HL Deb 16 December 1925 vol 62 cc1503-44

EARL BUXTON had given Notice to draw attention to the Draft Convention of the League of Nations dealing with the question of slavery, and to ask the Government if they have any information that they can give to the House on the subject, and what steps they propose to take in the matter; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, last May I drew attention to the question of slavery, especially in regard to the position of the question before the League of Nations, and I urged the Government to give us such information as they had in order that we, as well as the League of Nations, might be put in possession of the present position in reference to this important matter. Since then the matter involved has rapidly moved, I am glad to say, and at the last Assembly of the League, on the initiative of the representatives of Great Britain, a Protocol was presented and referred to a Committee and, finally, a Draft Convention was placed before the League of Nations for their consideration. I think very wisely no attempt was made to press it further at that time, so that the various Governments concerned should have the opportunity of considering it during the interval before the next Assembly in order to see how far they can agree with it, whether they had amendments to suggest, and in order to enable the various countries concerned to arrive, as we hope, at a unanimous conclusion.

I should like to express my gratification that the initiative was taken by His Majesty's Government and by my noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood. I pointed out on the last occasion that in consequence of the somewhat unsympathetic attitude of the then Government and the curt refusal to give any information on the subject, an impression—probably a wrong one—was left, here and abroad, that for the time being the British Government was not taking an active interest in this question nor taking the leading part in it which we should have desired. If that impression existed it has been entirely removed by the attitude of His Majesty's Government in bringing this matter forward and by the speech in which my noble friend introduced the Protocol and the speech in which, as Rapporteur of the Committee, he introduced the Draft Convention. This Draft Convention is largely the outcome of the Report of what is called the Temporary Slavery Commission of the League of Nations, appointed last year. Eight important nations were represented on that Committee and the Commissioners were all experts or men of some colonial experience. Our own representative could not have been better because he was Sir Frederick Lugard, whom we all recognise as the greatest authority we could have on the questions involved.

I do not know how many of your Lordships may have read that Report, but those who are interested in the matter cannot fail, I think, to consider it a most admirable and complete survey of the whole slavery situation at the present moment. Not only so, but they make sensible and practical suggestions for the reduction of the amount of slavery existing at present and for the final abolition of slavery in all its forms. Some of your Lordships may be surprised that it should be necessary at this time of day to draw attention to the question of slavery, but I am sorry to say that the exhaustive report of the Temporary Slavery Commission has fully confirmed the view that, unfortunately, in many respects, even in the worst respects, slavery does exist to a large extent in many parts of the world. The evidence which they had before them and their Report show that, for instance, there are no fewer than nineteen areas in Europe, Asia and Africa in which slave raiding, slave trading and slave markets still exist to a certain extent. They show also that as regards the more insidious forms of slavery—domestic slavery, enforced labour, and so on—they are, unfortunately, prevalent in a very large part of the world and to a very large extent.

This Convention deals with every grade of slavery, from the most extreme slave raiding down to free labour and all forms of servitude, and if adopted, as I hope it will be, I think we may safely say that it forms a further milestone on the international road towards the abolition of slavery. The General Act of Berlin of 1885 was the first international step in reference to slavery. That was followed in 1890 by the Declaration of Brussels, in which various countries were concerned and to which they assented. That was followed, in 1919, by the Council of St. Germain, but that only referred to Africa and only included a limited number of States, but this Convention, if agreed to, will be agreed to by something like sixty nations, and will form a real step towards removing the question of slavery from the national standpoint and placing it under international control. And not only so, but it will bring to bear the moral influence of all these nations with the desire and the object which we have in view, which is to get rid of slavery altogether.

I am sure my noble friend will agree that though this Convention is in many ways a good one, it is in no sense a final step. It is, however, a step towards a further Convention after further consideration in order more rapidly to bring slavery to an end. I propose, in a moment or two, to criticise some of the provisions of the Convention, but I would like to say that in my view it is a real advance in the direction we have at heart. For the first time, I think, in an international document dealing with slavery, a definition of slavery is included and the words are "the assumption of property rights in another person," which goes a good deal further than most of the definitions of slavery in previous international agreements or pacts.

I think, too, it is important that for the first time domestic slavery and forced labour are mentioned by name as analogous to slavery. It condemns them both and expresses the hope that they will be brought to a conclusion. It deals also with such questions as debt slavery and other branches of that sort, though it does not definitely name them in the same way as it names some other cases of servitude. In addition to that—and I think this is an important point—it presses very strongly upon the attention of the various nations especially concerned that they should mutually cooperate, by means of their forces and in other ways, to deal with the question of the sources of slavery in Africa, so that they may prevent slaves from being brought to Asia and elsewhere. Up to now, although there has been a certain amount of international co-operation, there has not been that co-operation between, for instance, Great Britain and Italy which we should like to see and which would certainly be very effective.

I propose, as I said, to deal in a moment with some criticisms with reference to the Convention, but I will say at once, that though in some respects it falls short of all that we would desire, I think we may say, after a very careful consideration of it and of the international position, that it is a real advance upon what has been done before and that we may give it hearty support as it stands, while expressing a strong hope that before it is actually passed by the Assembly it may in some respects be improved and made more efficient.

The object of my Motion is to deal with the Convention and with some of the questions involved in it. One of the most important points touched upon by the Convention is, perhaps, the most difficult of all questions in connection with servitude—the question of domestic slavery. This still exists in many parts of the world and, I am sorry to say, even in some of our own Colonies and Protectorates, such as the Sudan and Sierra Leone. We hope that we may be in a position before long to get rid of it there. The Temporary Slavery Com- mission to which I have referred gave this question their very careful consideration and I would like to read to your Lordships the conclusion to which they came, because I am afraid we are bound to agree with it.

Their conclusion was that, at all events at the moment, we cannot hope to get rid altogether of the question of domestic slavery. They point out that it is one of the most difficult problems connected with the question of servitude: Domestic slavery"— they say— is sometimes rather a type of social organisation than a form of slavery, but the situation is such that sudden legislation would almost certainly result in social and economic disturbances which would be more prejudicial to the development and well-being of the peoples than the provisional continuation of the present state of affairs. At the same time they make various suggestions in reference to the matter with a view of gradually diminishing it as far as possible. I am afraid that all one can say in regard to domestic slavery is that it should be, as it has been, condemned in the Convention, that it requires careful watching by His Majesty's Government and all other Powers concerned, and that every opportunity should be taken to assist in its diminution elsewhere. Every opportunity ought certainly to be taken to diminish it in any British Protectorate or Colony.

It is idle to discuss the fact that many of those who are specially interested in this question of slavery are disappointed and somewhat disquieted at one portion of the Convention. I mean the way in which it deals with the question of compulsory or forced labour. There are, of course, two sorts of forced labour. There is the compulsory or forced labour under which natives are forced to leave their homes and to go and work for public purposes and in the public interest. There is another sort of forced labour under which they are also compelled to work, not in the public interest but for the private profit of those who employ them. It cannot be said, I am afraid, in either of these respects that the question is adequately dealt with or that proper provision is made for the prevention of abuses. It is argued I know—the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has argued—that it is a real step forward that the question of compulsory labour should find a place in an official international document such as this, and should be condemned and defined as analogous to slavery. I should agree entirely with that view if at the same time forced labour was definitely condemned and it was stated that it ought to be brought to an end at an early stage if means were shown whereby that conclusion could be reached. Unfortunately, the Convention does nothing of the sort.

In regard to forced labour for public work Clause 6, I think it is, recognises that it can be carried out, but it attaches no safeguards to the abuse of forced labour by public authorities. There are, for instance, no limitations of the time during which it may continue to be recognised. There are no specifications of the services for which forced labour can be used and for which it can be exacted. Further, and this I think is a serious matter, there are no provisions guaranteeing that the natives who are pressed for this service should receive adequate remuneration and that there should be a limitation of the time during which they are forced to carry out compulsory work. Further, there are no limitations of the distance from their own homes at which the work should take place. There are no provisions for the equitable regulation of recruitment and the treatment of natives when they are on forced labour.

In our British Ordinances in our British Colonies, where forced labour is permitted for the public service—and it is only permitted in British Colonies when it is shown to be for the general advantage of the community—those provisions and safeguards are carefully set forth, but in the Convention, as it stands, forced labour can apparently be exacted for almost any services for which a particular Administration may think that it desires it, without any safeguards for those who are forced to work. It seems to me, therefore, that though it is something to the credit of forced labour to be mentioned in a Convention, on the other hand, by being mentioned in the way it is, without condemnation, without adequate safeguards, that seems to me to be too much a recognition of forced labour for public services. Those interested in the abolition of these forms of servitude ought to look for the substitution of forced labour by voluntary services at the earliest possible moment by any public Administration.

A much more grave deficiency in the Convention is that it practically recognises or sanctions the use of forced labour for private profit. It is quite true that a pious hope is expressed that at some time or other forced labour for private profit may be brought to an end. Meanwhile, the Convention recognises it, but attaches a certain number of futile conditions to its provision which, of course, will be disregarded in those places where forced labour is either recognised by the Government or winked at by the authorities. I think it is a serious matter that the Convention distinctly gives what I may call a temporary toleration, to put it no higher, to forced labour for private profit, which is totally contrary, at all events, to British sentiment and to British statesmanship, which has considered that forced labour for private profit is unjustifiable and synonymous with slavery. I hope the Government, therefore, when this question again arises, may throw their weight into the scale for the prohibition of compulsory labour for private profit, if by international agreement, though probably temporarily, it is to remain for use by public authorities.

I would point out to your Lordships that the Temporary Slavery Commission to which I have referred gave great attention to this matter, and, with two dissentients, stated, and stated emphatically, that any form of direct or indirect compulsion or forced labour for natives in private employment are abuses and are slavery. Further—and I think this is a strong point—the League of Nations themselves, in the Mandates that they have given to certain countries in regard to late German territory, state emphatically in those Mandates that all forms of compulsion or forced labour should be prohibited except for essential work. It seems to me that what is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander, and the nations ought not to insist that the standard of forced labour in the mandated territories should be put higher than they themselves are prepared to accept for the territories in which they have complete sovereign powers.

It seems to me that those two precedents of the mandated territories and the condemnation by the Temporary Slavery Commission are very great arguments for an amendment of the Convention in respect of forced labour for private profit. I know that in what I am saying I have the sympathy of the Government, and of Viscount Cecil himself, because in introducing the Convention he said that he could wish that in some respects it went further. He also argued, I think, the other night, when my noble friend Lord Parmoor raised the question, that in these matters it is no good attempting to go too fast and too far, that if you try to obtain all you desire you might find that other nations would not be prepared to agree or to consent to the Convention, and therefore—and I think there was some force in this argument—that the Convention does set up a standard, under the authority of the League of Nations, which shall be of assistance to these less enlightened Governments who desire to deal with the question of slavery and with the question of servitude, but who have great difficulties with their own people in connection with it. Their hands will be strengthened by the Convention as it stands.

I admit that there is always a difficult question of degree—as to how far a compromise should be made in matters of this sort, how far you should modify your own views for the sake of the opinions and interest of others, and whether you should insist upon your own views in spite of the interest and views of others. It is a difficulty which always presents itself, especially, perhaps, in any international agreement or in international discussions or conferences, and more particularly, it may be, in regard to such a question as slavery, but I cannot help thinking that in this matter the bolder course would have been the better course, especially in view of the precedents to which I have referred of the mandated territories and the emphatic condemnation by the Temporary Commission.

I would point out that the argument used by the Government that other nations would not sign if the Convention was carried too far in this respect is not a very valid argument, because there is a special clause (Clause 9) under which any nation that is prepared to accept the Convention as a whole is able to contract out, either in regard to a particular Article—Article 6, for instance—or in regard to particular territories of its own. Therefore I do not think that it is likely that these great nations would decline to sign even if this clause was strengthened, because they would be able to deal with it so far as they were concerned by contracting out in regard to that particular Article. I hope the Government will feel that your Lordships generally are giving them their support in regard to the Convention in the hope that they will do their best to strengthen it when it comes before the Assembly, especially in respect to this question of forced labour.

If I may be allowed I would like to detain your Lordships a few minutes on another point. Last May, when I raised this matter, I specially stressed this position: that while the Government, quite rightly, were prepared to give information in regard to the position on slavery as far as they knew it, we here in this country interested in the matter were as fully entitled as the League of Nations to ask that such information as the Government had in their possession should be placed before us and not only given to the League of Nations. It used to be, I believe, the common practice of Secretaries of State, especially of Lord Lansdowne and Lord Grey, that they asked for information and gave that information fully to the public, so that we were aware of what was going on in regard to the question of servitude or of slavery. But that has not been the action of the late Government or the present Government, and for some time past we have been without any fresh information in regard to this question of slavery.

During the debate which took place some six months ago, I understood from Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, who represented the Government, that he realised the position, and was prepared to undertake to publish in the form of a White Paper or some other Government publication the information in the possession of the Government. That was six months ago. Information has been given to the League of Nations, but as far as we are concerned we are as much in the dark as we were six months ago in regard to what is going on. There are, I believe, certain Reports in the possession of the Government. There is what the Secretary of State for the Colonies called a comprehensive Report in regard to slavery and slave raids from Abyssinia into Kenya and elsewhere, which was to be published. It has not yet appeared. I presume the information is in the possession of the Government, but it has not yet appeared, and I think we are entitled to ask for it at the earliest moment. Information has been asked for with regard to domestic slavery in the Sudan and Sierra Leone, but there again we have not been put in possession of the information which I presume the Government have.

There is a more important matter than that; there is the question of Abyssinia. Abyssinia, some time ago, was the country around which this question of slavery and slave raids really centred. Two years ago, when we had a debate on this question, the late Marquess Curzon of Kedleston said he would instruct the consular officers to report in regard to the position in Abyssinia and that when these reports were received they would be placed before the House and the country. We have heard nothing further. The Government have disclosed nothing in regard to Abyssinia, and I think it is time the noble Viscount should place before us—I do not mean this evening—in the form of a White Paper the full information which the Government have in regard to the position in Abyssinia. I was glad to see, and it is a satisfactory feature, that the Temporary Commission in their Report give credit to the Abyssinian Government and the Ruler of Abyssinia for a genuine desire under difficult domestic circumstances to do their best to hasten the abolition of slavery and domestic slavery in Abyssinia. We want to know how far this is being carried out, and especially how far The appeal made by the King of Abyssinia to England and Italy to co-operate with him on this question has been met; what it was that the King of Abyssinia suggested and how far we have been able to meet him.

There is, however, a much more important question than that of Abyssinia; there is the question of the Hejaz. Some twenty years ago the Turkish Government, to their credit—and if we can find anything to their credit it is just as well to mention it—abolished the state of slavery in the Ottoman Empire, and, although it was not effectively carried out, yet there was the principle. Since the Hejaz has become an independent country King Hussein has gone entirely back on this principle and has declared that slavery is legal under the Koran. The Temporary Commission, in their Report, give very clear evidence that the Hejaz is one of the places to which slaves are directly sent from Africa, that there is a regular slave trade, with slave markets, and that the Government itself is actually drawing revenue from the sale of slaves in their territory. Further, the Temporary Commission say that the slave sellers take advantage of the pilgrimages to Mecca, in which thousands of pilgrims take part, to kidnap girls and others on these pilgrimages and sell them for slaves. Indeed, according to the Temporary Commission, so much has this become an abuse that a considerable number of those who go as pilgrims are really sent by the slave traders as pilgrims, and when they get to Mecca they are kidnapped and sold as slaves. These are matters which should receive the consideration of His Majesty's Government.

Another very serious position which has arisen is this. Under Turkish rule there was the right of sanctuary, for British subjects who were slaves, at the various British consulates, and in the same way in the consulates of other nations. If a slave could take sanctuary there he obtained his freedom, and this was done with the assent, assistance and knowledge of Turkish officials. But since the Hejaz has become independent, King Hussein has objected to this system of sanctuary and has tried to bring it to an end. I understand that some months ago Great Britain, France, Italy and the Netherlands, presented a note to King Hussein and that negotiations took place in regard to this matter. The agreement come to was that the right of sanctuary would still be admitted for British slaves, but that only a limited number of runaway slaves would be allowed to take sanctuary from each particular steamer and that the others would be refused. That is a very serious matter if it is true.

What I am specially desirous to point out is that I received this information, not from His Majesty's Government—and it is a matter affecting both the honour of Great Britain and the liberty of the subjects of Great Britain—but from what I read in an American newspaper. It was an article from a correspondent of an American newspaper at Geneva. I do not think it is right that this should be our first information in regard to an important matter of this kind; and it has the great disadvantage that we do not know how far it is true. I trust that part of it is not true, and I appeal therefore to the noble Viscount to take care, when such an important matter as this is decided, that we should be among the first to receive full information in regard to it. It is quite inconceivable in the present day that an English official should actually hand back, because that is the assumption, to the slave owner a slave, who, by the way, is a British subject, who has endeavoured to escape, simply because the numbers in a particular steamship have been filled up. I trust that my noble friend will be able to contradict that. The moral that I draw is that we should like to have the advantage of receiving full information from the Government rather than obtain it, probably incorrectly, from elsewhere.

There is only one other question that I should like to ask of my noble friend. There is no provision in the Convention for periodical reports or periodical revision of the Convention. It would seem quite essential, especially as we hope to improve this Convention from time to time, that there should be a definite system of reporting and revising periodically—perhaps every two or three years—this Convention through the League of Nations so that from time to time, as opinion ripens and improves, the Convention itself may be extended. I apologise for having taken up so much of your Lordships' time, but I think that this question of slavery is a very important one. I shall listen with interest to my noble friend, in the full hope and expectation that he will express the view, which I know that he holds, that the Convention is not what he would like it to be. I should like him to go further and to say that, so far as he and the British Government are concerned, he will do his best, before the Convention is actually accepted by the Assembly, to improve it, especially in regard to forced labour.


My Lords, I am quite sure that many outside as well as inside this House will be grateful to the noble Earl for having introduced this subject. It may be repeated, as it has been said on other occasions, that it is appropriate in every sense that Lord Buxton should be the man to introduce this subject. The noble Earl has a historic and hereditary interest in a. matter of vast importance to humanity and one that bears intensely upon the honour of our country. I think it is rather interesting to compare a discussion such as we are now engaged upon with corresponding debates—for there were many—on the same subject which took place in this House a hundred years ago or a little more. If any of your Lordships will look through the debates which took place in the early decades of the nineteenth century upon the subject of slavery, you will find constant reference in slighting terms to the impossibility of enlisting the help of other countries and the necessity that Great Britain must act for herself and stand for herself in this matter. It is curious to see how those who were then advocating the abolition of slavery felt themselves bound to limit their endeavour to the British Empire and those who were directly associated and connected with it.

We have learnt better possibilities now, thanks to the League of Nations. There is no question at all that the enlistment of other nations than our own in sympathetic action with regard to this matter is due to the existence and the work of the League of Nations, and we may specially, I think, congratulate ourselves upon the fact that within the League of Nations it is Great Britain, with its traditional and historic interest in this matter, that has pressed the question to the front. It was always felt that dealing with slavery must be an incomplete and limited course of action unless it was international as well as national. That has been said again and, again, and it was regarded until our own time as practically hopeless to make it an international question on a wide scale. Thanks, as I have said, to the League of Nations, that difficulty has now largely rolled away. I should like to suggest that your Lordships should compare debates such as we are taking part in to-night with what would have happened, even did happen in a slight degree, in this House twenty-five or thirty years ago. At that time we were told quite definitely that we were flogging a dead horse, that slavery had disappeared, that the few straggling remains of it in corners of the earth were of no vital importance, that we might feel that the battle had been won, that the thing, if not quite dead, was approaching death and, at any rate, was decadent to the last degree.

We know better now. The noble Earl has called attention to the Report of the Temporary Slavery Commission, which was drawn up last July and which gives us the detailed facts about the different regions in which there is no kind of question that slavery and even slave raiding, or the slave trade, is still going on. They are mostly in Africa, though not quite all, for in the Far East there are ominous indications. But, out of the nineteen different regions referred to, I think that all but three or four are in some part of Africa. The Commission, with great lucidity and elaborate care, describes the different varieties of slavery which at present exist and which are sometimes euphemistically described by other words than "slavery." Criticism is rendered difficult by involving them more or less in matters of another kind.

For example, all that belongs to adoption is used as a pretext for enslaving children in many parts not only of Africa but of the East. This practice is widely current and requires the closest possible examination and attention. Then there are all the difficulties connected with concubinage. This is in many places used as a colour for something very like slavery. There may be actual concubinage or not, but what corresponds to the word is used to cover buying and selling of female slaves. In other parts of the world there is what is known as peonage, which has the colour of being unfettered labour of some kind but which, again, very easily degenerates into slavery pure and simple. Then there is the large question of pledges given by debtors, where men or women pledge their own persons or those of their children or other people for the payment of debts, and this is transformed without difficulty into something that does not really differ from permanent slavery.

We are on very thin ice when we come to the question of the distinction to be drawn in some parts of the world between slavery and compulsory labour. Compulsory labour, as the noble Earl pointed out, is very capable of abuse and may possibly become something not far removed from slavery. We had a considerable debate upon that subject last year, or the year before, with regard to East Africa and Kenya in particular. Nothing can be more satisfactory than the strength with which the Report upon East Africa, which was brought out under the auspices of the Under-Secretary for the Colonies, Mr. Ormsby-Gore, dealt with the whole problem of compulsory labour and its difficulties. All that is set before us with great lucidity in the Report of the Commission to which the noble Earl called attention and about which he is inquiring to-night, and I, for one, am most grateful for the way in which the facts are there marshalled and facility given to any of us to study the subject with the facts more or less plainly before us—as plainly as they are obtainable.

We want to look at this matter in the largest way and it is due to the League of Nations that we are enabled to do so. We can now take it outside the range of the action of a particular country which we desire to criticize—outside the range of mandated territories—and make it come into the larger field of vision, in the relations of different nationalities and peoples in such a way that we are entitled to look for mutual support from different nations in an endeavour which must be international and not national if it is to be effective in the long run. That is due to the work of the League of Nations.

I am anxious to know whether it is a mistake that some of us have fallen into if we suppose that bringing the matter into international action by such a Convention as is here drafted is, or is not, a peril as some of us seem to think—whether, in inviting such a large number of nations, some of them in what I may call a more backward condition than others, to join in a Joint Convention of this kind, we are compelled to level down requirements so as to satisfy the less advanced nations and enable them to sign a document which they would not sign if it were of a more drastic nature than it is. Does this Convention supersede the more stern obligations which rest on those who signed the more stern conditions under the Berlin or Brussels Treaties? Are they relieved of those obligations because we have substituted a Convention, certainly wider in its range but less drastic in its provisions and effectiveness than those to which some of these nations were accustomed before?

That may be a misapprehension. I have tried to see for myself whether it is so or not by comparing documents, and I find myself in a difficulty, which may be removed very easily by what we may hear to-night on behalf of the Government. If the statement is a true one it is obviously a serious matter, although it may have been, for the moment, essential to lower the general requirements in order to satisfy those who would not put themselves under such severe obligations as we are prepared to undertake. At all events, it has been made perfectly clear in the speech of Lord Cecil of Chelwood at Geneva that we have not got in this Convention all that we would desire to have, that we are prepared to go further and to commit ourselves further than the Convention commits us, and that we desire that others should do the like. But is it the case that we are releasing some of those who are not sorry to be released from obligations of a stiffer sort with the object of enlisting a larger number of people who are not prepared to go so far as we are?

Another question upon which I would like to endorse what Earl Buxton has said is as to what we are waiting for. We were all led, a year ago or more, to hope, from what Lord Curzon said, that we should not be kept in the dark about the communications that passed between representatives of His Majesty's Government and the representatives of other Powers upon some of the most anxious problems of slave-raiding, slave-trading and the sale and barter of slaves. We were told that the documents were not ready, or that at that moment it was not expedient to produce them. Is it the case that the documents in existence still cannot be produced, or may we hope to have the kind of promise asked for by the noble Earl, that we shall see in print before long all documents of the kind which are available? It has been disappointing to us to be kept in the dark for a long time about some of the details that we believed to be set forth in documents which ought to be accessible. We shall be glad to be told whether we may now expect their issue and circulation.

These are all perfectly general remarks upon a large subject. It is an important matter to all of us, that the traditional honour of our country, which has stood in the forefront of the fight, first against the slave trade and then against slavery as a whole, should be maintained, and we think it is well that there should be periodical discussions, and that the facts should be set before us in this House. We want a few more words of explanation from Lord Cecil of Chelwood, or from His Majesty's Government, in whatever way it is thought best to bring the matter before us. We join whole-heartedly in the gratitude which is paid by this country and other nations of a progressive spirit to Lord Cecil of Chelwood for the work he has done at Geneva, and we await with interest what the Government may be able to tell us on this matter.


My Lords, I hope I may avoid reiterating what has been expressed by the noble Earl and by the most rev. Primate with regard to the broad aspect of this matter. First of all, we are not quite satisfied with the Convention, so far as it goes, and we are not quite satisfied with the amount of information given to the public. On those two points I very strongly associate myself with the previous speakers. I am very glad indeed that the most rev. Primate has explained one of the difficulties we feel—namely, that the Convention in some respects does not seem in advance of the Berlin agreement of 1885. Those who have been officially associated with, and interested in, this matter know the enormous difficulties in getting the whole world to advance pari passu in this respect. Those who have had that contact with the matter must realise the enormously difficult task which Lord Cecil of Chelwood must have had in dealing with this matter, and although I have no doubt he has had most helpful co-operation from the representatives of other countries, I do believe this country owes a great debt of gratitude to Lord Cecil of Chelwood for the part which he has helped this country to play in the matter.

The fact that this Convention, drafted on behalf of the League of Nations, is not so explicit in its terms as we should desire does not mean that it is not a very important world document. In my opinion and the opinion, I am sure, of many of your Lordships, one of the great values of the League of Nations' mechanism is that it does emphasise and bring into very much greater publicity and international recognition than any other form of negotiation, the matters which have to be dealt with throughout the world both on this subject and on kindred subjects. The general ventilation and publicity which the conditions of labour and employment throughout the world have obtained in the recent Sessions of the League of Nations in Geneva have been extremely valuable and will in the future be extremely valuable, although for the present we may say that this draft instrument does not go so far as we could have wished.

There was one point upon which the noble Earl congratulated the framers of the Convention—namely, that for the first time a definition of slavery has been given. I am bound to say that, for myself, I think that is a very greatly limited definition of slavery. I should very much like the opinion of noble and learned Lords as to whether it is a sufficiently comprehensive one. Certainly, for the purposes at which we are aiming in this movement for the suppression of all forms of slavery, it is very much too narrow, and it is a considerable relief to me to see that, as a matter of fact, in the Draft Convention its framers appear to be quite contented to give that limitation the go-by and to go into rather wider matters, such as forced labour, which, although in this matter it cannot be said that any ownership of the person is claimed, is recognised by the framers of the Convention as analogous to slavery.

A further condition of labour with which we have been very much concerned in the history of our generation is labour under indenture, in which there is no claim to the ownership of the person, but in which conditions obtain, and have been repeatedly exposed, which are even worse than the worst conditions of domestic slavery. And, although the question of indentured labour has not yet been touched upon in the terms of the Convention, I think that the liberality of interpretation which has led its framers to introduce the subject of forced labour as analogous to slavery will very shortly go a little further, and enable them to introduce the consideration of labour under indenture to private persons as also a form of labour which may become analogous to slavery.

The conditions of forced labour and the conditions of indentured labour are, in fact, the most dangerous ground at the present time in regard to the interests of the persons who are affected by them. I do not wish to use any particular country as an awful example, but in discussing these matters we do get a certain amount of information with regard to the practice in the dominions of various countries which, when one gets a definite text fur them, may serve very well as an example of the evils of forced or indentured labour. I have in my hand a Report on the employment of native labour in Portuguese Africa, by Professor Edward Alsworth Ross, Professor of Sociology in the University of Wisconsin. His Report is vouched for by a large body of very eminent and learned citizens, and I quote it simply because it puts in a very concise form the kind of results which arise from the forced labour with which this Convention aimed at dealing.

it states: — In our investigation our single aim has been to draw out and assemble the pertinent facts. … We offer the following impressions. … The labour system—virtually state serfdom—which has grown up in the Portuguese Colonies in recent years often claims so much of the natives' time and strength that they are no longer able to give adequate attention to the production of food in their own gardens and fields. Precisely the same statement has been made with regard to our own Colony in Kenya and with a considerable amount of support. The Report goes on:— There is little evidence that any considerable part of the wages tinned over in trust to the officials by the employers of natives hired from the Government actually reaches the hands of those to whom it belongs. It appears that the typical thing is for the earnings of these commandeered labourers to be embezzled. The amount of unpaid labour exacted of skilled natives is not infrequently so excessive that the young men see nothing to be gained by their acquiring skill in the missionary schools. Motor roads have been extended far beyond the needs of the Colony, and the construction of such roads by conscripted, unpaid, unrationed natives—for the most part women—with only the most primitive implements, imposes, in some cases, an almost crushing burden. There is nothing analogous to that in any British Colony, but there is a good deal of reason for saying that, not motor roads, but railroads have been developed in Kenya considerably in excess of the needs of the Colony, when other roads for the use of the native population have been neglected.

The report adds:— There appears to be widespread labour stealing, that is, the planter arbitrarily refuses to give credit or pay for certain days or half days of labour which have been rendered him. We heard of no effort made by an official to curb this despicable practice. The official does not appear to be in a strong position with respect to his fellow nationals, the traders and the planters, and hence rarely ventures to stand up for the rights of the natives as against the claims of a white man. The blacks feel that the Portuguese are leagued against them, and that there is no recourse against the white man's violence and injustice. The native policemen … grossly abuse their authority for purposes of lust, spite, or extortion. There is no regular channel provided by which the complaints of the natives thus wronged may be brought to the attention of the officials. The treatment of the natives in Portuguese territory compares so unfavourably with that experienced by the natives in Rhodesia or in the Belgian Congo that there is a strong tendency to emigrate across the frontier. In Portuguese East Africa the amount and manner of collection of the hut tax impose severe hardships upon the natives. That is a well authenticated report, and, whether it is true or not, it certainly reflects, and very clearly indicates, the kind of evils that have constantly and notoriously arisen wherever forced labour has been allowed under Governments, or for the use of planters. I do not wish to draw an analogy between the Portuguese territories and any other countries. I simply say that that is a statement of the results of forced labour well authenticated. And who can be surprised that the framers of this Draft Convention considered that, although no ownership was claimed in the persons of the men subjected to this, that was a condition of things to which the League of Nations ought properly to pay attention?

But I want to go on further to the question of indentured labour. I think there must be within the cognisance of the League of Nations at the present time reports upon the condition of indentured labourers in San Thorne and Principe—those conditions which, a good many years ago, raised the reprobation of the whole civilised world. At that time men were, and now men are, indentured and are placed in a position which really differs very slightly indeed from actual chattel slavery, and from which they have in many cases no opportunity of escape. Yet there is no claim in those cases to own their bodies I do not wish further to elaborate that point; I only wish to point out that this Convention in those respects does not outspokenly go so far as the range of the subject really requires that it should.

With regard to the question of information, I believe that the noble Viscount would probably admit that the extract which was quoted by Lord Buxton from an American report has been authenticated as trustworthy by the United States Government. It is, I think you will agree, deplorable that that sort of information should come to us from other sources than our own Government. It arises from the extreme discretion, the extreme timidity of the Government in laying Papers in order to keep the public fully informed. In that connection there is just one point which only this moment has come to my notice and about which I should like to ask a question. There is a great national institution which has recently sprung up among us known as the "wireless." The "wireless" is a source of information which is directed evidently by a person or persons of very considerable intelligence and, I might say, of wide humanity. Very interesting items are sent out by them in the news bulletin at ten o'clock at night which do not appear in the papers next morning and, apparently, do not appear again for some reason. Some time ago we had a very vehement speech from the Tinder-Secretary of State for the Colonies about some of the criticisms which were made on the Government of Kenya. That, came through on the "wireless," but it did not appear in the papers, and I am very glad that it did not.

Last night there came through an interesting statement that the Government of Burma had sent an expedition into Northern Burma in order to suppress slavery. What do we know about that? I find that some information has been given to the League of Nations about that and in regard to the Government of Burma taking stops to put slavery down. I hope that is one of the efforts that have come about owing to the attention which the Council of the League of Nations has called to the fact that slavery existed in Burma. If that is so, it is only an evidence of the desirability of having every public attention called to such matters. Had we known earlier that slavery existed in Burma, as the League of Nations Assembly has now brought out, surely some earlier steps would have been taken to put down slavery in Northern Burma. Had attention been called to what was going on in Abyssinia through the publication of consular reports, we should have taken steps to co-operate with the ruler of Abyssinia in helping him to put down slavery in his dominions. In the same way we should have taken steps earlier to co-operate with the Rajah of Nepal in putting down slavery in his dominions had we had earlier information of it.

On those grounds I plead for more and earlier information on these subjects. It may not be a subject of great public interest, but at any rate the director of the "wireless" seemed to think it was a subject of interest to those who listen-in. If we could get all the information that is given to the League of Nations Assembly the cause of the delivery of the oppressed from slavery would go forward much more quickly than it does at present. I hope that under the Commission of the noble Viscount opposite it will go forward much more quickly in future than in the past.


My Lords, the noble Earl who asked the Question said in the early part of his speech that domestic slavery still existed in the Sudan, and expressed the hope that it would soon come to an end. I have in my hand a Circular Memorandum issued in May of this year by the Sudan Government, from which I should like to quote a passage for the information of your Lordships. It says:— The fixed policy of the Sudan Government has always been that all slavery in the Sudan should in due course come to a natural end. Its aim, therefore, has been to do nothing that will delay the natural ending of slavery, but it was not desirable and would not have been fair to other classes of the people of the Sudan to take active steps to produce that result in too short a time. This natural end will be brought about by the decision of the Government that no person born after the re-occupation of the country in 1898 is otherwise than free and by the recognition of the principle that no master has the right to retain Sudanese servants against their will. The Memorandum goes on to indicate the action that will be taken to carry that policy into effect. It is most undesirable that slavery in any form should exist in any part of His Majesty's Dominions. It has been recognised by all those who have gone into the question that the policy adopted by the Sudan Government was in all the circumstances a wise policy. It seems clear from this Memorandum that they are determined that their policy should be carried out, and in that case it will not he very long before slavery comes to an end in the Sudan.


My Lords, on behalf of His Majesty's Government I certainly have no kind of complaint or objection to make to the fact that the noble Earl thought it right to raise this matter, still less to the manner in which he has raised it. I am, indeed, grateful both to him and to other noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships' House for the kindness with which they have treated the efforts of His Majesty's Government in this connection. Before I come to the substance of the Convention which was agreed upon at the last Assembly, I think it might be convenient if I said a word about the point raised by the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, with respect to whether, in point of fact, this Convention could be said to have cut down in any way the obligations which rest on other nations with respect to slavery.

The Treaty position at the present moment is a little complicated. It is true that under the Berlin Act and still more under the Brussels Act a great many provisions were agreed upon, particularly with reference rather to the slave trade than to slavery itself. Some of them were very detailed and, i have no doubt, very valuable. But I think it must have escaped the notice of the most rev. Primate that by the Convention of St. Germain, which was agreed upon in 1919, those documents were abrogated. It is true that the Powers who signed the Convention of St. Germain were not as numerous as those who signed the Berlin and the Brussels Acts; but they comprised some of the most important Powers from this point of view. They were the United States of America, Belgium, the British Empire, France, Italy, Japan and Portugal.

I admit that the position is a little obscure; but so far as I understand it, with respect to those Powers the provisions of the Berlin and Brussels Acts no longer exist at all. It is true that a number of other Powers are, I suppose, still hound with respect to them by the Berlin and Brussels Acts. But in exchange for those points, enacted by the Convention of St. Germain is this single sentence— They will"— that is, the signatory Powers— in particular endeavour to secure the complete suppression of slavery in all its forms and of the slave trade by land and sea. I do not think that any noble Lord will be of opinion that the proposed Convention cuts down that obligation, which is of a very general and very vague kind, in any respect. On the contrary, if noble Lords will look at this Convention I think they will see that in ninny respects it goes a very long way beyond anything proposed or agreed upon even in the Berlin and Brussels Acts, and very far beyond what was agreed upon and accepted in the Convention of St. Germain.


Would the noble Viscount read the words of St. Germain again?


"They will in particular endeavour to secure the complete suppression of slavery in all its forms, and of the slave trade by land and sea." That is a general proposition. Quite clearly, for instance, it does not deal with forced labour at all, and rather doubtfully with some other forms of what has been called "slavery." With regard to this Convention, I was very glad to hear the noble Earl who introduced this subject expressing his pleasure that the British Government had taken the lead in the matter. He will remember, I have no doubt, that the lead was taken originally by the present Minister of Labour, Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, so long ago as 1922, when he was representing one of the Dominions of the British Empire at Geneva. It was owing to his initiative that the matter was first inquired into by the League, and the other steps followed in due course. There was the appointment of the Temporary Commission in 1924, and then the Report of that Commission in 1925, to which noble Lords have alluded in terms of very well deserved approbation and praise.

I hope I may be permitted to associate myself most heartily with what the noble Earl said about the British member of that Commission, Sir Frederick Lugard. His services to this country are numerous and well known, and I do not think that of all the public service he has performed the work he did on the Temporary Commission on Slavery is by any means the least, or the least beneficial. I think it is only right to add that he had most admirable colleagues on that Commission, and that the Chairman, M. Gohr, Belgian subject, was really of the greatest possible assistance. He was good enough to come to Geneva last September, and to attend all the meetings of the Committee of the Assembly dealing with this subject. He furnished us with the most complete information, and with a number of extremely valuable circumstances which gave to the Convention a great deal of such value as it may possess.

The Convention deals, as your Lordships are aware, with three subjects. It deals with the slave trade, which is, fortunately—I think we may say so now—an evil of comparatively restricted extent. If we look back one hundred years or a little more to what the slave trade really then meant, to the incredible horrors which it involved, I think that we are entitled to say that, at any rate in that respect, the world has made very great progress. The slave trade in the sense in which Wilberforce understood it no longer exists. You may find here and there a native dhow carrying a few slaves across the Red Sea, or things of that kind, but, as a great institution, backed by vast capital in the Western States of Europe, and involving the most terrific horrors, the slave trade has passed away, and this Convention, therefore, though—rightly, I think—it emphatically repeats the obligation to abolish the slave trade in all its forms, does not have any great practical importance, because the slave trade no longer is of very great practical importance.

May I venture to say to the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, that in defining what slavery means the Convention does not mean it to be understood that the definition comprises everything with which the Convention deals, but it uses the expression "slavery" frequently, and it was thought desirable to have a formal definition of what was meant by slavery, so that it should be quite clear that when we talked of slavery it would be known exactly what we meant. Probably, in strict logic, we ought also to have had a definition of "forced labour"; indeed, I think it was suggested at one time, but it was thought impossible to have a definition to make more clear the meaning of "forced labour" than that which the words themselves already had, and therefore we left forced labour without any definition.

We did not deal with indentured labour, and I think rightly. I quite agree that it is difficult to draw the line in these matters, but I think that indentured labour comes more within the nature of labour properly so-called in the ordinary sense—that is to say, wage labour—and that it ought to be dealt with, if dealt with at all, not by the League itself, but by the International Labour Office, who may, if they choose, take this up and go very carefully into what conditions ought to be applied to it. The noble Lord, if he will be good enough to read the Proceedings at Geneva, will see that it was thought with respect to the general conditions of "forced labour"—what we should call "the conditions of labour" here—that these also were probably a matter for the International Labour Office to consider, and that they were almost invited to consider them and see whether it was possible to draw up a kind of charter for forced labour all over the world, which should deal not only with the graver and more general aspects of that institution, but with the details of the actual employment of the labourers, and a fortiori, if they dealt with that, they would deal also with indentured labour.

When we come to this question of forced labour with which the Convention deals, I, of course, agree most heartily with everything that has been said about the evils which attach to forced labour. There is not the slightest doubt, whether the document that I have seen and from which the noble Lord quoted, the report of Dr. Ross, is, or is not, accurate with respect to the countries which he actually visited, that it undoubtedly is an illustration of what may go on under forced labour. Everything that he there says is most worthy of attention, as no doubt it is a most powerful evil.

I was assured by M. Gohr—I do not think I am committing any breach of confidence in saying so—that in his judgment by far the worst part of forced labour occurred where the labourers were expatriated, where they were taken from the place in which they had lived, removed to a distant part of the world, put into some kind of compound, or something very like a prison, brought out for their labour, removed from all their relations and their friends, unable to make their escape, and practically reduced to such a condition of helplessness that it really depended entirely upon the humanity of their employers whether they were slaves or whether they were not. It was that aspect. of it, that led us to put in the clause to which I will refer in a moment, saying that, whatever else happened, whatever other form of slavery was permitted for private purposes, at any rate from the moment that the Convention was signed and ratified it should not be legal internationally.

What did we do with regard to forced labour? I noticed that the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, rather reproached us for recognising it even for public purposes, but, I think, if the noble Earl will consider the matter, he will agree with me that it is quite impossible to forbid altogether forced labour for public purposes. Literally speaking, forced labour for public purposes exists in every country in the world, even in this country. There are cases in which the citizens of this country may be compelled, even, I suppose, under threats of imprisonment, to undertake certain work for the community. These cases are reduced to an absolute minimum in this country, but very recently, as everyone knows, in foreign countries, the mending of roads was a matter which was compulsory upon the inhabitants near the roads.

When you get to less civilised, less completely settled countries, it is quite evident that a great many of the public services, which here are done by contract and by special organisations created for that purpose, have to be done by forced labour if they have to be clone at all. You cannot rely, particularly in the case of ignorant and half-educated populations, on their seeing the necessity for certain work in the interests of the State itself; it may be emergency work in order to ward off some great calamity, or work necessary for the development and improvement of the country, and you cannot rely on that work being done without some element of compulsion. Therefore in every State, and especially in those which have to deal with a population of a less advanced character, forced labour for public purposes is and always has been admitted, and I do not think it is practicable at the present clay to prevent and prohibit, breed labour for public purposes. But it is quite untrue to say that the Convention advocates it, or that it does not point out that it is a matter which has to be, even for public purposes, watched with the closest possible attention.

If you turn to Article 6 of the Convention you will see that it begins in this way:— The High Contracting Parties recognise that recourse to compulsory or forced labour may have grave consequences and undertake, each in respect of the territories placed under its sovereignty, jurisdiction, protection, or tutelage, to take all necessary measures to prevent conditions analogous to those of slavery from resulting from compulsory or forced labour. And the Convention in the same clause says:— In all cases, the responsibility for any recourse to compulsory or forced labour shall rest with the central authorities of the territories concerned. Further than that I think it is impossible to go, and I hope that this House will be satisfied that you must admit, as we do in most of our Colonies I think, a certain amount of forced labour for public purposes.

There is another consideration which must not be lost sight of. In this Convention, for the first time in an international document, we are seeking to deal with forced labour. I am glad we are. I was glad, indeed, to find a sufficiently general assent to make that proposal practicable. But this is rather a delicate matter. Slavery has been dealt with as an international matter, and quite properly and rightly, because the slave trade is clearly an inter- national matter. It was found, as Wilberforce found, that it was impossible to suppress the slave trade unless you attacked slavery. That reasoning does not apply to forced labour, but there is a certain difficulty in dealing with it which makes it rather a matter for consideration as to how far it is wise at the outset to press the matter; some might say that forced labour is a matter of internal sovereignty and jurisdiction and that they do not wish to have the matter dealt with by international proceeding's at all.

I quite agree that for public purposes forced labour ought to be employed as seldom as possible. I do not know whether your Lordships have looked at the White Paper which has been issued with respect to forced labour in Kenya, but I think the attitude taken by the British authorities there is the right one—namely, that before any forced labour for public purposes is sanctioned an overwhelming public case must, be made out for it; it must be shown that it is really a matter of interest to the State, to the Colony, and to the territory as a whole, and not a matter of private gain in any way, not even a matter of local gain in any way. It must be a matter of general importance, and even then it must be guarded most carefully, and adequate provisions must be made for the health and well being of the labourers. I am sure that is the right attitude and I hope it will be the practice of all countries. But to say that you can forbid it altogether is, I think, a mistake.


I never once suggested that you can get rid of forced labour altogether. The point I stressed was that there should be an international agreement as to the safeguards for forced labour.


I agree that there would be a great advantage in having an international agreement as to the safeguards for forced labour, but we did feel that this was a matter which it was very difficult for the League of Nations to deal with, in view of the fact that there was another international institution much better equipped to deal with the details of the employment of labour. When Dr. Nansen moved the additional Article, that the International Labour Office should be called upon to deal with it, we said that it was difficult for the League to direct the proceedings of the International Labour Office, but we did put it into the Report of the Assembly to call the attention of the International Labour Office to the matter. It is open to any member of the Labour Office to raise the matter and consider whether it is or is not desirable to standardise conditions which should apply all over the world to forced labour. I have dealt, I think, with the question raised by the noble Earl that there was no condemnation. There is a warning with regard to the evils of forced labour.

He also asked why we have not put in anything about the remuneration of forced labour and its duration. I think it would be extremely difficult to draft clauses as to the remuneration of forced labour for public purposes which would apply in every case. There is a certain amount of forced labour for public purposes which is treated as part of the duty of the citizen; that is, in highly civilised countries, and no question of remuneration arises. In regard to the duration, I agree that while the greatest caution should be shown in utilising forced labour, it would be difficult to draw up a clause as to the actual duration for which it was to be allowed.

With regard to forced labour for private purposes, there we are in an entirely different position. I have no doubt that forced labour for private purposes ought not to exist. That is the rule which prevails throughout the British Empire; and certainly ought to prevail. As to that what more can you say about it than we have already said? We say:— In territories in which compulsory or forced labour for other than public purposes still survives, the High Contracting Parties shall endeavour progressively and as soon as possible to put an end to the practice. Those are the precise words we used with regard to slavery. If you turn to Article 2 you will see we say this:— The High Contracting Parties undertake…(a) to prevent and suppress the slave trade; (b) to bring about progressively and as soon as possible the disappearance of slavery in every form… The same words are used with regard to forced labour for private purposes as are used in regard to slavery, and I do not think you can say more. That is what you have to do—to bring about the sup- pression of forced labour for private purposes progressively and as soon as possible. More you cannot say.

In addition to that certain conditions were imposed on those who went on with forced labour for private purposes. Until it was stopped very severe conditions were imposed on its existence. I was very much surprised to hear the noble Earl say that those conditions were futile. If they are futile it will be equally futile to do what he wants to do—to make conditions, that is, with regard to forced labour for public purposes. But I consider that he is wrong and that they are not futile at all, but are of the greatest possible importance. The first is that under no circumstances shall forced labourers be expatriated; the second, that in every ease they shall receive adequate remuneration; and the third proposition is exactly that which the noble Earl desired with regard to forced labour for public purposes—namely, that it should be applied only in exceptional cases and for as short a period as possible. This provision is to apply the moment that this Convention is ratified, and I venture to think that, so far from being in any respect a recognition of the propriety of forced labour for private purposes, it really means that it is so bad a thing that it ought to be abolished altogether and that, pending its abolition, certain severe conditions must be imposed to prevent the graver and more serious abuses that accompany it.

I do not dispute that it would have been desirable to apply, if we could have done so, the condition, as the Temporary Slavery Commission suggested, that already applies to mandated territories—namely, that forced labour is to be used only for public purposes: but I think that in these international matters you must be guided, not only by that which a Committee of your Lordships' House would desire to see if you were sitting to study the whole matter, but also that which you can induce the representatives of the different nations to accept. I know that the noble Earl suggested that this did not matter because, if they did not agree to this arrangement, they could contract out; they could agree to accept the Convention, but decline to be bound by the provisions in respect of forced labour. I really do not think that this would be a desirable thing. The result would be that these nations would accept the provisions regarding slavery and the slave trade, which would mean very hale advance on that which is already enacted, and would reject that which to my mind is the most important advance made in this connection—namely, the recognition for the first time of forced labour as an international concern. Forced labour for private purposes is emphatically condemned and put under most severe restrictions pending the time of its complete abolition. For these reasons I think that it was desirable that we should keep forced labour in and should make provisions which will, I believe, if they are observed, be of incalculable benefit to thousands and tens of thousands of our fellow creatures in the less civilised parts of the world. By screwing those provisions up to a point which would not be accepted at the present moment, we should be depriving those many thousands of unhappy persons of the very great advantages which this Convention will confer upon them.

I come now to a point that was raised by a great many of your Lordships. I refer to the question of information. So far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, they have nothing to be ashamed of regarding any information in their possession and they will be very glad indeed to give it to your Lordships. After that which has passed in this House I shall certainly go into the matter again very carefully to see what future information can safely be given. But your Lordships will remember that when we were discussing this point in May last I ventured to submit the Government's proposals, and I thought that I received general approval for the suggestion that I then made. My suggestion was that we should give to the Temporary Slavery Commission all the information that we had—this was done—and that we should allow the Temporary Slavery Commission to deal with it as they thought fit.

There are delicacies and difficulties in this matter. This information comes from British officers stationed in the countries concerned. They are there only by the leave of those countries and it may be—I do not know—that if it were known that these officers were making public attacks as it were upon the countries in which they were stationed, their positions might become very difficult and they might even be unable to continue in their present posts. It is quite certain that the sources of their information would be very much restricted for the future. Accordingly, the matter has to be dealt with cautiously and with some care. I observed that Sir Frederick Lugard, who had the whole of the information drew up a Report on one of the countries, and that Report is printed at the end of the Report of the proceedings before the Temporary Slavery Commission. He sets out, not the details of what he has heard from this place or that, but the general results. I will go into the matter again most carefully, but I think that this is about as far as we can go. If your Lordships desire to have the Report reprinted in the form of a Parliamentary Paper, there will be no difficulty and no objection. It is public property. But I doubt whether we can go any further than that.

With regard to other countries, I may say that I will look again into the question of the Sudan, but I can tell your Lordships that great efforts are being made to deal with the slavery question there. A special officer has been appointed, known as the Slavery Commissioner, to study the best means of accelerating the disappearance of such domestic slavery as still persists in the Sudan. I am sure that your Lordships will feel that this was a very desirable step to take. As regards the question of the Hejaz, I have heard nothing of the allegation that there has been some restriction of the right of asylum and manumission. So far as the information goes that I have been able to glean since the statement was made in your Lordships' House, I find no justification for it at all. I am assured that things go on just as they were and that an appreciable number of slaves are received by our consular officers, that they thereupon become free and that steps are taken, as and when opportunity serves, to ship them over to Africa in order to return them to their homes.

An additional step has been taken. There has been established in the neighbourhood of Port Sudan a clearing house where slaves manumitted by consuls in Jeddah can be received prior to repatriation to their country of origin. Your Lordships will understand that it is not always possible to know exactly where to send them, but every practicable step has been taken, and I cannot believe that there is any foundation for the suggestion that there has been any diminution of the activity of our officers in rescuing these slaves, as the noble Earl suggested.


I did not endorse it. I hoped that it was not true.


I think it is not true. The noble Lord, Lord Olivier, I think, also referred to it as being endorsed by the American Government.


I did receive from certain sources confirmation that the American Government had said that their officer's report was trustworthy.


I have no doubt perfectly trustworthy, but I trust in this case a mistake. With regard to what can be done in the Hejaz the position there at this moment makes it difficult to do anything, because King Hussein is now resident in Cyprus, and King Ali, if King, is in a position of great anxiety and not much authority. Therefore, for the moment, I do not know that we can do any more in the Hejaz. Some reference was made to the slave raids into Abyssinia. A Paper has been laid about that. We are not so faithless as the noble Lord seemed to think. We have laid a Paper giving a full description of all the raids of which we are aware into Abyssinia, and I am able to say that the conclusion is that there has been no slave raiding. There have been a good number of raids in search of ivory, and it may be that slaves are taken during that process, but so far as we know there have been no slave raids, and of course every raid which comes into our territory is repelled, and the organisers of the raid, if they can be caught, are punished. I think that if your Lordships read that Paper you will see that everything that can be done is done.

I think I have answered all the questions that have been specifically put to me, except this. There is a provision in the Convention that, with regard to the slave trade, the countries that are most interested shall enter into negotiations to see whether, by proper agreement, they can give one another extra rights for searching vessels, and so forth. The matter is being taken up and is being made the subject of discussions in Paris at the present moment. There is one other question which was asked me, and that was as to the revision of this Convention. I do not quite know what the noble Earl refers to. It would be early to begin to revise a Convention which has not been actually signed or ratified. No doubt there will be discussions about it at the next Assembly, and if there is anything further Which can be put into it in order to make it more effective, or any specific suggestions such as have been mule to-night, they will, I am sure, be carefully considered with a view to seeing what can be done in order to make the Convention more effective.

Possibly, however, the noble Earl meant rather more than that, and meant to ask whether anything will be done to meet the suggestion made by Dr. Nansen—as to whether there should be an annual Report of what is done. That is a most important suggestion, and has been specifically referred to the next Assembly to deal with. I can assure the noble Earl that the Government will regard it most sympathetically, and see what can be done. There are difficulties, I do not deny, in adopting the suggestion as framed, but personally I shall be greatly disappointed if we cannot find some way of meeting the natural and legitimate desire of the noble Earl in that respect. I can, however, only say at the present moment that the matter is being carefully considered. I have dealt, I am afraid at great length, with the subject raised by the noble Earl, and, in conclusion, will only say that I thank noble Lords for the assistance and sympathy which they have given to the Government in this matter of doing everything that is possible for those who are the most defenceless and least happy of our fellow creatures.


My Lords, we have heard a most interesting speech from the noble Viscount, showing the great care which he has undoubtedly given to this matter, but there are one or two points which do not appear to me to be satisfactory, and upon which I should like to make a short comment. Perhaps in the first place I might complete the historical study of what has been done as regards slavery at Geneva, because when I was the British Delegate to the Council, in March, 1924, the Council appointed a Temporary Commission, to which there has been such frequent reference this afternoon. We had the good fortune to appoint on that Commission Sir Frederick Lugard, and it is clear that no greater expert, and no one with greater experience of the subject, could have been appointed. There is one other matter upon which I should like to say a word before coming to one or two further points.


There is one other point to which, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I ought to refer.


Would the noble Viscount defer his further observations until I have concluded, because it is rather awkward to have one's speech interrupted? He will have plenty of opportunity afterwards. The noble Viscount quoted from the Treaty of St. Germain, and the words were "complete suppression of slavery in all forms and slave trade by land and sea." Now, although it is quite true that forced labour is not mentioned in the terms of the Treaty, yet so far as slavery itself is concerned it appears to me to go as far as you possibly can, go, and much further really than we find in the terms of this Convention. It is absolute: Complete suppression of slavery in all forms, and of slave trade by land and sea.

Now when I come to what was suggested by the Temporary Commission I should like to quote the actual words, because there again I certainly think that the terms of the Convention have not gone sufficiently far, from the point of view of either national honour, national feeling or national temperament. Of course, we desire in every way, and by every possible means, to suppress the slave trade and slavery altogether. Now what was said by the Temporary Commission on what they called the status, the legal status of slavery at the very outset of the Report, was this:—"The primary object would appear to be the complete, definite and universal suppression of the status of slavery." I think that ought to be the primary object, and I think that primary object ought to have been definitely stated on the face of the Convention itself. The Convention itself is obviously based on the position that slavery and slave trading are still to be recognised for certain purposes.


Not slave trading.


Yes, I think so, because excuses are put forward in certain places, and it says you cannot expect to get rid of it except progressively.


Slavery, not slave trading.


I think the two go together. I should have liked the Convention to have said that now, at once, all slavery and slave trading shall be completely, definitely, and universally suppressed, by suppressing the status of slavery itself. I know what the noble Viscount has said about certain countries where the difficulty arises, but what one has heard said of this Convention still remains—it was "so mild and meaningless that even Portugal might assent to it." I dissent entirely from the view that, because you have certain backward nations, therefore you are to reduce to a meaningless form certain principles which have been adopted by this country ever since the time of Lord Mansfield. Your Lordships know that by the decision of a member of your Lordships' House, Lord Mansfield, the status of slavery was declared to be illegal in this country and in every Dominion, whether Colony or otherwise, where we have the power of enforcing the principles of British law.

The other matter is still more unsatisfactory—namely, the question of forced labour. I do not at all agree with what the noble Earl said about the analogy to forced labour—I think he said in this country. He referred to the analogy of roads being out of repair, and things of that kind. That does not give the least sanction to forced labour in any form. There may be an obligation upon a local authority to put a public work of that kind in order, but I should have thought that it was impossible to use the expression "forced labour" about any conditions of labour in this country. I lay it down myself, and I believe I am accurate, that under no conditions in this country can any man be forced to labour against his will either for private or public purposes.


He can be compelled to clear the snow from before his doorstep.


That is not forced labour. He may employ any one to do it. It is not forced labour because something has to be done. Forced labour is compelling an individual to do work which he would not otherwise be forced to do.


What about jury service?


Can you really compare jury service with forced labour?


The principle is the same.


Really, I regret that an interjection of that kind should have been made. Can there be anything, in its essence and its meaning, more different than the obligation to serve on a jury when compared with the obligation to perform forced labour in the way in which we are using the term here? I admit that there must be a distinction between forced labour for public purposes and forced labour for private purposes. I should like to be against all forced labour, but I think the noble Viscount is right in drawing the distinction that he has drawn between forced labour for public purposes and forced labour for private purposes.

Upon that point I should like to draw attention to what is almost a classical passage in a statement made by the late Lord Cromer. He said:— The answer to the question, what we mean by slavery, is that we reluctantly admit the necessity of compulsory labour in certain cases, and that we do not stigmatise as slavery such labour when, under all possible safeguards against the occurrence of abuses, it is employed for recognised and indispensable purposes of public utility. I do not find any safeguards, so far as public labour is concerned, introduced into the Convention. Then Lord Cromer said: On the other hand, we regard the system when employed for private profit as wholly unjustifiable and as synonymous with slavery. So it is. Apart from any definition, if we come to the actual facts of the case what is the difference between slavery and forced labour for private profit? I entirely agree with the late Lord Cromer that it is wholly unjustifiable, and should be regarded as synonymous with slavery. In these circumstances I do regret very much that forced labour for private purposes is recognised in this Convention. It may be that it was in order to get a larger measure of agreement that it was necessary. But my answer is that agreement so obtained costs much more than it is worth, and that we ought never to depart from the principle which we have always upheld, that forced labour for private profit is wholly unjustifiable and is really a very terrible form of slavery.

There is another reason why I regret that this reference to forced labour for private purposes has been introduced into the Convention. We have Mandates which have been prepared under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations, whereby backward nations are put under the tutelage of more advanced Powers. Those Mandates are in forms called B. and C., and this stipulation, I believe, occurs in all Mandates—certainly in every Mandate that I have seen: The Mandatory shall prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labour, except for essential public works and services, and then only in return for adequate remuneration. Therefore when a Mandate is given by the League of Nations it prohibits all forms of compulsory labour except for essential public work, and then only in return for adequate remuneration. It is a very backward step in these circumstances to become a party to a Convention where not only is forced labour allowed, but is allowed for private profit and private works. The public service for which it is allowed is also defined on the face of the Mandate itself:— In principle compulsory or forced labour may only be executed for public purposes. I entirely agree with what the noble Earl said that it is exceedingly unlikely that these terms can be enforced and their observance made effectively compulsory.

But I think that is neither here nor there. Agreeing as I do with the view of Lord Cromer, I am opposed to forced labour for private purposes in toto, and I think it is essential to the national honour of this country that we should not allow it in any form. And although, as I say, I think we are indebted to the noble Viscount for the work he has done in connection with the question of slavery, I do regret that he has given his sanction to what I regard as one of the worst forms of slavery, which had already been denounced by the League of Nations itself.


My Lords, my noble friend who initiated this discussion has asked me to express to the noble Viscount his sincere thanks for the way in which he answered the Question which has been put to him, and I speak now—because I know there are important matters still to come before your Lordships—in order to save time. But perhaps the noble Viscount omitted to notice that the Motion put down on the Paper concluded with the words that the noble Earl wished to move for Papers. Very often that phrase is put down for no purpose except to secure for the mover the right of reply. But it had a real reason on this occasion, and my noble friend has asked me to enumerate the various questions he would like dealt with in those Papers.

We want public attention brought to bear on this matter as much as we possibly can, for we find over and over again in the past how valuable that public opinion has been. I take from the Report of the Select Committee on the Putumayo atrocities a passage saying that it was the report of the British consul backed by public opinion that was the true lever of reform on that occasion. And just as that was very effective in the past, so we believe it would be effective in the future. The noble Viscount told us about the action which has been taken in the Sudan. We have nothing but praise for that. Modesty is, perhaps, almost too much a virtue of the noble Viscount. Had he told us about that before and published the Papers on the subject we should have known a great deal more about it, and I think that on this occasion, perhaps, the Government overdid the virtue of modesty.

May I point out that although it is perfectly obvious that there are reasons why certain reports should not be published, it has been the practice of the Foreign Office to publish these reports without mentioning names or places? I think it was the practice of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, and also of my noble friend Viscount Grey of Fallodon when they were at the Foreign Office, to publish reports in that form. I would venture to press the noble Viscount as to whether he does not see his way to repeat that custom, and, in order to obviate the difficulties which naturally arise in some cases, to publish Papers in the same way as was done before.

May I mention now the Papers for which I ask? They are, in the first place, the comprehensive Report called for by Mr. Amery from the Kenya Government upon raids into Kenya. Then there is the correspondence with the Sudan Government upon the question of domestic slavery and raids made into Sudanese territory. That, I think I understood from the noble Viscount, was a subject upon which a Paper had already been laid.


The noble Earl will forgive me for interrupting him, but it was the raids from Abyssinia and the raids into Kenya on which a Paper has been laid. I do not think there have been any raids into Sudanese territory.


I am much obliged to the noble Viscount; I understood there had been. Then there has been some correspondence with the Liberian Government upon the export of labourers, and there are also reports on slavery and pledging for debt officially stated to be in the possession of the Sierra Leone Government. There is also correspondence with the Government of the Hejaz, with regard to which I may make a comment. The noble Viscount told us about the inaccurate rumours which had been spread in regard to this matter. Had that correspondence been published on this subject those rumours could not have got about and we should have known them to be untrue. Therefore, I think that is another example of the advantage which follows from publishing all possible Papers upon such matters. There is, in addition, a further correspondence upon the treatment of coloured British subjects in Cuba.

I might call your Lordships' attention to a Circular Despatch sent by the noble Viscount, Lord Grey, when Foreign Secretary, to consular officers in December, 1913, in which he asked all such officers under the Foreign Office to make themselves fully acquainted with any labour difficulties which might exist and insisted that, although they might not be the subject of special reports, they should be mentioned in the annual reports sent to the Foreign Office. Therefore, I think there must be in the possession of the Foreign Office a great deal of information on all these subjects that I have mentioned, which would throw a great deal of light upon them. I would ask the noble Viscount whether he sees his way to publish any or all of the correspondence I have mentioned.


My Lords, I am well aware that I have no right to speak again, but the noble Earl will see that I cannot give him any definite and specific answer with regard to these particular Papers. All I can say is that I will make it my business to inquire of the Foreign Office how far they can meet the noble Earl in regard to these particular Papers and any that can be published certainly shall be published. If the noble Earl, or any noble Lord, will ask me a further Question on the matter after the Recess if Papers have not been published sufficiently, I shall do my best to give a full answer and explanation why that has not been done. I am afraid I cannot go further than that promise.

May I also be allowed to say a word out of courtesy to my noble friend Lord Olivier? He mentioned the case of Burma. I understand it is not true that there has been an expedition sent to the North of Burma but steps have been taken with a view of compensating those who liberate their slaves in order to try to get rid of the slavery which exists in Burma. I can give the noble Lord further and more detailed information privately if he wishes to have it, but I should be trespassing upon the indulgence of the House if I did so now.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Viscount for that interesting statement.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.