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10.9 p.m.

Lord Judd: 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:


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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

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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

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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.


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