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Westminster Hall

Thursday 14 October 2004

[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]

Struggle Against Slavery

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Before we commence, I wish to alert the Chamber to the fact that we are expecting a Division to be called in about 19 minutes, at which point I shall suspend the sitting for 15 minutes.

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart) : I am proud to initiate the debate to demonstrate Britain's support for the United Nations international year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition. In holding the debate, we acknowledge the significance of the UN year in encouraging us to tackle modern forms of slavery, to open up a discussion about how most usefully to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain in 2007 and to ensure that we learn the lessons of the past.

In its publication this year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition, the UN General Assembly stated explicitly that its intention was to draw attention to the historic struggle. At the launch, the director general of UNESCO said:

In her speech to the World Congress against Racism in Durban, Baroness Amos described the acts of acknowledgment, regret and condemnation inherent in the year as allowing us to move forward in the spirit of hope and giving us the basis on which to continue to tackle contemporary problems. Raising understanding and awareness of slavery issues and Britain's part in the slave trade, its abolition and how we can work to eradicate modern-day slavery is the best way to move forward, and the debate is part of the start of that process.

We know that Britain was a key partner in the slave trade. Abolition came about after many years as a result of one of the world's first mass human rights movements. Britain played a key part in the struggle to end the abhorrent practice of slavery. The international year can help us to prepare for the bicentenary three years from now of Parliament passing legislation to abolish the slave trade.

Slavery is a crime against humanity. Slavery and the slave trade were, and are, appalling tragedies in the history of humanity. We talk about the history but, recently, I met the lord mayor of Plymouth, Claude
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Miller. His great-grandfather was a slave. In just three generations, the family has swapped the chains of slavery for the chains of office. That symbol of hopefulness is one that we must focus on, too. However, the fact that that is such recent history is a powerful reminder.

Slavery has existed in many forms and in many civilisations throughout the world and across the centuries, but the transatlantic slave trade was different. It was one of the first examples of institutionalised racism. No other slave system was so regulated and so determined by the matter of race. No other system moved so many people. Millions of African people were removed forcibly from their homes and communities and taken in the most inhuman conditions to work as slaves on cotton, sugar and tobacco plantations. The basis of that horrific trade was economic. People were seen as nothing more than units of labour condemned to brutal and often short lives.

Everyone in the Chamber will know of the long struggle and ultimate success of the campaign of the abolitionists in the United Kingdom and of the strong Christian commitment that underlay the work of people such as Thomas Clarkson, who travelled thousands of miles collecting information, often at personal risk, to support the abolition of the trade, Granville Sharp, who was instrumental in using the law and, of course, William Wilberforce, the politician, evangelist and philanthropist. When first asked to use his influence to bring an end to the slave trade, he replied:

We are grateful that he took a different view and went on to commit most of his parliamentary career to that effort.

It is just as important to remember that alongside the white philanthropists there were many Africans who displayed great courage and heroism in bringing the slave trade to an end. From the 1730s, when it was reported that a

to the Haitian revolution, the enslaved peoples resisted and rebelled. Olaudah Equiano was a key participant in the campaign to end the trade, speaking at meetings and publishing a book about his experiences as a slave, which helped to change public opinion. Individuals such as Jonathan Strong and James Somerset, who used the British courts to secure their freedom, also contributed.

Now, as then, Africans need their indigenous leaders, people such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, to help them to tackle contemporary problems of poverty, HIV/AIDS and poor education, from which millions in Africa suffer. They also need external champions, such as the G8 countries, to respond to what our Prime Minister has called a

He has launched the Commission for Africa in order to help to drive forward Africa's development and increase its prosperity. Early in 2005, the commission will produce a comprehensive plan, which will show how the international community can support African development. That plan, which will show what Africa needs, and what has held back progress in the past, will help us to turn international attention on Africa into international action to support Africa.
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The UK is showing the way. Since 1997 we have more than doubled our aid budget. As a result, we will be able to increase direct aid for Africa to £1 billion next year. That will enable us to lift one million people in Africa permanently out of poverty each year.

It is a sad fact that, despite being outlawed internationally, slavery is still widespread. As many as 27 million people are estimated to be living in conditions of slavery—human trafficking, forced and bonded labour or child labour. Wherever, whenever and in whatever form slavery occurs, we unreservedly condemn it, and are committed to eliminating it. As well as ratifying the key international legal instruments that outlaw slavery, we are taking positive practical steps to bring slavery to an end. For example, our embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal, provided support over three years to a charity for the production and airing of Khyala Radio, an awareness programme to make former bonded labourers aware of their legal rights and to help them to set up activity groups.

We are also working to combat trafficking, providing funds and expertise in Asia and west Africa, the Balkans and China. We are training police officers, providing direct support to women's groups and working with the International Labour Organisation to eliminate child labour. For example, human rights groups have criticised the United Arab Emirates for using young boys, some reportedly as young as four years old, as camel jockeys. They are recruited from South Asia—many of them, reportedly, against their will—by organised people traffickers in their home countries. We are funding a project by Anti-Slavery International to exert pressure in countries where camel racing takes place, and also to help non-governmental organisations in the countries the children come from to co-ordinate their lobbying against the practice.

At home, we have a comprehensive programme to combat trafficking. It includes legislation, enforcement, prevention and, very importantly, support for victims. The Sexual Offences Act 2003, which came into force on 1 May this year, introduces new, wide-ranging offences covering trafficking into, out of or within the United Kingdom for any form of sexual offence, and carries a 14-year maximum penalty. A new offence, trafficking for exploitation, which includes trafficking for forced labour and the removal of organs, is included in the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 and will also carry a 14-year maximum penalty.

In March 2000, a multi-agency Government taskforce, Reflex, chaired by the National Crime Squad, was set up to deal with organised immigration crime. Its remit is to co-ordinate the enforcement response to such issues, both nationally and internationally, and to develop the intelligence and strategic planning to underpin that. Between April 2003 and April 2004, Reflex resulted in 38 disruptions and 38 convictions for organised immigration crime. That figure includes those who are involved in human trafficking as well as people smuggling and related activities. To be truly effective, however, the Government have recognised that they must tackle trafficking at source.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): I have a great deal of sympathy for what the Minister says, but
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surely the one major step with which the Government have so far refused to align themselves is a common European policy that would dictate control over these issues, including people trafficking and organ trafficking. The Government's failure to support the Council of Europe's plans to persuade its member states to adopt such a policy has been remarkable. Will the Minister explain the Government's position?

Fiona Mactaggart : I am anxious that we might be straying into matters that are partly being discussed in the Chamber, but I will return to that.

As I said, to be truly effective, the Government have recognised that they must tackle trafficking at source. We are therefore funding Anti-Slavery International to raise awareness of the abuses suffered by the victims of trafficking and to take remedial action in west Africa. We have also given £3 million to the International Labour Organisation's international programme on the elimination of child labour in the far east. This involves a number of inter-linked interventions to raise awareness and prevent trafficking, and to withdraw women and children from labour exploitation and reintegrate them back into their own or new communities.

Reflex has funded a helpline in Romania to help detect and prevent trafficking, and the Home Office is funding the Poppy Project in London, which provides safe accommodation and a range of support services for up to 25 female victims who have been trafficked into prostitution. This is just part of our national, international and global efforts to deal with trafficking, and I am glad to say that there will be a debate this week, following a television programme about trafficking in the United Kingdom.

I mentioned earlier that 2007 has a particular resonance for us in the UK, as it is the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. I want to use this opportunity today to begin a debate about how we, as a country, should mark this anniversary, and how we can improve awareness and understanding of Britain's involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, including our role in its abolition.

My ministerial colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills share our concern that slavery and all black history is taught sensitively in schools. There is plenty of scope within the national curriculum for teaching black history, but one of the constraints that teachers face is unfamiliarity with the resources available. They can also feel unprepared to handle some of the difficult and challenging issues that arise. We want to support teachers through this. With the Department for Education and Skills, we are exploring how museums, such as the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, might provide educational resources that give a full picture of the Commonwealth and that celebrate the diversity of Britain's multi racial community.

However, education happens in communities as well as in institutions, and to this day, many people descended from enslaved Africans feel that they are denied their history, culture and sense of identity. This United Nations year is an attempt to rectify that by offering them recognition and respect. On 23 August—the international day for the remembrance of the slave
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trade and its abolition—I participated in an event that was organised by Rendezvous of Victory and part-funded by my Department. People there spoke passionately about the slave trade, its legacy, and contemporary issues such as prejudice, racism and disadvantage. I hope that in 2007 we tap into the knowledge, passion and energy of such groups and individuals.

I am glad to say that I have been able to discuss some of these plans with the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has already funded several projects relating to the slave trade. These range from a grant of £281,000 to the National Maritime Museum to purchase the Michael Graham-Stewart slavery collection, a grant of £92,000 to Anti-Slavery International to conserve and catalogue over 600 abolitionist tracts and pamphlets, and £25,000 to Merton black educational forum to research and develop teaching and learning resources on key black figures, including abolitionists, who have contributed to British history.

Several heritage and community-based organisations are already discussing possible projects for 2007, and the fund plans to produce an information pack that identifies important heritage sites, collections and resources to help applicants to develop their projects. It also proposes to promote the funding for this event in the media and through activities led by regional and country teams. In museums throughout the country, work is already well under way on developing plans for the bicentenary, including a new slavery gallery in Liverpool and a major exhibition in London.

As Members of Parliament, we have a responsibility to ensure that the bicentenary is effectively commemorated. Repugnance at the slave trade, and the wish to commemorate its abolition, cross party political boundaries, and I invite colleagues from all parties here today to think about how they can encourage their constituents to mark the 200th anniversary.

In holding this debate, I hope that we will begin to raise awareness of Britain's role in the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. However, we should not be complacent about the prevalence of contemporary slavery or lessen our efforts to combat it. Nearly 200 years on from the abolition of the slave trade, Britain is a diverse society. That is a great source of strength and enriches all our lives. However, people in the black and minority ethnic communities continue to experience racism, discrimination and disadvantage. The world has changed greatly since the 19th century, but some of the issues have not. Although a repeat of the slave trade would never be allowed, we owe it to the descendants of enslaved people to ensure that their human rights are upheld and that our society recognises and celebrates the strength in its diversity.

The Government will soon be launching their community cohesion and race equality strategy, which will establish a cross-Government framework for action to promote inclusive notions of citizenship, identity and belonging, tackle inequality and lack of opportunity, confront racism and extremism, and create cohesive communities. Effective action of that kind is part of our efforts to deliver on the challenge set out by the director
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general of UNESCO in launching this year of commemoration, when he demanded that it should be not only


2.47 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): I am delighted to follow the Minister in this important debate. She will not be surprised to know that I agree strongly with the spirit and the substance of her remarks, and I do not think that there will be too much controversy.

I am delighted that this is the international year in which we seek to commemorate the struggle against slavery. I look forward to the important bicentenary in 2007 and very much welcome the Minister's invitation to take part in the debate about how best to commemorate it. She must know that she will have the full support of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition; indeed, she might even be in Her Majesty's loyal Opposition by then, but we shall see.

I have the honour of representing part of the city of Plymouth, and I thank the Minister for her kind reference to the lord mayor. Claude, who is in his 80s, is an outstanding lord mayor, and I say that even though he is a member of the Labour group in Plymouth. He does a wonderful job for the city and will be thrilled by the Minister's tribute, so I thank her most sincerely for her kind remarks.

This discussion of slavery is not only a useful reminder of how far we have come in understanding and embracing key truths about human dignity, personal freedom and rights but a solemn reminder of how far we have still to travel. It might be helpful if I take a few moments to set out the true nature and extent of the transatlantic slave trade.

It is horrifying to recognise that an estimated 2.1 million slaves were imported into the English colonies in America between 1680 and 1786 .

2.49 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

3.19 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Streeter : In the 100 years from 1680—in a world with a much smaller population—some 2.1 million slaves were imported for the British colonies in America. In 1790, the British West Indies had a slave population of more than 500,000 people. Between 1650 and 1900, some 10.2 million slaves were shipped to the Americas from Africa, both legally and illegally. Sometimes, when we consider the scale of this atrocity, it almost takes the breath away.

We know that the main use of slaves was as cheap labour on plantations. Some 70 per cent. of all slave labour was used on sugar plantations as part of the triangular Atlantic trade system. As we know from many historical records, this precious human cargo was treated
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cruelly. People were shipped in the most cramped and inhumane conditions, and lived out their lives in servitude and oppression.

I have never been one for dramatic apologies about everything in our past—apologising for the last 2,000 years of British history—but in this case there must be an acknowledgement of the part that this country played in this appalling atrocity; that what we did was wrong; that it is a scar on our history and is only partially redeemed by the fact that we led the way in the abolition of the trade and then the abolition of slavery.

As we know, in 1807 a Bill was passed making it unlawful to import slaves into Britain, but it did not include the rest of the British empire; the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 included all parts. The British Government subsequently put pressure on their European neighbours. France abolished slavery in 1848 and Spain followed shortly after, so at last we gave a lead.

How did this movement for abolition come about? It was, as the Minister has already said, one of the earliest examples of a mass movement for human rights, and many slaves deserve great credit for taking part and shifting public opinion. As has already been mentioned, Mr. Equiano's graphic, first-hand accounts of his abduction and life of slavery, which were published in 1789 in London, were a massive spur to the people of this country to wake up. Also, it was an issue whose time had come. It is often the case that we can take something for granted and suddenly wake up and think, "How on earth have we allowed that to happen for so long?"

As is so often the case, although there was a growing groan from the bowels of the British people, it still required leadership to shift the status quo. We are indebted, as the Minister said, to a group of people in and around Westminster, including my personal political hero, William Wilberforce. He, along with many others including Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp, worked hard for many years, shifted public opinion, brought campaigns to the House of Commons and introduced Bills of Parliament, many of which were rejected. They persevered until ultimately they triumphed. That was to their credit.

It has already been said that the job is not yet done. It is shocking to discover what is happening. I must be frank and say that in preparing for this debate and starting to talk to some of the non-governmental organisations, particularly Anti-Slavery International, which I found extremely helpful and very knowledgeable, I was genuinely shocked by the scale of the problem still going on in the world today. The Morecambe bay tragedy some months ago was a wake-up call to this country. I did not know that people were being subjected to such oppression and injustice in this country. It was certainly a wake-up call for me. Then I learned that this sort of thing is happening more and more. I read yesterday that 1,400 women in 2000 were trafficked into this country for prostitution.

Forced and bonded labour, the worst forms of child labour, child soldiers and early and forced marriage are all modern forms of slavery. The job is not done and we need to do more. Many colleagues in the Chamber have fought tirelessly on this issue for many years.
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It is estimated that 300,000 children are fighting in armies in more than 35 countries around the world. I have read that 20 million people are held in bonded labour around the world, especially in India, Pakistan and Nepal. The US State Department estimates that 800,000 to 900,000 people—nearly 1 million—are trafficked annually across borders. UNICEF estimated in 2003 that human trafficking nets profits of $7 billion to $10 billion a year worldwide. No wonder that the pressure is so great and the exploitation of people is so merciless.

I have a couple of specific examples about which I learned this week. Indonesians who want to work outside their country have to apply for work through Government-sanctioned recruitment agencies and are charged extortionate agency fees, which they must pay back while they work in host countries. This creates a system of debt bondage as workers are forced to pay almost all their monthly earnings to their agency. That is a form of 21st-century slavery.

The Minister has already mentioned the exploitation in the UAE of young boys, normally from the Asian sub-continent. Apparently, children, often as young as four, are being coerced into becoming camel jockeys, even though it is illegal in the UAE to work under the age of 15. That also goes on in other Arab countries.

I want to say a few words about human trafficking for two reasons. First, it is one of the worst examples of man's inhumanity to man—normally it is men being inhumane to other people. Secondly, in this globalising world, the pressure in relation to human trafficking will increase and we will have to be at our very best to defeat it. It is rightly called a modern-day slave trade. The traffickers use violence, coercion and deception to take people away from their homes and families, and force them to work against their will. The cockle-pickers in Morecombe bay were an example of that.

People are trafficked both between countries and within their own countries. The trafficking of people is a rapidly growing global problem that affects countries and families in every continent. Those who are trafficked may be forced to work as domestics, in prostitution, as labourers or in many other industries. As a result of its hidden nature, statistics relating to trafficking are impossible to measure accurately. As I have said, some reports estimate that 800,000 to 900,000 people are trafficked across borders every year.

I do not know whether the Minister is planning to speak for a second time, but if she is—and she would have my full support to do so—will she say a little more about the Government's approach to making a Europe-wide response? That has already been asked about.

I am aware of the Council of Europe convention, which is being drafted as we speak. It would be good to hear what progress is being made on it. I would like to learn from the Minister what its impact is likely to be and what the Government's will be. There are many problems that we can address ourselves. I welcome the legislation that the Government have introduced in the past two years to bear down on some of the worst abuses—trafficking, prostitution and so on. What steps are being taken to ensure that both the European Union and the wider family of European countries tackle this growing problem on a collective basis?
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I have considered this issue, particularly in the past few days, and concerned myself about what the global solution might be. I believe that we come back to our old friends, the millennium targets relating to international development. As is so often the case, in addition to bearing down on specific examples of injustice and malpractice, this country must continue to advocate meeting those millennium targets and do what it can to reduce poverty and injustice throughout so much of the developing world.

I strongly support the work of the Department for International Development and the increase in its budget over the past few years—I pay tribute to the Government for that. I believe that it is a priority, and something that Wilberforce would have supported. This is a wealthy country and we should be at the cutting edge in bearing down on global poverty, instability and injustice.

If the Minister is going to make a winding-up speech, will she say a little about whether the issue of slavery is at the top of DFID's agenda? Promoting good governance and creating effective international laws, and then having enforcement mechanisms, are all right responses to this problem. Education also has a role in breaking down some of the barriers of prejudice and ignorance, particularly some of the cultural barriers. While we do not want to disturb people's cultural rhythms, some of them lead to some of the practices that have no part in a modern world. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on whether, in her view, DFID is doing its utmost to place 21st-century slavery at the top of its agenda.

I want to finish by making one more comment. As we have heard, the abolition Bill was finally passed on 26 July 1833. It declared that slavery would be abolished and that the planters would be heavily compensated—a typical British solution. On hearing that the Bill had become law in July 1833, William Wilberforce, who was no longer a Member of Parliament, said:

That was a huge sum in those days. He died three days later, on 29 July, and was buried in Westminster abbey. His life's work had been achieved. However, the challenge remains for all of us. I want the Minister to know that she has Conservative support in doing what we can to end 21st-century slavery worldwide.

3.30 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): This debate and the atmosphere in which it is being conducted are welcome, and the proposals for a serious commemoration of the 200th anniversary are equally welcome. However, if we can, we have to remove ourselves from the English and European feeling of self-satisfaction that we did a good job for the world 200 years ago. The reality is that Britain and Europe made a vast amount of wealth from the slave trade, and that wealth is still with us.

One way of heading into the commemoration would be to offer a genuine, serious and heartfelt apology for the slave trade, because it is important to make such gestures. Moving on a little, we could talk of reparations for the people who suffered and the countries that
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suffered because of the slave trade. On an entirely practical level, I suggest that alongside the correctly placed statue to William Wilberforce, we should have a statue to an appropriate leader of one of the slave rebellions. Paul Bogle, from Morant bay in Jamaica, would be a good example, as would Nat Turner from the United States and the many others who died because they stood up for justice for their people against the injustices of the slave trade. That would be an important part of showing that we take this issue seriously and an important element in education for young people in this country and throughout the world.

The slave trade was an act of genocide against black people, who were transported from Africa, and the money made from it ended up largely in the pockets of the wealthy in this country. I advise that one of the source books for this commemoration year should be "Capitalism and Slavery" by the late Eric Williams, which he wrote as an LSE thesis in 1940 or thereabouts. It traces the way in which the English wealthy made money from the Caribbean sugar trade. That wealth can be directly traced to major British companies now, such as Booker, Lloyds bank, Barclays bank and Tate and Lyle. We can go through all the blue chip companies in the City and trace where much of their initial wealth came from. The campaign for reparations is a serious one. I hope that next year we do not just have a one-month commemoration, but end up with some kind of annual commemoration, because that is very important.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) rightly drew attention to the British compromise, which was to support the abolition of the slave trade and then apologise to the slave owners for doing so by giving them £20 million. I do not know what that would equate to today, but it was an absolutely phenomenal amount of money. It would be nice to know what happened to that money and where it is still held. Earlier this year, I was looking through Hansard reports of the early 1800s for a friend who was doing research on escaped slaves living in London. It was fascinating to read the debates. The moral high ground was taken by Wilberforce and a number of other commendable people, but there was also the nakedness of saying, "Well, hang on, if we abolish it, where's the money?" The debate was between the moral high ground and wealth. At no stage was any African person's voice heard in that debate, which was between two strands of political opinion in Europe and did not extend beyond those boundaries.

In this commemoration, we have an opportunity to do a great deal to educate people and understand the way in which British and European colonialism treated people and who the heroes really were. I would add another hero: Toussaint L'Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian revolution, which brought about the first black state in the world. My final book recommendation is "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" by Walter Rodney. It provides a very interesting description of how the slave trade and subsequent colonialism destabilised all the economic, environmental and social systems in that continent. We ended up with the horrors of the 1884 Congress of Berlin, which drew all the straight lines all over Africa. That is the cause of so many of our current problems.

It is easy to deal with the whole slavery issue as if it were purely an anachronism, but although I wish it were that, it is not. I attend the UN Commission on Human Rights
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every summer usually, and sometimes for the full session in April and the sub-commission that is held in August. Every year, we go through the debates about these issues. There is a question about how this Parliament persuades our Government to hold to account the international agencies and to promote the international laws that are supposed to be protecting very vulnerable and predominantly young people from slavery—sex slavery, bondage and all kinds of inherent discrimination.

Article 4 of the universal declaration of human rights states:

We then think of all the other forms that exist.

I also want to quote what Kofi Annan said about child work in March 1999:

as he rightly says—

That is what this debate should be about; we should bring to the world's attention what all these things actually mean.

The UN convention on the rights of the child was agreed in 1989. There is a tablet in Hyde park—it was unveiled by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher—that commemorates Britain's adherence to that convention. It stated that children had rights to education, housing, health—and a right to a childhood, which so many of them are denied. However, when we look at the institutions that exist around the world which should be in a position to protect the most vulnerable, we realise their weakness. I would like the UN High Commission for Refugees and the UN High Commission on Human Rights to have far greater power. For the issue of slavery really to be dealt with, we need there to be much tougher rules that the International Labour Organisation can impose.

We should think through what was said about those poor, unfortunate people in Morecombe bay. How did they end up in that bay, other than by a whole process of the grossest exploitation of their rights, the poverty of the environment from which they came and the preparedness of a very large chain of companies in this country to buy cockles that had been picked by people who were being paid what was basically nothing for being in enormous danger? Such cockles were then served up at Wheeler's and other expensive west end restaurants. What would we discover if we were to adjourn this debate and go down to Oxford street to pore over some of the very expensive designer labels there? If we were to trace things back to who actually made those clothes, we would find that child labour, bonded labour or slave labour was producing it. We choose to turn a blind eye to that, and when the companies concerned are challenged on it, they all say, "Well, it was not really us; we bought it from a
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subcontractor." That is very nice and convenient for them, but it is not much help to the people who are suffering as a result.

I hope that we can do a little more to bring greater powers to the world's institutions that should be dealing with these matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) tabled early-day motion 945 last year. It dealt with the whole question of child labour and the need to adhere to ILO convention 182 on the exploitation of children.

I also want to talk briefly about institutional or caste discrimination that leads directly to slavery. I must declare an interest in that I am a trustee of the Dalit Solidarity Network. We have had a number of public meetings. The discrimination against Dalit people, commonly known as untouchables, in India and other places—not only in India, but principally there—is serious. It is not merely discrimination; it is a form of slavery and control, which leads to the loss of many lives and livelihoods.

I was in India earlier this year, and I welcomed the Dalit solidarity march, which arrived at the World Social Forum in Mumbai having marched thousands of miles through India to draw attention to the plight of these people. If we were to look at the legal situation in India, and to read the Indian constitution and legal statutes, we would all say, "Fine, they have total protection." Bonded labour is illegal, slavery is illegal, and discrimination on grounds of caste is illegal—but they go on.

At a local level, if one asks any Dalit person what they do when they are threatened, when their children are forced to make carpets and bricks, when they are forced to work in the owner's house and everything that goes with that, they will say, "What can we do?" There is not a court that will be interested in what they have to say; nobody will represent them, yet the constitution offers them that protection. When one looks at the slave trade that exists in other parts of the world, one sees the reality.

When the Department for International Development and the European Union are disbursing aid packages, aid programmes and development programmes, they ensure that those programmes not only reach all people, but that they are disbursed in a way that does not prop up a social, legal or economic system that systematically exploits people or owns such forms of exploitation and slavery.

A brilliant film was shown on BBC 4 last weekend. It was a Russian film, which showed a young girl, living in fairly miserable surroundings in post-Soviet Union St. Petersburg. She was offered the chance to go to Sweden to work. She was abandoned at the airport and told that it would be okay and that someone would meet her. She arrived in Sweden, her passport was taken from her by her new owner, and she became a prostitute.

The final clip of the film shows her jumping off a motorway bridge, attempting suicide. Brilliantly, the film does not say whether she lived or died, but leaves one with that thought. All she had in her mind was a dream of her brother, like the wings of Icarus, coming back to save her. It showed that even in a country such as Sweden or Britain—anywhere in Europe where we think of ourselves as having rights, democratic values, access to justice and all the rest—and throughout the developed world, people are effectively slaves in our society, working as domestic workers, sex slaves or prostitutes.
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In the anniversary year coming up, I hope that we will commemorate those people who have died because of the slave trade; that we will talk seriously about reparations for those who have suffered so much and continue to suffer from it; and that we will totally outlaw child labour, exploitation and bonded labour and all the horrors that go with them. If we cannot do that, in the 21st century, what on earth are we about? We allow a world to develop economically, with all the technical abilities that we have, yet we allow the grossest form of denial of people's rights and livelihood to exist. Let us think of the horrors, and of the genius that is wasted in those carpet factories, brick factories and all the other similar places. Then we will see the importance of standing up for the peoples' rights and ensuring that the world's institutions are not the super-powerful World Bank and International Monetary Fund but the super-powerful ILO, the UN High Commission for Refugees and the UN High Commission on Human Rights. Those are the issues that we should consider, and that is the agenda that we should follow.

3.44 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I start by thanking the Government for making the time available to discuss such an important matter. I also thank the Minister for dwelling on the United Kingdom's role in the slave trade.

In some respects, I should apologise to those in the Public Gallery, because I shall focus principally on contemporary slavery. As my party's spokesman on international development, I believe that we can do something about it. None the less, I take on board the Minister's comments about how we, as Members of Parliament, should think about what role we can play to ensure that the bicentenary is appropriately commemorated. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, we should commemorate not only Wilberforce but those who might be called slave activists—all those who fought the campaign alongside him.

We know from the events of the past 24 hours how difficult it can be to say sorry, but it is entirely appropriate that we should say sorry for the role that the UK played in the slave trade. We should be frank, open and blunt about it, and I am happy to do so today.

Although we are celebrating the bicentenary of the struggle against slavery and its successful abolition, it gives us the chance to highlight some of the many forms of slavery that exist now, such as bonded labour, child labour, child soldiers and the caste system and how Dalits are affected by it, a subject highlighted by the hon. Gentleman. I intend to press the Minister on what the Government can do to tackle those forms of contemporary slavery.

I shall speak first about bonded labour. Hon. Members will know that that is the selling of a person's labour or services, or those of the family or children, as security for a loan rather than for pay. Although the value of the work done always exceeds the value of the loan, high interest rates and corruption ensures that that debt is never paid off. The person therefore remains a bonded labourer.

The United Nations working group on contemporary forms of slavery estimates that in 1999 about 20 million people worldwide were held as bonded labourers. Those
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labourers usually work between 12 and 16 hours a day, seven days a week. They may be bound to work on the land, processing agricultural products, working in silk production or carpet weaving or engaged in quarrying.

Bonded labourers are not paid for their work, or are paid very little. They are often subjected to rape or beatings, and are sometimes locked or chained to their work. Many suffer malnutrition, and they all clearly suffer from a lack of health care and education. As the hon. Gentleman said, despite bonded labour being illegal in almost every country where it is practised, it continues to exist because of poverty and the lack of willingness of the police, the judiciary and the Government to enforce the law.

Many cases illustrate the appalling conditions in which bonded labourers work. One case, involving a non-governmental organisation called the Integrated Village Development Trust, concerned the bribing of 60 people by a carpet workshop owner in the district of Jharkhand in January 2004. At the time, all but the wealthier landowners were suffering drought and desperate hardship. Many owed the workshop owner money and were thus forced into working for him.

Among those taken into bondage by the owner were five boys under the age of 14, whose parents were agricultural labourers; the parents had taken out various loans from the workshop owner. The child labourers were forced to work for 12 or more hours a day. They were given no days off, not even for traditional festivals. They were fed twice a day on watery rice and dhal. No wages were paid. They were regularly beaten. Indeed, it is alleged that the owner was responsible for the deaths of two child workers.

That case, which is typical in south Asia, highlights the barbarity and inhumanity of the bonded labour system, and it especially highlights the illegality of bonding children. Not only was bonded labour abolished under Indian law in 1976, but employing children under the age of 14 on carpet looms is banned. The labourers in that case have been released, because some of the local villagers had links to people in local NGOs, who were able to apply pressure. I therefore strongly urge the Government and the Department for International Development to put pressure on south Asian Governments such as the Indian Government to enforce laws concerning the abolition of bonded labour. I wonder if that will be made more difficult as the scale of the UK Government's involvement in India is wound down, now that India and the UK have agreed that the UK should focus its attention, in international development terms, on countries in greater need, although in relation to bonded labour there is a clear need for involvement in India.

I also urge the Government to support more income-generating projects explicitly for bonded labourers, such as the support that they have given to ActionAid's poverty reduction project in the Kailali district of Nepal, which helps bonded labourers to achieve secure livelihoods. Funding also needs to be increased for projects that release labourers from bondage and rehabilitate them, and projects that encourage the development of civil society, because it is more likely that the law will be enforced in such societies.

As we have heard today, contemporary slavery is not only a problem for developing countries; migrants who are trafficked into the UK are often held in slave-like
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conditions. Members, the Minister and the spokesman for the official Opposition have expressed concern at the plight of trafficked workers. Will the Minister use today's debate to announce that the UK will ratify the UN migrant workers convention, which came into force in July 2003? Clearly, that would provide people who are working in the UK as slaves with the safeguards that they should have, but do not. I hope that if the Minister does not announce Government support for the convention, she will be able to explain why they do not support it. The convention aims to protect migrant workers' rights, such as the right to live and work in humane living conditions, regardless of their legal status in the UK—in other words, so that trafficked people would not simply be thrown out of the country, as my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) said earlier, and would have some rights that can be enforced here. I have today tabled an early-day motion calling on the Government to do that.

The hon. Member for Islington, North mentioned the issue of caste. A caste system can be defined as a hierarchy based on historically embedded cultural, social and economic differences between people. Caste systems are not simply about religion, although religion does play a part in supporting them. As we have heard, such systems are prevalent in south Asia, particularly in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and in some African countries, such as Nigeria and Somalia.

I shall focus principally on the Dalit people, and am pleased that we have here at the debate someone who clearly knows a lot more about that subject than I do. The Dalits are at the bottom of the caste system and have the least resources and power in society. It is estimated that 260 million people across the world are poor because of their place in the caste system. Dalits are the untouchables—a pool of cheap labour that is used by the rest of society. Typically, the jobs that they are allowed to do include road sweeping and toilet cleaning. Cultural norms ensure that Dalits are separated from others and isolated from other castes. They have to remove their shoes when walking through other parts of the village, and are exploited for being at the bottom of the caste system. In many respects, they are in an identical position to that of bonded labourers: they are bound to the same job for generations because of their inherited, rigid position in society. Their jobs are paid, albeit at a low rate, and one could argue that they are secure, but Dalits are the social group most likely to be sold into bonded labour when the family needs extra money for weddings, funerals or hospital bills. Money is borrowed from a family member's employer, or from a money lender, in exchange for labour. Although Dalits are likely to become bonded labourers, that does not automatically mean that all bonded labourers are Dalits, especially where caste systems do not prevail.

As we have heard, Dalits are supposed to be protected under Indian and international law. The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act 1989 in India is an instrument under which those holding Dalits in bonded labour can be prosecuted. A number of UN conventions also recognise that allocating labour by caste or descent is a form of discrimination.
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Along with the implementation of the Indian law in 1989 and similar laws across south Asia, other measures have been taken to advance the position of Dalits in society, such as the provision of loans. In the Punjab, loans are provided through two schemes: the integrated rural development programme and the Punjab scheduled caste finance corporation. However, both schemes have been beset by problems. For example, having received a loan, people were no longer considered to be living below the poverty line, whether or not they had benefited from the loan. Corruption is endemic in the system, with middlemen and the authorities taking a cut of the loan for themselves or for higher caste families. In addition, Indian Government guidelines specify that the loans should be given to young, educated Dalits, but 80 per cent. of loans have gone to illiterate people, most of whom were more than 50 years old and had little training on how to make best use of the money. Not surprisingly, the schemes have failed and people are now in a worse position than before, because they cannot repay the additional debts that they have incurred.

The Department for International Development has a role and it is entirely appropriate that it should consider its policies in relation to Dalits. I have tabled a series of parliamentary questions today to establish whether, in its policies, it ensures that both it and the organisations that it supports are aware of caste discrimination and that they respond to the challenge.

Even in the UK there is discrimination against Dalits. I met some Dalits recently, one of whom is a senior person working at a hospital in Ealing. He said that not he but a woman Dalit colleague of his had encountered enormous problems in establishing her authority as a manager, because the people of a higher caste with whom she worked did not recognise that she could possibly manage them. He said that there was even graffiti in the hospital—simply the word "caste"—to remind her that she had no authority in the caste system.

The problem is an issue here, so it is entirely appropriate that the Department should consider how to respond to it. Perhaps we could ensure that, for instance, UK companies that export call centre jobs to India, which can be positive for international development, use the quota system that the Indian Government say should apply to Dalits. I hope that the Minister will respond to that—if not now, then in writing—and confirm that the Department of Trade and Industry talks to British businesses that export jobs to India and other south Asian countries about responding on the caste issue and ensuring that Dalits are properly represented.

I could have carried on at length about child soldiers, which is another significant problem. Forcibly enrolling children into armies, such as the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda, amounts to a form of bonded or slave labour. On that point, I hope that the UK Government can enter into a discussion with the Ugandan Government to ensure that the latter's response to the crisis is not simply military. A military response will inevitably end up killing many of the child slave labourers who were forced to join the Lord's Resistance Army. I hope that the Minister can respond positively on that point.
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Also—and perhaps this issue comes under the Minister's brief—have the Government considered changing the asylum rules that apply to child soldiers? I understand that child soldiers are not eligible for asylum. However, a strong case can be made for making some children who have been forcibly enrolled into the Lord's Resistance Army eligible for asylum. Perhaps I have misunderstood the situation, and I hope that the Minister can say what the thinking is on the issue.

To conclude, there is still much work to be done on all forms of slavery, and especially on bonded labour, the exploitation of the Dalits by the caste system, child labour—and child soldiers in particular—and the enslavement of migrants in the UK. As we know, this year is the UN's international year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition. Next year, the UK will hold the presidency of both the EU and the G8. We cannot miss the golden opportunity to use those presidencies to tackle the poverty and misery caused by contemporary forms of slavery, and to try to make amends for the UK's previous role in the slave trade.

4.2 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Minister for leading this debate during black history month and UNESCO's international year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition.

I was pleased to sponsor early-day motion 1010, which now has 147 signatures, at the request of the black community in Liverpool. It calls for national education recognising slavery as a crime against humanity and for the setting-up of a national slavery remembrance day, a proposal that is now gathering much support.

It is appropriate that the call comes from Liverpool, which, along with London and Bristol, was the major port of the transatlantic slave trade. By 1795, Liverpool controlled 80 per cent. of Britain's slave trade, and 40 per cent. of the European slave trade. More than 5,000 slaving voyages started from Liverpool. Liverpool's ships transported half the 3 million Africans transported across the Atlantic.

I hope that we can see a great contrast with my predecessors—those, I hasten to add, of the 18th and 19th centuries—who, together with 25 lord mayors of that period, were closely involved with slavery. There have been great changes in the local press. A sugar plantation owner, John Gladstone, the father of William Ewart Gladstone, wrote a pro-slavery column in the Liverpool Mercury under the pen name of Mercurator. Whatever comments we might have in our local press today, no such column would be tolerated in the Liverpool Echo or the Daily Post.

In 1788, Liverpool's citizens presented a petition against the abolition of slavery to Parliament. It stated that the petitioners contemplated "with real concern" proposals for abolition, and it pointed out that slavery continued

Liverpool has also played a pivotal role in bringing this shameful history to the public's attention. Liverpool Museums and Galleries set up its permanent transatlantic slave gallery in 1994. In 1999, it inaugurated Liverpool's slavery remembrance day, working with the black community, the city council and
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others. I was pleased to be present when the late Bernie Grant, the Member for Tottenham, unveiled a plaque on the dock from which slave ships once sailed. That was an important day, and everybody present was moved by the significance of the event. I pay tribute to the late Richard Foster for his foresight and to David Fleming and his staff at the museum for the progressive way in which they have developed his legacy.

The city of Liverpool itself has already formally apologised for slavery and its impact.

The key proposal in the early-day motion that I sponsored is that we should have a national slavery remembrance day, and it is worth taking time to consider the reasons why that is important. The first is that we need to focus on key issues in a way that ensures that there is a permanency about commemoration, so that it does not last only for one day or a number of days, but takes place year after year.

We also need to educate all our citizens about the fact that although transatlantic slavery made fortunes for individuals, helped to develop capitalist society and laid the basis for the wealth of banks such as Martins, Barclays and the Midland, it degraded and dehumanised millions of African people. Africans were cruelly and forcibly removed from their families and communities, stripped naked and held in leg irons below deck in cramped ships that took them to the Americas, where they were sold into slavery to create wealth for others. At times, more than 30 per cent. would die en route, and their bodies would be cast into the water. The only reason why that appalling figure was reduced was that the slave owners were concerned about making less money from their cargo of human beings.

A national remembrance day is also needed to celebrate slaves' rebellions and the resistance that played such an important part in their emancipation. Indeed, it has been suggested that 23 August would be appropriate for a remembrance day because it was the date in 1791 on which the successful rising in Santo Domingo—now Haiti—took place. Although it is important that we talk about philanthropy and reform movements in this country and elsewhere, we should never forget that the slaves themselves led rebellions and revolutions and were a vital part of their emancipation.

It is also important to have a permanent national remembrance day so that we recognise that the unequal relationship caused by transatlantic slavery led to racism, much of which still persists. Liverpool's maritime connections brought people from all over the world for many generations, and the city's black community goes back to the 1700s, yet too many black Liverpudlians still do not feel fully accepted. Local people such as Ray and Edith Costello trace their ancestry to the 19th century, but in his history of black people in Liverpool, Ray Costello talks about the feeling among so many black people that they are still not fully part of the community.

Recently, I was pleased to launch the Ministry of Defence exhibition "We Were There" in St. George's hall, in Liverpool. The exhibition shows the contribution made by black and minority people to two centuries of United Kingdom defence. There were 3 million volunteers during the second world war alone, but why is it only now that the black and minority ethnic contribution to the United Kingdom's defence is slowly
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being recognised? It is rare that we see the contribution of black people as part of all our history. I am glad that the exhibition has been set up, that it is in Liverpool and that it is going round the country, but we must all ask, "Why only now?" It is important to have a national remembrance day so that we can celebrate diversity and immigration on the basis of equality.

Several hon. Members have spoken about the disgrace of present-day slavery, which takes several different forms, and part of the reason for a national remembrance day must be to campaign against current injustices and manifestations of slavery. Those include the 20 million people who are suffering bonded labour, the people who are forced to work almost as slaves on Brazilian estates, and the abominable trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation—the scandal of our time.

Home Office figures show that, in 1998, 1,420 women were trafficked into the United Kingdom for sexual exploitation. That figure may well be an underestimate because the nature of the problem means that it is very difficult to be precise, but it is just one indication of the abomination that is going on before our eyes and that requires national, European and international effort and determination for it to be eradicated.

What form should slavery remembrance day take? It could include many things: mandatory education in schools about slavery, as part of the national curriculum; ceremonies and events to mark the past and to guide the future; support for events such as Rendezvous of Victory's annual people's university of lifelong learning; and a cross-community consultative forum.

Tom Brake : Does the hon. Lady agree that it is important that the curriculum should present a picture that includes value judgments? I understand that the UK curriculum gives a very neutral presentation of Dalits and the caste system, which our education system should address.

Mrs. Ellman : I support the hon. Gentleman's comments. We could do that with support and contributions from people who might know more about their own history than those whom they are trying to educate. We have models on which this could be based—we have, for example, a holocaust memorial day, and educational materials produced by people with specific knowledge. This is certainly not value-free. We have the experience to know how to proceed with the hon. Gentleman's suggestions.

Remembrance day could also take the form of the development of a global citizenship education curriculum with pan-African educators, and programmes of action from the 2001 world conference against racism. This is not a definitive list; these are simply some suggestions.

At the moment, the national museums in Liverpool are working with the Liverpool Capital of Culture Company, of which I am a member, the black community, Granby residents' association, the city council and others to build a new museum centre to promote knowledge of transatlantic slavery. It is proposed that the centre will include a research centre,
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an academic centre and workshops. It will also be interactive. The centre is being developed in such a way that the visitor will not simply be a bystander who looks at something that has happened and moves on, but will be asked to consider slavery in relation to concepts of freedom and justice, human rights, current under-development in Africa and the Caribbean, reparations and contemporary slavery.

It is hoped that the museum and centre will be ready for 2007—the year before Liverpool becomes the European capital of culture in 2008. The year 2007 is significant both for Liverpool and for the fact that it is 200 years since the end of slavery in the UK. Liverpool has been central to slavery, to exposing the shamefulness of slavery, to trying to make citizens of the city and the world understand what has happened, and to trying to do better in future. It is a multicultural city—the world in one city.

It would be a fitting tribute if the opening of the new museum and centre came at the same time as the Government's recognition of national slavery remembrance day to remember and expose the past and to fight for a better future.

4.14 pm

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), who offered us thoughts about how we can properly commemorate the past and look to the future. The Minister was very fair in her introduction, offering hon. Members the opportunity to make such suggestions, and it is good that the Opposition readily accepted that offer.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak, as the quality of the contributions has been remarkable. The common thread running through the debate has been the wish to highlight not only an evil aspect of our past, but what is happening now and the sadness that besets the world in which we live because slavery is far from dead. It is alive and well, and billions of dollars are made every year from the wretched way in which human beings are prepared to treat each other.

I accept everything that has been said about historical significance and the debt we owe to those people, black and white, who fought so hard against slavery. Some gave their lives to that fight. Wilberforce sacrificed his health in the campaign; some would say that much of his life was not well spent, but I doubt that anyone in this Chamber shares that that view. All of us are indebted to him for his commitment. Any commemoration would be right to recognise the people, black and white, who sacrificed their lives in various ways to bring about a change to the system—albeit not an end to slavery.

As a Member of this Parliament's delegation to the Council of Europe, I have long been actively involved in work to combat the exploitation of people. I have been responsible for writing reports on institutionalised children who are subsequently exploited and on the trafficking of human beings for organ transplantation. Once one starts to engage with the issue, it does not take long to understand, first, its complex nature; secondly the huge amount of money involved and, thirdly, the wretched existence that many people endure.

I spoke to a young girl who was first traded in Moldova for $100; she went through five countries to end up in the fifth traded in a sex shop in Antwerp,
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valued at $2,000. In two years in Europe, she had been exploited in five countries, all EU members. Fifty thousand under-age girls from Moldova alone currently work the streets in the sex trade in Italy. We can calculate that if they work five nights a week and have five clients a night, 1,250,000 illegal sexual acts are taking place per week in that single EU country—yet there were fewer than 100 prosecutions in the whole of Italy in a year. That does not make sense.

In this country, 1,400 women in a similar position are known to the Home Office—and they are only the ones that are known about. The true figure might be treble that number, if not many thousands more. Recently in Portsmouth two houses were closed down that were occupied by people in the sex trade—seven young ladies from China. What did we do? The response of the Home Office was the speedy repatriation of those girls to China and a very light sentence for the people behind the trade.

It is completely nonsensical to send girls back—to what? One has only to talk to people who have been exploited to know that, and, sadly, I have spoken to women who have been through that experience. Some of them have been traded, then sent back to their home countries from France, Belgium or the UK, but have been put back in the trade within months of their return. Why? Because the punishment for resisting is so bad for their families, and they would probably end up dead because those behind the trade would be so conscious of the evidence that they could offer.

The UK Government should be doing more. We should properly commemorate the passage of 200 years since the abolition of slavery. I want us to apologise for the part of our history of which no reasonable person could fail to be ashamed. I want us to introduce a proper commemoration—not only a one-day event, but a lasting memorial. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside gave a good example in relation to the holocaust memorial. We should do something similar.

More important, I want the British Government to play a proactive part in co-operating and working purposefully to establish a European convention to which we shall willingly sign up, and work with our European Union and Council of Europe partners to ensure that it is in place. We want a common policy on fighting the trade. Trafficking is not remedied by simply sending people back. We must understand the consequences of that action for those human beings when they are returned to the evil people who sent them on their awful journey in the first place. If we fail in that, this debate will not be worth the paper on which it is printed in Hansard. It will be meaningless because it will have only addressed historical aspects and done nothing to advance the case of so many people who touch our lives in many ways, from the shoes and clothes that we wear to the scenes of exploitation that we see regularly on television.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) referred to a trip along Oxford street to look at labels and explore what lies behind them. How many of us are not guilty of being part of the trade? We buy from those who are part of the system. He spoke with great eloquence about the get-out clause, whereby people say that they buy from subcontractors and did not know the source of the items. Really? I doubt that. We have only to look at the price that the traders paid for the items to realise that they knew the source. We have only to talk
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to buyers. I have sat on many aeroplanes next to people from the United Kingdom who were on buying expeditions to the far east and India. I represent a large Bengali population, and my constituents have told me many times that they have met business people from the UK in Bengal trying to undercut even already badly undercut prices, as a result of which further exploitation goes on.

As Members of Parliament, we have a responsibility to do more than just pay lip service to the debate today. The Government's duty is more than merely to give aid and say that we will target certain areas.

Jeremy Corbyn : Does not the hon. Gentleman think that when negotiating trade agreements, the World Trade Organisation should be far tougher on exploitation and all that goes with it? For example, incredibly low-paid workers producing cheap goods has a depressing effect on everyone else's living standards, because of the competition rules.

Mr. Hancock : I agree entirely. I have long believed that the World Trade Organisation has lost the plot in that respect. It does not want to discuss the issue, which is an embarrassment to the organisation, as it is to the society that it is trying to prop up by allowing such action to continue and not dealing with the problem.

When we target aid, we must be careful. Sadly, I have been in countries where aid projects that were put there for all the right reasons have been hijacked. When the eye is not watching what is happening all the time, people are simply further exploited. The benefits that we bring to small towns and villages and the way in which we make things happen or change the way in which local society is organised can make exploitation easier. The EU in particular has several questions to answer about why it does not follow through properly and fails to monitor and control the way in which its aid is used. In some instances, aid has made a situation worse, not better, because it has been given but not properly accounted for.

I am delighted that we having the debate and I hope that the Minister will give commitments that the Government can deliver. The evil of slavery is still with us. It is alive and well in our country, across Europe and throughout the world. If we do not make our Government more accountable to the House on such issues, they will have more excuse for not insisting that international organisations such as the United Nations, the EU and the Council of Europe do not give excuses for doing nothing. I have sat through too many debates on the issue and met too many dispirited, disheartened children whose lives have been ruined by such exploitation. We have to do something more than erect a statue, celebrate a day and print nice words in Hansard. We must have a commitment from our nation to say that we have had 200 years to get it right, but have not yet done so. Let us move forward, not just look backwards.

4.25 pm

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): As we have heard, 2004 is the UN international year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition. As one of many British citizens descended
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from slaves, I am gratified that this Government are the first in modern British history—I believe—to initiate a debate on slavery. We are here to consider the history of slavery, but also how to prevent its existence in future.

UNESCO says:

Today it persists in new forms of massive violations of human rights proclaimed in the universal declaration of human rights in the United Nations in 1948, including child labour, forced labour, prostitution, and so forth.

Current estimates suggest that today 27 million people work as slaves. I will return to present-day slavery, but I wanted to highlight the experience of some of the Africans themselves, or their descendents, in the so-called middle passage. Those slaves who were able to free themselves—people such as Fredrick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cuguano and Phillis Wheatley—were all astonishing leaders who emerged from a background of degradation and human cruelty that we can barely imagine. It is important in a debate in 2004 in Westminster to hear some of their voices come back. I am always astonished when I read their descriptions. Cuguano wrote of his experience when he was placed into the slave ship that

Although it is difficult to describe these things, if only people were to read some of Frederick Douglass's work, and that of other amazing black figures who have done so much to illuminate and bring to life the horror, which, as Cuguano says, we can barely conceive.

As only the second black woman ever elected to the British Parliament, I feel that I should quote briefly from the first poem by Phillis Wheatley, America's first black poet, which, funnily enough, was about the English king and made her a sensation in 1767. She said:

If I may put that into 2004 slang, she is saying, "Isn't the hypocrisy of those individuals or government systems unbelievable, when they talk about liberty and freedom on one hand and practise oppression on the other?" It is instructive to consider the 12 million Africans who suffered as a result of that system and the 17 million Africans sold into slavery on the coast of the Indian ocean, the middle east and north Africa.

One thing that many African-American commentators stress is the pernicious nature of the institutions that followed slavery. As a bizarre aside, I would like to apologise to my father, who is a writer on the subject but whose books I had never read in my life, not even when they were among the politics course books at university. However, in preparation for this debate I thought that I
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would look up something that he had written on slavery in one of his books—he has been writing on slavery for ages and ages. He wrote about Frederick Douglass:

I have to agree with my father's thoughts on that, not least if one considers the American penal system today. For instance, one astonishing statistic—every time I say it I think, "This can't be true", but it is what I was told—is that the number of African-American men, between the ages of 18 and 28 in jail today is greater than the number enslaved in the south. That is an indication of the complex ways in which institutional prejudice can cascade down the ages.

One thing that this debate is concerned with is the legacy of the slave trade. In that context, I should like to mention the situation in the great lakes region in Africa. I chair the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention, and I returned from Africa a few days ago. I am always amazed by the legacy that one can see clearly, although it is not a legacy of just slavery—obviously it is wrapped up with colonialism and there are also problems that Africans have brought on themselves, which one cannot for a moment walk away from.

There are many problems there, but if we consider Phyllis Wheatley's point about hypocrisy, surely the person who wins the title for the biggest hypocrite in the whole debate on slavery over the past 200 years is King Leopold of the Belgians. If we are talking about books that people should read if they are interested in the subject, I can say that "King Leopold's Ghost" by Adam Hochschild is an astonishing piece of work that shows how rubber slavery, as it was called then, killed 10 million people and left a legacy that is all around. Hochschild writes:

Even more shockingly, the king used his position to set up slave-trading routes. The man was clever—really clever:

That passage takes my breath away—it is a description of the anti-slavery conference that King Leopold used as a bridge to move into the Congo and a fig leaf to cover his genocidal ambitions, and he got away with it. It is also worth mentioning a white bureaucrat, Edmund Morel, who was truly outstanding in showing what King Leopold was doing and ensuring that he was eventually no longer able to get away with it.
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I have already quoted from another publication from closer to home, one that is published by the Tower Hamlets African Caribbean Mental Health Organisation. Perhaps communities outside the black community might think that it is really strange—why would a mental health organisation today be publishing something about black slaves or about freed slaves? There are two reasons. The first is to redress the imbalance of knowledge. People do not know what those black people did and the contribution that they made. The second is to try to inspire black people today. Jesse Jackson's words always spring to mind. He said to the black community:

I have given a fantastic example of how the east London Afro-Caribbean community has taken that on board.

I want to mention Anti-Slavery International, an NGO to which many people have referred. I have worked with it and have read its reports for seven years. I am always incredibly impressed by what it does.

I will conclude on the subject of present-day slavery, which we know means bonded labour. There are currently 20 million bonded labourers. It also means early and forced marriage, and we need to think about that. What does it mean to a 13-year-old girl who is essentially sold by her family into a marriage and is a sexual slave—quite often of a man who is 30 or 40 years older? That is also modern-day slavery. There is also forced labour, slavery by descent, trafficking and the worst forms of child labour to consider. An estimated 179 million children are forced to work in a way that is harmful to their health and welfare. There are also children who are forced into war.

I am always drawn to the human stories behind the statistics. I wanted to highlight a case that is on Anti-Slavery International's website. It is about Adriana, who was 16 when her father forced her to get engaged to a man from her home country of Albania. After staying with that man, Driton, and his family, the couple travelled to Greece. Adriana was then told by Driton that she would have to work as a prostitute. She completely rejected that idea, but he said that it would just be until they had enough money to buy a house and that he would beat her to death if she did not do it. She did and they flew to Paris using fake documents.

Whey they arrived, Driton forced Adriana to work on the streets as a prostitute. If she made any less than $300 a day, he beat her badly. Adriana called her parents. She was too ashamed to tell them the truth, so she told them that she could not send them any money back because she had not yet found a job. Her father told her not to bother lying to him, because he knew what she was doing. He was the one that had sold her to Driton for $20,000. She was eventually arrested by the police and deported back to Albania.

That is modern-day slavery. It happens all around and we must ensure that we give greater strength to the 1990 UN convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and their families. We must also ensure that we have greater understanding that with increasing numbers of people moving away from their homes and families and being forced to migrate, increasing numbers will face the sort of situation that Adriana did.
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Obviously, I am pleased that the UK Government were one of the first to sign the optional protocol to the United Nations convention on transnational organised crime, which deals with the trafficking of human beings. The Government are fully committed to its implementation. Worldwide, between 600,000 and 900,000 people are trafficked every year. The criminals running the trade earn more than $10 billion a year, and up to a third of their victims are children.

Of course I want to see the Government do more, and I am sure that when the Minister responds she will outline some of the further measures that the Government are taking. One of the most important is about the underlying issues of poverty. The UK is taking action to free Africa from the slavery of poverty; that can be seen from this year's UK aid budget, 41 per cent. of which goes to Africa.

Yes, I want a proper apology for the slave trade. Yes, I want a proper commemoration that highlights the horrors that my ancestors and others faced. However, I want more than that. More than both those things, I want a concerted effort by the international community to prevent the evils of slavery continuing down the ages, whether that involves eastern European women being trafficked, African women or the horrific situation facing the Dalits and others in some of the Asian caste systems. The fact is that slavery continues—27 million people are slaves today. Let us prioritise them above all else.

4.42 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): It is difficult to speak last before the Minister because so much has been said. The debate has been very moving, and influential in making one's own views of this dreadful subject clearer. The starting point is that, much as we will look historically at slavery, slavery is as much a problem today as it was in the days of Wilberforce. Anyone who thinks that we can pass it off as something historical is sadly deluded.

However, I will start with a bit of history. It is good that my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) is here. Like me, he will know from his time in Stroud that we commemorate the passing of anti-slavery legislation. There is an anti-slavery arch in Stroud, and Archway school is named after it. Recently, I had the honour of going to its refurbishment reopening—if there is such a thing—to commemorate the fact that in the days when slavery legislation eventually came to pass, the good burghers of Stroud paid money through public subscription to put up an arch. In those days, it was probably in the middle of nowhere, but now there is a housing estate around it.

People there are still proud of their arch, to the extent that money was raised again to put it back together when it was beginning to deteriorate because of the wear and tear of our climate over the years. The Stroud preservation trust in particular was responsible for making sure that the arch was brought back to a reasonable state of order. Various speakers came to the opening to talk about anti-racism and anti-slavery today. I make the connection between the past and the present and to say that my constituency has a tradition of which it is proud, and which continues today.
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Archway school has always prided itself on its internationalism and willingness to debate issues. I remember going to its debating society; my hon. Friend the hon. Member for High Peak may have been there too. The society was called the Soper—it was named after Lord Donald Soper, who is sadly no longer with us. As a result, it has always looked to do things on an international footing.

Bob Willey, a teacher there who has recently retired, has for a number of years taken groups of students to Geneva as part of the human rights and anti-slavery movements. Those students have engaged with students from all manner of other countries, to talk about what we in Britain could do to draw more attention to the problems that slavery continues to represent in our world. Again, I make no apology for paying tribute to Bob; I hope that he and the students from Archway school will continue with that work.

In passing, I am reminded of last year's national prayer breakfast. I will be chairman of this year's prayer breakfast, which is in a week's time; but last year, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), Andy Harrison was invited to perform his monologue on William Wilberforce. There is no more powerful way of representing what Wilberforce stood for in only eight minutes. The monologue told us what life was like for Wilberforce when trying to persuade this place of his ideas—it has not always been the most radical of places. It told us how that man set himself up with that one challenge, and was able to show how the votes had gradually moved in the right direction. It showed us that, time after time, year after year, Wilberforce was rejected and personally humiliated. It showed us also that he went through all manner of health problems on the back of getting his ideas accepted—it was his destiny as a Christian to try to get through those trials.

That is history. The question is where are we today. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), I went last year to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where slavery is an ever-present problem. Even dearer to me—it is my passion—is Sudan. It is associated with many of the ills of our world, not least of which is Darfur, a place that I visited a few months back. The all-party group on Sudan will release its report in a couple of weeks—at least I hope so; it is now being written up.

The problems of the Sudan are legion. We could go completely off the subject—I shall try not to do so—and delve into that country's recent past. What shocked me more than anything was the question of slavery in Sudan. It has been recurrent, in the sense that it has been indicative of the African-Asian conflict between Muslims and the Christian south. There are some hopeful signs, but the slavery element hits home because of the way in which we have tried to deal with it.

Although she is not of my political persuasion, I have tremendous respect for Baroness Cox. She got involved in slave redemption—she did it for good Christian reasons—but we all know what happened, with abuses and with slaves being bought and then bought back, and with people making money on the back of it.
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One of the problems with slavery is that we can talk about it—the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) gave us a great peroration—but if it is all words, it makes no difference. The problem with slavery is ending it. It is good that Governments can pass resolutions in the United Nations; it is even better for us to do things on a more finite level at Westminster. When it comes down to it, however, it is difficult to persuade people that slavery is wrong when they earn their livelihood from it. They think that what they are doing is not wrong, because of the cultural and the attitudinal things that have for generations constituted the way in which people live their lives.

It is problematic. As with slave redemption, we can see how not to do it; everyone now agrees that what was going on was probably fallible even if genuine. The question is what one should do instead when people say, "If you are not going to pay us for these people, we'll just get rid of them", because that is the reality: they are simply a meal ticket to these people. It is therefore incredibly difficult to deal with the problem. We see that with trafficking and the way in which the west engages with it, because we do, in a sense, exploit these people by allowing them to come through in the worst possible way.

Trafficking does huge psychological damage, whether through conflict or by treating people purely as vessels. It really does do enormous damage to them, but it also eventually damages everyone connected to it, because it is unsustainable. We can all see what has gone wrong. I was a bit of an economic historian in previous incarnations, and I am aware that it is very easy to justify these things. Some econometricians, for example, have tried to defend slavery on economic rather than moral grounds, and have argued that it was fundamental, along with the railways, to the creation of modern America. America did exploit slavery to build its economic wealth, so I am not sure whether we can blame George Bush for that, although we can blame him for many other things. There is an antecedent to the way in which modern countries, including our own, have used slavery for economic growth, and it is very dangerous to see that continuing today.

We must deal with the international aspects of slavery. It is still there, and still needs more than just motions and resolutions. It needs activity. We must always ask, through our Government, how something will fund economic activity, and if it has anything to do with slavery, we should pull back from it, no matter how much difficulty that causes us, and say, "This is unacceptable." "A fair wage for a fair day's work" must be our motto, and if that is the only way we can deal with slavery, that is how we should proceed.

4.52 pm

Fiona Mactaggart : With the leave of the House, I shall sum up the debate. I know that that is not usual, but it seems proper in view of the tone of the debate. I also want to take the opportunity to answer some of the questions that hon. Members have asked.

I believe that those who have spoken in this debate share a sense of horror about the history of slavery, a sense of shame that Britain's history and prosperity were built on such a tragic trade, and a sense of determination to ensure that the abuse of human rights
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inherent in the slave trade is not repeated. I believe that we also have a shared determination to make appropriate reparations for slavery, both historically and as it exists now. I was pleased by the range of suggestions—the statue proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and the proposals advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), for which that she has been campaigning for some time—and to hear about the memorial day and activities that are already happening in Stroud.

I was keen to cast forward to the bicentenary of the abolition of the trade, because we should remember that slavery in Britain was still legal for many years thereafter. Talking about the bicentenary was an opportunity to broaden the debate, instead of confining our discussion to the usual suspects and the active campaigns about an appropriate way to acknowledge and make practical reparations for this history.

I am pleased by the acknowledgement of how racism in the present day has its origins in slavery, and I am glad that I have helped to force my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) to read her father's writing. She should do more of that. His analysis of how formal slavery was swapped for a new form of slavery is endorsed by many people's experience.

I believe that we have provided a springboard: I suspect that it is unprecedented for a Government to initiate a debate of this kind—at least, I have not been able to find a precedent. It is always a bit nerve-wracking in this place to claim that there is none, because then somebody will be sure to discover one. I thank hon. Members for being gracious enough to acknowledge that I am not in a position to answer for all the Departments that have an interest in this matter. I will try to ensure that all their questions are answered; I will address some of them now, but if my response is inadequate, I am sure that they will encourage me to follow things up with my colleagues. I will ensure that the debate is copied to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, because I think that he in particular will welcome it.

I am glad that at many points in the debate we connected the history of racism and slavery with our present determination to tackle poverty and its consequences. I reiterate our commitment to using our presidency of the G8 to play an active role in the review of the implementation of the millennium development goals, which the international community signed up to achieve by 2015. Let us remember those pledges—that every child will attend primary school, to combat HIV/AIDS and to reduce extreme poverty. It is essential that the G8 and other donors live up to the commitments to increase aid and make it more effective in tackling poverty and to improve the way in which our policies cohere with our development goals.

I was asked whether I was confident that our international development strategies include enough to deal with forms of contemporary slavery, as well as tackle extreme poverty. I sensed an anxiety in some Members about the focus on extreme poverty. The economic development of countries such as India is
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moving forward swiftly. Will a consequence of that be that some of the issues that have been raised are given insufficient attention or ignored?

Tom Brake : Is the Minister aware that India has turned down an offer from the Danes to investigate the issue of Dalits? She is right to be concerned that the focus may go off such matters.

Fiona Mactaggart : The evidence is that the focus in the UK's programme has not gone off those matters. That is important. We continue to work on them with the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations, non-governmental organisations and other Governments. I gave some examples of that work.

We have signed up to some key international instruments. I intend to discuss some of the international conventions that concerns have been expressed about.

Jeremy Corbyn : Is my hon. Friend not concerned that the ILO's inspection rights and powers of enforcement of existing statutes are limited, and, beyond that, that they are wholly inadequate for dealing with the issue of either zero wages or very low wages in the poorest countries?

Fiona Mactaggart : There are issues about how the ILO can be effective. Part of our role as an aid giver is to work in a way that supports the ILO in taking international action and supports some of those grass-roots or ground-level initiatives that I cited, which can protect forced labourers or help them to escape. They can also help to promote legislation to prevent certain practices—I gave the example of camel drivers in the United Arab Emirates.

As the debate makes clear, there is no single bullet that will put an end to this kind of abuse. What we need is a combination of international will, international legal frameworks, bilateral pressure on Governments that fail to meet the standards that the international community expects, and investment in the citizens of poor countries to enable them to make the necessary changes. My hon. Friend is right to say that some measures could be stronger, and that they would be more effective if they were, but he acknowledges that the UK has played a substantial role in pressing for the strengthening of international institutions. We have also played a leading role in providing practical support to on-the-ground citizens' initiatives, which can make a difference.

A sustainable international development strategy is a key requirement if we are to begin to tackle such issues. It is not inevitable that countries that become more prosperous have better records on human rights and other issues, but development tends to happen that way. One reason for that is that the pressures on such countries to meet standards get broader, because other countries are not only aid givers, but potential investors who do not want to risk their reputations by being involved in child labour, for example. A multi-strand strategy that combines international conventions, our aid programme and growing investment and development in poorer countries can therefore help.

I was asked specific questions about child soldiers, including whether they could be treated as refugees. Our position—this is very important internationally—is that
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the 1951 refugee convention is the cornerstone of refugee status in the UK, although its position as such is often threatened. The convention provides for anyone who has a well-founded fear of persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group. The courts have interpreted that provision quite widely in some cases. If someone can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution on one of those grounds, they can qualify for refugee status.

On whether the Government will establish a slavery memorial day, the Prime Minister said in 2000 that we should consider it. He recognised

I hope that our discussion will put some welly behind the debate about the proper way to commemorate such things—indeed, I think that it already has. [Interruption.] I am seeing some twitching: perhaps "welly" is not a very parliamentary term. None the less, I hope that our discussion will make the wider debate more forceful and help it to grow. As I said at the beginning, that debate is taking place in quite a narrow field, although the early-day motion introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside has helped to broaden it, and I hope that this debate will do the same.

We want a commemoration that does justice to the issue. It might take the form of a day, or of doing something enormous for the bicentenary. It might involve developing national curriculum materials that mean that teachers can feel confident in teaching about slavery in a way that includes morality. I am not convinced that the history of slavery should be only in the history curriculum; it should be in the citizenship curriculum to mark the fact that people can be turned into commodities and how degrading that is. As the debate has shown, the fact that slavery still happens should touch the humanity of us all. There are a number of ways in which we must pursue the matter. I make a commitment to ensuring that by 2007, we will have a clear view of how the memorial should best be made. I will take on board the views of hon. Members expressed in the debate.

Questions have been raised about our commitment to a common European Union policy and about international conventions. We support the Council of Europe convention and are playing a full part in the negotiations and drafting of the report. We were one of the first signatories of the UN protocol on trafficking and we engaged fully in discussions on the subsequent EU framework decision. However, we have not signed up to some conventions and protocols, including the international convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families and the European convention on the legal status of migrant workers. Those conventions, which seek to provide a universal way of dealing with some of the issues, do not necessarily provide a solution that will work best either for the extreme victims of trafficking, or for effective immigration control in Britain. For example, if anyone who had been a victim of trafficking had a statutory right of residence, we could put more
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people at risk of being trafficked. Our view is that providing effective refuge and support for victims and using the existing flexibility in the immigration rules on a case-by-case basis to provide status for people who have been trafficked is a better course of action.

Ms Oona King : I understand why to offer that right to people who had been trafficked might backfire, but are the Government willing to consider offering trafficked people such as Adriana, who I mentioned, a three-month period of reflection before they are deported back to their country of origin? Will my hon. Friend write and let me know whether they will consider that?

Fiona Mactaggart : In practice, that may well happen in many cases, but we are not planning to have a formal period of reflection because of the risk that I have already described. We are providing for trafficked people to have refuge and to be supported when, for example, they are giving evidence. It is important that when people are willing to give evidence against traffickers, we give them support, refuge and residence—the ability to stay in this country while that is happening. However, we are certain that to provide a blanket period carries risks that could make things worse.

We are reviewing the pilot Poppy project to try to see what works best to protect trafficked women. I hope that the House accepts our determination to protect the victims and to combine that protection with effective prevention of more women becoming victims. We will not sign up to a formula that might put some of that work at risk. We have also launched a consultation on all forms of sex crime, and that is one of the things that will be considered in the review. We have determined that we will review the work done so far before working out precisely what to do next.

Mr. Streeter : It might help the Minister to know that I strongly support the approach that she is taking. She mentioned the Poppy project, which supports 25 women and which the Government are reviewing. Is there any possibility of increasing the number of people that it helps? Given the scale of the problem, 25 is a very small number. I realise that it is a pilot, but we would strongly support the extension of that scheme to provide support for more people.

Fiona Mactaggart : We want to use the Poppy experience to ensure that we can protect women more effectively. One of the reasons why there are insufficient places is that there have been difficulties in moving on some of the women who have been one of the 25. One of the problems that we are addressing is what happens if the women get stuck there—for instance, if they have to stay in this country to give evidence. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will develop a proposal to tackle such bottlenecks. We recognise that the situation is unsatisfactory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow expressed her horror at the fact that there are now more African-American people who are descended from slaves in United States jails than were in the country as slaves. Institutionalised racism is still present in the United Kingdom as well. There are more such people of the appropriate age in our jails than there are in our universities. I know that slavery helped to create the
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attitude to other human beings that underpins the workings of racism—we heard today about caste-ist graffiti about Dalits and other examples of hatred.

I am certain that, as well as commemorating the past and recognising that slavery is a crime against humanity that we cannot permit—we will take every step to prevent its continuation—we should be determined to deal with its legacy, the existence of racism and inequality in Britain. I hope that this debate proves to be the start of something, not the end. I have a feeling that
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it will. If any hon. Member has raised a matter that I have not been able to deal with, I shall be pleased to have it drawn to my attention after the debate. I shall make sure that I provide a response. I am glad that I took the risk of introducing the subject. We have proved that this is the right place to start. Now I want to ensure that this debate is the beginning of something bigger.

Question put and agreed to.

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