Today, the House commemorates the 200th anniversary of its legislation to abolish the appalling and unacceptable slave trade. This indeed is an historic moment for the United Kingdom, which led the world in legislating against the vile trade in the slavery of human beings. I welcome the participation of the right hon. Members for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) in this debate, and I thank them for their support for this year's commemoration.
Today is also an opportunity for me to thank publicly the members of the bicentenary advisory group, as well as my ministerial colleagues, the Leader in the other place, Baroness Amos, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Mr. Lammy, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Mr. Coaker and the Minister for Women and Equality, Meg Munn. I am grateful for the hard work and imagination that they and their staff have brought to this important year of events. I also want to express my appreciation for the work of many stakeholders and local authorities around the country who are participating in the commemorations, especially in Liverpool, Bristol, London and Hull, the home of William Wilberforce MP.
Events for this year are to be found in the commemorative booklet to be launched on Thursday, which will be made available to Members of both Houses. The events can be found in more detail on the BBC website, along with a superb set of programme discussions of the highest quality, which I am sure Members will have noticed have already begun. On behalf of the House, I congratulate the BBC on its efforts, especially Chantal Badjie, the project director of the BBC's season on the abolition of the slave trade.
The House will be aware of the launch of this year's commemoration by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, followed by a wider series of events over this weekend. There will be a national memorial service at Westminster Abbey next Tuesday, and a parliamentary exhibition will open in Westminster Hall from
Two replica slave ships are making voyages to commemorate the north Atlantic slave trade this year. The Zong, the ship from the film "Amazing Grace", will arrive in the UK next Thursday. The Amistad will sail from America on
We are also encouraging a debate about how we can commemorate the anniversary as a national event in the future. Should we have a national day of commemoration every year, and if so, when? The House may be aware that the European Commission supports
I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to William Wilberforce's 20 year campaign to secure the first piece of legislation to make slavery illegal. To put that in perspective, Parliament, prior to that legislation, had already passed over 100 laws accommodating the slave trade. Those laws allowed slaves to be treated by the courts as property, not as people. Many died and, yes, some were murdered, in the most criminal circumstances, with no redress.
The Deputy Prime Minister is right in what he says about William Wilberforce, and the whole House would support him, but does he agree that slavery has not disappeared? We have a new form of slavery, which is the trafficking of human beings. Does the right hon. Gentleman think it right to say that slavery has disappeared when it has not?
No, and I will make that clear in my speech, as the hon. Gentleman did in the debate in Westminster Hall, which I read. The most horrific circumstances were described there, and we are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for holding that debate.
William Wilberforce was the parliamentary leader of an abolitionist movement that embraced thousands of people, from all walks of life. It became a mass movement of popular discontent against a barbaric and inhuman trade. Parliament had to accept the will of the people and the cause of the abolitionists. This bicentenary is an opportunity for us all to remember the millions who were sold into slavery, and also to remember the people who were horrified by the inhumanity and indignity of slavery and whose values of fairness and social justice led them to fight slavery. They included slaves and former slaves, Church leaders, Quakers, politicians and countless ordinary citizens who signed petitions, marched, lobbied and campaigned for change.
Some of those are remembered on the stamps which the Royal Mail is issuing for the anniversary on Thursday. The stamps depict William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, a major campaigner at home and abroad, the philanthropist Granville Sharp, and the philanthropist and religious writer Hannah More.
The stamps included leading former slaves who became inspirational campaigners—Sancho and Equiano, who helped free slaves to resettle from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone. In 1792, the British Prime Minister, William Pitt, said that the slave trade was
"the greatest stigma on our national character which ever yet existed."
More than 200 years later, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:
"The bicentenary offers us a chance, not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was, how we condemn its existence utterly and we praise those who fought for its abolition. But also to express our deep sorrow that it ever happened, that it ever could have happened."
I understand that as many as 40 per cent. of the slaves who were shipped from Africa went through the ports of Ghana and Sierra Leone. The House is aware that last week President Kufuor of Ghana had a very successful state visit. In July last year, he visited Hull to open the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, the first academic institution dedicated to the study of past and modern-day slavery. In August, it will hold a conference in Ghana with UNESCO on the abolition of the slave trade.
This weekend, I am looking forward to welcoming, with my parliamentary colleagues, the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mr. Owen Arthur, to Hull to give his Wilberforce lecture. He will receive a book on the remarkable contribution of Caribbean workers to the success of the national health service, produced by the Department of Health and to be presented by the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend Ms Winterton.
Last month in Ghana, I saw at first hand Elmina castle, which was used in this pernicious slave trade—a symbol of man's inhumanity to man. I saw the dungeons. The cold, dank stench of evil remains there today, as do the stone walls—"the point of no return". Those dungeons have become shrines, with wreaths laid by Americans of African descent who came to witness the remains of this repugnant trade. In Freetown in Sierra Leone, I saw where the slaves liberated by the Royal Navy came ashore via the freedom steps—such a contrast to the point of no return. Indeed, we should recognise the important role played by the Royal Navy in arresting ships and freeing slaves and returning them to Africa.
A memorable part of my trip was visits to schools, where the children were enthusiastic and keen to learn, and so proud to wear their uniforms. The Vine Memorial school in Sierra Leone is twinned with Kelvin Hall school in Hull. I also visited the Montessori school at Cape Coast, which is twinned with a school in Derbyshire. The children expressed their feelings in the most dramatic re-enactment of the slave chain that I have ever seen. They said:
"Not every black man was innocent. Not every white man was guilty"— an accurate and powerful statement on that evil trade from the mouths of schoolchildren.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, should feel the sorrow, the pain and the regret—yes, the regret. As the Ghanaian Minister for Tourism said to me during a UNESCO conference that we both addressed: "We don't need apologies. We need forgiveness—from all and for all—for man's inhumanity to men, women and children." The Minister pointed out that the community of the African diaspora were distributed around the world and called on their descendants to come back to help Ghana and other African nations in what he described as an act of pilgrimage—to come to visit and to help in their development and in the education of their children.
Indeed, it is one of the world's greatest scandals that, even today, 100 million children across the world do not go to primary school; they are denied one of the most basic rights of all—the right to education. Up to two thirds of Africa's children never complete a full primary education. What a waste of talent and potential. History has given us an obligation to help them to realise their full potential, recognising that education is central to tackling inequality. The Government are working with countries around the world to do this. As announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Britain is planning to spend £8.5 billion over the next 10 years to support long-term education plans in poor countries—that is four times as much as in the previous 10 years. We call on other rich countries to follow so that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete at least five years of quality education.
Today, we look forward to realising the huge potential of a new Africa in which every person can one day be freed from injustice, poverty, disease and modern slavery. Poverty and social exclusion are at the root of most forms of slavery and forced labour today, but Africa is the only continent that is getting poorer and where, in many places, life expectancy is falling. Africa is currently failing to meet its millennium development targets.
I had the privilege of meeting my right hon. Friend in Hastings, Sierra Leone, with which my own town is twinned. Is it not a disgrace that Sierra Leoneans have £40 a year spent on their health, education and all their other needs, while we have £9,500 a year? Is it not shameful that such differences still exist in this century?
That is a powerful statement. My hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend Mrs. Curtis-Thomas, joined me in Sierra Leone, where we visited schools and saw the quality of the education and the buildings there. I would like to congratulate both my hon. Friends on making a contribution to the community by helping to develop community facilities and improving the education for the children. Many other local authorities could help by making contributions there as well, and I shall come back to that in a moment.
The world is now focusing on how we can help Africa to tackle its problems. I am proud that the UK led the way with African countries in setting up the Commission for Africa to address those issues. Through the UK's partnership in aid and investment with African nations, and our support of the global work of UNESCO and other international organisations, our Government are working to help Africa to help itself.
The House should also recognise the role of local government in assisting countries of slave origin. My own city of Hull is twinned with Freetown and is giving assistance. They are now discussing whether it is possible to help Freetown to rebuild its town hall, which was burnt down, and to rename it Wilberforce house. In Sierra Leone, I met my two hon. Friends, whose constituents have been helping the communities of Waterloo and Hastings, which are twinned with their namesake towns. They are helping to provide a library and community facilities. It is noticeable that a number of towns in those countries share the same name as towns in our country. That presents an ideal opportunity, as my hon. Friends have demonstrated, to make a direct contribution to those namesake towns. Much more could be done by local authorities and towns in the United Kingdom to assist communities in those countries, and I would like to see that happen as part of the legacy of this year's events.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the role of the British Council in facilitating twinning between our schools has been of tremendous help? It has now begun to roll out a significant programme, extending the initiative to far more schools. Is not that something that we need to see far more of?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has brought that to our attention. Every Member of the House who witnesses the work of the British Council cannot but admire the efforts that it has made. I am sure that we would all like to record how much we appreciate its efforts in the twinning of schools and classrooms, such as those that I saw in Ghana and Sierra Leone. Also, it is prepared to organise the youth debates that take place here in Parliament so that we can involve young people from twinned schools in the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and Africa. We look forward to those events, which take place thanks to the abilities and the organisation of the British Council.
When I first began to explore how we could commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, I immediately recognised the importance of ensuring that our young people have the chance to get involved and have their say. I went to the St. Paul's area of Bristol, and to Liverpool, and asked young black people how they wanted to mark the anniversary. They stressed to me the importance of looking forward as well as looking into the past. They felt that their school history lessons did not teach a proper black history or give enough attention to black achievements. "Yes", they said, "we should reflect on the past, but we should also look to the future." This year, we are considering important changes to the school curriculum. It will incorporate the study of the slave trade as a compulsory element of our history curriculum, with all slavery's brutality and inhumanity, and not just as an element of our colonial past. The bicentenary commemoration is about looking forward as well as back. Slavery did not end when the Act of Parliament was passed in 1807: it continued in the colonies and elsewhere. The abolition of slavery across the world remains unfinished business.
In 1998, the United Nations set up its working group on contemporary forms of slavery, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported:
"Slavery continues to be reported in a wide range of forms: traditional chattel slavery, bonded labour, serfdom, child labour, migrant labour, domestic labour, forced labour and slavery for ritual or religious purposes".
All of that is happening in the 21st century. The nations of the world must unite and campaign to end the unspeakable cruelty that persists in the form of modern-day slavery. I urge the House to support the Government's commitment to work with all countries to end the scandal of slavery in all its modern forms.
A few months ago in New York, I discussed modern slavery and human trafficking with Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations. All nations must honour article IV of the UN declaration of human rights, which requires that slavery be prohibited in all its forms. As Kofi Annan said in a lecture in January,
"In the 21st century, Africa differs in very fundamental ways from the Africa of old."
My right hon. Friend will be aware that many countries are attempting to tackle the trafficking of women for sexual purposes, and I am glad that the Government have agreed to sign the convention on that. Is he aware, however, that in Sweden, which has criminalised men paying for sex, the trafficking of women for sex has been reduced to a handful of women? In comparison, in Finland, which has not taken the same approach, 15,000 women a year are still trafficked into the country for sex. Would he advise his colleagues in the Government to consider that example?
I am aware of the issues to which my hon. Friend refers. The common experience is being considered across Europe, and an action plan will be launched shortly, to which I will refer in a few minutes, that will take into account all those experiences in order to prevent that terrible traffic.
In New York, I held talks with UN ambassadors from the nations affected by trafficking, as well as with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Last month, I held discussions in Geneva with the International Labour Organisation and its sister agencies concerned with human trafficking. The ILO estimates that a minimum of 12.3 million people are enslaved in the world today. Of those trafficked into forced labour, 43 per cent. are subjected to sexual exploitation, 32 per cent. to labour exploitation, and 25 per cent. to a mixture of both. The estimated value of that criminal activity is approximately $32 billion. The ILO says that 218 million children were trapped in child labour in 2004, of whom 126 million were in hazardous work. UNICEF estimates that that figure reached 171 million by 2006. It is hard to imagine the misery represented by those figures.
It is true that all countries find it difficult to make an accurate assessment of the scale of human trafficking. That became clear in the debates on the matter in Westminster Hall and the other place in December. It is a complex global problem that requires the co-operation of many agencies across the European Union and beyond. In the United Kingdom, emerging findings suggest that in 2003, at any one moment, there were about 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution. The same study estimated the total costs of trafficking for prostitution to be about £1 billion in 2003. We cannot, however, calculate the appalling misery and despair of victims in purely financial terms.
Intelligence indicates that the average selling price for an adult woman is between £2,000 and £3,000. In one debate, it was suggested that the figure was as high as £8,000. An appalling incident took place in which a Lithuanian girl was lured to the UK to sell ice cream in the summer, and was taken from brothel to brothel by a gang. She was sold seven times in three months. All that took place in the United Kingdom of today. I am sure that the whole House is appalled and disgusted by that. That is why we signed and ratified the Palermo protocol to combat trafficking, especially of women and children.
The UK human trafficking centre, which the Association of Chief Police Officers helped to set up last year, is a central point for developing expertise and co-operation by police and immigration officers. The Government have funded the POPPY project since March 2003 to provide safe shelter and support to assist in the recovery of adult female victims who have been trafficked in the UK for sexual exploitation. I note the criticisms that have been made in all the debates about the adequacy of the provision, and the matter is genuinely under consideration.
The Government will sign and ratify the Council of Europe convention against trafficking in human beings. In fact, it will be signed on Friday by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who will also publish our action plan, which has been discussed in the Chamber, to tackle human trafficking.
The Deputy Prime Minister has not mentioned demand. The problem in this country is that trafficking is demand led. As long as there is demand from men for sexually trafficked women, it will continue. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government could do much more to provide safe houses? There are only 35 places in London, and there are no other safe houses in the country.
The hon. Gentleman made exactly those points in previous debates. They have some substance, to say the least, and he knows that those matters are being considered in preparation for the action plan, which the Home Secretary will publish on Friday. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to wait and see the conclusions of the review, which has gone on for almost 12 months.
We are improving our intelligence on and understanding of the scope and scale of child trafficking, and a full report on the extent of human trafficking will be published.
In this bicentenary year, we commemorate the past, but with a strong commitment to overcome the challenges of today. We recognise the tremendous contribution of the African and Caribbean diaspora to the success of this country and the diversity of our culture and heritage. We renew our commitment to help overcome poverty, educate the children of Africa and combat the evil of slavery and human trafficking wherever it occurs.
In this House in 1789, William Wilberforce, in his first major speech on slavery, spoke words that could equally apply to modern-day slavery and human trafficking:
"Sir, the nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us:— we can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it; it is now an object placed before us, we cannot pass it. We may spurn it, we may kick it out of the way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it. For it is brought now so directly before our eyes that this House must decide, and must justify to all the world, (and to their own consciences) the rectitude of the grounds and principles of their decision."
Those words of Wilberforce in Parliament in the 18th century are equally applicable to human trafficking in the 21st century. The House must show the same commitment as Wilberforce. Signing and ratifying the Council of Europe convention is a good and appropriate step in that direction.
Let the anniversary that we commemorate today lead to a wider discussion and greater recognition of slavery in its old and new contexts, and to redressing the evil imbalance that it continues to create. Reminded by our past, we reinforce our commitment to a future in which there can be social justice and freedom for all.
It is a great pleasure to follow the Deputy Prime Minister and a huge pleasure to agree with almost everything he said. That may be a rare event, but it is welcome. If William Wilberforce could have known that 200 years after the passage of the abolition Act a debate commemorating it would not only take place but be introduced by two Yorkshire Members of Parliament, one of them representing Hull, in a spirit of cross-party agreement for which he always fought, he would be proud. It is fitting that we can mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade with today's debate. We should be grateful for the opportunity to reflect on such an important landmark in the history of our nation and our Parliament.
As I shadow the Deputy Prime Minister on the Floor of the House, it falls to me to respond to his remarks, although I should also declare an interest, as I have written an unpublished book on the matters under discussion. I have a deep personal interest in these matters—as I know does the Deputy Prime Minister—having revered the name of Wilberforce for a long time. [Interruption.] No, I will not go into when the book is to be published; that is a separate matter. I have long revered the name of Wilberforce, the parliamentarian from Hull, whose decades-long fight to abolish and suppress the slave trade made him one of the greatest campaigners—indeed, one of the greatest liberators —in the whole of British history. The tale of his work—and, importantly, that of his allies, as it was not simply his work—is a truly inspiring story of high ideals pursued in spite of almost every conceivable adversity, and of enormous feats of argument that were all too often preceded by despair as to whether progress could ever be made. As we approach the bicentenary of the passing of the Act to abolish the slave trade in 1807, it is appropriate that we pay tribute to that extraordinary accomplishment.
The right hon. Gentleman will know from his research that one of the most important battles that William Wilberforce had to fight was with the bishops of the Church of England, not one of whom supported the abolition of the slave trade. Indeed, many of them retained slaves rights until 1833, when owning slaves was also made illegal. The Bishop of Exeter was remunerated to the sum of £13,000 for the 665 slaves that he had. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will want to put on the record that the Church of England has changed its mind, finally.
The hon. Gentleman has managed to put that on the record without my needing to stagger into the controversy. William Wilberforce approached the abolition of the slave trade—and, indeed, many other matters—in a far more evangelical way than the Church of England at that time. He took up the cause and made it a Christian cause, but it was the Quakers and evangelicals in general, rather than the established Church, who helped to set him on that path, so the hon. Gentleman's point is valid.
The 1807 Act's Second Reading was carried 200 years ago here in this House—or just around the corner in St. Stephen's chapel, which was then the House. In the early hours of a cold February morning the Commons voted to end the practice of trading in human beings, and as the Members rose as a body to salute William Wilberforce he bowed his head and quietly wept. For him, the passing of the Act was the outcome of a 20-year parliamentary struggle. Almost every year for two decades he had introduced similar proposals in the Commons, only for them to be rejected because of powerful economic and political opposition, or to be thwarted because of war or hostility to the French revolution and social upheaval.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the vicar of Holy Trinity church, Clapham, also played a very important part in respect of William Wilberforce's commitment to the anti-slavery campaign—and many other campaigns, such as that against bear baiting—and that the Clapham sect was at the centre of the campaign that secured the abolition of the slave trade?
Yes, the Clapham sect is one of the most extraordinary evangelical and reforming groups of people ever in the history of our country, and what was preached by John Venn at the church in Clapham was very important in influencing its work.
I was recalling the moment in 1807 when the Bill to abolish the slave trade received its Second Reading. It received Royal Assent on
"Be it therefore enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty...That from and after the First Day of May One thousand eight hundred and seven, the African Slave Trade, and all manner of dealing and trading in the Purchase, Sale, Barter, or Transfer of Slaves, or of Persons intended to be sold, transferred, used, or dealt with as Slaves, practiced or carried on, in, at, to or from any Part of the Coast or Countries of Africa, shall be...utterly abolished, prohibited, and declared to be unlawful".
With those words, the behaviour of an empire was changed forever. Today we are remembering—
Before the right hon. Gentleman moves on from his historical analysis, will he acknowledge how fundamental the slave trade was to the economy of Britain at that time? For example, is he aware that much of the capital for the early industrialisation of south Wales came from a slave trade based in Bristol?
The hon. Gentleman need not fear that I am moving on from my historical analysis. It is not often that one can legitimately discuss history at some length on the Floor of this House, and I have quite a bit of it to come. There was much debate about this issue, but yes, the slave trade was thought to be very important to the economy of this country. William Pitt, when he was Prime Minister, said that 80 per cent. of Britain's overseas income was derived from our West Indian colonies, although not necessarily from the slave trade, the profitability of which was often disputed. That said, it was clearly profitable enough for a lot of people in Liverpool and Bristol to engage in it. However, through the existence of slavery, the plantations were clearly enormously profitable, at times, because of the immense European demand for sugar in the 18th century.
Why did Jefferson, who was quite an enlightened American President round about that time, never take up the cudgels on behalf of the anti-slavery movement?
Funnily enough, the American Congress abolished the slave trade at roughly the same time that the British Parliament did, although it did less about enforcement. An illicit American slave trade continued right up to just before the civil war. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the United States had certain internal problems when it came to resolving the issue of slavery, which resulted in civil war in the 1860s.
Does my right hon. Friend also recall that during the civil war Abraham Lincoln was described as having been persuaded by John Bright, a Member of this Parliament, to attach greater significance to the question of slavery? Effectively, that is how slavery became the key issue for the civil war—and it came from this House of Commons.
Well, I am sure that that was added to by the House of Commons, although my hon. Friend must remember that there were already people in the United States who felt very strongly against slavery, and that the northern states had abolished it. The southern states, given their cotton production, thought it in their interest to keep it. There were even bigger forces at work than the notable force to which my hon. Friend refers.
"the most glorious measure that had ever been adopted by any legislative body in the world".
This country was the first in Europe, other than Denmark, to outlaw the slave trade, and the Act was the catalyst for the adoption of similar legislation around the world. It became a moral benchmark of which other civilised societies rightly took note. The passage of the Act is heartening to those who are conscious of the early foundations of our democratic society. It took place because of the wide dissemination of truths about the trade, because of the shifting and then harnessing of public opinion, and because of the actions and contributions of slaves themselves, coupled with the stoic perseverance of a few principled individuals. Ultimately, it secured something that could not happen in countries where political freedom was not yet known.
The right hon. Gentleman said that this was the first country in Europe to abolish slavery, which is absolutely true. [Interruption.] Except for Denmark. However, the first country in the world to abolish slavery was Haiti, which fought a revolution to do so under the leadership of Toussaint L'Ouverture.
Yes. Being only part way through my historical analysis, I wanted to come to Haiti—in a moment, in fact.
I want to reiterate a point that has already been mentioned. The enlightened determination and actions of abolitionists had to shine out against a far darker backdrop. The course of slavery winds a long route throughout history, and when we consider events before 1807—the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned this—it is with deep regret that we have to acknowledge an era in which the sale of men, women and children was carried out lawfully on behalf of this country, and on such a vast scale that it became a large and lucrative commercial enterprise. No wonder Wilberforce cried out, in his speech in the Commons in 1791:
"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."
Those are words that we need to remember in the present day, as the Deputy Prime Minister said, in the case of modern slavery, to which I shall also return in a moment.
This is becoming an interesting geographical and historical tour. John Newton was important partly in persuading William Wilberforce to continue in politics rather than lead a life of religious seclusion and that Christian principles needed to be put into action. Newton constantly counselled the abolitionists, so he played an important part.
It is worth noting that the fight against the slave trade was also an early campaign against racism. It was an important attribute of the abolitionists that they set out not only to end the slave trade, but to demonstrate that former slaves could live freely and prosperously with equality between every race. They pioneered the free colony of Sierra Leone and gave much support to the leaders of Haiti, who had thrown off their colonial masters. The abolitionists believed not only in the relief of suffering but the establishment of racial equality. It must have been the first campaign of that kind.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will also acknowledge that much of the campaigning outlined what was happening in the slave colonies and the trade itself, not forgetting the uprising taking place in west Africa. The slaves themselves played a major part in their freedom and it was people such as Thomas Clarkson who toured the country showing what the manacles of slavery were really about who had a massive effect on pushing Wilberforce and eventually forcing a reluctant Parliament to do something.
That is an important point, because the campaign was not just a parliamentary campaign. Thomas Clarkson played an enormous part in the powerful extra-parliamentary campaign. In a world with so many recording devices of every kind, it is hard for us to imagine a political world without film or photographs, and no documentary of what was happening. The campaigners of the time had to establish facts that had never been nailed down and come up with statistics that no one had ever assembled. They had to persuade people of something that was true even though other people were prepared to say that the opposite was true. People would not have known initially whom to believe, and that makes the scale of the abolitionists' achievement all the greater.
I compliment the right hon. Gentleman on an entertaining and informative speech. I am learning a lot just from listening to it —[ Interruption. ] One might say that that does not often happen in this place. Does he accept that it is a mark of the success of those brave individuals, such as Sir William Roscoe in Liverpool, and of their dedication to the campaign—and the words that the right hon. Gentleman has just quoted from an early speech on the subject—that they brought about such a huge change in the culture in the UK that our towns and cities now have memorials to those great people because of the work that they did on slavery?
Let me use that intervention to turn to my next point, in the interests of someone else being able to give a speech eventually. The right hon. Lady is really talking about reasons why we should be proud of what was achieved, including by people in Liverpool who campaigned against the slave trade despite the presumption that the city should be in favour of its continuing. I wish to argue that just as the existence of the slave trade should be a cause of British regret, so its abolition should be a matter of British pride.
Not only did Britain abolish the slave trade: after 1807, it lobbied, bullied and bribed other nations to follow its example. Britain was the world's foremost maritime power, and the Royal Navy bravely enforced the abolition of slavery—an assignment that was to be one of the most protracted and gruelling in its history. The suppression of the slave trade was described as
"perhaps the most disagreeable, arduous and unhealthy service that falls to the lot of British officers and seamen".
Over a period of 40 years, the Navy was said to have freed 120,000 slaves. The moral case, once made and enshrined in law, was upheld over the coming decades through a commitment to international diplomacy and the application of British force. Although the outlawing of the slave trade has become synonymous with the life of William Wilberforce, he himself pointed out that he was
"only one among many fellow labourers".
We hear less about the contributions made by men such as Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp, Zachary Macaulay, James Stephen and Olaudah Equiano. Elizabeth Heyrick was one of the foremost women campaigners for the abolition of the institution of slavery after the slave trade itself had been abolished. We must remember, too, that we are unable to mention the bravery of numerous slaves: history is silent about that, because their actions were not written down at the time.
We should also be proud that one of the great achievements of the abolitionist campaign was political engagement through the mobilisation of public opinion. Once people in this country realised that the nature of the slave trade was incompatible with the values that they upheld, they acted in their hundreds of thousands. Petitions signed by men and women with no vote and thus no method of lobbying Parliament flowed from all corners of the country. One petition from the inhabitants of Manchester measured 7 m in length, and the masses of anti-slave trade tracts that were distributed were vigorously read. People attended lectures and meetings, and Thomas Clarkson—already mentioned by Jeremy Corbyn and one of Wilberforce's indispensable allies—covered 35,000 miles in seven years on speaking tours. Even with all the modern forms of transport available to us today, we would still consider that to be a large total. Clarkson took with him shackles and other instruments from slave ships, along with samples of African cloth to show that an alternative and civilised trade could be substituted for slavery.
In one of the first consumer boycotts in history, hundred of thousands of people refused to use West Indian sugar. The humanity displayed by the British public was compared to
"tinder which has immediately caught fire from the spark of information which has been struck upon it".
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the sugar boycott. Does he agree that women led the way in making that political statement, as they were the ones who bought and cooked the food?
It turned out that women were in a powerful position to impose that boycott, for the reasons that the hon. Lady set out. In the 1820s, the even more radical campaign to abolish the institution of slavery itself came to the fore in towns such as Leicester, Sheffield and Birmingham, with women as its pioneers. At one point, it was thought that about a quarter of the population was refusing to use West Indian sugar. That shows the power at the time of popular campaigning—something that people had not been used to until just a few decades before.
The moral case against slavery may now seem clear cut, but it had to be made in an age before mass media and in a country with few graphic examples of the suffering and pain caused to millions transported across the Atlantic on British ships. The autobiographical writings of Olaudah Equiano, a former slave, contained a rare account of the conditions on board those ships. He wrote:
"The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number of the ship, being so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself almost suffocated us...The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered it a scene of horror almost inconceivable."
His book became a best seller of the time, and played a huge role in highlighting the barbarities of the slave trade.
The slave trade has a depressing relevance nowadays, as the Deputy Prime Minister rightly pointed out. He quoted the words of Wilberforce in 1789, when he said that
"we cannot plead ignorance. We cannot evade it."
Sadly, the same is true today. Slavery is out of sight for most people, as it was 200 years ago, but the world faces a parallel challenge nevertheless: to confront a ruthless industry that exploits vulnerable people for financial gain. Just as the baton was passed from the abolitionists to other Parliaments and nations around the world, who followed suit in outlawing slavery, so now it rests with the Governments and Parliaments of our time to deal with modern slavery, which today reaches across every continent and culture, profiting from a range of industries in agriculture, textiles, construction, mining, domestic services and prostitution, to name but a few.
Human trafficking, the most talked about manifestation of modern slavery, is the medium by which that age-old practice permeates even the life of modern-day Britain, as the Deputy Prime Minister said. It exists very much as a product of the 21st century and operates in loose global networks, lurking among the unprecedented movements of people, information and capital that characterise today's global economy and which help mask illegal practices. Human trafficking works best for its instigators across national boundaries, exploiting cultural, social and linguistic differences to isolate individuals and allow criminals to exercise complete control. Recruitment companies or trusted acquaintances offering work and hope for a better future, bogus marriage agencies and gangs targeting lone travellers as they enter new countries are just a few examples of how vulnerable people can be caught in the human trafficking trap. There are of course more barbaric methods: intimidation, threats to families and psychological abuse, followed by violence of a quite unimaginable kind.
The problem is growing locally and internationally. It has many links with other criminal operations, such as money laundering, drug smuggling and document forgery. In scale, it rivals and surpasses other illicit trades, equalling the illegal arms industry and trailing only narcotics in size. According to some estimates it generates nearly $10 billion a year in revenue, which is a staggering figure to have to put on a market dedicated to the buying and selling of human beings. In terms of people, it is estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime no country in the world is immune to the problem, whether as a country of origin, destination or transit.
It is important that we in Britain wake up to the gravity of the situation on our own doorstep. A fortnight ago, an official at the Lithuanian Ministry of Information declared that Britain is the No. 1 destination for gangs smuggling sex slaves from countries such as his own. Last year, when our police conducted a four-month operation to tackle sex trafficking, they rescued 84 women—a small number in the scheme of things, but the list of their countries of origin tells its own sorry tale of the trail of misery. Those 84 women came from Albania, Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, India, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Namibia, Poland, Rwanda, Russia, Slovakia and Thailand.
To combat human slavery in the world, in particular the international markets of human traffickers, we must seek to wipe out the economic profits available to criminal gangs from their operations, reducing the market size itself and by implication, we hope, the suffering caused. That can be achieved by a concerted and determined effort to disrupt the forces of demand and supply. Supply-side measures should be aimed at increasing the risks of capture, while simultaneously empowering vulnerable individuals through education and the increased provision of assistance, advice and protection.
As long as the demand—or the end use—remains, cold-blooded people will always find unscrupulous ways to profit from the trade in illegal goods, be they arms, narcotics or, in this case, slave labour. Thus the only way truly to end the modern slave trade will be to wipe out the demand. In parallels with the 18th-century sugar boycott, consumer groups can voice their abhorrence at slavery by purchasing certified fair trade goods such as tea, coffee, clothing and other consumables. A greater focus on educating the public is required, using innovative approaches such as the "truth isn't sexy" campaign, which uses beer-mat messages to alert young people to the realities of sex trafficking, and which will have its cross-party launch later this evening. As traffickers have now infiltrated a range of British towns, cities and the countryside, it is impossible to overstate the importance of bringing awareness to the consumers, businesses and communities in those places where the victims are forced to labour.
The whole House is fascinated by my right hon. Friend's exposition. Will he comment on the fact that, in spite of all that he is saying, only 30 traffickers have been charged and put in prison? In spite of education, unless we make sure that our police forces apprehend people and our immigration officers stop the gangs coming into this country, the trade will continue because the demand will continue.
I agree. I will conclude my speech soon, but I want to touch on that point. Along with all Members of the House, I am delighted that the Government have announced their intention to sign the Council of Europe's convention on action against trafficking in human beings. The Deputy Prime Minister referred to the Home Secretary's signing it on Friday. It allows victims a 30-day reflection period—something for which the Opposition called. We now await the detailed implementation programme, which the Deputy Prime Minister also said would be forthcoming.
The Government will shortly publish their national action plan on human trafficking. We look forward to reading the proposals. I hope that the Government will take heed of the recommendations set out by my right hon. Friend David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary. That touches on the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Steen a moment ago: certain actions affecting our own borders need to be taken. We hope that, at all ports of entry, our immigration officials will be permitted to conduct separate interviews for women and children travelling alone with an adult who is not a parent, guardian or husband; that co-ordination will be strengthened between relevant Departments and the Serious Organised Crime Agency in order to guarantee a coherent approach; that the Government will ensure that every police force and local authority has a strategy for dealing with suspected victims of trafficking; and that victim protection will be increased by setting up a dedicated helpline for those who have been trafficked. I hope, but I am not sure, that the Government will propose something that we have proposed for a long time: a UK border police force with specialist expertise to intercept traffickers and victims.
Speaking as shadow Foreign Secretary, I would like to see an improved and strengthened international effort to tackle human trafficking. The United States, through the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, has elevated this issue in importance. Among other endeavours, it now produces on an annual basis an influential report on trafficking in persons. Other countries, including our own, should act with the same levels of commitment. The international community should work together to identify the countries that are the most vulnerable to human trafficking, be they a place of origin, transit or destination, and provide the assistance and encouragement needed, with prevention, law enforcement and victim protection where appropriate. Diplomatic channels should be used to put pressure on countries that ignore the problem. In extreme cases where co-operation is not forthcoming and no measurable improvement is made, assistance in non-humanitarian or non-trade-related areas could be withheld as a last resort. Our embassies and consulates should also take on a more active role, raising awareness through education and information programmes.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is not aware of some of the actions that our embassies and consulates are taking in places such as Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Vietnam and Cambodia, where, because of the chaotic backgrounds of the people in those countries, it is almost impossible to have birth documents, particularly for children? They are introducing fingerprinting biometrics and there has been an anecdotal reduction in the number of children applying for visas from those countries for entry into this country.
The hon. Lady is quite right to point that out and I am not arguing in any way that nothing has been done about these things. We agree with the Government in their intentions and in everything that they have announced so far. I am simply arguing that an intensified international effort will be required from this country and other countries if we are to deal with a problem on this enormous scale.
To conclude, there are a number of principled individuals, just as in the early 19th century, who have set out to tackle modern-day slavery. They include people such as Sister Ann Theresa, a Catholic nun who established an underground network of safe houses throughout the UK for the victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, and journalists who have investigated the horrors of human trafficking at first hand, thus bringing the reality of the crime to the mainstream media, such as Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times. There are also campaigns such as Stop the Traffik, a global coalition of charities, schools, community groups, businesses, faith groups and clubs that has taken its inspiration directly from the work of the early abolitionists of 200 years ago and demonstrated a similar zeal and commitment. All these groups and individuals are leading the way, but we will start to challenge the traffickers' dominance only when we secure the support of Governments throughout the world, voluntary organisations and the public at large. Once public opinion is harnessed, it can be as powerful a force as that demonstrated 200 years ago. We must continue to bring this matter to the attention of all.
I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister and the Government on all the arrangements that they have made for the bicentenary and its commemoration. Unless we bring this matter to the attention of all, the quiet and painful suffering of thousands of men, women and children in our cities and suburbs will continue as a human tragedy in our midst. There would be no more fitting way to mark the bicentenary than by renewing the abolitionists' commitment to tackle the slave trade by practical action. In 1807, the House of Commons arrived rather late in offering to put the full power of the state behind the abolition movement. We in this Parliament, in modern times, must ensure that we bring all our collective political will to this struggle, thus helping to foster the involvement and education of our society to extinguish, in the words of Wilberforce,
"every trace of this bloody traffic".
The Government are to be congratulated on the arrangements that they have made to celebrate the bicentenary. This was, after all, the largest forced migration in human history. Not even the visionary Wilberforce could have foreseen that a great-great granddaughter of slaves would take part in this debate, 200 years later, on equal terms with other Members, some of whom might be able to trace their ancestry back to slave holders.
The slave trade reshaped Britain, the Americas and the Caribbean, and Britain was involved in it for more than 300 years. I want to make the House think for a few minutes about the brutality of the Atlantic slave trade because it is easy, as we celebrate its abolition, to gloss over its sheer violence, darkness and shame.
The slave trade happened in collusion with some Africans in the interior. The first stage of the slave trade supply chain was the collection of slaves from interior Africa. They were tied into columns, loaded with 40 or 50-lb stones to make it harder for them to escape and marched hundreds of miles to the sea. Some came by canoe to the slave ports. They were tied up in canoes and lay in water for days in the bottom of boats with their faces baked by the sun. Like my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, I have visited one of the slave ports: Elmina Castle in Ghana. When the slaves reached the slave ports, they were put into stockades, sometimes by the thousand. At that point, about 20 per cent. of them died. They were then packed into galleys on ships where they lay side by side in spaces measuring 5 ft by 3 ft. Over the course of the slave trade, at least 450,000 black Africans died as a consequence of the Atlantic passage alone. They were packed in galleys and lay in their own urine and faeces during the weeks that it took to cross the Atlantic. They were sometimes released once a day, but sometimes not at all.
When the ship reached harbour, the slaves were brought out on deck, where they were inspected and handled like animals. Many slaves—one in 10, I believe—died within a year of landing in the Americas or the Caribbean. At the height of the Atlantic slave trade, the average life expectancy of a slave in the West Indies was seven years. In north America, it was reckoned at one point that a profit could be made if a slave was worked to death in four years.
Some of the accounts of the slave plantations in the West Indies and slavery in north America have the power to shock even today, given the brutality with which the slaves were treated as they were worked to death over seven or four years. I sometimes wonder whether the extraordinary brutality of the slave plantation experience in the West Indies marks Caribbean life today.
I am a tremendous admirer and lover of my parents' country of Jamaica, but it has the highest murder rate in the world. If we try to trace the roots of brutalisation and read accounts of what happened to those generations of slaves in the West Indies, there may yet be a link.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the very observation that she makes about Jamaica may also be an explanation for some of the brutality that we see in some of the African nations today?
I do not want to stretch the thought too far; I just put it to the House that if we read the accounts not just of the work that slaves did, but of the extraordinary brutality of the punishments and the torture that they had to endure and of a life where, at the height of the slave trade, the only people a slave was legitimately allowed to love were the children of the slave master, we have to say that 200 years later, that sort of experience must have affected the societies that we see around the Caribbean today.
In the historical context of the issues that she is dealing with, does the hon. Lady also recognise, as I did in Zanzibar some years ago, that there was also an extremely venal Arab slave trading operation, which also perhaps forms part of the general framework and mosaic?
There is no doubt that both Africans and Arabs were involved in the slave trade, but I am going to move on and say that it was not Africans and Arabs who made massive fortunes or who founded an industrial revolution out of the slave trade. The slave trade was brutalising both to the slave and the slave holder, and I want to touch on that point before closing my remarks this afternoon.
As well as the sheer brutality and cruelty of the Atlantic slave trade, which lasted more than 300 years, it is important to stress how much it was part and parcel of British economic life for more than 300 years. The three great slave-holding ports were Bristol, Liverpool and London. Between 1630 and 1807, when the slave trade was abolished, 2.5 million Africans were bought and sold by Bristol slave merchants. Many of the wonderful houses, buildings and monuments that can be seen in Bristol today were built from the profits of the slave trade. As a man called Roger North, an attorney-general under James I, said of Bristol in the 17th century:
"All men that are dealers, even in shop trades, launch into adventures by sea, chiefly to the West Indian plantations and Spain. A poor shopkeeper that sells candles will have a bale of stockings, a piece of stuff for Nevis and Virginia and rather than sail, they trade in men."
The splendours and the beauty of a city like Bristol were built on the trade in men.
Liverpool was another great slave port. By the 1780s, two fifths of British slave ships were built in Liverpool. It became the largest slave ship construction site in Europe, squeezing Bristol out in the league table of slave trading ports. Huge fortunes were made from the slave trade by banks and manufacturers. To provide a few examples, there were the Heywood brothers, Arthur and Benjamin, who made their fortune in the slave trade. Arthur Heywood went on to found a bank, which became the bank of Liverpool, then Martin's bank and eventually Barclays bank. Thomas Leyland, another huge slave trader from Liverpool, served four terms as the city's mayor. He set up Leyland's bank, which became Bullins bank and eventually the Midland bank. Many mayors and MPs in Liverpool were slave traders, including the Gladstones. John Gladstone was a sugar planter in Guyana, who wrote a pro-slaver column in the Liverpool Mercury and his son, of course, went on to grace this House as William Gladstone.
In London, my city, people sometimes minimise or discount its involvement in the slave trade, but it was involved in it for longer and deeper than any other part of the British Isles. In the years before 1698, the Royal African Company shipped 100,000 Africans to the colonies. Fifteen Lord Mayors, 25 sheriffs and 38 aldermen were shareholders in that company. The South Sea Company traded in slaves with South America. One of the many people who made fortunes from the company before the South Sea bubble burst was Thomas Guy, a bookseller, who used his fortune to found Guy's hospital. Barings merchant bank based its profits on the long-term procedures that it developed to finance the slave trade.
In 1766, it was estimated that 40 Members of Parliament were making their money from West Indian plantations. William Beckford, MP, owned 22,000 acres in Jamaica; his two brothers and his sons were also Members of Parliament. The Bishops of London were major slaveholders in Barbados. Another major slaveholder was Humphry Morice MP, Governor of the Bank of England from 1727.
My point is that the slave trade was not an aberration until, kindly, people woke up and realised that it was wrong. The slave trade was part and parcel of British economic and political life for more than 300 years. I have mentioned the major ports—Liverpool, Bristol, London and Glasgow—but small ports around the country did a little slave trading too: Barnstaple, Bideford, Dartmouth, Exeter, Plymouth, Poole, Portsmouth and Whitehaven. We are not talking about an aberration that occurred on the fringes of British society; we are talking about something that was part and parcel of it for 300 years.
My hon. Friend speaks of a 300-year legacy. Between 1837 and 1918, half a million Indian indentured labourers went to the Caribbean, particularly Trinidad and Guyana. Could that not be classed as an extension of the barbarism that led to profiteering in the City of London and elsewhere?
The history of Indian indentured labour is not as well known as it should be, but those labourers were certainly in a position of quasi-slavery. In fact, they were brought in to take over from slaves who would no longer do the work and ran up into the hills, where my family come from, to survive on subsistence agriculture.
We come now to the process by which the slave trade was abolished. I do not want to take anything away from William Wilberforce, but the abolition of the slave trade, like any great social movement, was not a purely parliamentary process. The slave revolts, which happened all over the Caribbean, played their part in 1790. Haiti was the first country to abolish slavery, following a revolution under the leadership of Toussaint L'Ouverture. There were rebellions in Grenada, Dominica, St Vincent, Tobago and Barbados, and finally, in 1831, there was a massive slave revolt in Jamaica led by Sam Sharpe.
Many historians feel that the reparations made to the French, amounting to the equivalent of about £10.5 million today, contributed significantly to Haiti's status as one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere. Does my hon. Friend agree?
That is an important point.
In the Empire, in the slave-trading territories themselves, slaves were in revolt. Here in Britain, in an era without television or picture magazines, the testimony of former slaves such as Equiano and Ignatius Sancho, who toured Britain showing their shackles, exemplified the horror of slavery, and its importance cannot be overestimated. Again, I do not wish to take anything away from Wilberforce, but it would do a disservice to the British people to understate the extent to which not just parliamentary leadership, but a massive popular agitation created the conditions for the abolition of slavery. In 1792, Parliament received 500 anti-slavery petitions; by 1830, it had received 5,000. Between 1826 and 1832, the House of Lords received 3,500. In an era when people did not have the vote, that was the only way in which they could make politicians aware of what they felt.
Nowadays, humanitarian liberal issues are sometimes derided as issues for the chattering classes and the London intelligentsia, but the remarkable thing about the agitation against slavery was that it covered all parts of the country. In 1789, the Leeds Intelligencer, a newspaper, reported a collection of £18—it does not sound much, but it was a huge amount in those days—in support of the campaign against slavery. It was collected by farmers in Yorkshire who, as the Leeds Intelligencer put it, had been
"informed of the injustice and inhumanity of the slave trade by pamphlets".
Reading about the popular agitation, it is remarkable that it involved ordinary people from all corners of the country. Once they learned the facts, they rose up against slavery, signed petitions and supported people such as Wilberforce. There was no self-interest involved; they were just genuinely moved by the inhumanity of a barbaric trade. In recent years, in the Make Poverty History campaign, ordinary and church people were swept up in the campaign against poverty in Africa, and in many ways, the anti-slavery agitation was the Make Poverty History campaign of its day.
There were, of course, also the abolitionists—the lawyers and campaigners here in London. There was Granville Sharp, Lord Mansfield and his very important finding in the Somerset case, Thomas Clarkson, and William Wilberforce with his 20-year campaign. Of course, we are commemorating the abolition of the slave trade, but slavery itself was not finally abolished until 1833. This House debates modern-day slavery and modern-day forced labour, which are terrible things, and we need to take action in the spirit of Wilberforce and others.
If we were to draw a lesson from the abolition of the slave trade, it would be this: like all great popular movements, it did not start in Parliament, although, in a sense, it ended in Parliament. It is a credit to ordinary, British people across the country that they were prepared to rise up against slavery. It was, in its origins, a popular agitation, although it was led by Quakers, evangelists, and religious people. Abolition was essentially due to popular agitation, as well as a parliamentary Act. Contemplation of the brutality of the slave trade ought to remind the House of what happens when we dehumanise people and say that they are not human beings. When we read about how slaves were treated in the middle passage, on the plantations, and even by their owners in London, we are shocked, but the people involved at the time were not shocked, because they did not see the slaves as human beings. Indeed, one of the achievements of the religious campaigners against slavery—the Quakers and so on—was that they stressed the essential humanity of slaves.
The warning to us, 200 years later, is about what can happen when we dehumanise people and say, "They are not like me; they are not my friends or my family. They are somehow less than human." Occasionally, when I hear some of the rhetoric in our popular press about people who have been trafficked, economic migrants and asylum seekers, I think that people would do well to remember that if we consistently and systematically dehumanise a group of people, society and Parliament become capable of acts against them that we may look back on in shame years later.
The abolition of the slave trade is an example of what popular agitation can achieve. These days, people are deeply cynical about politicians, although they all have the vote. They say, "If voting changed anything, they would have abolished it," or "These politicians are all the same—nothing changes," but the abolition of the slave trade in an era with no television, e-mail, or text messages, and no popular franchise, is an example of what popular agitation, with the right parliamentary leadership, can achieve.
Finally, the abolition of the slave trade speaks to us down the centuries, telling us that in the end, evil does not endure. I am proud to have been able to speak in this debate, and I applaud the Government for the action that they have taken to celebrate this important bicentenary, but there are lessons to learn in this day and age. If my slave ancestors could look down from the Gallery and hear this debate, they would be happy and proud.
I, too, congratulate the Government on the way in which they have led the commemoration, and I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister directly on the tone and content of his speech, as well as Mr. Hague. My role is partly to shadow the Deputy Prime Minister, and I am the third Yorkshireman in our Front-Bench group. I was brought up by the Quakers, so I was immersed at an early age in the arguments that we have heard today.
Essentially, I should like to build on the arguments of Ms Abbott who, in a powerful and effective contribution, said many of the things that I had planned to say. The commemoration is important, because it provides an opportunity, which we must not miss, to understand British history properly. There is a comforting view of the history of the slave trade—I suspect that most people in the country subscribe to it to some extent—that goes roughly as follows: of course, the slave trade was a terrible episode, but it was a long time ago. Many countries were involved and Britain was no worse than anywhere else. Slavery was at the periphery of our society, but it was all redeemed by the abolitionist movement, so we should not feel too badly about it.
That view of history is simply wrong, for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. Several points that she made should be emphasised. First, slavery was not peripheral: it was at the heart of the British economy for well over a century, as the great historian, Eric Williams, who subsequently became Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, described in detail. He was the first person to analyse the economics of the slave trade and the triangular movement between west Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, showing how that led to the accumulation of capital, which formed the basis of investment in early industrialisation. The slave trade was, as the hon. Lady eloquently said, at the centre, not at the periphery of the British economy. It was something in which all parts of British society were implicated—it was not just a few roughneck captains and the odd aristocrat who had plantations in the Caribbean—and it was the basis of the prosperity of the Church and, one should add, of the royal family. The hon. Lady mentioned Members of Parliament, but she understated her case, because in 1720, it was recorded that 420—not 40—Members of the House of Commons invested in the South Sea company, which was the main financial vehicle for investment in the slave trade.
As the hon. Lady said—and this is important—there was not a wonderful moment of enlightenment when Britain was suddenly converted to the abolition of slavery. Tellingly, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks made reference—and he has written brilliantly on the subject—to the first and greatest Prime Minister in the Conservative tradition, William Pitt. May I allude to perhaps the greatest Prime Minister in the Liberal tradition—W. E. Gladstone, behind whom there is a rather unfortunate history that is not widely known? It is not just that he entered the House as a Tory—I do not think that that meant a great deal in those days—but that his maiden speech was a passionate defence of slavery. He made that speech 25 years after the abolition of the slave trade, because his family owned plantations and he believed that he should justify that practice. That is how he began his political life—it was not just a personal idiosyncrasy but a reflection of the view among much of the British establishment that although the slave trade was sordid, we had got rid of it, and there was nothing inherently wrong in owning slaves and profiting from them.
It therefore took a great deal of time finally to eradicate slavery. My final point about its history was made eloquently by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. It was not just liberal white abolitionists who were involved in the movement against the slave trade, as black slaves contributed enormously to their own emancipation. There were slave uprisings, and freed black slaves in Britain such as Equiano agitated and contributed to the movement. The hon. Lady missed one small detail in the story, as a key factor that provoked the uprisings in the Caribbean was the French revolution. It is often forgotten that some of the French revolutionaries were black and, for the first time, the French revolution promoted the concept that all men—women were not included at that time—were equal, which was a devastating concept to unleash on a slave society. It was only when Napoleon—who, among his less attractive attributes, was a virulent racist—re-imposed authority that the slave uprisings were finally brought under control. That was a key stage, and it was the black revolutionaries who did much to create the climate of opinion leading to abolition.
Yes, indeed. I am less familiar with that work than with Eric Williams's book, but the hon. Gentleman is right, and there were many others.
There is one aspect of the history that has not yet been touched on, but with which I have been confronted several times in discussions on the subject: whether, as a society, we should in some sense apologise—that is the word that is usually used—for what happened 200 or 300 years ago. The obvious response, which is the one that I tend to give, is that, put in a very crude way, that is not a helpful suggestion because clearly, in any sensible ethical system, one cannot apologise for things that happened 10 generations ago. Equally, the case is often put by groups of Nigerians who have a much wider agenda and who are demanding money.
None the less, there is a deeper point here. We must acknowledge in some form that modern British society owes much of its prosperity and many of its institutions to what happened all those years ago. The way the Prime Minister captured it in his statement earlier this year was about right. A formal apology of the type that is often sought is not quite right, but we have to go a long way to acknowledge that the slave trade was not some distant event from which we are entirely disconnected.
The best way that we can honour the past and pay reparations to it, if that is what is sought, is by ensuring that contemporary slavery is properly and decisively dealt with. Some facts and figures have been cited, but I am concerned that we may be understating the magnitude of it. The United Nations agencies that are responsible have identified modern slavery as being worth roughly $30 to 40 billion. It is the third largest source of illegal income, after drugs and illegal armaments transactions. There are probably about 27 million people who are directly involved in slavery in quite a narrowly defined sense. I exclude child labourers and others, but there are probably 27 to 30 million people who are employed in slave conditions, many, but not all, of them in the Indian subcontinent in bonded labour-type arrangements.
The most shocking fact that I uncovered when I was preparing for the debate is what is happening in the economics of the slave trade, which the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks touched on with reference to the forces of supply and demand. The key point that emerged was that the price of slaves has collapsed, in the same way as the price of drugs has collapsed. Some economic historians have established that throughout history, going back centuries, if not thousands of years, it is possible to put a price on slaves. It sounds an appallingly impersonal thing to do, but in the interests of objectivity one has to try to do it.
Economic historians have estimated that typically, at current prices, slaves were worth the equivalent of £10,000. Of course, that varied a great deal, but it explains why slaves were valuable and why people traded in them. What has happened is that the price has collapsed to about £100 today. The reason is that millions of people who were engaged in subsistence living, particularly in the Indian subcontinent, have suddenly entered the modern economy and are freely available in vast supply. The result is the phenomenon to which the Deputy Prime Minister alluded when he cited the case of the British traffickers who have been dealing in people. The figures that he gave were between £2,000 and £10,000, I think. Traffickers can acquire people who are equivalent to slaves for £100 in the countries of origin. There is enormous scope for mark-ups; that is what is driving the trade and why it is expanding so virulently.
The next question is what we do about it. Many of the arguments have already been touched on. As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks suggested, it is partly about border protection and controls. That is one dimension, but the other is that of ensuring that trafficked people who are intercepted are properly protected. For the past few years, Liberal Democrats have been pursuing the issue of the signing and ratification of the European Council resolution on this matter, which provides an extra degree of protection for trafficked people. We know that the Government have reservations about that, notably on the 90-day reflection period, but I wonder whether Ministers could summarise in the wind-ups where we currently stand with this argument. Our belief, looking at the experiences of countries such as Italy which provide that degree of protection, is that it has not acted as a pull factor in the way that the Government feared. In fact, the Italians have been able to make 100 times as many prosecutions of traffickers on the basis of the laws that they employ.
I turn finally to a point that has not yet been made, although the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington hinted at it in her peroration—that is, whether we sufficiently acknowledge the role of the black community in Britain and the extent to which, in a country that once had slavery, we now fully accept our own black citizens as complete equals and accept them with dignity. It is a very mixed story. Over my lifetime, we have moved away from open and explicit racial discrimination, which was common and openly advertised. We do not have ghetto-style segregation, as in the United States. We have social trends such as very high levels of intermarriage between white and black people, which indicates at least a degree of optimism about the future.
There is, however, a negative side that we must be open and honest about. Despite successes in many activities, there are still serious problems with discrimination. For example, the Metropolitan police have tried harder than most institutions to get rid of racism, but over the past few days Ali Dizaei's book has pointed out that many of the practices of the past still persist. In the past few weeks, we have seen a report showing how entrenched the differences are in educational performance. Ever since I came into the House, I have taken a personal interest in young offenders, and I go regularly to Feltham to pursue the issues there. The minute one goes into the place, it is very striking that 65 per cent. of all the prisoners are from ethnic minorities, and the vast majority are black. Clearly, something has gone fundamentally wrong with the way in which black youth is being dealt with in British society that perpetuates this disadvantage.
Although I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington that it is a source of pride that we are dealing with this issue and doing so in such an adult way, we still have to address long-term legacies that are embedded in the form of discriminatory treatment; that is why there is absolutely no room for complacency.
It is a pleasure to be able to take part in this debate, which I congratulate the Government on holding. I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Abbott on an absolutely brilliant speech that brought home to everyone in the House—and, I hope, in wider British society—not only the whole significance of the defeat of the slave trade 200 years ago but the existence of the prejudices that allowed it to develop and to continue. She put the case incredibly well, and I congratulate her on that.
My hon. Friend will be aware that, for the first time in our history, the exhibition will have a writer in residence working with the schools on the displays. One of the schools chosen is Burntwood girls school in Tooting. I am sure that he will be appealing to Members to go along to the exhibition and watch these wonderful children, all of whom are Tooting girls, demonstrating our pride in the abolition of this trade 200 years ago.
I absolutely agree, and as I was on the committee that asked the school to take part, I duly congratulate myself on that. It was indeed a splendid choice, and I hope that every Member will come along to the exhibition.
Many congratulations are due to Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, who has chaired the committee and put a huge amount of effort into ensuring that the exhibition is a success. One of the exhibits, loaned from the museum in Wisbech, is Thomas Clarkson's box. This was the famous box that he used to take around the country, in which he carried the instruments of torture—the manacles and all the other horrible things—that were used in slavery, and the descriptions of the slave ships and the ways in which people died as a result of the trade. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Wisbech museum for loaning us that equipment and for its help and support.
Baroness Howells brought along to the committee meeting earlier today one of the neck irons that had been put around the necks of African slaves when they were captured and taken to the ports. They were tight pieces of iron that were effectively welded around the necks of human beings in order to chain them together to take them off to a destination unknown to them. That is what slavery was about; it illustrates the brutality involved in the slave trade.
We would do well to ensure that, this year of all years, all the children in schools in this country and around the world begin to understand what the slave trade meant—the brutality and the horror of it, as well as the bravery of those who campaigned against it, and the even greater bravery of those who took part in the slave rebellions in Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean. As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks pointed out, their names were not recorded in most cases. They led apparently useless rebellions, but word got through and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said, evil was eventually outed and defeated. However, it took a very long time to do so.
Slavery was not a neutral occupation. As my hon. Friend pointed out, Members of Parliament were deeply involved in the slave trade. It was a central core of British life. We have only to look at the names of the buildings and roads in Bristol, Liverpool and London. In Bristol, we find Colston hall, named after a great slave owner, and Whiteladies road, where white ladies went to buy black boys as their slaves. That was all part of British life, and defeating it was a great achievement. The profits from the slave trade were astronomical. One of the most formative books that I have ever read is the wonderful work by the late Dr. Eric Williams, "Capitalism and Slavery", which I think was his PhD thesis when he was at the London School of Economics. In it, he describes the riches that the City of London and other places made from the slave trade.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right about Edward Colston, who was notorious in Bristol as someone who earned a great deal of his wealth from the slave trade. A number of places in the city are indeed named after him. There is, however, a lot of mythology surrounding Whiteladies road and Blackboy hill. There is no evidence whatever that they were in any way linked to the slave trade.
There is no evidence to the contrary, either. A couple of weeks ago, I was at an interesting meeting to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade, and I had a long discussion about this with some extremely learned people. Gus John and Alex Pascall both assured me that Whiteladies road had that connotation. We should think about these things quite carefully, and about the history of the slave trade and what it meant to so many people.
I was talking about the amounts of money made from the slave trade by some of the richest people in Britain. For example, Sir Francis Baring was a Member of Parliament for 18 years and died leaving a legacy of £1 million, which was one heck of a lot of money in the 18th century. William Beckford became the first English millionaire MP. I think that there might be quite a few millionaires in the Chamber, or at least in this building, at the moment, but I am not one of them—[Hon. Members: "That is a shame."] No, it is not a shame. I am very happy not to be rich. If we look at the planters who made money from the West Indian plantations, particularly in Jamaica, we see that the Beckford family included several Members of Parliament.
Those were the forces that Wilberforce, Clarkson and others were up against in their campaign for the abolition of the slave trade. Interestingly, however, their involvement in that campaign did not have much direct connection with the slave uprisings going on at the same time. They saw their campaign as a campaign in Britain. At the same time as a high moral stance was being taken by Britain against the slave trade, the slave uprisings taking place all over the Caribbean and the Americas—partly in response to the French revolution but also in response to other factors—were being brutally put down by the British Army, while the British Navy was stopping the slave trade taking place on the high seas. One might say that a few double standards were in operation.
I want to quote from "The Abolition of Slavery" by Richard Hart, an old friend of mine who has spent his life campaigning against racism and the slave trade. He describes the emancipation rebellion in western Jamaica, and the way in which it was put down. He writes, of the first week in 1832, that
"201 rebels were reported killed in action. Approximately 750 slaves and 14 free persons were convicted of acts of rebellion by courts martial and in the courts. Most of those placed on trial were sentenced to death. Others were given savage sentences of from 200 to 500 lashes of the whip, with or without imprisonment. Only 21 appear to have been sentenced to transportation."
On being sentenced to death, Sharpe, one of the leaders of the rebellion, said,
"I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery!"
The Maroons who escaped into the Maroon country in Jamaica managed to hold out for a long time. Kofi, their leader, is still venerated in Jamaica, and rightly so. We must remember those aspects of the history of abolition. In passing, let me say that I hope that the Jamaican Government will do their best to protect the wonderful Maroon country of Jamaica from the mining exploitation being visited on it at present, so that succeeding generations can see the place where those who managed to escape slavery lived.
We must also consider what happened once slavery had been abolished. The British commercial interests—largely, they were British commercial interests—were not done. As my hon. Friend Mr. Khan pointed out, they transported large numbers of indentured workers from India to Mauritius, South Africa, the Caribbean and many other places. In reality, those indentured workers, though they might have had a supposedly limited time on their indentures, were slaves, just like the slaves who had supposedly been completely freed at that time.
Once we understand the history, we must go forward. Slavery is an inhuman and vile state. Two things are necessary for slavery: one is the ability of people to turn a blind eye to the utmost brutality; the other is the making of huge profits from slavery and the control of other human beings. As many Members have pointed out, the profits made by the sugar industry and many others led to the British banking system, and to Barclays¸ the Midland and many other banks in this country. Such interests are still around, however, and making a great deal of money in different ways from the inhuman treatment of people. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks pointed to the sex slaves of the present, and to the appalling trafficking of human beings. We are also aware of very poor people, mainly from south Asia, being transported, virtually, into economic zones in the Gulf states and other places and forced to work for low wages, with no trade union or other rights. Is such gross exploitation of very poor people so different from slavery in a modern sense?
I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's point about people turning a blind eye and to financial gain through slavery. Does he feel as uncomfortable as I do when I flick through the back pages of many local and national newspapers and see adverts selling sex? Does he wonder how many of the women involved have been trafficked into this country?
I, too, often wonder that when I see those obscene advertisements around the place. Often, society is keen to condemn with ritualistic moral fervour those who get involved in that trade while ignoring those who make a great deal of money out of it.
In this year of commemorating the abolition of the slave trade, I hope that the Government will welcome and support Amnesty International's recommendations on the European convention to end trafficking. One is to train officials to identify those who perpetuate human trafficking. Another is to support victims, through accommodation and whatever else is necessary, including allowing them to remain in a country of safety. All hon. Members who represent inner-city areas are familiar with the process whereby people have been trafficked into the country and are living here illegally in a technical sense. They are victims of every kind of exploitation. Is it right that our response is to deport them to places that are probably dangerous for them and likely to expose them to the same treatment in future?
In concluding her speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington spoke about the way in which people are condemned as sub-human. Is the way in which the poorest people in the poorest parts of the world are forced into awful employment practices and those seeking to escape from the dreadful poverty—the origins of which partly lie in the slave trade—in some parts of Africa die on the high seas when trying to seek a place of safety or end up in detention centres all over Europe and the Americas so very different?
We must recognise the wonderful work that was done to end the slave trade 200 years ago and the brave people who stood against it, but acknowledge that we have not yet fully achieved the sort of justice for which they fought. We have a great deal more to do to ensure that our economic relationships with the poorest people in the poorest countries are fair, not exploitative, and that victims of poverty and exploitation are properly treated when they arrive in our country.
My hon. Friend rightly identified the exploitation of labour in developing countries. Does he also agree that one of the main problems and causes of trafficking is massive unemployment in the developing world and that we have failed to tackle that?
Absolutely. For many of the poorest people in the shanty towns of Africa and on the periphery of the cities of Asia—and, indeed, in central and eastern Europe—such exploitation is the only way out. If we want to live in a peaceful world in which the dream of treating human beings as human beings is a reality, we have a great deal to do. Today's debate has shown what has been achieved but is also a salutary lesson in how much more remains for us all to do.
I do not always agree with much of what Jeremy Corbyn says, but I am broadly in sympathy with the points that he made this afternoon.
I should begin, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague did, by declaring an interest. In 1983, when we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, as distinct from the slave trade, I published a short life of William Wilberforce, which is now sadly out of print. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks has the field to himself. When I was writing the book, I became increasingly aware of what a great man William Wilberforce was. I do not detract from what people have said about others, including Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp and John Venn. The list is long and many anonymous people made a genuine contribution, especially the slaves themselves. However, William Wilberforce was the parliamentary spearhead and an extraordinary man—unprepossessing in appearance, short of stature, physically frail, yet with an indomitable spirit. He fought tenaciously, suffered many setbacks and, for 20 long years, embodied the abolitionist cause in this place. It is good for us as Members of Parliament to reflect on what a man who never held high office, nor ever aspired to it, could achieve by his persistence and—as Sir Samuel Romilly said at the time when slavery itself was finally abolished—by his sheer goodness.
Wilberforce was not a party man. Some of my colleagues like to claim that he was a Tory, but he was not; he was an independent Member of Parliament. He was a very close friend of William Pitt, but, as I have said, he never aspired to high office. He was the absolute embodiment of what an independent-minded Member of Parliament can be, and his work is an example to us all of what such a man can achieve. I believe that he was the greatest Back Bencher of all time; I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks has come to the same conclusion—we shall have to wait for his book to be published to find that out. Wilberforce is certainly one of the pre-eminent figures in the parliamentary roll of honour, which includes Shaftesbury, Joseph Arch and many others. On almost exactly the same date as the Bill to abolish the slave trade received Royal Assent—
Wilberforce was an inspiration. He was the conscience of the nation. He was not, of course, solely concerned with fighting to abolish the slave trade, although that is what he will always be most remembered for. He was a great Christian campaigner who wanted to bring his own particular religious fervour to the attention of people, believing that he had something to transmit to them. He was a great friend of Pitt, as I have said. He was also a great admirer of Fox. Pitt and Fox stood together with him against this ghastly trade. One thing he lamented about Pitt and Fox was that they did not have his religious conviction and fervour.
We already have a fine portrait in the Palace of Westminster, and I would like us to have a special commemoration of William Wilberforce to mark this 200th anniversary. I have on my desk at home a little ashtray—one should not say "ashtray" these days, of course—which was produced by Wedgwood in 1983 and which reproduces the famous image of the black man in chains with the slogan around it:
"Am I not a man and a brother?"
That gave great inspiration to Wilberforce. I would love it to be reproduced as a plaque, and for it to be placed in the Members' Lobby among the memorials to Prime Ministers, because Wilberforce achieved more than most of the Prime Ministers whom we rightly commemorate and revere in the Central Lobby today. It would be a splendid commemoration of this 200th anniversary if we could do something like that.
Members have referred to the fact that what Wilberforce achieved 200 years ago in spearheading this campaign was not the end; of course it was not. However, we can draw various lessons from it that are highly relevant for today. One of them I would take from the speech that Wilberforce made on
The campaign that we want everyone to join today is the one referred to by a number of colleagues: the campaign against human trafficking and the exploitation of men and women by others for profit. In those days, some Members of Parliament benefited from the slave trade, but I do not suppose that a single Member of Parliament benefits from these awful things today. However, many of us perhaps turn a blind eye. I was taken by the intervention of Sarah Teather, who referred to the pages of nauseating advertisements that appear in local papers up and down the country. Would it not be a good thing if we could seek to persuade all those who take those advertisements for profit that they should not be taken? Would not that be one particular and significant step that we could take following today's debate? If the wares were not advertised, people would not necessarily know about them. We may have to legislate on this, but perhaps we can do it by exhortation and example. I would love to see us set a few specific targets in this bicentenary year, and that is one that we could set.
Of course, we also need to be utterly single-minded in rooting out organised crime. Last year, in my capacity as Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I presented in Northern Ireland a report on organised crime in the Province. Particularly apparent, apart from the dimension of paramilitary involvement, was the very important part that human trafficking was playing in the criminal's apparatus. Human trafficking was joining counterfeiting of goods, smuggling and all the other illicit and revolting things, such as money laundering and fuel laundering. [Interruption.] I am glad that at this point, Sammy Wilson has entered the Chamber. He played a valuable part in that inquiry, and it was very significant and disturbing that human trafficking was becoming part of organised crime in Northern Ireland, too. It is doing so throughout the United Kingdom, and we must do everything that we can to root this evil out.
One of the worst things that any of us have heard of in recent months is the stories of young girls—they have been referred to today by other speakers—some in their early teens, from eastern Europe and elsewhere who are brought here and used as instruments of pleasure by evil men, sometimes assisted by evil women. That has got to be attacked. So when we mark a very notable occasion—the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade is one—we want to do two things. Yes, we want to give thanks and to take a quiet pride in what was achieved through this place, although not entirely and solely. In her moving speech, Ms Abbott, made that plain; nevertheless, we can all take pride in what was achieved here, whichever part of the House we sit in and whatever our political or personal background. There is always a time for giving thanks and celebration, but celebration is hollow and giving thanks is barren unless we also rededicate ourselves to attacking the descendent evils of the slave trade and slavery.
Never again will those ships cross the water packed with human cargo, but even as we speak little boats are going into ports on the Mediterranean coast, setting out from Albania and crossing from north Africa, not with people in physical shackles—such as Clarkson took around the country, as the hon. Member for Islington, North reminded us—but shackled in a different way. We have no right to call ourselves a truly civilised society unless we do everything to root out that evil that is still in our midst. I hope therefore that as a result of today's debate there will be a new dedication throughout the House to attack the descendent evils of slavery and the slave trade that still disfigure society today.
It is difficult to know where to start in this important debate. Listening to some of the historical context that we have heard today made me think about talking about slavery in the modern context, but as a black African woman I should first say that I am angry about not being taught my history in school. It was almost as though black history and the important contribution by African people were deliberately left off the agenda. I ask myself why that was so. Perhaps some answers may emerge in the debate today. March 25 2007 is an important anniversary, but many of those in slavery did not get their freedom until 1838 and, as we have heard today, slavery and discrimination sadly continue to the present day.
I wish to talk about discrimination in education. Bernard Coard's report in the 1970s, which is still relevant today, described a multitude of factors that combined to depress the achievement of black boys. He identified three factors that caused that. First were low expectations on the part of black boys about their likely performance in a white-controlled system of education. Second came low motivation to succeed academically because black boys felt that the cards were stacked against them. Third came low teacher expectations that affected the amount of effort they expended on black boys and those boys own image of themselves and their abilities. Such discrimination still exists today and that report is still very relevant today. Black students are given harsher reprimands for the same misdemeanours as their white counterparts and, as we talk about the historical context of slavery and its legacy, we must also consider modern education.
Sunday will mark 200 years since the British abolition of the slave trade or, as some call it, BAST. It was an important step but, as we have heard, Britain was just playing catch-up to a growing revolt. Slavery in the British empire came to an end after a rebellion led by a Jamaican slave called Sam Sharpe. He was the Martin Luther King of the 19th century, opting for non-violent passive resistance to slavery. Many other people will not be mentioned today but should be.
As we mark this year, we must think about our legacy as a Government and as British society. It is important that we teach in context what happened so that we may understand the legacy of slavery today. I use legacy as a term to define what has been passed to the present, and those enslaved gave their tomorrows for our todays. All aspects of black history must be mainstreamed into the national curriculum. The Government's recent announcement that the story of the slave trade would be taught in schools is a small step forward. I am happy that we are having this debate: we must not forget that the British economy was built on the backs of those who suffered in slavery, but I would love an end to be put to Black History Month. I want black history to be amalgamated into the general history of the country, so that it is talked about and celebrated every day.
I would have loved to learn, in my history lessons, about the former slave Olaudah Equiano, who became the slaves first political leader of the 18th century, or about Elijah McCoy, who took out more than 50 patents for his inventions and after whom the term "the real McCoy" is said to have been coined. My constituency of Brent has the largest number of African-Caribbeans in the country, and I am sure that young people there would love to learn about the Jamaican Sam Sharpe, who triggered rebellion among thousands of slaves by telling them that they were free, even when they were not. Again, I am confident that people in my area would be interested to hear about Charlotte Ray, the first black female lawyer and, in 1872, only the third woman ever to be admitted to the Bar. More recently, I am sure that they would be keen to hear about the most honourable Portia Simpson-Miller, who became the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica.
I am confident that, under this Government, positive black history could be taught. After all, we have only ever had three black women MPs, and two of them are in the Chamber this afternoon. Two weeks ago, my hon. Friend Ms Abbott was inducted into the black heroes hall of fame. I applaud her for that, as that is the sort of history that we need to teach. I think that the Government's personal learning programme will encourage more positive teaching for our black students.
Even so, I am a little worried that black students will not learn all the details of the history of slavery, a problem highlighted by my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). For instance, the banks were directly linked to the slave trade: Barclays was established by two plantation owners who traded in slaves, and Lloyds began as a centre where runaway slaves were collected before establishing itself in 1692 as a insurance business covering slaves, slave ships and the plantations. Will history courses teach that, or will they concentrate only on the capture of innocent Africans? We must tread very carefully.
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful case about the change needed in respect of teaching black history, but does she agree that the great popular movements of the 20th century that addressed the question of racism—and I am thinking of the movements against apartheid and colonialism, and in support of civil rights—should also be included? Paul Robeson was the international humanitarian figure who embraced all those movements, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is a great supporter of the need to recognise that great man's life. If my hon. Friend agrees with me, will she join me in hearing Paul Robeson's son—the grandson of a slave—speak at Birkbeck college in October?
I thank my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. I have had the pleasure of listening to Paul Robeson II, and I know that he is an amazing speaker and man, and very inspirational. Of course, I shall be happy to take up that offer.
We must teach positive black history in schools. When she winds up the debate, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equality will be able to shed some light on how the positive and powerful teachings of black history will be included in the curriculum.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for young black people to learn about the black involvement in this country's history, and about the reality of the slave trade? Does she accept that they have to understand that they are not merely the passive recipients of charity from the majority community and that they can be the architects of their own fate?
I agree with that wholeheartedly. I cannot stress too much the importance of teaching positive black history. If we do not teach it, we will be enslaving people all over again, a problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington touched on with some eloquence.
Slavery was not just an event—it was a process of destabilising African societies. It produced negative self-image and African deculturalisation, and demonised all things black and all things African. That is what separates the slave trade from modern slavery. Modern slavery does not strip people of their culture and heritage, which is why it is important that black history is taught in schools.
Will my hon. Friend join me in hoping that when the Government reply to the debate, or other debates on this subject, they will propose some changes in the national curriculum, so that our children understand the wider context of world history and colonialism, with rather less of the narrow bands of history that are far too often taught in all our schools, particularly at primary level?
I agree. As I said earlier, I am an angry black woman because I was not taught my history in school. I hope that part of our legacy as a Labour Government will be that we have rectified that situation, so that when there are, as we hope, more black MPs they will be a little less angry.
This is the time to ensure that Africans rise through the ranks and that black people are encouraged. I want young black people to believe that they can achieve; I want them to pick up books, not dangerous weapons. I want them to know that the debt we owe those who gave their tomorrow for our today runs deep. Maya Angelou wrote:
"I am the dream and the hope of the slave".
We have a huge gap to fill.
We must look to emotional and spiritual reparation to repair minds. We must ensure that all our children know they can achieve great things, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said. It is vital that we continue to strive to tackle modern-day discrimination and slavery in all its forms.
My hon. Friend may be aware that the Mayor of London is working to make
Absolutely. The African emancipation day is an important date. I shall be working with the Mayor, who has come up with some fantastic recommendations in this bicentenary year. Although some parties have tried to reduce the funding for that day, I am pleased that it will be going ahead and I shall be working closely with the Mayor to make sure that it does so.
The Jamaican poet David Neita said that freedom is a right and not an end in itself. It is not a static process; we need to struggle constantly to extend freedom. Part of our freedom is the teaching of our story. As the late, great Robert Nester Marley said:
"Today they say that we are free
Only to be chained in poverty.
Good God, I think it's all illiteraci."
To put those words in a modern context, I welcome the announcement yesterday of an additional £6 million for extra tuition courses and the Chancellor's £10 million for the "Aimhigher" scheme. Such funding has led to a remarkable 93 per cent. of key stage 4 pupils at Copeland school in Brent achieving five or more good GCSEs. I am very proud of that result at my school. In the UK, we must continue to travel in that direction.
In Africa, we must continue to invest, because the economic exploitation of Africa continued long after slavery ended. The Labour Government have made historic commitments to ending poverty in Africa. After all, we have a huge debt to Africa, although in fact it can never be repaid. Those who doubt it need to be reminded, which is why I have been campaigning in Parliament for an annual remembrance day.
In the Deputy Prime Minister's opening speech, he said that the debate on slavery had been going on for a long time. Indeed, it has. In 2004, my hon. Friend Mrs. Ellman tabled an early-day motion on the subject, yet the Government are still not sure whether we should have a remembrance day. I say yes, we should— [ Interruption. ] For the record, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister also says yes.
I believe that it is. I am sure we can iron out the details and date later— [ Interruption. ] I must continue, but I am glad that I have that commitment from the Deputy Prime Minister.
A commemoration day would mean that every year Britain could commemorate the heroism of those who struggled against slavery and injustice, whatever their background, and help our children understand its importance and legacy. It would show them that their responsibility in society runs deep and that they come from a seriously powerful race. It would promote all the unsung heroes we shall be unable to mention today—whether scientists, teachers, parents, politicians or preachers—who sacrificed their lives for our survival. It is important that we support each other and work together on that task. I hope we shall do so. I hope, too, that the Government will bring together grassroots organisations, schools and people such as Natasha Beckles from Brent who has produced a fabulous guide for schools, and hold a meeting here in Parliament to discuss appropriate dates, aims and objectives for an emancipation day.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. As she represents Brent, may I tell her, if she does not know already, that in 1960, before the amalgamation, Willesden council—of which I was then a member—was the first local authority to boycott South African goods? We demonstrated our complete hostility to the apartheid regime.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. Brent is the most diverse constituency in the UK.
I want to end my speech by talking about the importance of women. They dominated the campaign to end slavery, which should come as no surprise as it was so well organised. Women had no vote, but they could make their voice heard through the campaign. It was one of the first ways in which they became involved in politics. The abolitionists were pioneers who helped to invent the political campaigning methods we use today. They collected mass petitions, organised hundreds of local societies, created a campaign logo and organised consumer boycotts. They calculated that if 38,000 families stopped using sugar, it would stop the slave trade altogether.
Nanny, a wonderful woman and a leader of the Maroons, was a symbol of unity and strength throughout the 18th century. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said earlier, the Maroons were Africans who fled to the hills in Jamaica—where my parents are from—when the British invaded in 1655. Many were Rastafarians. They lived free and grew their own food, which we would now call organic, so we could say that they invented organic food—Ital food, as we like to say. They were skilled warriors, hunters and home makers. The British could not control or defeat the Maroons, however hard they tried.
The bicentenary is a major opportunity to consider both the legacy of the British slave trade and slavery in our modern society, and to explore the roots of the racism, prejudice and social stereotypes that continue to affect our local and global communities. Our aim should be to remember the slave trade and its cost to human life. We should remember the debt owed to African people and understand the importance of equal opportunity and respect for others. At every stage, we must challenge injustice and cruelty.
I have already mentioned Maya Angelou. I end with her words:
"You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies.
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise."
This debate pays tribute to a remarkable man. William Wilberforce's achievements were immense and have been recognised all over the country. However, they are overshadowed by what Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest international human rights organisation, describes as the new form of slavery: human trafficking. I knew little about trafficking a year ago—I thought that it was something to do with Parliament square and the one-way system. I did not know anything about it until I read two sensational articles that appeared in The Sun and The Daily Telegraph, which brought to light the sex trade in Britain. The media have done an important job in exposing the problem. Now we need to focus less on sensationalism and more on what the issue is all about, how it works and how we can do something about it.
The new forms of slavery are different from the forms that were prevalent in the world 250 years ago. They could involve trafficking for sexual purposes, domestic servitude, forced labour or forced marriage, or, as has more recently been discovered, the use of Vietnamese boys in the suburbs—not the inner-city areas—to look after cannabis farms and to water plants. There is confusion about what is trafficking and what is smuggling. Trafficking is about being duped or deceived. Often victims of trafficking are offered what seems to be an appealing opportunity to go abroad. Thousands of girls and boys are driven away by violence, rape and murder in Africa.
I came back from Romania this morning, where I went underground to look at this whole subject and to see what drives women in some of the poorest areas in Romania away from those places. They live in the most squalid, appalling conditions—worse than I ever saw when I was a community worker in east London 40 years ago. I am talking about the kind of squalor that people in this country would not leave their animals in. There are mud floors, concrete walls that have split, rat-infested rooms, no electric lights, no fridges, no water and a lot of drink and drunkenness, which is driving young girls out of their homes into the arms of their lover boys, as they are called. They are then brought to Spain, Italy and the UK. It is an appalling picture. One of our EU countries—I have a lot of affection for Romania and Bulgaria—is a centre for such girls, who see no way out of their lives other than to be trafficked and to come to this country to be used for sex.
Those involved in trafficking are essentially business men, aiming to make profits by offering a product for sale where there is demand for it. People trafficking has grown and the demand is still growing. There seems to be an endless supply. As long as there is poverty and appalling abuse at the other end, girls and boys—Members should not think that it is just girls; it is boys too—will be trafficked through to the western areas.
To deal with this new scourge, a huge range of advisers, consultants, officials, fledgling international organisations and non-governmental organisations have grown up. I went to Vienna last year to a conference. I was the only MP there. There were 450 officials, and I do not think that any of them had ever actually seen a victim. They were most concerned with getting money for research. They were concerned about the legal aspects of whether countries could prosecute, and they loved attending conventions. It was like there was a huge circus-load of people who apparently went round the world attending conventions and making comments. There were always papers being given. Trafficking seems to have produced an awful lot of experts and, although some of them do a lot of good work, few of them are victim-oriented. They are just involved in the organisation and conventions.
The best way to halt the vile trade in people is to make life nasty for the traffickers. I welcome the fact that the action plan is coming out so soon—mind you, it was promised last summer, but it is good that it is coming out later this week. It has to make life nasty for traffickers. If traffickers do not have life made nasty for them, they will go on doing trafficking, because the demand is so great. If we make life nasty for them in this country, we have to persuade our European partners to make life equally nasty for them in their countries, otherwise those involved will just the switch the location of their trafficking. If we can make it nasty enough, they will switch from human trafficking to other forms of crime, but at least we will have got human trafficking off the agenda.
We have to realise that Wilberforce's achievements have a shadow cast over them, because of these new forces of evil and slavery. I believe the best people to help to stop this new form of slavery are, first, the immigration services, then the police and the victim-based non-governmental organisations and shelters. Although there is plenty of law to shop traffickers, according to a parliamentary question that I asked on
"The Government are doing a great deal on trafficking, which is why cross-government work is going on. We have had successful operations in relation to people coming into this country, such as Operation Pentameter. We are leading Europe on providing for victims and ensuring that people are recognised at ports. This must be an international issue and it needs to be dealt with through international action. We are making great progress, and we are recognised as a leader in Europe."—[ Hansard, 22 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 403.]
I am not quite sure who recognises us as a leader in Europe. How are people going to be recognised at ports? Is this a sort of beauty parade? Will officials say, "There's another trafficker?" What do they do when they see the traffickers? If traffickers are recognised, what are we going to do with them? They may have served a prison sentence or have a criminal record, but we cannot just send them back if they are from EU countries. I am concerned, because how will immigration officers be able to do anything just because traffickers are recognised? Perhaps the Minister did not fully think through that remark.
How well are immigration officers doing? They are our front-line staff at ports of entry. What information do they receive and from whom, and when they get their information what can they do with it? Can they put somebody who has been convicted of trafficking back on the next plane? Have they got the power to do that? What about the human rights of the person who was guilty of trafficking some way back? Bad track records will not prevent other EU citizens from coming into Britain.
On my recent visit to Europol, in The Hague, it was stressed that there was indifferent communication and that there were different priorities between the 27 EU countries. The information provided by Britain was criticised. I am sure that the Minister will be concerned, as I was, that Europol was not entirely complimentary about the British approach to Europol and to providing information to it. There are 500 or so Europol staff and they are only as good as the questions they ask or the information that they are given. Until there is a minimum common standard in relation to the accuracy of fingerprinting, DNA, and photographic as well as gun profiles, the measures taken will be useless. There are 27 countries with 27 lots of criminals. Unless we get accurate information, people with appalling criminal records are going to come in and out of Britain.
I was particularly concerned about how, as a result of the action plan, criminals from those countries would be apprehended at Heathrow, and about whether they would be sent back, or followed. Are there teams of people in all ports of entry waiting to see who is coming through and do intelligence officers then follow that up?
The answer is that that does not happen. The fact that the convictions of only 30 traffickers have been managed should worry the whole House. If there has been a failure to apprehend the criminal gangs at ports of entry and there is no hope of apprehending victims of trafficking or slave children, what chance do the police have of finding either the victims or the gangs?
Although I have expressed concern about immigration officials, I make no criticism of them at all—they are powerless. The idea that we will stop trafficking through any of the ports of entry is pure moonshine. The gangs and victims are going through passport control and the immigration service, so the police have to chase everything up—when the horse has bolted, bring in the police.
Until the introduction of Operation Pentameter, which has received considerable and well deserved publicity, there was little focus in this country on the new forms of slavery. I pay tribute to Operation Pentameter. Every one of the 55 police forces was involved in the three-month operation during which 84 victims of trafficking were discovered, 12 of whom were minors. However, who are they? Where are they now? Why do we not have a permanent Operation Pentameter? Why is not every policeman trained so that he is aware of, and able to look out for, human trafficking? Should not every police force have a designated unit that focuses on trafficking? Should there not be a national focus under one commander? When the action plan is published, I am hoping to hear that something along those lines will be introduced, but the measure must be permanent. There is no point in having operations that last for three months and are then closed down because they are too expensive or difficult. Once the trafficked people are found, the problem is what to do with them.
One of the ways of getting a better sense of perspective about the scale of the trafficking problem would be to establish an independent national rapporteur or investigation bureau on human trafficking, as is the case in the Netherlands. I had the good fortune to visit that body recently and I was impressed by its independence. It conducts research on human trafficking in the Netherlands, produces statistics and figures and works with the police and Government agencies. The important aspect of the system is that the rapporteur is responsible for reporting on national statistics and emerging issues and the matter is debated annually in Parliament. There are thus actual figures to show what is going on in that country, yet this country's Government are unable to answer my questions by giving me information because they do not have it. The establishment of such a body would be one way of producing statistics. I am thus sad that the Government have rejected such a proposal.
Where are the results of the Government's "good practice", to use the Minister's words? According to a written answer, the total number of people charged by the Crown Prosecution Service for the offence of human trafficking under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was 132. However, let me cite further the reply, because it contained some rather interesting figures. I apologise for asking so many questions, but they show up the lack of available information. The reply said that the establishment of the United Kingdom human trafficking centre led to a multi-agency operation
"which aimed to tackle trafficking for sexual exploitation and which led to 234 people being arrested."—[ Hansard, 20 July 2006; Vol. 449, c. 609W.]
However, of those 234 people, only 132 were charged, and we do not know how many were found guilty. After a massive operation and massive cost to the taxpayer, we got no results —[ Interruption. ] If the Minister thinks that I have got that wrong, I ask her to intervene.
I was merely making the point that when someone is charged, there is a process to go through. Obviously it takes time before court cases come through and there are convictions. If we are not at the end of that process, we are not able to give results.
I quite understand that, but the point is that the numbers are trivial. Only 132 people have been charged with trafficking, yet we believe that tens of thousands of people have been trafficked. The can of worms has barely been opened. I find it difficult to be complacent about the situation and to suggest that the Government have a good track record. I am delighted that they have started to address the problem, but they have only just started. I am worried about the figures. While 132 people were charged, only 30 have been convicted, so we are talking about tiny numbers.
The fact that more people are charged with the trafficking of people under immigration legislation than the Sexual Offences Act is a good illustration that the Government see human trafficking as a problem relating to immigration rather than human rights. In answer to a question that I tabled in June 2006 on child trafficking, the Government said that at least 12 defendants were charged in three separate cases involving female victims of trafficking between the ages of 15 and 18. Ten of them were convicted and received lengthy sentences.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Does he share my slight puzzlement at the Government's hesitancy in signing and ratifying the convention? It seems that they are more worried about immigration issues than human rights abuses—the balance is slightly wrong.
The right hon. Gentleman puts that point very well. I do not mind about the signing too much, but I mind about the ratification because, as the Minister will know, 10 countries need to ratify the European convention before it can become effective. Only three countries have ratified to date—
The number is five now—I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. There are thus another five to go, and we are signing the convention only this weekend. However, I am glad that we are signing it because it is a good step in the right direction.
I do not know whether the House knows that no prosecutions under the trafficking legislation have taken place for cases involving African women or girls.
I pay tribute to the all-party group on trafficking of women and children, which I have the honour of chairing. It has a distinguished group of officers and members, including Clare Short and my hon. Friend Mr. Vara. It is served by the well-known organisation ECPAT UK—End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes—which has done a great service to this country.
The most important point arising from the intervention of Malcolm Bruce is that we must not only sign the convention, but practise and ratify it. I thought that it might be useful to the House if I were to say something about victim support. If the police are able to dig out the traffickers and get enough evidence—
I will obviously follow your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, I hope that you will not think it disrespectful of me to say that I am straying no further than either of the Front-Bench speakers. In fact, at least 50 per cent. of hon. Members' speeches have concentrated on human trafficking and the new forms of slavery. I hope that I will not do anything other than they did. However, I am grateful for your guidance.
I want to talk for a moment about what would happen if the police were able to dig out the traffickers—this is about trafficking and slavery. It is worth mentioning that the real problem is getting enough evidence to pin a conviction on a trafficker. If traffickers were convicted, would they serve their sentence in their country of origin or at a cost to the British taxpayer—would we be expected to foot the bill?
What about the victims of traffickers? Every time that I ask a question about the new forms of human slavery, the anticipated answer is that the POPPY project is dealing with the matter. Let us consider the reality of the POPPY project. It is rightly given tremendous and continuous publicity. Every time a Minister answers a question about this issue from the Dispatch Box, POPPY pops up. I do not want to trivialise POPPY's achievements, but the project must be viewed in perspective. POPPY has only 25 beds, which are in London alone, and a further 10 emergency beds, if required. I am told that when Operation Pentameter was in force, POPPY's places were nearly full. However, once Pentameter ceased, the number of referrals fell. When I made an inquiry about four months ago, the number of women in the care of POPPY was down to 16 out of a possible 35.
There are a number of reasons for that. First, one has to be over 18 to go to POPPY; under-18s are turned away. Secondly, under-18s go into local authority care. POPPY deals only with trafficking or slavery for sexual exploitation. Victims of forced labour or domestic servitude or forced marriage are turned away. POPPY provides unconditional support only for a so-called reflection period of four weeks. It works only in London, so there is no equivalent POPPY project for people in Manchester, Birmingham or Sheffield. If I am wrong about that, perhaps the Minister can put me right. It works for a short period of four weeks and if support is to last any longer, the victim has to offer information about their traffickers; otherwise, they are asked to leave. I do not believe that that has been a very successful approach.
Up to 4,000 women a year are trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation. The POPPY project mapping report, "Sex in the City", shows evidence of off-street prostitution in 22 London boroughs. An estimated 80 per cent. of people working in brothels, saunas and massage parlours are non-British nationals—80 per cent. of prostitutes come from abroad. It is rather like restaurants; people seem to want a choice, whether it be Indian or Chinese. They go for a range of people who have been trafficked into this country.
What happened to the women in the POPPY project? Nobody knows. Have they been sent back home or integrated into this country; and what has happened to the 277 referrals? Nobody knows. I must say that I am increasingly concerned about where all the women have gone to. What about the 3,800 whom POPPY did not deal with? What has happened to them? POPPY says that it is looking after as many people as it possibly can, but the attitude in Britain towards trafficked people is very different from that in Holland or Italy. As Britain is about to sign the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, should we not be planning a slightly more constructive approach?
The Minister boasts that the POPPY project provides protection and assistance to adult victims, safe accommodation and a range of support services, but I wonder whether the House knows that women in the POPPY project who have entered the UK illegally do not have access to medical care. They are not entitled to any medical care whatever if they are illegal entrants. Many face multiple problems, including physical ones, and sexually transmitted diseases, yet they are not entitled to medical facilities. Does the Minister know that; will she deal with it in her winding-up speech?
Finally, I want to look into child slavery. What did the Deputy Minister for Women and Equality have in mind when she said that we were leading Europe in providing victims of human trafficking with protection, particularly under-aged victims? When she said that, was she aware that 4,885 girls aged between 15 and 19, and 6,170 boys sought asylum in the UK in 2005—about 11,000 children? According to the Home Office website, in 2005, out of 2,835 decisions, 700 were refused. I am not sure what has happened to the other 7,000. The numbers do not add up. No one is sure whether victims of trafficking who are under 18 have right to remain in the UK, or whether some of the thousands of children missing are just shipped out of Britain again. Who is responsible for those children? Who looks after them and who cares for them? Do they have a guardian ad litem? Are they fostered to families who will care for them? Do they go to school?
I would like to offer the hon. Gentleman some reassurance. I received a letter this morning from the director of children's services in Liverpool, telling me that Liverpool is one of two centres in the UK to take unaccompanied children coming into this country to seek asylum. I was informed that there was a panoply of provision for those children that was equal to anything that we would provide for our own children. The director of children's services wrote to ask me for further assistance, but he also took the opportunity to outline the Government's plans for a network of centres throughout the UK for these children in order to ensure that when they arrive they are adequately taken care of and protected.
That is very reassuring, but it cannot be reassuring to the boys who were watering the cannabis plants, because they were illegal immigrants. They were failed asylum seekers and they were not going to be looked after. The problem is that we are talking about 10,000 children who applied for asylum, but the figures do not square up. I am delighted to hear what the hon. Lady says, but the figures do not square with what the Government are producing in relation to where these young people are. The truth is that nobody cares about them because they have no family or friends here. They are victims and it is up to us to ensure that they are protected.
The outcome of the recent ECPAT UK report on missing children worried me. The report highlighted the 80 children known or suspected of being trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation, labour exploitation and forced marriages, but 48 of them have gone missing. This is a highly recognised and responsible organisation and its report appeared in all the national newspapers for one day, but where have those 48 children gone? We need to do some detective work. I am delighted that some are being looked after, but an awful lot of them are not, and when they go missing they get re-trafficked. I do not believe that we can be recognised as a leader in Europe in this respect.
The Government state that they will do anything to tackle the problem and to prosecute the traffickers, but the public authorities are already failing to protect minors when no one knows where they are. Few traffickers have been apprehended in spite of sensational stories about sex trafficking, and comparatively few women have come forward. The problem is that the full picture is obscured. We do not have a clue what is going on, which is why I have spent the past year trying to find out.
I have visited a safe house outside Rome where I met and talked with girls trafficked into Italy from Romania and Bulgaria, some as young as 10; I have met traffickers in a high-security prison in Bucharest; I have been to Europol and hostels in Holland; and I have spent time in the most deprived cities in Romania. I met some of the top professionals—from police chiefs to mayors—trying to get to grips with the problem, which remains intangible.
What could the Government do? For starters, they could withdraw their reservation in respect of immigration and nationality on the 1989 UN convention on the rights of the child. In an answer to my parliamentary question of
What this debate should achieve is the highlighting of the extent of the problem in Britain. What we know about trafficking leads me to believe that we have seen a tip of an iceberg. Although we should certainly congratulate the Government and the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety—unfortunately, he has just left the Chamber and did not hear my compliment—who is responsible for trafficking, my conclusion is that there still an immense amount of talk and a large number of meetings, but little to be seen on the ground.
The fact that up to 800.000 people each year are trafficked in one way or another; the fact that Lithuania says that Britain is a No. 1 destination for sex trafficking; the fact that 48 children can go missing in the care of local authorities; the fact that Operation Pentameter found 84 women in three months; the fact that 15-year-olds from Vietnam, who got into Britain illegally, are growing cannabis in the suburbs of our towns; and, finally, the fact that Britain has been unable to mount very many successful prosecutions all highlight the fact that human trafficking is still way ahead of the Government. The traffickers must be splitting their sides with mirth at the pedestrian, clumsy, inflexible and bureaucratic way in which the Government, the police and immigration officers are proceeding. When the Minister publishes his action plan, can we be sure that he will make life as difficult as possible for traffickers and better for victims, and that he will decide how we should respond to the trafficking of children into Britain?
Where are we, 200 years after abolition? We have got rid of the old form of slavery—lifelong deprivation of rights and freedoms—but today we have a new form of slavery that is growing fast. It is related to ever increasing demand from an affluent society that is prepared to buy children for sex, domestic slavery, begging and the growing of cannabis. While society may have outlawed traditional slavery, the new forms of exploitation prey on the most vulnerable, the poorest and the least educated. All the evidence suggests that trafficking in human beings is now more profitable than arms dealing or drug trafficking. It is a criminal abuse by human beings of other human beings. It is an assault, both physical and mental, on those who are least able to care for themselves. If ours is a country that believes in human rights, we should be at the forefront of tackling this issue rather than just talking about it.
I pay tribute to the excellent and powerful speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Brent, South (Ms Butler).
The House has three Hull Members. Each of us is very proud that William Wilberforce is probably the most famous son of the city, and that he played such an important role in the abolition of the slave trade. I was heartened when Sir Patrick Cormack said that Wilberforce was an independent rather than a Tory, because we do not really have Tories in Hull. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr. Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who has played a pivotal role in ensuring that the bicentenary is properly marked and that a range of events throughout the year will record its importance.
Late in 2005, soon after I became a Member of Parliament, I initiated a Westminster Hall debate on the abolition of the slave trade, because I wanted to know how the Government planned to mark this important anniversary. It was an interesting debate, to which my hon. Friend Mr. Lammy responded. He described the plans for the celebration, and also agreed to visit Hull to see what we planned to do there. He did so in 2006, and I think he was impressed by the range of events that we had planned for 2007.
Mr. Hague gave a very full historical account of William Wilberforce and the history of the abolition movement. I shall say a few words about the role of women in the abolition campaign.
It should be borne in mind that there were other Members of Parliament before Wilberforce. Many people forget that we nearly abolished slavery during the English civil war. Another character who presided here for a long time, and who was responsible for stopping the movement towards the abolition of slavery, was Oliver Cromwell. When he became Protector of England he saw the commercial opportunities presented by slavery, and persuaded the House not to abolish it. Many of the early slaves were white, and many were from Ireland.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is another part of the great history that surrounds today's debate. I am learning an enormous amount that I did not know before.
I want to say a little about the bicentenary celebrations in Hull, and also about the present situation in relation to slavery. First, however, let me say something about William Wilberforce.
Wilberforce was born in 1759, in a house in the high street in Hull. His father died when William was quite young, so he spent much of his early life with his aunt, who was under the influence of John Wesley and the Methodist movement. It is significant that the religious element continued throughout Wilberforce's life.
At 17 Wilberforce went up to St John's college, Cambridge. Reading a bit about that time, I noted that he was shocked by his fellow students' hard drinking. Not much has changed about young people going up to university! He went on to represent the city of Hull as its Member of Parliament, having been elected in 1780 at the tender age of 21. It was a hard-fought contest, and Wilberforce's election cost the exorbitant sum of £9,000. I found that interesting, especially in the light of Hayden Phillips and our current discussions of how elections are paid for.
When Wilberforce entered the House he supported the Tories, although he was an independent. In 1784 he converted to evangelical Christianity, and joined the "Clapham sect" referred to by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. At that point he decided to follow the social reform agenda in Parliament, and was asked to campaign particularly against the slave trade. It is estimated that between 1776 and 1807 Britain trafficked about 1 million people. Wilberforce had a huge issue to tackle, and was up against the establishment view. That was described eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington when she spoke of banks and Members of Parliament with an interest in the slave trade. The Society of Friends had been campaigning against the trade for some time, and had presented petitions in 1783 and 1787. Wilberforce introduced his Bill against the trade in 1791, but it was easily defeated.
We must not dwell only on Wilberforce, however, because many other parliamentarians—and people outside Parliament—were instrumental in the abolition campaign. In an intervention on the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, I mentioned the sugar boycott. That was of particular interest to me because Hull contains Wilberforce House, the first museum in the world to be dedicated to the anti-slavery movement. It is about to be reopened following the investment of a huge amount of money to prepare it for the 2007 celebrations. There is a stand providing information about the sugar boycott and the role played by women in choosing not to buy or cook with sugar. Thomas Clarkson, whom many Members have mentioned, said that when he travelled around the country,
"there was no town, through which I passed, in which there was not some one individual who left off the use of sugar".
That shows that action was not taken just in Parliament, and that ordinary people, when they heard the facts about the slave trade, were so appalled that they wanted to do their bit. For the first time, a campaign for the boycotting of a commodity was initiated by ordinary people. Of course, it was to happen again in years to come: I remember the boycotting of products from South Africa in the 1980s in support of the anti-apartheid movement.
The success of the sugar boycott eventually led to the establishment in the 1820s of female anti-slavery groups in many British cities, involving notable female abolitionists such as Elizabeth Heyrick, who called for a total ban. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and a month after William Wilberforce died in 1833 Parliament passed the Abolition of Slavery Act, which gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom.
As well as campaigning against slavery, Wilberforce had a range of other interests, including animal welfare. He was involved in the setting up of the charity that is now known as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Having described William Wilberforce's role as a Hull MP and his pivotal role here in Parliament, I want to say something about Hull. As a port city with a strong maritime and trading background, it has always had an eye to the rest of the world. William Wilberforce stood up to the slave trade, but Hull was different from Bristol and Liverpool, much of whose wealth was built on the trade; Hull did not have that slave-trade background, so it came to the issue with clean hands. Obviously, that might be because Hull is on the wrong side of the country, but I like to think that there was some principle behind that, too. Those principles have been followed in some of the work done in the past few years.
In 1982, Hull became the first city in the west to twin with a third-world city, Freetown, in Sierra Leone. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister talked about his recent visits to Sierra Leone and what is going on there. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, mentioned that the world's first colony for free Africans was set up in Freetown in 1792. To return to Hull in the 1980s, the then leader of the council, Alderman Patrick Doyle, thought that it was important to build a link with Sierra Leone, and so he twinned Hull with Freetown. That link has gone from strength to strength over the years; eight of our schools are now actively twinned with schools in Freetown, and there are further links with churches and hospitals.
Hon. Members will know that Freetown is still recovering from a lengthy period of considerable turmoil, and there is much scope for development in Sierra Leone. Later, I shall talk about one of the projects taking place in 2007 to link further children and young people in Hull with those in Sierra Leone. Hull was the first local authority to sign up to Amnesty International, and Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela are freemen of the city.
I should like to put it on the record that what Hull has achieved is wonderful. It is really remarkable, and I wish that other authorities throughout the country would follow the lead of its authority; if more authorities did so, we would all be in a much better place. My own local authority resisted any such twinning on the basis that there was no economic parity between the two communities. If twinning just comes down to economic parity, we will not go anywhere. There is so much that we can learn culturally, and my hon. Friend is demonstrating that in her speech.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and she is absolutely right—if we considered the issue purely on grounds of economics, perhaps it would not be the route to take, but we all recognise that we have an international responsibility. Hull has been proactive in looking further than the end of its nose.
For several years, William Wilberforce lectures have been held in Hull. Last year, James Coleridge Taylor, head of the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights in Sierra Leone, was the key speaker. The Wilberforce lectures celebrate Kingston upon Hull's historic role in combating the abuse of human rights, as personified in the work of William Wilberforce. This year, there are a number of lectures; this Sunday, there will be a lecture by the Prime Minister of Barbados, who is coming to Hull, and later in the year the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York will take part in the lectures.
The fair trade movement is a key way of trying to deal with the factors that allow slavery to continue today. A few years ago, I attended a meeting about young children who were slaves in the cocoa-growing industry in Africa; fair trade and the work done by the makers of Divine chocolate and other products are really important. It is about consumers making a positive choice to put their principles into practice. Hull was awarded Fairtrade city status in March 2005, and that was achieved through the hard work of grass-roots people in Hull—the Churches, the schools, the One World shop, and the university. That sent the signal that Hull is serious about marking its proper place in the world, and behaving properly and responsibly towards the rest of the world. I am proud that we have a strong fair trade tradition in Hull.
My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, or WISE, which has been established at the university of Hull. Its patron is Desmond Tutu, who said of it:
"It is exemplary that the university should build on the history of the city and one of its most outstanding citizens. Tragically, slavery and the violation of human rights are still with us in the 21st century. The institute will be a beacon that will continue to throw a light on issues that are too often overlooked."
The institute brings together the study of history, law, politics, anthropology, medicine and genetics. Its funding launch was held at Downing street and was hosted by Cherie Booth, and it was opened in 2006 by the President of Ghana. We in Hull are very proud of that institute.
Hull is holding 34 weeks of celebrations to mark this important anniversary. We started off with the fair trade fortnight at the end of February, and the celebrations will run all the way through to October, ending in black history month. As I have mentioned, one of the main events, the opening of Wilberforce house after a £1.6 million refit, will be held this weekend. It is a wonderful building, and it now has an education unit to allow schoolchildren from the area to attend courses in the house, and I am proud of that. I looked at Wilberforce house's website just before this debate, and it says that all the courses for this year are solidly booked; there is no space at all. It is heartening that all schoolchildren in Hull will be able to access the museum. One of the lectures is titled "William Wilberforce—the role of the individual", and it is interesting that one individual can change history. We often hear young people saying, "Well, it doesn't really matter. We can't do anything," but actually they can.
I want to mention Cafesociety.org, a project in Freetown. It has made a range of short films with young people in Sierra Leone that focus on a diverse range of topics, and include films about the role of football in post-civil-war Sierra Leone, the story of a former child soldier, and the life of the city's market traders. The films will be shown by the British Council in Freetown and in Hull. Work is under way with one of our secondary schools, the Winifred Holtby school, and real links are being built between young people in Hull and Sierra Leone. It will mean young people from different parts of the world talking to each other, but having so much in common.
I should mention the Wilberforce Women event. At the end of 2006, women in Hull were invited to attend photography workshops and submit photographs that they had taken, or that had inspired them. The pictures were made into greetings cards, and the women wrote personal messages inside. In February, the cards were personally delivered to women in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which, as I have mentioned, has important links to Hull. The process is now being repeated; women in Freetown are submitting their photographs and personal messages, which will be hand-delivered in Hull. Local Hull photojournalist Lee Karen Stow and fine art photographer Fiona Caley will spend two weeks delivering basic photography skills to the women of Freetown. The finale will be an exhibition of all the photographs and messages sent between the women of the two cities at the Ferens art gallery in Hull in October 2007.
There is a lot going on in Hull; there are events in the city and between countries. I must just mention that the guest beer in the House of Commons last week was the William Wilberforce Freedom ale. There is also William Wilberforce Freedom fair trade coffee, which is produced in my constituency of Hull, so there are commemorative projects of that kind, too. Finally, I point out that the local paper, the Hull Daily Mail, is running a petition on some of the issues on slavery that we still face today. The petition reads:
"I urge governments and international bodies to work together to better understand the Transatlantic Slave Trade, address its impact on countries and communities around the world, and work to end slavery for all time."
There are already more than 3,500 signatures on that petition, and I hope that many more people will sign it during the year. It is important that we mark this important anniversary.
I am proud that we are doing so much in Hull. Bristol and Liverpool are hosting events to mark the abolition of the slave trade, but Hull has a particular role to play as the place from which William Wilberforce came. Despite everything, it has remained true to the principle of an international perspective—a belief that we are all brothers and sisters in the world together.
May I begin by saying that it is a pleasure to follow Ms Johnson, who spoke with great pride and passion about her constituency? I am particularly pleased that she spoke in great detail about William Wilberforce, because that gives me an excuse to wax lyrical about one of the famous sons of my own constituency. May I congratulate the Government on finding time for this important debate? I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on his role in it and on making sure that the celebrations this year are as good and wide-ranging as possible.
The debate has been marked by a number of excellent speeches, including the historical tour de force by my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague. He has an advantage over most of us, because he has written a book on William Wilberforce and thus researched the subject. My hon. Friends were a little unkind in asking him penetrating, detailed questions that they would not put to a professor of history, but it is a mark of his great talent that he could deal with them brilliantly. I was taken, too, with the forthright, informative and thought-provoking contributions from the hon. Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Brent, South (Ms Butler).
It is right that we should hold this debate to celebrate—that is the key word—the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807, but what, in fact, are we celebrating? First, and obviously, we are celebrating those men and women who made individual contributions to the great cause of the 18th and 19th centuries—people such as William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp, James Ramsay and Thomas Clarkson, as well as thousands of ordinary people, many slaves and freed slaves who supported the campaign against the slave trade. They had the moral passion, the sheer tenacity, dedication, fortitude, vision and single-mindedness to overcome tremendous odds and setbacks too numerous to mention to achieve their goals. When they started their campaign, nothing was inevitable or predetermined. They campaigned to abolish the slave trade—that took them 20 years to accomplish—then they went on to abolish slavery throughout the British colonies, which took them a further 26 years. Secondly, we are celebrating places with connections to those great social pioneers—the towns and villages the length and breadth of the country that take immense pride in their famous sons and daughters. The obvious example is William Wilberforce, with his roots in, and political representation of, the great city of Kingston upon Hull, but there are many others—notably Thomas Clarkson, who was born and raised in Wisbech in the Isle of Ely in my constituency of North-East Cambridgeshire.
As well as spatial connections, there are connections primarily among Christian groups and denominations, which came together in common cause and buried sectarian differences to provide a united and coherent front. Chief among those denominations, as we have heard many times in the debate, were the Quakers, whose selfless and self-effacing devotion to the campaign cannot be overstated. They were closely followed by evangelists and Anglicans such as Thomas Clarkson. Indeed, the first meaningful and formal anti-slavery group—the committee for effecting the abolition of the slave trade—was established in 1787 and was composed of nine Quakers and four Anglicans. In an intervention, Chris Bryant told the House that all Anglican bishops were against abolition, but my research did not show that that was the case. The bishops may have opposed abolition, but many ordinary Anglican communicants, including Thomas Clarkson, were very much involved in the movement.
The formal birth of the campaign in 1787 was probably one of the first examples of political campaigning and lobbying as we know them today. At the time, however, there were no easy and fast means of communication, let alone decent overland transport: no telephone, no photography, no television, no telegraphy or e-mail; no trains or automobiles—just a slow and rudimentary postal service, horse-drawn coaches and one's trusty nag. We should certainly celebrate the incredible fortitude of all those involved who overcame those massive challenges to persuade others and change public perceptions. We should celebrate, too, the role of our fledgling parliamentary democracy in that process. Although the campaign was unacceptably protracted in today's terms, it was nevertheless one of the earliest examples of public opinion overcoming powerful vested economic interests through the use of petitions and lobbying—a point well made by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. Finally, we should celebrate the forerunner of human rights pressure groups and mark the establishment in 1823 of the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery, which later became the Anti-Slavery Society.
There is therefore much to celebrate in this bicentenary year, but paramount is the contribution of the key players. Abolition was without doubt a people process, and although much of the praise has rightly gone to William Wilberforce, I trust that the House will forgive my indulgence if I share with it the massive contribution of Thomas Clarkson, who was born in 1760 in Wisbech in my constituency, the son of John Clarkson, headmaster of Wisbech free grammar school. Thomas Clarkson is, without doubt, that Georgian gem of a town's most famous son, and Wisbech town centre is dominated by a 70 ft-high monument to him, which was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and erected in 1881 following public subscription.
Thomas Clarkson showed immense intellectual promise as a young man at St. John's College, Cambridge university, which is my alma mater. By strange coincidence, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said, it is the college that William Wilberforce attended. I do not know whether Wilberforce and Clarkson knew each other at college, but it is remarkable that the two central figures in the campaign went to the same Cambridge college. Clarkson entered a Latin essay competition in 1785. The essay question was, "Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?" The research that he did for the essay changed Clarkson's life, as it challenged him to consider the question of the slave trade. After winning the prize, he decided to go to London to have the essay translated and printed in English. When he stopped at the village of Wadesmill, which is now on the A10 somewhere in Hertfordshire, he experienced what he called a spiritual revelation from God. He wrote:
"A thought came into my mind that if the contents of the Essay were true, it was time some person should see these calamities to their end".
It was that experience that "ordered" him to devote his life to abolishing the trade.
Clarkson's work on the issue in the early years brought him into contact with influential men such as James Ramsay and Granville Sharp. In May 1787, Clarkson was one of the three pioneering Anglicans, along with Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce, who formed the committee for effecting the abolition of the slave trade— a small non-denominational group that lobbied for greater public and parliamentary support. Clarkson agreed to play a leading part in the affairs of the committee, and he took responsibility for collecting information and researching the issues to support the committee's case. He faced much opposition from supporters of the trade in the many of the cities that he visited, as the slave traders were an influential group and the trade itself was seen at that time as legitimate, lucrative and responsible for the prosperity of ports such as Liverpool and Bristol. Indeed, on an early visit to Liverpool in 1787 he was attacked and nearly killed by a gang of sailors who had been paid to assassinate him. He only just escaped with his life. In the same year, 1787, Clarkson published his pamphlet, "A Summary View of the Slave Trade and of the Probable Consequences of its Abolition."
Clarkson was very effective at giving the committee a high public profile, spending the next seven years riding around England promoting the cause and gathering evidence. The sheer magnitude of this endeavour takes one's breath away. He covered some 35,000 miles, mainly on horseback. History does not tell us whether it was the same horse, but I doubt it, poor thing—I am sure he changed horses frequently. In the course of his journeys he interviewed almost 20,000 sailors and people involved in the trade. He obtained equipment used on the slave ships, such as iron handcuffs, leg shackles, thumb screws, instruments for forcing open slaves' jaws, and branding irons, which he showed in his publications and at the many public meetings at which he spoke.
My hon. Friend is giving a superb account of the work of Clarkson. Will he, as suggested by my constituent, Mrs. Joan Woollard, encourage Wisbech and neighbouring fenland constituencies, such as mine, to make something more of Clarkson during this bicentenary year?
Mrs. Woollard has also contacted me and I have replied to her. We cannot claim to be doing as much as Hull, but perhaps the resources of Fenland district council and Wisbech town council are not of comparable magnitude. However, there is a programme ably run, mainly by the Wisbech Society. There are church services, including one a week on Sunday, and there will be other events throughout the year.
I thank Jeremy Corbyn for his congratulations to the Wisbech and Fenland museum on the loan of Clarkson's chest, which he used to transport his artefacts and visual aids around the country. Perhaps he had another horse to carry that—it must be huge. That chest will form the centrepiece of the exhibition in Westminster Hall, which opens on
Clarkson copied out the muster rolls at the Merchants hall. He got together a support group to initiate a huge signature gathering operation for petitions to Parliament, and he met local newspaper editors to persuade them to print articles against the trade. All the time he continued to write against the slave trade, filling his works with descriptions that he had heard first hand from sailors, surgeons and others who had been involved in the traffic, such as the account of a sailor who had served aboard a slave ship, which was published in 1789 as "An Essay on the Slave Trade".
In the previous year Clarkson had published his "Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade", which was printed in large numbers. These works provided a firm basis for the first and ground-breaking abolitionist speech that William Wilberforce made in the House of Commons on
As the House heard earlier in the debate, Wilberforce introduced the first Bill to abolish the slave trade in 1791, but that was easily defeated by 163 votes to 88. As he continued to bring the issue of the slave trade before Parliament, Clarkson continued to travel and write anti-slavery material, and played a huge role in generating favourable public opinion towards the Bill.
This was the beginning of a protracted parliamentary campaign during which Wilberforce introduced a motion in favour of abolition almost every year. Between them, Clarkson, Wilberforce and the other members of the committee and their supporters were responsible for generating and sustaining a national movement which mobilised public opinion as never before. Parliament, however, refused continually to pass the Bill, and the outbreak of war with France effectively prevented further debate for many years.
By 1794, Clarkson's health was failing and he was suffering from exhaustion. He retired from the campaign and spent some time in the lake district, where he bought an estate at Ullswater and became a friend of the poet William Wordsworth, by an incredible coincidence another old Johnian. In 1804, when the war with France appeared to be almost over, the slave trade campaign revived again. After 10 years, Clarkson's temporary retirement was also over, and he once again got on his horse to travel all over Great Britain to canvass support for the measure. He seems to have returned with all his old enthusiasm and vigour, and was especially active in persuading MPs to back the parliamentary campaign.
After the passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 Clarkson's efforts were directed mainly towards ensuring the enforcement of the Act and seeking to further the campaign in the rest of Europe. He travelled to Paris in 1814 and Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, with the aim of arriving at an internationally agreed timetable for abolition. After 1823, when the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery, later the Anti-Slavery Society, was formed, Clarkson once again travelled the length of the country, covering some 10,000 miles, activating the vast network of sympathetic anti-slavery societies that had been formed. This resulted in 777 petitions being delivered to Parliament demanding the total emancipation of slaves. When the society finally adopted a policy of immediate emancipation, he and Wilberforce appeared together for the last time to lend their support.
In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was finally passed. Wilberforce died just three days afterwards, knowing that his life's work had come to fruition. Clarkson lived on for a further 13 years. Although his eyesight was failing, he continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery, focusing on abolition in the United States. At the grand old age of 80, he was the principal speaker at the opening of the anti-slavery convention in Freemasons hall, London in 1840, attended by 5,000 people, where he was accorded a silent standing tribute. With typical modesty he told the audience:
"I stand before you as a humble individual whose life has been intimately connected with this subject. I can say with truth that though my body is going to decay, my heart beats as warmly in this sacred cause as it did at the age of 24 when I first took it up, and I can say further with truth, that if I had another life given to me to live, I would devote it to the same object".
Possibly because of a public spat with Wilberforce's sons after Wilberforce's death, and perhaps because one of his later books rather over-egged his own contribution to the abolition movement, Clarkson's place in history seemed to be completely eclipsed by that of Wilberforce. However, in 1996, 150 years after his death, a fitting monument to him was unveiled in Westminster abbey—most appropriately, next door to that of his lifelong friend and colleague, William Wilberforce.
As many Members have said, slavery is still with us today in forms such as human trafficking, the sex trade—for which we learned that Britain seems to be the No. 1 destination—bonded labourers, and more. We need more Thomas Clarksons in this legislature and many others throughout the world to step forward to complete his work.
There are those who say that we should apologise for our pivotal role in the slave trade, but I say that we should not. It took place at a time in history when the majority of people worldwide were ignorant of its true nature or saw no moral wrong in it. Its economic success—I say that because it provided a lucrative trade and business for many people over about a century—was based on co-operation with Arab traders and some local African tribes; we now learn of the role that the Ashanti tribe played in this grotesque trade in modern Ghana. Are they all going to apologise as well? I think not. However, it is right to express our sincere regret and to acknowledge that we have learned important lessons about attitudes to racism and racial stereotyping.
We should be thankful for, and celebrate wholeheartedly, the fact that it was our country that produced the moral giants of their time—our countrymen and women who, against all the odds and with incredible dedication, changed society fundamentally and irreversibly for the better. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude. Their moral fortitude is something that we modern politicians should return to before too long.
I should like to share with the House two perspectives on slavery that relate to my own spheres of activity as a Member of Parliament. I start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. I am absolutely delighted that he has encouraged the House to spend time discussing this important matter and supported it in doing so.
Sitting for a Merseyside constituency, I feel that it is important not to let this occasion pass without the House stopping to consider the city of Liverpool's connections with the European slave trade. Indeed, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and other Members have already mentioned it. No city can claim to have been more inextricably linked with that abhorrent practice. At its height, Liverpool controlled 80 per cent. of the British slave trade and 40 per cent. of the European slave trade. Considering those figures, it is no exaggeration to say that Liverpool was one of the forces that drove the entire transatlantic slave trade. London, Bristol and Hull played an important role, but Liverpool was in a league of its own. That trade penetrated every aspect of city life and every level of society—16 of Liverpool's mayors were slave traders.
Liverpool built, owned, manned, insured and repaired the ships that took African people from their homes and families, transported them across the seas and sold them into a life of servitude. Liverpudlians and their countrymen enjoyed the tobacco, sugar, cotton and coffee that those ships brought with them on their return voyages. The merchants and business men grew wealthy through that shameful trade, fuelling the growth of the city and the region. Several Liverpudlians, including John Newton, went on to play a prominent role in the abolition of slavery, but it is important to remember that Liverpool continued to profit from the slave trade long after 1807. Once established, many of the trading posts in west Africa went on to serve Liverpool as she became the second city of the British empire. During the American civil war, cotton from the southern plantations was so important to Britain that ships were built in Liverpool for the Confederate navy so that they could run the Union blockade of the south.
The slave trade is not merely a matter for Liverpool's history; it has left its mark on the present city in so many ways. We cannot—and indeed should not—forget it, because there are so many visible reminders everywhere. Liverpool Lime Street railway station was built on the profits of slavery to facilitate the transport of cotton from the docks to the mills of Manchester. The design of the town hall incorporates a frieze with depictions of Liverpool's trading connections, including motifs depicting African people—not shown as ambassadors of their respective states, but as commodities available for sale in our city. Earle street, New Bird street, Dorans lane and numerous other streets are named after slave traders. Even Penny lane, made famous throughout the world by the Beatles, is said to be named after James Penny, who owned slave ships and vocally opposed abolition.
What of the legacy? This year, Liverpool celebrates its 800th anniversary and prepares to became European capital of culture next year. We have many wonderful things about the city to celebrate: the iconic waterfront, the magnificent twin cathedrals, a proud shipping heritage, successful football teams, the Beatles, and the musicians and poets of the 1960s. However, we are what we are because of the slave trade. We have become a world-class city on the back of the strength and intellectual acumen of people from another continent, and we owe a great debt to the people of Africa.
How does a nation repay that debt? Liverpool has come some way towards acknowledging the part that it played in the slave trade. In 1999, the city council passed a motion formally apologising for it. A museum and study centre dedicated to the subject will open in the city later this year. All our children need to know where they came from and must be encouraged to reach out and share what we have with those from whom we have taken so much.
That brings me on to my second area of interest as chair of the all-party group on the west African Mano river region, which is principally concerned with the development and welfare of the five countries along the banks of the Mano river in west Africa: Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Liberia. It was from that part of Africa that the slave traders took so many individuals from their families and communities, and it was that part of Africa to which freed slaves were later returned. However, just as Liverpool continued to profit from the slave trade long after it was abolished, so west Africa continued to remain impoverished and exploited.
The country that I have had most involvement with is Sierra Leone, which I have visited on five occasions. Slaves freed by Britain initially returned to Africa through that country—many chose to settle there. From the appropriately named port of Freetown, the Royal Navy conducted its anti-slavery patrols; indeed, it continues to patrol the seas off Sierra Leone today. Unfortunately, life for the former slaves in Sierra Leone offered little comfort, and that prospect has remained largely unchanged for their descendents. There exists a direct relationship between prosperity and poverty. In such places, where so many still have so little, people are cheap enough to buy. They are bound by the shackles created by their own poverty. It was only when I visited Sierra Leone that I began to understand for myself that slavery was still very much alive 200 years after it was supposedly banned. Sierra Leone is recovering from a wretched war; unemployment is rife, at 90 per cent; and there are thousands of abandoned children roaming the streets. The reality in impoverished countries is that the only commodity that is readily available is a body, and bodies are cheap. Unfortunately, child prostitution is rife. It is immensely distressing to visit that beautiful country and look beyond the facade of sewage-strewn streets to see beautiful faces who daily pay the price of the rape of their nation that took place centuries ago.
If anyone wishes to deny the historical relevance of the transatlantic slave trade or seeks to downplay the continuing existence of slavery today, I tell them to go to Freetown. Children there have asked me to take them home, and they would be sent here willingly by many parents who are bereft of the opportunity to feed and clothe their own offspring. Liverpool city council is managing hundreds of children who are sent to this country unaccompanied to seek asylum. As a parent, I can understand why mothers in Sierra Leone and other desperately poor countries would want to send their children here. Here, children can go to school, and can expect to eat each day and to receive health care. In Sierra Leone, a quarter of children die before they reach the age of five.
Our challenge as a Government and a nation is to return the wealth gained on the back of the African continent to the descendents of those African nations, not just through our money, but through our skills and intellectual property. Sending money is easy, but we must all invest our time as well. We must sign a commitment pact to give something back.
The British Government are doing truly marvellous work in Sierra Leone, which is recovering from the violence and devastation of war and instability. They responded to President Kabbah in 2002 when he called for assistance to bring an end to the civil war that had seen tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans mutilated, murdered and raped. Our Government have said that we will retain a presence in the country until 2015. We need to stay to send a clear signal to the despicable rebel leaders, who chose to exploit their own people for their own ends, that the country is protected.
The House might already be aware of the work of the British Council, which facilitates projects to share expertise and skills between different countries. Under its global skills partnership, 900 schools in the UK have been linked with counterparts in 80 different countries. This year, one of its themes is slavery. Some school twinning programmes are relatively straightforward. However, twinning in some countries is incredibly difficult, as communications, visits and security all militate against a successful twinning. Despite that, the British Council is working with communities across the UK to form strong links between our communities and those challenged countries in Africa.
I said earlier that giving money was a comparatively easy solution. The Government and the people of this nation want to do a lot more. I am sure that many of us who watched "Comic Relief" last week were not at all surprised to see that more than £40 million was raised in one evening. Sixty per cent. of that fund will be spent on supporting projects throughout Africa that are designed to protect and educate children and their mothers. Thousands of people in this country have decided to make a much bigger commitment, however, and to respond personally to the expressed needs of different African countries. That desire extends to people in my own constituency. It has been pointed out today that the slave trade was brought to an end not only by politicians, but through the will of the people. The delivery of Africa will be brought about by its own people raising their voices, and we have a duty—not only as politicians but as individuals—to support them.
In 2002, I travelled to Sierra Leone as part of a Commonwealth parliamentary delegation, under the chairmanship of Wyn Griffiths, the former MP for Bridgend. I had never been to Sierra Leone before, and it was a profoundly distressing experience. I saw the unimaginable deprivation common to the most challenged countries on the planet. The desperately poor people, the thousands of raped women and the 30,000 child soldiers were among the legacies of 15 years of civil war. I doubt that I could have survived such calamities had I not asked the head teacher of a local school how he managed. He replied, "Life happens. Life goes on." And it does.
During my stay in Sierra Leone—with the support of the British Army, and particularly Lieutenant Colonel Steve Cook—I visited Waterloo, a great little town three miles outside Freetown. From that visit, the Waterloo Partnership was born. The partnership brings together the people of Waterloo in Sierra Leone and Waterloo in Liverpool. The two communities have made a 20-year commitment to each other and, unlike aid agencies or Governments, we will remain together come what may. None of us is paid, and we choose to work together in the one hope that together we will grow closer and stronger because, irrespective of where we are and who we are, people throughout the world have the same aspirations. We want the same things: a good education for our children; sufficient food to eat; and the means to support ourselves. That does not include selling our bodies.
So far, the Waterloo Partnership has raised £150,000. Crucially, we have sat down together to talk about the projects that we can achieve together, and about how we can tackle the problems that we face so that we do not return to the past. In partnership, there must be equal giving and taking. We can learn so much from our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone about tolerance, forgiveness and living in religious harmony, and about teaching and farming practices.
The Waterloo Partnership is facilitating a cultural and educational exchange. So far, 11 teachers from Waterloo have travelled to Sierra Leone on the first of many school exchange visits. That will be the basis of our schools twinning programme. We want to twin all our schools, and we want all our children to learn about each other. We want them to understand their common roots.
In addition, we have involved the business community in helping us to deliver some of the bigger aspirations of our brothers and sisters in Waterloo, Sierra Leone. Those include equipping all the schools there. That is beyond the means of the Sierra Leone Government—only a third of the children in Sierra Leone go to school at the moment—but it is not beyond the means of Colin Crooks and his great team at Green-Works. Colin rang me after hearing a BBC World Service broadcast covering one of the Waterloo Partnership visits. He is in the fortunate position of receiving thousands of chairs and desks from some of the leading companies in the UK that prefer to recycle them rather than send them to landfill. He came with me to Sierra Leone last month, and surveyed every school in Waterloo. He has now put together a business plan to produce bespoke furniture for the schools there. Crucially, that project will generate vitally needed employment.
I must take this opportunity to thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his support; he is a wonderful socialist. He came out to Sierra Leone last month and visited Waterloo. He was received by thousands of delighted residents, children and representatives of different community groups, including the Waterloo Handicapped Association. That marvellous group of men, most of whom are wheelchair-bound, subsequently wrote to my right hon. Friend to thank him for his time and for sharing with them his stories about his disabled father. In their letter, they also expressed their profound hope that he could help them to find work. Generating employment lies at the heart of the work of the Waterloo Partnership, because without work, people become vulnerable to being traded, just for their bodies.
In addition, the Waterloo Partnership is seeking to build the largest library in west Africa. This was a good idea put forward not by the Waterloo Partnership in Liverpool but by the good people in Sierra Leone. I was interested in helping them with a capital project of their choosing. However, they did not choose a project involving sewerage or water; they chose a library, because a generation had missed its education. Many of us regard people in Africa as belittled and cowed by their experience, but they are actually just like us. They have huge aspirations and desires, and those will be accomplished by their ambition for a library. When asked for such a comparatively small thing, who would not rise to the challenge? I am proud to represent a community of people who really want to deliver the largest library in west Africa. We want to deliver a facility that we would be proud of in this country, because our brothers and sisters over there deserve no less.
Given that, 200 years ago, Merseyside helped to rob Africa of some of its best bodies and minds, it is fitting that, 200 years later, its descendants are doing something to help that same part of the world and, perhaps, to absolve the sins of our ancestors. They can never be absolved completely, however; they were mighty sins. But we do not do this merely to appease guilty consciences. I believe that reaching out is important if we are to create communities with integrity and cohesion at home. We are living in a globalised world in which issues such as slavery, prostitution and the trade in drugs, weapons and people are fundamentally linked with matters concerning economics, population, immigration, labour supply and the state of our society.
I am proud to be a member of a party that, in government, has done more than any other to tackle the problems of international development. It has created a Department for International Development at Cabinet level, and it is working with our partners to improve access to medicines, to combat AIDS and to fight corruption. It is also taking a lead on the world stage by doubling aid and writing off debt.
We cannot undo the past. We will never know what course Africa's development might have taken had it not been for the transatlantic slave trade. The victims and the criminals of that trade will never see justice, but, given the problems faced by the countries of Africa—and our comparative prosperity—I am pleased that we now have the collective resolve to address the wrongs of the past by working together to build a better future.
The range of speeches in the debate has shown a balance between dwelling on the offence and commemorating its abolition. I was born within 5 miles of Pier Head, I lived briefly in a tobacco baron's house in Glasgow, and I now represent a constituency in Aberdeenshire, from which some of the richest plantation owners originated. I guess that I have made a journey through the UK that has quite a lot of close connections with slavery and the slave trade.
In light of the speeches made by the hon. Members for Brent, South (Ms Butler) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), it is worth recording that, in 1796, 30 per cent. of the estates in Jamaica were owned by Scots. In 1817, 10 years after the abolition of the trade, 32 per cent. of the slaves in Jamaica were owned by Scots. We must acknowledge and face up to that. On the back of that trade, Glasgow claimed to be the second city of the empire, but I guess that, in that context, it is a pretty close call between Liverpool and Glasgow. Subsequently, Glasgow became one of the great powerhouses of the campaign to abolish slavery altogether, so there was some recognition among the population of Scotland that abolishing the slave trade was not enough; the condition of slavery needed to be abolished. It is a slight irony that some of the campaigners—not Wilberforce—wanted to abolish the slave trade only because they thought that the lack of supply might make the slave owners treat their slaves better. I guess that one must start with half the argument before the other half becomes the logical conclusion.
Having read up on the subject, it is probably worth putting on record some of the arguments put forward. James Ramsay, a cleric, made the following ironic comment against slavery:
"Had nature intended negroes for slavery, she would have endowed them with many qualities which they now want. Their food would have needed no preparation, their bodies no covering; they would have been born without any sentiment for liberty; and possessing a patience not to be provoked, would have been incapable of resentment or opposition".
Because they are just like us, however, they did not comply and fought for and ultimately won their freedom, as has been pointed out.
The arguments put forward in the campaign still make pretty harsh reading. The committee on behalf of the plantation owners stated:
"the African trade is so blended with our commerce, and so interwoven with our general interests, that if at any time, through neglect, mismanagement, or misfortune, this nation should be deprived of its benefits, it will then suffer a very great and irreparable loss, a maim in its commerce, dignity, and power, of which it is impossible it can ever recover."
That is a damning comment, and it was an argument put forcefully in defence of slavery and the slave trade at the time, with, I guess, campaigning zeal. That shows why it took more than 20 years to secure abolition. Like other Members, I am grateful that Scotland is acknowledging its role, and that several events are taking place in and around Glasgow and my city of Aberdeen that will enable the present generation to focus on that.
Another legacy of the way in which African slaves were treated is racism. They were treated as sub-human: the animals were probably better looked after than the slaves in transit. It is heartbreaking to read that not only were the conditions abominable but that family connections and loyalties were totally disregarded: families were split up, sold and moved around different plantations, never to see each other again.
Slavery has a long history. Greek and Roman civilisation—in which the origins of European civilisation lie—were founded on slavery and slave ownership. It is probably true that Aristotle and Socrates would not have had the time to think their philosophies through if they had not had the labour of slaves. We must acknowledge that.
Sadly, as others have said, slavery has not been abolished. The United Nations estimates that 27 million people are effectively enslaved today. The International Labour Organisation says that 12.1 million people are in forced labour of one form or another. In the spirit of the commemoration, we must take that issue forward and give a lead on it.
With regard to trafficking, a lot of the focus, as Mr. Steen pointed out, is on the sex trade and sex traffic. In fact, about 50 per cent. of those who are trafficked are men and 50 per cent. women. In the sex trade, it is 98 per cent. women and 2 per cent. men. Men and boys are still being sold into slavery in a variety of different ways, and that needs to be addressed. Clearly, however, this country is at the receiving end of a great many women who have been trafficked or sold into slavery.
It is shocking to read that women from eastern Europe and the Balkans, including places such as Moldova, have effectively been sold into slavery for cash by their own families—their brothers, fathers and supposed husbands. That is knowingly done on the clear understanding of what is happening. The girls are deceived and told that they are going to take up a job or opportunity. Only when it is too late do they realise into what they have been sold. In some cases, they might have had a good idea that they were being sold into some dubious activity, but they probably thought that they would have free choice and opportunity, not be imprisoned, brutalised, beaten and denied any of the revenue generated. Even worse, they can effectively be sold into slavery and then be told that they owe the slave owner money for the cost of getting them where they are and for their keep. Therefore, all the money that they earn is taken, and their reward is to be beaten, raped and denied their basic requirements.
I do not wish to be misinterpreted, but I want to press the Government a little harder on the issue of the UN convention on trafficking in human beings. As the Deputy Prime Minister knows, the cross-party advisory group that he has put together discussed the importance of signing that convention. It would be impossible to commemorate the abolition of slavery and not be a signatory to the convention. Forty-six or, if we count Montenegro, 47 countries are potential signatories. At present, 34 have signed, and Britain is one of those countries that have not. It is true that only five countries have ratified, and that 10 are required to do so for the convention to be implemented. If one looks at the countries that have not signed, however, one sees that we are not in the best of company. The major countries that have not signed are Russia, the United Kingdom and Spain. France, Germany, Italy, all the Scandinavian countries and most of the countries where the trafficking originates have signed.
I very much welcome the fact that we are going to sign the convention, but having tried to find out exactly what the Government's reservations are, I hope for clarification soon of their timetable for ratifying and of the final legal framework. Until the convention is ratified, people who are trafficked do not appear to have any recourse. They are constantly told that they are illegal immigrants and have no rights, and that is one of the threats used to keep them quiet. They are told, "No one is going to help you, because you should not be here anyway." They need to know and understand, if we can communicate with them at all, and if they can gain any information, that the United Kingdom has ratified a treaty that gives them rights: at least 30 days' grace plus, possibly, reflection time, and no conditions on whether they testify about to how they are treated. It would be helpful if the Minister were able to tell us a little more in her reply. We need to find out shortly what the conditions are and what will be the passage of time between the signing and ratification of the convention by the United Kingdom. That would make a good and sound connection between the commemoration and the current situation.
The parliamentary campaign that led to the abolition of slavery has rightly been acknowledged as a model, which has probably never been equalled. It required such extraordinary expenditure of effort that perhaps it inevitably gained a resonance, whereas nowadays there are so many campaigns and means of campaigning that it is difficult to raise one above the rest and achieve such change. Nevertheless, engagement that involves people on the ground matters more than anything if a campaign is to be effective.
Points have been made about the inequalities that persist between Britain and Africa, and the descendants of slaves and the countries in which slavery operated. Much remains to be done. The International Development Committee, which I chair, had an informal briefing this morning from the Strategic Foresight Group. Its ideas about and analysis of the causes of division, terrorism and extremism are interesting. It also makes some practical suggestions about tackling that. It pointed out that in the United States, which, as nobody needs telling, is the world's largest economy, a significant proportion of households in 29 states have an income of less than $25,000—a per capita income of $10,000 to $15,000. Of course, the group acknowledged that that would be a high salary in African terms, but it is a low income in the United States. The group made the point that Pentecostal Christianity and white supremacist groups have grown in precisely the states where such pockets of low-income earners are abundant. That shows that the legacy of slavery survives where there is racial discrimination and deprivation.
We heard the example of the British version of the free-trade state, next door to the American version, which has also been racked by a destructive civil war. It can be difficult to know where blame lies when there is poor quality local leadership. I believe that we should apologise unreservedly and show shame for our actions, but that we must also challenge, and acknowledge that the world cannot go on trading apologies instead of delivering leadership and action that move things forward and create change. There must be a partnership between us and the leadership in the communities that we are considering. Our approach is not to tell countries what to do—we are not neo-colonialists—but to work with them and help them achieve what they want to do. That requires integrity, good governance and transparency. The good news is that, where that exists, we are beginning to see benefits.
Some countries in Africa clearly provide the beginnings of potentially sustainable growth. I hope that that example will persist, and that people perceive the benefits of a partnership that provides real money from developed to developing countries, gives genuine ownership to developing countries and adds to open, transparent good governance, so that those countries that do not benefit realise that they must follow the same route. We cannot have a position whereby people are enslaved by their leadership and the elite does not understand the need to share and include.
One of Africa's tragedies is that it remains probably the richest continent on the planet yet it has a high concentration of the world's poorest people. More poor people live outside Africa, but the proportion of the population of Africa that is poor is much higher than elsewhere. Those people live in the middle of great wealth, which is not properly shared in some African countries. Partnership between the Department for International Development and other international agencies will flourish only if we get the balance right.
One of the least edifying spectacles in the world at the moment is the continual bickering between the two great developed trading blocs about who is to blame for the failure to deliver a trade deal that constitutes a development round for the poorest countries. The best testament to the end of slavery that we could provide is to drop our protectionist barriers, if we genuinely believe in free trade, and open our markets. We should also provide the capacity, through aid for trade, for developing countries to flourish in their own way so that they can access their markets in real terms, not only in theory. That means delivering the Doha round. If that does not happen, we must find another, better way of ensuring that such partnership can continue.
Whether the colonial legacy or that of slavery is to blame, we cannot look at the state of Africa and feel anything other than shame. It may not be all our fault—I believe that we have now got our approach right—but we must deliver our part of the bargain before we can honestly expect the countries of Africa to get their fair share of the world's resources and an ability to participate as full and growing partners who are not dependent on aid. Dependence on aid is neither in their interests nor in ours. Escape from aid dependency restores dignity, and the restoration of dignity abolishes aid dependency. It is a perfect circle, if we can only break the current cycle. It is up to us to deliver—we have not yet done so.
It is an honour and a privilege to speak in the parliamentary debate on such a great historic occasion. I found the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Brent, South (Ms Butler) deeply moving. I am sure that their ancestors will be looking down with pride on their great-great grandchildren.
I pay tribute to Mr. Hague. His exposition of the life of Wilberforce was a tour de force. I thought for a moment that I had strayed into a viva voce examination for a PhD thesis, such was his aplomb in dealing with interventions on all sorts of historic details. I hope that I shall not be tested on my historical knowledge to the same extent, and that I shall not be found wanting.
I should like to speak briefly about the issue that Mr. Steen raised, and that confronts us today in the United Kingdom and Europe—the modern-day slave trade of human trafficking. Through the phenomenon of globalisation, victims are lured to this country by promises of work. They are then effectively enslaved into sex work. The Home Office figure for the number of women and girls who have been trafficked here is estimated to be 4,000. The Home Office probably minimises the figure, so perhaps the true number is much higher. One of the problems with ascertaining figures is that we are considering a secret trade. That makes it hard to glean numbers.
I pay tribute to the Government for agreeing to sign the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking. It is the first step to according victims the status of victim rather than that of immigration offender. However, unlike 200 years ago, when Wilberforce and Parliament led the world, today we lag behind other parts of Europe in our treatment of victims. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, they are certainly victims. He cited the tragic case of the 15-year-old Lithuanian girl who was lured by the promise of a summer job selling ice creams in Sheffield but was then sold on and on, and brutally raped on many occasions.
Last year, I hosted the launch of an Amnesty International report entitled "Stolen Smiles". It catalogues the abuses suffered by women trafficked for sexual slavery across Europe. The author, Cathy Zimmerman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, had interviewed 207 women in 14 European countries, aged between 15 and 45. The majority were between 18 and 25. I was deeply shocked by the report. To my surprise, a huge number of the women had suffered serious head injuries from brutal beatings by the people who imprisoned them. Another interesting finding showed that 60 per cent. of the women had been physically and/or sexually abused in their home country before being trafficked. That perhaps indicates that the trafficked women who arrive on our shores and at our airports were already vulnerable women in their home countries. We are not talking about well educated girls and women—those with college degrees and experience of the world. We are talking about women who come predominantly from rural areas where huge numbers of people are unemployed. That is one of the factors that push women out to seek a better life for themselves.
However, to return to the figures, 95 per cent. of such women are physically and/or sexually abused during their trafficking experience. Let me list some of the examples of suffering that were given to the researchers. Some were kicked while pregnant. Others were burned with cigarettes. One was choked with fire. Another had a gun held to her head. We simply cannot imagine what that must feel like, or the physical and psychological damage that those women endure on their journeys and at their destination in this and other countries.
It is unsurprising that those women suffer long-term physical and psychological consequences. More than half of them had symptom levels suggesting post-traumatic stress disorder—levels that we normally see in people who have suffered extreme terror or extremely violent events. They suffered headaches, fatigue, dizziness or memory loss equivalent to what the most acute 10 per cent. of sufferers in the population experience. One interesting aspect of the research was that they were re-interviewed and that that showed that their physical health improved after between 30 and 60 days in the care of non-governmental organisations or medical services and social services, but that it took longer for their mental health to improve. It improved after 90 to 100 days—after about 3 months in care.
That research is vital if we want to know about what the practical realities of ratifying the convention will be. Clearly, if such women are so psychologically and physically damaged, there will be implications if we want them to participate in the legal and administrative process by, for example, naming their attackers or enslavers and by co-operating with the authorities in order to bring those evil people to justice. Such women need time to recover their faculties and their emotional strength. Specialist health services are needed, too, as these women are a unique type of victim of crime.
Last year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I was then a member, conducted a major inquiry into human trafficking. The subsequent report was published in October 2006, and I recommend it to Members. One of the recommendations was to do with the signing of the convention, of course, but the report also stated that we should look beyond the minimum reflection period of 30 days, and the Amnesty report gives us reasons why these women need more time to learn to trust the authorities.
One of the issues that the inquiry uncovered was the lack of specialist legal advice and, in the case of children, the lack of specialist support for "an appropriate adult"—to use the legal term. We found that there was a wide variety of organisations and people—NGOs, police officers, Home Office officials and immigration officials—who could deal with people who had been trafficked, but that there was a lack of a joined-up and co-ordinated approach from those different agencies.
We also heard that during Operation Pentameter—the big police operation of last summer—there was unequal protection for victims. We heard anecdotal evidence that European Union citizens who had been trafficked were able to receive housing benefit, unlike victims from non-EU countries, and that people from outside the EU had to claim asylum in order to get the minimum level of support.
There is a lack of awareness among immigration staff. Some of the people who were being picked up were being treated as immigration offenders, instead of victims of this vile crime. When we sign the European convention, repatriation will breach the principle of non-return under articles 13 and 14 of the convention.
I am curious to hear from the Minister about the statistical research, and specifically about the 4,000 figure given by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Mr. Coaker. As far as I can see, that has not been formally published, and I think that everyone involved in this debate would be interested to know about the statistical basis on which such figures have been extrapolated.
I understand from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that that figure is now some years out of date. Greater numbers of people are being trafficked. Clearly, getting the statistical information right is very important.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. That figure was first announced in a meeting with the Joint Committee only in March or April last year. That was the best available evidence at that time, and I am sure that the situation has moved on since then. It is hard to estimate the numbers of unaccompanied minors, people in private fostering arrangements and children. The police told us that 10 years ago 85 per cent. of sex workers working in brothels in the United Kingdom were from the UK. That has now been completely reversed: 10 years on, 85 per cent. are from outside the UK.
We visited the POPPY project. I agree with the hon. Member for Totnes that it is a wonderful project, but it is also far too small to cope with the huge demand and the huge and complex needs of the victims. I hope that the signing of the convention will mark the beginning of the end of such problems.
The UK is doing some things to combat the modern-day slave trade of human trafficking. I mentioned in my intervention on the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks the fingerprinting work done by consulates and embassies in highly vulnerable countries. That fingerprinting—and the collection of other biometric data—gives the UK authorities something to go on; if a child presents themselves to social services, we can trace them back to their country of origin.
I am also interested in the work that the Home Office has done with PunterNet, a website for men who use prostitutes. I must admit that until I participated in the inquiry I was not aware that such sites existed, and I have not dared to surf for it on the internet because I am worried that access might be denied on the parliamentary network. Conflicting advice is coming from the Home Office—on the one hand men who have sex with women who have been trafficked and therefore do not consent could be prosecuted for rape, while on the other there is an encouragement on PunterNet to men to come forward if believe that the women they are sleeping with may have been trafficked. That is a confusing situation to put such men in, and we need clarification so that more so-called punters come forward.
I pay tribute to the Home Office for setting up Reflex, the multi-agency task force to tackle immigration crime, as well as the human trafficking centre and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. However, more victims in the recent period have been arrested and deported than traffickers have been prosecuted. Recommendation 136 of our report is that more should be done to bring such people to justice and to seize the assets of traffickers. There is nothing more criminal than profiting from the trade in, and movement of, another human being. There is also no central database of victims and no clear statement of what should happen to them once identified. When our action plan is published, I hope that it will deal with many such issues.
We met the women at the POPPY project. They talked to us about what happened when they were involved in the court process to bring their attackers or imprisoners to justice and they were promised that they would be able to give evidence from behind a screen: in one case, the judge decided not to use a screen and the victim, who had been forcibly imprisoned, had to give evidence facing her enslaver, which was highly traumatic, of course. I also ask the Government to look at making trafficking one of the police performance indicators. We all know that what gets measured gets done.
Italy provides a shining example of what can be done, with good will and with investment, to tackle the trade and to stem it. We have heard a lot of analysis of some of the problems, but when we visited Italy we heard the beginnings of some of the solutions in terms of tackling the modern-day slave trade. Italy has a convention called Article 18. It is a legal framework that gives victims protection under the law. It was introduced in 1998, so Italy has had almost 10 years of offering, effectively, asylum—a residency permit for six months—to people who come forward and co-operate with the police, and provide information about their captors.
The Italian authorities have a centralised database, so they were able to tell us that between 2000 and 2004, more than 7,000 women claimed a residence permit under the scheme. That is a huge number. Some 4,000 gained a permit, and nearly 6,000 got vocational training. The authorities were also able to tell us the country of origin of these women: 52 per cent. were from Nigeria, and the rest, as we would expect, were from Romania, Moldova, Albania and Ukraine. Interestingly, the authorities said that the women from Africa and Nigeria were the least likely to co-operate with the police in bringing their attackers to justice. I do not know whether that is for cultural reasons, or because of a particular power in their home country, but there certainly seemed to be a problem with getting women from Nigeria to co-operate.
In 2003, the Italian authorities also increased the legislative penalty for "selling or purchasing slaves", as they call it, from eight to 20 years in prison. That penalty can be increased by up to 50 per cent. for trading in minors aged under 18. We have heard today from Opposition Members about the number of such people arrested in Italy. In 2004, there were 412 arrests, and in 2005 there were 356 arrests. There is a single, central, national free-phone number for victims—or to enable ordinary citizens to provide information—which is printed on bus tickets. More than 500,000 calls have been made, but more than two thirds of them have come not from victims or punters, but from ordinary citizens. Such people include those living in apartment blocks who have seen or heard something, or those who have done so while driving past, and who believe that some form of dodgy dealing is going on behind closed doors or on the streets, and that that information should be passed on to the police. That shows us what ordinary citizens can do when the authorities empower them to show awareness and to say, "We will have zero tolerance of trafficking—this modern slave trade—and we will have justice and social justice for victims."
That advice line gives 24-hour legal, psychological and medical information, and it monitors what happens to such people after the calls are made. Help is also provided by the International Organisation for Migration in the form of grants to help victims return home. However, it is very important that those women should not be sent home and straight back into the hands of their traffickers. While we were there, we heard some anecdotal evidence. When the UK was deporting nationals, the police would be phoned at the airports. Sadly, however, in some of the countries to which we were deporting people, the traffickers would be telephoned to be told that a particular person was on her way back. She would then be met at the airport and her bonded debt would be paid out in a brothel in Albania, Romania or Moldova.
We also saw the various awareness campaigns that were being run. Such campaigns are happening in the UK, which is also funding them in the countries of origin. Super-8 film clips are shown of children growing up and being looked after by their mothers. The mothers are then shown standing on the streets of Rome in their underwear. Such footage is very hard-hitting. The campaign slogan was, "Don't burn your life". Research was also conducted in the countries of origin. Of course, nobody thinks that they are going to be a victim of traffickers; however, it emerged that 85 per cent. of women did think that they would travel to another country and get a job there. Given the huge numbers of people who are looking for work in western Europe, they are extremely vulnerable.
When the Joint Committee was in Italy, Dr. Harris and I went for a night out with a local non-governmental organisation representative in Rome, a city in which I lived for a year as a student. I know some of the main prostitute runs in Rome, and in fact, I was propositioned myself as a 19-year-old, standing on the main Christopher Columbus boulevard outside Rome. There is a long tradition in Rome of street prostitution, and as a 19-year-old it was terrifying to have someone stop in a car next to me and invite me to accompany him.
What shocked me on my recent visit to Rome was the situation regarding children. I went out on the streets with three people—a driver, a social worker and a cultural mediator. Such mediators come from eastern Europe or from Africa, and they talk to women from their home country, reassure them and discuss living in Italy with them. We went out with a big box of condoms, and leaflets printed in every African and eastern European language that one can think of that gave the addresses of sexual health clinics. However, that is a "softly, softly" approach to these women and girls. When they go to the clinic in town, they are immediately told, "You have rights under article 18. You can claim residency and social justice in this country." They can claim protection, and many of them do.
We also heard what happens to such women afterwards. They are given shelter in a network of safe houses and, crucially, information on finding work. Most of them have transferred to the work permit scheme. So Italy adopts an holistic approach to the victim, and it offers the UK and the rest of the Europe the beginnings of a model. However, investment and commitment are also needed, and it takes a long time to gain the trust of these women.
Each generation and century has its own challenges and has to defeat the dark forces that challenge our common humanity. Wilberforce, as we have heard, introduced his first Bill against the slave trade in 1791—in the 18th century. It took him 16 years finally to get the slave trade abolished, in 1807, but even that Act did nothing to free those who were already enslaved. They had to wait until 1833—until the Slavery Abolition Act, which granted freedom to all slaves in the British empire—another 26 years. Between 1791 and 1833, a whole generation of people were enslaved, born into slavery, and lived and died in slavery before Wilberforce's great achievement and the achievement of the 1833 Act.
Human progress may be slow, but when it comes, it comes for good and stays for good. In the 20th century, it took the campaigner against genocide and holocaust survivor Raphael Lemkin many years before his term for the great crime against humanity—genocide—was accepted by the new United Nations and recognised and confirmed in law in 1951. He wanted to impose on nations a duty of responsibility to protect those who suffer genocide, and a responsibility on other UN nations to protect them. Yet still no action has been taken collectively by that body on all the huge and terrible genocides of the 20th century—be it Cambodia, Rwanda or Bosnia—or of the 21st century, in Darfur. Will human trafficking be the great challenge to our still young 21st century? The forces of globalisation of trade, and the availability of ever easier and cheaper flights, raise endless possibilities for communication and leisure, but also for abuse, criminality and modern slavery.
If human trafficking is not to define our century as slavery defined the 18th and 19th centuries and genocide defined the 20th, we must act now. Strong laws, strong protection and recognition of our shared and common humanity across borders, gender and race are indeed principles of which Wilberforce himself would have been proud. They are the principles of human progress, for which Members in all parts of the House will doubtless continue to fight.
It is a pleasure to follow Mary Creagh. She made a thoughtful speech that examined some of the challenges of 220 years ago and put them in a modern context, and she outlined the challenges that remain. I apologise to the House for not being here for the opening speeches. I want to make a brief contribution to what has been a moving debate.
Thanks to the diligence of the Library, I discovered that one of my ancestors played a small part in the parliamentary proceedings leading to the abolition of slavery. The report of our proceedings on
"An honourable baronet, Sir George Young, and many others, had said they saw the slaves treated in a manner which they were sure their owners would have resented if it had been known to them."
There have been six Sir George Youngs between that one and this one. That one was serving in the Navy; he went on to become an Admiral. In a letter dated
"From the present appearance of War, I am induced to request, you will please to acquaint My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that should such an event take place, I should wish to be employed in a more active situation than that of Commander of the Royal Yacht."
In fact, following an Order in Council dated 11 Feb 1788 concerning
"the present State of the Trade to Africa, and particularly the trade in slaves; and concerning the effects and consequences of this trade, as well in Africa and the West Indies, as to the general commerce of this Kingdom", he was examined before the Bar of the House on the African slave trade and, we are told,
"gave evidence of its evils, not less valuable because temperately worded."
I hope that that gene has survived.
Sir George Young gave evidence which was summarised in the Committee's report, which stated:
"By the evidence of Sir George Young. He...observed that they"— the slaves—
"were so crowded, particularly on Board of one ship, that the stench of the hatchway was intolerable."
He also said that
"the men slaves were chained" but
"the women were at liberty".
He went on board a ship of 300 tons, in which there were 520 slaves.
Sir George was cross-examined by their Lordships about the stock of slaves in the West Indies. He replied that
"by putting an end to polygamy, and by releasing the women from field labour and confining them to domestic work and by shewing proper attention to them when pregnant, the stock might not only be kept up but would be increased. But, he added, the planters did not seem desirous to encourage the breeding of slaves, but thought it cheaper to purchase."
That was an inhuman attitude, treating people no better than cattle.
What appalled my ancestor was not just the overcrowding of the slaves, but the poor treatment of the sailors—
"They were half starved, ill-cloathed and inhumanly treated by their captains. The reason assigned by the sailors for this ill-treatment was to induce them to run away in the West Indies and forfeit their wages."
Elsewhere in his evidence, he calls them "Emaciated wretched objects". He also said:
"A guinea ship seldom returns with more than half her complement and the annual loss of seamen sustained by the nation by the guinea Trade amounts to the manning of two ships of the line."
He was concerned that, at a time when we were heavily dependent on the Navy and on sailors, the reserve of manpower was being seriously depleted by the irresponsible behaviour of those owning the ships in which the slaves were transported.
"It is notorious our slaves in general are not only treated with kindness and humanity, but they are also protected by law from immoderate chastisement or cruel treatment, and enjoy more easy, comfortable and happy lives, than multitudes of the labourers in Great Britain."
The subtext was why should people worry about exploitation in the West Indies when there was worse exploitation somewhere else. Another pretext was the financial consequences of abolition. The joint council said:
"On the faith of an Act of Parliament, passed on purpose to make the receiving of six percent on colonial securities lawful in Great Britain, great numbers of persons at home, as well as the subjects of foreign states, have likewise embarked considerable sums on mortgages. Now, the Slave Trade being the source of every West Indian improvement, its abolition must inevitably diminish the value of all such securities, and drive the creditors to use every means in their power to extricate their property from such a precarious situation, to the immediate distress of the planters and their families."
Happily, that special pleading was swept aside and there is no longer any moral debate about slavery, although—as many contributors to this debate have said—the practical application of slavery remains a problem. In some of the arguments that were put forward 220 years ago, we see precursors of other debates, such as poverty wages for suppliers of imported goods. It is still argued that if we do not import them someone else will. On CO2 emissions, people ask why we should cut our emissions when others do not. The same moral argument is made about the export of land mines: if we do not sell them, someone else will.
It struck me, listening to the debate this evening, that we need the moral certainty and conviction of Wilberforce, who recognised that something was wrong and had the stamina and the courage to continue until he won the argument. I hope that, in 220 years time, when the descendants of those who take part in this debate look at Hansard, they will find that some of us have said something useful and on the right side of the argument.
Those of us who have been present in the Chamber today have enjoyed an informative historical analysis of slavery and our country's part in it. Malcolm Bruce, a colleague of mine on the International Development Committee, mentioned the role of my city, Glasgow, in the slave trade. Any hon. Members who have visited Glasgow will probably have attended or at least passed by the impressive neo-classical façade of our gallery of modern art in Queen's street. The building has had a varied history. Until a few years ago, it was the Stirling library and it has also been a telephone exchange, a bank and a stock market, but when it was originally built in 1778, at the then staggering cost of £100,000, it was the town house for William Cunninghame, a prominent Glasgow tobacco baron.
Cunninghame headed one of the three major syndicates that controlled the flow of tobacco into Scotland. He developed a string of outlets and representatives in the tobacco colonies, which bought tobacco from the planters and stored it until his ships arrived. His trading system was one of the most efficient and swift in the north Atlantic and it yielded enormous profits. The tobacco barons of Glasgow were the London billionaires of their day. Cunninghame's mansion is one of Scotland's finest houses, but it stands today as a reminder of our city's links to tobacco cultivated by enslaved people, and the profits tobacco yielded to the major Scottish merchants who dominated the trade throughout western Europe.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Glasgow was a poor town on the wrong side of a poor, isolated country on the fringes of Europe. Scotland's main trading partners were the Baltic states across the North sea and Scotland's ruling classes had been bankrupted by their investment in the disastrous Darien scheme in 1690. But by the end of that century Glasgow was transformed into the second city of the empire, at the forefront of the new industrial society.
The greatest rate of development, outpacing anything seen in the rest of the United Kingdom, occurred between 1740 and 1790, when Glasgow found its niche in the business of slavery. Slaves were never auctioned in Glasgow, but the city benefited by directly supplying the American colonies with manufactured goods, linen cloth and iron, without which they could not survive. The ships then returned to the UK with colonial goods, mainly tobacco from Maryland and Virginia, but also sugar and other exotic products from the Caribbean. For that, the traders had the Navigation Acts to thank, which were the backbone of the British empire until they were repealed in 1799. Essentially, all manufactured goods to be consumed in the British empire had to be produced in Britain and conveyed between Britain and its colonies in British ships. In that fashion, British shipping and British industry were promoted to the detriment of the colonies, which was one of the main reasons behind the American revolution.
Streets in Glasgow, such as Glassford street, Buchanan street, Virginia street, and Jamaica street, are all named after either tobacco merchants or colonies. Even today, the city centre is still dotted with the mansions of tobacco merchants. Glasgow and Scotland's wealthy pre-eminence in the world was based firmly within the British empire system. Far from being involved in the slave trade to a lesser extent than England, Scotland's smaller size and greater levels of poverty meant the impact of that obscene and wealthy trade was actually greater on Scotland than anywhere else in the country.
All the components—huge disparities in wealth, unfair trading rules with heavy protectionist policies and exploitation of labour without protection—were present to permit slavery on an industrial scale for the dawning of a new industrial age. Slavery in the horrific form known in 1807 may be in our past, but those components of exploitation are still with us in the modern age, aided by globalisation and modern day conflicts. Until we tackle all those injustices, we will not see an end to the modern versions of slavery in this world.
Just as in the 18th and 19th centuries, we have a tendency to view the problem through the prism of a few world leaders or western campaigners, and we do not recognise that many of the advances of recent times are due to the struggles of thousands of ordinary people throughout the developing world. In her excellent contribution, my hon. Friend Ms Abbott pointed out that a truly grass-roots campaign for change took place, both in the colonies and in this country, with hundreds of thousands of people participating. Today's debate gives us an opportunity to recognise and salute their invaluable contribution, both now and in the past. We must examine how we need to change if we are truly to give freedom to everyone.
As has been noted, some of the symptoms of modern-day slavery are not hard to find. Sadly, human trafficking is evident in just about every town and city in western Europe. The figures that we have discussed today are probably only very rough estimates—700,000 people affected by slavery worldwide, with perhaps 4,000 adults and up to 5,000 children in the UK at any one time. What is clear, however, is that the problem has been escalating at an incredible rate over the past 10 years.
The Government's response over the past 12 months shows that they are stepping up to the mark. They have agreed to sign the European convention, and they have also put in place the new human traffic incentive in Sheffield, the home city of my hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equality. I am sure that she will say more about that when she winds up the debate.
The success of the Pentameter operation in a few short months last year showed the scale of the challenge. As a nation, we must devote suitable resources—and time—to the problem, through our public and voluntary agencies. I also welcome the announcement that the Home Office is due to make later this week about a UK-wide assistance scheme. I want to recommend to Ministers, and especially those in the Home Office, the success of the individualised-case approach that has been taken in Glasgow. The Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance project is a partnership initiative involving Glasgow city council, Strathclyde police, the Scottish Executive, the voluntary sector and the Home Office.
In many ways, the Tara project mirrors the POPPY project that was mentioned earlier. As my hon. Friend Mary Creagh said, both projects give women a reflection period, in which they can recover and consider their futures. They also allow those women to assist the police authorities, and all that is vital if we are to have any way of tackling the problem effectively. I also want to reiterate what my hon. Friend said about the good examples in Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, where reflection periods are standard and there is much greater access to refuge assistance. Higher rates of prosecutions and convictions are secured in those countries, but it is inevitable that the trade will continue to flourish here if we do not put in place adequate deterrents.
However, by its very nature, trafficking is hidden. There is increasing evidence of people being trafficked to work as domestic slaves, which makes detection even more fraught. I share the concerns that the Government's plans to prohibit migrant domestic workers from changing employers may aggravate that problem. When they announce the plans later this week, I hope that the Government will take account of the effect on other policies, and ensure that more barriers are not put up to giving the most vulnerable people in our country adequate protection.
We also need to ensure that all our public agencies are made aware of trafficking. I was interested to hear about an experiment in Edinburgh, where airport parking attendants have been trained by the police to spot trafficking gangs hanging around, waiting for their next human collections. The attendants have passed on valuable evidence to the police, and I hope that a similar system could be developed at all our airports and ports, to make use of the knowledge that staff have of the way that people travel in and out.
I turn now to something that has been mentioned in the debate already, but which I believe is very well worth saying again. We need to drive home to the clients of prostitutes the sort of abuse that they may be maintaining. There is no supply without demand, and we need to alter the focus of prosecution. The clients of prostitutes should know better: they should know that the people involved—many of them under the age of 18—are often in abusive relationships, or suffer dreadful abuse.
However, slavery is not confined to western Europe or the west in general. Last month, I visited Ethiopia with the International Development Committee, and one of the local organisations that we visited carried out work to protect young children from poor rural areas who had been sent to towns and cities in the hope of a better life but who had often ended up as mere chattels. Child labour and bonded labour are still prevalent in many areas of Africa and Asia.
We need to continue to assist the Governments in the countries involved, and organisations such as the International Labour Organisation and the Institute of Migration, to find ways to tackle the abuses effectively and to change the way that society tolerates such behaviour. People need basic labour rights, but we have to put in place the mechanisms to enforce them. Free and independent trade unions were an essential component in our own development as a democracy, but too frequently they are overlooked as a means of tackling abuses such as trafficking.
Earlier in my speech, I mentioned the economic components that drove the slave trade 200 years ago. They are still to be found, and it is the disparities and lack of economic opportunity to which they give rise that create so many opportunities for the human traffickers. Despite the fine words of the past few years following the start of the World Trade Organisation's Doha round, we are still far away from delivering even a small amount of trade justice to the poorest nations. Time after time, we create or sustain systems that have been used to exploit. They have exploited the weaknesses in regulation in the poorest countries, the tax havens that take billions of pounds away from the world's poorest, and the dumping of our unwanted food. Those systems have also enjoyed the fruits of the "brain drain" or been used to support corrupt and undemocratic regimes. Some western Governments are already shying away from the aid commitments that they made in 2005, claiming that they are too expensive—but the question surely is, too expensive for whom?
This week's anniversary reminds us that slave trading was once the status quo, as Sir George Young correctly pointed out. We used every type of excuse to justify its existence. Today, we are being asked to challenge and change our version of the status quo, and to acknowledge that all of us still benefit economically from coerced or exploited labour somewhere on the planet.
Rather than throwing up the walls of protection and trying to isolate ourselves from the suffering caused by abject poverty, we need to work towards a global economy that places priority on providing meaningful employment for all, not just for a chosen few. We need a global economy in which labour rights are fully respected, and where nations have a fair chance to trade and to retain the fruits of their labour.
I greatly enjoyed the contribution of Ann McKechin, who wove aspects of Glasgow's role in the slave trade into some of the modern challenges we face, and on which I hope to comment.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Sir George Young who paid tribute to his ancestors—I hope that many more George Youngs will grace the Chamber talking about this and other subjects.
The debate has been comprehensive, enjoyable and informative, although I was sceptical about participating in it. After I heard the Prime Minister apologise for the slave trade, I wondered what else we might need to apologise for. Should we apologise for the Croke Park stadium massacre in Ireland, or the Rorke's Drift incident? Should the fire brigade apologise because the Pudding lane fire in 1666 was not put out in time and led to the great fire of London? Political correctness seems to creep in occasionally. However dark our history, is it for today's leaders to apologise for events with which they have no direct connection? Perhaps the symbolism attached to such events makes it appropriate to comment on them. We certainly have much to learn about them.
The debate is certainly worth having; it is not only a reminder of what has been achieved over the past 200 years but a stark reminder of how far we still have to go. Passing a law to abolish slavery shows a nation's intention, but implementing it shows a nation's commitment. When I was researching for the debate, I found—no doubt like other Members—interesting references and snippets of information. We have just celebrated St. Patrick's day. St. Patrick was a slave. He was born in Roman Britain and taken to Ireland as a slave. He must have grown accustomed to the place because he returned and was involved in the Church, and is remembered on
Many historical incidents reflect aspects of slavery and the slave trade, but the most important thing to remember is that slavery is not just connected with Africa. It forms a darker chapter in the development of every world civilisation. In the book of Exodus, which may be one of the first detailed accounts of a movement to free slaves, we read how Moses led the Israelite slaves from ancient Egypt. Other Members have mentioned that slavery formed part of life in the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman empires. Even the Vikings participated in slavery. Japan had advanced laws governing slavery from the eighth century.
In all those civilisations, there were common factors in slavery. Enslavement could be the punishment for a crime or the consequence of a debt. Prisoners of war could be enslaved. Even more seriously, some people were born as slaves and grew up already part of the slave operation. As Rome expanded, entire populations were enslaved and we pay tribute to many people who opposed their slavery. The name of Spartacus will be familiar—he led the revolt in the third Servile war—but we should pay tribute to many others across the globe.
The middle east is probably responsible for one of the oldest slave trades. Male slaves were used as servants, soldiers or labourers by their owners and the practice continued until the 20th century. Closer to home, although slavery in the form of the trade of serfs was made illegal in England in 1102, it was used as a punishment by Cromwell's new model army to deal with Catholics in Ireland. Their land was confiscated and they were sent to the West Indies. Serfdom resurfaced when "personal servants", as slaves were called, were brought from Africa in the 18th century—the aspect on which most of the debate has focused.
We stand alongside many other European countries, including Portugal, Holland and France, as the main perpetrators of slavery, robbing Africa of its people and developing what is now referred to as the triangular trade that linked Europe, Africa and the new world. As has been said, until 1772 the legal status of slaves was unclear. The first challenge came from James Somerset, a runaway slave whose owner wanted to pack him off to Jamaica. However, because he had been baptised in England, he could take his case to the courts and the judge decided that under common law slavery had no legal status, which meant that the 14,000 or so slaves in England at the time were emancipated.
The British anti-slavery movement, under the Quakers, did not begin until 1783. In May 1787, the committee for the abolition of the slave trade was formed, and included various people we have already heard about today—Joseph Woods, William Wilberforce and Granville Sharp. From 1789, abolition Bills were repeatedly proposed until eventually George III approved one on this day 200 years ago. But, of course, the measure did not free the slaves. It simply made the slave trade illegal. As has been mentioned, slaves were not freed until 1833. It is interesting to note that the Church was not exempt from participating in the trade. In 1834, following the emancipation of slaves under an Act of Parliament, the Bishop of Exeter received compensation of £100 per slave. He was forced to set free 665 slaves.
The supply of slaves, mostly from Africa, and the demand in the Americas is at the heart of today's debate. It is estimated that about 15 million people were shipped from Africa. Sadly, about 15 per cent. of them died while being captured or on route. The great majority were shipped to the Americas. When I visited the national museum in Tobago quite recently, I was astonished to read some of the extracts and accounts not only from some of the slaves that had been freed, but, more hauntingly, from some of the traffickers and the traders, who had labelled slaves in various groups—almost like cattle stock. They referred to the slaves' strengths, co-operativeness, brains and so forth, depending on what part of Africa they had come from. That is how advanced the trade had become.
The growth of the colonies fed the appetite for slaves. Jamestown led the way by writing into law the rights of slave ownership. With Canada and Mexico banning slavery in 1810, a complex network of escape routes to allow slaves to depart from the colonies, either north or south, was created by people who were trying for abolition. Harriet Tubman was one of the founders of what was called the underground railway, which allowed slaves to move either north or south and get away from their owners. The slavery issue was not reconciled until the American civil war. There are many factors that one could say led to the dividing of the nation.
I was pleased to hear the Deputy Prime Minister pay tribute to the replica of the Amistad, the slave ship that sailed in 1839, with a host of slaves on board. That replica is coming to the United Kingdom shortly. The original ship set out from the African slave factory in Lomboko, which is now Sierra Leone. While it was heading towards Cuba, there was a mutiny and the slaves took over the ship. They did not know where they were going. They wanted to return to Africa, but they were misled by the Spanish who were still on the ship and ended up heading up the coast of the United States. The ship was eventually stopped by the USS Washington—by the American navy. There followed a long and public battle, which eventually led to a judgment by the Supreme Court. Thanks to a former President, John Quincy Adams, that represented a major breakthrough for the abolitionists.
It is interesting to look at the views of the sitting President, Martin Van Buren. I managed to get an extract from the Hartford Courant, which was obviously the Bournemouth Daily Echo of its day. It states:
"Martin Van Buren addressed a letter to the Judge recommending and urging him to order the Africans to be taken back to Havana in a government vessel, to be sold there as slaves—and...about the same time the U.S. schooner Grampus was ordered to New Haven for the purpose of receiving them...Surely Martin Van Buren is playing the part of a tyrant with a high hand—else why this tampering with our courts of justice, this Executive usurpation, and this heartless violation of the inalienable rights of man?"
It is a welcome sign of the times that the press in that day had the freedom to make such comments, but the extract is also an indication of the society of the day, in which slavery was so accepted that the President wanted to interfere with a court case simply to ensure the status quo.
Such events cut the nation in two and clearly led to the civil war. It was not until after the civil war, under Abraham Lincoln, that the 13th amendment was signed to declare slavery unlawful. However, although the law changed, attitudes did not, and from that time blacks were considered to be second-class citizens. As we know, there was segregation, and it was not until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that blacks obtained legal protection from racial discrimination. Sadly, the slow speed of reform is perhaps at the heart of the problems that exist in the United States, which have galvanised attitudes.
Of course, the oppression of individuals, countries and races is not limited simply to blacks. We should pay tribute to those who were caught up in the Japanese labour camps, such as those involved in the Burma railway, the concentration camps in Nazi Germany and the Russian gulags. We should not forget the heroes who fought and, in many cases, died to challenge the regimes that advocated those forms of slavery.
Let me move on to the challenges that we face now. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Steen, who spoke with passion about the problems of human trafficking, as did other hon. Members. The idea of slavery has not disappeared; it has simply gone underground. Despite various acts by the United Nations, including drafting article IV of the universal declaration of human rights, which explicitly bans slavery, it is still a problem today. A UN report suggests that the victims of slavery come from some 127 countries throughout the world. The major destinations of victims include wealthy countries in western Europe, north America and the middle east. As has been said again and again, women make up 70 per cent. of worldwide trafficking cases and sexual exploitation is a factor in 87 per cent. of those cases, while forced labour is another factor.
People are encouraged to leave their home countries under false pretences. They are enticed by being told that a better life is ahead of them. They are promised work in the hospitality or domestic work industries, but once they reach their destination, their official documents are removed and they are forced into either bonded labour, or prostitution. I understand from the police that about 4,000 people are involved in some form of forced prostitution in the United Kingdom at any one time. The gangs behind the trade buy and sell women for between £2,000 and £8,000. Even though the individuals are given a small amount of money, they are hugely in debt, so they can never get out of the circle of distress in which they find themselves.
I am pleased that the Government have taken a number of initiatives. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced a new offence of trafficking someone into the UK for the purposes of sexual exploitation, while the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 criminalised the trafficking of people for any form of exploitation. Although I was encouraged by the words of the Deputy Prime Minister, we must—this has been repeated time and again—finally ratify the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings. Ratification is long overdue. The convention addresses the standards of living that are capable of ensuring individuals' subsistence, access to emergency medical treatment, translation and interpretation services, and counselling and information. We should be providing such vital things, given that our colleagues across the water in Europe have already agreed to do so.
The Conservative party is in tandem with other parties on this matter. We have made major announcements on tackling human trafficking, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague pointed out. We not only want the Council of Europe convention to be signed, but believe that we need to establish a UK border police force with expertise in intercepting traffickers and victims at our borders. We think that there should be separate interviews at all airports for women and children travelling alone with an adult who is not a parent, guardian or husband. We should strengthen co-ordination among the relevant Government Departments and the Serious Organised Crime Agency to tackle the problem. We should also ensure that every police force has a strategy to deal with suspected victims of trafficking.
In conclusion, it has been a sobering debate, allowing us to reacquaint ourselves with the challenges of the future as well as to celebrate some of the successes from the past. Britain can certainly be proud of its actions in righting many of those wrongs, but let us not forget that slavery takes many forms and that, despite the progress made in removing the legitimate and overt forms of slavery, it is now the illegitimate and covert exploitation of slavery that still exists.
There is much work to be done and if Britain is to continue as a beacon for human rights, we must recognise the advances in transport and communication that have led to the development of a truly global challenge in respect of the trafficking of humans. If we are finally to stop the appalling trade of human traffic, we must have an international effort. We celebrate the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, but let us use this opportunity to recommit ourselves to tackling slavery in the horrible and horrendous form that it has taken—and always will take.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate and to welcome, on behalf of my party, the opportunity to remember an historic decision taken by this House, which removed a blemish on our history. We have listened to descriptions of the treatment of fellow human beings—the numbers in the trade who died, were abused, lost their dignity and freedom, were hurt or damaged, and those who live today with the consequences. We cannot run away from the fact that it was a blemish on our history, but it is important that we remember it, because it is part of this country's history.
On the other hand, I want to make it quite clear that I agree with Mr. Ellwood that there is no cause for apology. I note that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when visiting America recently, apologised on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland for the part that it played in the slave trade. There is an irony, of course. Although Belfast was well placed as a port on the right side of the United Kingdom to have benefited from the slave trade, because of the strong evangelical Christian influence in Northern Ireland at the turn of the 18th century, it did not do so. Indeed, there was a very strong lobby against slavery in that part of Ireland—northern Ireland—at that time. There are certainly plenty of other things that, if he had wanted to, the Secretary of State could have apologised for, but I will not go into those tonight, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as you would probably call me to order for digressing.
The historic decision that was taken illustrates the role that can be played—and was played—by someone who was strongly motivated and able to use the advantages of the climate of the time in which he lived and the support that he gained. Much has been said in the House today about William Wilberforce, but as has been pointed out, he was not alone. At the age of 10, he was influenced by his meeting with John Newton, the slave trader turned parson. Then he met Thomas Clarkson. I cannot provide the same detail about Thomas Clarkson's life as Mr. Moss, but one thing that we do know is that at a time when much that happened in the slave trade was buried beneath the surface—we did not have the media of today—he risked life and limb to find out about the methods and facts of the trade, which he brought to Wilberforce's attention. Wilberforce studied those reports to establish the effect of the trade first on the slaves themselves, and secondly on Africa and the colonies to which they were taken. He then made up his mind to oppose it in the House of Commons by means of parliamentary procedure.
Wilberforce was helped by a strong evangelical Christian climate. There were the Quakers—who have already been mentioned—the Methodists and, in the Church of England, the Clapham sect, all of whom created a climate that encouraged people to abhor the slave trade and the way in which it denigrated and damaged fellow human beings. Wilberforce was also helped by the courage of Africans who used the opportunities available to them. We have heard today about Sam Sharpe, the Baptist preacher in Jamaica who persuaded slaves there that it was not right to lie down under slavery, and about Equiano, who wrote an autobiography that had a great influence in the United Kingdom. Wilberforce was not alone, and those who were with him used all the methods that have been described today: lobbying, slogans, trade bans and, indeed, propaganda. Clarkson recognised more than anyone else that a human interest story, a story of individuals and the way in which they had been affected, could capture people's hearts.
Twenty-odd years before he succeeded in his aim, Wilberforce stood in the House of Commons and said:
"So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the trade's wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition."
That determination and strength of character enabled Wilberforce to take on the establishment. As we have heard, Lord Mayors of Liverpool benefited from and lobbied for the slave trade. Members of Parliament were bought by the colonists, who spoke of economic ruin if the trade was not allowed to continue.
It is significant that Wilberforce succeeded in persuading the House to act against the economic and political interests of our country in order to do away with a great evil. A mere Back Bencher, described by Sir Patrick Cormack as an independent, was able to have that degree of influence because of the determination with which he had set his face against the slave trade. I wonder whether today—given that the House of Commons has handed much of its power to other bodies in Europe and elsewhere, and given that even the power that does rest here has been absorbed into the Executive—it would be possible for a campaigning Back Bencher to turn around the country's economic policy in the face of established interests. I doubt it very much.
As other Members have pointed out, slavery is still with us. As long as there are people who are strong and people who are weak, there will be opportunity for slavery. Human beings and human nature being what they are, those weaknesses will be exploited. When we go on holiday and see the great pyramids in Egypt, we are seeing monuments to slavery; indeed, we can see monuments to slavery in our own civilisation, built by people who were enslaved and used as economic tools at various times in world history.
Today, of course, there are still strong people who exploit and take advantage of those who are weak. Numerous examples have been mentioned, but I shall give just two. The first is pertinent to Northern Ireland. When the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs looked into the subject of organised crime, it considered the role that paramilitaries play in exploiting people who are trafficked into the United Kingdom and who are either used for cheap labour or sexually exploited.
Of course, the problem is not unique to Northern Ireland—organised criminals are doing the same in other parts of the United Kingdom—but if we are to convince people in Northern Ireland that there will be an end to paramilitarism, and that the ill-gotten gains of paramilitarism will not remain with people who exploit human weakness, we must robustly take those people on, whether they have political influence or not. It may mean making hard decisions in the so-called peace process, but it is important that the message goes out that people who engage in such activity will face the full brunt of the law and will lose their ill-gotten gains.
On that point, I hope that the change in the organisation of the Assets Recovery Agency will not diminish the ability of the authorities in Northern Ireland to take away from those who gain from the sex trade and from using trafficked individuals. I hope that it does not concentrate its activities on the bigger players in the organised crime market and leave those at a lower level, who nevertheless gain from such trade. We seek assurances from the Government that that will not be the case. Of course, sentences must be severe, too.
My second example is a form of slavery from which we in this country benefit to a certain extent. It is indentured labour, which is sometimes found in this country. For example, in the Morecambe bay incident, in which people brought into the country by gangmasters were exploited for very low wages, we saw that people can become victims of what is virtually a slave trade. We also benefit from cheap consumer goods, and some good investigative reporting has been done on that subject; sometimes, people work in conditions that are little short of slavery. I listened to what Ann McKechin said about free trade, but if there are no conditions attached to trade, it can help to further exploitation, because it gives freer access to western markets, and provides an even greater incentive to those who want to exploit labour in third-world countries—it encourages them to do so.
There is one other form of slavery that I want to mention, but I do not want to detract in any way from the suffering of people who have been subject to slavery through the ages. Slavery means the weak, the vulnerable and the desperate being exploited, and I believe that the Government have created a climate in which many people in this country will find themselves enslaved, not by having their freedom taken away from them, but by the addictions to which they are prone. Opportunities are being put in their way. Powerful arguments have been made by Government Members for 24-hour drinking and a casino-type society. We are providing opportunities, because of the powerful economic arguments that have been advanced, for people to become enslaved to their addictions.
I thought that you might warn me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall move on.
I simply wish to say that we must be vigilant, as there are all kinds of ways in which the weak and the vulnerable can be exploited by the economically powerful. Whether it is trafficking, whether it is bonded labour and the way in which it is used to reduce costs and so on, or whether it is the things that I have just mentioned, it is important that Government policy should aim to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, and to follow many good speeches, particularly the opening speeches by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Mr. Hague. I am not nearly as much of an expert on the life of William Wilberforce as the right hon. Gentleman, but I want to pay my own small tribute.
Although William Wilberforce was born in Hull, and was Member of Parliament for the city, he campaigned in Clapham and he spent most of his life in Battersea in my constituency. He had a large house—Broomwood house—on land that now occupies a whole ward of my constituency in the area known as "Between the commons", which accommodates 800 houses. In those days, however, there was a single house, the site of which is commemorated by a plaque at 111, Broomwood road. The gardens, however, were far larger. On Friday, I shall visit a local school that is located where those gardens used to be, to talk to year 5 children about the history of slavery. I will be able to speak in local terms, because one can almost imagine William Wilberforce in the oval library in Broomwood house—sadly, it no longer exists—persuading many of the people with whom he campaigned and talking about tactics. That is where he plotted most of the campaign.
William Wilberforce is remembered in Battersea in the Wilberforce estate, which includes Wilberforce house, Clarkson house, which commemorates the great extra-parliamentary leader of the abolitionist movement, and Buxton house, which commemorates the later leader who achieved the abolition of slavery. Pitt and Burke houses commemorate Tories involved in the campaign, and Sheridan house commemorates a Whig involved in the campaign. It is a paradox that Wilberforce was a Tory. He was the son of merchants in Hull, but most of the Tories opposed his campaign to abolish the slave trade, and he had to rely on the Whigs for support. Having enlisted their support, he drew inspiration from Christians in the Clapham sect, which was centred on Holy Trinity church. He provided inspiration for Battersea's early socialists, who were proud of the fact that he lived in the area. Battersea produced the first black mayor in this country—John Archer, who was the grandson of a Barbadian slave and became mayor of Battersea in 1912. The area also produced the first black Labour MP, Shapurji Saklatvala, some 10 years later. It is an area that is proud of its association with William Wilberforce and it has done its best to take forward the tradition that he established.
The Clapham sect was involved in far more than the anti-slavery campaign, although that dwarfs all the other issues on which it campaigned. It is interesting to know that members of the sect won their campaign to abolish bear baiting and bull baiting. They campaigned for village schools, with some success. They were the first prison visitors. They campaigned against pornographic books. Their campaign for smallpox vaccination had almost as much effect as their most famous campaign. Later they founded the colony of Sierra Leone, which became a home for freed slaves. William Wilberforce was their parliamentary leader and the towering figure in the anti-slavery campaign, but many other well known figures such as Thornton were members of the Clapham sect, who deserve to be remembered for their part in the great campaign.
As we have heard many times, the slave trade was abolished in 1807, but it took until 1833 before slavery itself was abolished. William Wilberforce died only three days after the abolition of slavery, but he had time to record his disgust at the fact that £20 million, which must have been a huge amount in those days, was paid in compensation to slave owners. That was the price that Parliament paid to get rid of slavery.
From what I know of Wilberforce's life—I have much more to read, I am sure—we could do with more politicians like him. As Sammy Wilson said, he was a Back Bencher. It would be good to think that Back Benchers could achieve even a small part of what Wilberforce did, with no ministerial career behind him and no great weight of authority in the House, only his own passion and conviction. Rather than a politician, he was a campaigner of pure heart. He never demonised the slave traders themselves. Most of us, and certainly I, if I were involved in a campaign against the slave trade, would demonise the slave traders, but William Wilberforce said:
"I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole Parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty—we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others; and I therefore deprecate every kind of reflection against the various descriptions of people who are more immediately involved in this wretched business."
I cannot think of anything said in a greater spirit of selflessness. I very much hope that we can emulate Wilberforce's contrition.
Mr. Ellwood spoke about all the things that the Prime Minister made apologies for, suggesting that that was becoming too politically correct, but he cannot have thought for a moment that it was some kind of political correctness to make an apology for the slave trade. We need only look back at the words of William Wilberforce to see that we should conduct the debate in the spirit of contrition for what is past and of determination to make sure that we in Parliament play our part in ending slavery for good.
It is interesting to follow Martin Linton, who was quite parochial in his remarks about various personalities from his constituency who played their part in historic events years ago. I will be similarly parochial about the role that the city of Bristol, which I represent in Parliament, played in events 200 years ago. The hon. Gentleman mentioned one of my predecessors, Edmund Burke, who bravely spoke against slavery while being the Member for Bristol, which was one of the reasons why he had to flee the city in 1780 and not contest an election again in that particular seat.
The question of slavery is undoubtedly an emotive issue for present-day Bristolians, and its legacy has been much discussed in the city. Bristol was one of the country's three principal slaving ports. Once the royal monopoly on slavery that restricted the slave trade to London was lifted in 1698, Bristol merchants entered into the slave trade with some enthusiasm, I have to acknowledge, although by the middle of the 18th century the city was overtaken by Liverpool as one of the principal slaving ports in the country. As well as the slave trade itself—in economic terms, it is a moot point as to how much prosperity the slave trade brought to the city, because many slaving voyages ended in a net loss—the city prospered from the trades associated with it, such as sugar, tobacco and brass. Many of the slave plantation owners in the West Indies had a direct link to Bristol and contributed much to the city's wealth. Ironically, the compensation that they received once full emancipation took effect in 1838 contributed further to the city's prosperity.
Contrary to what many people believe, very few slaves passed through the city of Bristol, although many became servants there. In north Bristol, in Henbury churchyard, there is the grave of Scipio Africanus, who is buried there. In the city centre, we commemorate one of the few known slaves apart from Scipio Africanus, who was known as Pero and was the slave of a West Indies plantation owner who lived in the Georgian House in the centre of my constituency.
St. Paul's, in my constituency, has the one of the oldest communities of West Indian origin in the country. The legacy of slavery and the racism that is associated with it is a very hot topic in my constituency at the moment; indeed, it has been a big topic of discussion in the city for many decades. Some significant progress has been made. The hon. Member for Battersea said that the first black mayor was in his borough. Bristol can claim the first Afro-Caribbean lord mayor—Jim Williams, who was a Labour councillor and became lord mayor of Bristol in 1990. I was pleased to play my part in the election of the city's first black Afro-Caribbean-origin lady councillor—Shirley Marshall—in my constituency in 2003.
The question of how to commemorate the events of 200 years ago has been the subject of much debate in the city. How do we balance a recognition of the shame of the city's association with slavery, which is much referred to by people from outside the city, with a commemoration of the blow for civil rights and human dignity that this Parliament made in 1807? In fact, the city and people of Bristol played a role in both aspects.
In the mid-1990s, when I was a councillor for the city centre of Bristol, a couple of Labour councillors and I mounted a campaign to ensure that the city owned up to its rather shameful past as regards its association with the slave trade, because there was nothing to be seen in the city's museums that reflected it. That led to an exhibition in the Georgian House, which has been open to the public for about a century and was owned by the Pinney family, who were big plantation owners in Nevis in the West Indies. That led to a larger exhibition in the Industrial museum, which will lead in turn to an exhibition later this year in the British Empire and Commonwealth museum next to Bristol Temple Meads station. The new city of Bristol museum, for which I have campaigned for about 15 years, will open in 2009, on the back of investment from the city council and the national lottery. It will have a permanent gallery showing the warts-and-all story of Bristol's role in the slave trade.
Has the hon. Gentleman any idea of how much new slavery there is in Bristol? Has he any idea of how many women and children there are who have been trafficked? I am not in any way demeaning what he is saying, but slavery is not dead, and it is certainly pretty active in Bristol.
I am not sure whether slavery is pretty active in Bristol. I heard the hon. Gentleman's speech and his earlier interventions on other Members, and I recognise his passionate commitment to raising the issue of human trafficking. He and other hon. Members have mentioned prostitution, and that is certainly an unfortunate feature of a major city such as the capital of the west of England. In my constituency, unfortunately, there are women of various nationalities who are there, either because of their drug dependency or no doubt because they have been trafficked into the area, to satisfy the quite awful needs of some men in the city of Bristol. That is a matter of shame for all of us, and a reminder of the lack of human dignity that some people have to face.
How Bristol should face up to the events of 200 years ago is a matter of great debate there. Some people wish to erase all memory of the city's role in the slave trade by altering street names and the name of our concert hall, and by not allowing a shopping centre to make even a convoluted reference to merchants. Jeremy Corbyn, who is no longer in his place, mentioned the role of Edward Colston in the city of Bristol, and that, too, is a topic for debate at the moment. I believe, however, that the way to deal with the past is not to erase it from our memory but to recognise it, debate it and interpret it wherever we find an association with the past that is linked to slavery, be it a statue, a hall or a shopping centre. Wherever we find a link, however tenuous, we should interpret it so that people can understand the issues of the past, deal with them and relate them to what is happening today.
Sammy Wilson mentioned the apology that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had made on behalf of all of us in this regard. The question of an apology has also been a topic of debate in Bristol. I do not believe that the present generation of Bristolians or their elected representatives can apologise for the actions of people who were alive in the city 200 years ago. We cannot transfer guilt on to those people, particularly as only a minority of the citizens of that time participated in the slave trade or had a direct interest in the West Indies. Moreover, many ordinary Bristolians campaigned against the trade. It is better to recognise all facets of the trade and to understand our legacy. The city council has, none the less, debated the question of an apology and issued a statement of profound regret, which was in a tone similar to the one issued by the Prime Minister on behalf of the nation.
I want to talk briefly about the role of the city in the events of 200 years ago. As early as 1783, the Society of Friends in Bristol first mounted a campaign against the slave trade in which some Bristolians were engaged. On
"every body seemed to execrate it, though no one thought of its abolition."
In Bristol, aided by Mr. Thompson, the landlord of the "Seven Stars" pub, which still exists in the city centre, Thomas Clarkson was escorted around the public houses where seamen were recruited to go on slaving voyages. That formed the basis of the evidence that he gathered to campaign against the slave trade in the country, and which he fed to Wilberforce for his campaign in Parliament. The evidence of maltreatment of the seamen aroused almost as much moral outrage at the time as that of the maltreatment of the captives. There were tales of floggings, burnings with hot pitch, branding with tongs and throwing people overboard.
In 1787, a local committee was established in Bristol for the abolition of the slave trade, bringing together Quakers, Anglicans and dissenters, as well as leading public figures in the city. Clarkson then left to gather further evidence in Liverpool. In Bristol, the debate raged for the next 20 years between the abolitionists and the West Indian interests that wished to perpetuate the slave trade. I have to say that my parliamentary predecessors did not play a particularly distinguished role in 1807 in the passing of the Act that we are commemorating tonight. The 1830 election, however, was fought directly on the issue of the continuance of slavery, and competing Whig candidates—one for emancipation and one against—stood. Sadly, the forces of emancipation were defeated—though certainly not disgraced—by 3,378 votes to 2,843. Of course, that was on a very limited pre-1832 franchise. The Act to emancipate slaves became one of the first passed by the reformed House after 1832.
The abolition of the slave trade in 1807 is arguably the first blow for human rights by any national Parliament on behalf of the peoples of other countries. In opening the debate, the Deputy Prime Minister referred to the teaching of history in our schools, as did other Members. I have spoken on black history month a couple of times since being elected a Member of Parliament, and I share with Ms Butler, who is not currently in her place, the hope that black history issues will be integral to the new history curriculum, and I am assured that that has been the case in Bristol schools for many years. I shall invite all the schools in my constituency to come and see the exhibition in Westminster Hall. Cabot school in St. Paul's in my constituency has already had an exhibition and commemoration of present-day and historical black heroes.
There is much cynicism about politics, but 2007 provides an opportunity for us to remind people of the good that politics and Parliament can do, as well as to remind them of how much good can be achieved by those who campaign outside Parliament. When I studied history in school, I learned of the success of the Anti-Corn Law League compared with the failure of Chartism. I was not taught at the time of the success in 1807 of the campaign from outside Parliament to end the slave trade. On Sunday, in Bristol, as in Hull and Liverpool, there will be a service in the cathedral to commemorate the events of 200 years ago. Across the city, the bells will be rung, by contrast with when they were rung on the many occasions that Wilberforce's attempts to abolish the slave trade were defeated. When those bells fall silent, all of us in Bristol will have an opportunity to have a period of quiet contemplation and reflection on the events that have taken place in the city's past, and on how we face up to the legacy of slavery in today's society.
It is a profound honour to wind up for the Opposition in a debate that has never failed, in any speech, to be interesting and informative. Members of the House have displayed terrific knowledge of and commitment to the issues. This is an especially proud moment for me as a council member of the Evangelical Alliance, which represents 1 million Christians in the UK, all of whom are immensely proud of the evangelical William Wilberforce.
Whatever our individual backgrounds, few of us, when we contemplated a parliamentary career, were unmindful of the history of this place. For whichever side of the House we were destined, we were moved by the thought of being physically connected, through our mere presence as Members, to some of the Acts and events that shaped the country's destiny.
Among those Acts, the measure that we remember tonight takes its place as one of a series in the 19th century that would change us as a people and a society for ever, etching compassion for the victims of a new and harshly constituted urban environment into law for our towns and cities, workplaces, prisons and schools. However, the fact that the measure that we remember tonight holds a special place in our history recognises its reach beyond these shores and celebrates the character of the man most associated with it—William Wilberforce.
Before I speak about William Wilberforce and his achievements, let me acknowledge some key themes of the debate. I welcome most warmly the opening speeches by the Deputy Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague. Both spoke with commitment. The Deputy Prime Minister spoke from deep knowledge of his constituency and of what Wilberforce means to him. My right hon. Friend gave a remarkable performance, even for him, demonstrating complete mastery of his special subject. Anyone who took him on about Wilberforce on "Mastermind" would come off second best. Two fine opening speeches were followed by a series of others.
Praise for William Wilberforce is not a zero sum game. It neither denigrates him to recognise that he was not alone in the quest to rid our country and the world of an evil trade, nor does it devalue the efforts of others to appreciate that his importance as the right man in the right place at the right time changed history faster than it might have been changed. We do not need to justify our opinions of Wilberforce and his role in the abolition movement by trying to defend him against charges that he never heard or by feeling aggrieved that others are not mentioned in the same breath when the roles of those most involved are discussed.
We have been right during the debate to pay tribute to those—known and unknown—who played a significant part in the abolitionist movement. They include: Thomas Clarkson, the choice of my hon. Friend Mr. Moss for his eloquent eulogy; Hannah More; Granville Sharp; Olaudah Equiano; Ottabah Cugoano; John Newton; the Clapham sect; William Knibb, and Elizabeth Heyrick, who led the Leicester sugar revolt and appeared from time to time as a representative of the thousands of women in this country who supported the abolitionist movement. Thousands of nameless people responded to petitions and the work throughout the country. We also heard about the Maroons in Jamaica. All are valued and honoured in the House. We acknowledge that the culmination of William Wilberforce's life and work could not have happened without the contributions of many others, for whom he was an outstanding focus and catalyst.
Ms Abbott made, even for her, a wonderful speech. It was considered, well rounded and not only displayed a knowledge of the miseries of slavery, which she conveyed, but made a thoughtful contribution on its legacy. We are in her debt and I hope that she chooses it as her speech of the week on Mr. Andrew Neil's programme in a couple of days. She and Ms Butler spoke with a particular understanding, which—forgive me—I cannot reach, not only because of what they said and how they said it, but because of who they are and whom they represent. The fact that the House includes them and others who have their background is a great honour for us. They both conveyed that in a remarkable way, for which I thank them.
Both hon. Members referred to those who had joined William Wilberforce, as did Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke of those outside this place who contribute to democracy. It is a continuous theme of his life and work in the House—he is a bit of grit in the oyster, but always for the right reasons. He described some of the messiness involved—how the Royal Navy simultaneously patrolled the seas to stop the slave trade and took part in quelling the slave rebellions in the islands. Life is not consistent, and it is messy.
My right hon. Friend Sir George Young gave an extraordinary contemporary account, drawing on his own relatives' experience, of some of the problems to do with slavery that he had encountered. We are thrilled—but not surprised, knowing my right hon. Friend—that he was on the right side of the debate.
Our debate today is not a celebration—and it is certainly not a celebration of the end of slavery. Many colleagues have spoken knowledgeably and movingly about the tragedy that is modern-day slavery in all its many forms. It never went away. Slavery is not simply an act or a series of acts that physically enslave or control. Slavery begins in the mind. It is an act of oppression and domination springing from a perversion of the human spirit which, cruelly, can only value the freedom in one if it deals in the loss of freedom in another. That is why the slavers of today have simple common cause with those of yesteryear, and that is why, sadly, slavery crosses all human boundaries—race, faith, colour and nation. It is everywhere.
My hon. Friend Mr. Steen mentioned human trafficking and the problems associated with it. He asked a series of questions which I know the Minister will respond to as effectively as she can. He asked whether, despite our recognition of trafficking and our understanding of where it begins, enough is being done. That was also asked by the hon. Members for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin), both of whom made reference to the worries that they have and wondered whether operations such as the Poppy project are doing enough—and whether we can ever do enough. Have we perhaps found the answer to the question that is so often posed in schools: "If William Wilberforce were alive today, what cause would he be involved in?" Perhaps the answer to that is human trafficking, and making sure that our policies deal with it a lot more effectively. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes raised the issue of human trafficking with great passion, and I hope that he will receive proper replies to his detailed questions, either in the debate or by letter if they cannot be answered tonight.
Sadly, we could have picked up on other examples of slavery. We could have pointed to the problem of child soldiers around the world, and particularly in Africa. In 2006, the United Nations estimated that more than 250,000 children were actively involved in armed conflict. That problem is most critical in Africa where up to 100,000 children, some as young as nine years old, were estimated to be involved in armed conflict in mid-2004. Forcible abductions, sometimes of large numbers of children, continue to occur in some countries. We could also have picked up on any number of examples of people—children especially—being taken into work, such as starting as domestics and being put into bondage and slavery, or being fooled into taking a job and then finding themselves involved in prostitution.
CHASTE—Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe—is run by the Reverend Dr. Carrie Pemberton, with whom I am speaking on the replica Zong on Monday, with the Minister as well, I think. [Interruption.] Perhaps she will not be there. The Minister has already met my friend. CHASTE is having a day of action on
It would be remiss of me in concluding not to pay particular tribute to the man without whom we would certainly not be commemorating this particular night.
That the slave trade would have ended I have no doubt, but the merest glimpse into William Wilberforce's personal history is enough to convince even the most cynical of today's cynical age that his character was of such strength that his drive for this cause hastened the end of an evil trade in the British empire.
Ms Johnson spoke eloquently about "her Wilberforce" and his legacy in that town, as did my hon. Friend Martin Linton, who also spoke of Wilberforce's connections with the Clapham sect—of whom more in a minute.
Wilberforce was a brilliant man who fancied a career in politics and was clever and wealthy enough through family to buy a seat in the Commons. So far, so corrupt—like virtually any other of his age. Had he simply latched on to a cause in order to make his name and used this cruel trade for his own advancement and enrichment, we would be right in being embarrassed at the attention paid to him and his role, notwithstanding his success. However, that is not the case. Even in that age, as now, that an able politician should give up the chance to get on in the party and aspire to office seemed decidedly odd. As we know from our own experience, the able colleague who leaves mid-career to "spend more time with the family" appears to be using code that the Westminster village understands all too well. They are either up to something, have been up to something, or were never up to the job in any case.
That is why Wilberforce was so special. All the evidence suggests that here was a man who had a wonderful political career and future, but who changed his life completely, and with it the course of history, because of Jesus Christ and a profound process of conversion. It is well documented—there is evidence from Wilberforce himself, and from contemporaries hostile and friendly—that his process of conversion included a period of reflection, familiar to millions around the world, on the point of life and the use of his talents. As his character changed, his attention turned to slavery, and he spent more and more time with those of similar mind. He resolved to take up in Parliament the cause of ending the slave trade, which was a necessary precursor to the abolitionist's aim: ending slavery itself.
The passage of time should not dim our understanding of what an undertaking that was. The wealth of more than one great city, as we have heard from a number of Members today, was built on cruelty to others. Throughout the attempts to end the trade, the serious impact on the country and on individuals was used as a counter-argument, in a way not dissimilar to the use of tariffs today to protect the European Union or the United States from the impact of the trade in goods from poorer countries. There is always a good argument for profit. This was a grown-up debate, in which Wilberforce was on the "wrong" side. He was more than a maverick—he was a dangerous one. There was no political gain to be made, as has been mentioned. There was no certainty of a happy ending when he took on the fight; no suggestion that, as in a film, he would triumph for right in the final reel. He faced, as nameless others did in that cause—and as nameless others have done since in every cause worth fighting against tyranny—a failed career and an unsung death.
However, Wilberforce carried on, and it was 20 long years before he succeeded. He succeeded not only because his cause was just, although it was. He succeeded not only because he was a great orator, although he was. He succeeded not simply because he and his friends had mobilised hundreds of thousands of people in a mass campaign in a manner never seen before, although they did. He succeeded because of his personal conviction, as an evangelical Christian, that his faith was not a matter for Sundays only—that it must be carried into every part of his life, and that his talents were to be set apart for God and his purposes, for the good of society around him.
Wilberforce was not alone. He was surrounded by those who led him spiritually and shared his faith. However, this, too, was an act of courage. The Christian Church in this country did not have clean hands. Good Christian men and women turned their backs on those in need, and Wilberforce's bravery in confronting them was as profound as was his bravery in politics. The achievements of the Clapham sect and of the evangelical movement in reforming social conditions have had a profound influence on the nation. Shaftesbury, Fry, William Booth, Barnardo and the unsung who worked with them and inspired them deserve their commemoration and thanks, too.
I turn finally to legacy. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North told us about what is happening in Hull and its commitment to fair trade; what a remarkable way to build on a legacy. Mrs. Curtis-Thomas, in a moving and wholly compelling contribution, described not only what her city has been through, but, through its twinning with Waterloo, what it is doing for the future. All those who listened to her will be pleased that they did. What a remarkable way to carry on from that past.
Malcolm Bruce raised the issue of Doha, as did the hon. Member for Glasgow, North, and how that could be an adequate legacy if we could take on the need for trade. Dr. Cable, in his contribution from the Front Bench, dealt with the elephant in the room—the difficult issue of an apology—and several other colleagues also mentioned it. I take the view that it is very difficult to apologise on behalf of others. If people do not want to apologise for the slave trade and the shame that it brought on this country, they must come from another planet, but the issue is not the words used or who apologises to whom. It is about what we do with what happened, and about responding with sincerity and integrity to the shame of the past. More than one hon. Member got the balance right.
The hon. Members for Brent, South and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington talked about the need for a greater pride in black history, and perhaps the dangerous legacy left from slavery in the culture of young men and violence. That took the debate into difficult, but typically brave territory that needs to be confronted in a society such as ours. If only all the legacies of slavery were dealt with by the good hearts of people in places such as Waterloo and if only it were not as difficult in some areas as it is. Sammy Wilson made a strong contribution, as did Stephen Williams.
It is not the knowledge of history that shames us. When people talk about whether we should have this debate and remember slavery, it is the lack of knowledge that shames us. We are not responsible for the past, but we are responsible for what our children learn now. With an understanding of the trade, its rise, fall and rise again, they will learn that the attitudes behind it are not past attitudes, but present-day ones. Greed is predominant. There is money to be made from exploitation and cruelty, so support those who fight against greed and exploitation wherever it arises—from children kidnapped into sex slavery in eastern Europe to Chinese workers who give their life savings to agents who see them dead in the back of a wagon or on the sands of Morecambe bay. As my hon. Friend Mr. Ellwood noted, slavery is oppressive and knows no bounds, no race, no colour and no country.
I conclude with the words of Wilberforce himself. In a speech on
"distinguished for splendour of eloquence and force of argument", he concluded that the House must
"shew to the people, that their legislators...were forward to assert the rights of the weak against the strong; to vindicate the cause of the oppressed, and that where a practice was found to prevail inconsistent with humanity and justice, no consideration of profit could reconcile them to its continuance."
Would that all of us in this place would have those words of William Wilberforce as the epitaph for our work.
This has been an extraordinary debate and I am deeply honoured to respond to it on behalf of the Government. We have heard 16 speeches by Back Benchers and I will try to do justice to the points that hon. Members have raised. In the time available, I may not be able to be as thorough as I would have liked.
It is also a pleasure to follow Alistair Burt and to endorse many of his remarks. I also entirely agree with him about the opening speeches from my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Mr. Hague—two Yorkshire MPs, and here we have another one replying to the debate. I have also been supported today by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Mr. Coaker, who has responsibility for the issue of human trafficking and has responded to previous debates on that important issue, and by the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Mr. Lammy, who has also responded to previous debates on the issue of the bicentenary.
The contributions made by hon. Members during the debate illustrate that the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807 200 years ago was a landmark event in the struggle for the equality, dignity and liberty of all people. To commemorate the year, the Government have a range of activities planned that complement the events planned by, and within, communities. There are three main phases to our activity in 2007. The first involves raising awareness of the bicentenary and the transatlantic slave trade, and also of Britain's role in both the trade and its abolition. I believe that today's debate has played an important part in that.
The second phase of activity involves the commemoration of those who suffered as a result of the slave trade, those who struggled for abolition and those who ensured that the new laws were enforced. The third phase involves tackling the legacy of slavery, with issues arising from the slave trade including poverty and inequality on the African continent, contemporary slavery in its various forms, and inequality and discrimination in Britain today.
I shall deal with those three phrases in more detail. Slavery has long existed in human societies, but the transatlantic slave trade was unique in terms of the destructive impact that it had on Africa. It is estimated that more than 12 million people were transported, and that some 2 million died due to the inhuman conditions in which they were transported and the violent suppression of any onboard resistance.
It is tempting just to stick with the statistics and to skate over the barbaric practices that were integral to every part of the slave trade. We must also recall that the slave trade brought huge wealth to this country and caused terrible suffering to the slaves taken from Africa and to the communities left behind, with effects that still live on today.
I am indebted to my hon. Friend Ms Abbott, who went into some of the details of the slave trade and what it meant. It is important that we recognise what went on, and her speech was very moving. As other hon. Members have said, it brought home to us the connection between today and the slave trade of previous centuries.
Professor James Walvin has written extensively on slavery. He has stated:
"From first to last, slavery was a system characterised by brutality...that had far-reaching ramifications for three continents: for the Americas, whose economic potential was tapped by generations of imported Africans, for Europe, which orchestrated (and benefited) from the whole system, and of course Africa, for which massive loss of population, with attendant violence and upheaval, caused incalculable and long term damage. But Atlantic Slavery had even more profound consequences....for it was...the means by which the West emerged to a position of unrivalled economic and political dominance."
The passing in Parliament of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 marked the beginning of the end of that barbaric trade. The Act was the result of a long and often fraught parliamentary battle by committed parliamentarians supporting the abolitionist cause. However, that battle would not have been won without the efforts of the enslaved Africans and the ordinary citizens who fought for abolition. It is also important to recognise the efforts of the men of the Royal Navy, some of whom were freed slaves. They enforced the Act, and some of them gave their lives in that enforcement.
To raise awareness of the suffering caused by this barbaric trade—and of the efforts of those who struggled for abolition and ensured that the new laws were enforced—the Government have a range of activities planned throughout 2007. My hon. Friend Ms Butler made a moving and important speech, in which she spoke about the curriculum, and I can tell her that the Department for Education and Skills is running a national competition for schools. Entitled "Understanding Slavery: The Big Conversation 2007", the competition is designed to educate children about the slave trade and abolition. We are also looking to embed teaching about the slave trade in the curriculum permanently. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently consulting on a new draft secondary curriculum which, for the first time, will include the slave trade as a compulsory element in the key stage 3 history curriculum.
My hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn also asked about education matters, but I am afraid that I do not have time to give a detailed response this evening.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Any education about the slave trade is obviously very welcome, but can she go a bit further? The point is that black history and the history of Africa, in a world sense, need to be developed in both primary and secondary schools.
That is precisely the sort of detail that I should have liked to have had time to go into, but I promise to write to my hon. Friends the Members for Brent, South and for Islington, North about these matters. The Department for Education and Skills is very concerned about this issue, and that is why it has asked Sir Keith Ajegbo to write a report about it. I shall be happy to supply more details about that in writing.
Although the passage of the 1807 Act was an historic national event with international significance, it was primarily the result of local agitation, community activity and dissent.
The emphasis on community-based activity and commemoration is very much at the heart of the Government's approach to the 2007 bicentenary. We have worked to facilitate and support a range of local commemorative events across the country to pay tribute to both those who suffered as a result of the slave trade and those who struggled for abolition and ensured that the new laws were enforced. Much of the commemorative activity centres on Britain's port cities—Liverpool, London, Hull and Bristol—which were the focus of the slave trade. We have heard from Members from Hull and from Stephen Williams about what is planned in those cities.
There will be a range of activities, including the opening of an international slavery museum in Liverpool in August, commemorative services at Bristol cathedral and Liverpool cathedral, the reopening of the Wilberforce museum in Hull in March, and an exhibition at the Royal Naval museum in Portsmouth on the role of the Royal Navy. A number of national commemorative events are planned. As has been said, there will be an exhibition in the Houses of Parliament, and I pay tribute to all those involved in preparing it. A national commemoration service will be held next week at Westminster Abbey.
It is right that in this debate we commemorate the parliamentary process. I find myself in the strange position not only of sharing my birthday with William Wilberforce, the most well known of the parliamentary campaigners, but of having been born exactly 200 years after him. I reflected on how I would be feeling if something I had campaigned on for nearly 20 years was at last to be achieved. I do not share the same length of time in Parliament as William Wilberforce, but my experience gives me an interesting perspective.
The abolition committee was created in 1787, as Members have said, and was made up of opponents of the slave trade including the Quakers, with William Wilberforce as its parliamentary champion. It included Thomas Clarkson, about whom we learned in more detail from Mr. Moss. In 1789, Wilberforce made his most famous abolition speech in which he used powerful, passionate and emotive language to put his case forward, shaming Parliament for allowing that inhumane trade to occur in its name. I shall not quote extensively from the speech, because other Members, including my hon. Friend Martin Linton, have beaten me to it, but Wilberforce ended it by saying:
"A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might, let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition."
Wilberforce introduced motions on the abolition of the slave trade almost every year until the Act of 1807 and, as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks told us, at 4.30 in the morning, on Second Reading, the Commons voted by 283 to 16 to abolish the slave trade. What shines through reports of the debates is the emphasis on justice and humanity.
Not only should we admire Wilberforce for his persistence in continuing his campaign year in, year out, we must commemorate, too, the resistance of those who were enslaved. There is no doubt that the role they played in seeking to gain their freedom was crucial. The autobiography of the former slave, Olaudah Equiano, written in 1789, furthered the cause of abolition.
Yesterday, I was in Birmingham and was privileged to spend some time looking at the archives and the materials on the slave trade compiled by Dr. Andy Green. The role of the Quakers was central to the fight for abolition and many other Christians were involved, particularly those in the non-conformist churches. That was certainly true in Birmingham. There is also evidence of how visits to the city by former slaves, black abolitionists, influenced public opinion.
Today, we have heard today stories from around Britain. My hon. Friends the Members for Battersea and for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) and Sammy Wilson all spoke of their experience in their area. I, too, have looked into experiences in my city, Sheffield. Many local merchants profited from the trade by manufacturing metal chains and shackles and agricultural equipment for the slaves to work the land in the plantations. However, Sheffield also voiced its strong opinion for the abolition for the slave trade. The city sent two significant petitions to Parliament: one in 1789 involving over 700 metal workers, and one in 1793 involving 8,000 signatures, which amounted to between 25 and 30 per cent. of the local adult population—an enormous feat by any standards. I pay tribute to the staff of Sheffield archives, especially Ruth Harman, who provided me with that information.
The 1807 Act was a significant achievement, making the trade in slaves illegal on British ships. Slavery, of course, remained a reality in British colonies. Campaigning for the abolition of all forms of slavery continued up and down the country, including through co-ordinated boycotts of trade products, petitions and so on—something that my hon. Friend Ms Johnson described vividly. Both Sheffield and Birmingham had ladies anti-slavery societies, which were very active. The ladies of Sheffield have certainly continued to be active, as I am sure hon. Members will know. Their techniques included writing poems and hymns, and, in Birmingham, selling bags into which they put information about the reality of slavery. They collected a large amount of money.
In 1833, the emancipation Act was passed, but a further period of apprenticeship followed, with many slaves only finally free some five years later. It is incredible that slave owners were compensated with £20 million, while the slaves received nothing. It is important to note that the slavery societies continued. I looked yesterday at records from the Birmingham society from 1918-19, when it was still campaigning on this issue throughout the world. Although the passing of the Act abolishing the slave trade 200 years ago was a landmark event, it was not the end of slavery.
I now come to the issue of human trafficking. Human trafficking is one of the main forms of modern slavery. It is an appalling crime, where people are treated as commodities and traded for profit. The problem is extensive. That was rightly raised by Mr. Steen, my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and for Glasgow, North, and Sir Patrick Cormack. As with the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, the British Government are seeking to lead the way in tackling the problem, both domestically and internationally. We have a comprehensive approach to human trafficking, involving legislation, enforcement, international co-operation and support for victims.
I should tell the hon. Member for Totnes, who asked a lot of questions, that the UK human trafficking centre, which is based in Sheffield, was established in autumn 2006 to support the overarching aim of moving the United Kingdom on in its prevention and investigation of the trafficking in human beings. It is built on the approach that developed through Operation Pentameter, to which a number of Members have referred. It will provide a response to trafficking on a national level and consists of a multi-agency representation. It will work with police forces and other agencies, while also working with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which will combat trafficking on an international level.
Hon. Members asked about the level of support. Many are familiar with the POPPY scheme, which provides secure accommodation. I reassure hon. Members that we have given additional money to the POPPY project to develop further outreach measures. As my hon. Friends are now aware, the Government will sign the Council of Europe's convention on human trafficking and will publish their own action plan. A number of issues will be addressed when that action plan is published this Friday. That issue was raised by Malcolm Bruce.
Within the plan, we set out what we seek to do, but it does not represent a final position. We recognise that there are ongoing problems and concerns. We want to work with other countries and to learn from practice elsewhere. We want to have the best possible response to the dreadful crime that was so well described by so many hon. Members today. The Government take the issue seriously and have wanted to be in a position to have a plan to move towards ratification. Clearly, I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman any further details on that today, but we take seriously signing such a convention and are doing it with the intention of being able to ratify it as soon as possible.
I certainly will. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said clearly—I think that it was on the record—that he is in favour of that. The Government are open to hearing people's views. The issue can be debated throughout the UK during this year and we want to hear as many views as possible.
I wanted briefly to talk about poverty in Africa, but I am running out of time. Hon. Members have mentioned the importance that we place on providing support there. The contribution on this issue from my hon. Friend Mrs. Curtis-Thomas was enormously important.
One thing that emerges from the history of the abolition of the slave trade and the abolition movement is that Parliament matters; it makes a difference. The passing of the 1807 Act on the abolition of the slave trade marked the beginning of the end for the transatlantic slave trade. It was not only parliamentarians, but enslaved Africans and ordinary citizens throughout the country, who brought about the change. However, the passing of the Act was not the end of slavery. Although the legalised trade in human beings has been abolished, it persists today in contemporary forms such as people trafficking.
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.