HC Deb 20 June 1969 vol 785 cc920-50

2.30 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the continuance of slavery in member States of the United Nations; and, having regard to the fact that this is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to the fact that the suppression of the slave trade and the abolition of slavery have been a continuing concern of British Governments for generations, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take more positive action at the United Nations by moving resolutions designed to produce the organisational machinery and money necessary to eradicate this ancient evil. The object of the Motion is to call attention to the Government's attitude to the failure of the United Nations to secure the abolition of slavery in member States.

I shall be very brief. The attendance in the House is very thin because there is not a great deal to say. What is required is action, and the nature of it is not very difficult to explain. However, hon. Members will know that, although the attendance may be sparse, I am not a lone voice in the House. There is on the Order Paper a Motion in almost identical terms to this Motion. It bears 136 signatures, which is no small number, of back-bench Members on both sides of the House. The House will also be acutely aware that I am not a lone voice, either, in so much as there are tragically millions of voices which are suppressed and silent, and it is with their voice that any hon. Member who raises this subject must speak.

It is the luck of the Ballot which enables me to raise this matter. The credit must go primarily to my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), who is Chairman of the Anti-Slavery Society, which has indefatigably worked to keep this issue alive and has supplied me, as has my hon. Friend, with such information as I have.

This matter concerns the House because the United Kingdom is a signatory to the two international treaties concerning slavery, both universally recognised as valid. I refer to the League of Nations Convention of 1926, which is concerned only with chattel slavery and the slave trade, and the United Nations Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery which was passed in 1956 and ratified by 72 members of the United Nations. Unfortunately because the Supplementary Convention has no means of implementing it or enforcement written into it, it has proved ineffective. Therefore, it is possible for member States of the United Nations to ratify the Convention for the sake of public face without having any intention of giving effect to its provisions. In fact, its provisions have been widely and tragically ignored by signatories.

Therefore, it is the duty of the House, by accepting my Motion, to urge the Government to instruct our delegates at the United Nations to take positive, public and effective steps—I refer to the moving of resolutions in my Motion, but I am open to correction—to establish an international organisation and machinery to enforce the abolition of slavery comparable in effectiveness to the organisation and machinery which exist to enforce the suppression of the traffic in narcotics. That is the brief and simple object of the Motion.

It is fair to say that there is no dispute about the existence of slavery, but I think that the House would welcome it if I gave examples of what is known to happen. I cannot do better than quote the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk to the 21st Session of the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in October last year. He made a statement on behalf of the Anti-Slavery Society, which has the status of a non-governmental consultative organisation to the Commission on Human Rights.

My hon. Friend pointed out to the distinguished commissioners whom he was addressing that in March, 1968, an employee of a well-known bank told the Anti-Slavery Society that he had seen documentary proof that his bank had negotiated payments for a consignment of slaves which had in 1965 been transferred from the territory of one member state of the United Nations to that of another member State. The source country had ratified the 1956 Convention. The purchaser of the slaves is a rich, powerful and influential person in his own country. My hon. Friend rightly said that an international policing operation was needed to prevent this kind of thing.

My hon. Friend cited another Anti-Slavery Society informant who reported that in 1965 he was an eyewitness of the public auction of children, again in a country which had ratified the convention. The buyers were owners of brothels. My hon. Friend made the observation that the Government of the country concerned spent vast sums on purely prestige operations, such as quite unnecessary international airlines of its own.

My hon. Friend did not, and perhaps I should ask the House to accept that I should not, for obvious reasons, identify the countries concerned—because it might have a bad effect in respect of information and because of its effect on the reception which would be given to an initiative in the United Nations on our behalf. However, my hon. Friend gave a further example which I should like to quote, namely, that slaves were sold across land frontiers as recently as 1966 and were bearing their foreign masters' children in a country where slavery was claimed to be the regrettable but inevitable result of poverty.

My hon. Friend pointed out that the Government of that country, which had no ostensible enemy near or far, had in 1968 spent 280 million dollars on defence. He observed that, of the children sold into slavery, the boys were treated in every way as their fathers' legitimate children, but the girls received no education and were given away as presents My hon. Friend gave those examples and confirmed what is generally recognised, namely, the existence of the institution of slavery in many countries. During his submission to the Sub-Commission, however, he made a point which the House should hoist on board and which is less commonly recognised—that is, the peculiar poignancy of the situation of children in this context.

Many of these slaves are children. It is for that reason that the matter is so very urgent. There is hope for children who have been sold into slavery and subsequently emancipated. But the cost of delay is tragic. It is extremely difficult to help the personality of a person who has been reared and who has matured in slavery. It is difficult to emancipate socially and spiritually by education a mature slave, whereas a child can be emancipated in reality as well as legally.

The House will be appreciative and grateful to the Minister of State for attending this debate. It is his opportunity to proclaim to the public and to the world Her Majesty's Government's engagement and determination in this matter.

I might, perhaps, be forgiven if I reflect on the singular irony of the fact that this country, of all countries, is pilloried continually in the United Nations as being colonialist, whatever that may mean, by the anti-colonialists, whatever they may stand for. It is pilloried for some fancied turpitude by the very countries which are not only practising, but refuse to take steps to eliminate, slavery.

I cannot help reflecting, too, that there is some irony in the fact that we are continually subjected to protest, as it is called, by people of ostensible good will and good intentions about things like Vietnam, on which, to say the very least, there are two sides. I have not seen any protests up and down Whitehall, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, or wherever else it might be, about the existence of slavery. I feel that many of these protests have no true cause. They are merely a displacement for an aggression against the protesters' own people. The protesters are always friendly to the enemies of this country because, basically, they are determined to destroy and to denigrate.

However that may be, whatever may be the rights and wrongs of the attitudes of others abroad or in this country in failing to denounce slavery, there cannot be any question about Britain's record and rôle in the past. We led the world in the suppression of the slave trade. Nelson's navy policed the seas for three or four generations of naval officers and seamen in suppressing the slave trade throughout the world in the nineteenth century. We led the world in the abolition of slavery; the very name "Freetown" in the English language indicates the record of our country in this matter.

Such being our tradition, I am sure that the Minister of State will welcome the opportunity to assure the House and the country that our future rôle will be worthy of our tradition.

2.34 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham)

I am sure that those hon. Members who are present will welcome this opportunity which has been given to the Government to reply to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and will congratulate him on having raised this subject, which, as he said, was one of the great debates on constant occasions in the House of Commons 200 years or so ago. I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this matter today. Although, as he has said, the House is somewhat empty, a great number of hon. Members have put their names to the Motion.

I am sure that the whole House was grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, in taking the lead when an anti-slavery, all-party group was re-formed a month or so ago and starting us off at the beginning of another period of work on this problem. I am sure that the aims of the Motion as set out by my hon. Friend are acceptable to the whole House. It is, of course, more the question of methods in which we hope that the Minister of State will give us an indication of how Her Majesty's Ministers are thinking. The Motion uses the words by moving resolutions designed to produce". Foreign Office Ministers will have experience of how such resolutions can be used and whether, if they are used wrongly, they can cause delay or create excuses for delay. We will, therefore, listen with interest to what the Minister tells us about the methods which the Government suggest for pursuing this topic in the complications, complexities and emotions of the modern United Nations.

Abolition takes time, as my hon. Friend has pointed out. I recall my personal experiences of this in a previous incarnation. I used to give freedom papers to serf slaves to whom their position was not entirely clear in a developing country abroad. They had been freed officially 30 years before but, as was found in the United States of America and other places, sudden abolition brings problems with it. There are obligations on the owners as well as the ownership obligations to feed and to clothe. If those who are elderly are thrown off without any pension or the like, they find life very difficult. One used to give to some of these people the papers which ensured their freedom and, at the same time, very often reached agreement with the so-called owners to continue to look after them after having used their services for a considerable number of years.

I was recently looking through some of the supporting papers on this topic, among which I found an association with the United Nations Conventions—the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 of the old League of Nations. I was talking only a few days ago to some individuals from the country in which I used to serve about the way in which forced labour was used, which, I understand, is no longer allowed. In one instance, forced labour was used to keep open 1,000 miles of road for an expenditure of about £1,000 for about eight months a year. Some payment for this was, of course, made, but the corvée, as it used to be called, is, I understand, no longer acceptable. That was covered under the convention because it was permissible to carry out civic obligations and, in those circumstances, it might have been included.

It is nearly 30 years since the United Nations started to consider the problem and its members had notice that this was one of the problems which they would be asked to tackle. There is, therefore, little excuse for their not having taken steps to set free anybody who might be classified as a slave and to establish the rights of individuals in their community.

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the real point in all this is the sale internally of human beings. That is the point which still needs serious investigation. We have heard many rumours—my hon. Friend mentioned some of them—about the continuation of the sale and purchase of human beings in different parts of the world. Like my hon. Friend, I do not propose to name these places, but I should like the Minister of State, without naming them himself, to say whether information is being collected anywhere so that these allegations might, in due course, be investigated and, if proved to be true, brought before the forum of world public opinion.

Again, one might ask him whether he can on this occasion tell us how this works in with the United Nations Convention on Traffic in Persons, the so-called white slave trade. This convention has an enforcement bureau, the International Bureau for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons, which can implement that convention, and so, this being, after all, one side of the slave trade, it is interesting to know why we cannot go now somewhat wider.

Some are sure to say, as they always have on this, that "This is a matter of our internal domestic activities" under Section 2(5) of the United Nations Charter, but I would not say, in my experience, that this is the view of the sophisticated leaders who now govern or help to govern so many of these countries. They have to compete, we know, with many of the other leaders, not political leaders, but leaders in religious affairs and so on, who often claim that this is a religious observance and practice and therefore should continue. It is worth pointing out that slavery as such was condemned by the Sixth Muslim Conference in 1964 at Mogadishu in Somaliland. Therefore, I think that this claim sometimes put about in the past, is no longer valid.

Again I make the point that there have been 25 years in which this subject has been considered by all members of the United Nations, and something should have been done about it. So will the Minister give us some indication, when he speaks, as to what is being proposed at this moment, just as under the Narcotics Bureau, which was established in the 'twenties and 'thirties, international control was established, in which Egypt has done so much good work.

That is really the problem—how to police these activities. The Brussels Treaty now means the Treaty of 1956 for Western European Union, but I was brought up on its meaning the General Act of Brussels of 1890. Under this the signatory Powers in the League of Nations in the 'twenties and 'thirties patrolled certain areas of the world, particularly to the north-west of the Indian Ocean. The League of Nations established a Standing Advisory Committee in 1932 to 1939, which has long since been given up and it was not re-established, I understand, by the United Nations after the United Nations Convention on Slavery. I would, therefore, ask the Minister what proposals the United Nations may have now to take over the police activities where the League of Nations left off, approximately in 1939. What is being done, in effect, to implement the conventions not only of 1926 under the League of Nations but the two United Nations conventions of 1956 and 1957?

Again, can the Minister tell us what is happening about the Economic and Social Committee of the United Nations? It authorised the Secretary-General to establish a list of experts on slavery whose services he could recommend to any Government asking for expert advice on the slave trade. I would suggest that what is needed is a committee of experts to watch continuously the implementation of the anti-slavery conventions, not only that of 1926 but also those of 1956 and 1957; we need not just another panel of experts available, but a committee designated by the Secretary-General, with the mandatory duty laid upon it of continuing investigation, as is done over narcotics. Can the Minister tell us what is the position now of the rapporteur appointed in 1964, Dr. Awad, who has done excellent work, I understand? Is he to continue his activities or is this form of activity to be set aside?

As I have said, it is 12 years since the conventions of 1956 and 1957 were passed, and it does seem to many of us that there has been plenty of time for the States with internal problems of serfdom or slavery to have got them in hand and now to be prepared to suppress them and to have any such rapporteur or committee which the United Nations may see fit to establish to investigate both the internal conditions which lead to slavery and also any international trade in this, which, we understand, is still continuing.

Finally, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, this House has taken the lead in the abolition of slavery in the past. It was the great issue of the early 19th century, in particular. The missionary societies which took the lead are still established not far from here in Great Peter Street. But now, with a decline in public feeling on this issue, I believe it is our duty in this House to bring this matter before the attention of the public and to pursue the aim of stopping this pernicious practice by working through the established organs of world opinion and authority at the United Nations.

2.47 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)

I am sure that all of us who have listened to this debate are extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) for his timely initiative in raising this subject. He spoke with admirable brevity and cogency, and at times, I felt, with true eloquence, about this horrible practice, which still persists in so many parts of the world.

Indeed, we have had two very substantial, helpful, I would say distinguished, contributions this afternoon to the discusion of this matter, and although not very many Members have been able to be present I think the record will read extremely well and extremely helpfully to those who wish to continue to work for the eradication of this social evil.

No other Parliament in the world has a more honourable record than this House in the effort to secure the abolition of slavery, which has been one of the main scourges of humanity throughout the ages, and which is still continuing to affect the rights and the welfare of many human beings throughout the world.

I propose, first of all, to touch briefly on some of the main evidence available for the continued existence of slavery and the great difficulties which attend attempts to eradicate it. I shall then move on to describe the record of the Government at the United Nations during recent years in this matter, and the prospects of securing the sort of U.N. machinery which we all want to see established to achieve the common objective which we have.

As the hon. Members have pointed out, many words on slavery have been spoken at the United Nations, and some 12 or 13 years have elapsed since the supplementary convention of 1956, but, so far, nothing effective has emanated from all this discussion, and I believe that the House will join me in saying that this lack of action reflects no credit upon the international community as a whole. The House will appreciate that it is difficult to obtain reliable information on the extent to which slavery is still practised. The areas tend to be remote from the outside world, little visited by foreigners and often largely un-administered by Government agencies.

The number of countries in which slavery may be said still to exist depends to a large extent upon how one defines "slavery". The best and most recent evidence on the question is contained in the Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur presented to the Economic and Social Council in 1966. This valuable Report was based mainly on the replies of Governments to a comprehensive questionaire, supplemented, as we have heard, by comments from non-Governmental organisations, including the Anti-Slavery Society. May I join the hon. Gentleman in his graceful tribute to you, Mr. Speaker, in the rôle you have played in activating this important move in the House of Commons.

The Report contains some evidence of the continuing practice of slavery and the slave trade in what one might call their classical forms in a small number of countries, and a good deal more evidence that practices similar to slavery still exist in quite a number of countries scattered throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America. These practices include bonded labour, serfdom, the selling of children into domestic service, various forms of compulsory marriage and prostitution, and tribal institutions such as the inheritance of a widow by a near relative upon the death of her husband. Numbers are, of course, difficult to estimate, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that the total number of human being throughout the world still involved in these various types of slavery and serfdom can be counted not in thousands or even hundreds of thousands but in millions.

I do not think that it would be useful to point an accusing finger at particular countries or Governments, and here the hon. Gentleman spoke wisely and constructively. Some Governments are tackling the problem with more energy than others, but in almost all cases the practices which we are considering are deeply rooted in history, custom and tradition; they cannot simply be legislated out of existence.

The education of public opinion is important. The development of efficient, uncorrupted and enlightened Government machinery determined to tackle the problem, and the growth of economic and social conditions which remove the basic causes of slavery are all necessary preconditions for its successful eradication. It is here that the United Nations have a major rôle to play, but not as a forum simply to criticise states or to arraign them. The aim of the United Nations is to help, not to pillory; to make available to Governments, through some such body as a permanent committee of independent experts responsible to the Economic and Social Council, practical assistance to help them to accelerate the dawning of the day when this evil will be eradicated. This was one of the points made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker).

We believe that only the United Nations has the capacity to provide the sort of machinery which is needed, since this is a problem which depends for its solution on the united action of the international community as a whole. The formation of an informed and alert public opinion in this country and elsewhere is obviously a most important part of the process of stirring the international community to action.

In this context I pay warm tribute to the work of the voluntary societies, particularly the Anti-Slavery Society, about which both previous speakers have spoken so appreciatively. The society for many years has done valuable work in gathering information about slavery, persuading Governments to concern themselves with the problem and drawing attention to the need for United Nations action.

It may be useful if I briefly describe to the House the main actions which the United Nations have taken in recent years on this subject. The Motion calls on Her Majesty's Government: To take more positive action … designed to produce the organisational machinery and money necessary to eradicate this ancient evil". I hope to demonstrate that we have taken every opportunity to press for the establishment of effective machinery.

For many years, as we have heard, this country has taken the lead in slavery debates at the United Nations. If the opportunity for us to play the prominent rôle which we have played in the past has been a little more limited of late, this is certainly not due to any change of attitude on the part of Her Majesty's Government, but rather to a change in the attitude of other United Nations members to the whole question of slavery and the basis on which it should be considered by the United Nations.

In 1963, as a result of a United Kingdom initiative the Economic and Social Council authorised the appointment of a special rapporteur to collate information on slavery from member-Governments, the specialised agencies and non-governmental organisations, and to report back to the Council, which was done in 1965. However, the report which the rapporteur presented in 1965 was incomplete, since many Governments had not responded to the rapporteur's request for information.

Again in 1965 the United Kingdom took the lead in securing the adoption of a resolution by the Council asking those Governments which had not submitted information to do so as soon as possible, and requesting the rapporteur to include in his report suggestions for possible action by the United Nations aimed at assisting in the eradication of slavery.

The special rapporteur's final report to the Council in 1966 included a recommendation—and I come to the central point made by the hon. Member—that a committee of experts should be established to advise the Council on slavery problems. Her Majesty's Government strongly supported this, as it seemed to offer the best hope of making the United Nations action on slavery and allied practices more effective. A substantial number of the members of the Council shared our views, but it became clear that a number of developing countries viewed the proposed functions and powers of the committee with apprehension and suspicion, on the grounds that they smacked of interference in the internal affairs of those countries.

We were unable to make much progress on the proposed committee of experts, and the outcome of the debate was the adoption of a Resolution remitting the whole question back to the Human Rights Commission and redefining slavery for the purpose of the consideration of it by the United Nations to include: The slavery-like practices of apartheid and colonialism. This redefinition of slavery has been included in subsequent resolutions. As I am sure the House will agree, it is a most regrettable and retrograde step. It has seriously affected the whole impetus to establish effective machinery to implement the provisions of the two slavery conventions. Because of this redefinition of slavery we have not been able to give our full support to a number of resolutions which have been adopted by the Council since 1966.

We cannot accept that colonialism, as we understand it, and practice it in our remaining dependent territories has anything at all in common with the practices of slavery or the slavery trade. Nor for that matter do we think that apartheid can usefully be equated to slavery. This is a confusion of terms and of facts.

As the House knows, the Government have made it absolutely clear that apartheid is a denial of human rights and a contravention of South Africa's obligations under the United Nations Charter, but we do not think it is useful to identify it with the practice of slavery. There are a number of other United Nations bodies which concern themselves with both colonialism and apartheid and these matters are regularly considered as separate items on the agendas of the Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Commission. Nevertheless, despite the difficulties which this new redefinition of slavery have created, Her Majesty's Government have continued and will continue to take every opportunity of working for the establishment of effective implementation machinery which we still think provides the best means whereby the international community can co-operate in helping to eradicate this evil.

Two recent developments at the United Nations offer some hope of further progress. In describing them I will, in effect, be dealing with two extremely important points raised by the two previous speakers. First, the Secretary-General has been authorised to establish a list of experts whose advice shall be available to States concerned for the liquidation of slavery and the slave trade. The Secretary-General has asked for nominations for this list, and we have nominated a distinguished expert on slavery, Dr. Cecily Williams, a leading international authority on tropical health, nutrition and child care. We very much hope that when the list is completed Governments will use the services of those experts in pursuit of a policy aimed at eradicating as swiftly as possible any evidence of slavery in their territories.

I was pleased to hear the references to Mr. Mohammed Awad, the distinguished author of the 1966 Report on Slavery, who has been commissioned to undertake a further study of measures that might be taken to implement the slavery conventions. The hon. Member for Cheltenham asked what had happened to the first report and whether there was continuing action. I am glad to say that the continuing action is again under the leadership of Mr. Awad. He will also look at the possibility of closer international police co-operation, which is another important question to which reference has been made today.

The question of closer international police co-operation to deal more effectively with the slave trade is very much the nub of the problem. We found police action to be effective in the 1920s and 1930s, from the infancy of the League, in many sectors of international crime. I am very glad that there is special emphasis on studying how to bring international police co-operation into any system which may be decided for the implementation of the Conventions.

Although my right hon. Friend and I feel—I am sure that the House will agree—that there is already enough information available as to the sort of measures which might be taken and that what is now needed is action to establish machinery rather than yet another study, nevertheless we welcome Mr. Awad's appointment and will certainly do our best to assist him in the preparation of a further, and perhaps fuller and more purposeful, report. We have already told the Secretary-General that we believe that a committee of experts with suitable terms of reference offers the best basis for implementation machinery.

A fourth question put to me by the hon. Member for Cheltenham was—how do we move from an advisory function to implementation? I do not pretend that this will be easy or obvious, but we believe that a strong expert list, once it is assembled, may be developed into an active committee which, in turn, might engender, and indeed supervise, the implementation machinery. I think that this is the right way to go about it. We consider that this proposal, which we originally made a few years ago, should be re-examined in the new study, or the continued study, which Mr. Awad will undertake.

We have also expressed the hope that the study will include a detailed examination of the techniques at present used internationally in the control of narcotic drugs and the protection of refugees, with a view to establishing whether any of these techniques can be adopted for use in the slavery field. Both hon. Members were rightly anxious to know that we were fully seized of the possibilities of transplanting, to use a reasonably topical term today, techniques from the narcotics and similar fields to the field of combating slavery. We are strongly for this. Indeed, I would link with this the suggestion made this afternoon that the enforcement control set up to prevent the traffic in persons would seem to be, prima facie at least, even more related to the kind of technique of enforcement that we are all thinking about at the moment for combating slavery.

The fact that the U.N. has established comprehensive and useful machinery in the narcotics and refugee fields demonstrates that the U.N. can take positive action when the international community is agreed that such action is necessary. We shall certainly continue our efforts to achieve a similar consensus in favour of action in the slavery field.

The Motion raises the question of how this can be done within the machinery of the U.N. It may be that a further opportunity to press for action will not arise until the new report is available. But I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend and I will take the most careful note of the views and opinions and, indeed, the valuable suggestions made in the debate this afternoon, and I shall be considering with my right hon. Friend whether there is any scope for further initiatives by the United Kingdom at the United Nations in the immediate future. I shall do so in the hope and expectation that there is scope for further initiatives by this country, with its proud record and its keen conscience in this and in cognate matters.

My right hon. Friend and I warmly welcome the spirit which has prompted this Motion and, as I have said, the manner in which it has been moved and supported. We cannot accept that part of it which prescribes the precise methods by which, on the spot, in relation not only to opinion but to feeling in the United Nations, our representatives have very quickly, sometimes in a changing situation, to decide on procedural tactics. However, I do not think this is really the heart of the Motion. I think the heart of the Motion is the desire to see this House and Her Majesty's Government go on record as reaffirming the consensus of intention.

I freely and sincerely give the assurances which have been asked for, that we shall seek to promote the objectives which we fully share with the sponsors of the Motion. The hon. Member for Ilford, North may well feel that he has achieved his central objective today, which is to reactivate our common interest in the eradication of this terrible human wrong, and I hope that he will wish to emphasise the continuing and strengthened consensus of the House by perhaps asking leave to withdraw his Motion.

Mr. John Lee (Reading)rose

Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman seeking to take part in this debate? It is not a bad custom in the House, if an hon. Member wishes to speak in a debate, to attend throughout it if possible.

3.12 p.m.

Mr. John Lee

I apologise to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) that I was not in the Chamber to hear any of his remarks. However, having discussed this matter with him before, and having looked at the wording of the Motion, I feel that I know what he has said.

I think that we would all agree with the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that a word of congratulation is deserved by the hon. Member for Ilford, North for having raised this matter. It is sometimes forgotten, amongst all the other international controversies which have revolved around the subject of under-developed, developing and ex-colonial nations, that this is an older, more acute and more enduring problem than many others.

I share with the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker) the belief that whether one regards both practices as being reprehensible or not, it is just plain perversity to equate colonialism, on the one hand, with slavery, on the other. I would go further and say that not only is it a confusion of terms and of perversion, but it distorts the situation entirely because there have been many forms of colonial administration which have been of considerable benefit to the countries that have been administered, at any rate for part of the time. Certainly, the problems are of a very different kind from those with which we are concerned.

Whatever faults this country has had in relation to the under-developed countries, it has a fairly impressive record in the gradual reduction and elimination of slavery over the past 150 to 200 years. One starts with the famous judgment of Lord Mansfield, in Somerset's case, when he set at liberty a person who had been brought to this country in a state of slavery, saying that no such status was cognisable by English law. One thinks of Charles James Fox's famous resolution against the slave trade in 1806—

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. I understand that the flood of hon. Members opposite coming in in the last three or four minutes, who have not attended the debate, has been sent in because a Minister cannot be found for the Government Front Bench to discuss my important Motion which is to follow. Is there any protection for an hon. Member from what seems deplorable behaviour by the Government Whips?

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Tavistock)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You suggested from the Chair a few moments ago that hon. Members opposite who are seeking to hold up an important debate on the London docks are doing it without any real interest in the present Motion—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not put into the mouth of Mr. Speaker the hon. Gentleman's own ideas. I simply commented on the custom that an hon. Member, if possible, attends throughout a debate if he wishes to take part. It may not always be possible. There is a Motion before the House. It is not unusual for a third Motion, or even a second Motion, on a Friday to find itself in difficulty if earlier debate takes longer than it should. I cannot investigate motives.

Mr. Lee

I assure the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) that I am no slave to the Chief Whip. If he doubts that, he could have a word with him.

I was saying that there were important marks in the history of the abolition of slavery of which this country has reason to be proud. I mentioned Charles James Fox's resolution in 1806. There was then the embodiment of the principles of that resolution in the Act of 1807, and then, more important, the actual abolition of the legal status of slave throughout the British Empire which came into effect on 1st January, 1834.

All these things are fine, but, as one who is somewhat of a Marxist in outlook, I should be the first to concede that the mere removal of legal impediments does not of itself greatly improve the lot of man, and that economic slavery can be just as real and as oppressive as can legal servile status. There is much that remains to be done.

It is within the knowledge of most hon. Members taking part in the debate that, although the slave trade and slave-raiding in West Africa featured more prominently in our history books, and seems to have left a marked impact on the minds of many people, it was not more vicious, and certainly not as long enduring, as the Arab slave-raiding in East Africa which continued right up to this century and has, I believe, continued in various furtive forms to this day.

There are parts of the world where slavery continues. Some of the desert peoples of the Sahara, some of the more primitive tribes in the interior of Brazil and the Matto Grosso and some of the peoples of the High Andes are examples. Saudi Arabia, a country to which, from time to time, this nation—and, I regret, this Government—has been known to sell arms, is a country with a considerable slave economy. However one defines slavery, whether it be economic oppression or whether one takes cognisance of the formal legal status of slave, by either criterion the unfortunate people of Saudi Arabia to whom I have referred must be defined as slaves.

One of the great problems in dealing with this is that many of the countries which I have enumerated are almost inevitably remote, under-developed countries in which, even if the Governments concerned were as co-operative as one would wish them to be, enforcement is difficult. Not only is enforcement and invigilance by external agencies extremely difficult, but in many cases the writ of the Government does not run to this.

Brazil is potentially one of the most powerful and important countries in the world. I am not criticising that country so much, but the problems are such that one's mind boggles at them. It is difficult enough for them to discover and explore their own country, let alone try to enforce the stamping out of practices which I am sure they deplore as much as we do.

Another difficulty—and perhaps to illustrate this I might quote an example from my own experience—is that sometimes the persons who are deemed to be in a state of slavery, and correctly deemed to be so, are difficult to get in touch with even when they are accessible. It is difficult to get them to express themselves.

I was in the Colonial Service for many years, and I hope that I shall not be regarded as a bore if I refer to that, not for the first time. About 12 years ago I was the Government Agent, or District Commissioner, of the Akwapim New Juaben district of Ghana, as it now is, and it fell to my lot to intervene in a tribal chieftain dispute because of the threat of a breach of the peace I had to enter the chief's palace to try to stop the various factions from fighting one another. Normally, I should not have interfered in a traditional authority matter, but on this occasion I did. I had to interview a number of the inhabitants who were ostensibly part of the retinue of the chief—or of the pretender, depending on which side one happened to be—and I was told with artless simplicity and candour that a certain group of humble people there were the domestic slaves.

Here was an example of the status of slavery, not the most oppressive, not the harshest by any manner of means, but certainly one which was conceded by all concerned to be slavery status, and that was happening under one's nose in a small district in a more developed part of the Commonwealth, a country which was then on the eve of independence, and which, whatever chequered career it may have had, is certainly not the worst example of British rule, or of the independent successors in title to British rule.

If that can happen in a country as small, as compact, and as accessible as the Gold Coast was, or Ghana as it is now designated, it is small wonder that the tracking down of all these variations of slavery proves so difficult for us to follow up. It does not help that although many countries, in all parts of the world, are rightly concerned about oppressive and overbearing behaviour, some Western countries—and I eschew the word "colonialism" because I think it begs too many questions—themselves have not too good a record in relation to the suppression of child labour and the abolition of the servile status of women which, even if not strictly slavery as defined, come very close to it.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker) will disagree with me for the first time when I say that the British Administration in the past has been far too impressed by and far too deferential towards traditional Moslem authorities, whether, for example, in Northern Nigeria, Zanzibar or Brunei. The Moslem countries are among those with the poorest records, particularly in relation to the status of women, but also in the countenancing of the existence of people with a servile status. In many cases this has been put right where radical revolusions have occurred, but that is not wholly the case.

There is a long way to go. Although I agree with the Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts), that it may not be right to refer to colonialism in the same breath as slavery, I disagree with him if he thinks that the South African practices are so much removed from it. I take his point when he regards their practices as equally reprehensible, and just as much to be condemned, but I want to take a specific example, namely, the treatment of the people evicted from Coto Manor, who were deprived of what nearly equates to a freehold tenure and granted elsewhere, in disadvantageous circumstances, no more than what could be taken, at best, as a leasehold tenure in lieu. Their treatment comes very close to the enslavement of people anew—and this by a country that sometimes has the impertinence to regard itself as a Christian nation.

We may regard South Africa's conduct as the more reprehensible, because although we can excuse to some extent the under-developed countries who are struggling with an environment and with problems with which they do not have the wherewithal to deal, in the case of South Africa we are dealing with a country which is marching back towards the 19th century and brings in for the first time the status of slavery, which is an offence far worse in many ways.

The South African Government have never forgiven the British for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, and that, among other reasons may persuade my right hon. Friend to agree that he was perhaps being a little more charitable than the situation requires.

We need three things. We need a clear and up-to-date definition of slavery, in all its forms. We need to exert a concerted diplomatic pressure upon those countries which maintain it in any of its forms. Finally, if that fails, we need to do what a Socialist Party ought to be doing anyway, namely, promoting subversion against oppressive régimes wherever they are found.

Mr. Iremonger

On a point of order. In view of the very helpful and constructive reply that we have had from the right hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Is it your pleasure that the Motion be withdrawn?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Objection taken.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)

When about half-a-dozen hon. Members on this side of the House rose after my right hon. Friend had sat down, Mr. Speaker delivered a perfectly fair and proper rebuke to myself and others of my hon. Friends who had just come into the Chamber.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) in his predicament. The only occasion since I have come to the House of Commons when I have had any success in any kind of ballot was once when I came third in the Ballot for Private Member's Motions.

I remember a not wholly dissimilar situation in which I found myself putting on the Order Paper a Motion to discuss the merits or otherwise of Britain's early accession to the European Economic Community. I found myself third in a list the first of which was an opportunity to discuss the problems of parking meters in Princes Street and surrounding parts of Edinburgh and the second of which was concerned with the problems of tourism in the West Country.

As the hon. and gallant Member will readily appreciate, large numbers of Scotsmen decided that they would give tongue to the first and on the second almost all the West Country Members, particularly Conservative Members, who had just had an opoprtunity to discuss the subject in a debate on selective employment tax, made very much the same sort of speeches. Like the hon. and gallant Member today, I sat fuming somewhat throughout the greater part of that Friday.

Captain W. Elliot

Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that the circumstances are not quite the same? Many hon. Members opposite have been driven in by the Whips to discuss this second Motion because a Minister has not taken the trouble to come to the House to listen to what I have to say about the third.

Mr. Richard

I cannot say that I have been driven. This is a subject in which I have had an interest not merely in the last hour and ten minutes, but for a more considerable time. The hon. and gallant Member will also appreciate that the reasons one is not actually in the Chamber at the beginning of a debate, or throughout it, are as many and varied are as the immediate motives for taking an opportunity to participate in a debate.

If I may come to the subject of the Motion, it is useful that this issue should get an airing in the House of Commons from time to time. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) has just left. I would not go as far as he went in his closing words when he said that he thought that a Socialist Government, faced with a situation in which slavery existed in many unknown countries, should get on with what he considered to be the job of a Socialist Government, namely, promoting subversion in those countries. This seems, even for my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, a somewhat extreme statement of an extreme point of view, and I certainly could not agree with him to that extent.

However, I agree with him thus far on the general issue of slavery that, despite the proud record that Great Britain has in eradicating slavery in various parts of the world and in doing what we have always done and doing what lies in our power to eradicate slavery in those parts of the globe which are under our control and our influence, it is a matter of deep regret first, that this debate has to take place at all and, secondly, that there is clearly, in 1969, a considerable amount of slavery which has not yet been eradicated.

I suppose that the real trouble now is that such slavery as exists in those areas which are more remote, which are more inaccessible, which, almost by definition, because slavery has long been outlawed by the international community, are not easy to visit, areas where it is not easy to investigate the internal circumstances of a nation.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

May I draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that the Chief Whip has now left the Chamber, so that he may desist from this unnecessary filibuster in order better to serve the interests of his constituents by discussing something of more urgent importance, particularly more urgent on this occasion?

Mr. Richard

I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you do not need the advice of the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine), who seems to be interested in the problems of London docks, about whether I am in or out of order. I am sure that if I had been filibustering, by now you would have called me to order.

Indeed, I hope that the House and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will acquit me of any such intention. I desire to make a speech on the Motion. As the Motion is on the Order Paper, by the rules of the House, although the hon. Gentleman may not like it because the rules do not suit him this afternoon, it is open to discussion.

The point which I was making was one which I should have thought even the hon. Gentleman would agree with, namely, that such slavery as there is in the world today is now so hidden away and so much less obvious that the problem of dealing with the residue of slavery becomes very much more difficult and very much more intransigent.

I come to the second proposition in which I again hope that the House will follow me. This is not a problem for any one nation to try to deal with. If any action is to be taken, if solutions are to be found, if attempts are to be made to deal with the problem, it must be done at an international level and not on the basis of a purely national effort.

Therefore, the Motion comes down to the very simple question whether we are satisfied, having heard the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, that the United Kingdom is doing all that it can in the international organisations of which it is a member to eradicate the pockets of slavery. Having heard my right hon. Friend, on the whole I think that we are doing almost everything that it is within our power to do.

The problems of definition are immense. Speaking as a lawyer, and declaring some kind of personal interest, I can imagine nothing which would be more productive of international litigation than to try to produce a workable definition of slavery. There are so many variations of situations and relationships between quasi-employer and quasi-employee, and indeed between husband and quasi-wife or quasi-child, that it would be extremely difficult to produce a workable definition which would be legally watertight. Therefore, the moves which the Government have made to at least proceed in this direction are ones that I welcome.

Even if such a definition could be found, the usual problem which international organisations such as the United Nations face would arise. It would arise in connection with slavery in a more difficult and a more intransigent form. The problem would be how to enforce the expressed determination of the United Nations, in situations in which, first, it could be argued that slavery was the internal affair of the individual nation concerned and, secondly, in situations in which those nations, because they are less developed, because they are perhaps not so familiar with the international community as the Western ones are, are more touchy, more difficult, more inclined to raise this banner of "meddling in our internal affairs".

Therefore, how do we try to make the decision of the United Nations more enforceable? Even if a definition could be found, how can such pockets of slavery be eradicated in those areas of the world in a situation in which by almost every definition the difficulties of enforcement, of protection, of communication, are immeasurably increased?

There is only one way in which it can be done. The Government are moving in this direction. I do not think that slavery as such is yet an international crime. Many nations have either signed declarations of human rights or have acceded to conventions by which they have bound themselves to make this type of bondage a criminal offence against their internal law. The fact that slavery is not yet an international crime means that to a large extent the international enforcement authorities, such as these are, do not, and indeed cannot, play a very great part in detection.

If we made slavery an international offence, and were to give international enforcement authorities the right to cross frontiers and to go into nations to investigate and to try to detect slavery and then activate the enforcement authorities of the nation concerned so that prosecutions are brought and international law and opinion on this delicate and difficult issue are not seen to be flouted, we might get somewhere. But merely to pass resolutions at the United Nations without making a real attempt to make the enforcement of those resolutions stronger and more watertight will not get us very much further.

Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

Would my hon. Friend agree that there is a fairly simple way of making such resolutions effective, and that is by setting up the committee of experts called for in the report of the special rapporteur in 1966?

Mr. Richard

I accept that that is one method which should be considered, and, judging from the speech of the Minister of State, it is being actively considered by the Government. My point was perhaps wider, namely, that if we make slavery an international offence we may be moving into a totally new and uncharted realm of international law. As far as I know, there is no such thing as an international offence, except perhaps conspiracy to war. Certainly, there is no court before which an individual or nation can be brought and charged with this type of offence.

This is an example of a situation which points, at one and the same time, the strengths and weaknesses of international organisations. The United Nations has on the whole done a good job in the investigation of the problem. We are proceeding along reasonable lines concerning the difficulties of definition. It is the next stage which it is difficult, and it is to this stage that I hope the Government will, from now on, pay a great deal of attention.

I welcome the debate. It is useful to have this subject aired from time to time lest people outside this country feel that we in Great Britain, with our record on anti-slavery legislation, tend to forget that record and do not believe that the problem exists, as it clearly does.

3.42 p.m.

Mr. W. Howie (Luton)

I hope that if I speak for a few moments—and I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it will be for only a few moments—I shall not be accused by the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) of filibustering or of anything else. We have a job to do, and we try to do it.

I say to the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) that I have no intention of squeezing out his opportunity to speak. Indeed, I am extremely interested in the question of the London Docks. I live in London, and I have done so for a very long time. I was employed for a number of years by a well-known firm of harbour engineers. I have a close interest in the subject. I am anxious to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech. However, the little rash of interruptions, interjections, points of order and accusations made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his colleagues merely had the effect of wasting what little time we have.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman must know that he is indulging in the most arrant hypocrisy. He knows that there is no Minister from the Ministry of Transport on the Government Front Bench to reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton. The hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber only recently. He has no interest in this debate, or he would have been here at the beginning of it. He is simply determined to ensure that the debate goes on until 4 o'clock in order to prevent my hon. and gallant Friend from speaking.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House had better address itself to the Motion.

Mr. Howie

I am very willing to address myself to the Motion, but I think you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that intervention was extremely impertinent and insolent. It contained a number of allegations directed towards myself which were fantasy. I wish to hear the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton. We would have been substantially nearer to it but for that irrelevant intervention.

The Motion on slavery is a very important one. There is no reason why the synthetic outrage on the other side of the House should lead us to forget the fact. The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) is to be congratulated on using his time in putting it down. I intend to compress my remarks as far as I can in deference to the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton, and I shall do so.

One or two factors seem to me to arise strongly from the speeches which we have heard. The first was that the Government have nothing for which to reproach themselves in this field. This House has a very long tradition, on all sides, of opposition to slavery. The Government are acting in accordance with that long tradition in their policies in the United Nations. We know that there are difficulties. There are difficulties of definition—

Mr. W. S. Hilton (Bethnal Green)

My hon. Friend mentions that the Government have an honourable tradition, but would he not agree that in distinguishing between a free man and the slave, if I may encapsulate the point, the question is not one of wealth or riches but that the free man has the right to dispose of his labour whereas the slave does not, and that any Government legislation which might possibly imperil the right of a man to dispose freely of his labour could come near to the bone? I would like my hon. Friend's opinion about this.

Mr. Howie

I am extremely interested in that. I am anxious to get on, however, and will not permit myself to be tempted to take up the point, although it is absolutely right and it has relevance to the thinking on this question. It appeared to confuse my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee), who somehow identified slavery as apartheid. My hon. Friend was not right to do that. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State distinguished between the two. Apartheid is abhorrent to every Member of the House, but it is quite distinct in kind from slavery. The reason why it is distinct in kind is inherent in the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Hilton). My hon. Friend the Member for Reading was wrong in that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading was wrong, too, in trying to draw some sort of moral between the existence of slavery in certain parts of the world and the sale of arms to those countries. The sale of arms may or may not be a desirable thing. Slavery is certainly not desirable and the slave trade is certainly not a desirable thing. They are, however, distinct and it is wrong to confuse them with each other.

There is one point which is rather nearer home to which I should like to draw attention. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green has raised the nub of this matter in referring to the distinction between the free man and the slave. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Minister of State would agree that the nearest we come to slavery in this country is in the employment of labour in our prison system. I shall be very brief on this, but there are very distinct problems affecting the rights of payment, the amounts which a prisoner can earn, and the kinds of changes which occur in piece work rates. For example, if a prisoner is on net work, making nets, he will be paid by the piece at a certain rate—in what, presumably, is a hangover from the worst traditions of capitalism. If he reaches a particular rate of output his piece work rate is cut. This is something which the trade union movement in this country has fought against all our lifetimes and all the lifetimes of our fathers before us, and yet it remains, in a residual way, in our prisons.

Mr. Hilton

I do not want my hon. Friend to be confused about this. Although a man, if he goes to prison and becomes a prisoner, has the right to dispose of his labour taken from him, he is not directed or forced to work. Normally, prisoners are given the choice whether they wish to work or not, even if they are paid not very well. There is no element of slavery—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interventions must be brief.

Mr. Howie

I recognise the distinction there quite clearly, and I am not trying to over-dramatise this example. I am merely saying that it is akin—no more than akin—to slavery, and it is something we should think very closely about.

I do not wish to be very long, but I would say, having mentioned the difficulty of definition, that the difficulty which arises here is the difficulty of machinery. It is frequently difficult enough for a Government to impose their will within their own country. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading was very precise in the examples which he gave. It becomes even more difficult for an outside body like the League of Nations to impose its will on member Governments concerned. We must remember that the Western tradition of government, which is a tradition which illuminates the United Nations, is the tradition of government by the consent of the governed, and just as individuals in a country have to consent to their government, so the members of United Nations have to be allowed to consent to any kind of interference in their affairs by the central body itself. That seems to me to be a major difficulty.

Mr. Archer

Would my hon. Friend agree that what they do have to consent to from time to time is a limitation, in a measure, of their sovereignty, so as to submit their actions to international approval?

Mr. Howie

Yes. I was, indeed, about to say precisely that. It does become a matter of sovereignty, though I shall say no more about that at this point than remind the House that when we debated the Common Market some time ago—this was put into my head by some words of my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard)—one of the principle problems which arose was that our entry into the Common Market might at some time or another lead to our sovereignty being diminished, and this was, to many people, a great disadvantage. It is exactly that from of mind among member nations of the United Nations which makes the imposition of the wishes of the United Nations extremely difficult.

I am anxious to hear what the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton has to say, because he has a Motion which is one in which I myself am extremely interested, and, as I say, I have compressed my remarks so far as it possible to do so, but I would endorse very strongly what were almost the concluding words of my right hon. Friend this afternoon when he said that the central matter in this whole question is to reach a consensus of intention. This is well under way and the Government are to be congratulated on the manner in which they are promoting this consensus of intention. I am extremely pleased that we have had an opportunity to discuss this Motion.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) on giving the House an opportunity to debate this matter. It is apposite that the debate should be held in this Chamber, since historically this country has always taken a leading part in the abolition of slavery.

As a non-lawyer, I do not intend to go into legal arguments; I speak as an ordinary man in the street who looks upon the practice of slavery with abhorrence. Unfortunately, even today, slavery is still rife in the world. It is rife in certain countries in the Middle East in which our own country has an interest. I am only sorry that some of the hon. Members who took part in the debate on the Middle East during this week are not present this afternoon.

The United Nations has given a great deal of attention to this subject, but certain countries which apparently support the United Nations also support countries in which this inhuman trade still exists. I am proud that there is one country in the Middle East which is a shining light to the rest of that region. Slavery is an attitude which can be eradicated only by example, and Israel is an example which other members of the Middle East community would do well to emulate.

Although, as I have said, this subject is appropriate for discussion in this House, our record is not without blemish. I remind the House of the name of John Hawkins. We started that inhuman trade across the Atlantic and are not without blame in this matter. Since then, however, this country has unilaterally taken a stand against this traffic—

Mr. Dodds-Parker

On a point of order. May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker? My hon. Friend, with the agreement of the Front Bench opposite, asked leave to withdraw his Motion. This was objected to by back benchers opposite. Once again we have an example of the Socialist back benchers thwarting the wishes of their own Front Bench.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is in order for any hon. Gentleman to object to the withdrawal of a Motion.

Mr. Shaw

It is a pity that members of the Opposition should object to the discussion of a Motion on so important a subject. I am sorry that so few hon. Members on the other side of the House have taken part in the debate. They obviously have not the interest in this subject that they should have. I object to any Member opposite having the impertinence to try to prevent any hon. Member speaking on this subject, which is a matter that touches us all.

If I may continue, having made a bad start with the inhuman trade of taking slaves from Africa to America, we at least have made amends, at times to the extent of denying ourselves—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.