asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to efforts to eradicate contemporary slavery.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who will contribute to this debate. I am also grateful that it takes place today, for it is a fitting advent for next year’s bicentenary of William Wilberforce’s parliamentary achievement in abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire.
However, we cannot celebrate the end of slavery. In 1998, the United Nations established the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to investigate the nature and extent of slavery today. The High Commissioner for Human Rights stated:
“Slavery continues to be reported in a wide range of forms: traditional chattel slavery, bonded labour, serfdom, child labour, migrant labour, domestic labour, forced labour and slavery for ritual or religious purposes”.
Twenty-seven million people are now enslaved. Behind each statistic is a human being, and behind that human being are a family and a community, devastated or destroyed by the horror of slavery. I am grateful to other noble Lords who I know will be addressing the many diverse aspects involving the eradication of slavery.
As real-life experiences speak louder than words, I would like to introduce some of the hundreds of people whom I have met who have endured modern slavery. These people are the “lucky” ones who have escaped. But, even then, the aftermath of slavery blights their lives. Often their families have perished and their homes have been destroyed. Girls may find it very hard to attract a “good” husband if they have been subjected to sexual relationships. And, for all, there is the memory of their ordeals and the stigma of having been a slave.
My examples come from three areas: Burma, Uganda and Sudan. First, I turn to Burma, where the military junta with the Orwellian name, the State Peace and Development Council, uses slavery in many ways. Over the past 12 years, I have interviewed scores of men, women and children from Karen, Karenni, Shan, Chin and Kachin states. Their testimonies have a chilling consistency: SPDC troops regularly round up villagers and force them to undertake unpaid labour, carrying 30 kilograms of rice or ammunition from dawn to dusk with little respite for food, water or rest. Elderly people and pregnant women are not exempt. If they fall by the wayside, they are beaten and sometimes killed. Some are used as human minesweepers; many die. A 35 year-old married woman with two children from a village in Karen state told her story:
“My husband died or was killed when acting as a forced porter for the SPDC. He was a rice farmer and he had to work many times as a porter, usually for two to three weeks at a time. Porters would all have to work for nine to 10 hours per day and had to carry loads of 60 kilograms. Those unable to work such hours or to carry such loads were firstly beaten, usually with rifles, then, if they still could not comply, they were shot. I had to do portering duties twice after my husband’s death. There were about 100 porters in my group and about 70 per cent of them were women. We slept on mats on the jungle floor and soldiers would come at night and take any women they chose. My task was to carry rocks and stones to build a road and a railway”.
The ILO has confirmed and condemned the Burmese regime’s policy of forced labour, but it continues unabated, as people in both Karen and Shan states told me when I met them last month. The use of sexual slavery by the SPDC as a weapon of war has been widely documented, and 70,000 boy soldiers have been abducted and forced to serve in the army. Escapees describe how they were kidnapped, taken to military camps and then sent into active service. Their parents are never informed of what has happened to them.
Those heartbreaking examples of slavery in Burma surely amount to crimes against humanity. Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the UN Security Council to take urgent measures to end slavery in Burma today?
Secondly, I turn to Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted over 25,000 children, brutalising them and forcing them to fight against their own people. One child’s story must speak for countless others, including the many who have perished and will never be able to speak for themselves.
Alur Florence, aged 15, from Patongo was abducted in 2002 and taken to Sudan. She was kept bound for one and a half weeks with virtually no food and was then given to an LRA commander as his “wife”. She was trained to become a soldier, given a gun and taken to Gulu. She had to fight and, on five missions, had to take other children into captivity, treating them as she had been treated. She said:
“I became wild. I didn’t care about killing and I possibly became worse than them. If I had met my mother and father, I would have killed them. I acted like someone who is deranged. I don’t know how many people I have killed”.
She has been told that her parents are dead. Four of her siblings were abducted; she is the only one to return, as the others were killed in battle.
Many children and young people are still missing. Those who return face grave difficulties, trying to be reintegrated into communities that are themselves displaced by war, and living in camps without adequate healthcare or education. These young people stress that their overriding desire is for education, which is essential to build new lives, but often they cannot afford the fees. Many well qualified teachers live in the camps and are eager to teach but there are no facilities. Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the Ugandan Government to address this issue as a priority?
Finally, I turn to Sudan, where traditional practices of slavery, especially of Africans by Arabs, were reinstated, with the use of slavery as a weapon of war by the Islamist National Islamic Front regime. This regime seized power by military coup in 1989 to become the so-called Government of Sudan. It quickly declared military Islamic jihad against all who oppose it: Muslims, Christians and traditional believers. One weapon of jihad is slavery. In a typical raid, men would be killed and women and children would be taken away as concubines and slaves. They were exploited to fulfil the NIF’s objectives: the forced Islamisation of those not already Muslims and the forced Arabisation of Africans.
In October 1995, on a visit to Nyamlell and Manyiel in Bahr al Ghazal, we found evidence of widespread, systematic slavery. Manyiel was a place where Arab traders brought back enslaved women and children from the north. They described the Sudanese Government’s policy of encouraging attacks by Arab raiders on African southerners:
“The Government of Sudan arms militias with AK47s to fight the people in the south. The militia raid villages to capture women and children. There have been many raids. Omer al-Bashir and the Government have made public the fact that they are arming these militias. So the militia are certainly armed by the Government of Sudan and encouraged to develop the slave trade”.
We interviewed many local Africans who had been enslaved. Adut Wol Ngor was caring for 62 victims of a raid in March 1995. She recalled that day:
“The enemy came early on March 25. About 300 people were killed ... they came on horseback and on foot. We ran with the children to try to hide them in the long grass but they found us and took the older children away. Any who refused to go, they killed … Those who went, were tied with a rope and pulled like cows behind horses. Some children were as little as seven years old. Some died of thirst”.
The story of another family is typical. Mr Apin Apin Akot was away from home looking after his cattle when his wife was captured with two of their children, aged four and nine, in March 1995. His wife told us her story:
“The Arabs came at dawn and captured us; on the way they ‘did what they wanted with us’. They tied babies onto horses and our daughter has a paralysed leg as a result. We walked on foot for two days. We were taken to Meyram to a camp, where they built a fence around us … We were beaten every day, any time they felt like it. I was there for three and a half months. They took some of the girls and women to … a place where slaves are traded with a camel-owning tribe. I don’t know what happened to them. Sometimes we had to work as domestic slaves or as water carriers. I had to work in the home of a man called Nuwer Omer … This man had five slave children. He still has one of our children, a daughter aged nine … because my husband did not have enough money—the equivalent of 25 cows”,
to pay for her release. Having lost all his possessions, that father could not raise the money to purchase the freedom of their nine year-old daughter, so we gave him the money he needed to rescue her. On a subsequent visit, he greeted us with joy, exclaiming:
“Every morning I wake a happy man, because I was able to redeem my older daughter and now we are together again as a family”.
CEAWC—the Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children—has been established to rescue slaves, but it is not operating effectively. The NIF regime is abnegating responsibility, claiming that the Government of southern Sudan should be funding the rescue operation. According to James Aguer, a Dinka member of CEAWC, a further 35,000 children are still not free and tens of thousands of missing people are held in territory controlled by the northern regime. This is utterly unacceptable. The Government of Sudan promoted and funded the slave raids. The responsibility for freeing those enslaved lies entirely with that Government, who have massive oil revenues. I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will put great pressure on the Government of Sudan to fulfil their obligations to ensure the freedom of all Sudanese citizens enslaved in the previous war, and now in Darfur.
In conclusion, I return to this country. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the efforts of Her Majesty’s Government to eradicate slavery, and the preparations to commemorate the bicentenary of William Wilberforce’s parliamentary achievements. I hope that events will not be so focused on the past that we forget or ignore today’s realties. We should rightly condemn as shameful the undoubted horrors of the slave trade in which Britain played a role, but it is not theologically or morally appropriate to repent or apologise for deeds committed by other people in another age. William Wilberforce would, I am sure, prefer us to focus on our responsibilities to do much more than we are currently doing to try to complete his, as yet, uncompleted mission.
My Lords, we all appreciate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, bringing up the question of slavery and all her examples. We have had quite a bit on this over the past 12 months and we will not let it go away. We are all committed to tackling it.
Two weeks ago, 18 children aged between six and 13 from the Watoto children’s project in Kampala sat in the Gallery of your Lordship’s House. The Watoto project has a village of 1,500 children—it is hoped to increase that number to 10,000 children—who are orphans of AIDS victims. When I was chatting to them outside the Chamber, I asked what they would like to be. One child said that he would like to be a pilot, another said that he would like to be an accountant. One child said that she wanted to be a nurse and, even though Watoto is a non-conformist establishment, one said that she wanted to be a nun. They all had dreams. Children are allowed to dream, look forward and hope, but there are many obstacles to their hopes and dreams: poverty, disease and slavery.
Even though next year we can celebrate the first move to abolish slavery 200 years ago and the efforts of William Wilberforce and his fellows, we are still faced with different forms of slavery. Some of the children from Kampala had been thrown on rubbish heaps when they were babies with their hands and feet tied together, and there was no hope. Our task—and in this House, we can do it more than any other place—is to bring hope and dreams and to try to remove the nightmares that haunt so many children in the world today.
I could go on for a long time, but I am trying not to. We see bonded labour, trafficking, forced labour, children forced to work as soldiers or as domestic labourers or to take part in commercial sex work. It is estimated that there are 179 million children in the worst forms of child labour. There are girls and women in early or forced marriages who are sentenced to a life of servitude. Others are enslaved in chattel slavery.
We must act according to the global demands. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.
For the United Kingdom, that must mean an active and, I hope, leading part in tackling this problem. Can the Minister say why we are still refusing to sign and ratify the Council of Europe convention against trafficking? The answer I get time and time again is that we must sort out the immigration question. We have had time to think that through, and yet we do not seem to have made any positive move to sign it. On 19 July, the Prime Minister said,
“we are determined to tackle human trafficking”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/7/06; col. 316.]
However, he still refuses to sign. We are told that the police have most commendably set up the UK Human Trafficking Centre and that Operation Pentameter resulted in the rescue of 75 trafficked victims, but it is estimated that 4,000 women are brought into the UK each year, so 75 is commendable, but a mere drop in the ocean. What are we doing to be seen to be more determined? Why does the May 2000 optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child about the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography remain unsigned by the United Kingdom? This reluctance is not a good advertisement for us as a country.
On 18 October, a Written Answer promised that Her Majesty’s Government,
“intend to publish the UK Action Plan on tackling human trafficking by the end of 2006”.—[Official Report, 18/10/06; col. WA 195.]
We are now near the end of 2006. Perhaps other people have heard of the action plan. Perhaps it has been published secretly or confidentially. Can the Minister tell us what is happening to that promise? If we have not published that action plan, it shows the country in an unfavourable way.
Conventions and plans are only part of dealing with these problems. Many other local initiatives are helping. It is important that, by accepting the conventions in signing and ratifying them, we show the people who are suffering that we care, that we are active and, I hope, that we are leading in these matters. We might this afternoon have some favourable news regarding conventions and plans. I hope so. Otherwise the legacy of the Prime Minister and this Government will be of delay and reluctance, which will have condemned thousands of children and thousands of adults into a life of darkness, slavery and hopelessness.
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and to assure her of the support of these Benches. Liverpool—whose 800th anniversary we celebrate next year in 2007, which is the same year as the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade—amassed much wealth through the trade in slaves and the culture of slavery. So I stand in ambivalent manner to make this speech today.
One of the ships that sailed from Liverpool with human cargo was ironically and tragically named “The Blessing”. How could a ship, which cursed the lives of so many, have borne such a name? How could decent men and women of only two centuries past have tolerated such a stain on their character? Did they not know of the abuse? Did they not possess any fellow human feeling? Did they not have the imagination to place themselves in the shoes, if they had them, of the slaves?
We look back in this generation with incredulity on this so-called civilised era, but what will they say of us in 200 years’ time? What will they ask with equal disbelief about the stands we have taken or failed to take? Will they say, “Did they not have the global media to tell them that according to the ILO 179 million people are caught up in forced labour?”. Will they say, “Did they not have the intelligence to know that 218 million children between the ages of five and 17 were engaged in some form of slave labour?”. Will they say of us, “Did they not know that 2.4 million are victims of sexual trafficking?”. These statistics should shame our conscience, stir our compassion and fire our demand for justice.
Although much of this happens in other parts of the world, victims of forced labour and sexual trafficking are also found in Europe, and even here in Britain. Furthermore, as Madeleine Bunting reported in the Guardian yesterday, there are an estimated half a million irregular migrants forced into cheap labour and servicing our own economy. The Government must know from this debate that these realities are simply unacceptable to this House and to all people of conscience.
It is to the Government’s credit that they have brought in legislation to criminalise trafficking and to sign up to the Palermo protocol of 2000 to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking. But, in calling for papers for the eradication of contemporary slavery, we on these Benches urge, with the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, the Government to ratify the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which includes measures to protect and support victims of trafficking.
The trade in slaves was abolished in the British Empire in 1807. Slavery itself was abolished in 1833. Tragically, it continues to affect millions of people around the world today. When the Bill to abolish the slave trade came before Parliament 200 years ago, it was thwarted many times by your Lordships’ predecessors. It was argued that such liberation of the slaves would bring economic disaster and even ruin the Empire. Perhaps we in our generation might atone for the sins of our fathers and send out a clear message that slavery ruins human life, and that if it goes unchallenged and unchecked it will diminish the humanity of us all.
My Lords, as we have heard, nearly 200 years ago, Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce and a few other committed individuals persuaded the Government to pass a law against the appalling trans-Atlantic slave trade. If any one of us has the courage to stand beside those names today, it must be my noble friend Lady Cox. As we shall learn from an exhibition in Westminster Hall opening in May, it was a popular campaign as well—one of the first examples of parliamentary democracy in action; a noble cause popularised through petitions, posters and public speaking that was finally given parliamentary expression through a Bill.
Today, the campaign outside Parliament is spearheaded by Anti-Slavery International, of which I have been a council member for the past nine years. A few weeks ago, I had the honour of presenting the 2006 Anti-Slavery Award to James Aguer, whom my noble friend mentioned, from the Dinka Committee in Sudan, which has rescued thousands of women and children from traditional slavery. My noble friend Lord Alton will also speak about that.
But there are many less visible, equally brutal forms of contemporary slavery, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, mentioned. According to the ILO, at least 12.3 million individuals are forced to work against their will, of whom as many as 9 million are in the Asia/Pacific region. Debt bondage occurs when workers offer their labour in exchange for a loan but then lose all control over their conditions of work and pay. Their debt is often inflated through excessive interest and can be passed on to other family members. That cruel practice affects millions of people in the Indian subcontinent, especially among the lowest castes in India and Nepal. Dalit NGOs that I have visited in southern India tell stories of appalling oppression, of children enslaved as bonded labourers, of families forced off their land simply because of their caste and of workers made to carry out humiliating tasks just to avoid poverty.
In Latin America, workers are enslaved, receiving only basic food and shelter in return for their labour. In Brazil and Bolivia, for example, migrant workers and indigenous people are used as forced labour on the sugar cane plantations. The majority are forced by poverty to borrow. Their debt grows with accumulated interest and they have no choice but to buy food and goods on credit. When the work finishes, the worker has to return the following season to pay off what is still owed. If he dies, his debt may be inherited.
Trafficking is another form of forced labour. The ILO estimates that about 2.5 million people have been trafficked into forced labour and draws attention to the fact that 32 per cent of those are exclusively for labour exploitation. That is a contemporary issue that directly concerns the UK today. Unpublished government research, which has been mentioned already, shows that there were an estimated 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK during 2003 at any one time—a huge increase from the previous estimate in 1998 of 1,420.
As we know, people are also trafficked for labour exploitation here. In September, Anti-Slavery International published research that identified 27 individual cases, mainly through debt bondage, the removal of passports or the use of intimidation and threats. Those migrants have been trafficked into industries such as agriculture, construction, food processing and packaging, nursing, hospitality and the restaurant trade. The majority had entered the country legally. In many cases, the employers kept the migrants’ documents, claiming that they had sent them to the Home Office for official purposes until workers’ visas ran out and they became much easier to exploit.
There is the story of two Vietnamese men in their twenties who were recruited in Vietnam to work in a hotel in the UK. They paid £18,000 to arrange the job, and came to the UK under the work permit scheme. On arrival, an agent met them at the airport and removed their passports. They worked in a major hotel chain for two months without any pay. All they were given was food. They attempted a strike, and their families in Vietnam then received threats. They were too frightened to approach their embassy or the police, but eventually approached a citizens advice bureau via someone whom they met on the street who happened to speak Vietnamese.
There is no information about what happens to most of these trafficked people. Surely this reflects a lack of awareness about trafficking in the relevant agencies and a lack of support services for the people affected. In 2004, the UK introduced a law that makes trafficking for all forms of labour exploitation a criminal offence. In 2006, it established the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre. Despite these positive initiatives, no single successful prosecution has been brought against trafficking for labour exploitation. Perhaps the Minister will put me right on that if I am wrong. Nor is any specialised assistance available to people who are trafficked for forced labour.
As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, the UK has still not signed the Council of Europe convention, which would ensure that people trafficked into forced labour are at least provided with the minimum standards of protection and support. More than 30 other European countries, including France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, have signed the convention and, anticipating what the Minister may say, there is absolutely no evidence from the countries operating the measures in the convention that those measures undermine border controls or put more vulnerable people at risk, as the Government fear.
Will the Government follow the JCHR’s recent recommendation and sign the Council of Europe convention, which provides the minimum standards of protection? Will the UK also provide additional funding to the ILO for its special action programme against forced labour? Will it also make a commitment to retain the 1998 rule on migrant domestic workers, which gives them one-year renewable visas and the right to change their employer? This rule has helped to protect migrant workers from being reduced to conditions of servitude, and removing that right would lead to an increase in trafficking and forced labour.
Finally, will the Government establish an independent national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings in the UK, with a similar role to that of the Dutch national rapporteur, as part of the UK’s action plan, to which we all look forward?
My Lords, my noble friend, the indomitable and indefatigable Lady Cox, has once again laid a Question of singular importance before your Lordships’ House for debate. Commemoration on 22 February 2007 of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade is of course right, but we are also right, as preceding speakers have said, to note that contemporary forms of slavery persist on a vast scale in many parts of the world. Perhaps as many as 27 million people are enslaved today. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 8.4 million children—approximately one in 175 children in the world—are held in slavery. The cocoa industry in Africa uses children, and in India children as young as six have been kidnapped and taken hundreds of miles from their village to weave carpets.
In addition to gross exploitation, it is said that about 700,000 people are trafficked every year. Slavery and trafficking generate billions of pounds worldwide, and even in countries such as our own, the deaths of the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers illustrated the horrors of the shadowy world of exploitation and gangmasters.
Part of the hold over migrant workers like these is debt bondage, which is estimated by the United Nations to affect more than 20 million people. Modern-day forms of slavery—based on discrimination because of racial origin, forced labour, child labour, trafficking and debt bondage—all underpin the economic and trade relationships from which we and many other countries continue to benefit. Compared with 1807, slavery tiptoes in carpet slippers, but it remains a pernicious and all-too-evident contemporary reality.
In Sudan, even the Arabic word which is used to describe the African Sudanese who live in the south of the country and in Darfur means slave. Perhaps that tells you all you need to know about why life is so cheap in Sudan. But it is also a land of heroes. I recently hosted a visit to your Lordships’ House by James Aguer, who is Anti-Slavery International’s 2006 award winner and was mentioned by my noble friends Lord Sandwich and Lady Cox. James is a Dinka who regularly has risked his life to expose slavery in Sudan. He has been arrested more than 30 times and has been imprisoned on many occasions.
The Dinka Committee of which James Aguer is chairman has documented 14,000 abductions and has suggested that a further 6,000 occurred between 1997 and 2002. He told me that in addition to this, thousands of children have been born to those who have been abducted and, therefore, have also been enslaved. Despite securing the release of more than 4,000 Dinka people, neither the Dinka Committee nor the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC) has funds to continue the work of identifying and releasing abductees and returning them to the south. I hope that when the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, replies she will give us information about whether additional support can be provided to CEAWC and the Dinka Committee. Sudan is by no means the only African country to permit contemporary slavery.
In a debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Sandwich in 2005 I raised the situation in Niger. I had recently met members of the NGO, Timidria, whose president, Ilguilas Weila, and his colleague, Alassane Biga, had been arrested by the Government of Niger for graphically describing the widespread practice of slavery. In Niger, people are compelled to perform work for others simply because of their caste or ethnic group. Timidria found evidence that the majority of the 11,000 people whom they interviewed could identify individuals by name as their masters and were expected to work for them without pay. More than 80 per cent of respondents said that their master took key decisions in their lives, such as who they would marry and whether their children would go to school. Again, I hope that when the noble Baroness replies she will welcome last month’s decision by the Government of Niger to establish a national commission to tackle forced labour and the legacies of slavery, including discrimination. But, at a practical level, perhaps the Government could also usefully commit to discuss with our European Union colleagues how financial support could be made available to support the work of that commission in securing the release of slaves and providing alternative livelihoods.
It is significant that those who are subjected to forced labour are frequently from minority or marginalised groups. For example, slavery in Sudan affects different ethnic or religious groups. Bonded labour in India, Nepal and Pakistan disproportionately affects dalits and those who are considered to be of “low” caste, adivasis, indigenous people, or other minority groups, including religious minorities. Clearly, many governments will have limited resources for eradication programmes, but development projects could be focused on geographic areas where slavery-like practices are still relevant.
It would also be good to hear today from the Government what action they will take in 2007 to ensure that the relevant inter-governmental organisations prioritise combating slavery as part of an integrated strategy to achieve long-term development targets such as the millennium development goals and ensure that all relevant institutions’ poverty reduction strategy papers address forced labour issues.
I should like to mention one other country specifically. With my noble friend Lady Cox, I have travelled to North Korea, and we serve as chairman and vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on North Korea. During the famine of the 1990s, around 50,000 North Koreans fled to China’s Jilin province. The exodus was spurred by a mixture of starvation, political oppression and economic necessity. Leaving North Korea without permission is a criminal offence that can carry the death penalty. Once deported, people will spend between one and three months in a prison labour camp in which they are likely to become malnourished, live in unsanitary conditions and be subjected to forced labour. From those who have escaped, there are testimonies of beatings, torture, degrading treatment, and even forced abortions and infanticide.
The work day in a prison camp begins at five in the morning and ends at seven or eight in the evening. Pregnant, elderly and sick women are not exempt from the work. Types of labour include farming, construction, collecting heavy logs and brick making. For meals they are given a meagre quantity of corn and soup. The hard labour leads to a high number of fatalities. There are many first-hand accounts which attest to malnourishment, appalling hygiene and an absence of medical care to treat illness or injury. However you choose to define it, this is slavery.
I have two questions for the Minister about North Korea. What discussions have the Government had with the International Labour Organisation and the UN special rapporteur about the use of forced labour? Are we speaking directly to the Chinese Government about the repatriation of refugees to North Korea?
Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, I am deeply conscious of the role of Liverpool in the transatlantic slave trade. It is estimated that by the end of the 18th century, 60 per cent of Britain’s trading activities centred on Liverpool and, of course, it had the title of capital of the slave trade. In total, British ships are estimated to have made 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.5 million slaves. It is a poignant and shaming experience to stand, as I have done, at the Gate of No Return in Benin, from where so many of Africa’s slaves were wrenched away from their homes, their families, their culture and their identity.
Happily, Liverpool’s role in the trade is in part redeemed by the actions of William Roscoe, who served briefly in the House of Commons and in 1807 voted with William Wilberforce against the trade. For his pains, on his return to Liverpool he was set upon by the mob and never sat again in Parliament. He spent the rest of his life campaigning against slavery, penning polemical poetry, such as the deeply moving The Wrongs of Africa, and engaging in charitable and philanthropic endeavour. Today’s hugely successful Liverpool John Moores University, where I hold a chair—I declare my interest—can trace its origins to an initiative of Roscoe in 1823. Through its Foundation for Citizenship I regularly host lectures named for Roscoe and our contributors this year will include Trevor Phillips, Paul Robeson and President John Kufuor of Ghana.
I hope that, along with the publication of my noble friend’s important book, This Immoral Trade, events such as these will concentrate minds on what can be achieved when men and women set out to challenge a great evil. The example of Wilberforce, Equanio, Clarkson, Wedgwood, Roscoe and the rest remains deeply inspiring. Many of the campaigns for human rights over the past 200 years have been modelled on their successful actions. However, it is abundantly clear that if we merely indulge in some rather smug self-congratulation, we will have entirely missed the point.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I join him in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on initiating this debate on such an important topic. She has great experience and industry in this field and we learn a great deal from her speeches.
I wish to speak about the exploitation of human beings as commodities in the wretched modern trade of trafficking. I do so for two reasons. First, I am the descendant of a slave. Seven generations ago, Robert Wedderburn was born in Jamaica in 1763. He was the son of a slave, Rosanna, who was owned by my reprobate ancestor James. However, James at least had the decency—if it is decency—to free the boy at birth.
Unhappily, there is no record in the official book of the Wedderburns, which is available, because, despite my discussions with him, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in whose family possession and control the book now exists, has indicated that no amendment will be made to the purified and whiter than white history which is regarded as official. Fortunately, distant relatives and friends, both in Scotland and in France, have revealed this truth and there is quite a literature about it.
I hope your Lordships will not think it self-indulgent of me to refer to this personal history. Robert is in my mind today. When he was 11, he saw his mother flogged when she was pregnant and his grandmother flogged near to death. He would have said many things to us about what I now turn to as my major point. If he were alive today, his sharp eyes for injustice—expressed in the book, which has been reprinted, on the history of slavery—would have noticed and heard about the dreadful trafficking in human beings which is going on under our noses as we sit in this grand legislative Chamber.
The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, whose speech I greatly look forward to, told us on 7 December of the slaves who are trafficked under our noses into Britain. He told us of the source of the estimate by the Council of Europe that a staggering $42 billion is involved in the trafficking of persons, especially of women and girls for sexual purposes, which happens across our borders. He said:
“Nearer home, it is rather worryingly reported that an average of 100 unaccompanied minors come through UK immigration at Lunar House in Croydon each week”.—[Official Report, 7/12/06; cols. 1259-60]
Your Lordships also have the benefit of a remarkable report that the Joint Committee on Human Rights published in October entitled Human Trafficking. The Joint Committee has done us a most valuable service in this report, and I hope that the Government have taken due heed of it. The committee refers to the scale of trafficking, which comes mainly from Albania, Romania, Poland, Ukraine, Thailand, Africa and elsewhere. It describes in detail policies which other countries have taken heed of to mitigate this dreadful tsunami of slaves which hits our beaches every week.
The main policy it distinguishes in detail is that pursued in Italy since a law passed in 1998. Italian policies against sexual exploitation of these wretched slaves are based upon protection of and co-operation with the victims, plus vigorous prosecution of their captors. Italy totally rejects the criminalisation of the women, who are forced to work for sex on the streets. The report further adds at paragraph 195 that the clear harmony of the Italian law with human rights principles,
“has had a profound influence on our thinking about human trafficking policy within the U.K., and we commend it as a model for our own Government in developing its strategy against human trafficking. We further urge the Government to conduct its own research into the effectiveness of the Italian approach”.
If ever a report justified a visit by the committee to Venice, this is it, and your Lordships must take account of it.
Government advisers, I am sure, have drawn the attention of Ministers to the five detailed headings of paragraph 198 and Chapter 7 of the report which, were there time, I would be happy to quote in full. I ask the Minister without any hostility what research and measures based on the Italian approach the Government are planning to institute in the immediate future. That would answer one aspect of the question of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts—why on earth we do not ratify the European Convention. These are questions which the Government must answer. I hope that the good news which so many sermons tell us that we can accept at Christmas will be followed by good news from the government Front Bench when the Minister replies.
My Lords, I speak as an historian of the slave trade, but I should say first what a pleasure it is to take part again in a debate initiated by my noble friend Lady Cox, whose persistence, insistence and determination have been an inspiration to many of us for a long time. It is a pleasure also to follow my noble friend Lord Wedderburn, the story of whose ancestor I am sure all your Lordships will have found very interesting and moving.
I make one correction to the historical references to Wilberforce and the struggle in the House of Commons against the slave trade, because we should be accurate. We are Members of the upper House, and it was in the upper House that the Bill for the abolition of the slave trade was introduced by the then Prime Minister, Lord Grenville, who was a determined opponent of the slave trade for all of his life. Noble Lords may think that the House of Commons would inevitably have introduced a Bill of that nature sooner or later. That is no doubt true, but it was here that it happened; it was here, on 2 January 1807, that Lord Grenville introduced his Bill. The 200th anniversary will therefore fall before we meet again in this House.
On that occasion, some very interesting things were said. For example, the Lord Chancellor, the great Lord Erskine, said:
“It is our duty to God and to our country, which is the morning star of enlightened Europe and whose boast and glory is to grant liberty and life and administer humanity and justice to all nations, to remedy this evil”.
The Prime Minister, Lord Grenville, offered this cautious reflection:
“Can we flatter ourselves that the mischief which the slave trade has created will not be remembered for many ages, to our reproach?”
It is probable that his reflection was justified, since the part which Britain played in the slave trade has been remembered. However, it is very important in the commemoration of the abolition that we remember the abolition first and foremost. We should recognise it to be an important event, not because it brought an end to the slave trade there and then, but because it marked the beginning of the end, as we thought it to be in the 19th century. The passing of the Act led to the beginning of six years of what the then Foreign Secretary referred to in 1997 as an ethical foreign policy. That comparison was made in this House by the late Lord Gilmour, the former head of the Foreign Office—not the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar, who I am glad to say is still with us. He saw it as a precedent for an ethical foreign policy.
That foreign policy was very ambitious and was carried out in an interesting manner. There were subventions. There were bribes to African kings and noblemen. There was the use of naval power and espionage; for example, the harbourmaster of Rio was for a time a British agent and was paid substantially. There was also diplomacy, conducted with high-handed insistence by Lord Castlereagh and the Duke of Wellington at the Congress of Vienna. All that activity allowed us to make an end of the Atlantic slave trade by the 1860s. Lord Palmerston reflected that the abolition of the slave trade to Brazil was the one thing that he was really proud of when looking back on his life.
When in the course of next year the celebrations are taking place to commemorate the end of the slave trade in 1807, let us recall, or urge the Government to recall, one or two things that are sometimes forgotten. First, we should remember the role of this House. Secondly, we should remember the 60 years of ethical foreign policy, even though—although perhaps I should simply say “though”, because “even though” is not quite the right antithesis to my sentence—it led in some cases to the establishment of colonies and imperial dominions, of which Lagos is a very good example.
Thirdly, I ask the Government to insist on the point that it marked the beginning of the end to slavery itself. We have heard from noble Lords who have spoken very eloquently on how it survives, but in the 18th century there was no suggestion that slavery or the slave trade would be abolished. It required a real effort of propaganda and political will to carry it through.
The fourth point is something that we may take for granted but is none the less important. In 1807, when the Bill was introduced, a good deal of slave trading was going on in Liverpool, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool said. The slave trade continued in London and Bristol. But when we had abolished the slave trade by law, it came to an end there and then, and people in Liverpool and elsewhere who had been involved in slave trafficking turned immediately to other commerce, such as palm oil. No British citizen was condemned for slave trading after that, although that was not the case in some other European countries, such as France, Portugal and Spain, which we were not always immediately successful in persuading to follow our good example.
These historical recollections should inform us and we should recall that the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 was one of the finest achievements in British parliamentary life.
My Lords, I shall speak very briefly in the gap. I had not realised that I would be able to be here but I am very glad that I am if for no other reason than to pay my tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for her consistent and tireless efforts on this front, and for her courage which she has so frequently demonstrated in pursuing this matter.
Reference has been made to human trafficking. If we are to have effect in the global policies—the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke very well about the global dimensions—our credibility is related to what we are doing in the United Kingdom itself and the challenge of human trafficking cannot be overstated. I was a member of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe when we worked on the convention. I never dreamt at that time that my own Government would be so complacent about the urgency of signing the convention. The Government themselves like to claim that the world looks to what we do. If we drag our feet on an issue like this, it is not just that we do so on a problem that affects the United Kingdom; it sends a message to the world about the urgency with which we treat the entire issue. For that reason I hope the Minister can bring us some encouraging news today.
I am now a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, has made several references. I take great pride in his personal references, because my sister has married into the Wedderburn family, and therefore it is always interesting to hear this powerful record. Yesterday the committee was considering the Government’s response, and it was not encouraging on the urgency of signing the convention. It is necessary to mobilise pressure.
If we had in our report one message to the Government, to the nation, to this House and to the other House, it was that human trafficking must be seen in the context of human rights and the people affected being victims. Over and over again, when we listened to the police and other witnesses—it was very moving to hear how the police themselves had been affected by their work—the lament was that this is seen as an extension of the immigration problem, not as an issue of victims. If we get no other message to the Government this evening, I hope we will get that one across strongly.
My Lords, I was unaware that I was going to be able to be here until the end of the debate, and therefore did not come here with a speech in my pocket—or indeed in my head, until I heard what was said by the opening speakers, whereupon I determined that I must put in my oar. I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on the work she does outside the House as well as in it. I make it clear that my noble friend on the Front Bench is not the only voice in the Conservative Party deeply concerned about this affront to human nature. There is great indignation on the Back Benches, and I am here to express it.
I would like to hear from the Government their answers to the specific questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, particularly the one emphasised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn. Why on Earth have we not yet ratified the convention? Whatever the difficulties that may ensue thereafter, there can be no reason for not having committed ourselves to overcoming them. It makes us appear to condone the trade, which is a disgrace to humanity as well as to this country.
I add my voice to those who say that the people who are trafficked must be regarded as victims, not as criminals, when they arrive. That also makes the signing of the convention and the legislation that will flow from it matters of great urgency.
My Lords, as always, it is a great privilege to follow in the footsteps of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on a human rights question, particularly one of such tremendous importance as she has raised this evening, on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. While Britain’s role in that horrific operation, as the Prime Minister said the other day, was profoundly shameful, we also had our heroes, who have been mentioned in this debate, such as the Clarksons, whose exploits were so well described in Simon Schama’s book, Rough Crossings.
For all their magnificent deeds, neither the abolitionists of two centuries ago nor their successors at the time of Abraham Lincoln were able to eradicate slavery itself, and it still exists, as the noble Baroness has said. The baton has been taken up by the noble Baroness and by Anti-Slavery International, which, by the way, has been going since 1839 in its present form, though its roots go right back to the 1780s and the days of the Clarksons and Wilberforce.
Today, and also in her book, This Immoral Trade, the noble Baroness concentrates on three areas of the world where slavery is alive and well: Sudan, Uganda and Burma, where children are forced to become soldiers or treated as the sex chattels of those who are doing the fighting. The situation the noble Baroness describes in Bahr al Ghazal, which she has visited several times, has something in common with the genocide in Darfur. In both provinces, which are neighbours, the attitude of the Arab masters towards the indigenous blacks is racist and colonialist, and the practice of slavery is part of a systematic attempt to extend the boundaries of Arab Islamic cultural domination. I was pleased to note that the African Union has demanded that the Sudanese Government immediately disarm the Janjaweed under threat of penalties by both the African Union and the UN. I hope this means that the Security Council will now use military force to prevent further acts of violence against civilians, whether Khartoum agrees or not. But we should also warn the Sudanese against continuing to commit crimes against humanity such as the noble Baroness describes in Bahr al Ghazal.
With regard to Myanmar, the ILO mission to Yangon in October to agree on a supplementary understanding on how its liaison officer should deal with complaints about forced labour, which in any case he was already receiving, was a dismal failure. The Minister of Labour raised legal objections to the draft text and referred the ILO special adviser to a working group with a view to ironing out the differences. In these discussions it appeared that agreement had been reached on the ILO’s right to examine complaints with a view to determining whether they concerned forced labour, and that during this process the working group would not seek to identify or approach the complainant. Unfortunately, the Myanmar side then went back on the agreed draft, saying that its own inquiry should take place in parallel with the ILO’s determination of admissibility.
From then on, matters went from bad to worse. The Myanmar side wanted to shorten the trial period for the new procedure, which had been set at 18 months in the draft, to six months, and it refused point blank to accept that the ILO liaison officer might be accompanied by another person, even if, unlike the present incumbent, he spoke no Burmese and therefore needed an interpreter. A new text reflecting the few points that had been agreed was transmitted to the Minister, but the mission had to leave without securing any agreement from him. It was due to report its failure to make progress to the ILO governing council at the end of November. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us what the next moves are as a result of that meeting and how the United Kingdom can participate in them.
Coming nearer to home, there were several references in the debate to human trafficking into Britain. That has been the subject of a number of debates both in your Lordships’ House and in another place. Only last week reference was made in another place to Paladin Child. That study found that over a three-month period, 1,738 unaccompanied minors from non-EU countries sought to enter the UK through Heathrow alone. Thirty-nine of these children had to be referred to the local authority, compared with 25 the previous year—it is a growing problem—and three were found to be at risk of significant harm. But this may have been the tip of the iceberg; Operation Pentameter, which has also been referred to, identified 12 children who were trafficked over a four-month period this year, while ECPAT UK documented 35 children trafficked into London in 2004 alone. There is still a distinct lack of routine statistical information about trafficking in general, though Anti-Slavery International estimates that as many as 5,000 victims, adults and children, may be present in the UK. Other noble Lords have given different estimates that serve only to emphasise the lack of reliable figures.
The Minister, Vernon Coaker, said in the Westminster Hall debate last week that visa regulations in respect of children had been tightened up and that there had to be an identified adult travelling with them. He said that if the child was in distress, immigration officers would interview that child separately from an adult to try to determine whether there was a particular problem. Can the Minister say what criteria are now applied to visas for unaccompanied children, and how the credentials of accompanying adults are checked, bearing in mind that little Victoria Climbié was travelling with her aunt, who had not ill-treated her until after they arrived in the UK?
Paladin Child did not uncover, I understand, any direct evidence of children trafficking, so the extension of the process to all ports of entry, as recommended by the JCHR, may not be the most effective answer. Can the Minister say how many children are being admitted in the care of a person other than a parent and whether there has been any change in the numbers since the amendment of the visa regulations?
Finally on this subject, my noble friend referred to the opening of the UK Human Trafficking Centre in October, to move the UK, we are told, to a leading position in relation to the prevention and investigation of trafficking. That is good news and we are pleased to note that it will adopt a victim-centred approach, mentioned by a number of noble Lords, in accordance with the conclusions of the JCHR in its excellent report on trafficking. How will this be reflected in the Immigration Rules, which must allow both children and women the space to recover from the ordeal of being trafficked, particularly if they are to give evidence against the traffickers? How are the Government planning,
“to extend and develop the support that we give to victims of this vile trade”,
as the Minister said last week?
The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, mentioned paragraph 198 of the JCHR report, which outlines in detail a victim-centred policy. What is the Government’s reaction, as I have not had the benefit of seeing their reply to the report? One would also like to know what they have said about the Council of Europe convention, mentioned by practically every noble Lord who has spoken. If they still hesitate to sign that convention, will they at least ensure that the national action plan to combat trafficking, of which we have also heard this evening, provides for specialist counselling and care of trafficked children, and automatic rights of residence, whether or not the is child prepared to give evidence in criminal proceedings?
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for introducing the debate and also pay tribute to her amazing, extraordinary bravery in going to places where few people would dare to tread. We admire her great faith and courage.
A recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime concludes that no country is immune to human trafficking, be it as a country of origin, destination or transit. The report points out that, after narcotics, human trafficking equals arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world and is fast-growing. It is strange to think that only 100 years ago there was a general feeling that the world was becoming a better place and that people were improving their behaviour. They had obviously forgotten that the potential for evil by mankind is seemingly without limit. As the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Liverpool implied, it is likely that there are more slaves today than there were 200 years ago.
The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, kindly mentioned that, in a debate on the NHS on 7 December, I drew attention to the existence and extent of this trafficking. Someone was overheard to say, “What on earth has that to do with the health debate?”. It has a great deal to do with it. I wish to emphasise the exploitative nature of trafficking. People are taken by force or coerced from their homes and put into slavery. First, they are deprived of their freedom—their freedom of choice, then their freedom of movement, then their dignity—by deception and violence and, ultimately, they are deprived of their life.
Why would a person agree to leave their home with a trafficker? First of all, there is the promise of work for poor and uneducated people; secondly, perhaps, there is the opportunity to study; thirdly, there is the chance to travel; and, fourthly, they may do it because of cultural practices. Traffickers regularly exploit the cultural norms of a society. For instance, in Nigeria, it is common for a child to move away from their parents for a period during their early teens, to live and work with extended family members. Depending on where the extended family lives, a child can be sent to the next village, another city or, in a few exceptional cases, another country. It has become clear that traffickers exploit that either through kidnapping the child en route or approaching the extended family to purchase the child from them.
In order to combat this plague in this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, Operation Pentameter was launched earlier this year. That brought to light about 72 trafficked females in different parts of the UK, 12 of whom were minors. They had been forced to work against their will in brothels or massage parlours, and they came from 19 countries worldwide. One of them was a girl of 15 from Lithuania, who had been lured to the United Kingdom on the false promise of a summer job selling ice cream but was herded from brothel to brothel by gangs and individuals. She was sold seven times in the space of three months. After she had been freed, she said that she had run out of tears and that, although she tries to forget, she still has nightmares.
The deputy chief constable in charge of Operation Pentameter said that teenage virgins will fetch as much as £4,000 on the open market, whereas a 39 year-old may command only £500. Mrs Caroline Spelman, in a debate initiated in another place by Mr Anthony Steen, pointed out that, in the United Kingdom, the average earnings of a trafficked prostitute for his or her pimp are £100,000 per year.
Operation Pentameter has evolved into the Human Trafficking Centre, which was set up by the Association of Chief Police Officers and has brought together all the involved parties, including lawyers, police, immigration officials and many others. Despite the Government’s welcome activities in trying to prevent trafficking, the problem is actually getting worse. Mr William Hague emphasised in a lecture last month to an international women’s human rights conference that we must target vulnerable women with information and education, warning them against the dangers of trafficking.
Austrian embassies have stressed the danger of forced prostitution to women applying for visas to work in rather dubious locations. They are obliged to apply for a visa in person. The Estonian Government sponsored an essay competition for young people entitled. “How could I fall into the hands of a trafficker?”. In order to prevent the trafficking of girls from Nepal to India for prostitution, an education charity provides skills in reading, maths and the dangers of trafficking. We must have more stringent law enforcement and greater co-operation between the police, especially in those countries of origin. Will the Government put pressure on the European Union to insist on effective law enforcement measures as a criterion for entry into the European Union?
In order to try to reduce demand, the Australian federal police encourage men to call a special hotline anonymously if they suspect that a woman they have used is being forced to work as a prostitute. Will the Government do more to protect victims, as has already been suggested? I understand that there is only one government scheme, called the Poppy Project, which provides safe accommodation for only 35 females who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation. I, too, endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, asked the Government about: the Italian approach, which has been so successful. I also found his account of his ancestors very moving.
Every country is involved in this slave trade, and all countries must join together to eradicate it. The movement that led to the abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago took some time, but today we must seek to abolish it much more quickly. We owe it to the millions who have been abused for so long.
My Lords, this has been a disturbing but very moving debate. I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for enabling us to discuss the horrors of contemporary slavery and our efforts to eradicate it at such a fitting time. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her tireless work on behalf of those who suffer injustice, exploitation and abuse of their human rights—people like James Aguer, whom I both thank and congratulate, and the young women who have run out of tears. Man’s inhumanity to man is profoundly depressing, but the Government are absolutely determined to further their efforts to eradicate contemporary slavery in this country and throughout the world.
On 25 March 2007, we will mark the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, passed by the British Parliament to abolish the slave trade in the then British Empire. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, pointed out, it was one of the finest achievements of our Parliament. The passing of that Act marked a critical step for the UK and a crucial turning point in its history. It is of course right that the Government should commemorate this occasion through activities, both at home and overseas, throughout 2007. We must also recall the role of this House.
Over the past year, the Deputy Prime Minister has chaired an informal advisory group of influential stakeholders to provide a sounding board for Ministers on the bicentenary. It includes representatives from Hull, Bristol and Liverpool, alongside those from cultural organisations, churches, faith groups and others. There will be both a commemorative and a contemporary slavery focus to 2007. A calendar of events will be published in January 2007 and will include a memorial service at Westminster Abbey on 27 March; the opening of a new International Slavery Museum in Liverpool on 23 August; the opening of an exhibition, Breaking the Chains, at the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum in Bristol in February; and an international conference in Hull in May organised by the excellent Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation—WISE. Parliament is also taking a key role in the planned events of 2007, with an exhibition entitled “The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People”, which will open on 23 May in Westminster Hall.
The bicentenary is an opportunity for us all to remember the millions who suffered—people like Robert Wedderburn—and to pay tribute to the courage and moral conviction of all those who campaigned for abolition. But we must confront the tragic fact that contemporary forms of slavery persist throughout the modern world, two centuries after the argument for its abolition was won.
I was asked whether DfID specifically allocates funds for the elimination of slavery. DfID links classification of its expenditure to the MDGs, not expenditure on particular groups. Therefore, at present it is not possible to identify the total amount that is contributed to the elimination of slavery. But poverty is clearly the underlying cause of slavery and, to eradicate slavery, we need to tackle its root causes; namely, poverty and social exclusion. The Government continue to support long-term programmes to reduce poverty—for example, in their doubling of the aid budget since 1997.
The 2005 International Labour Organisation’s global report estimated that 12.3 million people are forced into labour around the world. That is utterly shameful. This Government strongly condemn all forms of forced labour.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked whether we could provide more funds for the ILO’s special action programme on forced labour. We very much support the work of that programme. However, I do not know whether extra funds will be made available and I shall ask my colleagues in the DWP and DfES. The Government are committed to tackling illegal migrant working in this country and its harmful social effects. I regret that I do not have information on the 1998 rule, but I shall seek it.
We fully support the ILO’s work. We work closely with it to ensure that the international framework to combat abuses of workers’ rights is effective worldwide. We also provide substantial financial assistance. For example, with our support, the ILO has been working to eradicate forced labour in Burma. But as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, rightly stressed, relations between the ILO and the Burmese Government are approaching breaking point. On 17 November, the ILO governing body concluded that it should consider the possibility of seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice and that this issue should be brought to the attention of the UN Security Council. We are supporting the US proposal for a UN Security Council resolution.
Today in New York, the UN General Assembly will consider a resolution adopted by its Third Committee on the human rights situation in Burma. The resolution calls, among other things, on the Burmese Government urgently to resolve the issues identified by the ILO on compliance with international labour standards. It also expresses grave concern over rape and other forms of sexual violence carried out by members of the armed services, the continued recruitment and use of child soldiers and trafficking in persons.
Around the world, millions of children suffer as victims of conflict, abuse, exploitation and neglect. The Government are determined to work to end abuses against this particularly vulnerable group. For example, we contributed £6.1 million to the ILO’s International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour, involving a number of linked interventions to raise awareness and prevent trafficking and bonded or exploitative labour. We have provided £29 million in humanitarian support to children in northern Uganda over the past 18 months, and we are looking ahead to the longer-term reconstruction needs of the north. DfID has recently agreed additional funding to UNICEF for child protection activities there, including specific support to help children reintegrate back into their communities.
The provision of education to children in the IDP camps is problematic, but DfID and other donors recently funded a public expenditure review in northern Uganda specifically aimed at identifying the root causes of gaps in service provision and how resources could be more effectively used. We will discuss this report in detail with the Government of Uganda. The UNCRC Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography was signed in 2000, and it is intended that it will be ratified shortly.
On Sudan, the appalling suffering of the Darfur people has gone on for too long. Continued attacks from both the Government of Sudan and the rebel movements are prolonging the terrible crisis. The UK remains at the forefront of efforts by the international community to help find a solution. The comprehensive peace agreement and interim national constitution require both the Government of Sudan and the Government of Southern Sudan to abide by various human rights principles, including combating slavery as well as protecting the rights of children and the right of all people to enjoy freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and freedom of religion. We continue to press both the Government of Sudan and the Government of Southern Sudan to fully implement the comprehensive peace agreement, and to do so more swiftly. We have provided significant financial assistance to this end.
The Government are working to support states in addressing the complex challenges of debt bondage and caste discrimination. The modern-day phenomenon of human trafficking is perhaps the most vivid reminder of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This appalling crime inflicts terrible and often lasting damage on its victims. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, rightly raised the UK national action plan, which will provide a victim-centred approach along three broad themes: prevention, enforcement and assistance to victims. We expect the plan to be published early in the new year. The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, asked what we have learnt from the Italian practice on trafficking. It will be taken into account in the national action plan, as will the child safeguarding measures requested by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
I am unaware of plans for a UK rapporteur on trafficking, but we are working hard at an international level to protect the system of special procedures. The right reverend Prelate and many other noble Lords raised the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking. The Government are not refusing to sign this very important convention. A decision has not yet been taken, but I urge noble Lords to wait a little longer. I heard what all noble Lords have said about the importance of the convention and well understand that we are dealing with victims. We are not being complacent. We want to ensure that, if and when the convention is signed, we are able to adhere to all parts of it and do it in a proper way. While we have not yet signed up to the convention, we are implementing many of the criteria mentioned in it.
The Government have funded the Poppy Programme, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, since 2003. This year the Government entered into a funding agreement with the Eaves Housing project for women to provide £2.4 million over the next two years. There are currently 35 bed spaces, not 25, and the Poppy Project has an agreement with the National Asylum Support Service to move women who apply for asylum into suitable accommodation, which helps to free crisis bed spaces while ensuring that the women remain suitably supported. Capacity has been an issue in the past. The Poppy Project currently has spaces available although I am sure that those will soon be filled.
Apart from Operation Pentameter, a number of independently funded organisations also set up projects to support trafficking victims. The Government are working with NGOs to develop minimum standards of service with the aim of creating a network of appropriate support services. The new UK Human Trafficking Centre will continue Operation Pentameter’s victim-centred approach to enforcement.
There were many questions about changes to the immigration rules and about children visiting the UK. I think that I had better write to noble Lords with information on that. The Government regularly make representations to China on the issue of North Korean refugees and we will continue to do so. On Niger, we do not have an embassy in Niamey. We have not made bilateral representations to the Nigerian Government on slavery but we support EU representations to the Nigerian Government on human rights issues. In respect of Operation Pentameter, a new outreach service will go live in January which will help front-line staff in the identification and appropriate treatment of victims.
As the Prime Minister wrote in his article published on 27 November:
“This bicentenary must be a spur for us to redouble our efforts to stop … all forms of modern slavery”.
The Government are committed to doing so. During this debate we have heard many statistics that shame us and fire our passion. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, reminded us that behind each statistic is a human being: a man, a woman or a child. Two hundred years after the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, it is our duty as a Government, as a society and as human beings to work for the eradication of contemporary slavery in all its forms. William Wilberforce was determined that he would never rest until he had effected the abolition of slavery. I wish noble Lords a restful Recess and a happy Christmas before we renew our efforts in 2007, backed by political will.