rose to call attention to the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and to the United Kingdom’s role in tackling its legacies; and to move for Papers.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, today’s debate is an opportunity for Members of this House to commemorate the bicentenary of the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807. I am pleased that so many distinguished noble Lords are taking part. Members of the other place debated this issue at length on 20 March, with some passion and a depth of knowledge. I hope that today’s debate will proceed in a similar manner.
For me, whose ancestors were among those enslaved, today’s debate provides an opportunity to make a personal, as well as public, contribution to proceedings. I will leave the door open for other noble Lords to speak on present-day illegal trading of human beings. For those not in my position, I realise that it might prove difficult to grasp the strong feelings that the memory of slavery evokes among those of us whose ancestors were subjected to its barbarity and injustice. For many this particular topic lurks in one of history’s dustier corners, where, so often, hazy memory and polite but mild curiosity collude to ensure that a measure of amnesia prevails. An acknowledgement that slavery was and is morally wrong is today a given, a default response expected of all. The few dissenters express their views at their social peril, as Lucy Buchanan, a contestant on the Channel 4 programme “Shipwrecked”, recently discovered.
I would argue that for people like me these emotions retain their depth and strength because the racism that flourished before and after the 1807 Act lingers on, remaining embedded in our institutions and daily life. This bundle of often contradictory and inconsistent beliefs and attitudes continues its quiet, hidden and deadly work, acting as an often unconscious driver to actions that affect lives in a discriminatory, disadvantageous and uninvited way.
Occasionally such actions are thrown into the public arena by one of the many tragedies that are its end product, the most recent and notable being the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The perpetrators of that crime, known to all, remain free, to our national shame. The ensuing Macpherson report revealed the disabling effect of such attitudes and beliefs, and its lasting legacy is to have given it emblematic status in the descriptor “institutional racism”.
I am in agreement with Sir William Macpherson that the manifestation of that set of attitudes and beliefs is not as overt or clearly articulated as it was when the 1807 Act was passed. In that context it needs to be remembered that the Act did not end slavery, only the trade in human beings. Even when slavery was abolished, attitudes and beliefs that had at their core the idea of racial purity and subsequent hierarchy persisted, and indeed still persist, although often hidden from view.
Neither can it be said that there have not been attempts to address these problems via the use of legislative machinery. Members of this House must be aware of the Race Relations Act, passed by a Labour Government in 1976, and the various statutory amendments to that Act passed in 2002 and 2003. These additions to legislation have played a crucial role in ameliorating the more overt forms of behaviour that did so much to aggravate and inflame racial tensions in the relatively recent past.
I view those pieces of legislation as very much the successors—although not the only members of that class—to the 1807 Act. I do so because they sought, as did that Act, to remedy an unjust and discriminatory policy that not just acted against those that were its victims, but also corrupted the moral codes of those who chose to act in such a manner. Indeed, it is no surprise that the abolitionist movement in this country was driven by, and gained its momentum from, those working within institutions that formalised, celebrated and maintained such codes. I refer, of course, to the religious institutions.
We must also remember that adding to the statute book is not in itself a panacea for this or any other injustice to humanity. We must always seek to persuade as well as deter.
Within institutions directly under their control, the Government have recently taken the decision to include the teaching of slavery and the slave trade as a part of our national curriculum. The hope is that, by confronting the often uncomfortable truths about our past, we can come to a sophisticated and informed understanding of our contemporary society and its future form.
I also recognise that there are other classroom activities which provide an opportunity to approach these problems without being bound to a particular topic of history. I am aware that such an approach requires a measure of tact and sensitivity. Therefore I welcome the report, recently commissioned by the Government from Sir Keith Ajegbo, which constructively addresses the issues of cohesion and citizenship and their opposites, exclusion and marginalisation, within the education system. I welcome it because I believe that our education system should play its part in attempting to build a more inclusive stakeholder society that is anti-racist in a very positive way.
I realise that a large part of life is lived external to the formal setting of institutions such as the school or the workplace. Here the Government’s influence and footprint can be harder to detect or place. However, I remain optimistic in the long-term, if for no other reason than the effects of globalisation and immigration make for nations rich in diversity and accommodating to a plurality of views and beliefs while implicitly recognising core values to which all citizens must subscribe.
The public debate about what it means to be British, encouraged by the Government, seems to address this informal world by stressing values for which Britons wish to be known to possess: fairness, tolerance and respect for the rule of law, to name a few. London—home to 70 per cent of Britain’s black population—exemplifies, at its best, this situation and is unsurprisingly a magnet for temporary visitors and workers attracted by the economic and other bounties available to those living in one of the few truly global cities. At its worst, of which the bombings of 7 July 2005 are the most recent example, we can observe the consequences of disaffection and marginality of some members of one of the groups which constitute that plurality.
That makes our task urgent and the case for it compelling. It is inconceivable that a return to ideas, dominant under recent administrations, of a society composed solely of individuals relentlessly pursuing their own economic and other goals, without any thought for, or consideration of, their fellow citizens, could ever offer a solution. The Government’s commitment to community cohesion and social inclusion is about nurturing a firm belief in membership with a clear recognition for the responsibilities and obligations that go with that commitment.
Let me return to my original observation about the feelings that those of us with enslaved ancestors often keep close to our hearts and place that in the context of this bicentenary year. I view this year as offering the possibility of making a quantum leap in our attempts to establish a society where racism and its lingering corrosive effects can begin to be banished to the distant past. However, the situation prevalent today means that those of us who are placed in such environments suffer from what we are perceived to be by those who control much of our destiny—where that is more important than what we are or feel ourselves to be capable of. As a result, events of hundreds of years ago often feel like they happened yesterday. For some of us, this signals the necessity of an oppositional culture; for others, a detached culture; and for many, an assortment of differentiated responses dependent on context and emotional well-being.
The Prime Minister’s expression of regret in his Statement last November was a brave attempt to begin the process of transporting slavery to the historically distant past by publicly recognising Britain’s central role in this trade. Put bluntly, Britain was very good at slavery, just as it was good at colonisation. The British trade, once unshackled from monopoly and converted into a free trade market, thrived, expanded and became vastly profitable, as did the plantation owners who were the recipients of the traders’ cargoes. The Prime Minister went on to say that the wealth so created laid the foundation of the Industrial Revolution, culminating in Britain’s imperial zenith in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The zeal for free trade, successfully lobbied and pamphleted for in Parliament, overlooked, or preferred not engage with, questions concerning what could and could not be legitimately traded. Slavery in this context, a free market trading in human beings, was just another, and particularly profitable, market.
Even after abolition, such free trade impulses often continued to involve trade in questionable commodities, from opium in the 19th century to armaments for regimes of dubious legitimacy in the current century. Slavery as defined above became difficult logically to sustain since its trade goods, while different in custom, appearance and belief, were palpably human and, as such, in an immutably fundamental way, did not yield to the market process as did other goods.
The moral contradiction that it posed at the time, that all human beings possess souls and are capable of redemption, while simultaneously asserting that some human beings could be bought and sold like animals or inanimate objects, could simply not be maintained indefinitely. When that contradiction was exploited by the abolitionists such as Wilberforce and Sharpe and, it is often forgotten, by the black abolitionists of the Sons of Africa group such as Equiano and Vassa, the slave trade began to become unsustainable. Slavery was also physically resisted by those who were enslaved, who fought vigorously and bravely against those who set themselves up as their masters. This, too, undermined the trade’s viability.
Slavery did not end in 1807 and should be remembered as an initial part of the much larger and more pervasive colonial system that developed in tandem with Britain’s involvement with the trade. In that context, 2010 sees the 125th anniversary of the Berlin conference that initiated the balkanisation of Africa by the major European powers. I hope that its anniversary will produce a similar retrospective analysis of the colonial and imperial project.
Just as there can be no moral case for the enslavement of human beings, so surely there can be no similar case for the forcible conquest and occupation of others’ lands and peoples. Facing up to these difficult truths is always hard, especially if they have been ignored, willed away or relegated to an historical backwater. However, it is important that we do so, if only to avoid the sort of highly selective reconfiguration of our history currently being aired by some historians. We were surely right to insist that post-war Germany and its educational institutions reflected on and inculcated in its citizens a sense of shame about, and horror of, the acts that were committed in their name prior to and during World War II. So it should be with us and we should avoid inserting qualified approval and imposing limiting conditions and post-imperial justifications on our history.
Finally, and perhaps the most difficult legacy of all, I pray for a deeper understanding of the effects of history on the contemporary generation of children of those taken across the ocean to that cluster of islands in the Caribbean and now transported again to the homeland of the former imperial power. I ask people to look beyond the easy offerings peddled by those with diversionary agendas who mistake diversity for divisiveness unless on their terms. I ask noble Lords to look long and hard, with a spirit of empathy and understanding, at the debris which is the hangover of that historical era—be it substandard housing, over-representation in the prison population and the mental health service, underachievement in and disproportionate exclusions from our schools and, simply, the waste of so much human talent which, with nurture and care, is ready to be put to use for the betterment of everyone in our society. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on introducing this timely and important debate and thank her for the thoughtful and comprehensive way in which she has outlined the historic facts—the Wilberforce factor and the present situation. Speaking early in the debate makes it impossible to refer to other noble Lords’ contributions and I acknowledge that I make, therefore, certain assumptions. I join her and other noble Lords who I feel sure will deplore all the horrors of the slave trade. It seems inconceivable that even as shortly as 200 years ago a blind eye was turned to the sufferings and inhumanity which that trade caused. Yet the fact that trade and trafficking in human beings continues to this day and, on all the evidence, is increasing is even more incredible.
As a member of the Parliamentary Assembly to the Council of Europe, I am well aware of the efforts which are being made constantly to raise awareness and take action to prevent the continuation of this modern traffic in people, and this dreadful trade. But still it goes on. If resolutions and recommendations were enough we should be home and dry. At least we can say that this dreadful trade is illegal in this day and age. The question we have to ask ourselves, therefore, is what we can do now to persuade as well as to deter, in the words of the noble Baroness.
One of the things that the United Kingdom must do is to ensure that we never forget. Because of William Wilberforce, the United Kingdom was at the forefront of making the slave trade illegal, and we must continue to be so. We must also educate the current generation and future generations about their past in the hope that matters will improve in the future. I believe that the many commemorations, events and activities taking place as a result of the anniversary of the 1807 Act are of great importance. I feel sure they will be referred to in the debate. However, I wish to focus my remarks on Liverpool because I have family links with Liverpool, as many noble Lords know. I was the Member of the European Parliament representing Liverpool from 1979 to 1984 and, until recently, was a trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside—now the National Museums of Liverpool.
Liverpool is one of the cities that prospered from the triangular trade—it involved taking slaves from west Africa to the Americas, and the produce of the work of the slaves, the cotton and sugar, back to Europe—and therefore has a particular responsibility. Everyone who has a connection with that city recognises that. So I was very pleased when I was a trustee in 1994 when we opened the first and I believe at that stage only museum that recognised transatlantic slavery. Lord Pitt, who was a well known and is still a well remembered Member of your Lordships' House, contributed greatly to setting up that museum, especially in terms of the relations with the local black community in Liverpool, because it was so essential that they should participate. The museum was opened by Maya Angelou in 1994 and, since then, thousands of visitors have attended it and learnt from the facts and illustrations which unemotionally but importantly underline all that went on. Among those visitors have been many schoolchildren. As the noble Baroness said, it is vital that the school curriculum includes important references to this part of our history and that museums and such places go hand in hand with the education process.
Liverpool is to become European Capital of Culture in 2008, and it was felt that something extra should be done—and, in any event, it was felt that the slavery museum should be widened in scope. The International Slavery Museum is due to open in Liverpool on 23 August; it will highlight the international importance of slavery and its issues in the historic and contemporary context. It will work in partnership with other museums, with a focus on freedom and enslavement. The International Slavery Museum will provide opportunities for greater awareness and understanding of the legacy of slavery today. Condoleezza Rice, who was a recent visitor there, said:
“The International Slavery Museum will further elevate the profile of this greater issue and raise awareness of the significance of promoting democracy, freedom and human rights around the globe today. Thank you for your dedication and commitment in this important project”.
So we have a very international focus.
In passing, I refer to the fact that in producing this new museum we have had valuable support from a number of sources. The Heritage Lottery Fund—and next week we will have a debate on lottery funds—has supported this issue very considerably and to date has made 115 awards totalling over £11 million to projects relating to the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and the slave trade generally.
I urge people who wish to know more about this issue to visit Liverpool after the new extended museum opens on 23 August, and in doing so to bear in mind the words of a former slave, a man called William Prescott, who said, in 1937:
“They will remember that we were sold but they won’t remember that we were strong. They will remember that we were bought, but not that we were brave”.
In remembering all that went on all those hundreds of years ago, those words are very important.
My Lords, I apologise to the House and ask for its indulgence because, owing to the extension of time for the debate, I will not be able to be present for all the speeches. I have mentioned this already to the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, and to the Leader of the House, and I shall read all the speeches carefully afterwards.
I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, for initiating a historic debate and for doing so with such wisdom, dignity and forcefulness. The terms of her Motion concern Parliament’s abolition of the slave trade and the UK’s role in tackling its legacies. There are, of course, many other examples of this abominable trade, and modern forms of slavery continue to this day, not just in the rest of the world, but also in Britain. Slavery was prevalent in this country long before the Norman Conquest, and Islamic slavery was widespread before the Atlantic trade in black African slaves.
I shall summarise the way in which our courts treated black African slavery and the slave trade. I wrote about it in a book 35 years ago, before I had the privilege of helping to make the Race Relations Act 1976. In view of the lucrative benefits that Britain derived from the slave trade, it is not surprising that English courts were ready to recognise the legality of the institution. Their task was made easier because the appalling traffic and its consequences were kept at a convenient distance in remote colonies. The legal aspects of slavery came before our courts only when a master sought to enforce his rights of ownership in a slave.
Since there was no intellectual basis for chattel slavery in existing law, English courts upheld the proprietary right of slave owners by relying on the fact that slaves were not Christians and by appealing to the common practice of merchants whose trade in slaves was presumed to be sanctioned by the law of nations. Courts, describing slaves as merchandise akin to musk cats and monkeys, decided that slavery was legal in England because slaves were infidels without the rights enjoyed by Christian men. However, this could not be applied to a slave who was baptised. The courts resolved that difficulty by treating slavery as a relationship created under local colonial law. In that way the judges could uphold the condition of servitude overseas without violating British ideals of personal liberty.
Lord Mansfield was not the fearless emancipator of later legend and tried repeatedly to avoid giving judgment. All that he decided in Somersett’s case was that the state of slavery could not be enforced in the English courts while the slave was in England. In 1805, the House of Commons passed a Bill that made it unlawful for any British subject to capture and transport slaves. That measure was blocked by this House, disgracefully. A year later, Grenville, a strong opponent of the slave trade, formed a Whig Administration. Grenville’s Foreign Secretary, Charles Fox, and William Wilberforce led the campaign in the other place. Grenville made a passionate speech in this House, arguing that the trade was,
“contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy”,
and criticised fellow Members for,
“not having abolished the trade long ago”.
When the vote was taken, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Bill was passed in this House by 41 votes to 20. In the Commons it was carried by 114 to 15.
British captains who were caught continuing the trade were fined £100 for every slave found on board. This did not stop the British slave trade. If slave ships were in danger of being apprehended, captains often reduced the fines that they had to pay by throwing the slaves overboard. It was not until 1833 that Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act. As late as 1860 an English court refused to invalidate a contract made by a British subject for the sale of slaves in Brazil, because the possession of slaves was lawful in that country. The system of indentured Indian labour in the sugar industry in the Caribbean was, of course, often a source of de facto slavery.
As regards the UK’s role in tackling the legacies of the slave trade, on 14 March 1996 the House debated a Question by Lord Gifford, asking whether the Government would make appropriate reparation to African nations and to the descendants of Africans for the damage caused by the slave trade and the practice of slavery. The Minister explained why the Government rejected that proposal.
In that debate, which I heard, Lord Wilberforce, the great-great-grandson of William Wilberforce and joint president of Anti-Slavery International, accepted in principle that one could not object to the idea of compensation to individuals for wrongs that they had suffered and he noted that compensation had been paid in certain circumstances to individuals who had suffered ascertained wrongs—that is, where there was unquestioned guilt and unquestionable responsibility of a particular person. Lord Wilberforce continued:
“I do not find that those conditions are satisfied, or anywhere near satisfied, in the present case … ever since 1833 when slavery was abolished in the British Empire … British governments have striven by law, by force, by use of their navy, by influence and by the expenditure of money, to have slavery abolished in African countries, to stop the trade in human beings, and to mitigate the consequences”.
However, he emphasised that, however difficult, indeed impossible, it is to assess compensation or reparation, we and other countries,
“have a very strong moral responsibility now and always to do two things; first, to bring about as far as possible the abolition of slavery wherever it still exists, and, secondly, to do whatever we can both practically and realistically to alleviate the consequences … Either of pre-existing slavery … or of existing slavery … The main consequences which we can identify and which we are in a position to do something about are well known. They are low prices for commodities and the burden of debt, which is itself a form of slavery … There is also the question of unfair trading”.—[Official Report, 14/3/96; cols. 1406-07.]
When the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, examined the evils of human trafficking, we heard shocking evidence from those working in the field about how trafficking and immigration control and its abuses create the conditions in which modern slavery flourishes, whether for sexual exploitation or for forced labour. Forced marriage also results in sexual slavery. There is a pressing need for effective action to abolish modern slavery and its causes in Britain today, as well as beyond our shores.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, emphasised, we need also to tackle racial discrimination, disadvantage and prejudice and to promote racial equality, not only by means of public education and good governance, but by means of coherent and workable equality legislation, vigorously enforced by the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, the Government and the judiciary.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, on the eloquent and moving way in which she introduced this important debate. Her poignant, personal account of the legacy of slavery is a fitting reminder of the horrors of this barbaric practice and the far-reaching implications for all affected—individuals, their families and their communities at the time and over time.
This year, while we commemorate the parliamentary achievements of William Wilberforce and his co-campaigners in abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire, we cannot celebrate the end of slavery. It is to our shame that an estimated 27 million people today are suffering some form of slavery. William Wilberforce would surely believe that his best legacy would be a commitment by us to complete his, as yet incomplete, mission to eradicate slavery from the face of the Earth.
In my humanitarian and human rights work, which focuses on people who are largely cut off from major aid and advocacy organisations and are often trapped behind closed borders or in areas designated “no go” by oppressive regimes, I have met many hundreds of modern-day slaves. I have looked into their eyes and heard their first-hand accounts of the anguish inflicted on them, their families and communities. Personal stories often speak more eloquently than statistics, so perhaps I may offer some examples from my tragically large archive of encounters with people who have suffered contemporary slavery. Their voices speak for countless others who are still enslaved and whose voices cannot be heard here.
My first example is from Sudan, where the National Islamic Front regime, an Islamist military junta, took power by force in 1989 and declared militaristic jihad against all who oppose it, including many Muslims as well as Christians and traditional believers. One of the weapons of that jihad was slavery. The Government mobilised the local tribesmen, the Murahaleen, and encouraged them to fight and keep the human bounty as slaves as their reward. Massive slave raids ensued, as reported by independent witnesses such as Gaspar Biro, UN special rapporteur for Sudan.
I was in the region during many of those raids. This young mother is just one who describes the horror: “My name is Abuk Kir. I am blind. When the soldiers and the jihad warriors came, I could hear the horses galloping and the guns firing. I tried to run with my two children but I am blind so I fell and we were captured. They took us north but as I was blind I was no use so they abused me and left me behind. They took my children away as slaves. In Africa if you are blind, your children are your eyes, but I have lost them so I shall die”. We were able to help her to rescue her children. When I subsequently returned, we found a very happy Abuk Kir, smiling and laughing and saying: “I am so happy my children are back, I could dance all night, except I am blind and cannot dance. But that does not matter. We are together as a family”.
Under international pressure, the Government set up the Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children to identify, rescue and return abducted women and children. But since the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, the Government in Khartoum have abrogated responsibility for this urgent work and the Government of southern Sudan do not have the resources or the access to continue the rescue operations. I ask the Leader of the House whether Her Majesty’s Government will raise this issue with the Government in Khartoum, urging them to undertake the programme necessary to rescue the 35,000 or so women and children still enslaved and missing in Sudan today.
My second example is from Burma, where the brutal Orwellian-named State Peace and Development Council regime uses different forms of slavery and servitude in its assaults against its own people, especially against the ethnic national groups such as the Karen, Karenni, Shan, Chin, Rohingya, Mon and Kachin peoples. These include systematic sexual slavery, forced labour in conditions so harsh that many perish, the use of human minesweepers, and the highest number of child soldiers in the world—70,000.
During numerous visits to Shan, Karen, Karenni and Chin people, we have heard countless personal accounts of the brutality of forced labour, sexual abuse as a weapon of war, and the use of villagers as human minesweepers One lady described how her husband had repeatedly been forced to work as a porter until he was compelled to walk in front of SPDC soldiers as a human minesweeper and was blown up. Subsequently, she had to become a porter, carrying 30 kilograms of rice or ammunition for the soldiers from dawn to dusk. At night, she and other women porters were systematically sexually abused. Her son was also beaten and suffers permanent brain damage.
There are many well documented reports providing massive evidence of the SPDC regime’s use of different forms of slavery, such as Catwalk to the Barracks by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland, or the abuse of children as child soldiers as documented in the report My Gun was as Tall as Me by Human Rights Watch.
In northern Uganda, the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted at least 25,000 children, terrorising and brutalising them and forcing them to fight against the Ugandan army. Those children, whose names I deliberately do not mention, speak for countless others who have suffered atrocities beyond description. This is happening today. A young teenage boy said: “During my training I had to undertake live shooting practice against other children. Many died but it was them or me. I became increasingly brutal and wild. I do not know how many people I have killed. I escaped to find both my parents had been killed and my three brothers abducted, feared dead. I and all the other children now need education”.
A 15 year-old girl was abducted in 2002 and taken to Sudan. She was given to an LRA commander as his “wife”. She had to fight and on five missions she had to take other children into captivity to southern Sudan, 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. I still have nightmares remembering some of their faces”. She has been told that her parents are dead. Of her seven siblings, four were abducted; she is the only one to return, as the others were killed in battle. Her desperate plea is for education.
A teenage boy described how he had been forced to cut into pieces another boy who had tried to escape. When he himself took a similar risk and succeeded in escaping, he learnt that the LRA had killed his father in retaliation. He broke down in tears, describing his feelings of guilt for the death of his father. My last example concerns another boy—a young teenager—who described how, during his training, he had been forced to do three things: to rape a woman publicly; to kill another abductee with a hoe; and to throw another abductee down a well.
The situation in northern Uganda is a little easier now that the LRA is engaging in peace talks, but many children are still missing. Those who have escaped need massive help to put their terrible past behind them and to try to build a future in desperate circumstances. The plight of these children highlights an aspect of modern slavery that deserves more attention: the rehabilitation of those who have escaped, often to find their families destroyed and their communities dislocated and devastated. Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House say whether Her Majesty’s Government include policies to help to meet the needs of former slaves, such as children who have escaped from hellish experiences at the hands of the LRA? Their overriding plea is for education, but they cannot afford the fees and sink into despair. Can the Government do anything to try to help that situation in northern Uganda?
Finally and briefly, I refer to an issue that has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill: slavery and human trafficking in our own country. Yesterday, I had the privilege of being at Liverpool Hope University, where I have the honour to be chancellor. I watched the courageous and painfully poignant performance by a group of students of a powerful play highlighting the anguish of literally countless girls and women lured to this country and subjected to appalling sexual exploitation. The students concluded with a plea for Her Majesty’s Government to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. I should be most grateful to hear what the situation is with regard to that. They also highlighted the urgent need for more intervention to rescue those trapped in slavery in the United Kingdom and for more resources to provide safe havens to help and heal those who manage to escape in this country. Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House say what steps the Government are taking to stop trafficking into the United Kingdom and to help those who have been victims of this barbaric aspect of modern slavery?
In conclusion, it is my hope that we who enjoy freedom will do all that we can to ensure that this year of celebration of William Wilberforce’s valiant achievements will not be one of condemnation of our failure, in our day, to fulfil our responsibility to eradicate slavery from the face of the Earth.
My Lords, I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, for concentrating our thoughts and aims today on the legacy of the slave trade, and I am especially grateful for her personal and powerful comments in introducing the debate. There is a real danger that we shall see slavery as part of a past era, although perhaps that is less likely now in this House following the powerful and effective speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.
It is right that we express our gratitude for the measures which were taken 200 years ago to begin the abolition of the slave trade and, later, for the abolition of slavery. It is important that apologies are expressed for the involvement, and indeed leadership, of our country in that trade and of the institutions of our country, including the Church of England, in perpetuating slavery 200 years ago. I am pleased that the General Synod of the Church of England has expressed its apology for the ownership of plantations and slaves. I repeat that apology to your Lordships' House today.
I also apologise for the ways in which, 200 years ago, Christians misused scripture so tragically in defence of the slave trade. That may have something to teach us Christians or members of other religious traditions within our country and our society today.
However, more crucial is what we shall do to deal with the current legacies, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has just referred: the continuing slavery into which people are placed in our own world. I have three points to make. The first is the plight of street children across the world, most particularly in Brazil. I ask what the United Kingdom can do, along with its international partners, to tackle that tragedy. In many parts of the world, it is a direct legacy of slavery. Six times as many enslaved Africans went to Brazil than went to the USA. For over a century, their descendants have been neglected and abused, so millions of children scavenge daily on the streets. Boys, but not only boys, are prey to drug gangs; and girls, but not only girls, are prey to underage prostitution. One in three of those street children dies before they are 18 years old.
Much work is being done by charities, many of them Christian-based, to rescue street children and to transform their lives and those of their families. That work, like most voluntary work, is absolutely crucial to those who are helped, but it is also a drop in the ocean. Only by a concerted international effort can this legacy of the slave trade be tackled. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about new initiatives that can be taken on that issue.
Secondly, I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in reflecting on the way in which the abolition of the slave trade and reflection on it during this year has enabled us to go some way towards uncovering the viciousness of sex trafficking and the exploitation of women. Sometimes that exploitation is developed alongside sex tourism. I welcome the measures taken to discover and punish sex tourists who take advantage of that form of slavery. I also welcome the work of charities in countries such as India to rescue children from that form of slavery. I acknowledge that only by international abhorrence and concerted efforts can that be ended.
Sex slavery is not a matter for faraway countries, but it is prevalent here in the UK. CHASTE—Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe—estimates that something like 4,000 women are held in sex trafficking locations in the UK today. A culture of demand is driving the sex industry which neither government nor churches are doing anything like enough to quell. I hope that Members of the House will demonstrate their support for “Not-for-sale Sunday” on 20 May, sponsored by CHASTE, which is an attempt to unite for positive change in our wider society for tackling the culture on which slave owners of our day thrive. The sexualising of society is a major driver of slavery in our culture. Much more needs to be done to tackle that basic part of our culture on which sex trafficking is built.
My third point is rather different and follows on from the Liverpool examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. We should recognise the extent to which our cultural heritage is based around the profits of slavery and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should take more seriously its obligations to remind us of that. I welcome the efforts made by Harewood House in Leeds to encourage visitors this summer to reflect on how it is the product of slavery profits made by the Lascelles family.
The same is true of many of our National Trust properties created or enhanced by those profits. Their beauty and attractions are based on human blood and terror. There should be a real uneasiness as we enjoy their attractiveness this summer and commit ourselves to do something about slavery in our own generation.
There is an uncomfortable identity between the time of classic gracious living in this country, with the English country-house garden at its best, and the height of profit made from the enslavement of fellow human beings. I hope that the National Trust will help us to reflect on our complicity in that viciousness, along with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, so that as we consider and reflect upon slavery today, we can tackle the legacy of the slave trade with a new determination to deal with continual racial prejudice within our own country and its institutions and to exterminate slavery in our own generation.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids for her clarity in setting out the issues of this debate in the context of the past but also the future. I firmly believe it is necessary to understand the past as well as the future, because we cannot establish a national consensus around the issues of Britishness and the multicultural society without understanding the history, culture and tradition of large numbers of our citizens. The essence of this debate is not just about the past; it is about the future, which should be informed by the past—the future of a multicultural Britain, of social cohesion in our communities and of a shared culture and mutual respect.
Perhaps at this point I should declare an interest. Perhaps I am the descendant of a slave. I say “perhaps” because slaves were non-beings to their owners, and any record of their births was obliterated; they would be given the name of slave owners, not their family name. So many thousands share my plight, not knowing their origin, who they are or from where they might have come. Within the Afro-Caribbean community, we face the unanswered question weekly when we see our grandchildren and our neighbours’ children. The unanswered question is simply, “Grandpa, who am I?” A silence, or a change of subject, is the only response. Why? It is because our line of history has been severed. Slave owners practised total enslavement—enslavement of the mind; enslavement of the culture; enslavement of dignity; enslavement of humanity; enslavement of the body and soul; above all, enslavement of the human spirit. They owned their slaves and they even took away their names.
It was the late Bob Marley who said in one of his songs that if you don’t know your history, you don’t know where you are coming from. That is perhaps the real inheritance of the slave trade. We do not know our history, we do not know who we are, and we do not know whence we came. However, we know that around the world, wherever the slave trade existed, it has left behind a legacy of poverty, destitution and confused identity in Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean.
What should be the role of the United Kingdom in tackling the legacy of the slave trade? How can we move on? The nation must start by fully acknowledging that some of its institutions and companies were involved in this heinous crime against humanity. We must start by saying sorry. If we cannot find it in our own humanity to say sorry to the slaves, let us at least say sorry for the trade in which we were engaged.
We must also give the victims of slavery a voice, a real voice. We have had a national celebration—and I mean celebration—of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, a law which was passed in this building. But is that really enough? Has there been sufficient focus on the victims of the slave trade and their descendants? I think not. We need an annual focus to remember the victims of the slave trade, an annual focus which will help the nation move on from the legacy of bitterness and ensure that it is transformed into a legacy of hope and forgiveness.
UNESCO has urged countries to make 23 August international day for the remembrance of the slave trade and its abolition. The night of 22 and 23 August 1791 in Santo Domingo saw the beginning of the uprising by slaves that was to play a crucial role in the abolition campaign. To choose this date for our act of remembrance would provide an annual focus on the courage of the slaves and not just the law which abolished the trade. While abolition was a milestone in ending the trade, we must never forget the suffering of the slaves themselves. An annual remembrance, while not bringing total closure to that dark side of our history, would nevertheless provide a reference point for our displaced generation up and down our communities.
A case has been made for reparation. As a nation we have a massive propensity to devalue the victim but comfort the perpetrator. The church and other slave-owners received compensation for losing their slave labour. Surely, it is morally right that the descendants of slaves deserve some consideration. However, we all recognise that the difficulties involved would be insurmountable, so we must find other imaginative and creative ways to atone for these crimes against humanity.
We have already stated that the teaching of slavery should be included in our curriculum, but the relevance of slavery must be taught throughout that curriculum and not just in key stage 3 and 4. It should be taught in our language, as part of our history of the Industrial Revolution, in our literature and arts, and much more. It has been suggested that a legacy fund should be created, and those institutions including the churches, the companies and the banks which benefited from the slave trade should contribute. The use of the legacy fund should be geared to educational and economic opportunities, and be driven by the needs of the countries involved in the slave trade; they were victims too.
Recently, the Guardian published a set of important speeches of the 20th century. I believe it missed one of the most important—certainly, an important one in the year in which we focus our minds on slavery and racism. The speech was made by Emperor Haile Selassie. When he addressed the United Nations in 1963, he said that,
“until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned … until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation … until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes … until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race … until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.”
Let those words, echoed in this House, be our legacy from the slave trade.
My Lords, it really is a privilege to be among those speaking today. I am not quite sure where I begin, but I am more of a practical man, not influenced by intellectual arguments. I was brought up to believe that slavery was the systematic exploitation of labour for work and services or the ownership of people as property. I do not really believe that one should apologise for the past, or that you can live with the sins of your fathers unless you really go back into the past.
I should explain my knowledge of this subject; fortunately, it is based on being involved in trade and its finance. I started to get interested when working with a research company that did a race relations study. It took us nearly a year to determine what questions we should ask, because we were facing prejudice—one of the worst evils in this world, when we are all people. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, raised something with me that I had got wrong. I wanted to know what a Rastafarian was; I tried to work out how the slaves from Ethiopia could possibly have got to Jamaica and made the dreadlocks. No, it was Emperor Haile Selassie who was called a Rastafari. He went to Jamaica in the 1930s, and they all followed him thereafter. That ultimately led to me getting involved with trying to help Bob Marley go off to Zimbabwe to give it its freedom.
In my life, I have found that if you go back into time and are involved in trade, you might go back to 1750 BC. The Egyptians and Babylonians were the really great slave-drivers of that time; they were followed later by the Hittites, in the Mashreq as it is now, and later by the Chinese. But the route of slaves and the exploitation of labour were also linked to tribalism and the desire to gain territory. Most slavery followed certain patterns, many of which I have been along. It was the silk route in some part or, later, the route to Mecca. You might start at one end in what was known as the slave coast, in the Bight of Benin, near Mount Cameroon. Once, when I was down there, I remember having a wonderful discussion with a president who reminded me that the first slaves who sailed back to Africa from Jamaica arrived in Cameroon, and were so grateful to William Wilberforce that they named their town Victoria, after the great Queen.
Then, the trade in the Barbary Coast followed—the Arab trade in the Maghreb countries of north Africa, where they sailed across to help the Roman Empire. Yet the Roman slaves came, of course, from the Dnieper or the Danube, which went into the Black Sea. They in fact created the Roman Empire; without slaves, there would have been no such empire, and without the exploitation or utilisation of people there would be no empires.
Having rather enjoyed the Mediterranean, I also got involved in Middle East matters and thought I would see if I could follow the slave routes. Of course, they went across Africa and I was down working in many of those parts. I tried to work with the French, in francophone Africa, and realised that in general the French used their slaves for agricultural activity in west Africa. I found the old camel routes, as my great friend who was a member in the other place, Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker—who did 10 years on a camel—explained to me that camels went across Africa. So, down in the Goulamine market one day, I bought a camel. My son had told me this joke; at the age of three, it was his only joke. “What do you call a camel with three humps? You call him Humphrey”. So, I called the camel Humphrey, gave it back to the man I bought it from and asked if it could send me a Christmas or birthday card as it went across Africa. It did that for about three or four years, following the slave routes.
The Arab slavers were by far the greatest of all times. They had the slave routes that ran across Africa, through the Sahara and into the Mashreq countries—effectively, where the Hittites who were the greatest slave traders after the Babylonians and the Egyptians were. They traded with ships and, in those days, their Liverpool, Bristol and London were Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika—and Zanzibar, where the slaves stayed longer than anywhere else. That was with some approval, because Zanzibar’s main crop was cloves, and clove picking requires lots of human labour and dexterity. That was important in the spice trade.
I followed all of these with some sort of interest until, having been in the Navy in the Mediterranean, I thought I would sail around it later. I realised then that the Greeks too had their Liverpool, Bristol and London in Corinth, Delos and Rhodes—and Athens itself. Delos was the most interesting, as in 176 BC it became a free trade port. Immediately, it cornered the slave market and up to 10,000 slaves were traded in the market there every day. I thought I would go to look at Delos, but I arrived too late in my sailing boat and it was shut. There was only one chap there, and this was one of the only times that I used the influence of your Lordships’ House. He said that he could not let anyone ashore after three o’clock without authorisation, so I signed my own to confirm who I was—and I was allowed ashore.
I spent a fascinating four hours being given the complete history of the slave trade, which had effectively spread from Delos throughout the world. The only thing was that when he came back for a drink on the boat, he smelt to high heaven; he had the smelliest feet of all. He said, “I am so sorry about my feet, but there is nothing I can do as we have no water”. He explained that water had been one of the biggest problems for the slave trade—how to enable people to clean themselves, and how many had died of disease.
These sorts of things stuck in my mind, and I asked myself how that exploitation of labour continued. When we look at slavery in Africa, when we colonised we were short of labour. So, there were 12 million who went to the Americas and the Caribbean from west Africa, but at the same time there were 17 million who were enslaved in the Arab world, or in Africa itself. The figures are quite interesting. We, the British, are down on record—although nobody knows, as many of the records are no longer there—as having shipped about 2.6 million slaves over to the Americas and the Caribbean with slavers. The Portuguese were the biggest. They shipped 4.6 million slaves, mainly to Brazil. The right reverend Prelate referred to the sad situation in Brazil, where the Pope is at the moment. It is interesting that Brazil has the biggest concentration of Catholics in the world. The Spanish shipped fewer slaves, around 1.6 million. The French also shipped smaller numbers, but they used a lot of slaves in their African colonies. In addition to the 12 million slaves who went to the Americas and the Caribbean, a further 17 million people were enslaved in Africa itself and by the Arab world, which still believed in trade in people.
We were involved in building the railway in Gabon and other countries. The saddest thing for me was that when you talked to people, they talked about their historic tribes who, in general, were wiped out in war and the populations were enslaved. In the old-fashioned stories, the host took the field and there were no survivors, but that did not mean that there were no survivors. Every man over the age of 17 and under the age of 50 would have been killed and the wives, children and others would have been taken into bondage or slavery or were indentured. We used to do that with apprentices in the United Kingdom. They would be indentured, in fact, be enslaved in some form. It was rather like indebtedness now. People who are brought into this country fleeing the poverty of their own countries find that with slave masters or gang masters they are required to pay to get in and when they are here they are required to continue to work virtually for free because their wages are taken in order to pay interest rates that are often published in documentation similar to that which you see on APRs for credit cards. They can never get out of that debt.
Across the world, we follow these sad occasions, but they are still there. I have been given the latest figures but I always take everybody’s figures with a pinch of salt—which is one of the greatest value commodities for trade, but we are told not to use it any more. I wonder how many people are enslaved today. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said 27 million. I think it is a substantially greater number if you look at those people who are effectively in economic bondage. However, worse is to come with the question of the exploitation of children, which has gone on throughout history. The latest Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, which was referred to in the Independent, stated that something like 5,000 children are brought here every year, 50,000 women and children are taken to the United States and more than 1 million people are trafficked worldwide.
We cannot do anything to change the past, and nor should we apologise for it, but an apology is an understanding and knowledge of it. Slavery does not just go back to the 19th century. It goes back to other areas and beyond. We can look at the way we recruited people for the Navy by using press gangs or at the way that we would take into the British Army those wonderful people, the Sudanese, who had a great country, the most honest of all. An officer would be sent down with a commissioner to a village to ask for young men to serve in the Army. He would pay the village 80 per cent of their wages and 20 per cent would be given to the soldiers, but if they did not perform properly or were dishonest, the village lost its money. The exploitation of labour is ultimately an economic issue, as is the destruction of tribes and communities by war where people want to gain territory. We can say that it is all about gain, and there is no glory, but I am afraid it is going on today.
My Lords, I do not mind repeating that this year we celebrate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. It was one of the most inhuman and shocking chapters in our history. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, obtained this debate as a reminder that more than 12 million people were transported and some 2 million lost their lives. She talked about slavery in its historical context and, in the modern context, highlighted the shocking murder of Stephen Lawrence. I want your Lordships’ House to note that she was a tower of support to the Lawrence family when, in the early days, there was reluctance to accept that it was a racist murder. The noble Baroness worked actively to effect policy changes that have changed the shape of policing in this country. We must not forget the contributions of modern reformers who have done much to put right the injustices suffered by minorities. They include people such as Michael Ramsey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury; Learie Constantine, the famous cricketer who was at one time refused accommodation in a hotel in Russell Square; Lord Pitt of Hampstead; Roy Jenkins; and my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who has done pioneering work on human rights and equality.
Two events in Parliament this week add significance to the Act passed 200 years ago: the speech by Kofi Annan about poverty and its consequences and the exhibition on slavery in Westminster Hall, which will formally open on 23 May.
Despite its abolition, slavery remains a major problem globally. We have moved from chains and shackles to blackmail and corruption, ugly factors oppressing those least able to fend for themselves. Poverty traps many of them in a cycle of deprivation and ultimately into economic bondage. Today, forced labour is a significant component of all forms of contemporary slavery. The number of men, women and children in forced labour is estimated at approximately 12.3 million. How can we continue to ignore this deplorable practice, found in many parts of the world today, as was so ably demonstrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox? Bonded labour begins when impoverished individuals exchange their labour for a loan from a private contractor.
An estimated 8.4 million children are suspected to be working in the worst forms of child labour, known as unconditional labour, which the International Labour Organisation names as: slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour, prostitution and other illicit and unthinkable activities, and forced recruitment for armed conflict—for example, the infamous child soldiers. Children in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sri Lanka, to name only three countries, are made to live in fear and hardship, unprotected by their Government. As with all aspects of forced labour and slavery, the most helpless seem to go the least helped, and the terrible example of children as some of the greatest sufferers goes quite unnoticed and unimpeded.
Human trafficking can be traced as one of the main channels through which exploited labourers are gathered. Approximately 2.5 million people have been trafficked into forced labour and about one third of them are enrolled into forced or exploited labour, such as domestic or factory work. Migrant workers are undervalued and so unprotected by many Governments, and most face restricted access to legal migration channels despite a demand for labour in destination countries.
The same resolve applies to the problem of forced labour imposed by the state. Although states are responsible for a much smaller percentage of forced labour, certain Governments, such as that of Burma, are directly responsible for this form of slavery. Governments are far more difficult to prosecute than guilty individuals, especially when there is little or no legislation against the act. For the eradication of contemporary slavery to be possible, there need to be highly prioritised national and global action plans; but, before even that is possible, total acceptance of the situation of modern slavery is necessary. Trafficking in human beings is one such example. Many of the world’s Governments seem to have their eyes closed to the culpable practices either in their own countries or in the world around them.
The continued denial of or indifference to the existence of contemporary slavery licenses those in breach of human rights to continue. Before any valid solutions can be found, the world’s Governments must undertake extensive and reliable field research so that any proposed resolutions fully reflect the extent of contemporary slavery.
It has been proven and emphasised by the International Labour Organisation that forced labour “is hardly ever prosecuted”. This can be for many reasons, particularly the absence of appropriate legislation. There needs to be clear legislation and practical ease in administrating it to ensure that the law is always properly enacted and followed. Even where there is legislation, the rightful sanctions for prosecuted criminals are often lacking. Correct, firm and implemented legislation will root out the causes of slavery and ensure that individual slavery cases do not recur.
An important step towards ensuring the successful prosecution of those leading contemporary slavery is protecting victims. In Italy, for example, trafficked people receive residency permits so that they can safely assist the authorities with prosecution cases against traffickers, a scheme that has reaped success. Victims of trafficking and all other forms of slavery are clearly vulnerable people, weakened by their experiences. Their enslavement should not continue when they attempt to assist the complicated legal process of prosecution. A serious threat of prosecution will be one of the most successful deterrents. There is an important role for the Serious Organised Crime Agency to root out this practice, and I have no doubt that our recent legislation on this subject will help.
What action should we be taking? First, national and international plans of action to fight slavery need to cover the structural make-up that makes people susceptible. As I have already said, discrimination, disadvantage and deprivation are the factors that trap people into slavery. Statistics show that the most targeted members of society are from minority or marginalised groups.
Sexual discrimination also plays an important role; for example, 98 per cent of sexual exploitation affects women and girls exclusively. Young people especially are literally enslaved due to their youth and defencelessness.
Poverty is the other factor highly influential in slavery. As we saw with debt bondage, the poor often enter an unending cycle of slavery in a genuine attempt to earn a wage. When faced with the choice of extreme poverty and starvation or slave labour, even the latter appears attractive. The slavery cycle seems to merge with the poverty cycle in many cases. Intergovernmental organisations such as the World Bank and the World Health Organisation need to encourage and make allowances for Governments who are taking the initiative to deal with contemporary slavery now, before they find that their attempts at combating discrimination and poverty are useless in an enslaved society.
Let us remember what slavery did to a large section of our global community, of which we were rightly reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells. Several years ago I was at the extermination camp in Auschwitz, where there was a slogan, a timely reminder for us all: never forget history in case it repeats itself.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, has introduced this debate in her uniquely calm, direct and persuasive style. I have been lucky to join her and my noble friend Lady Young on the panel advising the new exhibition in Westminster Hall. Looking at it again yesterday, I wondered if we were right to make so much of the historic achievement and rather less of the legacy and of contemporary forms of slavery.
One dominant image there of slavery is of the sea. “Britannia rules the waves”, we used to sing at school. We still believed it as late as 1956. My own family history is of naval conquests, losses and discoveries. The Fourth Earl of Sandwich was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of the legendary Olaudah Equiano, whose own personal example was an inspiration to the abolition campaign.
We still have pride in this country in our modern Navy and our Merchant Navy and their many achievements. But we can have no pride in the terrible slave trade and the scandalous way that human cargo was used to achieve and build on some of these excesses and to satisfy our demand for cheap imports.
Through the bicentenary we are at last developing a complete record of our collective action as a Parliament, first in carrying on this shameful trade and second in abolishing it—for the time being. The exhibition is designed to do both of these and, as we have heard, is part of the national series of events to commemorate abolition. I also recommend the scholarly book The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People, which contains some highly original research on the voting records of both MPs and Peers of that time. I cannot say that my family comes out very well.
I do not understand the logic of reparation because, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has said—and I am sorry he is not here—there can be no present moral or legal government responsibility for these actions; apology and atonement can only be symbolic. But I wholly support positive actions of education and remembrance and perhaps an annual day being set aside, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, mentioned.
On legacy, I support Anti-Slavery International’s recommendations, which are well known to the Government, and I declare an interest as a council member for the past nine years. First, there must be educational activities which reflect the full history of slavery and the slave trade, including the struggle against contemporary forms of slavery. This is happening.
Then, we should support projects which target countries and communities most affected by the slave trade. This could include making additional funding available to community projects in the UK, especially those which will tackle discrimination, marginalisation and under-achievement, as well as providing additional development funding to countries known to have suffered as a result of the slave trade. This surely goes some way towards reparation. Kofi Annan has again singled out Africa as a special focus of assistance.
Today I shall only touch on two aspects of slavery outside the UK and two closer to home. Internationally, I would like to see this Government building on their reputation at the UN, first, by working harder towards the universal ratification and implementation of standards which prohibit slavery. The 1956 UN supplementary convention has only been ratified by 119 states 50 years later, despite the fact that it deals with other issues such as debt bondage, which affects millions. The 2000 UN protocol on trafficking in people has had quite a high profile, but the number of states supporting that has remained fairly static, at 117.
While the new UN Human Rights Council provides a real opportunity to monitor and report on modern forms of slavery, does the noble Baroness agree that the working group on contemporary forms of slavery has really had its day and should be replaced by a special rapporteur or an enhanced and more effective mechanism to monitor and combat slavery? I hope that the Government will ensure that slavery issues are addressed in international and national poverty reduction strategies, because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that there is a clear link between modern slavery, poverty and discrimination.
Here I give one brief example from India, which is a thriving economy in danger of falling well short of international human rights standards. Take the practice of Jogini, which I have mentioned in the House before after a visit to Hyderabad. Under that pernicious system, young girls are dedicated to a goddess and then become the common sexual property of the devotees. Although outlawed in 1988, it continues today and in Andhra Pradesh 16,000 women and girls were recently estimated to be affected. A girl may be dedicated either to give thanks for survival from illness or to gain the goddess’s favour and protection for something. The lack of male offspring is also given as a reason for making the dedication. The girl is simply offered like a sacrifice; she has no choice in whether she becomes dedicated.
Anti-Slavery International and Christian Aid are among many NGOs working with Indian partners on such issues, but how often do the Government mention those unacceptable practices in the course of diplomacy? I am not convinced that we have got over our postcolonial shyness in India, which is one of the major locations of modern slavery. Can the noble Baroness reassure me that social exclusion is moving higher up the agenda of the UK and EU-India dialogue on human rights, and that those issues are always examined within the PRSP strategy? I look forward to hearing her response to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, with whom I strongly agree about the work of CWEAC and how it can be continued in Sudan.
Back at home, I hope that some noble Lords were able to see the excellent photographic exhibition in St Paul's Cathedral called “Slave Britain”, which was mounted by PANOS with support from Anti-Slavery International, Amnesty and others. One of the haunting images from it is in the exhibition in Westminster Hall, showing a 68 year-old Lithuanian mother of two, Stasa, both of whose daughters were trafficked, one to Germany and England.
“I have lost them both”,
“I have one wish, and that’s for my daughters to come back, but after what they’ve been through, I don’t believe they’ll ever be able to live a normal life again”.
The Government have made considerable progress with trafficking legislation and should be congratulated on that, but when do they expect to move to the next stage and ratify the Council of Europe convention of 2005, which provides minimum standards of protection? 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, within the action plan? Will they give the rapporteur a particular focus on child trafficking, which I know concerns many NGOs here?
There is also the equally serious problem of domestic workers. Statistics collected by Kalayaan, a charity which works with migrant domestic workers, confirm that they face forced labour conditions as well as abuse and exploitative working conditions. Out of 385 workers registered between April 2005 and March 2006, nearly a quarter reported physical abuse and a similar number said that they were locked in the house; 71 per cent had been deprived of food; and 86 per cent worked more than 16 hours a day. That may be a small sample but it says enough about the failure of our legislation to catch up with employers.
Will the Government make a commitment to retain the 1998 rule relating to migrant domestic workers, which gives them one-year renewable visas and the right to change their employer? That rule was introduced by the Government and has since helped to protect migrant workers from being reduced to conditions of servitude. Removing that right, as is planned, will undoubtedly lead to an increase in trafficking, forced labour and exploitation.
The slavery bicentenary, while making much of our ability to overcome the past, must also give us more opportunities to eradicate the most oppressive contemporary forms of slavery. Those images are not all conveniently out of sight over the horizon but before our very eyes.
My Lords, as has been said by many noble Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friends Lady Howells of St Davids and Lord Morris of Handsworth, both of whom spoke with great feeling about this important issue and both of whom drew attention to the fact that slavery still has echoes down to the present. I also point out that it has echoes beyond, too, because, as has also been pointed out, many of those who fought against slavery were slaves themselves. Here I declare an interest: I set up the Mary Seacole memorial statue appeal, in which my noble friend Lady Amos is playing a key role. It is intended not just to have a memorial; there is an educational side to that charity which will draw the attention of the British people to the achievements and actions of ethnic minorities, especially during the British Industrial Revolution and the period of Empire.
I shall limit my remarks today to a couple of key issues, because there is too much to cover otherwise. I simply endorse some of the comments made about modern-day slavery. I also mention what I thought was a very impressive speech by Kofi Annan on Tuesday in this Parliament, when he reminded us of the effect that public opinion can have if it is mobilised. It is an extraordinary fact that, in the 1790s, Britain was the biggest slave-trading nation, but by 1807 it was the leading abolitionist nation.
Something changed in that period which was very important. Economics was an important part of it, but there was a moral awareness, which is profoundly important in its own right. Kofi Annan reminded us of that when he said:
“Beware of moral blindness”.
It is worth remembering that in 100 or 200 years’ time people may look back at what we said and did and wonder why we had the attitudes and values that we did. Our moral blindness towards some despotic and tyrannical states that still occupy this world is something that has concerned me for some time. I move on to that area now because one of the most interesting aspects of the period following 1807 is the way in which the law and morality became joined in a struggle between the primacy of law and the primacy of morality. That has lessons for us today; it is not just an academic point, as I will seek to explain.
One key difference between the transatlantic slave trade and the periods of slavery before—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, rightly reminded us, go back through all societies at all times—is that, for the first time, modern science and technology, especially in the form of navigation and building large seaworthy ships, ships that could cross oceans, made it possible to transport very large numbers of human beings from one continent to another. The technology that underpinned the economies of many nation states, mainly but not wholly European, was to translate many years later into the absolute horror of the death camps in Nazi Germany and many other tyrannical states that disfigure the world today. In other words, science and technology can have enormous influence in improving our lot in life and our understanding of life, but it can also be used for evil ends.
What happened after 1807 is a fascinating sequence of events, where the British Government were driven—for economic reasons, some would argue, though no one could seriously argue that they were not also driven by opinion about the immorality of the slave trade—to try to find a way of stopping it. The Royal Navy was used to stop the ships of all nations and to release the slaves. As Kofi Annan reminded us the other day, they released an estimated 150,000, maybe more, although one shudders to think of how many slaves were thrown overboard when a slaver saw a Royal Navy ship approaching, knowing that he would be fined for every slave he had on board. That is the particular discrete horror of the slave trade.
In 1807, George Canning, then Foreign Secretary, indicated the syndrome of a great power that wanted suddenly to impose its newfound morality on other nations by saying that abolition should not be,
“thwarted by the pertinency of other powers in allowing their subjects to continue this disgraceful traffic”.
That is the first time that I have found a quote by a British politician that almost makes Donald Rumsfeld sound humble. The British then proceeded to use the British Navy to stop the slave trade, particularly stopping the ships of France—which they could do fairly easily because of the war at the time—as well as those of other nations. They fought by a process of force, law and diplomacy to stop the slave trade.
Close allies such as Portugal were forced to stop the slave trade, not least because they were at the time occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars and the Government had to move to Brazil. They found that the only way of keeping British support was to sign up to the abolition of the trade. Portuguese ships continued the slave trade. United States ships were returned to ports in Africa and the slaves released. British naval ships entered Brazilian harbours and burned empty slave-trading ships in the harbours. There was a series of actions, many of them over a period of some 60 years when the force of the Royal Navy was used to impose its will on other nations.
At the same time arguments were going on about whether this was lawful. The important lesson here is about international law and morality as two sides of a difficult coin. At times the law trumped morality and, in doing so, allowed the trade to continue. At other times morality trumped the law and stopped the trade in slaves. What the British occasionally did, for example when they found it difficult to win the approval of some states, was literally just to announce that any ships found to have the ability to carry slaves—which usually meant having handcuffs, shackles, an extra deck and extra water onboard—could be taken, and so they took them. The British were taken to court on many occasions and found to be in breach of international law. In an example of the law trumping morality, in 1816, Lord Stowell declared—and I would not argue that he was legally wrong, but what is interesting is whether he was morally right or wrong—that the British were wrong because, in his view, nations were independent and equal, and one country could therefore not intervene against another on the high seas.
The British ignored that and continued their practice of intercepting. In another case morality trumped the law: the Privy Council simply declared that because slavery was prima facie illegal, the Royal Navy could therefore do what it liked. There was no law or international arrangement saying that; international law was quite clear that it was wrong to intercept these ships and turn them back.
There were various attempts to get the ships of other nations—particularly the United States, because it came out against the slave trade as early as a year or two after we did, although it did not enforce it—involved in an international policing exercise to intercept all slave-trade ships. It was not until the 1860s that the trade was finally abolished. That was really because of the civil war in the United States. The United States feared that Britain might back the south unless it agreed to British demands to end the slave trade. It then signed up to that agreement. Similarly, the Brazilians finally acceded because they wanted recognition by the British, having declared independence from Portugal.
That brings me bang up to date. The struggle is always between an international morality which we all have in the form of views about despotic tyrannies around the world and what we should do about them, and the practice of the law. We assume—in a country where law is decided by a democratic institution, with human rights and so on—that the law should always triumph and that you should try to change it by parliamentary process. That is not such an easy assumption when you come to international law. There are many lessons to be learnt from the slavery issue, and I am touching on just one. This is unfinished business in international law and morality. We have a long way to go before people are truly free.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, on giving us the opportunity to discuss this important issue and on the most impressive speech with which she introduced this debate. I will concentrate my remarks on the legacy of the slave trade on the Caribbean and the UK’s ongoing relationship with the countries of the Caribbean.
As a general rule, I am not a great fan of political anniversaries. They lead merely to cloying self-congratulation. The 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade has been rather different. There has inevitably been an element of smugness about the fact that Britain took a lead in ending the trade in slaves, but this sentiment is not new. As Dr Eric Williams, the great Trinidadian academic and politician, put it some 50 years ago:
“British historians write almost as if Britain had introduced Negro slavery merely for the satisfaction of abolishing it”.
The bicentenary has shone a spotlight on to an episode in our history that we have traditionally chosen not to confront, in terms of both its part in creating the wealth of our country and our ongoing responsibilities for its legacies.
As an individual, with—as far as I know—no family involvement in the slave trade, I feel no personal guilt for the institution. As a citizen of Britain, I feel a sense of responsibility for its legacies in the Caribbean, because British slavery played such a central role in determining the ethnic composition of the Caribbean and because subsequent British rule played such a central role in determining its institutional and social structures. When we think about how to respond to the legacies of slavery, the starting point must therefore be an acceptance of some degree of ongoing responsibility for the well-being of these islands. I am not thinking here about reparations for those who suffered under slavery. As other noble Lords have pointed out, it is far too long ago for any kind of personal reparation to be either practical or desirable. Instead, there should be an ongoing acceptance by the British Government that their dealings with the Caribbean should be characterised by a generosity of spirit and action.
What, then, are those legacies of the slave trade, and to what extent do they still require a personal and policy response from the UK? For Eric Williams, slavery and the racism that went with it were responsible for what he saw as the region’s ills, which he defined as,
“the domination of our society by racial and colour distinctions, the prevalence of crime and violence, the flimsiness of family structure, our propensity for conspicuous consumption, and our individualism”.
If we accept this analysis, which I am broadly inclined to do, we must also accept that the role that Britain can play in addressing these issues is limited, not least by the understandable desire of the countries of the Caribbean to take their own decisions and not to be lectured by Britain any more on how to do things.
However, there are a number of areas in which Britain, working with the grain of what the Caribbean is currently seeking to achieve, can make a difference. The most obvious area for co-operation is economic. If the problems facing Caribbean societies are not wholly economic, many are exacerbated by poverty and lack of opportunity. In this area, the framework within which the Caribbean can trade with Europe is one of the most important.
Current trading patterns are very much a legacy of slavery and our subsequent imperial rule in the Caribbean. Sugar is the most obvious example of the historic trading patterns between the regions, but the same responsibility applies, for example, in relation to the trade in bananas. The banana trade between Jamaica and the UK was initiated as a result of a subsidy by Joseph Chamberlain in 1900, who wanted, as part of his plans for imperial preference, to encourage the growth of a Caribbean banana industry and to ensure that its products came here rather than to, as was more logical, the USA. An initial 10-year subsidy was agreed, and so began over a century of UK government support in various ways for the banana industry.
The situation now is that, along with all other aspects of trade from the region, the ongoing survival of the banana industry depends on a trade regime that reflects the economic realities of the region. As Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, said a couple of years ago, the battle is not just about bananas; it is about the readiness of the WTO and the international trading community to meet the special problems of small island states that have vulnerable economies and very limited natural resources.
Through the Lomé and Cotonou agreements, the EU has sought to address these problems, but as negotiations on the economic partnership agreement between the Caribbean and the EU reach a crucial point later this year, we need UK Ministers and officials to press the Caribbean case. Over the years, that role was punctiliously performed by MAFF, but, as responsibility for agricultural trade negotiations has increasingly moved to the DTI, a rather purist free-trade mentality has taken over that does not always reflect the kind of ongoing responsibility for the well-being of the Caribbean to which I referred. We must ensure that the EPA, which is supposed to be based on the principle of partnership, leads not simply to increased market access but to increased, balanced and sustainable trade between the regions. I would welcome an assurance from the Leader of the House that the Government support such an approach and will pursue it during the negotiations later in the year.
Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Sainsbury’s, by agreeing to source its fair trade bananas from St Lucia—a decision that in turn reflects changing consumer preferences—has done more to secure the industry in that island than the past two decades of trade negotiations. While we look to the Government to help to maintain and strengthen relationships between the two regions, both companies and individuals, through their purchasing decisions, can make a straightforward difference.
Beyond the harsh realities and hard economics of trade relations, we can take some limited but worthwhile steps take to help Caribbean Governments to tackle some of the social challenges that face the Caribbean, and to which Eric Williams referred. I will mention just three.
When the Prime Minister of Barbados visited Hull a couple of months ago to commemorate the abolition of slavery, he suggested that, to mark the bicentenary, new levels of collaboration between British universities and the University of the West Indies should be established. He suggested, among other things, the creation of Wilberforce scholarships to enable students from the Caribbean to study over here. I know that my old college, St Catherine’s at Oxford, is already in discussions about the creation of a scholarship that would commemorate the fact that Eric Williams was a student there. Other universities in the UK with such specific Caribbean links could do likewise.
By definition, though, such programmes touch only a very small number of individuals, and programmes that benefit large numbers tend to be prohibitively costly. However, two initiatives could be taken that would have a broader impact, particularly among young people across the Caribbean. Given that there is an accepted need to increase the number of local entrepreneurs in the region, the UK could support and sponsor a youth enterprise week, such as has taken place with increasing success in the UK over recent years. In our youth enterprise week we have a template that could be relatively easily exported and which, at manageable cost, could hopefully stimulate many young people in the Caribbean to use their creativity and energies in a productive way.
The second initiative, which is very dear to my heart, and in which I declare an interest, is a plan to use the power of cricket—still potent, despite the recent travails—to encourage children and young people to take education more seriously and, in a region second only to sub-Saharan Africa in its incidence of HIV/AIDS, to learn more about how to avoid the disease. If ever there were a cultural legacy that binds us, it is cricket, and, as the Playing for Success programme in the UK has demonstrated, education centres at cricket grounds can be a powerful tool to encourage children to learn. Wearing a professional hat, I am working on a programme called Sport for Life!, which will establish an education hub at the Kensington Oval in Barbados later this year and go on to do the same in all the other islands with World Cup grounds, many of which are now likely to be underused. The programme has wide support in the Caribbean and here. It could form the basis for new sporting and educational links between the UK and the Caribbean for many years to come.
In concentrating on the Caribbean today, I am not seeking to underplay the importance of tackling the legacy of slavery in the UK, Africa and wherever slavery in its various forms is still a brutal reality of life. But without slavery, the Caribbean as we know it would simply not exist, which is why its well-being should command our continuing support.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, for initiating this debate and giving us the opportunity to examine this important subject. I thank her and my noble friend Lord Sandwich for their consistently thoughtful contributions as members of the advisory group on the Houses of Parliament exhibition, “The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People”. I declare an interest as chair of that advisory group. The exhibition opens to the public on 24 May and runs until September this year. The private view is on 23 May. I urge your Lordships to visit the exhibition and read the excellent accompanying publication already shown to us by the noble Earl. The special supplement to the Journal, Parliamentary History, also serves as the exhibition catalogue.
I am aware that there is already a kind of commemoration fatigue in some quarters, but after 200 years of historical amnesia about the subject it is important to recognise fully the political and social implications of the struggle to abolish the slave trade and transatlantic slavery. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, Parliament noted in 1806 that the brutal trade in human beings was,
“contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy”.
Historians have developed a variety of complex theories to account for the eventual passing of the Act and the subsequent ending of slavery—the rebellions of the enslaved, economic viability, public opinion and so on—but the fact remains that John Hawkins, the first Englishman known to have traded in enslaved Africans, made three expeditions to the continent in 1562. Thus, it took almost 250 years before the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed.
Some people complain that slavery has been a feature of many eras and countries, including Islamic and African societies, and ask what all the fuss is about. I would argue that no system that preceded it was founded on such sustained cruelty. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, is right to point out that science and technology, such as new systems of navigation, were brought to bear on this terrible trade; everything from craniology to geometry played its part in industrialising human misery. To me, that is part of what marks it out as different from other forms and systems of enslavement. The brutality, scale and longevity of the trade were unprecedented. Several noble Lords have referred to the speech earlier this week by Kofi Annan, who pointed out that the transatlantic slave trade was an abominable practice taken to its most abominable extremes. Britain worked vigorously to police the trade embargo, but let us not forget that trading was in many places rendered unnecessary by enforced breeding of enslaved Africans.
The DfES has now made the study of slavery a compulsory component of the national curriculum, after many years of campaigns. However, giving more prominence to the history of slavery, enslavement and the slave trade is not solely about recognising a wider movement and the work of individuals other than William Wilberforce, including Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cuguano and others. As has been argued elsewhere, it is about locating transatlantic slavery in the context of other world movements and events, such as the French Revolution, the American War of Independence, the Haitian Revolution, the publication of Tom Paine’s Rights of Man and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and so on. Questions about the nature of humanity and who was really entitled to liberty, fraternity and equality—the political, legal and constitutional issues raised by slavery and abolition—were a formative part of debates on emancipation and enfranchisement.
I hope that the guidelines for teaching the subject will adopt an approach that takes account of the contradictions and complexities involved in a rigorous examination of the tragedy of African enslavement. I would like to know what kind of in-service professional development and training will be available to support teachers who are somewhat apprehensive about tackling this difficult subject. What provision is being made to train teacher trainers?
Other areas that form part of the wider historical narrative include the move from enslavement to a form of apprenticeship that hardly constituted freedom, and the introduction of indentured labour to the Caribbean, a system that deprived working people of autonomy and dignity. Important, too, is the history of the presence of peoples of African and Asian descent in Britain over several centuries, including those formerly enslaved, but also writers, artists, shopkeepers, servants, teachers, actors, dandies, beggars and political activists. Resources such as the recently published Oxford Companion to Black British History—-I declare my interest as an adviser and contributor to that volume—mean that a wealth of material is available to encourage further study of this still largely hidden history.
Other issues raised by the focus on the enslavement of Africans also need to be addressed. For example, it is a cause for concern that, by placing the spotlight on this disastrous encounter between European slavers and the enslaved, we give the impression that Africans enter the historical world stage as victims. That is a harmful notion for all our communities. I am not seeking to reframe history for the purpose of some type of ethnic gratification. However, it is erroneous to suggest, as Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper once did, that Africa had no history until Europeans colonised the continent.
Apart from the familiar media images of war, famine and corruption, we know very little of what happens in contemporary Africa, let alone the characteristics and achievements of its centuries-old civilisations. Before slavery radically destabilised the continent and kidnapped generations of potential scientists, doctors, artists, political leaders and so on, several European travellers recognised that, in architecture, trading and systems of government, African societies were at least as advanced as their own. The west African empire of Mali, for example, was reputed to be one of the largest, richest and most powerful states in the world during the 14th century.
The struggle over meaning, interpretation and representation in our major cultural institutions and media is vital because, without it, we will fail to grasp the importance of recognising the multi-textured, intertwined nature of our various histories.
So what will be the legacy of this year? I work extensively in the cultural sector, particularly with museums, archives and other cultural heritage institutions, all of which have made significant contributions to the commemorations. Many are keen to build on the momentum and have plans in place. I very much hope that this work will be supported with resources from the Government.
How a nation tells its stories through its cultural institutions gives us clues about its sense of itself, its self-confidence and how well equipped it is to deal with the more difficult and painful aspects of its history. One legacy of this bicentenary could be a much more vigorous approach to workforce diversity in the museum and archive sectors. Why are the effective actions that will move us from the state we are in now to the place where we say we want to be still so elusive?
Many noble Lords have spoken about contemporary forms of enslavement. I agree that there is a continuum between the old, transatlantic system of chattel slavery and the newer, equally pernicious, forms of enslavement. Kofi Annan said earlier this week that we should look back at history not only with horror but with hope. That is one lesson that we can take from the abolitionist movement in its broadest sense to try to make the change.
If we are not actively involved in fighting racism and discrimination, in developing actions and policies that will mitigate the slave trade legacy, and in fighting human trafficking and enforced labour—whether that be through the ways in which we consume and shop or through using our powers of persuasion to persuade others to be more picky about what they do and how they spend their money—we are complicit in today’s human trafficking, just as others were complicit in trafficking and the slave trade all those centuries ago. I echo the view of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that if we do not take the opportunities that are afforded to us by this year’s commemorations to do something positive to change things, successive generations will not look kindly on us.
My Lords, I am pretty old—but perhaps not necessarily by the standards of this House. However, I am not too old to learn and I have learnt a great deal today by listening to the truly outstanding speeches which have marked this debate, not least the outstanding contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey.
I hope I will not be accused of undue partiality when I say that I was particularly privileged to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, who initiated this debate. She spoke movingly about the past and the present. I thank her very much for doing so. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, illustrated by her personal and tragic reminiscences of slavery how she has done so much to make this a better and fairer world.
However, despite the efforts made by the noble Baroness and others, this odious situation of slavery still exists. I must also mention my old friend—I suppose in this place I should refer to him as my noble friend—Lord Morris of Handsworth. His speech was intensely moving. Bill Morris has never forgotten his roots, neither when he was leader of the TGWU nor now that he graces this House with his presence. We are indebted to him for what he had to say today.
There is an uncanny likeness between the slavery outlawed some 200 years ago, so graphically and horrendously outlined by my noble friend Lady Howells, and the plight that befalls many immigrants in the UK today. We should also remember the horrors of the German concentration camps in the last century, Darfur and many other terrible crimes. However, I propose to concentrate on issues closer to home.
A substantial reason for the appalling problems confronting asylum seekers is that they are prevented from working. It is an inability devised largely by our own law. Keith Best, who is a former Conservative MP and a friend, is the chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service. He said:
“All asylum seekers should be allowed to fend for themselves by working if possible. To refuse to let them do so is vindictive and leads to tensions in our society”.
All vulnerable workers deserve some protection under the law. Migrant domestic workers won this right with the support of the Labour movement and trade unions. When the Labour Government came to power to 1997, they were not overlooked, in contradistinction to what had happened under the Tories. Despite this, too many employers abuse their position. They inflict psychological and physical abuse; they provide wholly inadequate sleeping and living accommodation, appalling and dangerous working conditions, and meagre wages. Unfortunately, that is the story that we all too often witness today.
Some employers simply exercise too much power over their employees, forcing them to go underground and thus rendering them even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Why, for example, should employees’ passports be retained by their employers? Why should migrant or any workers be tied to their employers? Why should any worker be exposed to lies, and the torturers benefit from impunity?
The Government rightly believe in an immigration system that is fair, simple, rigorous and transparent, but too many asylum seekers are exposed to situations which are demeaning and wrong. It is time therefore for consciences about current evils to be pricked, as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary responsible for unemployment said on 10 May 2006.
We were outraged, as we should have been, by what happened to the Chinese cockle-pickers at Morecambe Bay, some of whom died. But this is not the only unacceptable aspect of what is occurring. Scarred by low wages, bullying and verbal racism, life is particularly harsh for asylum seekers in some hotels—perhaps even a majority of hotels. They have no employment contracts, no sick pay, and no proper holiday pay. Agencies pay less than the minimum prescribed by law.
Perhaps a major part of the trouble lies in the fact that most hotels, especially the smaller hotels, employ a bias against trade unions. That is probably due to the success of trade unions in uncovering this form of abuse. All too often, they are labelled as trouble-makers. Well, the more trouble-makers we have, the better it is. Many hotels have a clear case to answer. Among them is the Kensington Close Hotel, and there are many others. How many prosecutions have taken place? How many are contemplated?
A new form of slavery has emerged. It is no less incumbent on us now to address this issue than it was 200 years ago.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, on enabling this debate to take place, and what a superb debate it has been. I have been enlightened and enriched. The quality of the debate was enriched by the diversity of its contributors, which probably would not have been the case when our predecessors debated slavery some time ago.
In my progress through life, my store of personal knowledge has often been enhanced by what I can describe only as a serendipitous process. Some time last year, my wife, Lady Young, who dabbles in numismatics—or coin-collecting if one prefers to call it that—asked me whether I was interested in one of the Royal Mint’s offerings. It was a commemorative pack which included a special issue of the £2 coin marking the 200th anniversary of the slave trade abolition Bill. I was not expecting to be educated by the Royal Mint at this time in my life, but I confess that the pamphlet that goes with it is a superb publication. It contains a concise history of British involvement in slavery. It would be a good idea to distribute it to schools. On the front cover is that famous and terrible painting—I mean terrible in its effect and not in its execution—by Turner of the slavers throwing overboard the dead and the dying, which resulted in the notorious “Zong” case of 1781. I think that the slavers did it to enhance their insurance claims, because by throwing more people overboard, they received more money in compensation, which is a chastening thought.
The front cover features a quotation of the words of Maya Angelou:
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again”.
They are wise words. The pamphlet echoes those who have said that the history of the abolition of slavery has not been just about contributions from the likes of Wilberforce and Clarkson, although they played a vital role. It draws attention to Ignatius Sancho, who was born on a slave ship in the mid-Atlantic in 1729. He taught himself to read and write—how he managed even to survive seems incredible. He came up with these words:
“Consider slavery—what it is—how bitter a draught and how many millions are made to drink it!”.
The pamphlet also mentions Olaudah Equiano, who was also self-taught in the UK. He was a literary and cultured individual who made an enormous contribution, proving, contrary to the views of the day, that slaves were not a sub-species.
On the back of the pamphlet is an interesting timeline. According to it, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has already said, abolition started in 1562 with the expedition of Sir John Hawkins, who was knighted for his efforts. We might have had to review that later. As has already been observed, we do not come out of that timeline too well. In 1792, a resolution for the gradual abolition of the slave trade was defeated in the House of Lords. In 1805, the Bill for abolition was passed in the Commons, but rejected in the House of Lords. We certainly need to acknowledge and make reparation for that in today’s debate.
As I have already said, the cause was not led just by the abolitionists. The pamphlet reminds us of the rebellions and revolts that took place in the Caribbean, including the magnificent struggle led by Toussaint L’Overture for the liberation of slaves in Santa Dominica, which had such a powerful influence. We need to remind ourselves that people such as him were fighting against both the French and British armies. If noble Lords want to increase their knowledge of that event, I can recommend no finer book than The Black Jacobins by CLR James, who also wrote an interesting book on cricket called Beyond A Boundary, which is worth a read as well.
I turn now to modern times. We know that slavery still exists in a variety of forms. We have heard many eloquent examples today. I wish to comment on human trafficking, a pernicious activity prevalent throughout Europe which condemns women and children to a life of misery and suffering as part of the sex trade and even domestic servitude. I welcome the Government’s enactment of European legislation but we need to do more to ensure that we eliminate this stain on our society. I echo the sentiments of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I hope that the Minister will say what further action the Government intend regarding the need for more safe havens and more effective action through better immigration controls to try to wipe out this abhorrent trade.
More recently we celebrated international fair trade day, a worthy cause which attempts to ensure a fair deal for those who produce many of the basic products we purchase. But it remains a drop in the ocean of global trade. I declare an interest as vice-chair of the Ethical Trading Initiative. Companies which are members commit themselves to applying the ETI-based code, which effectively is the ILO conventions plus the concept of a living wage throughout their supply chains, involving principles such as no child labour, no forced labour, no discrimination and freedom of association. Those companies are on a journey because they source from around the globe. We shall continue to find examples of child labour. When we purchase cheap goods without knowing anything about their origin, we need to recognise that someone else at the end of that supply chain may be paying a terrible price.
I recently encountered a radio programme about patio stone, which people can now buy cheaply. I had not realised how much is being stripped from quarries in India and China and, worse still, the bonded labour—it is effectively slave labour—attached to the end of the process. Even when buying products such as that, one needs to question suppliers about their sources and try to ensure that companies live up to the aim of their commitment to corporate social responsibility.
My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis reminded us of the appalling tragedy of the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers. Can you imagine the scene? Twenty-three Chinese workers, exploited by illegal gangmasters, were working in the darkness in the treacherous sands and currents of Morecambe Bay—to do what? To feed the demands of European restaurants amid what I can only describe as a sea of public ignorance. I pay tribute to all those who campaigned tirelessly for gangmaster legislation. It was a unique combination of MPs, trade unions, including the National Farmers’ Union—we do not often get together with it—enlightened suppliers and retailers, and the Government, who helped to enable the legislation. However, just passing gangmaster legislation is not enough, as my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis reminded us. There are trade unions which continue to play a part in organising migrant workers. I support the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and others who have asked for a different interpretation of the kind of legislation which would assist migrant workers who are driven here for reasons that most of us do not have to worry about—often torture or economic reasons.
In 2012 we shall host the Olympic Games. Let us hope that they are not only sustainable but able to be described as ethical—that the supply of sporting equipment will not be at the end of an exploiting global supply chain. It will not be the first time that that has happened. I hope that that message will be brought home to the Olympic authority.
I was unable to be present at Kofi Annan’s masterly speech to Parliament, but I pay tribute to it. I shall pick out a few apposite quotations. He said:
“Many Africans believe history has not yet repaired past wounds at all. The movement for reparations is fuelled by the desire for recognition. This is a battle better fought in the development domain. In the year 2000, when all member states of the United Nations approved the Millennium Declaration, including the Millennium Development Goals, they acknowledged that all human beings must face a common future, and must do so in a spirit of solidarity based on shared democratic ideals”.
He goes on to say:
“A bold investment in addressing poverty in Africa, as promised by the G8 in Gleneagles, would be the best way to heal the wounds of the past and turn the page”.
He also says:
“My friends, Let us remember that the officers of the slave ships were for the most part educated people, like you and me. Yet they were apparently at ease in their role. Instead of recognizing the slaves as fellow human beings, they looked on them as simple merchandise”.
I end with one further quote from this marvellous speech. He says:
“Abolition, like today’s human rights causes, is not a matter for attribution. It is about personal responsibility and the need for each one of us to think what we can do; rather than seeking to shift the blame to someone else. It is a universal fight”.
My Lords, I join in the thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, for the opportunity again to discuss this vital subject. The debate has brought together many different strands of experience. I was amazed at the historical knowledge and the memory of some of those who spoke. How they remembered the whole history of slavery is beyond me. It was a remarkable tour de force. We have heard how slavery was accepted as a normal fact of life. Many centuries ago some were born to slavery, others to freedom. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, told us that we should never forget, that we must remember.
The definition of a slave has been given to me as, first, one who is forced to work through mental or physical threat; secondly, one who is owned or controlled by an employer; and, thirdly, one who is dehumanised as a commodity, or bought or sold as property, one who is physically constrained or has had restrictions placed on his freedom of movement. A slave is someone who has lost his right over his own life—and that happened, of course—a chattel to be dispensed with, who could be killed at the whim of the slave owner. Then came the battles of Clarkson, Wilberforce, Equiano, Lincoln and so many others. In their victory, we thought that the battle had been won, that slavery, this evil, was destroyed once and for all. We have been reminded how this evil trade still exists in Burma, north Uganda and other places. Slavery continues today.
I have read—I am not sure whether the figure is correct—that 179 million children are denied their total freedom. It is not that they are slaves but that they are employed in the worst possible conditions. Their very childhood has been taken from them. It is a life of misery without any hope for the future. There are so many ways today in which people are enslaved: bonded labour, indebted labour, trafficking, or women in a lifetime of servitude. Twice today the fate of the cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay has been mentioned. I am also reminded of the men brought over some years ago in a refrigerated lorry. Was it 60 of them brought out dead after that journey? Let us imagine the desperation of people in that situation. We in our freedom, who are able to breathe easily and freely, cannot imagine their situation.
Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:
“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.
We signed up to this; nation after nation has signed up to it.
How can we fulfil this? In some ways, there is direct action that we can take. There are still gaps in our commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; I urge Her Majesty's Government to ratify it in full. I was delighted when we signed up to the European convention against trafficking; now ratification can be only a little way off. We hope that it will be ratified shortly so that it might be enforced thoroughly in Europe. I was delighted about a month ago to understand that we have an action plan against trafficking. We have the plan; all we need now is the action. We look forward to steps being taken to fulfil that plan.
I suggest that the definition of slavery is wider than has been suggested today. It comes in many guises, and, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, sometimes by restricting the movement of migrant workers we add to that slavery. We can also add to it in the emigration of asylum seekers. In that regard we could, in the UK Borders Bill, remove Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act, which leads people into destitution and total poverty. The section was trialled in three areas, and I believe that it has now been withdrawn. The whole section should be withdrawn, because destitution and poverty lead to slavery. For those in poverty and slavery there is no choice or freedom, just a daily battle for basic survival. Surely we in the United Kingdom can do better.
We know that war enslaves not only nations but individuals; survivors whose lives are shattered are enslaved in this way. Ignorance also enslaves, as does the illiteracy of people who cannot communicate—people who cannot correspond or absorb information. So many doors are closed to them. The mind is enslaved—there is that sort of slavery. Of course, we know how illness, especially in Africa, enslaves people in so many ways. In the UK, the lack of basic provision such as housing, health and more makes slaves of otherwise free people.
We can congratulate ourselves on having come a long way since 1807, but we have not come all the way. There is a tremendous amount yet to be done, not only in direct action on slavery but in tackling other problems, such as poverty and illiteracy, which enslave people.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, for introducing this historic debate—historic in terms of its importance and of its subject. There is probably no one more able than the noble Baroness to introduce a debate such as this; her own experiences, her way of handling things in this country and the work that she has done have made her an example to us.
We have heard excellent speeches, many reflecting the long road from the start of slavery in the 16th century and indeed way further back than that. As the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, said, slavery certainly goes further back than that. That leads me to the great evangelical movement of the Clapham Sect at the end of the 18th century, which has not been mentioned today. It galvanised William Wilberforce to oratorical heights in 1807, which ensured that Parliament was sufficiently swayed at last to legislate to abolish the slave trade. It was not until 1833—another 20 years—that slavery was itself ended by this country.
The great moral movement against slavery, begun in the late 1780s, was one of the first great extra-parliamentary agitations. As the noble Lord, Lord Solely, reminded us, it was the politics of the pressure group. People wrote and spoke of their indignation and outrage. In Manchester, 11,000 men—no women were allowed—signed a petition against it, and Josiah Wedgwood produced his famous anti-slavery badges, asking:
“Am I not a man and a brother?”.
As has been said, the churches led the crusade, the Quakers, in particular being a dominant force in the evangelical movement. Zachary Macaulay, son of a minister from Inveraray and father of one of our most famous Victorian historians, who had been governor of Sierra Leone, was one of the significant influences in the anti-slavery movement. Returning to this country from Sierra Leone and living in Clapham, he attended Holy Trinity church on the north side of Clapham Common, where he met like-minded people such as Wilberforce, who combined Christian principles with political acumen and were determined to see the end of the trade. It was they among others who galvanised Wilberforce to drive the anti-slave trade Bill through Parliament and to reverse the previous rejection of the Bill—regrettably by this House—in 1792.
Noble Lords have all spoken of the terrible inhumanity involved in transporting millions of people—men, women and children—from the continent of Africa to the Caribbean, the loss of life and deprivations that they suffered on the ships that carried them to the miserable lives of intense labour and suffering that they were forced into to support the cultivation and trade of the sugar industry. The Caribbean is to us now a place of beauty and relaxation; indeed, I hope to go there in the not too distant future. But in the 18th and 19th centuries it was one of the centres of and caused one of the most brutal chapters in the history of man’s inhumanity to man.
The efforts of the Clapham Sect started the unravelling of the slave trade. The outlawing of slaves being carried in British ships, though as the noble Lord, Lord Solely, reminded us not only in British ships but in those of many other nations, was enforced by the Royal Navy. It is perhaps ironic to recall that less than 200 years ago a Royal Navy squadron was based in Sierra Leone to prevent the transport of slaves from that country, which was one centre of the trade, and in May 2000 British servicemen were sent there again to restore stability in the country which had been racked by years of civil war. It was of course to Sierra Leone that many of the slaves, freed as a result of the abolition of slavery, returned as “free” men, given small, but inadequate, plots of land and minute financial recompense, for the years literally under the yoke.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howells, spoke movingly of this transatlantic trade which took place in the part of the world from which she comes. She in particular, along with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, talked of the legacy there—and the noble Lord of the impact of trade, the obstacles to trade, and the importance of the fair trade movement now.
Many of the original slaves’ descendants are now in this country. Many came over on the “Windrush” and in other migrations, too. They form a vibrant, exciting and inspiring part of our diverse population. It has not always been like that, and the building up of relations in our communities is still one of the most important things that we need to do.
Many speakers, including my noble friend Lady Hooper, spoke of the need for education, both about slavery and the understanding of other people’s cultures and histories. The parts to be played over the next few months by exhibitions in museums in Liverpool and Bristol, as well as in our own Westminster Hall, in promoting tolerance and understanding will be enormously important. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, made a powerful speech in that respect. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, gave us a most fascinating exposition of worldwide slavery and Humphrey his camel will stand in my memory for some time to come.
Would it not be wonderful if we could now bask in the satisfaction of knowing that our ancestors brought to an end the exploitation of people and that as a result of their efforts there would never be a repeat of the subjugation of whole peoples to the will and at the whim of others. But we know that that is not to be and many of the speeches today have borne testimony to that. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who brings such vital experience to the House and who works so hard in her own right to help with these issues, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds have all spoken powerfully today.
History is littered with examples, many of which have been cited, and even in our own times millions of people across the world are denied freedom, dehumanised and treated as property to be bought and sold, even though this is illegal under international law. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to the Council of Europe convention. Some are born into slavery; some are sold; some are inherited over generations as property. Whether we like it or not, it happens. Are we sure that we can say that it does not happen here? Clearly, from listening to the speeches today, we know that we cannot. We know too if we listen to the accounts of people who are trafficked to this country as domestic slaves, often hidden from our view—badly treated, underfed, denied liberty. That is one of many reasons why our immigration processes are being transgressed and have on many occasions become completely ineffective.
We should celebrate today that it was this country, under the hand of morally outraged citizens, that brought legalised slavery to an end. Perhaps what we cannot do is celebrate the end of the outrage of modern day slavery; that has yet to come. I once again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, for introducing the debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I have learnt a lot today.
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids for opening today’s debate. As my noble friend reminded us in her powerful opening speech, discussion of the transatlantic slave trade and Britain’s role in it is a hugely emotional subject on which there are strongly held and opposing views. I am pleased that the commemoration events this year have led to a public discussion and debate about the issues; a debate we need to have as a nation. Today’s debate in this House, ranging as it did so widely, will do much in terms of contributing to that discussion.
Two days ago, Kofi Annan addressed both Houses of Parliament on this subject in an excellent speech. He briefly traced the history of slavery in neolithic Europe, the ancient civilisations of Egypt and the Middle East, Greece, the Roman Empire and Africa. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, gave us a much more detailed analysis. Many noble Lords have already quoted from that speech; in fact, when I was listening I wondered whether we should just read the speech into Hansard for future reference, but I will also quote from that speech four short passages that have not already been used:
“In the long history of human wrongs the trade in human beings will go down as one of the greatest crimes ever committed … Hardly any part of the world is exempt from this stain on human history … In some parts of the world the slave trade was the first trade of any kind to be carried on over long distances on a large scale—and the means by which whole regions, such as Brazil, were first integrated into the world economy. The first wave of globalisation, one could say”.
Kofi Annan went on to say—I believe that these words were quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Young:
“the trade whose abolition we commemorate today was an abominable practice taken to its most abominable extreme”.
The transatlantic slave trade was unique in terms of the destructive impact it had on Africa. It is estimated that more than 12 million Africans were transported and that some 2 million died. The impact of slavery still resonates in our society. The mindset that allowed people to kidnap their fellow human beings, imprison them in rotting dungeons for months, abuse them and work them to death on plantations, came out of a profound racism, a racism that led to some seeing Africans as subhuman, as cargo and chattels. My noble friend Lord Young referred to the incident on the ship the “Zong”, that allowed one slave captain to murder 133 by throwing them overboard because they were worth more dead as an insurance claim for goods than alive at a slave auction.
We also see its impact in the poverty and disadvantage on the African continent, in the challenges facing the Caribbean, which was the focus of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Newby; and there are the contemporary forms of slavery described so graphically and movingly by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in the forms of human trafficking—to which I will return—bonded labour, sexual exploitation, which was the focus of some of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and of course in street children, which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.
During the first part of the year the Government have focused on awareness raising and commemoration of the bicentenary. Our aims have been to raise awareness of the bicentenary, the transatlantic slave trade and Britain’s role in both the trade and abolition. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green found the coin and the accompanying leaflet so helpful. I hope that other events during the year will also raise awareness and interest.
We need to face the reality of what is one of the darkest and most uncomfortable chapters of our history. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Howells and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned the importance of education. That is why I am so pleased that the Government are looking to embed teaching about the slave trade in the curriculum permanently. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently consulting on a new draft secondary curriculum which for the first time will include the slave trade as a compulsory element in the key stage 3 history curriculum, but we recognise, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, that complex issues need to be addressed in teaching those matters and teacher training must play its part to ensure that our teachers have the confidence to teach them.
Our aims have also been to commemorate those who suffered as a result of the slave trade, those who fought for abolition and those who ensured that the new laws were enforced. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and others, referred to the role played by the Royal Navy in policing the seas.
I turn to contemporary forms of slavery. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who unfortunately is not in his place but as we speak is in the Moses Room taking forward his interest in human rights in the debate on forced marriages, made reference to human trafficking, as did my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green and others. Human trafficking is one of the main forms of modern slavery: an appalling crime where people are treated as commodities and traded for profit. The Government are leading the way in tackling the problem domestically and internationally. We have a comprehensive integrated approach to human trafficking, which encompasses legislation, enforcement, international co-operation and support for victims. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that support for victims is at the very heart of our approach. We have been funding the Poppy Project since March 2003 to provide safe shelter and support to assist in the recovery of adult female victims who have been trafficked into the United Kingdom for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
In addition to providing support for victims, we have strengthened the legislation against trafficking. In March, we signed the Council of Europe Convention on Human Trafficking and, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, we published the UK action plan, setting out how we intend to tackle the problem domestically. If he has not seen a copy of the plan, I would be happy to send him one.
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that in March we launched a worldwide lobbying campaign on the ratification and implementation of international standards that prohibits slavery. We aim to secure increased ratification by the end of the year.
The issue of Sudan was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. We will continue to press the Government of Sudan. I will take away the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
My noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth referred to the legacy of the slave trade in terms of the poverty that we see around the world. The removal of a large section of the population created long-term problems and impoverished the African continent. We are committed to eliminating poverty, not only as an end in itself, but as part of our wider, integrated approach to tackling modern forms of slavery. We are playing a leading role in the fight against global poverty through our international development work, with a budget of some £6.86 billion in 2006. The budget will increase as we reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent of national income for development spending by 2013. Our work is focused on achieving the millennium development goals through debt relief, trade justice—which was mentioned by a number of noble Lords—programmes in tackling health and education inequalities, improving access to water and sanitation, improving governance and working in partnership with international institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. All of that is being done in the context of achieving sustainable development.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, pressed me on the issue of education, particularly in northern Uganda. We fully recognise the importance of education and are spending some £8.5 billion over 10 years in partnership with African countries on primary education, focusing on girls’ education.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on the link between poverty and underdevelopment. That is why many of our development programmes focus on tackling social exclusion, including in India. I am happy to write to the noble Earl and provide more detail about the work that we are doing in that area.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, raised the issue of trade and, in particular, the need for a fairer trading regime to assist the vulnerable economies in the Caribbean. I confirm that the Government will continue to work for an outcome to the Doha round, which puts development issues at its heart, and which will, of course, benefit those vulnerable economies. Within the EU, we will continue to work for transitional arrangements that are well funded to support diversification in Caribbean economies. We recognise that that diversification will take some time to deliver. The noble Lord will be aware of a project funded by the Department for International Development, focused on tackling HIV/AIDS in the region. I would be happy to talk to him in more detail about the link that he sees between those kinds of programmes and using sport as a mechanism for promoting greater awareness.
What about our domestic agenda? We are committed to tackling the legacy of the slave trade in the UK, including tackling inequality, discrimination and racism. These issues were mentioned by my noble friends Lady Howells and Lord Morris, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, and other noble Lords. The Department for Communities and Local Government is taking forward the Government’s strategy for race equality and community cohesion, Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society, the first ever cross-government strategy to increase race equality and community cohesion. We will be providing £18 million over three years to support delivery of that strategy.
The first annual update shows that we are making progress, but we cannot afford to be complacent. We face significant challenges in dealing with tensions at community level that have arisen from our increasing diversity. It is a source of strength, but it needs to be nurtured. We need to recognise that learning how to live together as different ethnic and religious groups requires joint work and constant vigilance.
We need to address inequalities in achievement in our schools, particularly among young black boys. The Department for Education and Skills is already taking forward work to increase educational attainment among pupils from black and minority-ethnic communities. To support the Aiming High strategy, we have awarded the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant to provide funding for schools and local authorities in taking action to raise the attainment levels of minority-ethnic pupils.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is taking forward the REACH project, which is specifically focused on raising aspirations and achievement among black boys and young men. Young men of black and of mixed black/white heritage experience disproportionately poor outcomes in education and are over-represented in our criminal justice system. Those issues were raised by my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids.
Noble Lords raised other specific issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, which is a £9.5 million project with three main elements: a new display, a research institute and a resource centre. The Heritage Lottery Fund has supported the project and we are well aware of the significance that it will have in raising awareness of these issues up and down the country.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds mentioned the plight of street children. We are supporting the work of Child Hope International, which works with young people in Brazil and builds on earlier work that focused on street children. We contribute to nine projects through the Civil Society Challenge Fund, funded by the Department for International Development, to assist children and to help eliminate child labour. Three of those projects focus on assisting street children.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about the 1998 rule relating to migrant domestic workers. Under the new points-based system for migration, there will not be a separate route for overseas domestic workers in private households. As part of our continuing work on trafficking, our emphasis will be on developing robust pre-entry procedures for all routes into the UK, including appropriate safeguards such as the identification of cases of possible abuse, to minimise the risk of subsequent exploitation.
My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis asked about prosecutions. I can talk about the issue of prosecutions for trafficking, but on other prosecution issues I will write to him. We do not feel that we have sufficient evidence regarding trafficking for forced labour to make a full assessment of whether that poses a significant problem for the UK. We need to improve our knowledge in this area. One of the difficulties that we face is our ability to distinguish between poor working conditions and situations that involve forced labour; an important indicator of that is the element of coercion.
We also need to do more to raise awareness, because very often exploited immigrant workers do not consider themselves to be victims of crime. Even if we find the situation in the UK appalling, they consider it to be better than that in their country of origin. We need to raise awareness through training and the provision of guidance to workplace enforcement agencies, law enforcement agencies, the immigration authorities and front-line agencies so that we can do more to identify potential victims.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, also asked me whether we would establish an independent national rapporteur on trafficking. We have considered this and looked at the Dutch example. For the time being, we have decided that the best monitoring mechanism for the UK is that provided by the interdepartmental ministerial group chaired by my honourable friend Vernon Coaker.
My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis also spoke with great authority about the general situation facing asylum seekers and other immigrant workers in the United Kingdom. We will continue to look at our policy and its impact, and I particularly recognise the strength of feeling in the House on these issues.
My noble friend Lord Morris mentioned the calls there have been for a national memorial day. March and August have both been mooted and we are using discussion during this year to enable us to come to a decision on this. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Morris about the need for a legacy fund. Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, is looking at this issue on behalf of the Government.
In an article in November last year, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister wrote:
“It is hard to believe that what would now be a crime against humanity was legal at the time. Personally I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was, how we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition, but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever happened, that it ever could have happened, and to rejoice at the different and better times we live in today”.
The campaign for abolition was unique, bringing together diverse groups of people, many of them ordinary citizens, who put an end to a process of systematic exploitation and abuse based on profit. They were black and white, men and women, free citizens, slaves and former slaves, rich and poor. Many were denied the right to vote; some depended on industries linked to the trade.
My noble friend Lord Soley is right. It was only when people were made aware of the brutality of the trade that the movement really took off. Yet long before we had mass communications—the telephone, the television, the internet—people came together and developed campaigning techniques which had never been used before. It was a moral campaign, a humanitarian campaign. They produced campaign literature and badges; they chanted slogans; they signed petitions in their hundreds of thousands; they brought legal cases and lobbied Parliament; and though poor, they undertook their own economic sanctions through a widespread national boycott of sugar.
The abolitionists were forerunners of many of the campaigns for equality and social justice we have seen in modern times. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, spoke particularly of the Clapham Sect. They were the forerunners of the global anti-apartheid movement, the forerunners of those who demand that we make poverty history. The abolition of the trade remains a landmark in the shared histories of Britain, countries on the African continent, the Caribbean and the Americas. We see it reflected in the richness of the African diaspora. This bicentenary provides a valuable opportunity to have a real debate about what it means to be British today and how the diverse cultures which comprise modern Britain can forge a common purpose, shared values and a common identity.
My noble friend Lord Morris made reference to the confused identities which have come from slavery. Today’s debate is very different to the tone of the debate on this issue in Parliament 200 years ago and we should be proud of that. I should like to make one personal comment: participating in today’s debate are four members of this House who are descendants of slaves and that in itself says a great deal.
This bicentenary year offers us all an opportunity to restate our strong determination to build a better world for all. In building that better world we need to address the issues of law and morality, as cogently put by my noble friend Lord Soley. We need to invest in all our communities and to do more to combat contemporary slavery. This is about individual and personal responsibility, and about collective action. It is about a legacy that recognises the reality of the past and helps us to build a better future. We as parliamentarians have a central role to play in the way that we debate, discuss and push forward any agenda on these issues.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this debate. As I listened, I wondered what my slave ancestors would say in the spirit world. I think they would be very pleased with today’s debate, but I also think they would be shocked that slavery still exists and they would be giving us the message that it must end with us. I also believe they would think the time has come for a statue of an unknown slave to be put up in London in the same way that we have the Unknown Warrior. I would also like to thank the Lord President for her summing up. I think she has been thorough and very finely tuned and I am sure we are all very proud of her. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.