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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 8th March 2023.

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Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Labour, Norwich South 9:30 am, 8th March 2023

I beg to move,

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

It is an honour to conduct the debate with you in the Chair, Mr Davies. Before embarking on such debates, it is customary for Members to declare any interests that might influence them in the debate at hand. Heritage is rarely one of them, but I would, for the purposes of this debate, like to declare that I am a son of both Britain and the Caribbean island of Grenada, and therefore have a vested interest in these matters.

What are these matters? I would contend that we cannot debate our Government’s role in promoting financial security and reducing inequality in the Caribbean without discussing the elephant in the room—namely, the preceding 400 years of exploitative colonial history and the urgent need for some form of reparatory justice.

I am not the first person to raise the issue. Indeed, I would not be here discussing it today without the understanding and analysis of Caribbean giants such as Frantz Fanon, who wrote “The Wretched of the Earth”; Eric Williams, who produced the seminal work “Capitalism and Slavery”; Walter Rodney, who wrote “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”; and Sir Hilary Beckles, who wrote “How Britain Underdeveloped the Caribbean”.

While those people, in their own way, gave us the theoretical and academic arguments for the case for reparations for colonialism and slavery, I want to thank another group for the compassion and leadership they have shown on the issue—namely, the Trevelyan family, some of whom I believe are here today in the Gallery, fresh from their visit to Grenada, where, as the descendants of slave owners, they did what no British Government have ever done. They apologised for their ancestors’ part in the exploitation of the 1,000 slaves they owned on six plantations. They acknowledged the financial and cultural advantage that had generated for them, and urged the British Government, as I do today, to enter meaningful negotiations with the Governments of the Caribbean in order to make appropriate reparations.

The Trevelyan family did not leave it there. They set up an educational fund worth £100,000, and in so doing opened the door of the debate just a little wider. Thank you very much for all that you have done.

The issue of reparations could simply be dismissed as the obsession of a small group of so-called woke extremists. We have seen in this country a political backlash, often from Members on the Conservative Benches, against any notion that we should reassess our history as regards colonialism and slavery, and the impact they have had, and continue to have, on the lives of millions across the globe and here in the United Kingdom.

Whether it is the pulling down of slaver statues or campaigning against the National Trust’s efforts to educate the public about the link between slavery and the financing behind many of our stately homes, this is a live issue that evokes great passion and sometimes anger. That is entirely understandable, because when anyone questions the very story we tell ourselves and the world around us about who we are and what we represent, that is challenging—triggering, even. People who have been in a relationship will know this.

Relationships can be difficult because our partners often challenge those notions of who we think we are: “What do you mean I snore? What do you mean I’m tight fisted? How dare you say I leave the toilet seat up?” Learning things about ourselves and others can either end in denial, argument and divorce or result in growth and development. That is what those calling for dialogue on this issue are striving for. The Commonwealth is a relationship between Britain and her former colonies, which, like a partner who has endured 400 years of the most hideous abuse, seek not charity but restitution.