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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in his eloquent speech in opening our debate today, my noble friend Lord Sandwich reminded us that 2007 will be the bicentenary of the abolition of Britain's role in the transatlantic slave trade. In her moving and very powerful speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, reminded us of the continuing legacy from our own time in that trade. Many noble Lords have reminded us also of the contemporary application of slavery in our own times.

Estimates of the number of Africans sold into slavery vary, but during almost four centuries, a minimum of 12 million people were forcibly transported into bondage. Between 1701 and 1810, around 5.7 million people were taken into slavery, 2 million coming from the "Slave Coast" of west Africa. Around 39 per cent went to the Caribbean; 38 per cent to Brazil; 17 per cent to South America; and 6 per cent to North America.

In the total Atlantic trade, British ships are estimated to have made more than 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.6 million slaves. The trade before 1730 was dominated by London, but it was overtaken in the 1730s by Bristol, which was then eclipsed by Liverpool. In 1797, one in four ships leaving Liverpool was a slaver. Liverpool merchants handled five-eighths of the English slave trade and three-sevenths of the slave trade in Europe. In his Journal of a Slave Trader, John Newton, who was a Liverpool sea captain and who later penned the great hymn, "Amazing Grace", wrote this:

The Liverpool historian, Ramsay Muir, calculated that in 1807 about £17 million—a staggering sum in those times—was generated in Liverpool through the slave trade. That was undoubtedly the darkest chapter in the city's history.

In the millennium year, I was privileged to take to West Africa a declaration passed unanimously by Liverpool City Council recognising that role. The resolution stated that,

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As we have heard, when Wilberforce persuaded Parliament to make the trade illegal, it was against great and fierce opposition, much of it emanating from the city of Liverpool—a city that I had the privilege to represent in another place for more than 18 years. Captain Hugh Crow of Liverpool was one of a thousand captains who sailed from the port to obtain African slaves. But supporters of William Wilberforce included the Liverpool Member of Parliament, William Roscoe, who said:

On his return to Liverpool, he was assailed by the mob, pulled from his coach and horses in Castle Street and beaten up. He was never again returned to Parliament. Wilberforce told him that his vote had been worth 30 of anyone else's because he had had to pay a price. I very much agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, when she suggested that this should form part of our citizenship programme as an illustration of the horrors that took place, the voices that were raised and how legitimate parliamentary action was ultimately able to bring about change.

The life of Roscoe certainly bears a great deal of scrutiny and recognition. He spent the remainder of his life working for the abolitionist cause. He penned an epic poem, The Wrongs of Africa, which seems particularly apposite this week when we have seen a great outpouring of interest in Africa during Live 8 and while the G8 summit is taking place. These lines appear in the poem:

He went on to warn his fellow countryman:

Is that simply history? This is where, like my noble friend Lady Cox, I take issue somewhat with the earlier very interesting contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, although I agreed with much of what he said. But I think that, even in the technical sense, we can see plenty of examples of the kind of things that Roscoe, Wilberforce and the abolitionists would have recognised as slavery 200 years ago. Perhaps I may briefly give the House the example of Niger and, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, the role played by the Timidria organisation, which is a partner of Anti-Slavery International in exposing the contemporary slavery taking place there today.
 
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A few months ago, I had the privilege of attending at Chatham House the granting of an award to Timidria by Anti-Slavery International. The man who received it on behalf of Timidria, Ilguilas Weila, was subsequently arrested on 28 April this year in Niger for having exposed various forms of contemporary slavery in that country. Only as a result of international pressure, particularly through parliamentary Questions in this place—I applaud the role played by Her Majesty's Government in this—was he subsequently released.

If we look for a moment at the survey carried out by Timidria, we are brought face-to-face with the realities of the slave trade in Africa today. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, more than 11,000 people were interviewed and the research showed that they were able to identify individuals by name as their masters. Those interviewed generally worked directly for their master in exchange for minimal amounts of food and a place to sleep, which would typically be a shelter that they had built themselves. In response to the question, "Who makes the decision on your marriage?", 84 per cent—8,310 people—said that their master was solely responsible for the decision, while 82 per cent—6,103 people—replied that their master was solely responsible for the decision on whether their children attended school.

The 1926 United Nations Slavery Convention defines slavery as,

Clearly, under that definition the vast majority of the 11,000 people interviewed are slaves. When the Minister comes to reply to this very welcome debate, I hope that she will be able to say something more about the position in Niger and other parts of West Africa.

I very much welcome the opportunity to have this debate and there will be opportunities outside your Lordships' Chamber to hear about some of the countries to which others have referred. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which I have the honour to chair, will shortly take evidence on forced labour in North Korea. I hope that many Members of your Lordships' House will take the opportunity to hear that evidence when it is given.

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Lord Brett: My Lords, the only advantage of being the thirteenth speaker of some 20 is that you do not have to prepare a speech, because if you do, it will be obsolete. The preceding speeches will have used most of your statistics, presented virtually all of your arguments, and done it in a rather more articulate way than you could do it yourself. I should declare an interest as director of the International Labour Organisation for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Indeed I note that many of the statistics used were from a report published by the ILO a couple of months ago.

Some other noble Lords and I are slightly at variance with the contribution of my noble friend Lord Giddens. We say, in what I think is an authentic estimate, though perhaps a conservative one, that the number of people
 
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in forced labour—we do not use the word "slavery"—is 12.3 million. I understood the distinction my noble friend was making in his contribution, but I doubt whether it is one that any of those 12.3 million people would choose to make. They would consider their forced labour to be a form of slavery. Therefore I, along with other noble Lords, think that this is a timely debate. I am grateful to the noble Earl for his sponsorship of it, and in particular for the questions that he puts to the Government.

Having participated in a number of debates of this sort in this House, however, I have to say that sometimes our debates are more about illuminating the problems than about providing the Government with encouragement to find the answers. On this occasion, in the form of this report, we have some of the answers. This is the second report to be published—the first was four years ago—in support of the ILO declaration of fundamental rights and principles at work, one of which is that there shall be no forced labour.

There is such labour, and we know it. We have heard calls for legislation, and we have heard that India has an extremely good judicial system, although it must be said that justice grinds remarkably slowly in that country. What it does not have is adequate enforcement.

The noble Earl made the point that Nepal ended bonded labour. The day after, the landlords literally booted bonded labourers off their land. These labourers were free, with no property to live in, never mind property to own. Therefore it is not enough just to have laws, or enforcement of those laws. There must be a number of other components that will rehabilitate the victims of the forced labour.

This document, which is not just another dry report to be considered and ignored, calls for a global alliance against forced labour. That means that this debate is not just a contribution to the debates in this House and to Her Majesty's Government, but part of a wider debate on how we have such a global alliance. We say in the report that there are basic goals and targets, such as the abolition of forced labour. We say we need a global alliance, by which we mean not only the international community, together with the lead UN agency on this matter, the ILO—which itself is tripartite: 50 per cent government, 25 per cent trade union and 25 per cent employers' organisations—but also civil society and the NGO community, many of which have been mentioned in previous contributions, and play a vital part. This problem cannot be solved only by governments. It has to be solved by civil society as well.

We then ask how it is to be done. The answer has to be a national approach. The multinational agencies and financial institutions can do much, but there has to be a national commitment, led by government, that has to include all those component parts of civil society. There have to be time-bound national programmes. If you do not define a timescale within which a problem is to be solved, you do not solve the problem.
 
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I appreciated the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, but making poverty history and then ending slavery is getting it the wrong way around. We could probably end slavery a lot earlier than we could end poverty. That is why, in 1999, a new piece of international legislation called the Convention on Extreme Forms of Child Labour was brought in. We recognised that getting rid of extreme forms of child labour is itself a more possible target than simply trying to get rid of all child labour overnight.

We have to look at poverty reduction strategies and programmes, the labour market and employment policies, migration policies and gender policies, and we have to create a national task force to get the political will to bring those things into place. There must be the right legislation, and appropriate mechanisms for identification, release, protection and the rehabilitation of forced labour victims. In that capacity, you need the assistance of those rich countries that have some moral obligation, as so graphically and movingly put by those who recognise from personal experience that the damage done in the form of slavery over 200 years is not eradicated by simply changing the law, in this country or elsewhere.

Therefore, I think that Her Majesty's Government have done a tremendous amount. They play a large part in tackling this issue as a major supplier of overseas development assistance. I should like to see some of that development assistance targeted—perhaps in larger amounts—at the question of how to assist governments with time-bound programmes to end modern slavery within their own countries.

We also have to look to the mote in our own eye. It is estimated that some 12.3 million people are enslaved in the developing world, along with an almost certain underestimate of 360,000 in the industrialised world. We know from the tragedy of the cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay that we have a problem in this country. Again, I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on bringing forward an innovative piece of legislation on gangmasters. It will put an end to the exploitation of workers in one industry, but the truth is that it needs to be expanded. Major human rights abuses take place in the construction industry with the often coerced importation of labour from eastern and central Europe. I hope that the Government will take the earliest opportunity to expand their reach by annexing other industries to the good work that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority will undertake.

We face one more problem. As a Government, on behalf of all the citizens of this country, we have a good policy of both looking to and welcoming legal migrants. We are less supportive of the victims known as illegal migrants. They arrive not by their own volition, but because they are trafficked in other ways. It is an area where the Government should put compassion at the centre of their policy. If they do that, then there are in the report—presented to the world last May and debated at the International Labour Conference last month—action plans that
 
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with financial support will enable the world's rich nations help the world's poor nations to bring an end to all modern forms of slavery.

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