Skip to main content

Enslaved Africans: National Memorial

Volume 773: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to reconsider their decision to deny funding to the proposed memorial for enslaved Africans in Hyde Park.

My Lords, there is a tradition of funding new memorials through public subscription or private donation. This approach in no way diminishes the importance that the Government place on commemorating the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. We remain willing to work with Memorial 2007 to help it to maximise funding opportunities to ensure that the slave trade and slavery are remembered.

I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer, but she is aware that there are many memorials up and down this country that receive funds directly from the Government. I very much hope that when we have further discussions—and I am grateful to her for the discussions that we have had already—we will get a real financial commitment from the Government to this long-overdue national memorial. Is the Minister aware that £20 million, the equivalent in today’s money of £16.5 billion, was spent by this Parliament on compensating slave owners, including many who were Members of this House? Will the Minister please impress upon her ministerial colleagues how utterly unacceptable it is that successive Governments have refused to provide a single penny to fund such an important national memorial, and will she please now ensure that this shameful failure is put right?

The noble Lord is right that there are many events in our history, including probably in Parliament, that we should be deeply ashamed of. It is important to find a way in which we can move forward and remember those events and pay tribute to the people who were victims of them. We now have the Modern Slavery Act, which ensures that some of the practices that are happening now do not happen again. We met yesterday and I agreed to work with him to try to identify funding to enable the memorial to happen.

My Lords, the Minister is surely right to remind us that the 12 million people who were transported during the transatlantic slave trade were not the end of the story; the United Nations estimates that today some 30 million people are enslaved worldwide as a result of modern forms of slavery. She points rightly to the Modern Slavery Act, a showpiece Act piloted through both Houses of Parliament with all-party and cross-party support. She will be aware that on 8 July my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey has a Private Member’s Bill—it will be the first to be considered on that day—dealing with supply-chain transparency. Can the Minister promise us that the Government will look at that Bill sympathetically? That would be a way to eradicate this continuing modern curse, 200 years after William Wilberforce.

There have been discussions about the issue that the noble Lord pinpoints; as well as the obvious forms of slavery, its supply-chain aspect is not to be dismissed. I do not think I will be involved in that Bill, but certainly the supply-chain aspect of slavery is a very important one.

My Lords, does my noble friend recollect—actually, she probably does not—that there was no memorial in London to those who fought in the Battle of Britain until I as chairman, and my good friend Maurice Djanogly as my deputy, raised the funds, which did not include any from the then Government, to erect the memorial that now stands on the Embankment? I hope it will not be thought that one memorial is more deserving of state funding than another.

My noble friend is right that many memorials remain unerected to causes that we should remember, and I praise him for the efforts that he went to. That is precisely what I and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, will try to do together: to identify where funding can come from, both private and public, to bring this memorial forward.

My Lords, many in your Lordships’ House know about the transatlantic slave trade and that many slave owners were from this country. There has been much controversy in recent months about historic memorials, including statues to controversial figures such as Cecil Rhodes. Does the Minister understand that the best way to tackle such controversy is to ensure that memorials in this country truly reflect the history of the communities in the UK, and to think again about supporting the Hyde Park memorial to enslaved Africans by providing funding? Recognition of this project is long overdue.

I hope the noble Baroness will agree that I partly answered the question in reply to other noble Lords who made the point previously. However, she is right that this country’s memorials and statues, and some of our institutions, should reflect our history whether it is palatable or not.

My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, we recognise the importance of places such as the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. However, does the Minister understand that it would be an affront to many if such a significant part of our history were not to be acknowledged in our capital city with a memorial to the millions of enslaved African people, including my ancestors, who helped to enrich this city? They strongly feel that 300 years of our history is being swept under the carpet. That is especially true of our young people, who need to feel that they are very much part of our rich history and should be acknowledged.

I have been to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool—I do not know whether the noble Baroness has been, but I recommend it; it is a very good museum indeed—and I know that we have contributed to a slavery memorial in New York. I say again that I will work with the noble Lord to try to identify funding so that this memorial might be possible.

My Lords, will my noble friend take back particularly the context of this request for a memorial in Hyde Park? Many of my friends in the British black community have brought to my attention the sensitive issue that many of the memorials and public buildings which attract people to visit the United Kingdom were built with funding that came from the profits of this trade. It is therefore particularly appropriate that a memorial should be located here in London, to provide some kind of counterbalance and recognition of that fact.

It is a bitter irony that Liverpool was built largely on slavery—every aspect of every old building from that time reflects it—so perhaps my noble friend has a point about using an area which has significance for much wider populations. However, we must not forget modern day slavery in this context. We must move on to looking at things that are happening today but that go unseen and unheard in our society. I pay tribute to William Wilberforce, whose efforts for 27 years helped to stop this terrible trade.