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Lord Gifford: 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.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: 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 expose 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.
Lord Wilberforce: 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,
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
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,