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9.48 p.m.

Lord Gisborough: 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.

Lord Gifford: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Of course I recognise that if there were a

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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.

Lord Gisborough: 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.

The Viscount of Falkland: 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

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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

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by the 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.

Lord Gifford: 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.

The Viscount of Falkland: 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.

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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.

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