Slavery

– in the House of Lords at 11:33 am on 7th July 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 11:33 am, 7th July 2005

rose to call attention to the progress made towards the eradication of contemporary forms of slavery; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I am again grateful to my noble friends and to other speakers for supporting this debate. It is over five years since we last debated slavery in its contemporary forms in January 2000. Lord Longford remembered talking to Lord Kitchener about it, while Lord Wilberforce spoke with his usual calm authority. Both noble Lords will be missed. I had returned from Nepal, enthusiastic about new legislation to prevent bonded labour. Her Majesty's Government, in the form of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, pleaded that much was being done in many countries, as I am sure we shall hear from her again today.

I declare an interest as a council member of Anti-Slavery International, whose help I warmly acknowledge. I also intend to draw on some experience with Christian Aid in south India.

Since our last debate, awareness of slavery has increased. Trafficking of women and children has become an international scandal. There has been more NGO and United Nations activity, and more interest in the United States, but unfortunately not enough action has been taken by most of the governments concerned. Thanks to the Nepali campaigners, the government of Nepal have since ratified the ILO conventions and have released thousands of kamaiya labourers. However, the government have since been almost impotent because of Maoist terrorism.

As we try to make poverty history through aid, debt relief and trade, there is something obscene about our failure to eradicate the worst forms of labour exploitation which still affect over 12 million people around the world today. According to the ILO's latest report, more children are entering the mining and quarrying sector every day. In the Philippines, nearly 18,000 children, some as young as five, work in mines and quarries. In Nepal, it has been estimated that around 32,000 children are working in stone quarries. Some 8.4 million children are in the "unconditional" worst forms of child labour. ILO Convention 182 defines these as slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography, and other illicit activities.

These practices affect children all over the world. Forced recruitment of children for armed conflict, for example, takes place in Burma, Colombia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and five African countries. My noble friends Lady Cox and Lord Alton will be speaking about Africa.

My noble friend Lord Hilton of Eggardon will be speaking about trafficking. The ILO estimates that some 2.5 million people have been trafficked into forced labour, and 32 per cent of those are exclusively used for labour exploitation: domestic work, agricultural work, catering, packing and processing. Many governments have failed to protect migrant workers from forced labour and exploitation. They have restricted access to legal migration channels, despite a high demand for skilled and unskilled migrant workers, thereby contributing to the profitability of trafficking.

The ILO stresses that:

"In all countries and regions migrant workers, particularly irregular migrants, are at particular risk of coercive recruitment and employment practices".

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brett, will say more about this.

Debt bondage is another pernicious form of forced labour. It associates dependency with caste. Almost all bonded labourers in India, Nepal and Pakistan are from the lowest castes, tribes and minorities and are landless and economically dependent. Employers exploit them by paying poor wages, or demanding unpaid labour, forcing workers to borrow. They work longer hours for less pay, and become even more indebted.

Research among bonded mineworkers in Rajasthan five years ago revealed that one third were women, and that one in four of those women were widows of workers who had died of silicosis and TB. These women were still incurring debt from costs such as medicines and funerals. Another study by Human Rights Watch found that bonded child workers in the Indian silk industry work 10 to 14 hours a day, at least six days a week, and many had respiratory diseases and skin infections.

It is 30 years since the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act was passed, but many local officials turn a blind eye to it, and the Indian Government have only taken action in a fraction of cases. To me, the concept of good governance, whether in Africa or Asia, means that we must look at these problems on a world scale, not leave them to those individual states. India, for example, has a quarter of the world's poorest people. We must encourage any efforts the Indian Government make to combat descent-based discrimination and atrocities against the Dalits, or the scheduled castes. As a major aid donor, trade partner and friend of India, we must be prepared to speak out when the Indian Government are not making these efforts.

India's constitution officially abolished the low status of the Dalits, then known as untouchables, in 1950. However, Dalits suffer discrimination everywhere. They are often excluded from public services altogether. In some places, they are still not even allowed to walk on the road.

One definition of extreme poverty in India is when someone as poor as a Dalit labourer has to eat undigested grain saved from buffalo dung. The Dalits have to do the worst cleaning jobs in latrines for a pittance, and they are the ones who remove corpses during emergencies like the tsunami.

The most common causes of atrocities against them relate to land, water and employment. Incidents are occurring more frequently because Dalits are asserting their rights to those resources. Landowners and the panchayat members used to having their way with Dalits have, in turn, become more aggressive.

At the same time, there is clear evidence of police collusion in caste-based atrocities. Out of 100 cases surveyed in Andhra Pradesh, only 18 complaints were correctly filed under the Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 and 29 were never even registered, let alone investigated by the police. False counter-charges by members of higher castes are, however, often admitted.

Even when a case comes to the local courts, the victim is extremely unlikely to win. One human rights report in Andhra Pradesh recorded an average conviction rate of 4.7 per cent. Out of 78 major cases which went to the High Court, mainly of rape, murder, physical attack or abuse, two-thirds went against Dalits.

Another group which suffers discrimination is the manual scavengers. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act 1993 states:

"no persons shall engage in or employ . . . any other person for manually carrying human excreta".

It is an offence theoretically punishable with imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of two thousand rupees. Two-thirds of the scavengers are women, occasionally assisted by young children who may collect a piece of bread in compensation.

Child prostitution is another aspect of discrimination against Dalits in the South. The tradition of the jogins is that a young girl is dedicated to the goddess as a means of avoiding natural disasters, sickness in the family or sometimes the lack of a male heir. Her parents take a vow even when she is an infant. The child is declared a jogin and becomes a property of the temple until she comes of age. Aged 11 or 12 she is then "married" to the goddess at a special initiation ceremony where she is garlanded and dressed up as a deity. At this point, she in practice falls into the hands of a patron of the temple, and becomes his mistress for an indefinite period. She has no say in the decision and sometimes her parents earn money from her.

Surprisingly, there is no national law against that system, although it breaks almost every international human rights convention. Vulnerable girls are theoretically given protection by the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986. In Andhra Pradesh, there is a penalty of three years' imprisonment under the Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act 1988. But there are few prosecutions and little political will to enforce the Act. Voluntary organisations supported by Christian Aid and Save the Children have been remarkably successful in campaigning on their behalf and helping them to become more aware of their rights under international law. But that must not just be left to NGOs; they are insufficient to make real changes.

India's constitution established a judiciary which remains among the best in the world. But due process depends on the quality of service at every level and on a mature political structure which will set the priorities in favour of the poor and oppressed. As I said, that is not just an issue for organisations that the Government here can support. It is for the G8, as it is discussing those other major issues of poverty. It is up to the international community to support India in those activities. Until the police and legal system can ensure convictions, and as long as the poor and scheduled castes continue to be unprotected, it will be left to the non-government sector, the unions and the Dalits themselves to assert their human dignity.

In 2007, we shall be celebrating the anti-slavery bicentenary. Preparations are already being made in charities, government departments and non-governmental organisations, including Anti-Slavery International. The anniversary is a time to commemorate the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and to work for the eradication of all contemporary forms of slavery. So it has a twin aim. The Wilberforce Institute in Hull, the National Maritime Museum here and the new gallery in Liverpool, to mention only three, deserve our support. We know from last October's excellent debate in another place that the Government will ensure that this bicentenary is properly commemorated.

No one should forget Britain's role in the transatlantic slave trade. In 1807, this Parliament finally abolished it here, although the campaign against slavery overseas continued. Historians such as Linda Colley say that our grassroots democracy was founded on the anti-slavery campaign because it inspired and informed millions of people who never knew that they had so much influence on their own government, and on parliamentary reform and much followed, as we all know.

I am proud to belong to perhaps the oldest British charity of its kind, ASI, but there are many societies world-wide that have the same potential today to channel political ardour into productive information, advocacy and human rights work. For example, the Arab world is now experiencing a remarkable growth in civil society. Few people recognise that in Saudi Arabia, where there is a strong charitable tradition, among other organisations there is a charity helping trafficked Nigerian and other street children.

Finally, I have specific questions for the Minister, of which I have given her advanced notice. What are the Government doing to ensure that core international standards that prohibit slavery, such as the UN supplementary convention and the UN protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking are universally ratified? The 1956 convention will have its 50th anniversary next year, but more than 70 states have still not ratified it. Will the UK work through the European Union and the United Nations to ensure higher priority for the eradication of slavery, for example, through the creation of a UN special representative to review contemporary forms of slavery or by supporting the ILO special action programme on forced labour? Will the UK sign the new UN convention on migrant workers?

How do the Government engage with the government of India at a national level, through its country assistance plan, on issues of caste and social exclusion? What progress is DfID India making in its partnership with the UNDP and the Ministry of Home Affairs on increasing access to justice for the poor? What contact does it have with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on Dalit issues? Finally, will the Government undertake research to try to quantify the number of people who are trafficked into the UK for labour or sexual exploitation? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour 11:48 am, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this debate on this very important subject. Having said that, I do not think that slavery exists in the modern world. I do not mean that there are not rampant forms of exploitation and oppression, which are found in all societies, including western countries. I want to make a conceptual point, but I hope it is not purely academic, because important policy implications flow from it.

Slavery has existed throughout human history. In Aristotle's Politics, which is the first account of how to create an organised society or state, the relationship between master and slave is described as one of the three core pillars of any organised society. In all traditional cultures until the 18th or 19th century slavery was everywhere regarded as a natural human condition. There were many slave revolts, of course, but ethical and economic objections to slavery came very late.

I was glad that the noble Earl mentioned the trans-Atlantic slave trade because that was one of the greatest stains on western civilisation, but it was also a major lever for transformation. The slave trade energised a movement for change and the abolition of slavery that eventually became a global movement.

In my view, the term "slavery" should be restricted to what some people call "chattel slavery". That is what slavery always meant. It was an institutionalised and legal part of society; slaves were normally expensive to buy and usually yielded only low profits for their owners. In the deep South of America in the 19th Century, for example, the average cost of a slave was $40,000 in today's terms. Slaves also normally had a long-term relationship with their owners, because they were expensive property.

Slavery in this sense—or something close to it—continues to exist in the modern world. We have only to think of the notorious case of Niger, which made slave ownership punishable in law as late as 2003. Of course, that law did not eliminate the practice completely. Similar instances exist in Chad, Mali, Mauritania and elsewhere. But when we turn to what people now call slavery, it means something different. We have to tease out these differences if we are to have adequate policies to confront the various forms of deprivation and exploitation that exist across the world today.

For me, the debate about slavery has been shaped by one very important book: Kevin Bales's Disposable People. That book was indeed a brilliant intervention in the global debate about slavery. He rightly separates what the calls the "old slavery"—traditional slavery throughout history as I have described it—from the "new slavery". He estimates that there are 27 million new slaves in the world today.

Bales is the head of an NGO, Free the Slaves. The work of Anti-Slavery International, which describes itself as the world's oldest international human rights organisation, has also been cited. In no sense do I mean to criticise the work of those agencies, which all do excellent work. However, I do want to argue about the nature of slavery itself. If we do not abandon the term, we should at least be cautious about using it. I want to suggest three reasons for caution and, if I may be forgiven for being academic, three policy conclusions which stem from those.

First, if we continue to call the various things mentioned by the noble Earl in his opening speech "slavery", we risk suggesting that history is continuous—that slavery has always been with us and therefore always will be with us. In the same sense, one could argue that poverty has always been with us; but this is not true. The movement against the global slave trade had enormous, transformative impact on the world. It served to eliminate almost completely the form of slavery which had existed for so many centuries. What we have therefore is an historical break. The kinds of exploitation that exist in the world are mostly only remotely connected with what used to be quite rightly called slavery.

Secondly, as Bales points out, both the nature and origins of the so-called new slavery are utterly different from the past. No-one owns the so-called new slaves, whereas ownership was always the principle of what slavery meant. Today, slaves cost next to nothing; Bales estimates an average of $100 to pay for the vast category of people included under the notion of slaves. As the title of his book suggests, they are disposable. That is very different from the past.

Thirdly, and most importantly, if we use the term slavery to cover such a wide range of circumstances that in fact differ from one another, we do not necessarily pick up the differences between their causes and how we should respond to them. For example, bonded labour—which, as was mentioned, is a big problem across large parts of the world—has nothing really in common with the sexual exploitation of children, early or forced marriage, or many of the other categories included under that loose notion of slavery. We have to prise them apart if we are to have adequate policies to deal with them.

I conclude by mentioning what three of these policy orientations might do. First, as an academic, I would say that a lot more research and precision is needed in the debate about global slavery. To say that there are 27 million slaves in the world is meaningless, given the diffuse and highly emotional nature of the term. I looked through a lot of literature before this debate, and there are wildly divergent figures bandied around. Tracing those figures to their origins, in most cases I could not find the evidential basis for them. We are told that millions of people are involved in human trafficking and so on, but it is very hard to find the evidential base for those claims.

We need more research of the kind carried out in Niger by Timidria, a local NGO group. It interviewed 14,000 people and was able to give a good account of what slavery means and the kind of exploitation that exists on the ground. We need more of that kind of research.

Secondly, we should separate out those cases where the issue is a lack of modernisation from those cases which are the result of the outcome of modernisation and globalisation, which are very different. For example, bonded labour has existed for centuries. It existed alongside, but was different from, traditional slavery. In this area we need education, a change of family structures and direct intervention from the local state.

Compare that with human trafficking, which is largely, but not entirely, a creation of the globalised world in which we live and the rapid means of communication which exist within it. Here we need something quite different—strong international action and collaboration.

Thirdly, and finally, as we have only seven minutes—oh! I am there—there has been much discussion about what could be done in the West by individuals to contest these forms of exploitation, whether or not you call them slavery. Some suggestions—such as looking at the nature of pension funds—make good sense, but a great deal of what now passes for slavery is organised through the state. Some states play a direct role in the persistency of these practices—for example, Burma and Sudan—and other states are complicit in them.

After the Iraq war, many liberals and people on the Left suddenly have rediscovered sovereignty. But human rights must take precedence over sovereignty in the world. We therefore must be prepared to be interventionist and for states and international organisations to be much firmer than they have been hitherto in contesting these forms of oppression.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 11:57 am, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for introducing the debate. I was delighted to listen to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. Today is probably the right time to debate this issue. One aspect of the problem—poverty—could be solved if it is tackled by those discussing it at the G8 conference.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is right to say that forced labour is a significant component of all forms of contemporary slavery. This consists of compulsory work against an individual's will or conditions of labour under the threat of severe punishment or other awful consequences if they fail to abide by their abuser's rules. The figures cited by the noble Earl are very interesting. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that, although they may not have a proper statistical base—it will require research to determine the correct figures—the generally accepted number of such people is approximately 12.3 million.

Contemporary slavery can be divided into a number of forms. Bonded labour has been cited, which begins when impoverished individuals exchange their labour for a loan from a private contractor. This practice exists in many parts of the world. The scheme often goes sour when the person's debt is inflated out of a repayable proportion through excessive interest charges, fanned by the lender's greed.

Bonded labour is estimated to affect about 80 per cent of the world's forced labour and therefore makes up a significant proportion of modern slavery. It may be said that globalisation sponsors a great deal of this forced labour. Certain multinationals enter into poorer countries and recruit locals into inadequate or forced labour with no regard to labour ethics. Of the world's 12.3 million forced labourers, 8.4 million are suspected to be children working in what are called the "unconditional" worst forms of child labour. As with forced labour and slavery, the most helpless seem to go the most unhelped. The terrible example of children as some of the greatest sufferers goes quite unimpeded. I am sure that all of us agree that we cannot allow this situation to continue.

Human trafficking is more profitable than drug trafficking. It can be traced as one of the main channels through which exploited labourers pass. Approximately 2.5 million people have been trafficked into forced labour, and about one third of them are enrolled into forced or exploited labour such as domestic or factory work. Migrant workers are undervalued and so unprotected by many governments, and most are faced with restricted access to legal migration channels despite a demand for labour in destination countries.

Just as we call for the recognition of minority communities as the most at risk of enslavement, we want the countries that are accountable for even a small proportion of this epidemic to rethink their position on it.

The same resolve applies to the problem of forced labour imposed by the state. Although states are responsible for a much smaller percentage of forced labour cases than individuals, certain governments, such as that of Burma, are directly responsible for such practices. Governments are far more difficult to prosecute than guilty individuals, especially when there is little or no legislation against the act. In North Korea, forced labour is considered a part of the re-education process for those who are detained for drug addiction, theft and prostitution.

Discrimination can be identified as one of the primary causes of much forced labour and slavery. In some countries, people of particular descent or ethnic groups are expected ritually to do polluting or unpaid work, examples of which were cited by the noble Earl.

For any eradication of contemporary slavery to be possible, highly prioritised national and global action plans are needed. Before even that is possible, there needs to be a total acceptance of the situation of modern slavery. At the moment, many of the world's governments seem to have their eyes closed to the culpable practices that either exist in their own countries or are viewable in the world around them. The reality is that in the modern international society, everything concerns everyone.

One can cite examples of countries where such practices are prevalent. We should be asking what the solutions are. First, national and international plans to fight slavery need to cover the structural make-up that produces those susceptible to it.

Poverty is another highly influential factor in slavery. As we saw with debt bondage, the poor often enter into the unending cycle of slavery in a genuine attempt to earn a wage. When faced with a choice between extreme poverty and starvation or slave labour, even the latter appears more attractive.

By removing the present obstacles, prioritising and abolishing slave labour will work as part of an integrated strategy to achieve existing development targets such as the millennium development goals. For this reason, I value a number of organisations which are doing some important work in this respect. I declare an interest as a member and trustee of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. On a positive note, that museum is a unique example of where a good acceptance of the issue of slavery in modern society has been developed into a strong educational base for the abolition of slavery's causes. Young people and visitors to that charming museum are taught the importance of understanding the history of the transatlantic slavery trade within the context of the British Empire. The museum also works actively with Anti-Slavery International to promote engagement with national and local slavery, heritage and contemporary issues and solutions. Most importantly, the museum raises awareness of the terrible situation in a refreshing and successful way.

Such organisations need sustained funding to help broadcast the main message of anti-slavery bodies and eventually to help end slavery. Why are the Government half-heartedly involved? Will the Minister speak to his colleague to see how we can assist one of our finest museums, which is being deprived of resources adequately to pursue this type of work?

Photo of The Bishop of Leicester The Bishop of Leicester Bishop 12:05 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, on 19 June 1816 William Wilberforce made a telling contribution to parliamentary debate.

"They charge me with fanaticism," he said.

"If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large."

I very much welcome this debate, especially if it contributes to bringing this House, the Government and all of us to the point of being more feelingly alive to the sufferings of our fellow creatures.

I suppose a wise Bishop speaks with some humility on this issue. Christians have been involved in the slave trade and in slave ownership, although of course eventually they were at the forefront of the abolition movement. Churches as institutions benefited from the proceeds of the trade. Indeed, the initial Christian response to the horrors of transporting, trading and owning slaves was to ameliorate the abuses rather than to abolish the system.

Today's debate offers us an opportunity to remind ourselves of the wide range of human rights abuses and violations that continue in our day, and about which we have already heard. In addition to traditional slavery and the slave trade, and bearing in mind the distinctions in terminology developed by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, these abuses include, as we have heard, the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography, the exploitation of child labour, the sexual mutilation of female children, the use of children in armed conflicts, debt bondage, the traffic in persons and the sale of human organs, among other things.

I want to draw attention in particular to two forms of abuse that might particularly concern us. First, among the vast, continuing and widespread practices we might legitimately categorise as slavery are the 100 million or so children exploited for their labour, according to a recent estimate by the International Labour Organisation.

We know that child labour is in great demand because it is cheap and because children are naturally more docile and easier to discipline than adults, and nearly always too frightened to complain. At the extreme fringe, children are kidnapped, held in remote camps and chained at night to prevent escape. Often they are put to work on road building and stone quarrying. These practices damage their health for life, deprive them of education and, worst of all, steals their childhood from them.

As we have heard, NGOs have for some time proposed international timetables for the wiping out of the worst forms of child exploitation. They have recommended the immediate elimination of forced labour camps, and that children be excluded from the most hazardous forms of work, as defined by the World Health Organisation. I hope that today's debate will encourage the Government to monitor progress on these recommendations.

Secondly, I want to draw attention to the plight of rural migrant workers, which came to prominence with the tragic deaths of the cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004. It has been suggested that the living and working conditions of some 60,000 seasonal migrant workers in this country are tantamount to modern-day slavery, and need to be challenged by those with a concern for equality and human rights.

In spite of the Gangmasters Licensing Act, migrant workers continue to face opposition from settled communities, who are wary of their numbers and fearful of the assumed economic and social pressures they place on towns and villages.

Your Lordships will be interested to know that the Churches Rural Group, a co-ordinating group of Churches Together in England, works with these people to provide advice, information and legal assistance. It also encourages Churches and other bodies to be intermediaries in the disputes between misunderstood migrant workers and local residents.

There are countless other abuses it would be possible to highlight, and to which, I have no doubt, others will draw attention. This debate draws our attention to the clear truth that slavery is indeed unfinished business, and that much more is needed to be done, not least in the G8, if we are to eliminate contemporary forms of exploitation. It is vital that we do this, because today's debate touches on our most fundamental understandings of what makes for human dignity and value.

To that end, as we have heard, the Churches and Church-related groups, societies and organisations are uniting under the banner "Act to End Slavery", to highlight the relevance of the bicentenary of the 1807 abolition by the Slave Trade Act to today's world. I very much hope that this debate will make an effective contribution to that process.

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench

My Lords, I too congratulate very warmly my noble friend on initiating this debate and on his tireless endeavours on humanitarian and human rights issues.

I focus on Sudan and Burma. I believe that pictures sometimes speak louder than words. I therefore begin with two word pictures to illustrate the reality of contemporary slavery.

First, I invite you to sit with me under a tree in southern Sudan as I talk to little Deng, aged about 10. He has just been brought home from the north of Sudan by Arab traders who bring their cattle south in the dry season. They are friends of the African Dinka people and risk a great deal to try to find, buy back and bring back men, women and children who have been abducted and taken into slavery. Today they have brought back several hundred slaves, including little Deng. He is traumatised, for he has just discovered that in the raid in which he was captured, two years previously, both his parents were killed. So he has just learned that he is an orphan. However, towards the end of our talk, I get a wistful little smile from Deng, who says, "At least I am home again now. I am called by my own name, Deng"—the Dinka word for rain, which is precious. So it means someone to be cherished. He continues, "At least I am no longer called Abid", the Arabic for "slave".

Now to a different scene. Sitting on the floor of a wooden house in a refugee camp in the borderlands of Thailand and Burma, I am talking to a young orphan Karen girl in our home for children who have had to flee for their lives from the atrocities perpetrated by Burma's brutal military regime—the so-called State Peace and Development Council. We sometimes invite our children to draw memories of what happened to their families in Burma. This child shows me a vivid painting of her pregnant aunt and her two elderly grandparents being forced to carry heavy loads for SPDC soldiers who are beating her grandparents as they struggle under the 60- pound loads of rice or ammunition that they are forced to carry from dawn to dusk. I could multiply so many stories of the terrible reality of contemporary slavery.

In more general terms, in Sudan, abduction and enslavement on a huge scale has been one of the weapons used by the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime since it took power in 1989. During the 1990s, NIF troops, accompanied by Mujahedeen Jihad fighters and the Murahaleen tribesmen, undertook massive offensives against civilians. On many occasions I was in Bahr-el-Ghazal when the attacks were taking place around me. I saw the evidence of the massacre of countless civilians and the grief of families whose loved ones had been abducted into slavery.

I was also able to interview many, such as little Deng, who had been rescued from slavery and obtained compelling evidence of their ordeals, which proved beyond doubt the appropriateness of the use of the term "slavery today". Therefore, with great respect, I must disagree with the point of view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his academic analysis.

Anti-Slavery International has compiled a formidable array of evidence of continuing slavery in Sudan, the ineffectiveness of procedures to rescue and return those who have been abducted and the failure to prosecute those responsible. Moreover, the Rift Valley Institute individually has identified and interviewed more than 12,000 people violently abducted from southern Sudan between 1983 and 2002. Its research also estimates that over 11,000 of those abducted have still not even been accounted for. Moreover, the Commission for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC) has helped to rescue and reunite with their families 2,628 abductees between 1999 and 2004; but leaving at least 10,000 still waiting to be returned to their homes.

Anti-Slavery International is not aware that any prosecutions have been brought to date. Will Her Majesty's Government urge the National Islamic Front regime to enable CEAWC to recommence and complete all necessary work to trace and rescue all who have been abducted and enable all who wish to return home to do so; to grant the special rapporteur and other personnel unrestricted access to all relevant areas; and to identify abductions and slavery as serious human rights violations to be addressed in the new constitution for Sudan?

I turn very briefly to Burma where another brutal military junta took power by military force, and which oppresses all who oppose it. Its policies towards ethnic national groups such as the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Chin peoples can well be termed genocidal. Among the systematic violations of human rights are well-documented policies of forced labour and forcible recruitment of children into the army.

Civilians are rounded up and forced to work as porters for SPCD soldiers and/or to walk ahead of them as human minesweepers. More than 1 million people have had to flee their villages, living and dying as internee displaced peoples in the jungle. Burma also has the highest number of child soldiers in the world—70,000, according to a Human Rights Watch report which has the poignant title, "My Gun was as Tall as Me".

I have also taught young boys who have escaped from the SPDC army, where they were forced to serve as conscripts. One told me that one reason why he had escaped was that he could not bear to have to obey orders to beat old people who were struggling as forced porters to carry 30 kg loads of rice or ammunition from dawn until dusk with no food or water.

What representations are Her Majesty's Government making to the SPDC to end those policies of forced labour and the forced conscription of children into the Burmese army? Will the Government consider initiating proceedings against Burma for crimes against humanity.

As has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and by the right reverend Prelate, in 2007 there will be commemorations—and I suspect celebrations—of the anniversary of William Wilberforce's endeavours to end slavery and the slave trade. As the debate indicates, however, that is mission not accomplished.

I urge Her Majesty's Government to adopt a much more robust policy with Sudan, Burma and other nations where slavery persists to do whatever is necessary to bring an end to slavery. It is a cause for shame that slavery in diverse forms continues in our world today. International protest brought down apartheid. Why are we so silent about slavery? It is at least as great an evil. I hope passionately that we will hear robust proposals from the Minister that extend the commitment to "Make Poverty History", to "Make Slavery History".

I hope and pray that our generation will see an end to slavery. It is a blot on the page of the history of our time, for which we continue to carry responsibility until it is eradicated.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Whip 12:18 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I appreciate the opportunity to speak briefly in the debate, and I am grateful to the noble Earl for initiating it.

As has already been said, youngsters are brought up to revere William Wilberforce and to think of Abraham Lincoln as the greatest hero of that century. I thought that slavery belonged to the past, but the more I listen to the various debates in this House, the more I realise the tremendous problems that we face.

In the past few months this House has debated the subject of human trafficking. People who are already victims of desperate poverty are sold to be transported for the most terrible purposes. Thousands reach the shores of the United Kingdom. They are people who have no control over their own lives or destinies. All they have is a life of hardship and cruelty.

It is difficult for us who were born free, with a say in our own lives and future, to even imagine what it must be like to be a slave. Someone may have potential but no opportunity. There is no hope of realising dreams. I do not know whether it is because I am Welsh, but we sang a lot. We sang the old spiritual, "When I get to heaven, I too will have shoes". There was no chance of shoes in this life—we had to look to the future because this life promised nothing.

Noble Lords have contributed their own experiences, which have been fascinating to listen to. My concern, as I have mentioned previously in this House, is for the fate of young children from Africa who are transported here to the United Kingdom. A month or so ago, we received the Metropolitan Police report of 300 missing children, African boys aged between four and seven from two London boroughs alone—Hackney and Newham. In one three-month period in 2001, 300 boys went missing from school registers.

That spot check is itself a cause of deep concern—two boroughs, three months, boys between four and seven. Is that more widespread? Are we talking of a hundred children a month? Are we talking only of London or of certain boroughs? Are we talking of the rest of the UK? I plead with the Government: please get to the bottom of this. Bring us a thorough-going report, because we must know the extent and are terribly alarmed by what we hear. Our alarm is even greater when the torso of a youngster then named Adam is fished out of the Thames and children are victims of witchcraft. If those are isolated incidences we are very worried; if they are but the tip of the iceberg, we could be facing the most terrible crime ever against children in the United Kingdom.

Both the Evening Standard and the "Today" programme have focused on this question. We are told that in some major African cities, children are sold for £10 each and then smuggled into the United Kingdom. What happens to them here? What harm becomes them? Are they involved in witchcraft? We need to know.

Finally, we ourselves must have the highest standards in our dealings with children and young people. Our hands must be clean. I notice that on Monday, the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence recommended that no youngster under 18 be recruited into the Armed Forces. I think that the Government must accept that, because we cannot have 15 and 16 year-olds recruited into the Armed Forces. I understand that we are in the noble company of Burma and North Korea. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child must be obeyed not only in the letter but also in spirit.

I plead with the Government to tackle that and to produce a report saying, "Right, these arguments have carried the day. We will first look at the problem of those missing children to see how widespread it is. Secondly, we will no longer allow youngsters under 18, boy soldiers, to be recruited into our Armed Forces. No cause has ever been more deserving of our greatest energy and commitment than the ending of abuse of children and young people. Slavery today is real. It destroys hope and is a total stain on our world.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 12:23 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the sexual abuse of children and the trafficking of people, whether for sexual or labour exploitation, are current modern forms of slavery. The issue of abuse of children has recently been highlighted by the Victoria Climbié case and that of the torso in the Thames.

Those are the most spectacular known cases, but the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, has raised the issue of disappearances of children not just from school but totally. To confirm that, in 2004, 32 out of 33 London boroughs expressed concern about children in their care who may have suffered from trafficking from overseas.

Can social services cope with this rather new kind of acute problem? Do they need better co-ordination? Could voluntary organisations be more helpful, especially over fostering and adoption? I once again ask the Government to examine with care whether the pay, expenses and training of foster carers are adequate for their heavy responsibilities. Once again, I express surprise that there are not even a few safe houses where children thought to have been trafficked can be cared for while they are assessed and plans are made for their future. This surely calls for leadership by Ministers to ensure that all departments co-operate to the full.

As regards adults trafficked into this country against their will or by deception, the Government deserve our congratulations for providing the legislation that was needed and for obtaining some spectacular convictions. Co-operation between immigration services, Customs and Excise and police has improved, and it is essential for preventing and countering the sophisticated gangs that specialise in trafficking and prostitution. Ministers should lead the drive for full inter-agency co-operation. For instance, have they noted the control of prostitution in London, often using trafficked women, by Albanians?

What happens after a trafficked person has escaped or been freed is less satisfactory. At present, the Poppy Project accommodation and support service in London is the only one catering for victims of trafficking. Such people often speak little or no English and suffer from the traumas they have experienced. The Poppy Project, which I have visited, has places for only 25 women. The admission criteria are narrow and strict. Worse still, Home Office funding expired in March and has been extended only to September. How can so valuable a service be properly run on such a hand-to-mouth basis? There is surely a need for one or more properly funded specialised agencies to provide needed accommodation, medical and psychological help and legal guidance, together with language and training opportunities?

Immediate deportation must be avoided. If that happens, everyone loses. The victim may be murdered, or retrafficked to this or another country. Our police also lose the chance to gain valuable information for preventing and prosecuting traffickers. A reflection period—call it by any other name if you prefer—is essential for the reasons just given. It is also necessary to allow the victim to decide calmly whether to try to stay here or to seek to return to his or her home country. The EU directive on short-term permits, which came into force at the end of April, is directly relevant. Only this country, Ireland and Denmark have so far not ratified it. I urge the Government to delay no longer.

May I also gently but firmly ask the Home Office not always to turn down applications from clients of the Poppy Project for refugee status or humanitarian protection? In fact, six out of 11 such decisions have been reversed on appeal.

I conclude by mentioning China and North Korea, where trafficking and forced labour are serious issues. In China in early 2004, some 260,000 people were detained in camps for up to three years for re-education through labour. It is an administrative system without judicial process. I ask the Government to raise it at all human rights dialogues and in the context of the Beijing Olympic Games.

Following the famines of the 1990s in North Korea, many people fled across the border into China. Some of them were, and are, refugees from political and religious persecution but others are economic migrants, mostly women seeking work in China to help their families survive at home. Traffickers, however, seize on the women and sell them, either as brides in forced marriages or to work in brothels. Those who are in China illegally, whatever their status, are liable to deportation to North Korea, where they may face execution because leaving without permission is a crime in itself. In his 2005 report, the UN special rapporteur for human rights concluded that all Koreans in China are de facto refugees because they have a genuine fear of what will happen if they are expelled.

I ask Her Majesty's Government to raise these issues with both governments and, in particular, to press China to allow the UNHCR full access into that country.

Photo of Lord Joffe Lord Joffe Crossbench 12:30 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandwich on securing a debate on this most disturbing issue.

I understand the distinction made by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, about the use of the word "slavery". However, for the purposes of this debate, we can use the label of slavery to apply to different types of injustice with common characteristics which have specific names, including bonded labour, early and forced marriages, forced labour, slavery by descent, trafficking and the worst forms of child labour.

A characteristic common to all these forms of slavery is that those in extreme poverty are more likely to be subject to forced labour practices, and those subjected to contemporary forms of slavery are unlikely to break out of a cycle of poverty as coerced labour. For example, research in Brazil shows that up to 40 per cent of workers freed from slave labour in the past eight years have been freed more than once.

From this, it is clear that development policy and the creation of viable economies are essential components in the fight to eradicate slavery. Land reform, fairer leasing arrangements, rural development programmes and micro-credit schemes would all help to reduce the incidence of debt bondage and serfdom which affect millions of people across the world. Access to basic education, the provision of stable employment and the enforcement of minimum wages are also key to ensuring that people do not become trapped in slavery-like practices.

Thanks to the brilliant leadership of Bob Geldof, Bono and Richard Curtis, the Live 8 campaign has galvanised society throughout the world to demand that the eradication of poverty should be high on the world agenda. The splendid leadership of the Prime Minister, and the outstanding achievements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, backed by all the political parties and society as a whole, have created a sense of optimism that at last a real international start has been made in addressing the obscenity of poverty.

It is naturally only the beginning, but some of the foundations, such as the cancellation of debt and increased overseas aid, have already been agreed. Even more important, however, will be fair trade and the removal of subsidies in the developed world, and good governance in the developing world.

There is much that can be done in the battle against particular forms of slavery, but the key driver will be making poverty history because poverty is the greatest enslaver of the most people. When poverty becomes history, slavery will become history as well.

I thank Anti-Slavery International and the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull for their briefing papers. I should also like to ask the Minister one question. What are the UK Government doing to ensure that poverty reduction strategies and programmes in the developing world include components that focus on removing people from slavery and, in particular, from forced labour conditions?

Photo of Baroness Howells of St Davids Baroness Howells of St Davids Labour 12:34 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this debate. While recognising the title—eradicating contemporary slavery—I felt that it was important to call your Lordships' attention to the legacy on the descendants of enslaved Africans, which I hope will be taken into consideration by Ministers.

It is now common knowledge how valuable the enslaved African was to the plantation owners. However, not much is known about the cost to those who are the descendants 150 plus years later. Not being an academic I speak as a descendant of the enslaved African.

Transportation from tropical Africa to the Caribbean took its toll and left its legacy in many ways. How the slaves were sold was very much a process of genetic selection. The males had to be strong and able to produce profit for the enterprise. There was no consideration of tribal identity and the enslaved were brutally separated from their families and their offspring. Today, family breakdown can be traced to the earlier brutality of those who trafficked in human beings.

The legacy of transportation also left behind many health issues which continue today. More hypertension, more schizophrenia and the crippling disease of sickle cell anaemia have all been classed as a direct legacy of slavery and the sudden shift from one country to another. Most of those claims are merely anecdotes but writers and historians have been trying to bring to the attention of the public the role of slavery in those diseases.

Besides family breakdown, a whole dependency culture was instilled by the slave owners which still exists today—taking charge of the islands in the Caribbean has been an uphill struggle for today's citizens. They are still dependent on the colonisers to enter into trade—sugar, bananas, and so on. The story goes on. Dependency, lack of faith in the ability to do the task in hand, always looking for approval from the white population—the slave mentality was carefully crafted by the slave owners and it is still alive today.

The prison of poverty is a legacy difficult to shake off. While the Caucasian speaks in billions, the black man speaks in hundreds because he was enslaved. He was robbed of his manhood and treated as a boy even when he was three score and 10. In these corridors I still hear echoes of, "When I was in Africa my boy did or did not do this", or, "I am looking forward to seeing my boys in India". Those statements are really heartfelt by me. When I hear them, I walk away.

Slavery has also left a legacy of Creolisation. I refer to the rape of enslaved women by White plantation owners. Their issue, neither African nor Caucasian, have had a not altogether pleasant effect on the Caribbean people's growth. Most of us will have read the story of Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre and of the poor Dominican woman described as a Creole. Was she demented or having a crisis of identity? Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, helped me to understand the real crisis of Mrs Rochester. Those noble Lords who have read the book may never have grasped what was going on for that descendant of an enslaved African.

The descendants, try as they will to get out of the trap, are hamstrung even after 100 years. They still retain the "auction" mentality that brought them into the new world. The drug-dealing politics of today and other forms of weaknesses prevail and have already been inherited.

All is not gloom. The enslaved descendants have shown remarkable resilience. They have retained their skills as artisans and medicine men; they have learned to be equally at home in the cabbage patch of poor housing in Britain, in the cornfields of America and in the drawing rooms of present-day society. Previously they entered only as servants but today some of them are owners—only a very few. They have learnt to print newspapers and even to manage the master's business. They are found among the medical professions, yet still deep down they ask themselves, "Am I good enough?" This model exists. The descendants can be found in all walks of life but still accept that those less talented than themselves, if they are Caucasian, will always be in the driving seat.

Researchers have only begun to look at this legacy, and I hope soon to be able to read a more sophisticated analysis. Woolman wrote of the slave trade and slavery that,

"a heavy account lies against us as a civil society for oppressions committed against people who did not injure us".

Injury still goes on. The legacy is alive. It is in all our institutions today.

All, however, is not gloom. Again, now that we have won the bid for the Olympics in 2012, some of those descendants will no doubt bring "pride to us all", because by persistence the myth that black people cannot take their places in society is being eroded—but not quite fully.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 12:42 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Sandwich for achieving this debate today, as it serves to bring us up to date with a very uncomfortable aspect of modern life. We all thought that slavery was abolished in 1832, and in North America at the end of the Civil War, but perhaps that always was too complacent a view.

Clearly, extreme poverty is at the root of most slavery, and the campaign to make poverty history, with its amazingly attended worldwide Live8 concerts all over the world, was a hopeful sign of people actively demonstrating their concern. It is worth reminding ourselves that that worldwide concern could only have been brought together by modern communication techniques. If ever there was a definitive example of public service broadcasting, this was it. But if poverty is a potential breeding ground for slavery, we all need also to acknowledge openly—governments especially—that complex modern forms of slavery are a quite distinct problem that must also be tackled directly and universally.

Thus, it is particularly timely and appropriate that Hull University has set up the Wilberforce Institute. WISE's patron, Archbishop Tutu, said:

"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 too often are overlooked".

My noble friend's choice of this subject for debate has made me aware of a quite remarkable, self-researched book, also applauded by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. The author, Kevin Bales, writes that,

"everyone knows what slavery is—yet almost no-one knows".

I suspect that that is all too true, though clearly not true of noble Lords.

How many of our children, for example, are taught that it still exists today? Does the issue of slavery form part of today's school curriculum in the UK—not as history, but as current affairs, perhaps within the citizenship agenda—as an example of human rights abuse, alas still continuing today?

In one or two places we are beginning to wake up to that. When I went with your Lordships' Select Committee on the BBC Charter to Bristol a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to learn that at least in that city—whose historic prosperity was generated by the slave trade—the BBC has recently presented that aspect to schools. They produced an excellent programme, with the help of well-known local artists and of children, who researched the background of Bristol's most famous citizen, Edward Colston, the local merchant from two centuries ago. His huge wealth, of which he gave most generously to support many needy Bristol projects, came substantially from slave trading. The programme acknowledges, on the other hand, that much of multi-racial Bristol's multi-culturalism, of which they are rightly proud today, stems directly from that period.

But do those of us living in our developed world really have any idea of the conditions under which the estimated 27 million slaves—which some put as high as 200 million—exist today? Their conditions, as Bales says, are far often worse than when slavery was legal. The types of slavery that he describes range right across the globe—from Thailand, Pakistan and India to Mauritania and Brazil—and are complex. Slave dealers are often involved in other criminal activities, not least drug-trafficking.

I find one other element particularly disturbing. As population has increased so dramatically in poorer countries, today's individual slaves are of much less cash value to their owners than in Wilberforce's time. Today, buying a slave is no longer regarded as a major investment. That does not mean that the trade is not hugely profitable. The value of individual slaves has fallen so low that the aim of their owners is to exploit them ruthlessly, to get as much work out of them as quickly as possible, and then quite literally discard them.

All slavery is abhorrent, but today I want to mention the particularly appalling abuse of women and children. First, children: we know something about war slavery, the kidnap and brutalisation of children to be child soldiers. Indeed, we have heard about that today and know about it from many press reports. Quite distinct from that, Bales tells us that in India there are between 65 and 100 million children under 14 years of age who are working more than eight hours a day. Of these, at least 15 million are literally child slaves. Anti-Slavery International puts the number of children in "unconditional" forms of labour at 8.5 million. It goes without saying that schooling, that lifeline to a better future, is probably not available to any of those children.

Turning now to women; as we know, many remain second-class citizens in their own countries. It is unsurprising, then, that two-thirds of those trafficked for labour are women and girls. Worse still, almost all of those trafficked for sexual exploitation are women. Worldwide, that is a highly profitable trade and expanding rapidly. There are even examples beginning to appear in this country.

I wish there was time to discuss in detail the slavery that Bales describes, of an increasing number of young, 14 year-old, Thai girls who are bought from their parents and find themselves working in brothels and subject to extreme violence if they perform inadequately or try to escape. They are also given impossibly large, completely phoney debts to pay back before they have any hope of release. The result, of course, is that the debt is never paid and they are never freed.

A country like ours, which acts strongly to uphold the human rights of children, with our proud record of legislation and policies to promote equal opportunities between the sexes, surely has a particular duty to give the abolition of all slavery a far higher profile—especially where women and children are concerned—in our international responsibilities.

This debate gives us the opportunity to ask exactly where action against slavery stands on our own Government's list of priorities. As my noble friend Lord Sandwich has asked, what action are Her Majesty's Government taking to promote the UN protocol to prevent, suppress and punish the trafficking of persons, especially women and children, which was passed as recently as 2000?

With our Prime Minister's chairmanship of two important powerful international organisations this year, I hope that the Minister can assure the House that slavery features specifically on these agendas. It is surely time for us to acknowledge explicitly that the continuing stain of slavery shames every single one of us and that we are all partly responsible. Rather than leaving superb organisations such as Anti-Slavery International to fight the battle alone, we must all join in this great crusade.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 12:51 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, in his eloquent speech in opening our debate today, my noble friend Lord Sandwich reminded us that 2007 will be the bicentenary of the abolition of Britain's role in the transatlantic slave trade. In her moving and very powerful speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, reminded us of the continuing legacy from our own time in that trade. Many noble Lords have reminded us also of the contemporary application of slavery in our own times.

Estimates of the number of Africans sold into slavery vary, but during almost four centuries, a minimum of 12 million people were forcibly transported into bondage. Between 1701 and 1810, around 5.7 million people were taken into slavery, 2 million coming from the "Slave Coast" of west Africa. Around 39 per cent went to the Caribbean; 38 per cent to Brazil; 17 per cent to South America; and 6 per cent to North America.

In the total Atlantic trade, British ships are estimated to have made more than 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.6 million slaves. The trade before 1730 was dominated by London, but it was overtaken in the 1730s by Bristol, which was then eclipsed by Liverpool. In 1797, one in four ships leaving Liverpool was a slaver. Liverpool merchants handled five-eighths of the English slave trade and three-sevenths of the slave trade in Europe. In his Journal of a Slave Trader, John Newton, who was a Liverpool sea captain and who later penned the great hymn, "Amazing Grace", wrote this:

"I have no sufficient data to warrant calculation but I suppose not less than one hundred thousand slaves are exported annually from all parts of Africa, and that more than one half of these are exported in English ships".

The Liverpool historian, Ramsay Muir, calculated that in 1807 about £17 million—a staggering sum in those times—was generated in Liverpool through the slave trade. That was undoubtedly the darkest chapter in the city's history.

In the millennium year, I was privileged to take to West Africa a declaration passed unanimously by Liverpool City Council recognising that role. The resolution stated that,

"it is time the City gave expression to its sense of remorse over the effects that the slave trade had on countless millions of people and on the culture of the continent of Africa, the Caribbean and the USA. The Council will co-ordinate the use of all its powers to foster better race relations, greater equality of opportunities and even greater diversity so that the City is itself a celebration of multi-culturalism".

As we have heard, when Wilberforce persuaded Parliament to make the trade illegal, it was against great and fierce opposition, much of it emanating from the city of Liverpool—a city that I had the privilege to represent in another place for more than 18 years. Captain Hugh Crow of Liverpool was one of a thousand captains who sailed from the port to obtain African slaves. But supporters of William Wilberforce included the Liverpool Member of Parliament, William Roscoe, who said:

"I consider it the greatest happiness of my existence to lift up my voice on this occasion, with the friends of justice and humanity".

On his return to Liverpool, he was assailed by the mob, pulled from his coach and horses in Castle Street and beaten up. He was never again returned to Parliament. Wilberforce told him that his vote had been worth 30 of anyone else's because he had had to pay a price. I very much agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, when she suggested that this should form part of our citizenship programme as an illustration of the horrors that took place, the voices that were raised and how legitimate parliamentary action was ultimately able to bring about change.

The life of Roscoe certainly bears a great deal of scrutiny and recognition. He spent the remainder of his life working for the abolitionist cause. He penned an epic poem, The Wrongs of Africa, which seems particularly apposite this week when we have seen a great outpouring of interest in Africa during Live 8 and while the G8 summit is taking place. These lines appear in the poem:

"Blush ye not to boast your equal laws, your just restraints, your rights defended, your liberties secured, whilst with an iron hand ye crushed to earth the helpless African; and bid him drink that cup of sorrow, which yourselves have dashed indignant, from oppression's fainting grasp".

He went on to warn his fellow countryman:

"Forget not Britain, higher still than thee, sits the great Judge of nations who can weigh the wrong and who can repay".

Is that simply history? This is where, like my noble friend Lady Cox, I take issue somewhat with the earlier very interesting contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, although I agreed with much of what he said. But I think that, even in the technical sense, we can see plenty of examples of the kind of things that Roscoe, Wilberforce and the abolitionists would have recognised as slavery 200 years ago. Perhaps I may briefly give the House the example of Niger and, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, the role played by the Timidria organisation, which is a partner of Anti-Slavery International in exposing the contemporary slavery taking place there today.

A few months ago, I had the privilege of attending at Chatham House the granting of an award to Timidria by Anti-Slavery International. The man who received it on behalf of Timidria, Ilguilas Weila, was subsequently arrested on 28 April this year in Niger for having exposed various forms of contemporary slavery in that country. Only as a result of international pressure, particularly through parliamentary Questions in this place—I applaud the role played by Her Majesty's Government in this—was he subsequently released.

If we look for a moment at the survey carried out by Timidria, we are brought face-to-face with the realities of the slave trade in Africa today. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, more than 11,000 people were interviewed and the research showed that they were able to identify individuals by name as their masters. Those interviewed generally worked directly for their master in exchange for minimal amounts of food and a place to sleep, which would typically be a shelter that they had built themselves. In response to the question, "Who makes the decision on your marriage?", 84 per cent—8,310 people—said that their master was solely responsible for the decision, while 82 per cent—6,103 people—replied that their master was solely responsible for the decision on whether their children attended school.

The 1926 United Nations Slavery Convention defines slavery as,

"the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the rights of ownership are exercised".

Clearly, under that definition the vast majority of the 11,000 people interviewed are slaves. When the Minister comes to reply to this very welcome debate, I hope that she will be able to say something more about the position in Niger and other parts of West Africa.

I very much welcome the opportunity to have this debate and there will be opportunities outside your Lordships' Chamber to hear about some of the countries to which others have referred. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which I have the honour to chair, will shortly take evidence on forced labour in North Korea. I hope that many Members of your Lordships' House will take the opportunity to hear that evidence when it is given.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Labour 1:00 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, the only advantage of being the thirteenth speaker of some 20 is that you do not have to prepare a speech, because if you do, it will be obsolete. The preceding speeches will have used most of your statistics, presented virtually all of your arguments, and done it in a rather more articulate way than you could do it yourself. I should declare an interest as director of the International Labour Organisation for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Indeed I note that many of the statistics used were from a report published by the ILO a couple of months ago.

Some other noble Lords and I are slightly at variance with the contribution of my noble friend Lord Giddens. We say, in what I think is an authentic estimate, though perhaps a conservative one, that the number of people in forced labour—we do not use the word "slavery"—is 12.3 million. I understood the distinction my noble friend was making in his contribution, but I doubt whether it is one that any of those 12.3 million people would choose to make. They would consider their forced labour to be a form of slavery. Therefore I, along with other noble Lords, think that this is a timely debate. I am grateful to the noble Earl for his sponsorship of it, and in particular for the questions that he puts to the Government.

Having participated in a number of debates of this sort in this House, however, I have to say that sometimes our debates are more about illuminating the problems than about providing the Government with encouragement to find the answers. On this occasion, in the form of this report, we have some of the answers. This is the second report to be published—the first was four years ago—in support of the ILO declaration of fundamental rights and principles at work, one of which is that there shall be no forced labour.

There is such labour, and we know it. We have heard calls for legislation, and we have heard that India has an extremely good judicial system, although it must be said that justice grinds remarkably slowly in that country. What it does not have is adequate enforcement.

The noble Earl made the point that Nepal ended bonded labour. The day after, the landlords literally booted bonded labourers off their land. These labourers were free, with no property to live in, never mind property to own. Therefore it is not enough just to have laws, or enforcement of those laws. There must be a number of other components that will rehabilitate the victims of the forced labour.

This document, which is not just another dry report to be considered and ignored, calls for a global alliance against forced labour. That means that this debate is not just a contribution to the debates in this House and to Her Majesty's Government, but part of a wider debate on how we have such a global alliance. We say in the report that there are basic goals and targets, such as the abolition of forced labour. We say we need a global alliance, by which we mean not only the international community, together with the lead UN agency on this matter, the ILO—which itself is tripartite: 50 per cent government, 25 per cent trade union and 25 per cent employers' organisations—but also civil society and the NGO community, many of which have been mentioned in previous contributions, and play a vital part. This problem cannot be solved only by governments. It has to be solved by civil society as well.

We then ask how it is to be done. The answer has to be a national approach. The multinational agencies and financial institutions can do much, but there has to be a national commitment, led by government, that has to include all those component parts of civil society. There have to be time-bound national programmes. If you do not define a timescale within which a problem is to be solved, you do not solve the problem.

I appreciated the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, but making poverty history and then ending slavery is getting it the wrong way around. We could probably end slavery a lot earlier than we could end poverty. That is why, in 1999, a new piece of international legislation called the Convention on Extreme Forms of Child Labour was brought in. We recognised that getting rid of extreme forms of child labour is itself a more possible target than simply trying to get rid of all child labour overnight.

We have to look at poverty reduction strategies and programmes, the labour market and employment policies, migration policies and gender policies, and we have to create a national task force to get the political will to bring those things into place. There must be the right legislation, and appropriate mechanisms for identification, release, protection and the rehabilitation of forced labour victims. In that capacity, you need the assistance of those rich countries that have some moral obligation, as so graphically and movingly put by those who recognise from personal experience that the damage done in the form of slavery over 200 years is not eradicated by simply changing the law, in this country or elsewhere.

Therefore, I think that Her Majesty's Government have done a tremendous amount. They play a large part in tackling this issue as a major supplier of overseas development assistance. I should like to see some of that development assistance targeted—perhaps in larger amounts—at the question of how to assist governments with time-bound programmes to end modern slavery within their own countries.

We also have to look to the mote in our own eye. It is estimated that some 12.3 million people are enslaved in the developing world, along with an almost certain underestimate of 360,000 in the industrialised world. We know from the tragedy of the cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay that we have a problem in this country. Again, I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on bringing forward an innovative piece of legislation on gangmasters. It will put an end to the exploitation of workers in one industry, but the truth is that it needs to be expanded. Major human rights abuses take place in the construction industry with the often coerced importation of labour from eastern and central Europe. I hope that the Government will take the earliest opportunity to expand their reach by annexing other industries to the good work that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority will undertake.

We face one more problem. As a Government, on behalf of all the citizens of this country, we have a good policy of both looking to and welcoming legal migrants. We are less supportive of the victims known as illegal migrants. They arrive not by their own volition, but because they are trafficked in other ways. It is an area where the Government should put compassion at the centre of their policy. If they do that, then there are in the report—presented to the world last May and debated at the International Labour Conference last month—action plans that with financial support will enable the world's rich nations help the world's poor nations to bring an end to all modern forms of slavery.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs 1:07 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, slavery was a crime against humanity or, as John Adams put it,

"a foul contagion in the human character".

As we have heard today, that foul contagion is still infecting slavery-like practices which, whether or not we agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, have to be considered a world phenomenon. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Brett, has just said, the ILO has done a splendid job in putting before us a programme of action from which we can draw the figures. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his assertion that we do not have enough statistical data because all noble Lords have mentioned the 12.3 million people around the world who are being forced to work against their will under threat of some kind of penalty.

Perhaps I may begin by referring to the most heartrending group of all, those children involuntarily involved in armed conflict. In Africa a few years ago, the number reached a peak of 120,000, while in Sri Lanka the recruiting of children by the LTTE at temples has recently been increasing in spite of a pledge it gave, along with a joint action plan signed with the Sri Lankan Government in July 2003, to end the use of child soldiers. Burma was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. There children are trained to kill by the army and rebel groups, which are said to have 77,000 children under military command, along with thousands more who are forced into ancillary work such as road building and porterage. In Colombia, some 11,000 children are on active service with armed groups, in particular the FARC.

In February the United Nations Security Council considered a report from the Secretary General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict advocating a mechanism to track and monitor the recruitment of child soldiers. UNICEF said that it could do the job if given adequate security and the co-operation of governments and armed groups. Can the Minister say anything about the state of play on Mr Otunnu's proposals, and how the Government consider it would be possible to bring effective pressure to bear on bodies like the LTTE, the LRA or the FARC, to which UN sanctions would mean nothing?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is potentially one of the most effective means of combating slavery and most African countries have ratified it. Niger, which has been mentioned several times during the course of our debate, ratified it in 1990, as did Sudan. But Niger's initial report under the convention was due in 1992 and was eight years' late, while Sudan's report, due in 1997, was also lodged in 2001 and was four years' late. There is no comeback on late reporting. I propose that, at the very least, a list should be published before every meeting of the Human Rights Commission and the Third Committee naming and shaming states that are late in reporting to any of the treaty bodies or in responding to requests for invitations by any of the special procedures.

The C8, a UNICEF-sponsored meeting of children and young people to feed into the Gleneagles meeting, called on world leaders to end the trafficking of 1.2 million children for labour and prostitution. It is now an offence to traffic a person for prostitution or sexual exploitation in this country, but UNICEF would like us to ratify the optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, make it a crime to traffic a child for any purpose and provide specialist care for the victims of trafficking, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, as being woefully lacking in the case of women but totally absent for children.

What is the Government's response to these demands? Is it now hard enough for traffickers to bring children into the UK? The cases mentioned by my noble friend Lord Roberts are relevant in this respect. Should there not be a presumption against admitting a child who is not accompanied by his or her natural parent; and that any such child who is admitted is regularly monitored by the local social services? I welcome the tightening-up on adoptions from abroad in the Children and Adoption Bill, but this has to be accompanied by closer scrutiny if informal arrangements for bringing children into this country by persons who are not the child's parents are to continue.

In west Africa, there is a cultural tolerance, which has been mentioned, for parents renting the services of their children or even selling them. In Burkina Faso, for example, it is estimated that 175,000 children between six and 17 lived and worked apart from their parents, including 95,000 who worked abroad. In Benin there is a traditional practice known as "vidomegon" in which poor families place a child, generally a daughter, in the household of a wealthy patron, who will pay something for the child's services. In Gabon, trafficked children worked long hours for no wages, were physically abused, had no education and not enough to eat. In Niger, which has been mentioned several times, the slavery of a subordinate caste numbering some 43,000 people was sanctioned by custom, and the leaders of the NGO campaigning against the practice were imprisoned—although, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has told us, they were released, mainly as a result of pressure from Her Majesty's Government.

I hope that during our EU and G8 presidencies we will help the poorest African countries to liberate their children from all these forms of slavery. I think the two go hand in hand. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, the abolition of child slavery cannot wait for the abolition of poverty; it should be dealt with as a matter of extreme urgency.

Could not more be done to enhance the capacity of the AU to help member states to comply with the obligations they take on so blithely with little or no idea how to do so? President Obasanjo agreed with that proposition enthusiastically when I put it to him yesterday at a meeting in one of the Committee Rooms upstairs. A consultancy division in the AU, with help from the ILO, could advise member states on the measures that they need to take to comply with the Forced Labour Convention, which most of them have ratified.

The poverty reduction strategy papers of states where forced labour or actual slavery exists should, as the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, said, spell out how they intend to eliminate these practices by 2015, the target date set by the ILO, and although the PRS process is intended to be country-driven, the BWIs say that they can help countries to identify key constraints in making progress towards PRS objectives, and this is surely a major constraint on the states concerned.

As to bonded labour, the ILO points to Brazil as a model of what can be achieved if there is the political will. But in south Asia the problem continues to be pervasive in spite of laws which were meant to solve it. In India, the oppressed people belong almost entirely to the "scheduled castes" and "scheduled tribes" and are concentrated, as we have heard, in certain industries such as agriculture, brick making, carpet weaving, mining and quarrying. There is also discrimination in Pakistan where bonded workers come from low caste groups and non-Muslims. In Nepal, there is a hereditary class of bonded workers, the Kamaiyas, about whom we have heard. Many were freed in 2000, when the practice was declared illegal after a campaign by the British NGO, Action Aid. I think that I am right in saying that Bangladesh is the only country in south Asia that has no law against debt bondage. It was said at a conference in Dhaka in May that 1,492 children worked there in the sex trade as bonded workers. Sex workers all have to be registered with the local police who periodically arrest them and extort money from them.

Getting rid of bonded labour is south Asia demands a change in culture, not simply the enactment of legislation. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, these matters cannot be left entirely to NGOs. It was good to see that the UN Human Rights Commission, which has in the past always turned a blind eye to caste-based slavery, has at last appointed special rapporteurs to look at the entrenched problems of these communities, which are estimated to number 260 million people world-wide. The only worry is that setting up these procedures will come out of the commission's budget, which has been frozen for years. It would be good if the UK would offer some financial help towards the cost of the new rapporteurs, in view of the widespread concern of the public in this country over caste-based labour.

Your Lordships evidently agreed with the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull when it pointed out that the emancipation movement still has unfinished business. I very much hope that the Government will support it in its efforts to raise a further £10 million for its activities before the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007. The institute could help to ensure that the suggestions that we have been putting before the Government this morning are kept firmly on their agenda.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Spokespersons In the Lords, International Development 1:17 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this important and highly relevant debate. We have already heard from many noble Lords about some of the horrors of contemporary slavery, which abounds world-wide today. There has been very little mention, as far as I can remember, of Africa.

While researching the issue of slavery in the modern world, I found myself appalled by the differing statistics and the extent of the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the League of Nations Slavery Convention of 1926, which first defined slavery as:

"The status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised".

A slave is forced to work, owned or controlled by an employer; is treated as a commodity, or bought and sold as property; and is physically constrained or has his movements restricted.

I was fascinated by the argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his speech, which was, as always, eloquent. Nowadays, slavery manifests itself more obviously as internal and international trafficking, on which I shall concentrate today. The trafficking is predominantly of women and children for exploitation and cheap labour, usually in agriculture, domestic service, construction or the sex industry. When we consider slavery, we often imagine illegal sweatshops in third world countries. It is embarrassingly true that the problem of slavery is just as real in what used to be called the "first world" as it is in third world countries, as the noble Lord, Lord Brett, emphasised.

In the past few years, we had the tragedy of the illegal immigrant cockle-pickers at Morecambe Bay, who were mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Leicester. We have also seen a growing awareness of the problem of people trafficking for the sex industry, specifically of women and children being lured to the UK, or being brought over, and being forced to work as prostitutes, having had their passports removed.

On an international scale, there is growing concern for the orphans of the Tsunami and a call for greater security to be provided to protect them from being trafficked, exploited or adopted illegally. ECPAT, an organisation that focuses on protecting children from trafficking and exploitation, has been highly involved with calls for action in this area. We now have before the House the Children and Adoption Bill, which, through legal adoption, cracks down on child trafficking. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, rightly pointed out that it does nothing, however, to deal with the problem of controlling and registering international fostering. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether there will be action to move in this direction to protect children such as Victoria Climbié.

Recently, there have also been growing fears for the disappearance of young African boys from schools in London, with possible links to child trafficking. It is impossible to estimate, and equally difficult to tackle, the issue of trafficking and exploitation of children and women. A Home Office report of 2000 concluded that:

"It may be estimated that the scale of trafficking in women into and within the UK lies within the range of 142 and 1,420 women a year".

Those vague figures give us little idea of the size of the problem. Can the Minister give us any clear idea of the scale of the trafficking of people into the UK for the purposes of sexual and non-sexual trafficking? If not, can she reassure us that research into the issue will take place at the soonest convenience?

I notice that the Government have not yet signed up to the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, which was formally opened for signature at the Council of Europe's summit of heads of state in Warsaw on 16 and 17 May this year. That is the first ever international law specifically for protecting the rights of trafficked people. It guarantees a period of 30 days for the support, recovery and safe housing of trafficked people. It also gives them temporary residence, should they be in danger of returning to their own countries, and assists them with criminal proceedings. The Government claim that they have concerns about certain provisions of the convention and want to resolve those issues before signing it. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what those specific concerns are and how close the Government have come to resolving them.

I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the Government are taking every possible step to take a hard line on trafficking in this country. There was certainly some criticism of how the Morecambe Bay incident was handled and how it could possibly have been avoided. ESPAT has warned that there is often an underlying tension between how the police view trafficked women as victims of crime and how the immigration services view them as illegal entrants and potential deportees. Can the Minister explain how, within the different parts of the Home Office the Government are working to harmonise the process of handling, assisting and supporting trafficked people?

I end by saying that I share the sentiments of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who, in a speech in 1999, commented:

"Slavery . . . I didn't know about all these forms that existed. I think it's largely because we aren't expecting it. It is hidden. Generally people would not believe that it is possible under modern conditions. They would say, 'No, I think you are making it all up', because it is just too incredible".

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip 1:24 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for calling this debate and to all noble Lords for their participation. I also pay tribute to the work of Anti-Slavery International and other agencies concerned with tackling slavery.

I well understand the view expressed by my noble friend Lord Giddens that modern slavery is rather different from what he called "old slavery". However, I believe that the essential point is that we must recognise the many and varied causes of injustice in the world today in order to find adequate solutions, which must also be varied.

The debate has taken us to some dark depths of humanity, where vulnerable people living in poverty are denied their rights and are exploited by their fellow human beings. I trust, however, that in attempting to answer the many questions raised I will be able to demonstrate that this Government are firmly taking action to tackle the abhorrent forms of modern slavery. Any questions which remain unanswered I will of course respond to in writing.

I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids for her moving speech as a descendant of a slave. She is right about the legacy, but she is also right about the pride, which we should all take, in the achievement of black people in this country.

As we have heard from the debate today, contemporary slavery covers a wide variety of human rights violations, from debt-bondage and forced labour to people trafficking and child labour. As the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department Fiona MacTaggart MP said in a debate on the same subject in another place last October,

"Wherever, whenever and in whatever form slavery occurs, we unreservedly condemn it and are committed to eliminating it".—[Official Report, 14/10/04, Commons; Col. 145WH.]

Slavery affects the poorest and most vulnerable groups in society. It is difficult to uncover and to resolve since fear and the need for survival deter its victims from coming forward. Solutions require governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector to work together to break the cycle of poverty and social exclusion that are at the root of most forms of slavery today.

As noble Lords have said, this is a timely debate. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the UK is using its concurrent presidencies of the G8 and the EU as a unique opportunity to drive forward the international agenda to improve the lives of millions of people, including the millions of people who are still enslaved.

We are using the presidencies to push for a renewed global commitment to the millennium development goals, for the elimination of poverty, and we are calling on the international community to provide more and better aid, including debt relief.

Since contemporary forms of slavery persist where poverty denies people their rights, we also support country-led development agendas and poverty-reduction strategies. In answer to the noble Lords, Lord Joffe, and Lord Avebury, one of our main aims is to ensure that the needs of the poor, particularly the most vulnerable groups, including those enslaved, are fully taken into account in these strategies.

One of the key forms of contemporary slavery is bonded labour, where a person is required to give his labour as security for a loan. The DfID programme in Nepal assisted former bonded labourers through the freed Kamaiya food security programme. It supported a number of activities, including income generation, scholarships and access to drinking water and sanitation, in partnership with international, national and local NGOs. This work continues through a number of smaller-scale projects under the community support programme.

As we have heard this afternoon, a striking feature of debt bondage is its inextricable link with caste discrimination and social exclusion. DfID is preparing a policy paper on social exclusion. That will outline how DfID intends to step up its work with its partners to ensure that the needs of all groups in society are included in country-assistance plans.

DfID is already working with both government and civil society to develop inclusive policies. For example, in India, where DfID is working with the Ministry of Health on its national, reproductive and child health programme, specific targets have been developed for including Dalit women and children in the programme. These are being monitored and incentives have been developed to ensure that the Dalits are included.

In answer to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, in India DfID is making good progress in its partnership with UNDP and the government of India in developing the access to justice programme, which is achieving real access to justice for poor and vulnerable groups in India, including Dalits. The views and issues of poor and vulnerable groups, including Dalits, will be the driving force behind the design and implementation of the access to justice programme.

The Government strongly condemn forced labour in all its forms. We fully support the work of the ILO and work closely with the organisation to ensure that the international framework to combat abuses of workers' rights throughout the world is in place and effective. We also provide substantial financial support.

The UK has ratified the ILO's "core labour standards", including those covering the abolition of forced labour. We have also taken specific actions to tackle forced labour within the United Kingdom. As noble Lords have said, those include the establishment of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Over the coming months, the authority will consult on the conditions that should be attached to the issue of a licence. It is anticipated that some of those will be based on tackling aspects of forced labour.

I was interested in the point raised by my noble friend Lord Brett about the scope of the Act. At present the scope is restricted to agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and associated processing and packaging sectors. Those are the sectors where the problem of illegal activity and exploitation by gangmasters is greatest. There is no provision within the Act requiring the Government to review the scope of the Act but the Government will certainly consider any proposals to do so.

Next week, officials from across Whitehall will meet government officials from a number of "source" and "destination" countries, together with colleagues from the ILO special action programme, to combat forced labour as part of a project aimed at raising awareness and capacity of those responsible for implementing policies to combat the forced labour dimensions of human trafficking. We have already provided over £2 million to the ILO's special action programme.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked whether the UK would work through the EU and the UN to ensure a higher priority for the eradication of slavery. Yes, in 1999–2000 the UK supported a proposal from Anti-Slavery International for the creation of a UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery. Sadly, it did not receive sufficient support and the idea died. However, we would in theory support a special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery to replace the working group of the same name, provided that it had a robust mandate.

Human trafficking is an appalling crime inflicting terrible and often lasting damage on its victims. The UK Government are committed to combating human trafficking. It is a priority for our presidency of the European Union, during which we intend to work with the Commission and our EU partners on the development of an EU action plan on trafficking. We also want to encourage greater police co-operation through Europol and the sharing of best practice on investigations and prosecutions.

We have already taken important steps to tackle trafficking in the United Kingdom. In 2000 Reflex, a practical multi-agency task force, was set up to tackle all forms of people smuggling and trafficking, including through the establishment of a network of immigration liaison officers to work with other governments to disrupt and dismantle gangs.

In 2003 the excellent Poppy Scheme, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was set up as a pilot by the Home Office and Eaves Housing for Women to provide safe accommodation and support for women trafficked into the United Kingdom for prostitution. The scheme acts as an advice and information point offering a range of support services and facilitates the voluntary return of victims to their country of origin. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, noted, the pilot scheme has now ceased, but it is currently being evaluated. Decisions about its future scope, structure, capacity and funding will be taken in the light of the final evaluation. The Home Office, however, continues to fund the project in this interim period. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I am appalled that there is trafficking of women and children in this country. It is an odious practice wherever it takes place, but especially when it is on our doorsteps.

The UK has also enacted legislation to criminalise trafficking. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 both include tough maximum penalties of 14 years for new offences covering trafficking into, out of, or within the United Kingdom. Overseas the UK works to build capacity in source countries so that they can fight trafficking themselves. The Home Office is leading an EC-funded project with the Czech Ministry of the Interior to strengthen its capacity to combat trafficking.

In response to the noble Lord's question about the EU directive on short-term permits, the UK chose not to opt in, owing to the potential adverse implications in respect of immigration controls. It was considered that the introduction of a specific immigration provision for victims of trafficking would encourage abusive claims, and that this would impact on the very people whom the measures were designed to help. This does not mean, however, that the UK is unsympathetic to the spirit of the directive or that we are unconcerned about the plight of the victims of this abuse.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester so eloquently and vividly described, children are particularly vulnerable to abuses of their human rights. Their labour is cheap and they are easy to control. Around the world, millions of children are suffering as victims of conflict, abuse, exploitation and neglect. The Government are determined to work to end harmful forms of child labour. The FCO currently has two Global Opportunities Fund projects on the trafficking and forced labour of children. The first seeks to combat the trafficking of children to the Gulf states for use as camel jockeys. The second aims to reduce the prostitution and trafficking of children in selected districts of Metro Manila in the Philippines.

The UK supports the ILO's International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour, which provides technical support to countries combating child labour and trafficking. We support initiatives through the World Bank, UNICEF and NGOs which are working to demobilise and rehabilitate these children.

Vulnerable children are a high priority for the Government. We have endorsed the UNICEF Strategic Framework for the Protection, Care and Support of Orphans and Vulnerable Children living in a world with HIV/AIDS. This provides guidance for countries on developing national policies and programmes to respond to the needs of vulnerable children, including orphans, street children and those at risk from drugs, prostitution, trafficking, HIV and AIDS.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about children trafficked to the UK and the role of the social services. The matter was raised also by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. By April 2006, all local authorities will be required to have local safeguarding children boards in place. They will replace current area child protection committees and have a new responsibility to co-ordinate work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are privately fostered.

We recognise that there is significant variation in the level of allowances paid to foster carers by authorities across the country. That is why we included the power to prescribe a national minimum allowance for foster carers in the Children Act 2004.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the question of Burma and the need to improve human rights. Her Majesty's Government remain at the forefront of international efforts to press for improvements in the situation in Burma. We are actively working with our EU and international partners to promote reform and respect for human rights in Burma. We will continue, of course, to do so during the UK's presidency of the EU.

On 16 May, our ambassador in Rangoon drew to the attention of the Burmese Foreign Minister the high level of concern in both Houses about human rights in Burma, in particular the human rights abuses being carried out in ethnic areas. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, quite rightly expressed concern about child soldiers in Burma. We too are concerned by the continued recruitment and use of child soldiers by the army and certain armed ethnic groups in Burma. We note the establishment by the SPDC of a committee for the prevention of military recruitment of under-age children and its welcome co-operation with UNICEF. We encourage the committee to implement its plan of action and to continue to co-operate with UNICEF. We also call on the SPDC to extend full co-operation to relevant international organisations and the special representative of the UN Secretary-General.

I understand the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, and others about the reports of the missing African boys, but as noble Lords will have heard previously in this House, investigations by the Metropolitan Police following reports found no evidence at all to suggest that anything sinister had happened to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, also expressed concern about China and the detention of about 260,000 people in camps. We make representations to China about the issue all the time and try to ensure that it fulfils its commitments under the 1951 refugee convention.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to Niger. I thank him for recognising the part that the British Government played. Sadly, the practice of slavery still exists, and I acknowledge the work of Timidria in Niger and its partner organisation, Anti-Slavery International, for their work on the ground to help those held in slave conditions. I agree that we need to study the research that has already been carried out.

We are greatly concerned by the human rights violations in Sudan, and strongly condemn the slave-like practices of abduction, trafficking and forced labour. Slavery is explicitly prohibited by both the outgoing 1998 constitution, the comprehensive peace agreement and the current draft of the interim constitution. But we continue to be gravely concerned by the ongoing human rights abuses.

The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Minister for Africa have all recently visited Sudan. They have pressed the Government strongly on the need to stop further human rights abuses and to bring those responsible to justice. We will continue to insist on that bilaterally, through both the EU and the UN.

I shall outline some of the preparations for 2007, which will be the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire. I was interested to learn more from the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the excellent work of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, and I shall certainly ask my colleagues in the DCMS about funding.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, I, too, believe that we should include both the history of slavery and current slavery in our citizenship classes. I hope that the bicentenary will give teachers a good hook for their citizenship lessons. In marking the bicentenary, we want everyone to understand the events of 1807 and the role that Britain played. We wish to learn from the past.

It is also important to highlight the issues of contemporary slavery, about which we have spoken today. The celebration of the bicentenary is not just for the Government to take part in, but educational, cultural, voluntary and community organisations should play a part as well. I note that Churches are already mobilised to take action. They are actively planning for the bicentenary.

Like other noble Lords, I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the excellent initiative of the University of Hull to set up the Wilberforce Institute for the study of slavery. I hope that we can learn from the research that they will be undertaking. In the next two years Whitehall departments will be working together to develop specific proposals for the Government's contribution to the bicentenary, and we welcome ideas on how best to do so. All ideas are welcome.

I thank noble Lords for enabling this important and timely debate, and strongly reiterate the Government's commitment to social justice and to eradicating contemporary forms of slavery throughout the world.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 1:44 pm, 7th July 2005

My Lords, I never expected a debate on contemporary forms of slavery to draw such a large audience. Long may it continue. I hope that all noble Lords heard the words of our very conscientious new Minister who gave such an excellent reply and laid out some of the many areas in which the Government are active.

I realise that we are waiting for an important Statement and that sad events have occurred, so I shall not pick up the points that I had intended to pick up. There was a nice tension between—not so much the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and others, which I understand in an academic context—the noble Lords, Lord Joffe and Lord Avebury, who need to go on discussing the question of whether slavery or poverty should be abolished first. That is a subtle debate, which I hope will continue.

I also single out the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, as others have done, because the mere mention of Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea brings back chilling memories. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.