing us in 1984 which we all rightly foresaw, of great famines in Africa which have taken place with horrifying consequences and misery to countless numbers of men, women and children, still exists. The only problem now, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, well knows and may mention, is that, since the world has changed and the great imperatives of East-West confrontation have disappeared, the African problem has become somewhat marginalised. The attention of the world has been turned towards central Europe and the Far East. I am much concerned about the development of southern Africa, except of course for the enormously encouraging events that have taken place in South Africa.

There is another reason why I do not absolutely go along with the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. I have worked for a long time in central and eastern Africa. We have the evidence of what has happened with President Mandela, and before him President Kenyatta. In my experience, the African people are immensely forgiving. They have forgiven the indignities that they suffered in recent times. To encourage the kind of attitude of fervent desire for reparation suggested here would go against the grain, certainly among Africans, because it is not in their nature. What we owe to Africans is a renewed and more energetic attitude, and a greater amount of material, constructive and well thought-out aid for sub-Saharan Africa. Perhaps I may also say that that is true for the Caribbean islands as well. There are slightly different problems there.

I see the issues as quite separate. The issues of slavery need to be open and need to be discussed. We need more debates like this. More children need to know more about the history of their country, about what is good and what is bad. They need to face that appalling period.

I still believe, as did Lord Pitt, in a multi-racial society in this country. It is one of the great tragedies of my life that we have not achieved it. Whether we can achieve it going down the road suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, I do not know. I remain to be persuaded.

10.9 p.m.

My Lords, all of us should certainly be grateful to my noble friend Lord Gifford for the opportunity of this short debate this evening. It has been a good little debate. When we are debating slavery we all particularly value the thoughts of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce.

My noble friend has always championed human rights and colonial freedom. I recall serving under his chairmanship on the British committee for freedom in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea before the revolution against tyranny in Portugal itself, in the days when Portugal was seen by many in this House and the other place as a NATO ally under no circumstances to be criticised and thereby, paradoxically, provoking the extension of Communist influence among those struggling for their freedom in Africa.

My noble friend speaks in the tradition of George Fox, Glanville, Sharp, William Wilberforce, Josiah Wedgwood, Thomas Clarkson and the other determined Quakers, evangelicals and people of principle and vision who achieved the abolition of the slave trade in the Act of 1807 and the abolition of slavery itself in British colonies between 1834 and 1840.

It was a tough, demanding struggle which required unyielding consistency and integrity. Coupled with the courage of those who sought to emancipate the grotesquely exploited working classes, who, although not categorised as slaves, suffered acutely and enjoyed precious little freedom in our own society, it is a powerful lesson to all of us in the age of sound-bite, spin-doctor politics. We should never forget those who devoted themselves to those struggles. More importantly, we should never forget the appalling plight of the slaves and the exploited themselves. The story of slavery goes back for perhaps 10,000 years to the origins of farming itself and the use of prisoners of war on the land; and, as we have been reminded this evening, it continues in many parts of the world today, together with the associated evil of racism, to which my noble friend so powerfully referred.

We should never be tempted to romanticise. Between the 1500s and 1800s, Europeans shipped about 12 million black slaves in hellish conditions from Africa to the western hemisphere. As my noble friend reminded us, nearly 2 million died in transit. Those who survived to reach the United States and other destinations played a major part in economic development, clearing wildernesses, building canals, roads and railways and, to use the term with meaning, slaving away in cotton and sugar plantations, usually more than 16 hours a day.

I hope that I shall be forgiven if, at this point, I quote from Josiah Henson, who wrote of his experience as a field hand. He said that:
"our dress was of tow-cloth … and a pair of coarse shoes once a year. We lodged in log huts … Wooden floors were an unknown luxury. In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women and children … There were neither bedsteads nor furniture … Our beds were collections of straw and old rags … The wind whistled and the rain and snow blew in through the cracks, and the damp earth soaked in the moisture till the floor was miry as a pig-sty".
Slavery was only legally abolished in the United States as a whole in 1865 and in Latin America some 20 years later. I agree with my noble friend; it is sad that there has never been proper reparation for that cruel evil by the exploiters and their advantaged descendants.

If, on all sides of the House, we take an opportunity to pause and reflect on the sober realities and lessons of history, it is not only slavery but colonialism and indeed its aftermath that we have to examine. In some cases, the colonial period fuelled the growth of ethnic tension from which we are still reaping the results today. In Rwanda, for example, under first the Germans and then the Belgians, the minority Tutsi were favoured in terms of education and posts in the colonial administration over the majority Hutu. At independence, the Belgians switched support to the majority Hutu government. Both those factors have been cited by the interesting and somewhat disturbing multi-agency Rwanda evaluation study that is just being published as contributory factors, among many others, which led to the build up of ethnic hatred and the 1994 genocide.

Following their so-called independence, assistance to African countries was often based on Cold War loyalties, with few questions asked about the governance record of the country in question on the basis, I believe, that "It doesn't matter if he is a bastard, provided he is our bastard". Consequently, large amounts of money were "invested" in propping up some fairly dubious regimes. In retrospect, long-term British assistance to the Banda regime in Malawi was almost certainly one such example, although latterly, greatly to the credit of the noble Baroness, the Minister, we froze aid when it became clear just how cruel and repressive that tyranny had become.

It is, frankly, grimly ironic that, in historic terms, so soon after the age of direct or indirect colonialism, we should see freedom again set aside with ruthless unrepresentative oppressive governments in countries like Sudan, Nigeria, the Gambia and, until now, Sierra Leone—though we all pray that in the case of Sierra Leone the elections and peace negotiations may help to pave the way to a better future.

I am sure we would all agree that the thoughts of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, were particularly interesting. Indeed, he is right. Since the end of the Cold War, sub-Saharan Africa has been of much less strategic importance in the West and, given its limited economic importance, it is increasingly falling off the map of world concern. Declining aid budgets in the United States, Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom reflect declining political support for the principle of development co-operation.

While the Overseas Development Administration's fundamental expenditure review claims to address the problem by proposing to focus 85 per cent. of the bilateral programme on 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, I hope the noble Lord opposite will forgive me if I say that there is inevitably strong scepticism—cynicism even—lest that is little more than a smokescreen for managing decline. The Overseas Development Administration's figures demonstrate that, even if the Government moved from 69 per cent. To 85 per cent. being spent in the priority 20 countries over the next two or three years, because country programmes are anyway scheduled to decline over that period the Government would only be able to maintain existing assistance to those 20 countries in cash terms rather than holding it in real terms, let alone increasing it.

In the Caribbean the situation with regard to aid is even worse. The fundamental expenditure review makes it clear that the Caribbean is a non-priority area, despite our historical debt to those islands underlined by the purpose of the debate this evening. The economies of many of those countries are already in peril. Some, having been encouraged by their colonial powers to live off the proceeds of growing a single crop—bananas—now find themselves threatened by the single European market which opens them up to competition from cheaper bananas produced in Latin America. In the face of that, at a time when Britain, as a former colonial power, clearly has a moral duty to assist with diversification, it appears that instead we shall be turning our backs.

The colonial legacy for many African and Caribbean countries has been that the traditional, balanced self-sufficiency, with well-tried coping mechanisms for hard times, has been replaced by over-dependence on a single commodity making them extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices on the world market. In sub-Saharan Africa commodities account for 80 per cent. of exports. Between 1980 and 1993 prices for non-oil commodities fell by more than half relative to prices for manufactured goods. The estimated loss to developing countries over that period was 100 billion US dollars—more than twice the total flow of aid in 1990.

Again, Rwanda is a pertinent example. Rwanda is heavily dependent on coffee and the slump in world coffee prices, combined with other factors such as bad weather and economic policies, led to a per capita fall in incomes of 40 per cent. between 1989 and 1993. That hit the Rwandan peasantry particularly hard, increasing social and economic pressure within society—another factor quoted by the multi-agency evaluation report as contributing to the tragic events of 1994.

The conclusion of the last Uruguay Round was held as a triumph which would benefit everyone; everyone, that is, apart from sub-Saharan Africa which, on the basis of OECD figures, will be the only region to be a net loser under the terms of the agreement. Indeed, if we are talking about reparations, what about some compensation to sub-Saharan Africa for what it is going to lose out on under the Uruguay Round?

While no one should deny that adjustment is necessary, the fact remains that the social costs of adjustment in many African countries have been high. Cuts in public expenditure have encouraged the introduction of user fees for basic health and education services, putting them beyond the reach of the poorest sections of society. During the 1980s real per capita spending on education in Africa fell by one-third while two-thirds of the countries in the region also reduced spending on health. Surely it is imperative for essential social spending to be protected in countries undergoing structural adjustment. It is unforgivable that the innocent should be confronted with the bill for the transgressions of irresponsible—frequently selfish—leaders and equally irresponsible lenders in the past. The poor have no access to those foreign bank accounts.

My noble friend emphasised debt. Perhaps nowhere is our legacy to Africa more apparent than in the spiralling debt burdens under which many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are labouring. Uganda spends 17 dollars per person on debt for every three dollars it is able to spend on health. Zambia spent 37 million dollars on primary education from 1990 to 1993 while it spent 1.3 billion dollars on debt repayments. Tanzania spends twice as much on debt as it spends on access to clean water. The human costs of debt are enormous and existing debt release initiatives have done little to solve the problem. Today's report in the .Financial Times about a new initiative, if true, is encouraging. The IMF/World Bank meeting in April really must end the misery by agreeing a comprehensive solution to the debt crisis incorporating bilateral, multilateral and commercial debt suitably funded from within the multilateral institutions themselves, including the use of World Bank reserves and IMF gold stock and special drawing rights aimed at restoring debt repayments to sustainable levels by the year 2000.

Slavery was abolished as the result of inspired and tireless efforts by the campaigners coupled with a growing doubt about its material economic advantages, a point to which the noble Viscount referred. Similarly, I hope that the efforts of those like my noble friend Lord Gifford—and others like him whom we are able to hear more regularly in this House and the other place—coupled with a growing realisation of the unproductive madness of diverting as much as £3 billion annually, directly or indirectly, from bilateral aid programmes intended to promote sustainable long-term development into debt servicing of multilateral debt, will encourage the Government to work relentlessly for a comprehensive strategy for debt reduction at the forthcoming meeting in April of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. That, I believe, would be a practical first step in the direction so powerfully advocated by my noble friend.

10.23 p.m.

My Lords, we all agree that slavery was shameful. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, speaking in Cape Town in September 1994, described slavery as a moral outrage. No one can feel proud about the traffic in human beings, a traffic which is still taking place today, as many noble Lords have said, in various parts of the world, including Africa. Indeed, one of the worst aspects of the slavery of which we read today is the encompassment of child prostitution with it. The Government totally deplore that slavery. I can assure the noble and learned Lord,Lord Wilberforce, and my noble friend Lord Gisborough that the Government are doing whatever they can to see that it is stopped wherever it occurs.

I turn now to the Atlantic slave trade. Attributing responsibility for that is difficult; it is not straightforward. Slavery existed in Africa for centuries before outsiders began to engage in the trade, and continued after they had stopped. Far more people were enslaved internally in Africa than were ever exported across the Atlantic. The first outside slave traders were in fact North African Arabs, plying across the Sahara. That took place at least some seven or eight centuries before the first Europeans began to practise the trade. The Atlantic trade first began by tapping that long-standing trans-Saharan slave trade to North Africa. In East Africa, the trade was almost entirely in the hands of Arabs from Oman and the Gulf. Nor, as has been mentioned, is slavery a monopoly of Africa: it existed in the Greek and Roman empires, and in many other parts of the world.

At the height of the transatlantic slave trade, considerable numbers of African slavers and middlemen were involved. African rulers could open and close the market at will, at a time when European penetration of Africa was limited. Traders made their own arrangements with African rulers for slaves, supplied by fellow Africans, and had to pay gifts and taxes to various African rulers along the West African coast. African societies often had control of the slaves until they were loaded on to European ships. That is supported by a large body of academic research.

To claim that the Atlantic slave trade was imposed by Western nations on powerless African communities is to deny Africa's political history. African leaders were themselves active participants with the capacity to determine how trade with Europe developed. Many of the highly impressive African kingdoms and empires in West Africa were built on the foundations of slavery, such as the Asante kingdom in present-day Ghana.

Africans, Arabs and Europeans participated in the slave trade. Responsibility for British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade does not rest on the shoulders of the British Government. British participation in the trade was not conducted by the Government but by individual traders and companies. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the Royal Navy played an honourable part in suppressing the transatlantic slave trade by maintaining naval patrols off the West African coast. British also drew up anti-slavery treaties with African leaders in an attempt to suppress the slave trade. As was written in the Chronicle of Abuju, written in Hausa by the two brothers of the Emir of Abuja in 1945,
"when the British came, those men who had been earning a rich living by this trade saw their prosperity vanish, and they became poor men".
The case for reparations for slavery rests on the premise that the effects of slavery are still being felt on Africans now living in Africa and the Diaspora. There is no evidence of that. Current historical research has revised the thinking on the numbers involved in the Atlantic trade and its effects on demography and depopulation. The main areas of slaving, for example, in the Niger delta and Benin, are now among the most densely populated parts of Africa. The majority of slaves exported were male and not female, and this has less impact on demography due to the widespread practice of polygamy. A comparison with Europe illustrates that the economic long-term effects of the Atlantic slave trade are often exaggerated. Emigration from southern Europe, particularly from Italy, to the New World between 1880 and 1914 is estimated at about 30 million. The total of the Atlantic slave trade over a far greater period is now generally accepted to number between 20 million and 25 million.

Mention has been made of the growing support for the campaign for reparations for slavery. However, African leaders increasingly accept that many of the economic problems have arisen from policies pursued since independence. As former Nigerian head of state General Obasanjo said in 1991 at the Africa Leadership Forum Conference in Nigeria:
"the major responsibility of our present impasse must be placed squarely on the shoulders of our leaders".
General Obasanjo is currently detained in Nigeria.

Many noble Lords have mentioned the problem of racism, which is an undoubted evil. No one condones it. Any manifestation needs to be fought. To attribute racism to slavery is too simplistic. Racism occurs not just between black and white, but between different ethnic groups all over the world. It is not just a pure black and white problem.

Much has been said about debt relief. We see no linkage between the debts owed by African countries and the legacy of the slave trade. Any practical claim for reparations may serve to undermine the good and widely recognised arguments for reducing Africa's debt burden. The British Government have been active in promoting debt relief for African countries, because such debts constitute a serious obstacle to development.

The British Government have written off the aid debts of 31 of the world's poorest countries to the total value of £1.2 billion. That includes 18 countries in Africa. Additionally, and exceedingly helpfully, for many years all new aid to the poorest countries has been on grant terms so as not to increase their debt burden. The British Government have taken the lead in pressing for solutions to the official bilateral and multilateral debt burdens of the poorest and most indebted countries. At the Paris Club of government creditors, 14 countries benefited from Naples terms' rescheduling.

The British Government have taken the lead also in pressing for action on multilateral debt. At last year's annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank, the Chancellor called upon all international financial institutions to examine further measures to deal with the problems of multilateral debt for the poorest most indebted countries, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. That work is currently under way, and we expect firm proposals at the April 1996 meetings of the World Bank and IMF.

I touched earlier on the responsibility for slavery. I wish to return to that. Arabs, Europeans, Americans and Africans were all directly involved in the trade, but even if it could be decided to whom the bill should be sent, to whom should any proceeds go? Which Africans would benefit and how? Which descendants of slaves living in America, the Caribbean, or the UK should benefit? To whom, incidentally, should the UK send the bill for the naval squadrons that patrolled the waters of West Africa for half a century to prevent the Spaniards, Brazilians and others from slaving long after we had abolished it?

We should remember also the large percentage of slaves who were prisoners of war in ethnic clashes who would otherwise just have been killed.

I return to the subject of aid: 40 per cent. of our bilateral aid (over £386 million in 1994–95) went to countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We also make a substantial contribution through multilateral aid. The EU's aid programme to sub-Saharan Africa from 1990 to 1995 was the equivalent of £7.6 billion. The UK's share of that was £1.25 billion. However, we are quite aware that the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa will continue to require substantial amounts of aid. These countries have been, and will continue to be, a high priority for British aid. Many have embarked on structural re-adjustment and policy reform programmes which take time to bear fruit. Their external funding needs are substantial in order to reconstruct their economies and to provide better living standards.

Comment has been made about international precedents. In May 1991 in Lagos Chief Anyaoku, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, devoted an entire speech to the legacy of slavery. However, he stated that, although the moral case was strong, there was no precedent for reparations outside the post-war settlement. The fact that reparations for war crimes have been paid in this century—for example, Germany, Japan and Iraq—is a red herring. It provides no historic parallel. They were among the terms for peace imposed at once by victors in the wars upon vanquished governments and could be precisely catalogued.

The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, mentioned the Queen's apology to the Maoris. Her Majesty's apology to a New Zealand Maori tribe for the killings and seizure of land that it suffered under Queen Victoria was at the instigation of her New Zealand Ministers; in other words, the New Zealand Government, which is constitutionally distinct from the British Government. It was not a personal apology from the Queen. It was an acknowledgement of the breach of the treaty signed in 1840. The situation is therefore entirely different. It was not a question of slavery but one of the possession of land resulting from war.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, surprisingly mentioned the fundamental expenditure review. He is aware, as are all noble Lords, that every government must balance the many public expenditure priorities and demands. The ODA's job is to ensure that the resources allocated to development are spent well and make a real difference to the lives of poorer people. The FER concluded that development assistance has, by and large, been effective and there is a continuing need for Britain to provide concessional aid. It reaffirmed both the moral argument for this country being involved in the development effort and that of enlightened self interest. The Government agree.

Lord Judd : My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. If he is drawing on the substance of the fundamental expenditure review, would he not agree that virtually in words of one syllable the authors of that review questioned whether the resources of our aid programme were now sufficient to meet the commitments which have been undertaken?

My Lords, I shall be dealing with that point, if I may be allowed to continue. The FER recommended that we should define better our basic purpose and the aims that serve that purpose. We have done so. Our purpose is stated clearly; that is, to improve the quality of life for people in poorer countries by contributing to sustainable development and reducing poverty and suffering. It is important to note that all our work will be directed to meeting that overarching purpose of poverty reduction and sustainable development.

The FER recommended concentration. In principle, I agree with the recommendation that the ODA's bilateral resources should be concentrated. We are working in more countries and undertaking more complex activities than ever before. Focusing our regular bilateral country programmes on fewer recipients will improve the quality and impact of our aid and maximise our influence. Other countries will continue to benefit from British partnership schemes, the heads of mission schemes and smaller-scale projects often provided with local NGOs. I believe that that answers the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Judd.

My Lords, with great respect, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord for endeavouring to meet the point. However, if he reads carefully what he said, he will see that he has not done so. He talks about concentrating the aid programme and establishing priorities but he has not dealt with the criticism in the report that there are not sufficient resources to meet the commitments. Furthermore, he has not dealt with the point that I raised; namely, that the report talks about the possible need to reduce support in the Caribbean when that the Caribbean, at a time of the single market and the European Community, is facing new challenges as it should be trying to diversify away from exclusive dependence on bananas.

My Lords, at this hour, I do not believe that it is appropriate to become involved in a discussion on banana regimes and the EU/ACP Lomé IV agreement which is in existence at the moment and on which a mid-term review was signed in Mauritius in early November of last year.

Of course, as has been said a number of times from this Dispatch Box, the ODA would rather have more funds to expend. However, we have also discussed from the Dispatch Box the restrictions which are imposed by our friends in the Treasury. Therefore, we have decided that as far as possible, we wish to concentrate the funds that we do have in the best possible way.

The return of artefacts was mentioned. As I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, knows, in this country that is a matter for the trustees of the museums who are independent. In the past the British Museum has said that it is prevented from disposing of any part of its collection by the British Museum Act 1963.

My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke asked about the cost of researching and preparing for this Question. I do not have those figures, but all Questions are expensive to prepare and research at this time of night. Of course, that should not necessarily discourage any noble Lord from tabling a Question.

To suggest that the Government should make reparations to the African nations and the descendants of Africans for the damage caused by the slave trade is clearly, from what I have said, not appropriate. A great deal of our aid—40 per cent. of our bilateral country programmes—is accounted for by Africa. That recognises the fact that Africa contains many of the world's poorest countries. Therefore, we are playing a major part in helping Africa to overcome its problems of poverty and under-development. But those problems have nothing to do with the slave trade. Slavery has not had the enduring effect claimed for it and the Government do not accept that there is a case for reparation.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes before eleven o'clock.