My Lords, I am moving this Motion on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss. It is a privilege and honour to have been asked to pilot this Bill through this House on behalf of my noble and learned friend and I want to explain why it is so important. I hope that the Bill will receive an unopposed Second Reading and that no amendments will be tabled, otherwise it will fail, as there will be insufficient time to receive Royal Assent before the general election.
Let me make one point clear at the outset: this Bill will not result in a public holiday or any day off. That was never envisaged and is not now proposed. The Bill is about something entirely different. It is about focusing attention on and reminding the country each year of the fact that more than twice as many people are in bondage in the world today as there were in chains during the entire 350 years of the transatlantic slave trade. It will also remind us each year that, according to the European Commission, more than 100,000 of these exploited individuals are in Europe. The United Nations considers human trafficking to be the second most profitable criminal activity in the world, generating some $32 billion a year, second only to drug trafficking. Whereas in Wilberforce’s day slavery was visible and took place for the most part overseas, today it is invisible, underground and, sadly, even more widespread, both here and abroad.
The Bill received all-party support in its passage through the Commons on 5 February. The Minister of State for Borders and Immigration at the Home Office congratulated the honourable Member for Totnes, Mr Anthony Steen, who proposed the Bill, on his work and commitment over many years and the important campaign that he and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking in both Houses have been leading, reminding us of the scale and nature of modern-day slavery. The shadow Minister, the honourable Member for Ashford, speaking for the Opposition, offered unconditional support for the idea, as did the honourable Member speaking from the Liberal Democrat Benches.
Everyone cries out for statistics. Unfortunately, due to the very nature of the activity, there are no reliable figures. In a debate in the Commons on 20 January about human trafficking, the Member for Totnes indicated that the numbers of people trafficked in the UK for sexual exploitation might not be as great as at first imagined. However, subsequently the Metropolitan Police highlighted the fact that 90 per cent of women working in London’s 2,200 brothels were from abroad; it is believed that as many as 3,000 of these might have been trafficked from eastern European countries, west Africa and Asia. Whether it is one, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 women, it is clearly too many. Then there are hundreds of children from former Communist bloc countries involved in criminal activity, either on the streets or on the transport system. We know that a child who has been trained for a childhood to be spent in criminal activity can earn up to £100,000 a year for his trafficker by way of ATM thefts.
There is also big money for the traffickers in cannabis cultivation. It is estimated that hundreds of children, mostly from Vietnam, are trafficked here as a final destination, possibly first travelling via other European countries, and subjected to debt bondage by organised crime gangs. The police believe that there are over 2,000 cannabis factories in the UK, with more than 300 in London alone, each netting between £100,000 and £200,000 annually. While some see cannabis cultivation by Vietnamese boys more as an illegal immigration issue than as human trafficking, most of these victims are misled, deceived and put to work in fear of their safety and in what can only be unwholesome circumstances.
We believe that those trafficked for forced labour to pay off their debts work across a range of sectors, including agriculture, construction and the hospitality industries. We know little of the scale of this, but clearly the Chinese cockle picker tragedy some years ago reminds us of this problem. What we know from NGOs is that victims emerge each week around the UK and are not confined to our major cities. The Dutch have similar problems. They were among the first in western Europe to recognise human trafficking problems and introduced as a result far-reaching legislation, including the widespread training of police and border guards. Yet even they have had to admit that trafficking continues there and is growing.
The Poppy Project, to which the Government have given £5.8 million since 2003, provides accommodation for women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. It confirms that its accommodation is more often than not oversubscribed. Victims need better protection and more consistent after-care support. When victims are discovered, they and their families back home are at risk, even more so if the victim is willing to give evidence against their trafficker.
I pay tribute to ECPAT UK, a coalition working for the protection of children’s rights, including Anti-Slavery International, the Jubilee Campaign, the NSPCC, Save the Children UK, the Children’s Society, UNICEF UK and World Vision UK. This organisation is doing excellent, effective work in championing children’s rights. Additionally, it acts as adviser to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Trafficking of Women and Children, of which my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, are officers. I pay tribute also to the NGO Kalayaan for its sterling work with victims of domestic slavery, particularly those who have been exploited by embassy officials. Your Lordships will recall its work in bringing to our attention cases that helped us to ensure that forced labour and domestic servitude were criminalised through the Coroners and Justice Act.
An annual anti-slavery day will send out a message each year that this country does not welcome traffickers and is hostile to all those who seek brutally to exploit others for personal gain. It will raise awareness and concentrate attention on the issues. Although there are laws to prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking and to assist and protect victims of human trafficking, there must be greater awareness of issues surrounding this phenomenon among those people who are most likely to come into contact with victims—not just public officials, doctors, nurses, social and church workers, but ordinary members of the public, such as students, youth workers and people employed in business. Awareness is a prerequisite for eliminating human trafficking, because the techniques that traffickers use to keep their victims enslaved are changing with modern technology, making it more difficult for victims to come forward.
Part of this awareness raising will also usefully enable organisations to point out to consumers the kinds of questions that they can ask so that they do not inadvertently collude in contemporary forms of enslavement. As some of your Lordships will know, I have brought together parliamentarians and colleagues from the fashion industry to see how we can help to address the unacceptable exploitation of mainly women and children, here and overseas, for our fashion market. For example, in Uzbekistan, many young children are effectively enslaved, working all day, missing school and inhaling pesticides, all to produce cotton goods for us to buy. I believe that most people, given the choice, would not want that to happen, but how many people know that these abuses are taking place? In this House and the other place, we have access to this disturbing knowledge. We can find out quite easily that in big cities, in the suburbs and in rural idylls these appalling practices are taking place. Those working in public services and NGOs also have a keen sense of what is happening, but most members of the public do not.
I hope that I have explained to the House in sufficient detail why an annual anti-slavery day represents a really effective mechanism for provoking debate and spurring people into action. Your Lordships will note that there is no annual specific day designated by the Bill. The actual day would be decided by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Our preference would be for 11 January each year, which is the same day as that designated by the US Senate in 2007 for the United States. That would also fit into our academic terms and allow schools in particular to incorporate the issue of human trafficking into their curriculum and to educate students accordingly through teaching about citizenship and so on. Various events could be organised, as they are throughout the US, including public debates, press conferences, TV news items, film screenings and local authority and church events.
Modern-day slavery, whether for sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic slavery or child trafficking, is on the increase and, as a result, the mission of campaigners such as Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho, Mary Prince, Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson and, of course, William Wilberforce to end the abominable trade remains unfulfilled. Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, said of this proposal:
“A day for national reflection in parliament, government, business and civil society on progress achieved and measures needed to end the continued contemporary enslavement of over 12 million people in the world would be a positive measure to help marshal resources necessary to see the end of the struggle”.
An annual anti-slavery day would not just remind us of the extent and malevolence of this repulsive trade here and overseas, but, more importantly, draw attention to the urgent need about what action needs to be taken and what still needs to be done. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who has just spoken, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and those in the House of Commons who brought this Bill forward. I do that for two reasons. The first has been amply explained by the noble Baroness in her opening comments and I do not wish to repeat them. Everything she said about what is happening these days is very important and we need to draw attention to it and keep campaigning against it.
The second reason for having an anti-slavery day is to learn from our history—not only our own history in this country but the history of humanity. Slavery has defaced every society that we know about anywhere in the world at any time. That is an important issue in its own right. I have drawn attention to this in the past. If you go a little way down the road to Artillery House in Artillery Row, there is a plaque inside to the 4,000 Scots who were captured during the Civil War and then exported as slaves to the Caribbean. That is amazing. We do not recognise what has happened in our own history. At the same time, pirates from what was then the Ottoman Empire in parts of North Africa were taking slaves from the southern British coast to the Ottoman Empire.
Slavery has been around in every society for all time. That is why we need people to understand that this is not just something that happened in a bad way during the transatlantic slave trade, to which I will return in a moment, and something good that we did when we ended that trade. It is endemic and it goes on today, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said. We need to keep working to defeat it.
I drew attention to this when I got involved in the Mary Seacole memorial statue appeal. It made me look at how black people got involved in the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. If you step into the Royal Gallery, there is a picture of Nelson on the flagship “Victoria”. There are a number of black people on that ship, as well as women. We forget that women served on those ships. When I talked to the Navy about this, I was told that there were close to 200 black people in Nelson’s fleet at Trafalgar. Although one cannot know this, one assumes that not only were they being picked up from port to port, but if they got on to a British ship at that time, they were no longer slaves, so for escaped slaves, it was a good way out.
As the industrial revolution developed, the sudden horror of slavery really took off. Britain took over from Portugal, Holland, France and all the other nations that were involved in the slave trade and became the biggest slaver on the transatlantic route in the 18th century. That was not just the result of the power of the fleet we had then but also of the power of industrialisation. If you look at it, it becomes close to being—indeed, in many ways it was—similar to what was happening in some of the camps in Nazi Germany because the treatment of the slaves on those ships was horrendous. Throughout that period, slavery was seen not only as something normal but, more importantly in the context of Britain’s experience, as something that made an enormous profit. It was done with a degree of brutality and insensitivity that was hard to imagine.
It is very easy to damn the whole of the society that was doing that, but growing numbers of people were rising up in revolt against that process and that became the world’s first modern political campaign lead by Wilberforce, the Quakers and others in Britain. It had everything from lapel badges to window bills and posters decrying the transatlantic slave trade. When they succeeded in getting the Bill through Parliament the British Government did an about-turn and instead of simply turning a blind eye to the slave trade they suddenly said, “We’re going to stop this”, and there was the first example of a war of intervention in which we said we would stop the slave trade regardless of the illegality of stopping ships on the high seas. However, we again saw the brutality of the trade because when a Royal Navy ship chased a slaver, in order to avoid being fined by the Royal Navy captain if he was caught, the slaver would throw the slaves overboard. There was extreme brutality.
It is not well known, but one reason for having an anti-slavery day and to learn from the history of the campaign to end the transatlantic slave trade is that some 16,000 British sailors gave their lives. It was a bizarre situation: Britain turned round from being the world’s biggest slaver that introduced some of the most appalling methods—not the Government because these things were done by individuals and companies in the 18th century—to saying that we would stop it. We see the really black side of human behaviour in the way that we managed the slave trade, or allowed it to continue, and the good side when we suddenly switched over and tried to stop it.
One of the messages that should come through on an anti-slavery day is that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has already indicated, slavery has always been with us and is still with us today. If we look back, we can see how blind we were to the awful tragedy and horror of the transatlantic slave trade, yet we can admire those people, whether from Africa or from Europe, who rose up, organised and fought against it. That is the message in the Bill to us today: if we have an anti-slavery day, not only do we campaign on this, but we say to others that people in the past did this very successfully and that is what we ought to do today. That is why the Bill is important.
My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the honourable Member for Totnes in the other place for his prudent stewardship of this important Bill, which I wholeheartedly support, and also to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for introducing it to your Lordships’ House. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on her excellent speech.
I sincerely believe that this legislation will contribute towards heralding a new era of heightened awareness of the abhorrent issue of slavery. I have spoken several times on this matter, both in your Lordships’ House and at events outside Parliament. Some opponents of the Bill say that the United Nations international day for the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade already serves the purpose of the proposed legislation. My response is that we are far from the point where it is unnecessary to draw attention to the unsavoury practice that continues to take place in this country and around the world.
Clause 1(1) makes it incumbent on the Secretary of State to allocate a specific date that will be observed annually as anti-slavery day. I welcome this section, which serves a broad purpose in acknowledging the suffering inflicted on victims of slavery, and in turn allows us to pay our respects to these individuals. Most importantly, such a day would serve as a reminder to communities that all types of forced servitude have no place in our society.
Clause 1(2)(b) aims to raise awareness among the public of the threat posed by slavery in our society, and of the importance of rejecting all forms of servitude in our communities. It was encouraging to see programmes across the UK in both 2008 and 2009 that created greater awareness of, and further education on, the perils of the slave trade. I expect that this will continue for many years with, I hope, the welcome addition of the provisions in the Bill.
Clause 1(2)(c) acknowledges the progress made by government and agencies in combating exploitation. I fully support the Council of Europe in attempting to combat trafficking in human beings, as it highlights the importance of a multi-agency approach to ensuring the safety of victims, and prosecution of the perpetrators, of slavery. Europol plays a vital role in fostering co-operation between the law-enforcement bodies of member states, in addition to publishing a document each year on the state of human trafficking in the European Union. I also welcome the Government’s decision to implement an action plan to address the problem of human trafficking.
The Poppy project has proven to be a great success in supporting victims of human trafficking and slavery. I commend the Government for acknowledging the need to give assistance to victims of this social evil. I would be grateful if the Minister would say what measures the Government will put in place to ensure that adequate funding and resources are also made available to community groups that give assistance to victims of modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
Clause 1(3) states that slavery encompasses child trafficking, as well as trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude. The average age of those who enter prostitution in Europe is frightfully low at 14 years. It is believed that the vast majority of these individuals are victims of trafficking.
Close to 330 children are trafficked in Europe each year; the majority enter the modern slave trade in the form of hard domestic labour or, increasingly, the adult trade. That is wholly undesirable and often results in children continuing in this industry into their adulthood. It is therefore the duty of policy-makers and local agencies to give assistance whenever possible to the overwhelming majority of prostitutes who are in the industry against their will.
Human trafficking is an issue of great concern to me. This immoral practice is the equivalent of modern-day slavery. The United Nations convention against transnational organised crime not only prohibits human trafficking but actively requires countries to strive towards addressing the demand for sexual exploitation. The creation of an effective border security system would play a key role in making sure that border police and officials are able to identify traffickers and their victims. Some cases that result in slavery often involve economic migrants who enter Britain with the promise of work and better living conditions than those enjoyed in their native countries. However, upon arriving in Britain, the harsh reality for many migrants is far from the scenario they imagined.
A notable proportion—women in particular—fall prey to ruthless individuals keen to exploit their circumstances. In extreme cases, these women are subjected to mental and physical torture. Those who subject individuals to slavery or servitude are in direct breach of Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thousands of people are trafficked into the United Kingdom each year, yet figures reveal that between 2004 and 2008, only 92 people were convicted of trafficking for illicit purposes and just four people were sentenced for labour trafficking. Records show that 127 people have been convicted of crimes relating to slavery and trafficking to date.
This disparity does not speak highly of the current methods used to deal with this trade effectively. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that all citizens who engage in any form of modern-day slavery are brought to justice? We should take pride in the fact that a large proportion of our society views slavery and human trafficking as wholly abhorrent practices. In spite of this, statistics reveal that more than 5,000 people are trafficked into this country each year. Every citizen is entitled to a decent level of treatment in all areas of their lives. Slavery runs counter to all the beliefs that we hold so dear in our communities. Any legislation that will ensure individuals are treated according to their basic human rights is welcome. I hope that this Bill will gain swift passage through your Lordships’ House to give those who have been subjected to this form of torture the reassurance that we are striving to eradicate any form of slavery in our society.
I was born and brought up in Africa, which has been ravaged by slavery, where great men like General Gordon and Dr Livingstone lived and died and who passionately believed in abolishing slavery. I have also admired Dr Livingstone and in fact visited Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika where HM Stanley first met him. William Wilberforce, a Conservative politician, played an instrumental part in making sure that the abolition of the slave trade became a reality. We have both a moral and a civic duty to continue along this path.
My Lords, I support the Bill, which would introduce a national day to raise awareness of the need to eradicate all forms of slavery, human trafficking and exploitation. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, most warmly for her cogent and highly important introduction to our debate.
There are many reasons to support the Bill, but I first pay tribute to the vision, diligence and strong political will of the Bill’s originator, the honourable Member for Totnes. We were political neighbours in Devon for 10 years, we have been friends for 25 years, and he is chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Trafficking of Women and Children. He gives the leadership and vision that is required to the committee on which I have the honour to serve as treasurer. The honourable Member for Totnes has many and high achievements to his credit, but they have always sprung from his deep social conscience and his special awareness of and talent for communication with young people in difficulty. We are indeed fortunate that his future career will focus most especially on anti-trafficking initiatives.
Slavery, for which trafficking is a major mechanism, is a peculiarly repugnant form of human exploitation. It runs directly in opposition to the values of democracy that we uphold. I see it on the same ugly level as racism. Why so? Because, like racism, it rests on the destruction of the identity, on the annihilation of all human rights and the unchangeability of the situation by the victim.
I will focus my remarks today on Clause 1(3)(b), which covers child trafficking. Child trafficking is the fastest-growing sector of organised crime. I have had the good fortune of working lately with Europol and Interpol, and I question whether the European Union can be seen as the best tool for our national anti-trafficking initiatives for children. We have national strengths and absolute national responsibility for the children who cross our borders, but also for the children who come from different countries of the European Union and from the wider Europe. Child trafficking is indeed a modern slavery. I recall well many hundreds of children, perhaps nearly 1,000, who went to Bolivia, supposedly for holidays with supposed parents—different adults each time took three, four, five or six children supposedly from an eastern European country to Bolivia. Of course, they did not come back and were never seen again.
I have visited countless institutions that hothouse their unsuspecting victims. These children, the victims, have been taken from their own families. They are mistakenly labelled as orphans, whereas in fact, across the whole of Europe, only 3 to 4 per cent have lost their parents. Those unsuspecting victims range from babies—I recall countless institutions with babies due to be trafficked out—to small children and many, many children aged seven, eight, nine or 10.
The internet is now a key purchase mechanism. I remember a girl of 15 saying to me, “Isn’t it wonderful? I have now found a family”. I said, “How did you find the family?”. She said, “They saw me on the internet. I know they are going to love me very much”. I do not recall ever hearing from her again. I remember a lovingly fostered boy of three, a lovely child. The authorities photographed him every few months until he reached the required age of four and a half, when he was ripped from the foster family, the only family that he had ever known, and has disappeared in another EU member state. I know where he went to, but he did not stay there long. Another girl of 11, a most beautiful child, a lovely child, was sold to three different purchasers in three different countries. I do not know who got her in the end; I lost the trail.
Those children have no names. They have no case files. They are just numbers on a computer list and supplied with fake birth certificates on point of departure. I have seen institutions in central and eastern Europe that are wholly dedicated to the acquisition, the purchase by outsiders and the dispatch to them of “suitable children”. “If you want a Russian girl under 12 and guaranteed a virgin, it is easy; just come to me”. It is as easy as anything. No identification of the purchaser is needed; a credit card is all that is required, and the deed is done. I am not talking about isolated cases, either. In one eastern European country that I know very well indeed, some 30,000 children at least have disappeared over several years. These are the government figures—the real figures are significantly higher—and this is a Government who can now keep track of what has happened.
What about the purchasers? Criminal fraternities in EU member states and North America, for example, feature heavily among those who deal in children. How should we stop it? The UK is a major magnet, as well as a key route, for onward trafficking. I can think of one poor boy who came through Britain, where his passport was changed to something else. Of course, his original passport was not really his at all; it was in another name. His name was changed here, as were his passport and identification details, and he went off to the USA. Despite the combined efforts of the FBI, Scotland Yard, the police force and ministries of the inadvertently supplying country, none of us could find that boy again. All that was found was a major international paedophile ring; he had disappeared into that vortex.
There are certain hotspots on which we can focus; I am thinking particularly of eastern and central Europe. I recently visited the perimeters of Transnistria. There are no children’s rights in Transnistria at all, as you can imagine. That is a place through which many hundreds of thousands of women and children have flowed in recent years. It is not enough to impose sanctions on Transnistria, as the European Union Council of Ministers declared some 10 days ago. Sanctions will not bite unless we can support and help the Moldovan Government, who are now democratically elected, in practical ways.
Major new European Union member states also supply the trade. What are the problems? They are weak laws, corrupt judiciaries, and complicit or even originating state authorities. How can we help? I recommend that specialist UK police on the ground will make all the difference. It is such a modest investment, yet it works. I have watched it work. It pays multiple dividends. Customs training can also help dramatically, as can judicial training, which Britain has supplied for different countries over the years. We have the experience, and we can offer help and support to the Governments in question.
It is essential to reform the law, as it affects both the rights of the child and the trafficking of human beings. It is extraordinary to recall that Bulgaria, a new member state of the European Union, outlawed trafficking only a few months before it joined the European Union. Even Russia, with whose Duma I discussed the matter, outlawed it a year earlier. Most seriously, we should strengthen British embassies. The extremely modest funds of our embassy in Moldova, for example, have been cut again. Is this a wise decision? Sanctions on Transnistria can only be effective with the newly elected democratic Government, and the British embassy can give tremendous support. We should also work within the European Union to combat other states’ predatory behaviour and make the European Union a bloc of member states that most firmly uphold the rights of the child. Not every member state does, whether it is old or new.
Of course, Britain cannot do everything. But I stress again that we are a key target of traffickers. We have a high national conscience and a tremendous potential to influence. The security and stability of our own society is greatly aided by the stability in the wider Europe and the target countries that we could identify.
I therefore support this Bill wholeheartedly and profoundly, and with deep and bitter personal experience of the source countries from which these children come. We need an annual reminder, a jolt to our consciences, of trafficking, slavery and human exploitation. We need an anti-slavery day.
My Lords, I too thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for introducing this Bill and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for stepping into her place so eloquently. I too add my support to this Bill. If I had the opportunity to publish a book of beautiful letters, it would include a personal letter of just 500 words written by St Paul to his friend Philemon. Somehow, it found its way into the New Testament.
Philemon had a slave called Onesimus. He had run away and found his way eventually to Rome where Paul was under house arrest. Paul sent the slave back, in theory, I would imagine, to possible death. After all, within the context of the culture, he was only a slave. He sent him with an impassioned letter saying, “Welcome him back as you welcome me—not as a slave, but as a brother. And if there are any financial issues, I will cover them”. That could have included the price of his redemption. It is the understanding that we are all brothers and sisters in the one human family that conquers slavery and the related abuses about which people have spoken already.
Civilisation is rather like the earth’s crust. It is much thinner and much less stable than we might imagine. The last century has shown us all too tragically how barbarism can erupt even as a nation pretends to be civilised. Holocaust Memorial Day has given us an annual warning, lest we forget. An anti-slavery day will do the same.
The Diocese of Bradford has a link with the church in Erfurt, Germany. Early in my time as a bishop, I paid a visit to Erfurt for a long weekend. It was the weekend of Remembrance Day in England. It was also the anniversary of Kristallnacht and the pogrom against the Jews, as well as the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Just for good measure, it was also the anniversary of the baptism of Martin Luther, who had been a student in Erfurt and had divided western Christendom. Twenty thousand Protestants and Catholics celebrated Martin Luther’s baptism side by side with great rejoicing. The bishop went to the synagogue in penitence. We remembered together.
A day remembering the horror of slavery must be a time when we remember together, whether as representatives of abusers or of victims. How we remember is more important than the mere fact of remembering, if we are to live together as one family and if slavery is truly to be abolished. I had originally intended to suggest a date—30 July. For once this week, I could speak of the church perhaps being ahead of this House, rather than somewhere in the slipstream. We already have an anti-slavery day, when we remember people like William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and fellow members of the Clapham Sect.
One of the people we remember by name has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Olaudah Equiano was born in the mid-18th century in what is now Nigeria. He was captured, sold into slavery and passed from one person to another. In the process, he was transported to the Americas. He purchased his freedom, became a sailor, and apparently was the first black man to try to reach the North Pole. Whether that it is worth trying to do, I am not sure. Eventually, as a free man and a sailor, he arrived in this country. He settled here and joined the anti-slavery movement. His autobiography was a runaway success and a major factor in changing hearts and minds in this country. He was someone who had been what others were talking about. Incidentally, he was baptised in St Margaret’s, Westminster, just across the road.
I think the date mentioned was 11 January, which would be much better than 30 July, given that the latter date is in the school holidays. I hope that the Bill will become law and that the church will change its anti-slavery day to match.
We are witnessing slavery in our own society today, given the global village we live in. Extensive mention has already been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, about sex trafficking. I am also concerned about the domestic slavery which takes place in this country and in the lives of British citizens. I am thinking especially of those who come from south Asia or who are sent there, often unwittingly, to enter into forced marriages. I have met Albert David, who works for the high commission in Islamabad; indeed, a television programme featured him not many years ago. When called, he goes out to rescue girls and young women who find themselves in forced marriages, and brings them back. It is interesting how many of the husbands, as they are, are willing for their wives to leave. Perhaps they made their lives such a misery; I do not know. I commend the work of the British high commission in rescuing young women who find themselves forced to live in a country they do not want to live in and with a family they do not want to live with.
Here in Britain there are also women, perhaps from south Asia or perhaps from this country, who are forced into domestic slavery. In Keighley in the Diocese of Bradford we have a shared project sponsored by Faith in Action, the Keighley Asian Women’s and Children’s Centre and Bradford University. Together a safe place is provided for young girls. We can alert them to the danger of forced marriage and assure them that they have a choice. Talks are given by the police, by a Muslim worker from Bradford Cathedral speaking on the Muslim perspective of marriage, and by another person on Christian marriages. Six of the girls produced a drama which has been recorded by Bradford local radio. The play is based on the experience of one of those girls of an attempt to force her into marriage.
We must keep the issue of slavery in the minds of all our people for fear that things should that we cannot imagine should continue to go on. All our communities should be aware of this abhorrent blot on the history of humanity so that it does not continue as a live issue in our midst.
My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I add my voice to those supporting the terms of my noble and learned friend’s Bill to inaugurate an anti-slavery day. I commend my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey for the way in which she has moved the Second Reading debate today. Like others, I should also like to pay tribute to Mr Anthony Steen MP, and to the all-party group for its tireless efforts on this issue. At one time Mr Steen and I were neighbours as Members of Parliament in Liverpool before he became the Member of Parliament for Totnes, and we remain friends to this day. My noble friend kindly mentioned the Jubilee Campaign during the course of her remarks, one that I helped to found some years ago. I am grateful to her for that.
In 2007, which was the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, I ran a series of Roscoe lectures on behalf of Liverpool John Moores University, where I hold a chair, commemorating the passage of William Wilberforce’s Bill to abolish the transatlantic slave trade and highlighting the nature of contemporary forms of slavery. For those who may not have read it, William Hague’s magnificent biography of Wilberforce simply cannot be bettered.
Liverpool was at the epicentre of the trade. Even so, brave men such as William Roscoe would not countenance support for slavery, and he voted with Wilberforce. In his epic poem, The Wrongs of Africa, which was published in 1787, Roscoe wrote of the iron hand crushing the people of Africa. He devoted the proceeds of the poem to the London Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. He wrote:
“Blush ye not
To boast your equal laws, your just restraints,
Your rights defined, your liberties secured,
Whilst with an iron hand ye crush to earth
The helpless African; and bid him drink
That cup of sorrow, which yourselves have dashed,
Indignant, from oppression’s fainting grasp”.
With great strength and clarity, the final stanza of part 1 of this 35-page poem warns its readers:
“Forget not, Britain, higher still than thee
Sits the Judge of Nations, who can weigh
The wrong and can repay”.
Hansard records that, on 23 February 1807, Roscoe told the House of Commons that the slave trade had “disgraced the land”, and he condemned what he called an “inhuman traffic”. After his vote and on return to Liverpool, Roscoe was assailed by the mob and was never returned again to Parliament. It is important that stories like his are not forgotten. The courage and determination of men such as Roscoe and Wilberforce and others who have been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and my noble friend, should remain an inspiration to future generations.
The stories matter because many of the same battles remain to be fought in our own generation. A week ago I was in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. At several events I spoke about the plight of India’s untouchables, the Dalits, and the forms of exploitation and slavery which stem from the caste system. Dalit is a term which derives from a Sanskrit word meaning “broken” or “crushed”. Dalits form about a quarter of India’s population; one in 40 of the world’s population is a Dalit living in India.
I recalled in my remarks there that, on 22 June 1813, Wilberforce made a major speech in the House of Commons about India. In his remarks he said that the caste system,
“must surely appear to every heart of true British temper to be a system at war with truth and nature; a detestable expedient for keeping the lower orders of the community bowed down in an abject state of hopelessness and irremediable vassalage. It is justly, Sir, the glory of this country, that no member of our free community is naturally precluded from rising into the highest classes in society”.
Two centuries later, President Dr Manmohan Singh has trenchantly argued that,
“untouchability is not just social discrimination; it is a blot on humanity”.
Yet, in 2010, while India is a rising world power and is rightly gaining a reputation for innovation and excellence in many fields, this “blot on humanity” disfigures India’s reputation and has become one of the world’s greatest human rights challenges. Hundreds of millions of people remain imprisoned by the bondage of what Wilberforce called “the cruel shackles” of the caste system. Those shackles inevitably lock their prisoners into the most menial forms of labour, trap them in servitude and leave them susceptible to innumerable forms of exploitation.
In fairness to the Indian Government, growing social mobility and a series of remedial measures introduced since independence have provided some amelioration. Some individual Dalits have reached high positions in Indian society, not least Justice KG Balakrishnan, the senior judge of India’s Supreme Court, and Ms Meira Kumar, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the lower House of India’s Parliament. Yet, as I heard first hand, even where Dalit people are securing some kind of elementary education, the same opportunities for educational progress later and employment opportunities have been blocked to them.
Few would disagree that the caste system, with all the social prejudices and hierarchies which it entails, continues to enforce and compound servitude and exploitation. The perpetuation of humiliating descent-based occupations is the natural and inevitable consequence of the caste system. The rationale for caste was the division of labour, but—to paraphrase Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of India’s constitution and hero of the Dalits—caste came to enforce a division of labourers.
I illustrate this point with reference to one of the most appalling and disgraceful forms of labour anywhere in the world, known euphemistically as manual scavenging. It involves cleaning human excrement from dry latrines and is uniquely performed by Dalits as a consequence of their caste. The number engaged in this occupation is not known for certain, but it may be as high as, or higher than, the equivalent of the population of Birmingham.
Tens of millions of India’s citizens are subject to many forms of highly exploitative forms of labour and modern-day slavery. This often plays into the problem of debt bondage and bonded labour, which affects tens of millions. It perpetuates a cycle of despair and hopelessness, as generations are bonded to the family debt, unable to be educated and unable to escape. Tragically, the debt is often the result of a loan taken out for something as simple and essential as a medical bill.
The caste system also plays into people trafficking, another form of slavery which affects millions in India and which has been spoken about eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne. According to a report on CNN Asia last year, India’s Home Secretary, Madhukar Gupta,
“remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India”,
whether for sex or for labour. The head of the Central Bureau of Investigation said that India occupied a unique position as a source, transit and destination country for trafficking, and that it has more than 3 million prostitutes, of whom an estimated 40 per cent are children. These statistics are hugely significant: the situation in India simply must be at the heart of the fight globally against trafficking. The Dalit Solidarity Network UK, which has been calling for an end to manual scavenging before this year’s Commonwealth Games, also highlights devadasi—a system of ritual prostitution of almost exclusively young Dalit girls.
During their time in India, the British failed to heed Wilberforce and resisted the calls to abolish caste. Although untouchability was barred by the constitution when India secured independence, the system was not dismantled. Most of the worst forms of exploitation are proscribed by statute, but all too often the laws are simply not implemented and the police further entrench, rather than protect against, caste prejudice. This point was made repeatedly in the concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in May 2007.
A damning verdict was reached also by a recent, in-depth report by the Robert F Kennedy Center, entitled Understanding Untouchability: A Comprehensive Study of Practices and Conditions in 1,589 Villages. It describes,
“the Government of India’s continued ignorance about the depth of the problem and inadequacy in addressing untouchability and meeting its legal obligations in regard to the abolition of untouchability”.
Caste discrimination is usually associated with India but, in parenthesis, I might add that there are also an estimated 3.5 million to 5.5 million Dalits living in Bangladesh, which is 2.5 to 4 per cent of the total population. The majority are landless and live in chronic poverty in rural areas or urban slums. They are deprived of or actively excluded from adequate housing, healthcare, education, employment and participation in public life. Approximately 96 per cent are illiterate.
I commend the attempt of my noble friend to remember and highlight the campaign against modern-day forms of slavery. In my study at home in Lancashire, I have a small terracotta pot given to me by Dr Joseph D’Souza, international president of the Dalit Freedom Network. Such pots must be broken once a Dalit has drunk out of them so as not to pollute or contaminate other castes. This is the 21st century. It is not the pots which need to be broken, not the people, but the system which ensnares them. Dr D'Souza rightly says:
“If we are not intentional about bringing change and transformation in lives and society it will not happen. To love people is to act on behalf of them”.
My noble learned and friend’s Bill will be a stimulus to act on behalf of people such as the Dalits and I readily support it.
My Lords, I thank those who have initiated this debate in the other place and here this afternoon. It is important that we are reminded of, and do not go to sleep forgetting, some of the tremendous horrors that this world has faced and is still facing.
We shall at some point in the next two years present a pageant of Parliament, which will show all the achievements of Parliament over so many centuries. We can see how Parliament can either create nightmares or turn dreams into reality. This House has the opportunity to turn nightmares into dreams.
A little while ago, the Watoto children’s choir were singing in Old Colwyn in north Wales. The Minister smiles, perhaps because he has heard me on this subject before. They are from a community in Kampala of about 1,600 orphans of AIDS victims. Often they are children who have been found on the rubbish heaps of Kampala and the most unexpected places. They have been taken into the community and given some form of hope where before there was none.
I have heard this choir many times. At the end of one performance, I asked these small kids from six to 13 years of age, “What would you like to be when you grow up?”. They were lovely little children. One of them said—remember, they had just got off an aeroplane—“I’d like to be a pilot”. Others said, “I’d like to be a lawyer”, or perhaps, “I’d like to be a doctor”. No one said that they wanted to be a bishop or a Methodist minister, but they had their dreams. The last child I asked was a 10 year-old, a sturdy little lad, who said, “I want to be President of Uganda”. What a wonderful dream. This Parliament can help those dreams become a reality—this is our big opportunity. William Wilberforce has been mentioned, as have Thomas Clarkson and those others who, two centuries ago, removed such a tremendous barrier to freedom. This work continues.
I know a little of Africa. I have not travelled there very much—only in the north. There is so much poverty and need there. People there dream their dreams, but they have little chance of realising them until we step in. It is in the power of this House, this Parliament and the Government of the United Kingdom to help make those dreams come true. Poverty, as has been mentioned, leads to slavery and a feeling of total worthlessness. We can turn that around.
What is slavery? I recently read this passage about its various forms, which states that someone enslaved today could be,
“forced to work—through mental or physical threat … owned or controlled by an ‘employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse … dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought or sold as ‘property’”.
We are even told, although I find this very difficult to accept, of women and children being auctioned in the lounges of our airports. A further definition of a slave is that he or she is “physically constrained” or has,
“restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement”.
That includes bonded labour, trafficking, forced labour, children being forced to work as soldiers, domestic labourers and commercial sex workers. I was astonished at the figure of 179 million children in the worst forms of child labour in the world today. Many children have entered forced or early marriages. Girls and women are sentenced to a life of servitude, while others are enslaved through bondage of one sort or another.
We can and must continue to act, and on a global scale. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.
We and the nations of the world have signed up to that. The United Kingdom can still take the lead in turning those nightmares into dreams. One way, as so many have said today, is to continue the battle against any form of trafficking or slavery in the 21st century.
My Lords, this is a propitious day. I see from my diary that on 5 March 1953, Josef Stalin died. I do not know whether that has anything to do with the Bill; if so, I leave it to your Lordships’ imagination. In any event, on behalf of the Official Opposition, I welcome the Bill and congratulate its sponsors, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my honourable friend Anthony Steen in another place, on their work in bringing this issue to the fore. This is not to denigrate the activities today of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, in introducing the Bill.
I confess that when I first saw that the Bill had been published, I feared that it might be little more than a gimmick, asking for yet another public holiday. On reading the proposals, I soon saw that, thankfully, I was wrong. I now agree that having a national day—like, for example, Commonwealth Day—is an important initiative aimed at raising public awareness of the victims of human trafficking, who sadly and shamefully can be found in communities across the country. I am far from sure, though, that I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford that 30 July would be a suitable day. Although it would be nice to have church and state conjoined, as he might say, for once, I would be far happier to see a date when Parliament is sitting chosen as appropriate. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, would agree with me.
I am concerned that when slavery is mentioned people associate it only, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, reminded us, with an abhorrent historical practice which is rightly condemned by all. Many people do not realise that 200 years after William Wilberforce succeeded in abolishing legal slavery in Britain, and later across the empire, the practice, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said, is not merely still with us but increasingly prevalent, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out. I do not—nor, do I think, would any noble Lord—wish to detract from the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, but I wholeheartedly agree that only by increasing public awareness of slavery in its modern forms can we hope to stamp it out, just as a groundswell of popular revulsion in the 19th century changed not just opinions but the law.
Trafficking is a modern form of slavery, increasingly prevalent. It is a serious problem for the UK, which, due in part to our lax border controls, is both a transit and destination country for traffickers. Estimates by the International Organisation for Migration suggest that up to 800,000 people are illegally trafficked across international borders each year. Human trafficking, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, explained, refers to the transportation of people in order to exploit them by deception, intimidation or coercion.
The two main forms of exploitation are labour and sexual exploitation. Trafficking affects men, women and children brought into the United Kingdom to work in the sex industry and as forced labour. Women and girls from eastern Europe, the Far East and Africa are especially vulnerable. I have read the debate on the Bill which took place in another place last month, and read the harrowing stories relayed by honourable Members, which they had encountered in their constituencies and elsewhere. I am sure all noble Lords here today have read that debate or heard of similar experiences. If noble Lords have missed this, they should be left in little doubt about the misery that trafficking can inflict from the speech of my noble kinsman, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson.
Sexual exploitation frequently involves women or girls who are trafficked to work as domestic servants. They are often mistreated on arrival, including through physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Many are lured under false pretences and made financially dependent on arrival. In the United Kingdom, exploitation of labour is too common in agriculture, construction, domestic cleaning, contract cleaning and the care sector. Well publicised and tragic examples include the Chinese cockle-pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay and the lorry full of Chinese workers who were discovered suffocated at Folkestone.
We on these Benches have been assiduous, as I hope noble Lords will recognise, in working with other parties in closing loopholes, extending legislation and raising the issue of trafficking where possible. My noble friend Lady Anelay did do on the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004; my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton has done so in several debates, my noble friend Lady Hanham on the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, and my noble friend Lord Henley on the Coroners and Justice Bill last year. I modestly name but four recent examples. The Minister and I conversed on this subject in a Bill last year. We have all done our bit, at times in the face of resistance from the Government—which thankfully melted away each time—to improve protection for people vulnerable to trafficking.
That is not to deny that much hard work has been done on all sides of the House, the other place and elsewhere too. Like my noble friend Lord Sheikh, I concur with all noble Lords that an anti-slavery day should be an opportunity for private and voluntary groups to raise the profile of their work, to highlight the ongoing outrage of human bondage in its myriad forms and to lobby those with power and influence to go beyond words and step into action. With those words, whether noble Lords consider them fine or not, I extend once again my support for this Bill.
My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on sponsoring this Bill in this House and to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on introducing it today in her excellent speech.
Once again we debate the horrendous subject of human trafficking and slavery, which affects every country in the world, including, of course, the United Kingdom. This was amply illustrated by a number of speakers. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, spoke from her knowledge of eastern Europe and other parts of the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred specifically to where this is going on, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford.
This debate is testament to the determination of your Lordships’ House to ensure that the Government and the United Kingdom as a whole continue to focus on dealing with this crime. As the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said, this is not an historic crime; it is going on today. I pay particular tribute to the work undertaken by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, under the chairmanship of the honourable Member for Totnes, Anthony Steen—he has been mentioned by a couple of speakers—which has consistently raised awareness of this issue in both Houses. I acknowledge the work and commitment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in regard to that group.
My noble friend Lord Soley touched on the Royal Navy. I think that, with a slip of the tongue, he referred to Nelson’s flagship as “Victoria”; it was, of course, “HMS Victory”. I thought that Hansard ought to record that correctly. I hope that noble Lords will indulge me if I speak further on the Navy. The Royal Navy has a very proud history associated with the abolition of the slave trade. Through its active policing and enforcement between 1807 and 1866 we captured more than 500 slave ships. In the same period, when the Royal Naval “Preventive Squadron” was merged with another part of the fleet, it freed an estimated 160,000 slaves, but over that period suffered casualties of some 17,000 men—quite a lot. It is important to remember the efforts and sacrifice of the Navy in combating those horrors. The current director of Anti-Slavery International, Aidan McQuade, called this,
“the most inexplicably forgotten campaign of the Royal Navy. Even at over a century removed, the scale of the achievement and the suffering endured for the sake of others cannot but fill one with a profound sense of admiration”.
I am sure that the House agrees with that.
The Government have given considerable consideration to the proposal that the United Kingdom should introduce a national day of awareness about human trafficking and slavery. Our position remains as outlined by my honourable friend the Minister for Immigration, Phil Woolas, in another place. As he said, we support the principle behind this proposition, which is to raise awareness about trafficking. However, on whether this requires legislation, we will maintain a neutral stance and leave it to the House to decide whether it is appropriate that there should be a statutory anti-slavery day. This is our considered position on this Bill, although it should not be taken, of course, as an indication that any further requests to put awareness-raising days on the statute book will be met with the same response. As my honourable friend the Minister for Immigration said, we are very grateful to the authors of this Bill for including reference to the progress made by the Government in tackling this crime.
We have consistently stated our intention to make the United Kingdom a hostile environment for traffickers, while ensuring protection of, and assistance to, the victims. To this end, we have a comprehensive strategy in the United Kingdom Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking. This was first published in 2007, the year of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, as noble Lords mentioned, and is updated annually—most recently in October 2009. This coincided with EU Anti-Trafficking Day, which noble Lords will know is held on 18 October each year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, in particular asked what our focus was in our ongoing work. The focus of our efforts is an end-to-end victim-centred strategy in four key areas—prevention; investigation, enforcement and prosecution; providing protection to adult victims; and protecting child victims. Critical to our success is the work of our enforcement agencies. This includes the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which co-ordinates the response of law enforcement. In addition, the second highest priority of the Serious Organised Crime Agency is tackling organised immigration crime, which now includes human trafficking.
We have always recognised that enforcement of our laws alone is not enough. We have therefore always sought to co-ordinate enforcement efforts with a clear focus on the need to prevent the problem in the first place and on protecting victims. This approach was commended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its 26th report of the 2005-06 Session, when it stated:
“We are encouraged by our further belief that the Government is also committed to achieving the best possible balance in its overall policy to combat trafficking, grounding that policy in human rights standards, and has an open mind about how this can best be achieved”.
Central to this approach has been recognition of the need to raise awareness. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, specifically asked if we were doing this. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, also mentioned that. To this end internationally, the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Serious Organised Crime Agency have supported a number of initiatives which aim to tackle trafficking at source. We have also been working with partners to strengthen the international response to trafficking, especially at EU level, where we have been negotiating a revised framework decision on human trafficking.
That work is complemented by that undertaken by the UKHTC in developing the Blue Blindfold brand. For those in your Lordships’ House who are not already aware of this, Blue Blindfold is the international brand devised by the UKHTC with partner organisations and which is used to raise awareness about human trafficking. Most recently, this brand has been used to launch an awareness-raising campaign in Belfast. The aim of the brand is to encourage law-enforcement professionals and the general public to become more aware of human trafficking generally and the possibility of it occurring in their areas, because often people do not seem to realise how prevalent the problem is. The Blue Blindfold brand has been adopted by international partners, including Crime Stoppers International, linked with the UNODC's Blue Heart campaign. Blue Blindfold, with its strap line stating:
“Open your eyes to human trafficking”,
encourages all sectors to be aware of the dangers of this horrendous crime. Blue Blindfold is therefore a highly valuable resource for all those interested in ensuring that the dangers of human trafficking are communicated as widely as possible.
A number of noble Lords spoke about the Poppy Project. We have invested some £5.8 million in that, and additionally we have enhanced our victim care arrangements in line with our ratification of the Council of Europe convention. On top of that, we are investing a further £3.9 million in the next financial year to build on the previous success of the Poppy Project, which has been immensely valuable, as some noble Lords have said.
We have made good progress in the other priority areas highlighted by the action plan. On enforcement and prosecutions, the efforts of law-enforcement agencies continue to deter, disrupt and arrest traffickers. We have secured 138 convictions on human trafficking since we commenced the dedicated legislation in 2004.
On protecting victims of trafficking, our ratification in December 2008 of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings represents a major milestone in our anti-trafficking efforts and has strengthened the protection arrangements for victims by granting identified victims an extendable 45-day recovery period and one-year temporary residence permit in certain circumstances. Going further, since 1 April 2009 we have established a national referral mechanism systematically to identify victims within a multi-agency framework designed to make it easier for agencies involved in tackling trafficking to co-operate, share information about potential victims and facilitate their access to support.
To support victim care, we have invested more money—about £4 million—in addition to the £6 million already invested. Child trafficking is a particularly emotive issue for all of us, as children are uniquely vulnerable. A number of speakers touched on this, with the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, referring to that marvellous choir of wonderful young children that came over. To address the needs of children, we have established and maintained a multi-agency effort through joint working with children’s services, law enforcement agencies, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre. There is also the work of the missing persons task force, which the Prime Minister launched in December 2009. The task force is looking at ways in which to strengthen and improve the multi-agency response to missing persons incidents through the announcement in January of the Government’s intention to strengthen the role of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre by placing the organisation on a statutory footing and giving it a lead on the issue of missing children, which is something that we needed to do.
We remain determined to eradicate this abhorrent crime, as all speakers have highlighted. I am glad that that is on the record. We have made progress but we cannot be complacent—and we are not. We cannot afford to sit back and reflect on achievements so far; we will continue to look forward and develop our strategy both nationally and internationally, since this must be done as an international effort, to ensure that we do not allow the dangers of human trafficking to slip off the radar. To prevent this from happening, it is crucial that we keep the level of awareness high, not only among enforcement agencies and professions but among the general public. Whether that is best served by legislating for an awareness-raising day is a matter for your Lordships.
I start by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. This Bill has come here due to the efforts of the honourable Member for Totnes, Mr Anthony Steen, and my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss. I have merely been a vehicle to put the Bill forward today.
I shall not try to summarise everything that everyone has said, but I should like to draw attention to a number of points. Several noble Lords made the link between the historic and the contemporary, which is very important, although it can cause controversy in some areas. It is not a matter of saying that one is worse or better than the other. As came out of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, there are issues around the lack of humanity and the erasing of someone’s human identity, which also diminishes the person who is doing it, although of course they do not see it that way. This utter dehumanisation is a common thread that unfortunately runs through history, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, pointed out. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, also pointed very effectively to the link between the historical and the contemporary, highlighting the strenuous efforts that the Government have made, which the Minister elaborated on. However, in spite of all the measures that have been taken, the situation is getting much worse.
We must do a lot more to raise people’s consciousness and awareness of what is going on. It is good to have these initiatives and I would absolutely support any other initiatives, but I would also argue that, if the Bill is passed, it will enhance those initiatives and give them a higher profile. I doubt at the moment that they have the kind of profile that we would want them to have. I do not know, for example, how many people are aware of the Blue Blindfold initiative.
My noble friend Lord Alton helped to contextualise this issue in a wider human rights context, which is not to denigrate the issue of caste. There was a lot that I had not heard about before which drew those parallels. Again, this is a question of enhancing and elaborating on some of these points so that the general public are much more aware, can press harder for things to be done and be aware of when these things are happening around them. One of the markers in the research that I found both interesting and disturbing was how you can pass a row of houses in your street and not know that these things are going on unless you are alert to the signs. This is an important move in that respect.
I am conscious of the time, so I will finish now. But I have to say that I was slightly surprised and a little disappointed that the Government felt that they had to take a neutral stance on this. It fits so well with their initiatives and the other work that they are trying to do and what they want to achieve. I just wanted to say that for the record.
I hope that the Bill will have an unopposed Second Reading. If there are amendments it will mean that the Bill will fail, so I hope that there will be none. I commend this Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
My Lords, I notice that modesty has caused the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark to slip away. However, on behalf of the whole House, I place on record our congratulations on his birthday today and our sadness at losing him, because he retires today.
I would like to add to the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, on behalf of these Benches, and wish the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark every happiness in his retirement. I take this opportunity to say that, although right reverend Prelates have a switch-off date at the age of 70, I hope that that never occurs with lay Members of your Lordships' House.
House adjourned at 2.58 pm.