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Volume 457: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2007

13. If he will make a statement on the debate that he is seeking to organise for young people from Commonwealth countries on the consequences of slavery. (125510)

Mr. Speaker, you will recall the enthusiasm and the high quality of the discussion that took place when, as Deputy Speaker, you chaired a debate for young people whom I had brought together some years ago to examine environmental policy. I am hoping that a similar debate will be arranged as part of our plans to commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. I am discussing with various authorities, including the British Council, which does excellent work on the issue, the possibility of getting young people from a number of Commonwealth countries, as well as younger people from across the United Kingdom, to participate in that debate, which I hope will take place in the Houses of Parliament. The debate will allow our young people, who live in an increasingly interconnected world, to share their thoughts and experiences of life in a discussion on the growing problem of human trafficking. They will be able to reflect on the past, and look to the future.

My right hon. Friend is right to seek to hold that debate. Will he inform the House of how his discussions with young people in Sierra Leone and Gambia have informed his thinking on the debate, and will he meet me to discuss how the subject of modern-day slavery could play a part in the discussions?

I most certainly will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matters. Indeed, the House will have a chance on 20 March to debate the issue of slavery. The importance of bringing young people together was impressed on me during our visit to the classrooms and schools in Sierra Leone and Ghana. In a powerful commemoration of the bicentenary, a slave scene was enacted, in which people dressed in chains, like the slaves of that time, and were chained to a person with a whip. One of the lines that was said, to which everybody should give thought, was that not every white man was guilty and not every black man was innocent. In those circumstances, if we saw the broader picture of the problem of slavery, we could start a proper debate about the issues, instead of about the total shame that we feel about the actions that took place more than 200 years ago.