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Finally, I want to look into child slavery. What did the Deputy Minister for Women and Equality have in mind when she said that we were leading Europe in providing victims of human trafficking with protection, particularly under-aged victims? When she said that, was she aware that 4,885 girls aged between 15 and 19, and 6,170 boys sought asylum in the UK in 2005—about 11,000 children? According to the Home Office website, in 2005, out of 2,835 decisions, 700 were refused. I am not sure what has happened to the other 7,000. The numbers do not add up. No one is sure whether victims of trafficking who are under 18 have right to remain in the UK, or whether some of the
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thousands of children missing are just shipped out of Britain again. Who is responsible for those children? Who looks after them and who cares for them? Do they have a guardian ad litem? Are they fostered to families who will care for them? Do they go to school?

On 20 December last year, I asked the Home Secretary how many children had been trafficked into the UK, and the answer was that he had no idea. When I asked how many unaccompanied children had come into Britain, he had no idea of that either, so I asked how many had been returned to their country of origin as a result of failed asylum. The answer was again that there was no information, so no one knows what happens when the children reach 18 if they are still in this country. Will failed asylum seekers be sent back to their country of origin?

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I would like to offer the hon. Gentleman some reassurance. I received a letter this morning from the director of children’s services in Liverpool, telling me that Liverpool is one of two centres in the UK to take unaccompanied children coming into this country to seek asylum. I was informed that there was a panoply of provision for those children that was equal to anything that we would provide for our own children. The director of children’s services wrote to ask me for further assistance, but he also took the opportunity to outline the Government’s plans for a network of centres throughout the UK for these children in order to ensure that when they arrive they are adequately taken care of and protected.

Mr. Steen: That is very reassuring, but it cannot be reassuring to the boys who were watering the cannabis plants, because they were illegal immigrants. They were failed asylum seekers and they were not going to be looked after. The problem is that we are talking about 10,000 children who applied for asylum, but the figures do not square up. I am delighted to hear what the hon. Lady says, but the figures do not square with what the Government are producing in relation to where these young people are. The truth is that nobody cares about them because they have no family or friends here. They are victims and it is up to us to ensure that they are protected.

The outcome of the recent ECPAT UK report on missing children worried me. The report highlighted the 80 children known or suspected of being trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation, labour exploitation and forced marriages, but 48 of them have gone missing. This is a highly recognised and responsible organisation and its report appeared in all the national newspapers for one day, but where have those 48 children gone? We need to do some detective work. I am delighted that some are being looked after, but an awful lot of them are not, and when they go missing they get re-trafficked. I do not believe that we can be recognised as a leader in Europe in this respect.

The Government state that they will do anything to tackle the problem and to prosecute the traffickers, but the public authorities are already failing to protect minors when no one knows where they are. Few traffickers have been apprehended in spite of sensational stories about sex trafficking, and comparatively few women have come forward. The problem is that the full
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picture is obscured. We do not have a clue what is going on, which is why I have spent the past year trying to find out.

I have visited a safe house outside Rome where I met and talked with girls trafficked into Italy from Romania and Bulgaria, some as young as 10; I have met traffickers in a high-security prison in Bucharest; I have been to Europol and hostels in Holland; and I have spent time in the most deprived cities in Romania. I met some of the top professionals—from police chiefs to mayors—trying to get to grips with the problem, which remains intangible.

What could the Government do? For starters, they could withdraw their reservation in respect of immigration and nationality on the 1989 UN convention on the rights of the child. In an answer to my parliamentary question of 26 February 2007, the Home Secretary stated that the Government believed that without the reservation on the UN protocol, the interpretation of the convention might come into conflict with domestic legislation on migration—but that does not square with signing up to the European convention, whose purpose is to protect children.

What this debate should achieve is the highlighting of the extent of the problem in Britain. What we know about trafficking leads me to believe that we have seen a tip of an iceberg. Although we should certainly congratulate the Government and the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety—unfortunately, he has just left the Chamber and did not hear my compliment—who is responsible for trafficking, my conclusion is that there still an immense amount of talk and a large number of meetings, but little to be seen on the ground.

The fact that up to 800.000 people each year are trafficked in one way or another; the fact that Lithuania says that Britain is a No. 1 destination for sex trafficking; the fact that 48 children can go missing in the care of local authorities; the fact that Operation Pentameter found 84 women in three months; the fact that 15-year-olds from Vietnam, who got into Britain illegally, are growing cannabis in the suburbs of our towns; and, finally, the fact that Britain has been unable to mount very many successful prosecutions all highlight the fact that human trafficking is still way ahead of the Government. The traffickers must be splitting their sides with mirth at the pedestrian, clumsy, inflexible and bureaucratic way in which the Government, the police and immigration officers are proceeding. When the Minister publishes his action plan, can we be sure that he will make life as difficult as possible for traffickers and better for victims, and that he will decide how we should respond to the trafficking of children into Britain?

Where are we, 200 years after abolition? We have got rid of the old form of slavery—lifelong deprivation of rights and freedoms—but today we have a new form of slavery that is growing fast. It is related to ever increasing demand from an affluent society that is prepared to buy children for sex, domestic slavery, begging and the growing of cannabis. While society may have outlawed traditional slavery, the new forms of exploitation prey on the most vulnerable, the poorest and the least educated. All the evidence suggests that trafficking in human beings is now more profitable than arms dealing or drug trafficking. It is a criminal
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abuse by human beings of other human beings. It is an assault, both physical and mental, on those who are least able to care for themselves. If ours is a country that believes in human rights, we should be at the forefront of tackling this issue rather than just talking about it.

6.30 pm

Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): I pay tribute to the excellent and powerful speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Brent, South (Ms Butler).

The House has three Hull Members. Each of us is very proud that William Wilberforce is probably the most famous son of the city, and that he played such an important role in the abolition of the slave trade. I was heartened when the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) said that Wilberforce was an independent rather than a Tory, because we do not really have Tories in Hull. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), the Deputy Prime Minister, who has played a pivotal role in ensuring that the bicentenary is properly marked and that a range of events throughout the year will record its importance.

Late in 2005, soon after I became a Member of Parliament, I initiated a Westminster Hall debate on the abolition of the slave trade, because I wanted to know how the Government planned to mark this important anniversary. It was an interesting debate, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) responded. He described the plans for the celebration, and also agreed to visit Hull to see what we planned to do there. He did so in 2006, and I think he was impressed by the range of events that we had planned for 2007.

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) gave a very full historical account of William Wilberforce and the history of the abolition movement. I shall say a few words about the role of women in the abolition campaign.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): It should be borne in mind that there were other Members of Parliament before Wilberforce. Many people forget that we nearly abolished slavery during the English civil war. Another character who presided here for a long time, and who was responsible for stopping the movement towards the abolition of slavery, was Oliver Cromwell. When he became Protector of England he saw the commercial opportunities presented by slavery, and persuaded the House not to abolish it. Many of the early slaves were white, and many were from Ireland.

Ms Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is another part of the great history that surrounds today’s debate. I am learning an enormous amount that I did not know before.

I want to say a little about the bicentenary celebrations in Hull, and also about the present situation in relation to slavery. First, however, let me say something about William Wilberforce.

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Wilberforce was born in 1759, in a house in the high street in Hull. His father died when William was quite young, so he spent much of his early life with his aunt, who was under the influence of John Wesley and the Methodist movement. It is significant that the religious element continued throughout Wilberforce’s life.

At 17 Wilberforce went up to St John’s college, Cambridge. Reading a bit about that time, I noted that he was shocked by his fellow students’ hard drinking. Not much has changed about young people going up to university! He went on to represent the city of Hull as its Member of Parliament, having been elected in 1780 at the tender age of 21. It was a hard-fought contest, and Wilberforce’s election cost the exorbitant sum of £9,000. I found that interesting, especially in the light of Hayden Phillips and our current discussions of how elections are paid for.

When Wilberforce entered the House he supported the Tories, although he was an independent. In 1784 he converted to evangelical Christianity, and joined the “Clapham sect” referred to by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. At that point he decided to follow the social reform agenda in Parliament, and was asked to campaign particularly against the slave trade. It is estimated that between 1776 and 1807 Britain trafficked about 1 million people. Wilberforce had a huge issue to tackle, and was up against the establishment view. That was described eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington when she spoke of banks and Members of Parliament with an interest in the slave trade. The Society of Friends had been campaigning against the trade for some time, and had presented petitions in 1783 and 1787. Wilberforce introduced his Bill against the trade in 1791, but it was easily defeated.

We must not dwell only on Wilberforce, however, because many other parliamentarians—and people outside Parliament—were instrumental in the abolition campaign. In an intervention on the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, I mentioned the sugar boycott. That was of particular interest to me because Hull contains Wilberforce House, the first museum in the world to be dedicated to the anti-slavery movement. It is about to be reopened following the investment of a huge amount of money to prepare it for the 2007 celebrations. There is a stand providing information about the sugar boycott and the role played by women in choosing not to buy or cook with sugar. Thomas Clarkson, whom many Members have mentioned, said that when he travelled around the country,

That shows that action was not taken just in Parliament, and that ordinary people, when they heard the facts about the slave trade, were so appalled that they wanted to do their bit. For the first time, a campaign for the boycotting of a commodity was initiated by ordinary people. Of course, it was to happen again in years to come: I remember the boycotting of products from South Africa in the 1980s in support of the anti-apartheid movement.

The success of the sugar boycott eventually led to the establishment in the 1820s of female anti-slavery groups in many British cities, involving notable female
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abolitionists such as Elizabeth Heyrick, who called for a total ban. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and a month after William Wilberforce died in 1833 Parliament passed the Abolition of Slavery Act, which gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom.

As well as campaigning against slavery, Wilberforce had a range of other interests, including animal welfare. He was involved in the setting up of the charity that is now known as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Having described William Wilberforce’s role as a Hull MP and his pivotal role here in Parliament, I want to say something about Hull. As a port city with a strong maritime and trading background, it has always had an eye to the rest of the world. William Wilberforce stood up to the slave trade, but Hull was different from Bristol and Liverpool, much of whose wealth was built on the trade; Hull did not have that slave-trade background, so it came to the issue with clean hands. Obviously, that might be because Hull is on the wrong side of the country, but I like to think that there was some principle behind that, too. Those principles have been followed in some of the work done in the past few years.

In 1982, Hull became the first city in the west to twin with a third-world city, Freetown, in Sierra Leone. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister talked about his recent visits to Sierra Leone and what is going on there. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, mentioned that the world’s first colony for free Africans was set up in Freetown in 1792. To return to Hull in the 1980s, the then leader of the council, Alderman Patrick Doyle, thought that it was important to build a link with Sierra Leone, and so he twinned Hull with Freetown. That link has gone from strength to strength over the years; eight of our schools are now actively twinned with schools in Freetown, and there are further links with churches and hospitals.

Hon. Members will know that Freetown is still recovering from a lengthy period of considerable turmoil, and there is much scope for development in Sierra Leone. Later, I shall talk about one of the projects taking place in 2007 to link further children and young people in Hull with those in Sierra Leone. Hull was the first local authority to sign up to Amnesty International, and Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela are freemen of the city.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I should like to put it on the record that what Hull has achieved is wonderful. It is really remarkable, and I wish that other authorities throughout the country would follow the lead of its authority; if more authorities did so, we would all be in a much better place. My own local authority resisted any such twinning on the basis that there was no economic parity between the two communities. If twinning just comes down to economic parity, we will not go anywhere. There is so much that we can learn culturally, and my hon. Friend is demonstrating that in her speech.

Ms Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and she is absolutely right—if we considered the issue purely on grounds of economics, perhaps it would not be the route to take, but we all recognise that we have an international responsibility. Hull has been proactive in looking further than the end of its nose.

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For several years, William Wilberforce lectures have been held in Hull. Last year, James Coleridge Taylor, head of the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights in Sierra Leone, was the key speaker. The Wilberforce lectures celebrate Kingston upon Hull’s historic role in combating the abuse of human rights, as personified in the work of William Wilberforce. This year, there are a number of lectures; this Sunday, there will be a lecture by the Prime Minister of Barbados, who is coming to Hull, and later in the year the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York will take part in the lectures.

The fair trade movement is a key way of trying to deal with the factors that allow slavery to continue today. A few years ago, I attended a meeting about young children who were slaves in the cocoa-growing industry in Africa; fair trade and the work done by the makers of Divine chocolate and other products are really important. It is about consumers making a positive choice to put their principles into practice. Hull was awarded Fairtrade city status in March 2005, and that was achieved through the hard work of grass-roots people in Hull—the Churches, the schools, the One World shop, and the university. That sent the signal that Hull is serious about marking its proper place in the world, and behaving properly and responsibly towards the rest of the world. I am proud that we have a strong fair trade tradition in Hull.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, or WISE, which has been established at the university of Hull. Its patron is Desmond Tutu, who said of it:

The institute brings together the study of history, law, politics, anthropology, medicine and genetics. Its funding launch was held at Downing street and was hosted by Cherie Booth, and it was opened in 2006 by the President of Ghana. We in Hull are very proud of that institute.

Hull is holding 34 weeks of celebrations to mark this important anniversary. We started off with the fair trade fortnight at the end of February, and the celebrations will run all the way through to October, ending in black history month. As I have mentioned, one of the main events, the opening of Wilberforce house after a £1.6 million refit, will be held this weekend. It is a wonderful building, and it now has an education unit to allow schoolchildren from the area to attend courses in the house, and I am proud of that. I looked at Wilberforce house’s website just before this debate, and it says that all the courses for this year are solidly booked; there is no space at all. It is heartening that all schoolchildren in Hull will be able to access the museum. One of the lectures is titled “William Wilberforce—the role of the individual”, and it is interesting that one individual can change history. We often hear young people saying, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. We can’t do anything,” but actually they can.

I want to mention, a project in Freetown. It has made a range of short films with young people in Sierra Leone that focus on a diverse
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range of topics, and include films about the role of football in post-civil-war Sierra Leone, the story of a former child soldier, and the life of the city’s market traders. The films will be shown by the British Council in Freetown and in Hull. Work is under way with one of our secondary schools, the Winifred Holtby school, and real links are being built between young people in Hull and Sierra Leone. It will mean young people from different parts of the world talking to each other, but having so much in common.

I should mention the Wilberforce Women event. At the end of 2006, women in Hull were invited to attend photography workshops and submit photographs that they had taken, or that had inspired them. The pictures were made into greetings cards, and the women wrote personal messages inside. In February, the cards were personally delivered to women in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which, as I have mentioned, has important links to Hull. The process is now being repeated; women in Freetown are submitting their photographs and personal messages, which will be hand-delivered in Hull. Local Hull photojournalist Lee Karen Stow and fine art photographer Fiona Caley will spend two weeks delivering basic photography skills to the women of Freetown. The finale will be an exhibition of all the photographs and messages sent between the women of the two cities at the Ferens art gallery in Hull in October 2007.

There is a lot going on in Hull; there are events in the city and between countries. I must just mention that the guest beer in the House of Commons last week was the William Wilberforce Freedom ale. There is also William Wilberforce Freedom fair trade coffee, which is produced in my constituency of Hull, so there are commemorative projects of that kind, too. Finally, I point out that the local paper, the Hull Daily Mail, is running a petition on some of the issues on slavery that we still face today. The petition reads:

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