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Wilberforce was an inspiration. He was the conscience of the nation. He was not, of course, solely concerned with fighting to abolish the slave trade, although that is what he will always be most remembered for. He was a great Christian campaigner
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who wanted to bring his own particular religious fervour to the attention of people, believing that he had something to transmit to them. He was a great friend of Pitt, as I have said. He was also a great admirer of Fox. Pitt and Fox stood together with him against this ghastly trade. One thing he lamented about Pitt and Fox was that they did not have his religious conviction and fervour.

We already have a fine portrait in the Palace of Westminster, and I would like us to have a special commemoration of William Wilberforce to mark this 200th anniversary. I have on my desk at home a little ashtray—one should not say “ashtray” these days, of course—which was produced by Wedgwood in 1983 and which reproduces the famous image of the black man in chains with the slogan around it:

That gave great inspiration to Wilberforce. I would love it to be reproduced as a plaque, and for it to be placed in the Members’ Lobby among the memorials to Prime Ministers, because Wilberforce achieved more than most of the Prime Ministers whom we rightly commemorate and revere in the Central Lobby today. It would be a splendid commemoration of this 200th anniversary if we could do something like that.

Members have referred to the fact that what Wilberforce achieved 200 years ago in spearheading this campaign was not the end; of course it was not. However, we can draw various lessons from it that are highly relevant for today. One of them I would take from the speech that Wilberforce made on 18 May 1789, when he truly launched the parliamentary campaign. Sitting around him were Members who—as earlier speakers have reminded us—derived great wealth from the slave trade. However, Wilberforce in his campaign did not seek to castigate or attack his colleagues. He was prepared to accept that many of them were ignorant of the slave trade and what it all meant. He was prepared to give them that benefit of the doubt and to seek to enlighten them, and all his other colleagues, as to how great an evil this was. We can sometimes learn from that—that we must not attribute the worst motives to everybody. In trying to enrol them in a cause—whatever it may be—we must show them that we will give them the benefit of the doubt, but that, having set the facts before them, we want them to join the campaign.

The campaign that we want everyone to join today is the one referred to by a number of colleagues: the campaign against human trafficking and the exploitation of men and women by others for profit. In those days, some Members of Parliament benefited from the slave trade, but I do not suppose that a single Member of Parliament benefits from these awful things today. However, many of us perhaps turn a blind eye. I was taken by the intervention of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), who referred to the pages of nauseating advertisements that appear in local papers up and down the country. Would it not be a good thing if we could seek to persuade all those who take those advertisements for profit that they should not be taken? Would not that be one particular and significant step that we could take following today’s debate? If the wares were not advertised, people would
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not necessarily know about them. We may have to legislate on this, but perhaps we can do it by exhortation and example. I would love to see us set a few specific targets in this bicentenary year, and that is one that we could set.

Of course, we also need to be utterly single-minded in rooting out organised crime. Last year, in my capacity as Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I presented in Northern Ireland a report on organised crime in the Province. Particularly apparent, apart from the dimension of paramilitary involvement, was the very important part that human trafficking was playing in the criminal’s apparatus. Human trafficking was joining counterfeiting of goods, smuggling and all the other illicit and revolting things, such as money laundering and fuel laundering. [Interruption.] I am glad that at this point, the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) has entered the Chamber. He played a valuable part in that inquiry, and it was very significant and disturbing that human trafficking was becoming part of organised crime in Northern Ireland, too. It is doing so throughout the United Kingdom, and we must do everything that we can to root this evil out.

One of the worst things that any of us have heard of in recent months is the stories of young girls—they have been referred to today by other speakers—some in their early teens, from eastern Europe and elsewhere who are brought here and used as instruments of pleasure by evil men, sometimes assisted by evil women. That has got to be attacked. So when we mark a very notable occasion—the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade is one—we want to do two things. Yes, we want to give thanks and to take a quiet pride in what was achieved through this place, although not entirely and solely. In her moving speech, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), made that plain; nevertheless, we can all take pride in what was achieved here, whichever part of the House we sit in and whatever our political or personal background. There is always a time for giving thanks and celebration, but celebration is hollow and giving thanks is barren unless we also rededicate ourselves to attacking the descendent evils of the slave trade and slavery.

Never again will those ships cross the water packed with human cargo, but even as we speak little boats are going into ports on the Mediterranean coast, setting out from Albania and crossing from north Africa, not with people in physical shackles—such as Clarkson took around the country, as the hon. Member for Islington, North reminded us—but shackled in a different way. We have no right to call ourselves a truly civilised society unless we do everything to root out that evil that is still in our midst. I hope therefore that as a result of today’s debate there will be a new dedication throughout the House to attack the descendent evils of slavery and the slave trade that still disfigure society today.

5.41 pm

Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): It is difficult to know where to start in this important debate. Listening to some of the historical context that we have heard today made me think about talking about slavery in the modern context, but as a black African woman I
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should first say that I am angry about not being taught my history in school. It was almost as though black history and the important contribution by African people were deliberately left off the agenda. I ask myself why that was so. Perhaps some answers may emerge in the debate today. March 25 2007 is an important anniversary, but many of those in slavery did not get their freedom until 1838 and, as we have heard today, slavery and discrimination sadly continue to the present day.

I wish to talk about discrimination in education. Bernard Coard’s report in the 1970s, which is still relevant today, described a multitude of factors that combined to depress the achievement of black boys. He identified three factors that caused that. First were low expectations on the part of black boys about their likely performance in a white-controlled system of education. Second came low motivation to succeed academically because black boys felt that the cards were stacked against them. Third came low teacher expectations that affected the amount of effort they expended on black boys and those boys own image of themselves and their abilities. Such discrimination still exists today and that report is still very relevant today. Black students are given harsher reprimands for the same misdemeanours as their white counterparts and, as we talk about the historical context of slavery and its legacy, we must also consider modern education.

Sunday will mark 200 years since the British abolition of the slave trade or, as some call it, BAST. It was an important step but, as we have heard, Britain was just playing catch-up to a growing revolt. Slavery in the British empire came to an end after a rebellion led by a Jamaican slave called Sam Sharpe. He was the Martin Luther King of the 19th century, opting for non-violent passive resistance to slavery. Many other people will not be mentioned today but should be.

As we mark this year, we must think about our legacy as a Government and as British society. It is important that we teach in context what happened so that we may understand the legacy of slavery today. I use legacy as a term to define what has been passed to the present, and those enslaved gave their tomorrows for our todays. All aspects of black history must be mainstreamed into the national curriculum. The Government’s recent announcement that the story of the slave trade would be taught in schools is a small step forward. I am happy that we are having this debate: we must not forget that the British economy was built on the backs of those who suffered in slavery, but I would love an end to be put to Black History Month. I want black history to be amalgamated into the general history of the country, so that it is talked about and celebrated every day.

I would have loved to learn, in my history lessons, about the former slave Olaudah Equiano, who became the slaves first political leader of the 18th century, or about Elijah McCoy, who took out more than 50 patents for his inventions and after whom the term “the real McCoy” is said to have been coined. My constituency of Brent has the largest number of African-Caribbeans in the country, and I am sure that young people there would love to learn about the Jamaican Sam Sharpe, who triggered rebellion among thousands of slaves by telling them that they were free, even when they were not. Again, I am confident that
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people in my area would be interested to hear about Charlotte Ray, the first black female lawyer and, in 1872, only the third woman ever to be admitted to the Bar. More recently, I am sure that they would be keen to hear about the most honourable Portia Simpson-Miller, who became the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica.

I am confident that, under this Government, positive black history could be taught. After all, we have only ever had three black women MPs, and two of them are in the Chamber this afternoon. Two weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was inducted into the black heroes hall of fame. I applaud her for that, as that is the sort of history that we need to teach. I think that the Government’s personal learning programme will encourage more positive teaching for our black students.

Even so, I am a little worried that black students will not learn all the details of the history of slavery, a problem highlighted by my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). For instance, the banks were directly linked to the slave trade: Barclays was established by two plantation owners who traded in slaves, and Lloyds began as a centre where runaway slaves were collected before establishing itself in 1692 as a insurance business covering slaves, slave ships and the plantations. Will history courses teach that, or will they concentrate only on the capture of innocent Africans? We must tread very carefully.

Dr. Francis: My hon. Friend makes a very powerful case about the change needed in respect of teaching black history, but does she agree that the great popular movements of the 20th century that addressed the question of racism—and I am thinking of the movements against apartheid and colonialism, and in support of civil rights—should also be included? Paul Robeson was the international humanitarian figure who embraced all those movements, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is a great supporter of the need to recognise that great man’s life. If my hon. Friend agrees with me, will she join me in hearing Paul Robeson’s son—the grandson of a slave—speak at Birkbeck college in October?

Ms Butler: I thank my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. I have had the pleasure of listening to Paul Robeson II, and I know that he is an amazing speaker and man, and very inspirational. Of course, I shall be happy to take up that offer.

We must teach positive black history in schools. When she winds up the debate, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equality will be able to shed some light on how the positive and powerful teachings of black history will be included in the curriculum.

Ms Abbott: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for young black people to learn about the black involvement in this country’s history, and about the reality of the slave trade? Does she accept that they have to understand that they are not merely the passive recipients of charity from the majority community and that they can be the architects of their own fate?

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Ms Butler: I agree with that wholeheartedly. I cannot stress too much the importance of teaching positive black history. If we do not teach it, we will be enslaving people all over again, a problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington touched on with some eloquence.

Slavery was not just an event—it was a process of destabilising African societies. It produced negative self-image and African deculturalisation, and demonised all things black and all things African. That is what separates the slave trade from modern slavery. Modern slavery does not strip people of their culture and heritage, which is why it is important that black history is taught in schools.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will my hon. Friend join me in hoping that when the Government reply to the debate, or other debates on this subject, they will propose some changes in the national curriculum, so that our children understand the wider context of world history and colonialism, with rather less of the narrow bands of history that are far too often taught in all our schools, particularly at primary level?

Ms Butler: I agree. As I said earlier, I am an angry black woman because I was not taught my history in school. I hope that part of our legacy as a Labour Government will be that we have rectified that situation, so that when there are, as we hope, more black MPs they will be a little less angry.

This is the time to ensure that Africans rise through the ranks and that black people are encouraged. I want young black people to believe that they can achieve; I want them to pick up books, not dangerous weapons. I want them to know that the debt we owe those who gave their tomorrow for our today runs deep. Maya Angelou wrote:

We have a huge gap to fill.

We must look to emotional and spiritual reparation to repair minds. We must ensure that all our children know they can achieve great things, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said. It is vital that we continue to strive to tackle modern-day discrimination and slavery in all its forms.

Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend may be aware that the Mayor of London is working to make 23 August a day when Londoners unite to remember and acknowledge the horrors of the slave trade. Will she work with the Mayor to make sure that the things she is talking about, such as black role models and the black heroes of yesteryear, are commemorated and celebrated on that day?

Ms Butler: Absolutely. The African emancipation day is an important date. I shall be working with the Mayor, who has come up with some fantastic recommendations in this bicentenary year. Although some parties have tried to reduce the funding for that day, I am pleased that it will be going ahead and I shall be working closely with the Mayor to make sure that it does so.

The Jamaican poet David Neita said that freedom is a right and not an end in itself. It is not a static process; we need to struggle constantly to extend freedom. Part of our freedom is the teaching of our story. As the late, great Robert Nester Marley said:

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To put those words in a modern context, I welcome the announcement yesterday of an additional £6 million for extra tuition courses and the Chancellor’s £10 million for the “Aimhigher” scheme. Such funding has led to a remarkable 93 per cent. of key stage 4 pupils at Copeland school in Brent achieving five or more good GCSEs. I am very proud of that result at my school. In the UK, we must continue to travel in that direction.

In Africa, we must continue to invest, because the economic exploitation of Africa continued long after slavery ended. The Labour Government have made historic commitments to ending poverty in Africa. After all, we have a huge debt to Africa, although in fact it can never be repaid. Those who doubt it need to be reminded, which is why I have been campaigning in Parliament for an annual remembrance day.

In the Deputy Prime Minister’s opening speech, he said that the debate on slavery had been going on for a long time. Indeed, it has. In 2004, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) tabled an early-day motion on the subject, yet the Government are still not sure whether we should have a remembrance day. I say yes, we should— [ Interruption. ] For the record, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister also says yes.

Mr. Khan: That is a commitment.

Ms Butler: I believe that it is. I am sure we can iron out the details and date later— [ Interruption. ] I must continue, but I am glad that I have that commitment from the Deputy Prime Minister.

A commemoration day would mean that every year Britain could commemorate the heroism of those who struggled against slavery and injustice, whatever their background, and help our children understand its importance and legacy. It would show them that their responsibility in society runs deep and that they come from a seriously powerful race. It would promote all the unsung heroes we shall be unable to mention today—whether scientists, teachers, parents, politicians or preachers—who sacrificed their lives for our survival. It is important that we support each other and work together on that task. I hope we shall do so. I hope, too, that the Government will bring together grassroots organisations, schools and people such as Natasha Beckles from Brent who has produced a fabulous guide for schools, and hold a meeting here in Parliament to discuss appropriate dates, aims and objectives for an emancipation day.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. As she represents Brent, may I tell her, if she does not know already, that in 1960, before the amalgamation, Willesden council—of which I was then a member—was the first local authority to boycott South African goods? We demonstrated our complete hostility to the apartheid regime.

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Ms Butler: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. Brent is the most diverse constituency in the UK.

I want to end my speech by talking about the importance of women. They dominated the campaign to end slavery, which should come as no surprise as it was so well organised. Women had no vote, but they could make their voice heard through the campaign. It was one of the first ways in which they became involved in politics. The abolitionists were pioneers who helped to invent the political campaigning methods we use today. They collected mass petitions, organised hundreds of local societies, created a campaign logo and organised consumer boycotts. They calculated that if 38,000 families stopped using sugar, it would stop the slave trade altogether.

Nanny, a wonderful woman and a leader of the Maroons, was a symbol of unity and strength throughout the 18th century. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said earlier, the Maroons were Africans who fled to the hills in Jamaica—where my parents are from—when the British invaded in 1655. Many were Rastafarians. They lived free and grew their own food, which we would now call organic, so we could say that they invented organic food—Ital food, as we like to say. They were skilled warriors, hunters and home makers. The British could not control or defeat the Maroons, however hard they tried.

The bicentenary is a major opportunity to consider both the legacy of the British slave trade and slavery in our modern society, and to explore the roots of the racism, prejudice and social stereotypes that continue to affect our local and global communities. Our aim should be to remember the slave trade and its cost to human life. We should remember the debt owed to African people and understand the importance of equal opportunity and respect for others. At every stage, we must challenge injustice and cruelty.

I have already mentioned Maya Angelou. I end with her words:

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