rose to call attention to the characteristics of a multi-cultural Britain in the light of the parliamentary and anti-slavery legacy of William Wilberforce; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am delighted to introduce what I am sure will be an extremely wide-ranging and, I hope, intelligent and interesting debate. In revisiting the subject of slavery, the legacy of William Wilberforce and even the questions around multi-culturalism and the nature of modern Britain, it is very tempting to think that it has all been said before. That would be tempting but extremely deceitful.
It is very useful to remind all of us in the House that when William Wilberforce delivered his first speech on attacking the dreadful imperative of ongoing slavery, he took three and a half hours. In the 17—nearly 18—years of continuous argument and perpetual pressure to move this agenda forward, most of those debates took place through the night. Another place was occupied for endless weeks and then years with the battle finally to bring slavery to a conclusion. But even by 1807 it was not finished. There were a further nearly 30 years to go, a total of 45 years of perpetual campaigning and generations to come, before some sense of what was the traditional slave trade had come to an end. But I believe it is important that we keep the flame alive in our hearts, minds and thinking. As long as there are as many as 26 million people entrapped in forced labour and slavery around the world today, as long as there are children who are fighting for their survival, having to work at somebody else’s whip, as long as there are women who are part of a grievous and evil sex trade—much of which happens in this city and in this country—we have to remember. We need to be patient in remembering. We need to determine that we will not become exhausted by what are inevitably for us short debates and simpler considerations than they were 200 years ago.
I pay tribute to the many others who have spoken on this issue during the past few months. A debate took place in this House on 10 May, initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids. I quote from her concluding paragraph—I see that she is in her place—because what she said in it helps to move on our thinking. I read it verbatim. She said:
“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”.—[Official Report, 10/5/07; col. 1545.]
Those are immensely powerful and salient words. We have to remember that there is much unfinished business.
I wish to quote also from a very wide-ranging and perceptive lecture given by the Jamaican historian, Rex Nettleford, on 3 May at the Jamaican High Commission in London. He quoted a Jamaican journalist, John Maxwell, who asked whether the legacy of slavery,
“is not to be measured simply by the millions slaughtered by slave hunters in Africa, thrown overboard on the Middle Passage, or beaten to death in Jamaica or Haiti, but in the destruction of important lines of human development, in the triumph of the parasite over the producer”.
He went on to record in the article the loss to civilization of generations of those whose humanity has been degraded.
I am delighted to speak in this debate as I have three lines of heritage. I was born in Britain and am proud to be British. I was brought up in Jamaica and am delighted to call myself someone of Jamaican stock. But my birth heritage comes from Angola, where my father was born. Therefore, I can truly say that I am an African. In all those senses I believe that the nature of our multi-cultural society challenges us profoundly not just to look back on what we have sought to change but to look at what we have not yet changed and, indeed, at our attitudes, perceptions and feelings about others we see who are different to ourselves.
I return to the words of William Wilberforce in 1791 when he, with the passion which drove him to debate for hour upon hour, to push, to pressure, to lose his health and nearly his life, to fight to the very point where, within days of his death, he finally saw achieved what he longed for. As quoted by Mr Hague in the Commons, Wilberforce said at the very beginning:
“Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name, released ourselves from the load of guilt, under which we at present labour, and extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times, will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonour to this country”.
We celebrate what happened in 1807. The Prime Minister at the time, William Grenville, said—again, this was quoted by Mr Hague in the Commons—that we appreciate that this was,
“the most glorious measure that had ever been adopted by any legislative body in the world”.
But we pause because we feel pained by what we continue to witness of slavery in this country, of the trafficking of people in Europe and of the battle to liberate those who remain desperately poor as a result of some of our traditional attitudes abroad.
The noble Baroness the Lord President reminded the House at the end of the debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells:
“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”.—[Official Report, 10/5/07; col. 1586.]
We all have our own ways of thinking about multi-culturalism and the structure of those in our society who are other than us. We all have attitudes when we look across at people on the other side of the road or those who approach us. Sometimes we are inclined towards prejudice. It persists. It is often in our hearts, if it is not in our intentions. One of the things we have to face up to is that words such as “multi-culturalism”, “ethnic minorities” have, like “tolerance” to a certain extent, become associated with a negative attitude towards what Britain could and should be. I suggest that we need a changed and fresh attitude altogether.
I quote again from Rex Nettleford, who talked about the history of the future. I love that phrase. He said:
“The history of the future may well record the ‘mongrelization’ of Planet Earth”.
None of us likes the word “mongrel” but I believe the sentiment that he is driving at is that mass migration on our planet, the movement of millions of people worldwide, the healthy impact that it has on economies, the freedoms that people are finding—but sometimes the movement of people in desperation—are changing altogether the very nature of what societies are. It is not just about multi-culturalism but a different kind of people. He went on:
“The history of the future may well record the ‘mongrelization’ of Planet Earth as a unique phenomenon of the Third Millennium. All of the Western Hemisphere—the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean—have been pioneers in this process. It is only for the entire 21st century Western world to now stand on the right side of history and come to terms with the diversity which the old Roman Empire’s motto—‘e pluribus unum’”—
a plural world—
“acknowledged eons ago. In modern times certain ones of us have wanted”,
to keep the world rather than the plural. He continues:
“And a high price is being paid for this defiance of commonsense”.
The societies, economies, nations, cultures and communities of the future will have people of every colour, type, creed, culture, religion, feeling, imperative and background. We will be radically different as a nation in 20 years’ time, but how mentally and emotionally prepared are we for that radical shift to take place? It is a point of pride for leaders of a country to say, “My cities and my country are diverse. There are many languages spoken here. We have people of common identity”. Even this week, we have been told that we need to have a new national day to celebrate our citizenship and the kind of country that we have become. Perhaps I may quote from a speech that Haile Selassie delivered to 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”.
If there are ongoing challenges—and there are many—from the remembrance of the legacy of Wilberforce and the battle to end slavery, it is the challenge to our attitudes, the challenge to reflect on what societies of the future will be like and the challenge to embrace the new immigration, which needs to be seen not as swamping but as encouraging us. In the past few weeks, Her Majesty’s Treasury recorded that immigration has been of enormous economic benefit to the United Kingdom, with immigrants making up 8 per cent of the UK workforce but contributing 10 per cent to the gross domestic product. From 2001 to 2005, migration contributed to an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of the UK’s trend growth. These are positive benefits. They are something of the great benefit of the lasting legacy of the battle fought by the abolitionists but, at the same time, they are challenges to our attitudes.
There is another legacy that we need to take account of. Perhaps I may quote from a speech delivered by Kofi Annan in the Royal Gallery of this House on 8 May:
“The abolitionist movement was the first campaign to bring together a coalition in a struggle against gross violations of human dignity. It showed how effective the mobilisation of public opinion can be. The abolitionists of eighteenth-century Britain represented a moral truth that seemed remote from the ways of the world, a moral passion that must at first have seemed utterly impracticable. Yet by persistence, by resolve, by eloquence, and by imagination, they changed history. They showed that moral persuasion could prevail over narrow self-interest. They demonstrated that public opinion could change the law”.
If there is a second legacy that we should embrace, it is that we should have a new purpose driven by an independent way of thinking about issues. The incoming Prime Minister says that he wishes to restore something of the power and independence in the thinking of Members of another place. I believe that the challenge for both Houses of this Parliament is the need for a strong, independent element. We have it here in the Lords; they could do with it in another place, and it is for them to imagine how it might be created. However, as Wilberforce realised, independence gives freedom to persist, to speak and to bring pressure without the constraint of Whips or the ongoing pressure of the electoral cycle bearing in with other issues. Independence is vital if the abolitionists’ call is to remain with us today.
The abolitionists also challenged the idea that faith was a private affair, just for the preserve of normal élites. We live in a globalised world and measures of increasing desecularisation are occurring at a rapid pace. The abolitionists showed us that people who had a distinct faith commitment—in their case, a Christian commitment with a clear following of their faith, a clear pursuit of their Bible and a clear commitment to their Lord Jesus Christ—and who were absolute in their faith were also significant in their actions. In a recent speech, David Cameron talked of Wilberforce doing something much higher than statecraft. He said that the abolitionists pursued moral purpose and the betterment of all mankind, and I believe that that is a fourth element of which we must take account.
In my last minute or two, I shall suggest another dimension which is of great concern to multi-cultural Britain and to the legacy of Wilberforce and the abolitionists. It is the tens of millions who die every year in another continent—the continent from where the slaves came—and it is the persistent poverty that does not need to remain. It is also the subject of discussion at the G8 in Germany today. But will there be the resolve to move, to provide the investment, to challenge each one of us to change our habits on spending and to make us as determined to fight for the eradication of poverty as we are for other equality causes? It is a challenge to our commitment, to our leadership, to our independence and to our significance for the future.
Lastly, I quote the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as it assesses the life of Wilberforce:
“To evangelicals he was a seminal leader and an inspiration, a man of committed faith and integrity, who at great personal cost followed the call of Christ to help the oppressed abroad and proclaim the moral and spiritual imperatives of the gospel at home … Behind both perceptions [of him], though, lay an awareness of his undoubted stature as a leader who stirred the conscience of the nation and upheld the human rights and dignity of the slaves. Many others contributed to the campaign against slavery, but Wilberforce’s role was essential and unique precisely because he was a fully integrated and respected member of the political and social élite”.
I believe that Wilberforce’s legacy is a challenge to the way that we are as a multi-cultural society, to how we think about the successful society of the future and how we deal realistically not just with the slaves of today but with the Africa that remains desperate for our intervention and its economic freedom. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, for introducing this debate with great passion and clarity. It is important to bear in mind that William Wilberforce had spent more than 20 years trying to abolish the slave trade. The Bill to abolish it was introduced by him and his colleagues 11 times and it failed each time with an increasing majority. In 1804, he wrote in a private letter:
“It was truly humiliating to see in the House of Lords four members of the Royal Family come down to vote against the poor, helpless, friendless slaves”.
In 1806, a much weaker version of the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill was introduced by no less a personage than the Prime Minister, Lord Granville, and it was eventually passed with the overwhelming majority of 283 votes in favour and 16 against.
I mention that only because I want to highlight two important lessons. The fight against injustice and evil is always protracted and always difficult, especially if it involves taking on vested interests. But it can succeed if you are able to appeal to people in idioms with which they are familiar—in other words, if you can appeal to them in terms of their own tradition—and if an enormous amount of economic and political pressure is mounted from outside. Those are the two lessons that we need to learn in our struggle for a multicultural society.
It is also important to remember that, once slavery was abolished, slaves became part of British society and they married local women. On a recent calculation, one out of six British citizens—men and women—carries some genetic inheritance from those slaves. It is also important to bear in mind, therefore, that Britain has been a multicultural society not of late but for hundreds of years, and certainly after the abolition of slavery. The first Muslim Peer was Lord Stanley of Adderley, in 1884, and he was followed by Lord Headley, who converted to Islam in 1913. So there have been Muslim Peers for more than 100 years. We had Hindu Peers—Lord Sinha, for example. We also had Members of Parliament from different communities. We also had Indian sailors, traders, missionaries, servants, doctors and entertainers over the centuries. I say all that simply to indicate that there is a tendency to think that multicultural society is new to us; it is not.
Today Britain is firmly and irrevocably a multicultural society. Our food, music, sports, literature, business, professions, economy—all these areas of life—bear the fingerprints of our ethnic diversity. And it is not the result of immigration only; it is a result of globalisation and people making different individual choices. Immigration is only one factor. That is also worth bearing in mind because there is a tendency to think that if all the immigrants were to disappear, somehow Britain would be able to return to the halcyon days of cultural homogeneity. Diversity is a fact of life and will continue to remain so. It is not only a fact of life but also an important value, because cultural diversity brings new sources of imagination, new talents, new ideas and new ways of solving problems.
I have always seen multiculturalism as a matter of collective self-renewal. It is through the interaction with other cultures, other groups of people, that a society renews itself. The tremendous success of the United States is a classic example of this, and I could think of other immigrant societies, such as Canada and Australia, that have periodically renewed themselves through cultural diversity.
Integration is already taking place in our society, as the marriage statistics indicate. Two-thirds of Afro-Caribbean men and women have married across the racial boundary; 15 per cent of Asian men have white wives, and 8 per cent of Asian women have white partners. Of course, some ugly practices remain but they have been fought with a great deal of consensus.
We are told by dubious opinion polls that people are not integrating. These polls ask such absurd questions as, “Are you British? Do you feel British? Are you more British than Muslim, or more Muslim than British?”. It is not clear to me what is meant. If someone asked me, “Do you really feel British?”, then, after having been here for 47 years, it would take me a little time to spell out what the question was supposed to mean. Sometimes the interviewer has one meaning in mind but the interviewee has another, with the result that such questions do not deliver any kind of reliable data. More importantly, when the same people are asked, “Do you feel British?”, although they might say no, when they are asked, “What about being in Bradford?”, they will say, “I couldn’t imagine myself outside Bradford. That’s my home”. So the question is: are people not locally rooted and do they not define their identity in civic or local terms? These data on national statistics cause considerable panic because people say, “Only 5 per cent of Muslims feel fully British. How can that go on?”. It causes a sense of panic which leads to further panic and further alienates people.
The fact that some young Muslims were involved in 7/7 does not indicate that our multicultural society has failed or that our model of integration has run into crisis. What happened had other factors: our foreign policy, and intergenerational discontinuity within the Muslim community as a result of which the young Muslims are in many cases rootless. We need to foster a common sense of national identity and belonging, but that comes through lived experiences. I become a part of society and feel British—or French or American or Indian—because I feel accepted; this is where I have struck my roots. This is the society of which I feel a part and where I am treated justly and equally. In other words, national belonging or national loyalty comes from a lived experience. You cannot produce that by a checklist of British values, because those values are difficult to list. More importantly, they are picked up as one grows up and are not taught. Equally importantly, national days and citizenship oaths, ceremonies and tests have at best a symbolic value. They can be no substitute for a genuine policy of tolerance and justice.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, for creating the opportunity for today’s debate.
It was Indira Gandhi who said:
“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist”.
So in achieving a successful multi-cultural Britain, we must build bridges between our various communities and not walls. For me, the essential message of campaigners such as Wilberforce, Clarkson and former slaves such as Equiano was a simple truth: that there is only one race, the human race. It was a campaign that galvanised nations and clearly has an ongoing legacy today. I myself am a great-great-grandson of slaves. The Taylor plantation, from which I derive my surname, still exists in Jamaica today.
What of today’s Britain? There has been progress in bridging the equality gap between black and other ethnic minorities in mainstream Britain. I grew up in what I like to call paradise—an exotic place called Birmingham, just off the M6 motorway by the gasworks. At my old grammar school, I was taught nothing about black history. I had no idea that there were black inventors such as Elijah McCoy, who had more than 50 patents to his name and from whom the term “the real McCoy” was coined. I did not know that traffic lights and the first electronic heart pacemaker valve were invented by black men. We now have Black History Month, but it is a pity that we need it at all. The positive achievements of black people need to be a part of mainstream education rather than covered for just a few days each year.
Some argue that the destructive legacy of slavery is linked to the under-achievement of black communities today. Some 10 per cent of the prison population is black, compared with less than 3 per cent of the general population, and 16 per cent of those in young offender establishments are black. The lowest level of GCSE attainment is among Black-Caribbean pupils, especially boys. Only 27 per cent of Black-Caribbean boys achieve more than five or more A to C grades. Unemployment rates are three times higher in the black community than in the white community.
At the risk of dumbing-down the debate, I welcome the fact that this morning Channel 4 evicted another “Big Brother” contestant for using the racist “N” word. But I wonder what credibility that TV show can have in the future as this is yet another racist remark by a contestant following Jade Goody’s remarks in a previous series. One may say that it is only a television show but millions of people, especially young people, watch these programmes, and they have influence.
There is good news too. Many of Britain’s sporting and entertainment icons are black. Soccer stars such as Rio Ferdinand and singers such as Beverley Knight are now household names. Black and Asian politicians have established themselves, while the Asian business community has excelled. I hope that the true and moderate voice of Islam will prevail over the harmful rhetoric of extremist clerics in some of Britain's mosques.
For some years the post-Windrush debate about black communities was on the basis of civil rights and equal opportunities, and quite rightly too, but now the business case for diversity has emerged as a strong and compelling one. More and more industries and professions are realising that black and other ethnic minorities in Britain have spending power. The ethnic minority consumer is now an attractive market that needs to be wooed. That is why so many advertising campaigns now feature black and mixed-race people.
My own children, who are a mixture of Afro-Caribbean, Scottish, Polish, Russian, Irish, Indian and Jewish, are typical Londoners. They represent the fact that London is the most multi-cultural and multiracial city in the world. It is no coincidence that London is also the most vibrant financial centre in the world. Even the company boardrooms of Britain, which have traditionally been white, old and male, are beginning to open up to suitably qualified ethnic minority directors.
What of the future? For that we have to learn the lessons of the past. It was during the social reform of Victorian England that the Christian church took on the biblical command to be salt and light in society. Christians pioneered the changes that helped children, the poor, factory workers and the sick. It was this Christian tradition that Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and George Müller came from. With much zeal, Christian missionaries went out to convert black Africa.
The irony is that it is the black churches, particularly those led by Africans, which are doing the best in Britain today. God does have a sense of humour. It is not unusual to see a congregation of more than 2,000 at a service at London’s Kingsway International Christian Centre. There are more than 3,500 black-majority churches nationwide. These churches are based in the heart of the inner-cities and are able to touch the lives of people in a way that no politician can. Black church projects such as the Street Pastors initiative work with the homeless, addicts and prostitutes. They transform these troubled lives through a spiritual, not a political, ministry. Some of these churches run highly successful Saturday schools and care for the needs of the elderly and single mothers. Indeed, there is an opportunity for the Christian church as a whole and other faith groups—in the mosques, temples and synagogues—to use their influence in local communities. These faith groups are in a prime position to remove some of the barriers that block a harmonious multi-cultural Britain. I am glad that the Government have various initiatives to combat racism, but the faith groups, particularly the Christian groups, deserve more support because they achieve much in the inner-city communities.
William Wilberforce had no ambitions to be a government Minister. He was an MP but never achieved high office or ran big business. He felt a calling and helped to inspire the movement that led to the abolition of the slave trade, literally hours before his death. What would Wilberforce say of modern multi-cultural Britain? I am guessing that he would say something like, “Build upon what unites you, not what divides you. Yes, you still have problems to solve, but, as a nation, don’t get bitter—just get better”.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate in this historic year and on introducing it in a way that reflects the deep commitment to multi-culturalism and the well-being of all citizens that has characterised his work in different fields over the years. When I spoke in the debate on slavery on 10 May, I focused on contemporary slavery. In my humanitarian and human rights work, focusing on people often trapped behind closed borders and receiving no help from major aid organisations, I have met hundreds of men, women and children who have escaped from modern slavery. I have heard their stories, seen the scars on their bodies and heard them tell of those they love who are still enslaved.
The greatest tribute we can pay to William Wilberforce and his co-abolitionists is to do all we can to complete his as yet unfulfilled mission to eradicate this barbaric phenomenon from the face of the earth. It is to our shame that there are still an estimated 27 million people enduring some form of slavery. I hope that a recollection of the legacy of past slavery will stimulate all of us who enjoy freedom to renew our endeavours to achieve freedom for all people in our day.
Today’s debate focuses on Wilberforce’s legacy for multi-culturalism for us today, and I will briefly highlight two aspects: first, the Christian faith and values—already referred to by previous speakers—that motivated and supported Wilberforce and the Clapham sect; and, secondly, the urgent need to do more to ensure respect and freedom for all citizens in this country today. Wilberforce himself emphasised his Christian faith as the driving force that made him continue his struggle against apparently overwhelming odds of commercial interests, disingenuous arguments and cruel complacency. On Sunday, 28 October, 1787 he wrote in his diary:
“God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of”—
society. David Vaughan, in his biography of Wilberforce, writes:
“Everything he was as a person, and everything he accomplished as a leader, was an expression of his Christian faith. And any attempt to ‘secularize’ the abolition movement in Britain is a revision of history ... Those immortal words penned in his diary say it all: ‘God Almighty has set before me...’ Wilberforce believed that God had called him to the task of abolition, and it was this Christian conviction that sustained him during the long and arduous struggle”.
However, there have been reports of attempts to play down or even to omit reference to this fundamental driving force of the abolitionist movement by some influential bodies. For example, funding by the Mayor of London’s Office for the initiative by the Centre for Contemporary Ministry to bring the replica slave ship, the “Zong”, to London was subject to the condition that there should be no emphasis on the role of Wilberforce or the Christian faith. Instead, the emphasis was to be on “racism”. This requirement was so unacceptable that the organisers had to turn down the conditional sponsorship of £50,000. The Heritage Lottery also refused to provide funding because the exhibition included modern slavery. Such constraints violate historical integrity and undermine the “Zong” initiative, designed to combine concern for both past and present. The mayor has now recognised the educational value of the “Zong”, and supports the idea of it having a permanent place in London because it may help Carribeans, particularly young Carribeans, to know that their history is acknowledged and recorded. But this must be seen in the context of the faith and values which inspired and sustained the struggle of the abolitionists.
My second concern is with the continuation of slavery on our own doorsteps. The Stop the Traffik campaign is deeply concerned about the growth of human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labour. In 2003, Home Office statistics suggested that there were 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK. The figure is now believed to be significantly higher. For example, 10 years ago, 85 per cent of women working in brothels were UK citizens. Now, 85 per cent are of foreign origin, with good grounds for believing that the majority are victims of trafficking, working against their will in appalling conditions of exploitation. Discussions about multi-culturalism must embrace concern for anguish and agony on our own doorsteps. There can be no more marginalised and exploited people than those currently enslaved in our midst today.
I conclude with two practical proposals for the Minister’s consideration. The first echoes Wilberforce’s challenge to the commercial interests of his day with his exposure of the role of the sugar industry in promoting slavery. Stop the Traffik is trying to expose the role of the chocolate industry in the exploitation of trafficked children on cocoa plantations in west Africa. I ask the Minister what action is being taken by Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that chocolate sold in this country is produced without the use of forced child labour.
Secondly, will Her Majesty’s Government give sympathetic consideration to the proposal to establish a royal commission on slavery? On 26 March, I introduced the First Reading for a Bill to establish such a commission. It would provide an opportunity for experts to give evidence on the horrific realities of slavery past and present. The evidence would be available as a permanent record and an authoritative resource. The commission could also recognise and support existing efforts to abolish slavery by individuals, civil society and Governments, including Her Majesty’s Government. It would thus be a fitting initiative to mark this bicentenary year in commemoration of the parliamentary achievement of William Wilberforce, and would enshrine for all time the important issues raised in today’s debate: a multi-cultural Britain in which the fundamental rights of every citizen are protected and Wilberforce’s endeavours to achieve freedom for every citizen of the world until all are free.
My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, for bringing this matter before us. In the 360 seconds available to me, I shall make two very simple points. My noble friend Lord Parekh reminded us that a watered-down version of the legislation came before this Parliament in 1806. There had been several heroic attempts to get it on the statute book in the 1790s, and it was finally approved with a wrecking amendment by the then Home Secretary, which led to a delay that proved fatal. The regicide in France led to concern for security, lest similar things happened here, and there was a great black hole of 15 years during which nothing much seems to have happened. While I admire Wilberforce’s immense courage and his undoubted faith, I suggest that during that time he withdrew from the fray to some extent and prioritised other and more pietistic objectives because he subscribed to the mood then prevalent that national security should be the over-riding concern.
When we become obsessed by issues of national security, potential mob rule and the subversion of the existing order, questions relating to civil liberties get put into the second league, the Championship. I draw from that the fact that we must be careful that when we become preoccupied with national security, we must be vigilant on the question of civil liberties, and I surely do not need to spell that out. However, two very remarkable articles have caught my eye: Shiv Malik’s article in the current edition of Prospect about his researches into those who caused the 7/7 bombings and Tariq Modood’s Multiculturalism, citizenship and national identity. They both point us towards understanding that multi-culturalism is used as a whipping boy and is particularly used to justify oppressive measures and create oppressive attitudes towards minorities, particularly Muslim minorities, in this country at this time. National security is a great danger to civil liberties.
My second point is that during the 15 years that I referred to, the greatest significant contribution towards the emancipation of slaves had nothing to do with our efforts to see that the slave trade was ended. That was only a partial objective, and it led to gross injustices of its own kind. It was on another continent, in the midst of the phenomenon of slavery, that the most significant happening occurred. It was the war for independence in the nation we now call Haiti, which was then Saint-Domingue. The greatest hero in this whole, rather tawdry, discussion is Toussaint L’Ouverture, who, in his writings, thinking and example, is the greatest black person I have ever encountered. The bicentenary of his death was shamefully overlooked and minimised just a couple of years ago. The 12-year struggle in the aftermath of the French revolution, which saw this Parliament endorse a military intervention in Saint-Domingue that saw 20,000 British troops die on Haitian territory—a figure that is never referred to in our school textbooks and of which no one is really aware—as we sought to pick up the richest of France’s colonies during the disturbances in Paris. Later, when Napoleon came back into power in France, an expeditionary force was sent under General Maitland—our Army had ignominiously withdrawn by then—and an equal number of French troops were killed or died before General Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother-in-law was expelled with his tail between his legs. I mention this because the moment Haiti became independent on 1 January 1804, the international community decided to have nothing to do with it. The spiral into a pariah state that has continued ever since began on the very day of independence
We should draw an important lesson from that. My daughter works with Cambodian victims of the sex tourism trade in Thailand. She speaks fluent Khmer, and I am immensely proud of her. She does civil rights work with those victims in Cambodia, and she is married to a nice Cambodian boy. We are enormously happy with all of that. However, I look at places such as Cambodia and I have worked extensively with Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic and have seen the conditions in which they live, so I am aware of contemporary forms of slavery and the way that the international community is blithely ignorant of, and cares little for, the plight of such people.
I look back to the parliamentary history for the legacy of Wilberforce and I see not just something that is undiluted light and progress, but lessons that desperately need to be learnt.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, on this timely debate. It is time seriously to debate concepts, ideologies and thoughts that lie behind the noble Lord’s Motion. I shall speak about multi-culturalism in today’s Britain.
In 2004, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, said that multi-culturalism was of an era and needed to be scrapped. He said that the term suggested “separateness” was no longer useful in present-day Britain.
The Cantle report in 2002 found that there was a depth of segregation and a total lack of contact between different racial groups. It highlighted the poor leadership in the local authorities and other institutions of Oldham, Bradford and Burnley, and the lack of commitment to a multiracial and diverse society.
I make these points first to highlight the real need for an honest and open debate. My contributions are predominantly of experiences and events around what I have witnessed and what I currently witness. A lot has been made in recent days about the need for Britishness, citizenship and for all different communities, old and new, to make efforts to fit in and better integrate.
These are noble desires until you realise how hard those simple desires become. Today there are cities in Great Britain where large pockets of communities live separate lives—a mini city within a city. People within these communities see no need to integrate, to learn English or to make friends outside their communities, and they feel that there is no need to build ties for the sake of their children. Therefore, the next generation sees that as normal and the cycle continues.
To live parallel lives is difficult enough for children and young people, but to ensure that a separate existence is created really does prevent any hope of integration and understanding of the communities and societies in which we live. I understand, probably better than most, how difficult it is to find a balance between living a life which you see as completely normal, fitting in with the norm around you, while, on the other side of the coin, satisfying a parental need to retain and maintain traditions and cultures.
The problem of politicians and Governments has been to look at short-term solutions when welcoming different cultures, races and religions into Britain. This has ensured that longer-term problems which build up receive a sticking plaster remedy that covers them for a short time, while other problems take their place.
While of course a certain provision of support is always necessary for communities to settle and to integrate, when those supports become permanent crutches they throw up bigger and much more difficult problems to solve. The problem of learning a language instantly comes to mind. A recent report on “Newsnight” informed audiences of the tens of thousands of pounds spent on interpreters. It was discovered that this actually discouraged people from learning English.
I come from a city that is often cited as being one of the success stories of multi-culturalism—Leicester. It has welcomed new communities and a great number of success stories have come from there. But, if we look deeper, we will find that even there, distinct areas have developed where children will grow up meeting no one of another race, culture or religion, and where there is no involvement in local activities, such as watching football or going to rugby and taking part in sporting activities, that encourage cross-cultural integration.
In a recent conversation with a colleague, I was asked why some young people whose origins were south Asian, but who were born and brought up in Great Britain, refused to socialise in the wider community. I put this question to a group of those young people. They said that their idea of socialising was not to get completely drunk on a Friday or Saturday night, and they did not want to do drugs and fall about in the streets. They were making those choices because what they saw being offered in the wider community ran in the opposite direction to what would be acceptable to them and their families. They felt that respect for families and others in society had disappeared, and they valued the opinions of families and friends far more than the wider community, even if that made them appear divorced from the mainstream.
The remedies are never easy. Differences should be celebrated. But for civic society to succeed in ensuring that all participate fully, it has to celebrate and encourage the things that are common to us all. Employment opportunities, especially in the public sector, still produce difficult barriers. Full engagement is crucial if different cultures are to share confidences and commonalities.
As a British citizen of Indian origin, I want to be seen as a British Indian, with my identity clear to all, not an ethnic minority that creates no sense of belonging to anything or any place. I want to share a common culture, one in which I share common values and traditions, partake in celebrations and share the worries—as well as proudly celebrating the culture and traditions—of my Indian origins, just as you would if you had Scottish, Welsh or Irish ties.
Governments must be brave enough to recognise that in a climate of uncertainty and mistrust, an honest and open debate must be had.
My Lords, I remind your Lordships that, after the passage of the Bill abolishing the slave trade in 1807, something remarkable occurred. From the moment that the Bill received Royal Assent in March of that year, successive Governments made a determined effort to secure the international abolition of the slave trade. What was the point of abolishing the British trade in slaves if our place was to be taken by the French, the Spaniards or the Portuguese?
In 1807, this country embarked on what the late Mr Robin Cook would in 1997 describe as an ethical foreign policy—one against the slave trade. That lasted for about 60 years and was remarkably successful. The policy had four elements. First, there was simple diplomacy aimed to persuade other powers, France included, at the Congress of Vienna, that the slave trade was evil. Secondly, there was diplomacy backed by money, a policy devoted to countries in Europe such as Portugal and Spain which, it was rightly thought, would like some financial support in the form of loans in return for abolition. Thirdly, the same commitment of diplomacy and cash was directed at African monarchs, merchants and noblemen who had greeted the abolition of the slave trade in Britain with incredulity. We need to recall that the vast majority of slaves carried by European captains to the New World were sold by, or exchanged with, African merchants, kings or noblemen. That is one reason why the whole idea of compensation is especially difficult.
A fourth tactic was adopted by British Governments. That was the remarkable naval patrol by ships of the Navy off the African and, to a lesser extent, the Brazilian and Caribbean coasts to try physically to prevent the Atlantic slave trade continuing. For example, a British West Africa squadron of two vessels made a trial journey for that purpose to west Africa in 1808. The last such voyage was in 1870, after which the battle-scarred West Africa squadron was merged with the Capes squadron. Between those years, of some 2 million slaves who had been carried across, 160,000 were freed from slave ships by the Navy. Not far short of 1,400 slave ships were seized by the Navy—about a sixth of the 7,750 slave ships which probably set off in that era.
In the last stages of the patrol era, British naval vessels were joined by some French and American vessels. Those two nations played a small part in that police operation, although a far lesser part than we did. British Secret Service money was amply used to assist naval captains. For example, for a time, the harbour master of Río de Janeiro was working for us, so the Navy was well informed of arrivals and departures of slave ships from that port in the 1840s.
About 2,000 British seamen died as a result of skirmishes at sea, from yellow fever or from malaria contracted on land or in the rivers of the slave coasts, which had by then begun to be known as the white man’s grave. That was a long, wearisome commitment, with an importance far greater than the number of slaves released would suggest. It tried the nerves as well as the patience of officers and seamen alike for year after year. It also was trying for Members of this House and of another place. That commitment by the Royal Navy enabled us to look back from the early 21st century with real pride at the years immediately after abolition. It caused Palmerston to consider in old age that his achievement in bringing an end to the slave trade to Brazil was his greatest work. If we are fair, it also allows us to recall the famous liberal historian, Lecky, who wrote in A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, of the,
“unweary, unostentatious … crusade of England against slavery”—
after Wilberforce had begun his work, of course—which,
“may probably be regarded as among the three or four perfectly virtuous pages comprised in the history of nations”.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, for introducing today’s debate, which 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.
Earlier this week, I participated in a tribute to William Wilberforce in his birthplace, the city of Hull, in celebration of his achievements. To make people feel the pain of others’ suffering, the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam, described in his address what it was like in Mauritius, where most of the populace are direct descendants of slaves. These people were enslaved and taken to Mauritius by European companies, which exploited human beings to satisfy their greed. We should all feel justly ashamed of that.
In contrast, the city of Belfast, where I live, took a courageous and enlightened stand against the slave trade as far back as 1796. Tom McCabe, one of Belfast’s radicals and a small businessman in the jewellery trade, saved Belfast from slavers and slavery. Warning against the establishment of a slave company, he is noted as saying:
“May God wither the hand, and consign the name to eternal infamy, of the man who will sign that document”.
As a result, the port of Belfast was closed to the slave ships and a boycott of sugar was launched.
Slavery is an inhuman and degrading practice, which tragically is still being carried on in different forms in some parts of the world by criminal gangs and feudal tribes. Contemporary slavery—the exploitation of the poor and weak—is being driven by economic influences, such as the continuing demand from consumers in developed nations for ever cheaper goods and raw materials. Tea today, for example, costs a fraction of its price when it was first introduced to Britain. How many of us realise that the workers in tea gardens in India, who are mostly women with young children, earn less than $1 a day? We are happy to buy goods produced in countries where workers do not earn a living wage, but we fail to realise that they are working as economic slaves to sustain our rich and affluent lifestyles. Waste is part of the disposable society in which we live today. We buy it cheap and throw it away. Low costs encourage waste, so this lifestyle has a major environmental impact.
Poor countries and their people are caught in a vicious cycle. We do not pay a fair price for what we buy from them. They have little or no bargaining power. The rich and powerful consumer countries and international trading companies have the power and the muscle to drive down prices to rock bottom. We must address meaningfully and effectively the rampant consumerism that strips developing nations of their natural resources and forces their peoples to live often in abject poverty.
There can be no economic justice and fairness unless we create a world order with a minimum wage in each country according to its cost of living. We need to do on an international scale what the trade unions did to improve the working lives of people in this country early in the last century. We can have slogans such as “Make Poverty History”, but we will not have much success unless we look at the economic world order and provide structures on a global scale to ensure that the weaker members of mankind are given a fair wage and a fair chance. Many young people growing up in developing countries feel disfranchised. They lose hope and because of this they fall prey to extreme organisations. We must develop a global culture of caring and sharing. To quote a line from Mahatma Gandhi's daily prayers, you can only claim to be a good person if you can feel the pain of others’ suffering. If people earn a basic wage in their own countries, there will be less human trafficking, illegal immigration and exploitation by international gangs and criminals.
In the 200 years since the passing of Wilberforce’s legislation, slavery and the trafficking of men, women and children have increased dramatically. We have all heard and been appalled by the figures from the UN and other agencies. I believe that the UN or the WTO should take the lead in addressing economic issues more effectively by means of a minimum wage that would improve living conditions in poor nations and increase awareness of the plight of the victims of the worst aspects of consumerism in the West. We will not see the end of human exploitation and suffering unless we develop a system of ensuring that people are paid a living wage.
In the bicentenary year of Wilberforce, we should take a vow to work towards a fairer international order to achieve the real end of exploitation, give people hope for a better future and show them by our deeds and actions that we care. The struggle to end slavery started here. Let us take another step and complete the work that Wilberforce started 200 years ago to achieve a fairer world order. That is the only way to achieve a peaceful world.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, not only on having secured this debate, but also on his eloquent and compelling introduction. I must say that there have been several other notable contributions to this debate. Isaac Newton famously once said:
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
That phrase applies not only to great scientists or great philosophers, but also to great reformers. It also applies to William Wilberforce, who was famously diminutive of stature, so he may have needed to stand on something to see further anyway. However, it is true in a much more profound sense, to which a number of other speakers have alluded. What Wilberforce achieved was magnificent and a tribute to his persistence and determination, but it also depended on the efforts of many others. In this country, we think of the campaigning endeavours of Thomas Clarkson or the former slave Olaudah Equiano, who has already been referred to. He gained his freedom from his owner, Robert King, who taught him to read and write and educated him as a Quaker. He then became an abolitionist who worked with Clarkson. There are many others across the country. However, I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Griffiths. Bringing an end to slavery was the result of worldwide movements—not just in what is now Haiti, but in Africa, Jamaica and elsewhere. Indeed, some of the critics of the commemoration days established for Wilberforce have made the point even more forcefully than did my noble friend, and I fully back it up.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, expressed regret that we have to delve back into our own history to discover the many strands in it, but it is important to do so. An example of that is the work of local historians on the Black History in Dorset project. Dorset is not one of the counties that we associate with the slave trade, because most of the history concentrates on cities and the large ports in the north, but slaves came directly to Dorset ports and their descendants have lived in Dorset and the surrounding counties ever since. Moreover, the wealth of Dorset came in substantial part from slave plantations overseas. Dorset also had its abolitionists, such as Thomas Foxwell Buxton. A lot of history is still to be resurrected, and the work of local historians is important to this.
We have always lived in a mongrel country, the term used by two or three authors of histories of Britain. It means that diversity, cultural difference and what social scientists in their odd way call “hybridity” are part of mainstream British history and are not marginal to it. But when we fast forward to the present, we see that these things are now even truer than they were in the past, as many speakers have said.
We live in a society of cultural diversity. The term “multi-culturalism” has been widely applied, but at the moment the notion of multi-culturalism is under something of a cloud. People on both the right and the left are declaring multi-culturalism to be dead and arguing that we have to move beyond it. I want fiercely to contest that idea, which is based on a false understanding of what multi-culturalism is.
Modern thinking about multi-culturalism has its origins, especially in Canada, in the writings of distinguished philosophers such as Charles Taylor and in the approach to migration and diversity that successive Canadian Governments have taken. If you understand it in this sense, multi-culturalism has never meant what its critics here and elsewhere often say; it has never meant cultural or historical relativism. It has always meant the primacy of law, especially of international law, and the primacy of common laws of humanity over individual cultural difference. It has never meant the denial of national identity. The present Government have in some part derived their ideas from Canadian schemes of migration. Canada has always stressed citizenship ceremonies and the primacy of national identity, and it has forged a place for cultural difference in relation to that. Multi-culturalism has never meant the separation of communities. On the contrary, the whole literature of multi-culturalism, which is very sophisticated, has always advocated fostering connections between communities; it has always been about contesting the separation of communities, not endorsing it. We have many ways of furthering that.
In conclusion, I should like to claim that this country is probably the most successful multi-cultural country in Europe. Contrary to what people say, indices of segregation between ethnic groups show that segregation is reducing rather than increasing, as is reflected in individual studies of communities. While many people might say that multi-culturalism is dead, I say, “Long live multi-culturalism”.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend for this opportunity to continue our reflections on the legacy of the slave trade. As a Cross-Bencher, I join him in calling for more independence from Whips in another place.
Coming to terms with slavery, as painful as it can be, is part of a gradual healing process in our society that can only help to build a strong and diverse community. It has also become a valuable exercise in global and community education, an issue that was touched on earlier. I congratulate the Government on helping teachers to use the history of the slave trade to expand students’ awareness of international affairs and on doubling their development education budget for schools and further education. That has meant a great deal: Mandarin, Arabic, climate change, healthy cooking and slavery are now all on the school menu.
In February, the Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, announced changes that included compulsory teaching for key stage 3 students on the history and the impact of the slave trade, with explicit reference to the role of reformers such as Wilberforce and Equiano. As the Minister knows, I have admired the work of the Development Education Association since I came to this House and she will know of the ingenuity of the many small development education centres and organisations, such as the ones in Dorset, that are working to create case studies and course work based on the legacy of the slave trade. To me, this work is perhaps the most fundamental means of ensuring that we have a more progressive and understanding multi-cultural society in the future.
Slavery has inspired a wide range of activities this year, including the dramatic concert in Westminster Hall last month hosted by my noble friend Lady Young, who has done so much for our own exhibition. There are major exhibitions, conferences and other events occurring every week this summer; school linking is bringing students across countries to share their experiences and gain a wider understanding of slavery in its modern forms.
There are many equally valuable smaller activities. For example, the Fairmead SEN school near Bristol in its slavery project invited an artist from Ghana to create some traditional artwork. The school also set out to challenge preconceptions by bringing in artefacts and photographs from Zambia to demonstrate the diversity of lifestyles, looking at housing, transport, costume, shopping and so on. For me, this links directly with the powerful imagery of the Clarkson chest, which noble Lords will know from our parliamentary exhibition, confronting our society, again, with African arts and crafts of high quality. This project has been supported by the DEA and the local education centre, as well as by DfID through the Global Dimension website for teachers.
DfID has an obvious interest in all these projects, but it is important that the DfES should also take them seriously; it should talk to bodies such as the DEA to ensure that practice in schools keeps up with contemporary themes and trends and is not only dependent on the fact that there is a slavery anniversary. One of the many advantages of welcoming new migrants and asylum seekers is that they know what is happening in other cultures and can keep us abreast of these trends and changes.
This month I detect some apprehension about our incoming Government and what they might do about immigration. What a contrast between the educational work that I have described and the barriers that are going up against new asylum seekers and migrants. We will hear more about that in the Statement in a moment and we will debate next week the UK Borders Bill, which has been introduced largely in the name of anti-terrorism and national security, to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths.
Here I declare an interest as a member of the Independent Asylum Commission. The commission emerged last year from a grass-roots initiative called the Citizen Organising Foundation, which produced an influential report on immigrants at Lunar House. The Asylum Commission is taking a new and, we hope, impartial look at the system dealing with asylum seekers, and we will make our own recommendations early next year. These are to ensure that we continue our proud history of sanctuary while restoring public confidence in the system.
The commission is committed to investigating the asylum system on behalf of a whole range of citizens, from those who believe that asylum seekers are not being treated with humanity to those who believe that our asylum system is too generous. In my view, in the debate on immigration we are often concerned about overall numbers, as we should be, and so rarely acknowledge the achievements of those who come here for further study or asylum and return to help their own societies in Africa and elsewhere. There are spectacular examples of that.
Finally, I commend the current Strangers into Citizens campaign of the Citizen Organising Foundation. Its proposal is simple: irregular migrants who have lived and worked in the UK for four or more years should be granted a two-year work permit and, at the end of those two years, subject to employer and character references, they should be given leave to remain. I do not hide the disadvantages of any form of amnesty for immigrants, but the writing is on the wall. It is arguable that if we do not create a solution, there will never be one. I hope that the Minister will grant that this proposal is now firmly under discussion.
My Lords, I am very much looking forward to reading Hansard tomorrow because so far this debate has been so rich, varied and interesting. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, for initiating it.
I shall focus on the significance of racial stereotyping, which was developed and consolidated during the period of African enslavement in the 18th and 19th centuries—ways of thinking about Africans that, one might say, have also plagued abolitionists. Those ideas have endured, and they have continued to exert their pernicious influence in many areas of our lives today.
“Race”, which I always use in inverted commas, is not an objective, culture-free designation of difference. The underpinning of theories of race and difference some 200 years ago was the supposed superiority of white western Europeans. Newly developed scientific theories about physical characteristics and human evolution purported to demonstrate that Africans were intellectually, morally and culturally inferior to all other racial groups. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned Clarkson’s chest, which is in the current parliamentary exhibition in Westminster Hall on the abolition of the slave trade. The collection of objects and artefacts in that chest question the notion of a hierarchy of civilisations that was prevalent at the time.
It is now generally accepted that the old biological definitions of “race” are spurious. However, notions of racial difference are deeply embedded in our society, and we are still locked into the habit of racialised thinking. It is a problem because it affects the ways identities are formed and social interaction experienced on a day-to-day basis. The belief that there are fundamental, essential differences between black and white peoples persists, resulting in particular psychological, physical and intellectual characteristics being attributed to each group. For people of African descent, the consequences have been devastating. Words and phrases such as “big black bloke”, “boisterous”, “loud”, “physically massive” or “good at sports” may seem innocuous, objective terms, but such descriptors are often code words for what are seen as specifically “black” modes of behaviour requiring restraint and control. We can see this in the way that black people are prescribed stronger drugs more frequently than others within the mental health system, in the over-representation of black males in prisons and in underachievement in the education system. Some people argue that stereotypes are rooted in reality, but if we continually assess people on that basis we confine them; we trap them in certain modes of behaviour, and discourage aspiration and ambition.
To some extent we have all internalised these ideas at some stage, and we must seek to challenge both black and white people who continue to promote these confining forms of categorisation. If we look at the specific instance of the association of people of African descent in the Caribbean with music and dance—I focus on that because it is a clear example, but I could also have mentioned sport—we see that there are logical historical reasons for the development of particular kinds of music and modes of communication. While enslaved Africans were encouraged by their owners to sing as they worked under the brutal plantation regime, they were forbidden to sing of freedom. It was in this context that the enslaved found ways to link their musical cultures to the European hymns that they were hearing to create new musical forms such as “negro spirituals”, with lyrics that subverted the law that banned articulating the desire for freedom. As far as the plantation owners were concerned, these were harmless ditties, but, in reality, they were coded escape plans. Abducted Africans were split up in such a way that those within the same language groups were separated and forbidden to speak in their own languages. Therefore, non-linguistic forms of interpersonal communication, such as physical gesture, music, drumming and dance, were particularly important. These became essential parts of the repertoire of communication and resistance.
In the Americas, the Caribbean and across Europe and Africa, individual and collective protest against prevailing political and social conditions has continued to be woven as a thread through the musical forms of African diaspora peoples, be it in gospel, jazz, blues, reggae, soul or hip-hop. The experience of enslavement, calculated to dehumanise and oppress, was resisted and given a voice and dignity through these forms, and they have both energised and transformed the vocabularies of modern music.
Two weeks ago, as has already been mentioned, we launched the exhibition, The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People in Westminster Hall. One of the schools working with the poet in residence, Rommi Smith, sang three traditional west and south African songs. One could almost hear the children thinking afterwards, as they watched other performers play their music and sing, that they, too, would like to be able to play professionally the violin or to sing soprano.
Three of the contemporary composers whose work was performed at the launch, Errollyn Wallen, Byron Wallen and Shirley Thompson, are black Britons who are following in the footsteps of African 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century poets and musicians who drew on both European and African musical traditions, including people such as Joseph Emidy, George Polgreen Bridgetower and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. However, they all have to face the struggle to escape stifling categories which attempt to place one’s work in boxes such as “street music” or “urban music” linked to ethnic origin.
The legacy of slavery has produced some wonderful achievements against all the odds, but it has led also to the creation of an alienated underclass with little or no stake in society. One of the legacies of this year’s events must surely be a greater determination to be much more imaginative and effective in how we tackle this situation.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, for having introduced this debate and for the refreshing and lively way in which he spoke. The abolition of slavery, I suggest, was about not just the abolition of an institution, but the emancipation of the people trapped in it. My contention is that until we have overcome exploitation wherever it exists, the work will remain incomplete.
This is obvious in the context of immigration. We are told that the unquestionable basic truth of international life now is the global economy and liberal economics. This means the free movement of capital, the free movement of investment, the free movement of goods—or people argue for these principles—but the one thing that we cannot accept is the free movement of people. There is a strong, practical argument that we are not yet ready for the free movement of people and that just to launch into it would prove disastrous. However, if we are not yet ready for the free movement of people, we must recognise that there is a fundamental, huge flaw in the concept of the global market, meaning that we ought to treat with the utmost respect all the time the people who are frustrated by that flaw as they seek for themselves and their families the freedom and emancipation which we take for granted in our own society. If we do not have that respect, be it at ports of entry or in the Immigration Service, we are fanning the flames of alienation with God knows what consequences for national and global security. Full emancipation demands a prevailing social spirit of respect.
Like my noble friend Lord Giddens, I find the debates about whether multi-culturalism is a valid concept rather perplexing. We have always had it. We have had Scots, Welsh, Irish and English culture; we have even had the concept of working-class, middle-class and upper-class culture. The rich mix of those elements has made for the strength of the United Kingdom. If we recognise that point, I hope that I will not be alone in having anxieties about tests for citizenship. We cannot fulfil citizenship simply by passing a test; it is about belonging and participating in and feeling part of the society in which you seek citizenship. Of course, the paradox is that part of that reality is understanding and relating to the multi-culturalism.
I had the good fortune to go to a school where a third of the boys were Jewish. That had a tremendous impact on me, as someone who had grown up in a Scots and English nonconformist family. I came to value Jewish culture tremendously, and many of my lifelong friends have come from the Jewish community. Nobody could deny that the Jewish culture was there, and the mingling of the Jewish, Christian and agnostic culture was important in that secondary education. I must add that I frequently find myself asking—other noble Lords must ask themselves the question—how many white Anglo-Saxons at all levels of society, with long-standing origins of having lived in this country, would pass the citizenship test. We have to be careful about the damage done by institutionalised hypocrisy and double standards.
There has been reference in the debate to public service and the contribution made to it by immigrants; that is obvious, but I am concerned that the human potential to which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, referred is still unfulfilled in the great institutions of our society. That is why it matters tremendously that the police, the armed services, the Civil Service and government at all levels reflect that vibrant multiculturalism. If I am allowed to say so, it means that it is terribly important that the servants of both Houses, at the most senior level, reflect the multi-culturalism of our society; I do not believe that they do, and we ought to ask ourselves why.
As we talk about our future in this House, what about the Bishops? They are totally absent this afternoon, I am sorry to say. I am an Anglican now, but why should a certain faith be represented as of right in this House, while others have to find their own representation by the extraordinary methods that we have for appointing Peers? How does that recognise and reflect multi-culturalism?
We live in a highly interdependent world community. We talk about citizenship, but ought to talk far more about global citizenship. Where in the G8, the World Bank and the Security Council of the United Nations is there a convincing reflection of the world as it exists today, as distinct from its old power structures? The task that Wilberforce undertook so bravely, courageously and tirelessly will not be fulfilled until we are all fighting for a redistribution of power in our global community.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to speak in support of my noble friend Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, who opened today’s debate in such a thoughtful and challenging way. I shall talk about the achievements of the abolitionist movement and adduce some contemporary lessons.
Recently, I took my children to see the excellent new film “Amazing Grace”. Its title is drawn from the hymn composed by the Liverpool slave-trading ship’s captain, John Newton, whose change of heart and mind and first-hand accounts of exposing the cruelties of the trans-Atlantic trade gave impetus and momentum to the abolitionist cause. If I have a criticism of the film it is the use of the phrase, “one man’s battle against injustice” to describe William Wilberforce. Remarkable man though he undoubtedly was, the slave trade was not—as we learnt in today’s debate and the earlier debates in May and December—the achievement of one man alone. It took the creation of a nationwide grass-roots movement to enable Wilberforce to persuade Parliament to enact change. And it would take persistence and the uprisings of slaves in Haiti, Jamaica and elsewhere over the following 26 years—as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and others—before slavery itself would be outlawed. In parenthesis, let me add that it is to our continuing shame that slavery persists in many guises and many parts of the world today.
The composition and achievements of the anti-slavery coalition are not simply of arcane historical interest. Though the original inspiration came from the Quakers, it was a Cambridge University divinity student, Thomas Clarkson, who became the indefatigable organiser who would spend more than 60 years of his life addressing meetings, collecting petitions and tramping the length and breadth of the country. The remarkable coalition that he assembled included Olaudah Equiano, who bought himself out of slavery and whose books describing his captivity sold in their thousands; Granville Sharpe, who used his formidable lawyer’s skills to take the fight to the judiciary; the poet and polemicist, William Roscoe; and Josiah Wedgwood, whose potteries produced lapel badges and hair braids in their millions declaring the simple truth:
“Am I not a man and a brother?”.
It is sometimes said in your Lordship’s House that those who have religious beliefs should keep them to themselves. Clarkson, Equiano, Sharpe and Wilberforce were all Christians who passionately believed that their private beliefs should animate public concerns. As we consider the nature of multi-cultural Britain, it is surely worth stating that the suppression of religious faith would have suppressed the very impulses that were the motivation and the lifeblood of the abolitionist movement. Doubtless religious adherents are guilty of all the same faults and sins of omission and commission as the next, but a secular intolerance that seeks to suffocate religious opinion will not help to create a tolerant or respectful Britain.
Last December, the Prime Minister gave a lecture entitled “Our Nation’s Future—multiculturalism and integration” at an event hosted by the Runnymede Trust. I agree with a lot of what he says about past mistakes and the time for a new approach to diversity. Where I part company with him is with the implication that it should be the objective of the state to privatise faith out of the public square. He draws a distinction between what he says “defines us as citizens” rather than “as people”. If the implication of this is that we can be Christian or Jewish or Muslim people but not Christian or Jewish or Muslim citizens and that British values cannot really be Christian values, in a country where 71 per cent in the 2001 census declared themselves to be Christian, it will lead to systemic alienation and greater fragmentation, not to cohesion.
Aggressive secularists too often fail to recognise the constructive and enriching role that religion can play in shaping culture and national identity. Religion is too often blamed for man’s failures—a sentiment brilliantly summed up by our British Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, who says:
“Don’t ask where was God at Auschwitz, ask where was man”.
Abolitionists asked the same sort of question when they found men avariciously selling and degrading other human beings. By the 1850s, 12 million people—some historians put the figure at 40 million—had been sold into bondage. Motivated by their faith, the abolitionists launched a nationwide campaign to do something about it. All over the country, Clarkson exhibited manacles and implements used to torture slaves that were purchased in Liverpool, and roused the conscience of the nation.
Every time you put your name on a petition, take part in a boycott, wear a lapel badge or a wristband, join a grassroots movement, read a report by an investigative journalist or are encouraged to combine a religious belief with practical action, you can trace the origins of that action to this first human rights campaign. With 27 million people enslaved today—including 8.4 million children—with trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour, child labour and race and caste-based slavery, there is no shortage of contemporary dragons waiting to be slain. There are many other causes, too. Perhaps if our political leaders were identified more with great causes and less with narrow party interests, it would inspire a new generation to enter our civic life.
I end with one brief observation. Two years ago an 18 year-old black Christian boy, Anthony Walker, died in a Merseyside hospital after a gang of four white youths mounted a racially motivated attack and set upon him while he waited for a bus at a bus stop in Huyton with his white girlfriend. The gang hacked him to death with an axe, which they embedded in his skull. In contrast to the case of Stephen Lawrence, the Merseyside police immediately named this as a racially motivated murder and arrested and convicted those responsible. Few who heard the dignified and forgiving remarks of Anthony’s mother, Gee, could have been left unmoved. That evening I could not but think of the abolitionists and their logo:
“Am I not a man and a brother?”
It is surely that belief in a common humanity and a common good—a belief which counters and resists pernicious racism and which replaces violence with mutual respect and tolerance that holds the key to our country’s future.
My Lords, as the last Back-Bench speaker in this fascinating and wide-ranging debate, which was so excellently introduced, I shall make just one central point and illustrate it with examples. It follows on directly from the previous contribution. The point is simple and obvious and is made by that extraordinary Wedgwood plate just referred to, which shows a black man kneeling in chains with the logo,
“Am I not a man and a brother?”.
Amid all the much larger-scale political, economic and social arguments, it is a direct appeal from one human being to another. It illustrates the simple point that when you see somebody else as a human being, talk to them and look into their eyes, it is much harder to brutalise and exploit them. It is a simple and obvious point but I emphasise that it needs to be remembered and interpreted practically in every new circumstance. If what I have said is true, and if it is an important part, but only part, of challenging evil and injustice, what does it mean for public leadership and policy now?
I give two examples. As chief executive of the NHS, I was conscious that we were the biggest employer of staff from black and minority ethnic communities in the country—170,000 people, or 14 per cent of the workforce. But I was also conscious that the organisation was, in Trevor Phillips’s word, “snowcapped”; in other words, it had a very broad base but, as you moved towards the top of the pinnacle, it became whiter. I am also very conscious that, despite the contribution over the years of so many people from the Caribbean—I am delighted to see that celebrated in Many Rivers to Cross, which was published last year in partnership with the Department of Health—Africa, Asia and, more recently, the Philippines, there are real feelings of inequality and injustice within the system. Staff and patient surveys within the NHS say that levels of satisfaction with employment and services are lower among people from black and minority ethnic communities than they are in the wider community. This is a consistent finding.
Quite apart from the obvious moral and legal reasons why this is a bad thing, there are good business reasons why it is important to address it. The first, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is the potential waste of not being able to draw on all the talents within the community. The second is the need to deliver culturally sensitive healthcare to a culturally diverse population. That point has been made in relation to mental health and coronary heart disease.
I know that the NHS is not unique and that the same issues arise elsewhere. I am told by friends that these same feelings of injustice—of something not being quite truly there for them as for other people, and of not being seen as equal participants—have a wider impact on national identity issues. As one friend said, integration will happen only if young people can see that there is a future for themselves in which the UK acknowledges their presence and does so in the context of equity and fairness, a point that echoes the one made so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma.
In trying to address those issues in the NHS, we did many things—of course, there is not just one solution—but I want to mention one in particular. It concerned one-to-one mentoring between senior people within the organisation and people from black and minority ethnic groups. As chief executive, I challenged the senior leaders to take part and, indeed, over a year 900 became involved in that sort of mentoring relationship. I hope that it was helpful to the black and minority ethnic community people who were involved, but what was interesting for those of us in leadership positions was how two-way the mentoring process was. The first person whom I mentored was black, a woman and a nurse. Obviously I am not two of those things, but neither am I a nurse, and seeing the NHS from the point of view of a very different person with a very different perspective, sociologically as well as in employment terms, was absolutely fascinating.
At that time, I was struck by a newspaper headline that said that 75 per cent of white people over the age of 50 did not have a black friend. There is segregation in all kinds of different ways in society. That mentoring programme was mutual and fun and I hope that it started to make a difference, but it needed to be done in the context of an excellent breaking-through programme to provide opportunities for professional equalities and human rights action and opportunities for more articulate non-executives from wider and more diverse communities. There is a long way to go but my point is that the individual human context is an important part of this.
Perhaps I may mention one other practical example in international development. I believe that there is an important place for all the link partnerships and twinning arrangements between communities, hospitals, schools and organisations in developed and developing countries. There are now thousands of them and they deserve our support. As Build, a coalition of NGOs building partnerships and links, says:
“Barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding can only break down when we engage and create partnerships at grassroots level”.
Of course, that is not the whole story on international development but it is an important part of it.
Perhaps I may mention one other example in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. Part of the greatest need in supporting development in Africa concerns human resources for health. I am pleased that the G8 has been discussing that need and the fact that a massive scaling-up in the training and development of health staff within developing countries is required. We in the UK have a responsibility as a global employer and the ability, with our great health and education establishments, to do something about that.
Finally, on the leadership role of today’s Wilberforces, it is essential to confront evil and to take on the unfinished business of slavery and exploitation. It is essential to use economic, political and social levers to support opportunity, create change and tackle injustice. It is also important to make these changes sustainable and to find practical ways of supporting human relationships across boundaries. That, in turn, will build long-term relationships and understanding and tackle prejudice and misunderstanding.
My Lords, we take pride in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, on this debate. His powerful and wide-ranging arguments have given us much to think about. He has provided us with an opportunity to reflect on a movement and a group of individuals who literally changed the world. The protagonists—Wilberforce, Clarkson, Newton, Sharp, Equiano and, not least, the female figures of Heyrick and others— showed the powerful application of moral purpose. They did this to benefit people whom they did not know, with no thought of self-interest—indeed, only self-sacrifice was evident. The recognition of a common humanity mobilised an entire country over time against powerful vested interests.
Among the many things that we can learn from their legacy, one thing stands out above others, and the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, touched on it—I am sorry that he is not in his place. I refer to the length of time that it took to eradicate the trade. Adam Hochschild reminds us in his powerful book, Bury the Chains, that:
“For fifty years, activists in England worked to end slavery in the British Empire. None of them gained a penny by doing so, and their eventual success meant a huge loss to the imperial economy”.
The fact is that, even after 1833, many thousands of slaves continued to be transported between the major European powers and North and Latin America. The shadowy form of the trade continues today in some developing countries, and its cousin—bonded labour—still blights the lives of the very poorest in society in many parts of the world, despite its immorality, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, reminded us.
Other more contemporary aspects of this debate raise vexed questions about both the characteristics of a multi-cultural Britain today and what we do about it in current policy. When the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, who has just returned to the Chamber, commented that the policy is attacked from right and left, I noted that he did not single out Liberals. I am sure that he was conscious of Isaiah Berlin’s conceptions of value pluralism as an important British contribution—via Riga, I admit, but nevertheless a British contribution—to the philosophy underpinning that tradition.
We have heard much from the Government in the past few years about the characteristics of a multi-cultural Britain. We have had action and fine words galore from the Prime Minister, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and, only a few days ago, from the Minister for Immigration. The thinking has evolved somewhat along the following lines, which I shall summarise briefly. Initially, the thinking from the Chancellor was that there is a problem with the union, in that the Scots want to be free of the English, so perhaps we need to sign everyone up to Britishness. Then from the Prime Minister we had the nuanced argument that there is a problem with Muslims in that they do not sign up to our values so we need more law—terrorism law. Then, only a few months ago, in March Ms Kelly said that she had got it wrong and that what we need is both stick and carrot—the battle for hearts and minds as well as the diminution of civil liberties through terrorism legislation. Now from Ms Kelly and Mr Byrne, in a Fabian pamphlet that has just come out, we are told that the Britishness solution is the real solution, although we shall raise the bar for newer migrants. This has all come at the same time as we are reassured that this Government are unequivocally committed to, and clear about, their vision for a diverse and pluralist country. All the rest of us have to do—the rest of us migrants above all—is to learn the talk and walk the walk and all will be well.
There are some fairly fundamental flaws with these approaches. The first is the persistent tendency of the Government to conflate issues of diversity and integration with an entirely different set of issues to do with political Islamism and terrorism. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, have alluded to that. Those are a different set of issues again from those of Islamic extremism—not all extremists are violent and not all jihadi terrorists are motivated by Islam. On the Government's own Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who appears rather more conversant with expert thinking on these matters, has argued in his book Rethinking Islamism that Islamist terrorism is a violent political ideology rather than an amalgam of issues to do with deprivation, socio-economic factors or a lack of understanding of British values.
I say for the record that we believe that a serious public policy discussion arises from trends towards increasing diversity, and I will deal with them in a minute, but I want to stay with issues concerned with the most difficult and problematic area, that of the integration of British Muslims and the link that is drawn with terrorism. In the plethora of speeches that Ministers have given on a regular basis, one thread is becoming evident: the mixing together of the law-and-order agenda and the winning-hearts-and-minds agenda. While we on these Benches may have grave concerns about the detail of the law-and-order agenda, we support the Government in their duty to seek measures that will prevent and counter terrorism and terrorist-related acts. We believe that that is the appropriate concentration of the work on counterterrorism. However, the winning-hearts-and-minds agenda, while entirely worth while in terms of inculcating citizenship, is not the appropriate tool for counterterrorism. It runs the risk of selecting the wrong change-makers, as the sorry history of the Government’s relationship with the MCB shows; it runs the risk of involving the state in theological debates about religious precepts, which it is ill equipped to do. When it gets it wrong, it runs the risk of further alienating many different sections of its own citizens, who see its policies as selective and divisive.
A second flaw in the Government's thinking is their belief that the construction of a British identity can replicate US-style integration. This argument is flawed for several reasons. For one, the US is historically a society built entirely on immigration, which the United Kingdom is not. American society is therefore a leveller in the sense that new migrants repeat a pattern of “assimilation”—the favoured word there—in ways that are replicated in successive generations. There is therefore broad acceptance of those patterns: the migrant coming in, doing well and getting on. We do not have those examples passed down generationally to the extent that it becomes the story of all our backgrounds in this country, which is, at least racially, rather more homogeneous.
A further and distinct difference relates to the welfare state. The contract of entry to the US is that you will be financially self-sufficient from the outset, irrespective of how hard that may be. In return, the US will accept you as legitimate from the outset, but only if you are prepared to work your socks off. Once you have done that, the US will give you the reward of citizenship: no pain, no gain. In the UK, the fact of the support system provided by the welfare state changes the terms of that implicit contract. If I am asked to make a value judgment as to which I consider better, I have no problem in coming down on the side of the welfare state every time. I point to that striking difference because it fundamentally alters the motivation of new migrants to sign up to the host country, a point made by David Goodhart in his pamphlet on identity for the think tank Demos.
A third difference is the nature of immigration to the US versus the UK. The skills-based and quota-based system of the US attracts a different kind of migrant. The single most striking fact, when we look at Muslim communities in the US over the past year, is the difference in education, professional membership, and social and economic status of Muslims there versus here. It is no accident that they appear more integrated there, more segregated here. So the idea that we can import US-style loyalty to UK citizens is flawed and, if it were to succeed, would require a wholesale change to British and European identity and society—something that I do not advocate tampering with.
On the future of pluralism and diversity in the UK, one trend is apparent, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, pointed out: diversity will continue to increase due to our own demographics. As long as we in Britain continue to have declining birth rates and increasing longevity, we will continue to need to import labour. While we have found the EU a ready pool, one of the results of increasing prosperity, particularly among women, is a declining birth rate. Our population is likely to become more racially and religiously diverse in the not-too-distant future, as our workers come from further away. We must confront this challenge in a calm, measured and evidence-based manner, because the consequences of not planning and managing it are too evident, as we have seen in the example of Slough—a point forcefully made by the chief executive of that borough in the media this week.
A further and final point is the challenge of inculcating loyalty towards the majority in certain groups, such as Muslims, whose values and cultural and religious traditions can be different, although they are less different than is sometimes thought. We should not get overworked about the challenge for that particular group. Over time, there is a convergence of values between all groups in a society. Ultimately, school, the workplace and the community space all play their part in making us more homogeneous, despite our diversity. All of society changes, not just the newcomer. In the mean time, perhaps we should just concentrate on putting up with one another rather than aspiring to “bowling in groups”, to extend Robert Putnam’s US analogy.
In a recent Spectator article, John Gray stressed the value of tolerance in the first instance, rather than the exertion of more pressure on trying to have common moral values. Winning over hearts and minds cannot be dictated from on high, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said. Perhaps we need less policy and greater trust in people themselves. Trust in people doing the right thing kept the abolitionist struggle going over those long years. We have much to recall from that legacy.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, for initiating this debate and for a lively, intelligent and intellectual speech. It was a great start to this debate and set the scene for the way it developed and for the speeches that followed it. That was not easy because this debate follows hard on the heels of the debate promoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, on 10 May. The noble Lord made an inspiring speech, and we must thank him for it.
When we discussed this matter previously, the speeches were thoughtful, as they have been today. On both occasions, we had relevant discussions on the historical aspects of the abolition of slave trading through the great work of William Wilberforce and his Christian allies. It is notable that there were many women among them. They were not allowed to put their heads above the parapet but, as women always do, they provided the inspiration. As many speakers said, the abolition of slavery 20 years later was inspired by what William Wilberforce did.
However, the aftermath continues. Various forms of slavery have continued, and many speakers have referred to them. It is hard to find a definition of slavery, although I am sure many have tried. It seems to me that it is forced service provided by people against their free will, usually under duress with the threat of physical abuse or death, in inhumane conditions. There are still many examples across the world including the trafficking of women as sex slaves, young children being kidnapped and forced to become part of guerrilla or terrorist armies, and, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Rana, exploitation of workers to provide cheaper labour to produce cheaper goods. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, gave us many examples in the previous debate of the areas that I have touched on, and we still have a very active anti-slavery movement.
During the Recess, my husband and I had a short break in Barbados—I just wanted noble Lords to know that. It is a beautiful, welcoming island whose past is steeped in the slave trade. It was uninhabited for many centuries, but was settled, as I am sure noble Lords know, by the English in the 17th century and remained part of the British Empire until 1965, when it became a republic within the Commonwealth. It is now held up as one of the best examples of an effectively working parliamentary democracy, which is a good legacy of our influence there. Its increasing maturity as a nation is well demonstrated. However, it was founded on sugar plantations that needed a large number of workers, which resulted in its population being generated from slavery. Many of those who still live on the island have ancestors who were of African slave origin and who remained on the island when they became free men.
All the harvesting of the sugar crop is now done mechanically. It originally had to be cut by hand by machete and carried, usually by women. Today the crop is only about 25 per cent of that planted in the 18th century, but when one sees the acres of sugar, one realises the enormous physical labour and the vast numbers that would have been required to maintain the trade. The terrible tragedy was that they had to be obtained by the capture and enslavement of thousands of African people who were transported in inhumane and degrading circumstances from their homelands to provide that labour. Three and a half million slaves were transported in British ships, travelling first from Africa to Britain and then across the Atlantic.
George Washington briefly lived in Barbados. His house has recently been opened. It has a small exhibition on slavery, which graphically demonstrates, as do other current exhibitions, the awful nature of slavery—the neck yokes, the chains and the shackles—and the inhumanity of man to man.
Speakers have drawn attention to European slavery. Ironically, there was considerable migration of slaves from Barbados to Virginia, so much so that 8 million African Americans can claim Barbadian ancestry. The emancipation of slaves in America followed long after Wilberforce and his allies had brought slavery to an end in this country. That occurred after the American Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln defeated the confederate army, but it was only really following the great civil rights marches of the 1960s that true freedom came.
We would be proud today if, in addition to being able to claim that this nation brought slavery to an end in the 19th century, we could say that it had been for all time, but we know—speaker after speaker today has described this—that we cannot do that. History has far too many examples of people still being treated as property, to be bought and sold even though it is illegal to do so under international law. There are endless examples of well meaning efforts to bring exploitation and trafficking of people to an end; for example, the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings of 2005, which the Government did not sign at the time, although they indicated they would do so by April this year, and the inclusion by this Government in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 of a new offence of trafficking someone in this country for exploitation.
However, this debate is not about the past; it should be about the present and the future. Perhaps we can claim a better legacy than we have had when we recognise that this country has a proud record of rescuing people: those who have been oppressed by foreign regimes, who have found themselves under threat, who have sought asylum from terror, and indeed now those who seek asylum for economic benefit.
I accept that to be welcoming is not sufficient, and that we now have a wide spectrum of the world’s nations together on an increasingly crowded island. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, reminded us, it is now truly a plural world. Even in my small part of London we have over 80 languages spoken in our schools and some 130 nations are represented within our boundary. It is in such areas that many organisations which represent particular communities work for them to try to bring them together into one national community. We have a very flourishing Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, which looks outwards and tells us about and leads my part of London to understand better the nature of Muslims and the good work that they do. We want to be careful that we do not demonise particular parts of our community.
We have a responsibility to ensure that in the nation that we now have, and the nation that we have become, the people we have welcomed into our country and whom we value truly become one community. We will need to recognise and will want to recognise their cultures. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, talked about the dance, music, art and everything else that makes people who are different demonstrate that to us. It will enrich our heritage. The challenge for us is to ensure that that future is one in which everyone is happy to participate.
My Lords, it is a privilege to wind up a debate opened with such style, eloquence and spirit as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, demonstrated. It was a splendid start to what has been a splendid second debate on the whole subject. If anyone thought that there was not a great deal left to say after the first debate, they will have been confounded by the range of the contributions that we have heard this afternoon.
Noble Lords have explored in many different ways the history and the future, drawing both on their personal experience and on a wealth of historical and academic reference—most importantly, their experience from living out lives that are in themselves complex, and bringing their personal histories before the House. I am extremely grateful for that. It has proved what my noble friend Lord Parekh said: multi-culturalism is in our DNA. It is not only in our DNA; it is in those parts of the country, such as Dorset, which we sometimes overlook because they appear to be untouched by that history.
A collective and consensual approach has emerged today. We are all ambitious for a society in which all our communities take pride in themselves, their cultures, histories and traditions, but also take equal pride in being citizens of modern Britain. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, opened a debate that was brilliantly dissected by my noble friends Lord Giddens and Lord Parekh and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, about what it means to live in a multi-cultural society. I agree with the noble Lord that, as we are at a turning point in how we view our society, for many different reasons, it is time to look at the nature of our language— our vocabulary—to ensure that we use terms in a shared sense, as well as the values that they represent.
The patterns of migration in this country have meant that the make-up of the different communities which constitute our society has changed radically during the past 40 years. That has increased our diversity. In that challenge is what I believe is a unique strength, which will be tested as our society grows more diverse, as it is bound to. One of my few quotations is from Trevor Phillips, who said recently, when he was a chair of the Commission for Racial Equality:
“Britain is by far—and I mean by far—the best place in Europe to live if you are not white”.
Coming from him, that is a resonant and powerful statement.
We have been absolutely right to make as much as possible of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, not in a spirit of self-congratulation—sometimes in sorrow—but primarily for the opportunities presented to interrogate as well as celebrate our history. As my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port pointed out, we need to learn from our history and the unpredictable consequences of what happened. That interrogation enables us to explore what unites us as a nation.
In a previous debate, my noble friend the Lord President of the Council talked about our common purpose and shared values. Those values ran through Britain's campaign to abolish the slave trade: freedom of speech, equality of opportunity and respect for and responsibility for others. Exactly the same values have recently prompted the idea of a Britain Day, as proposed by Ruth Kelly and Liam Byrne, to mark the contributions made to our national life by the diverse communities that comprise Britain. Taking a close look at that history and exploring that notion makes it essential that we do what my noble friend Lord Judd talked about: promoting a sense of belonging which, although less tangible, is what makes up identity and community and enables us to foster a tolerant society. We do indeed struggle with legacies. These have been explored in different ways today, and can be positive as well as negative. The negatives include inequality, discrimination and racism, which persist today, and poverty and inequality on the African continent. Our task in this bicentennial year is therefore not only to promote what we have learnt from our history as a culture and community but to redouble our efforts to tackle those issues.
It has been interesting to see how the bicentennial commemoration has stimulated an enormous amount of interest in a hidden history that is quite difficult to uncover. In uncovering it, we have revealed the complexities and paradoxes of being a country which both led the abolition of the slave trade and yet built its wealth and empire upon it. I sat in Westminster Hall and heard those young people sing and recite their excellent poetry. I watched them respond to the dramatised debates of the Select Committees and the reading of the diaries, and watched them uncover in their own lives what it took to make those changes. It made one ask why it took so long. I was very grateful for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, who explained that abolition took a long time domestically but that it was achieved by international effort in the end. It was the great challenge of that collective effort that actually made the difference. Those young people in Westminster Hall discovered that the 12 million people who were taken from Africa had lives, families and cultures. They were not nature’s natural victims at all and, having reached this country, they are no longer victims. Recovering that pride in their culture has been extremely important, and will continue to be so this year.
It is easy to be overcome by the scale of the horror of what happened to people on the middle passage and when they became slaves on plantations in Barbados and elsewhere. It changed their lives but also changed the political and economic history of the world. We still live with the direct and indirect consequences of the huge shift in geopolitics that the slave trade brought about. One of the paradoxes is that places such as Sheffield, which made the chains for the slaves, were also the places that led the campaign for abolition. I was very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for celebrating the role of women and the Society of Friends.
When we investigate our history today, we are bound to search for common purposes within the context of multi-culturalism. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his dissection of the matter, presented a very positive account that not only took issue with what multi-culturalism is not and how it is parodied but explained how we strive for progress. If we are to achieve the shift in attitudes that we want, we must start with the young and, indeed, the very young. One of the inspiring developments this year has been the way in which young people, the museums, the education system, arts and cultural groups, and the Department for Education and Skills have led this movement to engage our young people in the work, not only through the national competition, Understanding Slavery, but in making understanding slavery part of the permanent curriculum of key stage 3. After all, surely it belongs there as much as the industrial revolution does. That will make a really big difference to the way in which future generations judge their own history.
Although building inclusion through shared knowledge is vital, it cannot be sustained unless we also have the will to satisfy aspiration. Again, we must celebrate, as many noble Lords have already done, the extraordinary contribution that the black community has made to this country. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, reflected on the contribution of the “invisible” black scientists. I am sure that we could list, if we had time, the sources of creativity and innovation, the contributions to public service, and the achievements that black communities have given and continue to give today. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, reflected much of that in what she said.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, was too modest to say that he had a hand in the book, Many Rivers to Cross—the History of the Caribbean Contribution to the NHS, which is a fine example of how the health service has benefited from the black community. We must not lose sight of the fact that in public service—so well defined by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp—unless we deal with and address the failure of aspiration in black communities, we will not address the legacy of deprivation, poverty and low skills. Programmes like the Sure Start centres work hard in deprived communities where there is a disproportionate concentration of black and ethnic minorities. They reach into those families and services where they can make a real difference. They work with young parents and follow up in the later stages of education with programmes such as the Aiming High strategy, investment in the ethnic minority achievement grant which is now worth £178.6 million, the black pupils’ achievement programme and the Reach project for young men, which was discussed at some length in the previous debate. That adds up to a serious commitment to lift aspirations and to target support, understanding and professional help on those parts of the community which can and want to respond in more positive ways.
If education is the key to success, a successful economy is also crucial to preventing and tackling disadvantage. That is why lifting families and children out of poverty is so important and is particularly reflected in the challenge presented by our most disadvantaged communities and the concentration of black and minority ethnic families. Our child poverty reduction strategies are helping to do that. As we move on through the life cycle, we have to look to the Department for Work and Pensions to take forward a range of work at national and local levels, and to work through the employment and welfare reform and the Ethnic Minority Employment Task Force, which was the first cross-government ethnic minority employment strategy. That is about breaking down barriers, promoting work and creating greater equality.
I am delighted that since 1998 more than 144,000 people from ethnic minorities have found work through the New Deal. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, addressed health problems and made an extremely important point in relation to the personal exchange which, ultimately, determines the quality of our relationships and our communities. It is very easy to become excluded if you are poor, black and disadvantaged, not least because so many families are reluctant to go to the formal health services. Some of the work of our New Deal for Communities in creating outreach health services will be vital for enabling people to obtain the help, self-help and collective help that they have not reached through the formal health services.
We have made a priority of promoting cohesion as part of enabling society to grow in strength together. We have made this a priority because poverty, disadvantage and frustration can isolate people. It can make them vulnerable to extremism and stop them playing a full role in and identifying with society, which is why our strategy Improving Opportunity, Strengthening society does just that. It attempts to build cohesion and address race equality through investment in many areas in many ways. We are taking forward a range of measures. We are coming forward with recommendations for how we build better resilience in our communities, how we involve schools, how we work across Whitehall and how we involve local authorities in shaping places which are safe, tolerant, kind, successful and integrated. We should work not just with each other but throughout the community, with partners in the faith communities, with the black churches, about which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, spoke, with youth volunteering groups and with women’s groups.
Yes, we are committed to winning hearts and minds because we believe that that is a way to divert and prevent violent extremism. In April, we outlined our policy in Preventing Violent Extremism—Winning Hearts and Minds, which is about promoting shared values. It is about supporting local solutions because we have hundreds of examples of fantastic work in local communities that are making a big difference to families. It is about building civic capacity and leadership; it is about strengthening the role of faith institutions; and it is about lifting people out of poverty.
The other day, I went to Aston Pride, which is one of our NDC areas. We are making big strides in these areas. It is not about winning hearts and minds in any sort of fuzzy way, but about bringing people into work, raising their standards of education and improving their health standards. In 2003, Aston had an estimated black and minority ethnic unemployment rate 2.2 times the estimated city rate of 8.8 per cent. It is much better today. Some 409 more people are now in work, 380 of them from B&ME groups. This is the way to promote integration and success in our communities, and how to turn people away from any temptation towards extremism.
Just before I conclude, we should spend a moment thinking about Africa. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said that our attempts to address the legacies of slavery in Africa need to focus on empowering African citizens rather than regarding them as passive victims, and he was right in that. The empowerment of people, whether at home or abroad, lies at the heart of what we are trying to do. We are committed to tackling poverty and we have made no secret of that. I am sure that noble Lords are familiar with the figures. We are playing a leading role in the fight against poverty by spending some £6.85 billion in 2006, and that is going to increase as we move towards the UN target of 0.7 per cent of national income for development spending by 2013. The G8 now taking place is another opportunity to reflect on what more can be done, not least in terms of health. DfID is running a programme aimed at global poverty elimination. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Rana, that that is the way to deal with the sort of grotesque examples he gave of international poverty which is driven by the worst forms of globalisation. Indeed, the slavery of illiteracy is precisely why we are investing £8.5 billion into supporting education in developing countries. That is where we can make the greatest difference.
In terms of contemporary forms of slavery, I am sure that noble Lords know the words of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights only too well:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.
Would that it were so, and many of the examples have been given about the importance of understanding. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke of development education as a way of reaching the interconnections between development, education and economic activity. We are still far from establishing universal human rights, but again in this country we are showing leadership, and that is extremely important. Human trafficking, the principal modern form of human slavery, is an appalling crime. Some 200 years on people are still being treated as commodities and traded for profit. We have a comprehensive and integrated approach to human trafficking which encompasses legislation, enforcement, international co-operation and support for victims. Since March 2003, we have been funding the Poppy Project, which has provided safe shelter and support to assist in the recovery of the adult female victims of trafficking. We are also pleased to have signed the Council of Europe Convention on human trafficking at the very desk used by William Wilberforce. Further, we have just published the UK action plan setting out how we intend to tackle human trafficking domestically. It is a living document on which we can act in terms of prevention, enforcement, protection and help for adults and children.
I want to respond briefly to the two points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. We are committed to tackling child slavery. I shall have to take up with officials in the department and come back on her point about the relationship between chocolate and child poverty, but as I have said, in 2006 we spent £6.85 billion on trying to reduce poverty. I note that the noble Baroness has had some correspondence with the Prime Minister’s Office in relation to her call for a royal commission. I think that that has been rather disappointing for her, but an invitation has been made to her to come and meet with officials in my department, when we will take the conversation forward as fast as we can.
We have had a splendid debate. We need to remember that, while we are ambitious for a more cohesive society, we have always been a diverse one. Indeed, many noble Lords have referred not only to contemporary diversity but to the fact that we have always been a melting pot of nations—Welsh, Scottish, Irish, English—and, if one remembers 1066, we have welcomed many invaders over the years. We will continue to do so because it brings a strength, a benefit and a richness to our society. We accommodate different local identities; we have unique links with the Commonwealth; our national culture and life have been enriched by generations of immigrants and will continue to be so. We are strongly placed to meet the challenges and take the advantages provided to us by living in a multi-cultural society.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, spoke of keeping the flame alive, not, I think, to illustrate or illuminate history but to take us forward so that we can illuminate the same collective moral passion and purpose to end discrimination and to build a positive multi-cultural society in which we would all want to live. I am very grateful for the noble Lord’s introduction of the debate and the way in which it was responded to around the House. It has been a pleasure to reply.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions during the debate. I, for one, have learnt an immense amount which has added to a rich, deep, valuable and significant debate.
I shall conclude with two quick sentences. The first is to ask the House to continue to fight the inclination to boredom on this range of issues and the belief that once we have said it, we have done it. The second is to call on the G8 leaders, who I am sure have paused this afternoon to follow our debate with due aplomb, to put as much effort into tackling contemporary slavery as they put into tackling terrorism, and to keep Africa in the centre of their minds, year on year, until the battle is won and the issue is done. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.