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This country was the first in Europe, other than Denmark, to outlaw the slave trade, and the Act was the catalyst for the adoption of similar legislation around the world. It became a moral benchmark of which other civilised societies rightly took note. The passage of the Act is heartening to those who are conscious of the early foundations of our democratic society. It took place because of the wide dissemination of truths about the trade, because of the shifting and then harnessing of public opinion, and because of
the actions and contributions of slaves themselves, coupled with the stoic perseverance of a few principled individuals. Ultimately, it secured something that could not happen in countries where political freedom was not yet known.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman said that this was the first country in Europe to abolish slavery, which is absolutely true. [Interruption.] Except for Denmark. However, the first country in the world to abolish slavery was Haiti, which fought a revolution to do so under the leadership of Toussaint LOuverture.
I want to reiterate a point that has already been mentioned. The enlightened determination and actions of abolitionists had to shine out against a far darker backdrop. The course of slavery winds a long route throughout history, and when we consider events before 1807the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned thisit is with deep regret that we have to acknowledge an era in which the sale of men, women and children was carried out lawfully on behalf of this country, and on such a vast scale that it became a large and lucrative commercial enterprise. No wonder Wilberforce cried out, in his speech in the Commons in 1791:
Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name, released ourselves from the load of guilt, under which we at present labour, and extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times, will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonour to this country.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): My right hon. Friend mentions the stoic perseverance of many individuals. I ask him to join me in acknowledging the contribution made by John Newton, the slave trader who became an abolitionist and parish priest of Olney, the town in which I now live.
Mr. Hague: This is becoming an interesting geographical and historical tour. John Newton was important partly in persuading William Wilberforce to continue in politics rather than lead a life of religious seclusion and that Christian principles needed to be put into action. Newton constantly counselled the abolitionists, so he played an important part.
It is worth noting that the fight against the slave trade was also an early campaign against racism. It was an important attribute of the abolitionists that they set out not only to end the slave trade, but to demonstrate that former slaves could live freely and prosperously with equality between every race. They pioneered the free colony of Sierra Leone and gave much support to the leaders of Haiti, who had thrown off their colonial masters. The abolitionists believed not only in the relief of suffering but the establishment of racial equality. It must have been the first campaign of that kind.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will also acknowledge that much of the campaigning outlined what was happening in the slave colonies and the trade itself, not forgetting the uprising taking place in west Africa. The slaves themselves played a major part in their freedom and it was people such as Thomas Clarkson who toured the country showing what the manacles of slavery were really about who had a massive effect on pushing Wilberforce and eventually forcing a reluctant Parliament to do something.
Mr. Hague: That is an important point, because the campaign was not just a parliamentary campaign. Thomas Clarkson played an enormous part in the powerful extra-parliamentary campaign. In a world with so many recording devices of every kind, it is hard for us to imagine a political world without film or photographs, and no documentary of what was happening. The campaigners of the time had to establish facts that had never been nailed down and come up with statistics that no one had ever assembled. They had to persuade people of something that was true even though other people were prepared to say that the opposite was true. People would not have known initially whom to believe, and that makes the scale of the abolitionists achievement all the greater.
Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): I compliment the right hon. Gentleman on an entertaining and informative speech. I am learning a lot just from listening to it [ Interruption. ] One might say that that does not often happen in this place. Does he accept that it is a mark of the success of those brave individuals, such as Sir William Roscoe in Liverpool, and of their dedication to the campaignand the words that the right hon. Gentleman has just quoted from an early speech on the subjectthat they brought about such a huge change in the culture in the UK that our towns and cities now have memorials to those great people because of the work that they did on slavery?
Mr. Hague: Let me use that intervention to turn to my next point, in the interests of someone else being able to give a speech eventually. The right hon. Lady is really talking about reasons why we should be proud of what was achieved, including by people in Liverpool who campaigned against the slave trade despite the presumption that the city should be in favour of its continuing. I wish to argue that just as the existence of the slave trade should be a cause of British regret, so its abolition should be a matter of British pride.
Not only did Britain abolish the slave trade: after 1807, it lobbied, bullied and bribed other nations to follow its example. Britain was the worlds foremost maritime power, and the Royal Navy bravely enforced the abolition of slaveryan assignment that was to be one of the most protracted and gruelling in its history. The suppression of the slave trade was described as
perhaps the most disagreeable, arduous and unhealthy service that falls to the lot of British officers and seamen.
Over a period of 40 years, the Navy was said to have freed 120,000 slaves. The moral case, once made and enshrined in law, was upheld over the coming decades through a commitment to international diplomacy and the application of British force. Although the
outlawing of the slave trade has become synonymous with the life of William Wilberforce, he himself pointed out that he was
only one among many fellow labourers.
We hear less about the contributions made by men such as Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp, Zachary Macaulay, James Stephen and Olaudah Equiano. Elizabeth Heyrick was one of the foremost women campaigners for the abolition of the institution of slavery after the slave trade itself had been abolished. We must remember, too, that we are unable to mention the bravery of numerous slaves: history is silent about that, because their actions were not written down at the time.
We should also be proud that one of the great achievements of the abolitionist campaign was political engagement through the mobilisation of public opinion. Once people in this country realised that the nature of the slave trade was incompatible with the values that they upheld, they acted in their hundreds of thousands. Petitions signed by men and women with no vote and thus no method of lobbying Parliament flowed from all corners of the country. One petition from the inhabitants of Manchester measured 7 m in length, and the masses of anti-slave trade tracts that were distributed were vigorously read. People attended lectures and meetings, and Thomas Clarksonalready mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and one of Wilberforces indispensable alliescovered 35,000 miles in seven years on speaking tours. Even with all the modern forms of transport available to us today, we would still consider that to be a large total. Clarkson took with him shackles and other instruments from slave ships, along with samples of African cloth to show that an alternative and civilised trade could be substituted for slavery.
tinder which has immediately caught fire from the spark of information which has been struck upon it.
Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the sugar boycott. Does he agree that women led the way in making that political statement, as they were the ones who bought and cooked the food?
Mr. Hague: It turned out that women were in a powerful position to impose that boycott, for the reasons that the hon. Lady set out. In the 1820s, the even more radical campaign to abolish the institution of slavery itself came to the fore in towns such as Leicester, Sheffield and Birmingham, with women as its pioneers. At one point, it was thought that about a quarter of the population was refusing to use West Indian sugar. That shows the power at the time of popular campaigningsomething that people had not been used to until just a few decades before.
The moral case against slavery may now seem clear cut, but it had to be made in an age before mass media and in a country with few graphic examples of the suffering and pain caused to millions transported across the Atlantic on British ships. The autobiographical
writings of Olaudah Equiano, a former slave, contained a rare account of the conditions on board those ships. He wrote:
The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number of the ship, being so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself almost suffocated us...The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered it a scene of horror almost inconceivable.
we cannot plead ignorance. We cannot evade it.
Sadly, the same is true today. Slavery is out of sight for most people, as it was 200 years ago, but the world faces a parallel challenge nevertheless: to confront a ruthless industry that exploits vulnerable people for financial gain. Just as the baton was passed from the abolitionists to other Parliaments and nations around the world, who followed suit in outlawing slavery, so now it rests with the Governments and Parliaments of our time to deal with modern slavery, which today reaches across every continent and culture, profiting from a range of industries in agriculture, textiles, construction, mining, domestic services and prostitution, to name but a few.
Human trafficking, the most talked about manifestation of modern slavery, is the medium by which that age-old practice permeates even the life of modern-day Britain, as the Deputy Prime Minister said. It exists very much as a product of the 21st century and operates in loose global networks, lurking among the unprecedented movements of people, information and capital that characterise todays global economy and which help mask illegal practices. Human trafficking works best for its instigators across national boundaries, exploiting cultural, social and linguistic differences to isolate individuals and allow criminals to exercise complete control. Recruitment companies or trusted acquaintances offering work and hope for a better future, bogus marriage agencies and gangs targeting lone travellers as they enter new countries are just a few examples of how vulnerable people can be caught in the human trafficking trap. There are of course more barbaric methods: intimidation, threats to families and psychological abuse, followed by violence of a quite unimaginable kind.
The problem is growing locally and internationally. It has many links with other criminal operations, such as money laundering, drug smuggling and document forgery. In scale, it rivals and surpasses other illicit trades, equalling the illegal arms industry and trailing only narcotics in size. According to some estimates it generates nearly $10 billion a year in revenue, which is a staggering figure to have to put on a market dedicated to the buying and selling of human beings. In terms of people, it is estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime no country in the world is immune to the problem, whether as a country of origin, destination or transit.
It is important that we in Britain wake up to the gravity of the situation on our own doorstep. A fortnight ago, an official at the Lithuanian Ministry of Information declared that Britain is the No. 1 destination for gangs smuggling sex slaves from countries such as his own. Last year, when our police conducted a four-month operation to tackle sex trafficking, they rescued 84 womena small number in the scheme of things, but the list of their countries of origin tells its own sorry tale of the trail of misery. Those 84 women came from Albania, Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, India, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Namibia, Poland, Rwanda, Russia, Slovakia and Thailand.
To combat human slavery in the world, in particular the international markets of human traffickers, we must seek to wipe out the economic profits available to criminal gangs from their operations, reducing the market size itself and by implication, we hope, the suffering caused. That can be achieved by a concerted and determined effort to disrupt the forces of demand and supply. Supply-side measures should be aimed at increasing the risks of capture, while simultaneously empowering vulnerable individuals through education and the increased provision of assistance, advice and protection.
As long as the demandor the end useremains, cold-blooded people will always find unscrupulous ways to profit from the trade in illegal goods, be they arms, narcotics or, in this case, slave labour. Thus the only way truly to end the modern slave trade will be to wipe out the demand. In parallels with the 18th-century sugar boycott, consumer groups can voice their abhorrence at slavery by purchasing certified fair trade goods such as tea, coffee, clothing and other consumables. A greater focus on educating the public is required, using innovative approaches such as the truth isnt sexy campaign, which uses beer-mat messages to alert young people to the realities of sex trafficking, and which will have its cross-party launch later this evening. As traffickers have now infiltrated a range of British towns, cities and the countryside, it is impossible to overstate the importance of bringing awareness to the consumers, businesses and communities in those places where the victims are forced to labour.
Mr. Steen: The whole House is fascinated by my right hon. Friends exposition. Will he comment on the fact that, in spite of all that he is saying, only 30 traffickers have been charged and put in prison? In spite of education, unless we make sure that our police forces apprehend people and our immigration officers stop the gangs coming into this country, the trade will continue because the demand will continue.
I agree. I will conclude my speech soon, but I want to touch on that point. Along with all Members of the House, I am delighted that the Government have announced their intention to sign the Council of Europes convention on action against trafficking in human beings. The Deputy Prime Minister referred to the Home Secretarys signing it on Friday. It allows victims a 30-day reflection periodsomething for which the Opposition called. We now
await the detailed implementation programme, which the Deputy Prime Minister also said would be forthcoming.
The Government will shortly publish their national action plan on human trafficking. We look forward to reading the proposals. I hope that the Government will take heed of the recommendations set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary. That touches on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) a moment ago: certain actions affecting our own borders need to be taken. We hope that, at all ports of entry, our immigration officials will be permitted to conduct separate interviews for women and children travelling alone with an adult who is not a parent, guardian or husband; that co-ordination will be strengthened between relevant Departments and the Serious Organised Crime Agency in order to guarantee a coherent approach; that the Government will ensure that every police force and local authority has a strategy for dealing with suspected victims of trafficking; and that victim protection will be increased by setting up a dedicated helpline for those who have been trafficked. I hope, but I am not sure, that the Government will propose something that we have proposed for a long time: a UK border police force with specialist expertise to intercept traffickers and victims.
Speaking as shadow Foreign Secretary, I would like to see an improved and strengthened international effort to tackle human trafficking. The United States, through the State Departments Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, has elevated this issue in importance. Among other endeavours, it now produces on an annual basis an influential report on trafficking in persons. Other countries, including our own, should act with the same levels of commitment. The international community should work together to identify the countries that are the most vulnerable to human trafficking, be they a place of origin, transit or destination, and provide the assistance and encouragement needed, with prevention, law enforcement and victim protection where appropriate. Diplomatic channels should be used to put pressure on countries that ignore the problem. In extreme cases where co-operation is not forthcoming and no measurable improvement is made, assistance in non-humanitarian or non-trade-related areas could be withheld as a last resort. Our embassies and consulates should also take on a more active role, raising awareness through education and information programmes.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is not aware of some of the actions that our embassies and consulates are taking in places such as Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Vietnam and Cambodia, where, because of the chaotic backgrounds of the people in those countries, it is almost impossible to have birth documents, particularly for children? They are introducing fingerprinting biometrics and there has been an anecdotal reduction in the number of children applying for visas from those countries for entry into this country.
The hon. Lady is quite right to point that out and I am not arguing in any way that nothing has been done about these things. We agree with the
Government in their intentions and in everything that they have announced so far. I am simply arguing that an intensified international effort will be required from this country and other countries if we are to deal with a problem on this enormous scale.
To conclude, there are a number of principled individuals, just as in the early 19th century, who have set out to tackle modern-day slavery. They include people such as Sister Ann Theresa, a Catholic nun who established an underground network of safe houses throughout the UK for the victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, and journalists who have investigated the horrors of human trafficking at first hand, thus bringing the reality of the crime to the mainstream media, such as Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times. There are also campaigns such as Stop the Traffik, a global coalition of charities, schools, community groups, businesses, faith groups and clubs that has taken its inspiration directly from the work of the early abolitionists of 200 years ago and demonstrated a similar zeal and commitment. All these groups and individuals are leading the way, but we will start to challenge the traffickers dominance only when we secure the support of Governments throughout the world, voluntary organisations and the public at large. Once public opinion is harnessed, it can be as powerful a force as that demonstrated 200 years ago. We must continue to bring this matter to the attention of all.
I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister and the Government on all the arrangements that they have made for the bicentenary and its commemoration. Unless we bring this matter to the attention of all, the quiet and painful suffering of thousands of men, women and children in our cities and suburbs will continue as a human tragedy in our midst. There would be no more fitting way to mark the bicentenary than by renewing the abolitionists commitment to tackle the slave trade by practical action. In 1807, the House of Commons arrived rather late in offering to put the full power of the state behind the abolition movement. We in this Parliament, in modern times, must ensure that we bring all our collective political will to this struggle, thus helping to foster the involvement and education of our society to extinguish, in the words of Wilberforce,
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