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10.23 p.m.

Lord Chesham: 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.

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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

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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

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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 l994-95) 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.

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