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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for calling this debate and to all noble Lords for their participation. I also pay tribute to the work of Anti-Slavery International and other agencies concerned with tackling slavery.
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I well understand the view expressed by my noble friend Lord Giddens that modern slavery is rather different from what he called "old slavery". However, I believe that the essential point is that we must recognise the many and varied causes of injustice in the world today in order to find adequate solutions, which must also be varied.

The debate has taken us to some dark depths of humanity, where vulnerable people living in poverty are denied their rights and are exploited by their fellow human beings. I trust, however, that in attempting to answer the many questions raised I will be able to demonstrate that this Government are firmly taking action to tackle the abhorrent forms of modern slavery. Any questions which remain unanswered I will of course respond to in writing.

I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids for her moving speech as a descendant of a slave. She is right about the legacy, but she is also right about the pride, which we should all take, in the achievement of black people in this country.

As we have heard from the debate today, contemporary slavery covers a wide variety of human rights violations, from debt-bondage and forced labour to people trafficking and child labour. As the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department Fiona MacTaggart MP said in a debate on the same subject in another place last October,

Slavery affects the poorest and most vulnerable groups in society. It is difficult to uncover and to resolve since fear and the need for survival deter its victims from coming forward. Solutions require governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector to work together to break the cycle of poverty and social exclusion that are at the root of most forms of slavery today.

As noble Lords have said, this is a timely debate. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the UK is using its concurrent presidencies of the G8 and the EU as a unique opportunity to drive forward the international agenda to improve the lives of millions of people, including the millions of people who are still enslaved.

We are using the presidencies to push for a renewed global commitment to the millennium development goals, for the elimination of poverty, and we are calling on the international community to provide more and better aid, including debt relief.

Since contemporary forms of slavery persist where poverty denies people their rights, we also support country-led development agendas and poverty-reduction strategies. In answer to the noble Lords, Lord Joffe, and Lord Avebury, one of our main aims is to ensure that the needs of the poor, particularly the most vulnerable groups, including those enslaved, are fully taken into account in these strategies.
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One of the key forms of contemporary slavery is bonded labour, where a person is required to give his labour as security for a loan. The DfID programme in Nepal assisted former bonded labourers through the freed Kamaiya food security programme. It supported a number of activities, including income generation, scholarships and access to drinking water and sanitation, in partnership with international, national and local NGOs. This work continues through a number of smaller-scale projects under the community support programme.

As we have heard this afternoon, a striking feature of debt bondage is its inextricable link with caste discrimination and social exclusion. DfID is preparing a policy paper on social exclusion. That will outline how DfID intends to step up its work with its partners to ensure that the needs of all groups in society are included in country-assistance plans.

DfID is already working with both government and civil society to develop inclusive policies. For example, in India, where DfID is working with the Ministry of Health on its national, reproductive and child health programme, specific targets have been developed for including Dalit women and children in the programme. These are being monitored and incentives have been developed to ensure that the Dalits are included.

In answer to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, in India DfID is making good progress in its partnership with UNDP and the government of India in developing the access to justice programme, which is achieving real access to justice for poor and vulnerable groups in India, including Dalits. The views and issues of poor and vulnerable groups, including Dalits, will be the driving force behind the design and implementation of the access to justice programme.

The Government strongly condemn forced labour in all its forms. We fully support the work of the ILO and work closely with the organisation to ensure that the international framework to combat abuses of workers' rights throughout the world is in place and effective. We also provide substantial financial support.

The UK has ratified the ILO's "core labour standards", including those covering the abolition of forced labour. We have also taken specific actions to tackle forced labour within the United Kingdom. As noble Lords have said, those include the establishment of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Over the coming months, the authority will consult on the conditions that should be attached to the issue of a licence. It is anticipated that some of those will be based on tackling aspects of forced labour.

I was interested in the point raised by my noble friend Lord Brett about the scope of the Act. At present the scope is restricted to agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and associated processing and packaging sectors. Those are the sectors where the problem of illegal activity and exploitation by gangmasters is greatest. There is no provision within the Act requiring the
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Government to review the scope of the Act but the Government will certainly consider any proposals to do so.

Next week, officials from across Whitehall will meet government officials from a number of "source" and "destination" countries, together with colleagues from the ILO special action programme, to combat forced labour as part of a project aimed at raising awareness and capacity of those responsible for implementing policies to combat the forced labour dimensions of human trafficking. We have already provided over £2 million to the ILO's special action programme.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked whether the UK would work through the EU and the UN to ensure a higher priority for the eradication of slavery. Yes, in 1999–2000 the UK supported a proposal from Anti-Slavery International for the creation of a UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery. Sadly, it did not receive sufficient support and the idea died. However, we would in theory support a special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery to replace the working group of the same name, provided that it had a robust mandate.

Human trafficking is an appalling crime inflicting terrible and often lasting damage on its victims. The UK Government are committed to combating human trafficking. It is a priority for our presidency of the European Union, during which we intend to work with the Commission and our EU partners on the development of an EU action plan on trafficking. We also want to encourage greater police co-operation through Europol and the sharing of best practice on investigations and prosecutions.

We have already taken important steps to tackle trafficking in the United Kingdom. In 2000 Reflex, a practical multi-agency task force, was set up to tackle all forms of people smuggling and trafficking, including through the establishment of a network of immigration liaison officers to work with other governments to disrupt and dismantle gangs.

In 2003 the excellent Poppy Scheme, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was set up as a pilot by the Home Office and Eaves Housing for Women to provide safe accommodation and support for women trafficked into the United Kingdom for prostitution. The scheme acts as an advice and information point offering a range of support services and facilitates the voluntary return of victims to their country of origin. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, noted, the pilot scheme has now ceased, but it is currently being evaluated. Decisions about its future scope, structure, capacity and funding will be taken in the light of the final evaluation. The Home Office, however, continues to fund the project in this interim period. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I am appalled that there is trafficking of women and children in this country. It is an odious practice wherever it takes place, but especially when it is on our doorsteps.

The UK has also enacted legislation to criminalise trafficking. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants,
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etc.) Act 2004 both include tough maximum penalties of 14 years for new offences covering trafficking into, out of, or within the United Kingdom. Overseas the UK works to build capacity in source countries so that they can fight trafficking themselves. The Home Office is leading an EC-funded project with the Czech Ministry of the Interior to strengthen its capacity to combat trafficking.

In response to the noble Lord's question about the EU directive on short-term permits, the UK chose not to opt in, owing to the potential adverse implications in respect of immigration controls. It was considered that the introduction of a specific immigration provision for victims of trafficking would encourage abusive claims, and that this would impact on the very people whom the measures were designed to help. This does not mean, however, that the UK is unsympathetic to the spirit of the directive or that we are unconcerned about the plight of the victims of this abuse.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester so eloquently and vividly described, children are particularly vulnerable to abuses of their human rights. Their labour is cheap and they are easy to control. Around the world, millions of children are suffering as victims of conflict, abuse, exploitation and neglect. The Government are determined to work to end harmful forms of child labour. The FCO currently has two Global Opportunities Fund projects on the trafficking and forced labour of children. The first seeks to combat the trafficking of children to the Gulf states for use as camel jockeys. The second aims to reduce the prostitution and trafficking of children in selected districts of Metro Manila in the Philippines.

The UK supports the ILO's International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour, which provides technical support to countries combating child labour and trafficking. We support initiatives through the World Bank, UNICEF and NGOs which are working to demobilise and rehabilitate these children.

Vulnerable children are a high priority for the Government. We have endorsed the UNICEF Strategic Framework for the Protection, Care and Support of Orphans and Vulnerable Children living in a world with HIV/AIDS. This provides guidance for countries on developing national policies and programmes to respond to the needs of vulnerable children, including orphans, street children and those at risk from drugs, prostitution, trafficking, HIV and AIDS.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about children trafficked to the UK and the role of the social services. The matter was raised also by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. By April 2006, all local authorities will be required to have local safeguarding children boards in place. They will replace current area child protection committees and have a new responsibility to co-ordinate work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are privately fostered.

We recognise that there is significant variation in the level of allowances paid to foster carers by authorities across the country. That is why we included the power to prescribe a national minimum allowance for foster carers in the Children Act 2004.
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The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the question of Burma and the need to improve human rights. Her Majesty's Government remain at the forefront of international efforts to press for improvements in the situation in Burma. We are actively working with our EU and international partners to promote reform and respect for human rights in Burma. We will continue, of course, to do so during the UK's presidency of the EU.

On 16 May, our ambassador in Rangoon drew to the attention of the Burmese Foreign Minister the high level of concern in both Houses about human rights in Burma, in particular the human rights abuses being carried out in ethnic areas. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, quite rightly expressed concern about child soldiers in Burma. We too are concerned by the continued recruitment and use of child soldiers by the army and certain armed ethnic groups in Burma. We note the establishment by the SPDC of a committee for the prevention of military recruitment of under-age children and its welcome co-operation with UNICEF. We encourage the committee to implement its plan of action and to continue to co-operate with UNICEF. We also call on the SPDC to extend full co-operation to relevant international organisations and the special representative of the UN Secretary-General.

I understand the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, and others about the reports of the missing African boys, but as noble Lords will have heard previously in this House, investigations by the Metropolitan Police following reports found no evidence at all to suggest that anything sinister had happened to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, also expressed concern about China and the detention of about 260,000 people in camps. We make representations to China about the issue all the time and try to ensure that it fulfils its commitments under the 1951 refugee convention.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to Niger. I thank him for recognising the part that the British Government played. Sadly, the practice of slavery still exists, and I acknowledge the work of Timidria in Niger and its partner organisation, Anti-Slavery International, for their work on the ground to help those held in slave conditions. I agree that we need to study the research that has already been carried out.

We are greatly concerned by the human rights violations in Sudan, and strongly condemn the slave-like practices of abduction, trafficking and forced labour. Slavery is explicitly prohibited by both the outgoing 1998 constitution, the comprehensive peace agreement and the current draft of the interim constitution. But we continue to be gravely concerned by the ongoing human rights abuses.

The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Minister for Africa have all recently visited Sudan. They have pressed the Government strongly on the need to stop further human rights abuses and to bring those responsible to justice. We will continue to insist on that bilaterally, through both the EU and the UN.
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I shall outline some of the preparations for 2007, which will be the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire. I was interested to learn more from the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the excellent work of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, and I shall certainly ask my colleagues in the DCMS about funding.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, I, too, believe that we should include both the history of slavery and current slavery in our citizenship classes. I hope that the bicentenary will give teachers a good hook for their citizenship lessons. In marking the bicentenary, we want everyone to understand the events of 1807 and the role that Britain played. We wish to learn from the past.

It is also important to highlight the issues of contemporary slavery, about which we have spoken today. The celebration of the bicentenary is not just for the Government to take part in, but educational, cultural, voluntary and community organisations should play a part as well. I note that Churches are already mobilised to take action. They are actively planning for the bicentenary.

Like other noble Lords, I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the excellent initiative of the University of Hull to set up the Wilberforce Institute for the study of slavery. I hope that we can learn from the research that they will be undertaking. In the next two years Whitehall departments will be working together to develop specific proposals for the Government's contribution to the bicentenary, and we welcome ideas on how best to do so. All ideas are welcome.

I thank noble Lords for enabling this important and timely debate, and strongly reiterate the Government's commitment to social justice and to eradicating contemporary forms of slavery throughout the world.

1.44 pm

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