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Understanding Slavery Initiative

Volume 448: debated on Monday 3 July 2006

8. What assessment she has made of the work of the Understanding Slavery Initiative producing materials for schools about the trans-Atlantic slave trade to support the teaching of history and citizenship. (81369)

The Understanding Slavery Initiative is having a real and positive impact on the teaching of that complex issue, and has produced high-quality materials and training for teachers and museum educators across the country.

I thank my hon. Friend for his recent visit to Hull to see our preparations for Wilberforce 2007. Will he join me in congratulating Hull university, which this week opens the Wilberforce institute for the study of slavery and emancipation, which will study the present-day context of slavery and what we can learn from the slave trade, as well as work alongside local schools?

I truly enjoyed my visit to Hull on Monday last week to join my hon. Friend and many other colleagues on the trip to the Wilberforce museum. Hull has been key to the development of the training resource. It is important that teachers are able to discuss sensitive and difficult issues at key stage 3 and have the right materials to do that. Hull has been absolutely brilliant, especially in its work with the National Maritime museum to develop those resources. I wish everyone in Hull the best of luck for the launch of WISE on Friday. I understand that Desmond Tutu is the president of that important new research facility. The work done at Hull, together with work carried out in Liverpool, Bristol and London, will help to ensure that the commemorations and celebrations of the abolition of slavery next year are a huge success.

Does the Minister accept that Wilberforce was not only Hull’s greatest son, but probably the greatest Back Bencher in the history of the House?

He did not belong to any party. It was Wilberforce’s parliamentary campaign that led not to the abolition of slavery in 1807, but the abolition of the slave trade. Can those facts be emphasised to all young people as they study what can be achieved by a persistent parliamentary campaign?

The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why a Committee of both Houses, very much with the grace of Mr. Speaker, is examining closely how those issues can be conveyed next year. It is true that Wilberforce played a key role as a parliamentary campaigner, but it is also true that the Quakers, who, for obvious reasons, sometimes remain silent about the role that they played, should be remembered, as should many of the black former slave campaigners.

Happy birthday to you, Mr. Speaker and to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), who assures me that refreshments are on him today.

Will the Minister indicate whether he agrees with and will support a grass-roots-led UK annual memorial day regarding the transatlantic slave trade?

My hon. Friend is right that some Members and communities have asked for a memorial day. There have been differences of opinion about what day that should be and about whether we should focus on a day or on other things to do with celebrations of the abolition of slavery. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that he keeps an open mind on these issues, so we will see whether a consensus can be arrived at.

Next year is the 200th anniversary of the death of the slave ship commander turned Christian hymn writer, John Newton. After his conversion on board a slave ship, he wrote one of the most famous hymns of all time, “Amazing Grace”. Will the Minister ensure that next year there is some formal recognition of that amazing figure in English religious literature?

We are in discussions with colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills on these issues, as we are with leaders of our cultural institutions, some of whom sit on the advisory committee that is led by the Deputy Prime Minister. I will ensure that that specific issue is raised.