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 thank the hon. Gentleman for those points. We can have both a fair immigration system in this country, which we do not have at the moment, and justice for the Caribbean. The two are not controversial or incompatible.

The money paid to the slave owners in the 1830s poured into the British economy, paying for Victorian infrastructure and modernisation. That includes the embankment over there, across from where we sit; the first underground, the Metropolitan line; and new modern insurance companies, with the capital to go global. That was all generated by the investment that came from the compensation given to slave owners.

That compensation in part funded what would eventually become the insurance giant Aviva, based in my Norwich South constituency and formerly known as Norwich Union. It financed vast cultural and learning investment in universities, the creative arts and science. It financed a modern 19th century military industrial machine, one finally able to colonise Africa and vast swathes of Asia in that fast phase of 19th century colonialism, finishing what had been started in the centuries before.

For former slaves in the Caribbean, there was no such economic renaissance. The century after emancipation was one of racist brutality, the suppression of basic human and labour rights, bloodshed and massacre. Even in the 1930s, people in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and St Kitts witnessed violent suppression and death at the hands of British colonial police forces for seeking basic labour rights in the colonial sugar factories, mines and fields that they still toiled in, for poverty wages—and all the time, the profits rolled out of the Caribbean, not into it.

Already I can hear the howls of those opposed to the reparations and the apology that no British Government have ever given: “Move on! Get over it! Don’t linger in the past; look to the future!” But there is no future worth looking forward to in the Caribbean until we confront the past. If people go to the Caribbean, what they will see is the past alive and well today. There is poverty, racism still, inequality, and debt. But do not confuse an honest appraisal of the situation across much of today’s Caribbean for victimhood, because although the peoples of the Caribbean have been wronged, they are a proud and capable people, whose 400-year baptism of fire has made them strong and resilient, with great potential—potential that now needs to be realised.

Let us take, for example, the University of the West Indies. Despite the past, it ranks among the top 1.5% of universities globally. That is evidence of how far ahead the Caribbean could have been had three quarters of the population not been unable to read or write just 60 years ago. That was the condition they were left in when they were given independence—illiteracy rates of 60% or 70%. So when, as happened this week, the Prime Minister of Grenada, Dickon Mitchell, invites British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, another son of empire, to discuss reparations, he does so with full understanding of that potential.

It is potential that CARICOM—the Caribbean Community—and its 10-point plan for reparatory justice also recognises. Its reparations commission is working with initiatives such as Repair, set up by the entrepreneur Denis O’Brien. Their joint mission is for an EU and UK 25-year, multibillion-pound programme of reparation and repair and investment in the Caribbean, involving education, physical infrastructure and science and technology, replicating the EU’s structural investment funding, which transformed the poorest countries and regions of the EU, including Ireland and Poland. The same can be done for the Caribbean. It can be given the tools to prosper, to make the jump to clean energy technologies, and to adapt to the climate crisis, by which it will be disproportionately affected. There have been centuries of carbon-intensive manufacturing, which the bodies of its people financed, but it receives no share of the bounty. The irony of the climate crisis is never lost on me—or on millions of other people around the planet.

I am sure that the Minister will tell us today of the largesse of Britain and its generous overseas development packages. Let us unpack that. Forget for now that this Government oversaw a 21% drop in aid spending since 2020, as a result of their decision to cut aid budgets from 0.7 of GDP to 0.5% of GDP. I have the Library figures for the British Government’s overseas aid to Caribbean countries in millions of pounds, not adjusted for inflation, over a series of years. For Grenada, the figures are 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.1, 0.2. This is the reality of overseas aid for the Caribbean. Let us go down the table. For St Lucia, the figures are 0.0, 0.0, 0.2, 0.2, 0.1. The 0.2 is a fraction of a million—hundreds of thousands of pounds. St Vincent and the Grenadines: 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.1. We get the picture.