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Contracting Out (Functions in relation to the Welfare Food Scheme) Order 1996

9.6 p.m.

Baroness Cumberlege rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th February be approved [11th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order is made under the powers at Section 69 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. Its purpose is to streamline and improve procedures for the reimbursement of milk suppliers under the GB health departments' welfare food scheme by allowing the departments' contractor to undertake the whole reimbursement process. Beneficiaries themselves will not be affected in any way.

The welfare food scheme provides a nutritional benefit in kind rather than in cash. One of its main provisions is that families in receipt of income support receive a milk token each week for each child under the age of five. That can be exchanged for seven pints of cows' milk. The token can be exchanged for milk with any milk retailer who chooses to take part in the scheme. Having accepted the token in "payment" for the milk supplied, the supplier gets reimbursed for the token by sending it to the Welfare Food Reimbursement Unit. Until 1993, that reimbursement work was carried out by civil servants in two separate locations.

During 1989-1991, a value-for-money initiative focused on the welfare food scheme. One key recommendation was for reimbursement to be centralised at one site. As part of the Government's Competing for Quality initiative it was also decided to market test the reimbursement function in 1993 so as to improve value for money through competition and private section involvement.

The contract was awarded in 1994 to NCH (Nielsen's Clearing House Ltd). NCH has been successfully running the reimbursement operation on behalf of GB health departments since then. It runs an efficient operation using modern technology. But we have not been able to gain full advantage of the contractor's services. We are limited by the requirements of the Social Security Act 1988 which reserves the reimbursement function for the Secretary of State or his

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officials. It cannot be carried out solely by a private contractor. As a result, contracting out of reimbursement has been less efficient than it could be. DH officials have had formally to approve and authorise around 1,000 claims daily as well as requesting any proof necessary.

Section 69 of the Deregulation and Contracting out Act enables a Minister to make an order contracting out the reimbursement functions, subject to the assent of Parliament. That is the purpose of this order. Once the order has come into effect, a Minister may then issue an authorisation to the department's contractor. This will enable the contractor to carry out the reimbursement. It will also allow us to authorise the contractor to ask for the necessary documentary advice to support the claims.

The use of this procedure will enable us to gain the maximum benefits. It will speed up the reimbursement process providing a more efficient service to milk suppliers. It will also avoid duplication of effort and release officials' time to devote to core health business.

I should like to reassure your Lordships that this will not affect the benefit delivered or welfare food beneficiaries themselves in any way. It is purely an administrative matter. There will be no dilution of standards being applied to welfare food reimbursement claims. We have ensured that the contractor's systems offer robust safeguards for the reimbursement process and for the public purse. Checks by the DH staff, by the DH's internal auditors and by the National Audit Office will continue to subject the system to regular scrutiny.

The order before the House is therefore a straightforward provision enabling us to improve the efficiency of the administration of the welfare food scheme with no detriment to beneficiaries. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th February be approved [11th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Cumberlege.)

9.15 p.m.

Lord Rea: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for explaining the order. It authorises the claims by retailers for reimbursement under the scheme to be handled by Nielsen's Clearing House Limited through the whole process, part of which until now has occupied the equivalent of one member of the administrative staff of the Department of Health. If the order is passed--I have no intention of opposing it--that function will be left entirely in the hands of the contractor. What I feel we should be sure about is whether the department will still have sufficient evidence to ensure that the process is being carried out to acceptable standards. After all, the taxpayer foots the Bill. Can we be sure that a contractor will not be able at some time in the future to falsify claims?

The welfare food scheme is still, sadly, very necessary, as became clear during exchanges on the Starred Question in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, earlier this afternoon. Children from low-income families often do not get adequate quantities of some nutrients and get too much of others which are less desirable--fat and sugar--so that welfare foods,

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which in this case consist of liquid milk, are still very important. I hope the noble Baroness can reaffirm that the smooth operation of the scheme will in no way be adversely affected by the order.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord all the reassurances that he seeks. There will still be weekly checks in the system, the internal auditors and the National Audit Office will still be involved, but we think that under the new system we will get speedier payments. The noble Lord is right to say that there will be savings--of one person's time--but the job is a fairly mindless and soul-destroying job in that it involves checking all the returns that are made--1,000 a day. It is a huge and boring task.

It is right that the House should pass the order. I can assure the noble Lord that we are satisfied that there will be no dilution of standards being applied to the claims and that the contractor system offers robust safeguards for the reimbursement process.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Slavery: Legacy

9.18 p.m.

Lord Gifford 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

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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

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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:

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    "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 arguments 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.

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