Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:12 am on 8th March 2023.
The distribution of aid should be determined on a needs basis, and it would be easier if there was more of the pot to go around. As I understand it, under the OECD and official development assistance rules, there are issues with how much of their budget the UK Government can give to countries that are essentially their own territories and have that counted as aid. However, they should be providing support of the kind that has been discussed, to enable those countries to raise themselves and their people to the standard of living that the rest of us take for granted. That is why I spoke earlier about addressing the impact of tax evasion and financial corruption. Huge amounts of money are flowing through some of these countries, but not everybody living in them is feeling the benefit. Perhaps if there was more transparency and fair taxation, some of those issues would be addressed.
I turn back to the question of colonial legacies. In recent years, many Governments and authorities across the United Kingdom, the US, Europe and other countries with historical involvement in the slave trade and colonialism have been asked, or are asking themselves, searching questions about how that legacy can be recognised and understood, and how amendments and apologies can best be made. The hon. Member for Norwich South was right to acknowledge the ambitious and pioneering actions of the Trevelyan family, who I know are paying close attention to today’s debate. I think we can all recognise that, in many cases, there is still quite a distance to go before justice is fully served, but there are exemplars and initiatives that point in the right direction.
In recent years, the city councils of both Glasgow and Edinburgh have examined their historical involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, and have adopted motions of regret and apology for that. The review for City of Edinburgh Council was chaired by Sir Geoff Palmer, who was Scotland’s first black professor, and Glasgow’s report was conducted by Dr Stephen Mullen of the University of Glasgow and championed by Councillor Graham Campbell, Glasgow’s first councillor of Afro-Caribbean descent, who has been a real driving force in taking this issue forward.
When the report into Glasgow’s connections was published, the leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, said that
“the tentacles of the slave economy reached far into Glasgow and helped build and shape this city. It also talks about the legacy of enslavement in the form of institutionalised racism in today’s Glasgow.
And this must be publicly acknowledged. We need to be honest about Glasgow’s history, our involvement in the slave economy, the attempt at creating a Scottish empire and our deep role in the British Empire. There are people who live every day with the legacy of their ancestors having been enslaved. We need to step up and apologise, to express contrition and sorrow for our part in the moral atrocity of slavery.”
As I said, the basis of that report came as a result of work by Dr Stephen Mullen of the University of Glasgow, who audited the city’s connections to the transatlantic slave trade. The university, which I am proud to represent in this House, has taken its own steps and committed to pay £20 million over the next 20 years in reparations, in recognition of its role in the slave trade. That money will be used to support a centre for development research at the University of the West Indies, which the hon. Member for Norwich South spoke about so highly.
There are therefore calls for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to act at a national level in this regard. Of course, there is a time of change upon the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, so perhaps some of the concerns should be drawn to the attention of those aspiring to be our next First Minister. But we are here today to hold the UK Government to account, so I hope the Minister will look at the steps being taken by local authorities, universities and other institutions across the UK, and consider how the Government can recognise and respond to the legacy of slavery and colonialism, in which their predecessors were complicit.
It is clear from the debate that people in the Caribbean, like people anywhere on this planet, deserve to live lives of dignity and respect, and enjoy basic financial security and freedom from stark inequalities. There have been significant suggestions today as to how the UK Government can work to achieve that, and I hope the Minister will respond appropriately.