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The House should also recognise the role of local government in assisting countries of slave origin. My own city of Hull is twinned with Freetown and is giving assistance. They are now discussing whether it is possible to help Freetown to rebuild its town hall, which was burnt down, and to rename it Wilberforce house. In Sierra Leone, I met my two hon. Friends, whose constituents have been helping the communities of Waterloo and Hastings, which are twinned with their namesake towns. They are helping to provide a library and community facilities. It is noticeable that a number of towns in those countries share the same name as towns in our country. That presents an ideal
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opportunity, as my hon. Friends have demonstrated, to make a direct contribution to those namesake towns. Much more could be done by local authorities and towns in the United Kingdom to assist communities in those countries, and I would like to see that happen as part of the legacy of this year’s events.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the role of the British Council in facilitating twinning between our schools has been of tremendous help? It has now begun to roll out a significant programme, extending the initiative to far more schools. Is not that something that we need to see far more of?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am glad that my hon. Friend has brought that to our attention. Every Member of the House who witnesses the work of the British Council cannot but admire the efforts that it has made. I am sure that we would all like to record how much we appreciate its efforts in the twinning of schools and classrooms, such as those that I saw in Ghana and Sierra Leone. Also, it is prepared to organise the youth debates that take place here in Parliament so that we can involve young people from twinned schools in the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and Africa. We look forward to those events, which take place thanks to the abilities and the organisation of the British Council.

When I first began to explore how we could commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, I immediately recognised the importance of ensuring that our young people have the chance to get involved and have their say. I went to the St. Paul’s area of Bristol, and to Liverpool, and asked young black people how they wanted to mark the anniversary. They stressed to me the importance of looking forward as well as looking into the past. They felt that their school history lessons did not teach a proper black history or give enough attention to black achievements. “Yes”, they said, “we should reflect on the past, but we should also look to the future.” This year, we are considering important changes to the school curriculum. It will incorporate the study of the slave trade as a compulsory element of our history curriculum, with all slavery’s brutality and inhumanity, and not just as an element of our colonial past. The bicentenary commemoration is about looking forward as well as back. Slavery did not end when the Act of Parliament was passed in 1807: it continued in the colonies and elsewhere. The abolition of slavery across the world remains unfinished business.

In 1998, the United Nations set up its working group on contemporary forms of slavery, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported:

All of that is happening in the 21st century. The nations of the world must unite and campaign to end the unspeakable cruelty that persists in the form of modern-day slavery. I urge the House to support the Government’s commitment to work with all countries to end the scandal of slavery in all its modern forms.

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A few months ago in New York, I discussed modern slavery and human trafficking with Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations. All nations must honour article IV of the UN declaration of human rights, which requires that slavery be prohibited in all its forms. As Kofi Annan said in a lecture in January,

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that many countries are attempting to tackle the trafficking of women for sexual purposes, and I am glad that the Government have agreed to sign the convention on that. Is he aware, however, that in Sweden, which has criminalised men paying for sex, the trafficking of women for sex has been reduced to a handful of women? In comparison, in Finland, which has not taken the same approach, 15,000 women a year are still trafficked into the country for sex. Would he advise his colleagues in the Government to consider that example?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am aware of the issues to which my hon. Friend refers. The common experience is being considered across Europe, and an action plan will be launched shortly, to which I will refer in a few minutes, that will take into account all those experiences in order to prevent that terrible traffic.

I can announce today that Kofi Annan has agreed to address Parliament in the Royal Gallery on 8 May, which will be an important event in this commemorative year.

In New York, I held talks with UN ambassadors from the nations affected by trafficking, as well as with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Last month, I held discussions in Geneva with the International Labour Organisation and its sister agencies concerned with human trafficking. The ILO estimates that a minimum of 12.3 million people are enslaved in the world today. Of those trafficked into forced labour, 43 per cent. are subjected to sexual exploitation, 32 per cent. to labour exploitation, and 25 per cent. to a mixture of both. The estimated value of that criminal activity is approximately $32 billion. The ILO says that 218 million children were trapped in child labour in 2004, of whom 126 million were in hazardous work. UNICEF estimates that that figure reached 171 million by 2006. It is hard to imagine the misery represented by those figures.

It is true that all countries find it difficult to make an accurate assessment of the scale of human trafficking. That became clear in the debates on the matter in Westminster Hall and the other place in December. It is a complex global problem that requires the co-operation of many agencies across the European Union and beyond. In the United Kingdom, emerging findings suggest that in 2003, at any one moment, there were about 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution. The same study estimated the total costs of trafficking for prostitution to be about £1 billion in 2003. We cannot, however, calculate the appalling misery and despair of victims in purely financial terms.

Intelligence indicates that the average selling price for an adult woman is between £2,000 and £3,000. In one debate, it was suggested that the figure was as high
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as £8,000. An appalling incident took place in which a Lithuanian girl was lured to the UK to sell ice cream in the summer, and was taken from brothel to brothel by a gang. She was sold seven times in three months. All that took place in the United Kingdom of today. I am sure that the whole House is appalled and disgusted by that. That is why we signed and ratified the Palermo protocol to combat trafficking, especially of women and children.

The UK human trafficking centre, which the Association of Chief Police Officers helped to set up last year, is a central point for developing expertise and co-operation by police and immigration officers. The Government have funded the POPPY project since March 2003 to provide safe shelter and support to assist in the recovery of adult female victims who have been trafficked in the UK for sexual exploitation. I note the criticisms that have been made in all the debates about the adequacy of the provision, and the matter is genuinely under consideration.

The Government will sign and ratify the Council of Europe convention against trafficking in human beings. In fact, it will be signed on Friday by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who will also publish our action plan, which has been discussed in the Chamber, to tackle human trafficking.

Mr. Steen: The Deputy Prime Minister has not mentioned demand. The problem in this country is that trafficking is demand led. As long as there is demand from men for sexually trafficked women, it will continue. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government could do much more to provide safe houses? There are only 35 places in London, and there are no other safe houses in the country.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman made exactly those points in previous debates. They have some substance, to say the least, and he knows that those matters are being considered in preparation for the action plan, which the Home Secretary will publish on Friday. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to wait and see the conclusions of the review, which has gone on for almost 12 months.

We are improving our intelligence on and understanding of the scope and scale of child trafficking, and a full report on the extent of human trafficking will be published.

In this bicentenary year, we commemorate the past, but with a strong commitment to overcome the challenges of today. We recognise the tremendous contribution of the African and Caribbean diaspora to the success of this country and the diversity of our culture and heritage. We renew our commitment to help overcome poverty, educate the children of Africa and combat the evil of slavery and human trafficking wherever it occurs.

In this House in 1789, William Wilberforce, in his first major speech on slavery, spoke words that could equally apply to modern-day slavery and human trafficking:

Those words of Wilberforce in Parliament in the 18th century are equally applicable to human trafficking in the 21st century. The House must show the same commitment as Wilberforce. Signing and ratifying the Council of Europe convention is a good and appropriate step in that direction.

Let the anniversary that we commemorate today lead to a wider discussion and greater recognition of slavery in its old and new contexts, and to redressing the evil imbalance that it continues to create. Reminded by our past, we reinforce our commitment to a future in which there can be social justice and freedom for all.

4.8 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the Deputy Prime Minister and a huge pleasure to agree with almost everything he said. That may be a rare event, but it is welcome. If William Wilberforce could have known that 200 years after the passage of the abolition Act a debate commemorating it would not only take place but be introduced by two Yorkshire Members of Parliament, one of them representing Hull, in a spirit of cross-party agreement for which he always fought, he would be proud. It is fitting that we can mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade with today’s debate. We should be grateful for the opportunity to reflect on such an important landmark in the history of our nation and our Parliament.

As I shadow the Deputy Prime Minister on the Floor of the House, it falls to me to respond to his remarks, although I should also declare an interest, as I have written an unpublished book on the matters under discussion. I have a deep personal interest in these matters—as I know does the Deputy Prime Minister—having revered the name of Wilberforce for a long time. [Interruption.] No, I will not go into when the book is to be published; that is a separate matter. I have long revered the name of Wilberforce, the parliamentarian from Hull, whose decades-long fight to abolish and suppress the slave trade made him one of the greatest campaigners—indeed, one of the greatest liberators —in the whole of British history. The tale of his work—and, importantly, that of his allies, as it was not simply his work—is a truly inspiring story of high ideals pursued in spite of almost every conceivable adversity, and of enormous feats of argument that were all too often preceded by despair as to whether progress could ever be made. As we approach the bicentenary of the passing of the Act to abolish the slave trade in 1807, it is appropriate that we pay tribute to that extraordinary accomplishment.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman will know from his research that one of the most important battles that William Wilberforce had to fight was with the bishops of the Church of England, not one of whom supported the abolition of the slave trade. Indeed, many of them retained slaves rights until 1833, when owning slaves was also made illegal. The Bishop of Exeter was remunerated to the sum of
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£13,000 for the 665 slaves that he had. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will want to put on the record that the Church of England has changed its mind, finally.

Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman has managed to put that on the record without my needing to stagger into the controversy. William Wilberforce approached the abolition of the slave trade—and, indeed, many other matters—in a far more evangelical way than the Church of England at that time. He took up the cause and made it a Christian cause, but it was the Quakers and evangelicals in general, rather than the established Church, who helped to set him on that path, so the hon. Gentleman’s point is valid.

The 1807 Act’s Second Reading was carried 200 years ago here in this House—or just around the corner in St. Stephen’s chapel, which was then the House. In the early hours of a cold February morning the Commons voted to end the practice of trading in human beings, and as the Members rose as a body to salute William Wilberforce he bowed his head and quietly wept. For him, the passing of the Act was the outcome of a 20-year parliamentary struggle. Almost every year for two decades he had introduced similar proposals in the Commons, only for them to be rejected because of powerful economic and political opposition, or to be thwarted because of war or hostility to the French revolution and social upheaval.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the vicar of Holy Trinity church, Clapham, also played a very important part in respect of William Wilberforce’s commitment to the anti-slavery campaign—and many other campaigns, such as that against bear baiting—and that the Clapham sect was at the centre of the campaign that secured the abolition of the slave trade?

Mr. Hague: Yes, the Clapham sect is one of the most extraordinary evangelical and reforming groups of people ever in the history of our country, and what was preached by John Venn at the church in Clapham was very important in influencing its work.

I was recalling the moment in 1807 when the Bill to abolish the slave trade received its Second Reading. It received Royal Assent on 25 March, which is why we shall commemorate these matters this coming Sunday—that is when the Bill to abolish the slave trade became an Act. I went to the House of Lords archive room to look at the document. It states:

With those words, the behaviour of an empire was changed forever. Today we are remembering—

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Before the right hon. Gentleman moves on from his historical analysis, will he acknowledge how fundamental the slave trade was to the economy of Britain at that time? For example, is he aware that much of the capital for the early industrialisation of south Wales came from a slave trade based in Bristol?

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Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman need not fear that I am moving on from my historical analysis. It is not often that one can legitimately discuss history at some length on the Floor of this House, and I have quite a bit of it to come. There was much debate about this issue, but yes, the slave trade was thought to be very important to the economy of this country. William Pitt, when he was Prime Minister, said that 80 per cent. of Britain’s overseas income was derived from our West Indian colonies, although not necessarily from the slave trade, the profitability of which was often disputed. That said, it was clearly profitable enough for a lot of people in Liverpool and Bristol to engage in it. However, through the existence of slavery, the plantations were clearly enormously profitable, at times, because of the immense European demand for sugar in the 18th century.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Why did Jefferson, who was quite an enlightened American President round about that time, never take up the cudgels on behalf of the anti-slavery movement?

Mr. Hague: Funnily enough, the American Congress abolished the slave trade at roughly the same time that the British Parliament did, although it did less about enforcement. An illicit American slave trade continued right up to just before the civil war. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the United States had certain internal problems when it came to resolving the issue of slavery, which resulted in civil war in the 1860s.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend also recall that during the civil war Abraham Lincoln was described as having been persuaded by John Bright, a Member of this Parliament, to attach greater significance to the question of slavery? Effectively, that is how slavery became the key issue for the civil war—and it came from this House of Commons.

Mr. Hague: Well, I am sure that that was added to by the House of Commons, although my hon. Friend must remember that there were already people in the United States who felt very strongly against slavery, and that the northern states had abolished it. The southern states, given their cotton production, thought it in their interest to keep it. There were even bigger forces at work than the notable force to which my hon. Friend refers.

In 1807, the Act was passed, and the then Prime Minister, William Grenville, who was very keen to railroad it through both Houses of Parliament, described it as

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