Anti-Slavery, House of Lords, Speeches

Anti-Slavery Day Bill

Posted by LordSheikh

My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the honourable Member for Totnes in the other place for his prudent stewardship of this important Bill, which I wholeheartedly support, and also to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for introducing it to your Lordships’ House. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on her excellent speech.

I sincerely believe that this legislation will contribute towards heralding a new era of heightened awareness of the abhorrent issue of slavery. I have spoken several times on this matter, both in your Lordships’ House and at events outside Parliament. Some opponents of the Bill say that the United Nations international day for the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade already serves the purpose of the proposed legislation. My response is that we are far from the point where it is unnecessary to draw attention to the unsavoury practice that continues to take place in this country and around the world.

Clause 1(1) makes it incumbent on the Secretary of State to allocate a specific date that will be observed annually as anti-slavery day. I welcome this section, which serves a broad purpose in acknowledging the suffering inflicted on victims of slavery, and in turn allows us to pay our respects to these individuals. Most importantly, such a day would serve as a reminder to communities that all types of forced servitude have no place in our society.

Clause 1(2)(b) aims to raise awareness among the public of the threat posed by slavery in our society, and of the importance of rejecting all forms of servitude in our communities. It was encouraging to see programmes across the UK in both 2008 and 2009 that created greater awareness of, and further education on, the perils of the slave trade. I expect that this will continue for many years with, I hope, the welcome addition of the provisions in the Bill.

Clause 1(2)(c) acknowledges the progress made by government and agencies in combating exploitation. I fully support the Council of Europe in attempting to combat trafficking in human beings, as it highlights the importance of a multi-agency approach to ensuring the safety of victims, and prosecution of the perpetrators, of slavery. Europol plays a vital role in fostering co-operation between the law-enforcement bodies of member states, in addition to publishing a document each year on the state of human trafficking in the European Union. I also welcome the Government’s decision to implement an action plan to address the problem of human trafficking.

The Poppy project has proven to be a great success in supporting victims of human trafficking and slavery. I commend the Government for acknowledging the need to give assistance to victims of this social evil. I would be grateful if the Minister would say what measures the Government will put in place to ensure that adequate funding and resources are also made available to community groups that give assistance to victims of modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

Clause 1(3) states that slavery encompasses child trafficking, as well as trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude. The average age of those who enter prostitution in Europe is frightfully low at 14 years. It is believed that the vast majority of these individuals are victims of trafficking.

Close to 330 children are trafficked in Europe each year; the majority enter the modern slave trade in the form of hard domestic labour or, increasingly, the adult trade. That is wholly undesirable and often results in children continuing in this industry into their adulthood. It is therefore the duty of policy-makers and local agencies to give assistance whenever possible to the overwhelming majority of prostitutes who are in the industry against their will.

Human trafficking is an issue of great concern to me. This immoral practice is the equivalent of modern-day slavery. The United Nations convention against transnational organised crime not only prohibits human trafficking but actively requires countries to strive towards addressing the demand for sexual exploitation. The creation of an effective border security system would play a key role in making sure that border police and officials are able to identify traffickers and their victims. Some cases that result in slavery often involve economic migrants who enter Britain with the promise of work and better living conditions than those enjoyed in their native countries. However, upon arriving in Britain, the harsh reality for many migrants is far from the scenario they imagined.

A notable proportion-women in particular-fall prey to ruthless individuals keen to exploit their circumstances. In extreme cases, these women are subjected to mental and physical torture. Those who subject individuals to slavery or servitude are in direct breach of Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thousands of people are trafficked into the United Kingdom each year, yet figures reveal that between 2004 and 2008, only 92 people were convicted of trafficking for illicit purposes and just four people were sentenced for labour trafficking. Records show that 127 people have been convicted of crimes relating to slavery and trafficking to date.

This disparity does not speak highly of the current methods used to deal with this trade effectively. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that all citizens who engage in any form of modern-day slavery are brought to justice? We should take pride in the fact that a large proportion of our society views slavery and human trafficking as wholly abhorrent practices.

In spite of this, statistics reveal that more than 5,000 people are trafficked into this country each year. Every citizen is entitled to a decent level of treatment in all areas of their lives. Slavery runs counter to all the beliefs that we hold so dear in our communities. Any legislation that will ensure individuals are treated according to their basic human rights is welcome. I hope that this Bill will gain swift passage through your Lordships’ House to give those who have been subjected to this form of torture the reassurance that we are striving to eradicate any form of slavery in our society.

I was born and brought up in Africa, which has been ravaged by slavery, where great men like General Gordon and Dr Livingstone lived and died and who passionately believed in abolishing slavery. I have also admired Dr Livingstone and in fact visited Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika where HM Stanley first met him. William Wilberforce, a Conservative politician, played an instrumental part in making sure that the abolition of the slave trade became a reality. We have both a moral and a civic duty to continue along this path.

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