Financial Security and Reducing Inequality in the Caribbean: Government Role — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:49 am on 8th March 2023.

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Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Labour, Norwich South 10:49 am, 8th March 2023

I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I wish there were more here. There aren’t, but perhaps in the future there will be, because this issue is not going to go anywhere. I will play my part in ensuring that St Kitts and Nevis is mentioned a number of times in Hansard, but it would be remiss of me not to say: Grenada, Grenada, Grenada, Grenada, Grenada, Grenada! My father, probably watching this in Gouyave at some point, would never forgive me if I did not mention his island in this debate.

This is part of the complexity of the issue—that a descendant of former slaves, a part of that injustice, can find themselves centuries later in the British Parliament making the case for reparations. That is the complexity of the issue; this injustice has been done, and yet it is this country that has given me the opportunity to stand here today to make this argument. We all acknowledge that the issue is complex, but life is complex, history is complex, and it is our job as politicians to be able to navigate that.

I thank Daniel Kawczynski for turning up—I am looking at some empty Benches on both sides of the Chamber. He spoke, as have others today, about China. People in the Caribbean are well aware that China has its own motivations—not all of them honourable—for wanting to invest in the Caribbean, but it is investing and it does not have the colonial hang-ups and history that that money from the United Kingdom, which is not coming in, would have. It does not have that complex history, so we can understand why people in the Caribbean accept Chinese investment.

I welcome the hon. Member’s comments on accepting the comparison between German-Polish reparations and British-Caribbean ones; it was an important and gracious point to make, and I thank him for it. I disagree with him, though, on the matter of racist immigration policies and the EU’s part in that. Of course the EU has racist immigration policies. “Fortress Europe” is a term that I am well aware of when it comes to immigration into the EU, but we have to remember that the campaign for Brexit was a complex campaign with many different actors and motivations. However, it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge that a key part of the Brexiteers’ campaign was one based on a fear of all immigration—east European, European, and from across the globe. It would be wrong not to acknowledge that.

Patrick Grady mentioned, as have others, Haiti and the severe situation that it finds itself in. As I was listening to him, I could not help but think of CLR James and “The Black Jacobins”, and Toussaint Louverture, the black Spartacus, because Haiti, of all Caribbean countries, has paid a heavy price for the defiance it showed at the turn of the 19th century when it freed itself from slavery. It has suffered for centuries the wrath of western countries—the United States and Europe—because it freed itself from slavery. I think it is fair to say that Haiti is still, to this day, paying a price for that resistance.

The hon. Member for Glasgow also spoke about the sorrow that his country and party feel about slavery. We have heard sorrow expressed by Labour and Conservative Governments and now the SNP, but I am afraid that sorrow is not enough. There is a question for the SNP as we move into the future: if it one day extracts itself from what it might call English imperialism—I know some do—what will the SNP’s position be on reparations, and all the economic benefits and advantages that that country now enjoys, in part because of what happened in the Caribbean? The Campbells and many other surnames testify to the Scottish slave owners and the benefits that came back to Scotland. It will be interesting to see where the SNP go on that in the future. I will monitor that closely, and I think there are questions for them to answer.

It is always a pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend Fabian Hamilton speak; he is so eloquent, kind and compassionate. I particularly appreciated the connection between what it is to be a Jewish immigrant and what it is to be a black immigrant. While there are differences, there are lots of similarities in the experience. I also acknowledge that it is way above his paygrade to be able to make any substantial position changes from where the last Labour Government were on this issue.

I understand that for my party this is a difficult issue, especially in the so-called red wall seats, where we feel such issues could alienate potential Labour voters. It is for the Labour party to make the argument and the case as to why this is the right thing to do. I think that people will listen, because there is a connection. At the end of British colonialism, the deindustrialisation that occurred in many of the former glorious cities of Leeds, Bradford and Manchester damaged those communities. That was an integral part of decolonisation. The pivot of British capitalism away from manufacturing, leaving so many of those people and communities bankrupt and broken, is something we are still paying for today. That is why we have the levelling-up agenda. British capitalism pivoted to financialisation, and those communities paid a price for that. We can never forget that that is connected to colonisation, slavery and our history.

There is a message here for an incoming Labour Government—we do not know if that will happen, but I am confident and hopeful that it will. I would tell my Front Bench team that this issue will not go away. It will be there, and it will land on the desk of my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, who I hope will be the first Caribbean Foreign Secretary. It will be on his shoulders to say yes or no on this matter; and many people will be waiting with bated breath in anticipation of his decision, and the decision of a potential future Labour Government. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East will pass that on to the Labour Front Bench.

Turning to the Government, again, there is the question of paygrades. I did not really expect the Minister to be able to come here, issue a formal apology and then set out in detail the reparations that will be coming to the Caribbean. What I have done today is put down a marker. However, I will comment on some of the things the Minister talked about that got my goat a little bit. He talked about capital investment finance and new finance deals; those are about sucking yet more money out of the Caribbean, because although there is investment, a return is taken out. The whole issue of reparations is about not taking any more. After 400 years, we have taken enough from the Caribbean. Now it is time to put back into the Caribbean, not to continue the financialisation and extraction processes.

Today we kept hearing about the bridge between St Kitts and Nevis. Bridge building is what reparatory justice is also about; it is about building a bridge between the past and the present, between injustice and justice, and between Britain and the Caribbean—a bridge to a more prosperous future for all.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered financial security and inequality in the Caribbean.