HL Deb 22 July 1931 vol 81 cc1007-53

EARL BUXTON rose to call attention to the question of slavery and to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the abolition of slave-owning, slave-trading and slave-raiding is an urgent international duty. That while this House fully appreciates the action hitherto taken by the League of Nations, it is of opinion that further steps of a definite nature appear to be required in order to bring about the extinction of slavery in all its forms.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is about 120 years since the participation of any British subject in the slave trade was made a criminal offence, and two years hence will be the centenary of the Act passed to abolish the slave trade in British Possessions, which, with others, my grandfather, Fowell Buxton, following in the footsteps of Clarkson and Wilberforce, was largely instrumental in putting on the Statute Book. Noble Lords may therefore perhaps be surprised that it is necessary in the year 1931 to raise this question here, and to ask His Majesty's Government, in conjunction with other nations, to take steps to see that slavery and the slave trade shall be entirely and absolutely abolished throughout the world. Unfortunately, the slave trade to a certain extent, but not to any very large extent, still exists, though it has been very largely brought to an end through the action of His Majesty's Navy, and if the League of Nations would agree to the proposal of the British Government to declare the slave trade to be piracy, it would become precarious and unprofitable and would soon disappear.

As regards slavery or some form of servitude that is, unfortunately, in a different position, and a temporary Commission of the League of Nations a year or two ago reported that it existed in some form or other in 12 or 14 countries, and they gave details as to where the main part of that slavery was taking place. There is no question, from the information in the possession of our Foreign Office and other Foreign Offices, that in certain countries slavery does still exist to a very large extent. It is estimated that no fewer than 5,000,000 people are in a state of servitude in these various countries. That may be an exaggeration, but at all events the number must be counted in millions, and slavery does exist in a very large number of cases. It is because of that that I am raising this question this afternoon, and asking the British Government, on behalf of this nation, to make further representations to the League of Nations in respect of this matter. I have no doubt whatever that I shall have a favourable response from the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, for fortunately in no sense is this a Party question, but all sections of the country are equally united in desiring that further steps shall be taken.

There is some satisfaction to be derived from the fact that in recent years there has been some manumission of slaves in certain countries. Noble Lords may be surprised to learn that in Sierra Leone, which is under British protection, only three years ago something like 200,000 slaves were freed, and in Tanganyika, British mandated territory, 180,000 slaves under the German régime have also been freed.

The Maharajah of Nepal, the other day, greatly to his credit—he showed great courage in regard to the matter—declared that the slaves in his territory, some 80,000 in number, should no longer remain in a state of servitude. Those are good steps, but the mere recital does, I confess, cause some uneasiness as to how far in other parts of the world slavery exists to a greater extent than we anticipated. The fact that under the British Crown 200,000 slaves were only recently released shows that we are not, fully aware to what extent slavery still does exist.

I am dealing to-day mainly with the question, not of the slave trade, but of slavery. The slave trade requires no definition. The definition of slavery is one given by the League of Nations as an international definition in the League of Nations Convention. Article 1 says: Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attached to the right of ownership are exercised. In other words, slavery is limited or unlimited ownership of one human being over another with a right to treat him as a chattel or as live stock. Then the difficulty of dealing with the question of slavery is very largely due also to the fact that in various parts of the world it varies so much, though all states of servitude of that description have the common evil of property owner- ship. We have in some parts what might almost be called the old form of slavery, in which there is the crudest absolute ownership, with no protection against oppression and cruelty, and no redress of any sort, in which the Children who are born are born slaves, in which the slaves belong to the owner's estate, and at his death the families can be separated and sold as chattels. From that we have grades up to a far milder form of servitude, which may be in some, cases a kind of parental relationship.

I have heard apologists of the present condition of slavery say that it is of a mild character, and that the slaves themselves do not object to it, that they are well looked after, and are happy in their conditions. All I can say is, I hope that it is true in a large number of cases. It certainly is not true, from all the information one has, in a vast number of other cases. At all events, however mild the form of servitude may be, it does give no protection against caprice or cruelty or ill-treatment on the part of the owner, and the slave has no means of obtaining redress. It is rather a curious paradox that humane slaveowners have in the past helped to justify slavery to continue, or to delay the manumission of the slaves, on the ground that they are well treated. As regards the West Indies and the United States of America, in old days the St. Clares were the planters who were put in the forefront of the picture, while the Legrees were kept in the background, and if possible never mentioned. I think if they had all been Legrees, and none St. Clares, slavery in both those places would have been abolished at a much earlier period. But, in any case, slavery at the worst has been described in a Dispatch by a British Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Chamberlain, as a crime against human nature, and Lord Lugard has said that the mildest form is demoralising to the master and debasing to the slave.

I do not propose to-day to harrow your Lordships by quoting cases of slavery and of the cruelties and criminalities which necessarily accompany it in many cases. What I desire to do is more to endeavour, as far as we can, to encourage those in authority in the various countries where slavery still exists, to take action themselves, and, as far as they can, themselves to bring about an improvement in the condition of slavery. But I must, I think, make some reference to the most notorious countries in which slavery still exists—namely, China, Abyssinia, Arabia and Liberia. As regards China a week or two ago there was a debate in another place, initiated by Sir John Simon, in reference to the position in China, and he gave particulars of the position there, under which these young children, girls, are sold into a state of servitude for some years and are under the entire control of those who buy them from the parents. He gave many cases of cruelty, and one can imagine the deplorable position, at the very best, in which these children are placed.

As far as Great Britain is concerned, we are interested inasmuch as the British colony of Hong-kong runs with China, and has something like 1,000,000 Chinese inhabitants, and this child servitude and child sale was practised in Hong-kong. I think we may now believe that—though I also think it ought to have been done earlier—that as far as the British Government is concerned, we have no longer on our conscience the responsibility of allowing child purchase to continue there. And what is a satisfactory feature of the whole position is that the present Chinese Government some little time ago issued a declaration to the effect that in their opinion this sale of children ought to cease, and, as far as regards the existing slave children, they promulgated certain regulations which certainly would have improved their conditions; would have allowed inspection, and so on. One may hope that this view taken by the Chinese Government, as shown by the promulgation of their regulations, indicates the genuineness of their desire; and, although everybody appreciates that they have very great difficulties in the way, we hope that they will be able, both in spirit and in letter to carry out their regulations One of the great difficulties in dealing with these matters in China and elsewhere is that this servitude is, to a very large extent, part of the custom of the country, which has grown up over many years, and it is very difficult to deal with it.

As regards Abyssinia, that is the only Christian country which still tolerates any form of slavery, and it is notorious that it exists there as well as the slave trade. The condition has been described by a temporary Commission as "alarming," and I am sure the Foreign Office would be able to confirm the view which is held that something like 2,000,000 slaves at present exist in that country. We are interested, as in the case of China, owing to the fact that we are next-door neighbours of Abyssinia, and a great deal of the slave trade and the raids take place in British territory, or traverse British territory in order to carry the slaves from Abyssinia. It is not only in the north, in the Sudan, but also in Kenya. Noble Lords who are interested in the question have no doubt seen from time to time White Papers and statements from the Foreign Office indicating to what extent this raiding takes place at the present moment. But I do not want to dwell on those particulars. We have good reason to believe that the Emperor, Ras Tafari, is genuinely desirous of carrying out the gradual abolition of the slave trade, and also of slavery in his country. He has a difficult position to deal with and it would be inexpedient, I think, and perhaps unjust to dwell too much on the past and the present. We should rather give him our best wishes for the future and believe and hope that he will endeavour to carry them out.

The Ras has a task of vast magnitude to undertake if he is in earnest and really desires and is able to abolish slavery and the slave trade in Abyssinia. It is, as I say, part of their custom. He cannot go very far ahead of public opinion and he has, unfortunately, opposing him a considerable number of his Chiefs and his Rases, who own slaves to a very large extent. What makes it more difficult for him is this. It is a curious thing that the price of slaves has gone up in Abyssinia in the last year or two. The slave is apparently the only saleable commodity in the world that has not suffered from the depression of prices. That makes it more difficult, of course, because the slaves are more valuable to those who own them. Then he has the difficulty of a wild and inaccessible country in which the King's writ does not run to a very large extent, and he has all the internal difficulties of enforcing regulations even if he makes them. He has one complaint in which, I think, there is a great deal of force—that the slave trade at all events could not go on if the three countries who adjoin and completely surround him—Italy, France and England—were genuinely desirous of prohibiting the raids and caravans passing through their territory. I hope that the Foreign Office as part of what they are undertaking will see how far in future, although there has been some laxity in the past, they can really come to terms with Italy and France to co-operate in putting an end to the slave trade through Abyssinia and across to the sea. As I say, the Emperor's position is a difficult one and the question is how far he will have the courage and the authority to deal with it satisfactorily.

I cannot help thinking that in considering his difficulties and giving him our full sympathy we might look back to the position only one hundred years ago in regard to our own case. We had a country of vast resources and efficient administration, yet it took many years of agitation, and those who were supporting abolition were subject to gross misrepresentation and vile abuse before we ourselves came to the conclusion that slavery ought to be abolished. Moreover, in our case there were only 685,000 slaves to deal with altogether and the country was prepared to pay £20,000,000 compensation; whereas the Emperor of Abyssinia has 2,000,000 slaves to deal with and his resources naturally are not great. I feel sure, therefore, that what we should desire is to give him our sympathy as far as possible and, still more, our moral support and to have behind our support the support of the League of Nations in assisting him in the efforts he has to make.

The next country to which I wish to refer and in which the position is a very difficult one is Arabia. There is incontestable evidence from all hands that the worst slavery and the worst slave-trade are carried on in parts of Arabia and further east than that. The Temporary Commission reported very strongly as to the existence of the slave trade and slavery in many parts of Arabia. We have had recently the evidence of Mr. Eldon Rutter, Mr. Bertram Thomas and Mr. Joseph Kessel, who have all recently travelled through this country enquiring into the matter. All of them agree as to the very serious position which still exists there. It is true that at one time there were many public places at which slaves were sold like merchandise, and the evidence goes to show that to a certain extent these public sales are not so frequent as they used to be. But Mr. Rutter says that there are centres in towns and villages where slaves are sold privately; in other places dealers keep a definite stock of slaves, or there are agents who dispose of any slaves that anyone desires to sell.

He goes on to say this—and I think your Lordships will bear with me if I quote his words—in regard to the present position as to the supply of slaves, that there are three ways of keeping up the supply of human merchandise in Arabia. First, he says, there is breeding for the market. The Sudan and Abyssinia have furnished such a vast number of slaves during the passage of years that their children are to a great extent sufficient to meet the demand. The child of a slave woman, even if the father be free, remains a slave and becomes part of the estate and can be sold separately. Secondly, he says, there is the slave trade. This consists of bringing the human cargo to the Arabian coast by the desert and by clandestine routes and then despatching by caravans to the great towns of the Hejaz. This Mr. Kessel describes as "risky."

He gives a case which, if I may read it, will serve to show what the risks are. He says that he was speaking to the owner of a dhow and that the dhow owner told him this: One day a little while ago a warship chased me. This was overtaking my dhow. There was scarcely any wind and there was no narrow channel where I could find refuge. Then I threw a slave into the water and the warship stopped to pick him up. I increased the distance between us and three times I did the same thing. I got off by this trick. How is it"— said the dhow owner thoughtfully— that the strangers are so fond of slaves that they would lose such a fine dhow as mine to save a slave? That shows, at all events, that the trade still exists.

Thirdly, Mr. Kessel says that there is what is called the pilgrim method, which is less dangerous but almost more in- famous. The slaves are embarked well within the regulations as pilgrims, but they never return. It also comes about that parents who have taken their whole family to the Sacred City are beggared by the exploitation of faith practised there, and sell their children in order to have money with which to return. This is confirmed by other witnesses who have also seen the same thing in regard to the Mecca pilgrims. There is no doubt that Arabia is one of the most difficult parts to deal with. It is very scattered and there is a restless population to deal with and control.

As regards Liberia to which I referred, my noble friend Lord Lugard I believe proposes to deal specially with that. Therefore, I will not say anything in regard to that position, but we who are interested in the question of slavery are very much indebted to Dr. Christy for his examination and report, and that of his colleagues, into the question of slavery in Liberia. It certainly came as a shook to many of us, on reading his very courageous and outspoken report, to find how rife slavery was there and how little it was objected to by those in power. The result of his report was that the President and some of his Government immediately resigned and another Government took their plane. It is probably unique that the report of a private individual should upset a Government. The position is a difficult and a delicate one, and is complicated with international considerations. It must be cautiously handled, especially as to how far the present economic position and financial obligations are compatible with expenditure which is necessary in order to free slaves. I do not propose to embark upon that matter. It is at present in the hands of the League of Nations, who are sending a Commission to inquire further, and see how far Dr. Christy's proposals can be utilised in order to meet the position in Liberia.

From these somewhat sombre views of the present position I turn to what is really a great step which has been taken in recent years, and which, if carried further, as it will be, will enormously improve the whole position and bring slavery much more rapidly and effectively to an end than anything that has hitherto been done. In the old days the question of slavery was one for each State itself to consider. It has now been put on an international basis. We have, instead of the individual country, the nations as a whole prepared to deal with it. Instead of having an individual conscience we shall have what I may call an international conscience on the matter. I need not give in detail the history of how this question has arisen in the League of Nations, and how we have worked up to the present position. Noble Lords who are conversant with the matter will remember that the first step was taken in 1922 when it was proposed by a British delegate, Sir Arthur Steel Maitland, that the question of slavery should be taken in hand by the League of Nations. The Temporary Commission to which I have already referred was appointed and it went exhaustively into the question. Finally this step resulted in the presentation by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, of a Draft Convention for the acceptance of the Assembly. That Convention was discussed and amended, and came into force about two years ago. It is not altogether perfect, but it contains a declaration in favour of the abolition of slavery, and makes suggestions for bringing it about, and it may be regarded as an invaluable step forward.

That is the present position, and we are now proposing to proceed a little further. The first international steps were the Berlin Act of 1885, the second the Brussels Act of 1890, and the third the Treaty of St. Germain in 1919. Those were negotiations between a few States and only for specific objects. What I venture to say is a far more important step and one to which the League of Nations has agreed, is contained in the first Article of this Convention, which pledges all the contracting countries to prevent and suppress the slave trade, and to bring about as soon as possible the complete abolition of slavery in all its forms. That has already been signed by forty nations including—and this is an interesting point—the United States of America. It is the first Convention they have signed proceeding from the League of Nations, and they were one of the first to sign that Convention. That is the position. It is proposed now that a further step should be taken in regard to the matter, so as to place it on firmer ground. Practical proposals which I venture to make have, in fact, already been placed before the League of Nations in substance by previous Governments. So far the League of Nations has not seen fit to accept them and put them into force, but I think the Leader of the House, who is conversant with what goes on in the League of Nations, is aware that there has been a considerable, trend of feeling in favour of taking further steps, and I believe if your Lordships, as I am sure you will, unanimously agree to some proposals of the sort, this debate may be of use in assisting the League of Nations to undertake further representation.

The whole question is so complex that it can only be satisfactorily controlled and guided in the right direction by special machinery created ad hoc and working under the auspices of the League of Nations. The present machinery of the League applied to the purpose does not appear to be adequate, and is on much too narrow a foundation to be effective for the purposes which the League of Nations themselves have in view and to which we strongly adhere. What I want to impress on noble Lords is that while we are very grateful for what the League of Nations has already done, we think that a very effective, practical and concrete step might be taken at the present moment in order to render their action more effective in the future than it has been in the past. Under present conditions the question of slavery appears automatically in the agenda of the Assembly of the League each year, and is examined by the Assembly Commission. There is no department specially in charge of the subject. The Temporary Slavery Commission of experts, to which I have already referred and of which the noble Lord, Lord Lugard, was a member, having concluded its labours in 1925, was disbanded, and no department or technical commission has been appointed to take its place. Thus, the annual discussion takes place without the provision of adequate materials, and without that exhaustive research and technical advice which characterises most other sections of the League work.

The natural and most effective course to pursue would be the appointment of a special Bureau or commission, possibly allied to one or more of the existing departments, equipped with a suitable staff, and assisted by experienced administrators and experts in a voluntary capacity. There is at the disposal of various Governments, especially ours, a great mass of undigested information in regard to slavery, much of which under present conditions is confidential, and, for diplomatic or other reasons, it is not thought fit to transmit it to the League of Nations, because there is at present no body specially appointed to receive such correspondence, and no body capable of dealing with it. But it is quite certain that if this Bureau to which I have referred were created, the nations would be only too glad to send to that bureau such information as they have dealing with the question of slavery. This the bureau would be able to sift and study as well as to collect additional information itself.

I think another point which would be of value would be that the Bureau would naturally once a year, or from time to time, report progress to the Assembly. Each report might be held to be a step in advance, because it would be founded on real information and on practical proposals for reform, and would show the whole position of the question as it then stood. The Bureau would also be in a position to advise the Assembly not only as to whether in regard to certain countries they might make representations, but as to the best time and method of representation if such were to be made. I am not, of course, suggesting that there should be any infringement of the rights and responsibilities of the sovereign Governments, but I feel sure that in dealing with the authorities who are anxious for reform in their country—and we are glad to think that that applies to nearly all present cases where slavery exists—it will be able to assist them greatly in their difficulties by giving them advice and moral and material help in carrying out their proposals.

Another advantage would be that the bureau would have at their disposal expert opinion and expert advice, men accustomed to administration and to dealing with these matters with full knowledge. As in the case of Liberia, they would be able to place their services at the disposal of any country which really wished to have inquiry, information and assistance in the matter. In a word, they would be able to help those who help themselves and give them what assistance they could. On the other hand, I think that if we had such a Bureau created in the way I suggest, with the weight of the League of Nations behind them, they would be able in cases where the authorities were not well disposed to mobilise public opinion and bring pressure to bear on these recalcitrants which, in present circumstances, it is not possible to bring about.

These are the suggestions which I venture to make to the House and to the Government. As I said before, I feel sure that, as regards my main proposition at all events, I shall have the full support of this Government, as I should have of any other. I would only venture to suggest that as we are nearing the centenary of the abolition of slavery it would be something practical done if the Government could obtain the signatures of the remaining nations who, so far, have not signed the Slavery Convention, and could also put into effect the proposals which I venture to make—namely, the creation of an authoritative body which would have public opinion and international confidence behind it. That would be a really practical way of bringing to an end, or, at any rate, greatly diminishing, the dreadful evils of slavery.

Moved to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House the abolition of slave-owning, slave-trading and slave-raiding is an urgent international duty. That while this House fully appreciates the action hitherto taken by the League of Nations, it is of opinion that further steps of a definite nature appear to be required in order to bring about the extinction of slavery in all it forms.—(Earl Buxton.)


My Lords, the noble Earl in the speech in which he introduced this subject has covered so great a range and given us such fullness of information that there seems to be little to be added, but I feel bound to support the noble Earl. It is very fitting that, as we approach the centenary of the abolition of slavery in our Dominions, we should survey the extent to which it still prevails in other parts of the world. It is especially fitting that the subject should be brought before your Lordships' House by the noble Earl, for the name of Buxton will always be most honourably associated with that great Act of 1833—one of the episodes in our national history to which we can look back with most unfeigned satisfaction. Moreover, I ought to express the deep concern of all the Christian Churches in this land in the subject of slavery. Christianity and slavery are diametrically opposed, even though remnants of slavery may long exist in Christian countries. Christianity stands for the sacredness of human personality, and slavery denies to the human personality that fundamental right of freedom without which it cannot be exercised or fulfilled.

I have given of late some little attention to this matter, and I must confess that I was surprised and concerned to realise that this inhuman system still prevails in many parts of the world. It is appalling to realise that there are still something like 5,000,000 of our fellowmen subject to this system. The difficulties, of course, are enormous where it prevails—deep-seated custom, the danger of social disturbance if rapid action is taken, the weakness of central Governments in different parts of the world. Yet still, and ever, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and it is good from time to time, as by this discussion, to keep the public opinion of this country active and alert and to make an appeal to other nations. But if that appeal is to be effective, we must be sure that our hands are clean, that there is no part of our own Dominions where slavery in any form, and however disguised, is still tolerated. It is this that compels me to allude for a moment to a matter about which the noble Earl has spoken.

There is a part of our Empire for which we are directly and specially responsible—one of our Crown Colonies, Hong-kong. The attention of Parliament has been repeatedly called to the system of mui-tsai, which prevails in Hong-kong as well as in other parts of China, by which little girls are sold by their parents or guardians for money to other persons for domestic labour. However deep-seated may be this custom in Chinese life, however difficult it may be to restrain it in a Colony where nine-tenths of the population are Chinese and where there is constant intercourse between it and China, yet it is a form of domestic servitude which can scarcely be distinguished from slavery itself. It is not to be disguised in any way by the use of euphemisms about child adoption and the like. There are still, despite all that has been done, 4,299 of these children registered in Hong-kong, and there are those who Bay that the register cannot be complete and that the number may be as great as 10,000.

I recognise most fully and cordially the efforts that have been made by successive Secretaries of State for the Colonies, notably Mr. Churchill, and even more notably, if I may say so, the noble Lord who is at present Secretary of State for the Colonies. It was a characteristically vigorous Despatch of Mr. Churchill in 1923 that led to the issue of "The Female Domestic Service Ordinance" by which it was decreed that no right of property in any child could pass, for payment to parent or guardian, to any other person; that henceforth no person should be permitted to take any mui-tsai into his employment or transfer any mui-tsai to any other employer. But, alas, that Ordinance seems to have remained largely ineffective, and it is worth while to recall that there was issued by the noble Lord, Lord Passfield, a Despatch to the Governor of Hong-kong in August, 1929. In that Despatch he said: After making all allowance for the difficulties … it is my duty to inform you that public opinion in this country … will not accept such a result with equanimity and that I feel myself quite unable to defend a policy of laisser faire in this serious matter. Accordingly he brought the third part of the Ordinance, which had remained suspended, into operation. That part provides for the registration, inspection and supervision of these unfortunate children.

I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord who will speak for the Government whether he will tell us how far the system of registration is really complete; whether any special inspector or inspectors, apart from the agents of charitable societies, have been in fact appointed: and whether the Ordinance has now resulted in any real decrease in the number of these—I still must insist on calling them child slaves. Surely public opinion in this country will not be satisfied until this system in a British Colony has been not only mitigated but abolished. Then only can we have a real right to appeal to the conscience of other nations. The noble Earl in his speech has shown how much such an appeal is needed.

Let me say one word about China. It is true, as your Lordships know, that formally slavery has been declared illegal within the dominions of the Chinese Government, and yet probably there are no fewer than 2,000,000 slaves within that country. I am told that within the last few years no fewer than 400,000 have been sold in one single Province, that of Shen-si. Of course it is almost always these little girls who are the subject of this barter. Sometimes, indeed, they are very kindly treated, yet there is overwhelming evidence of such appalling cruelty that I would not like to repeat it in this House. I suppose it is true that the Chinese are by nature very kindly, but they are also capable of spasms of cruelty, not least when some of them are under the dominion of opium, and there can be no doubt whatever that multitudes of these children suffer from indignities of shame and oppression and cruelty of every kind. The difficulty of eradicating a long-established custom is very great. We all know how ineffective, in spite of its efforts, the Central Government of China is, and the difficulty of the evil is increased by the marauding troops of the rival armies. Yet it is appalling to think of the extent to which this system, with all the cruelty that it involves, still prevails. I suppose the only hope is the influence of the League of Nations, of which China is a Member, and I trust that the League will continue to press upon China the duty of doing, when and as it can, everything that is possible to make its own declaration effective.

I do not think it is necessary to say much about Abyssinia after what the noble Earl has told us. There probably one-fifth of the population are slaves. Happily, as he reminded us, there has now come into the rule of that country a very enlightened Emperor. It was the privilege of many of us to make the acquaintance of the new Emperor, Ras Tafari, when he was visiting this country, and I know something of what was in his mind. We all know that it is his sincere desire to do everything that is possible speedily to eradicate the system of slavery from his country, but your Lordships will have realised from what the noble Earl has said the magnitude of his task. In 1833 we, with all our resources, had to deal with 685,000 slaves. The Emperor of Abyssinia will have to deal with 2,000,000 slaves, and powerful owners, not very ready to submit to his authority, are concerned in the owning of slaves as a matter of property and pride, some of them having as many as 15,000 each. It is chiefly, I suppose, in the west and south-west, which are distant from any kind of central control, that the slave-trading and slave-owning exist, and it is mainly, I am informed, in exchange for arms and ammunition that the slaves are bought and sold. I wish that, by more strenuous international action, the importation of arms and ammunition into these wild border tribes could be restrained, but certainly every word that the noble Earl has said will be echoed by all of us as to our doing everything that is possible to give understanding sympathy and assistance to the Emperor in carrying out his desires in spite of such overwhelming difficulties.

I think I ought to say a word about Liberia, though I know the noble Lord, Lord Lugard, will be able to say things much more to the point in a moment. It is a situation, surely, of the most sinister irony. This State was founded by philanthropists who were filled with the idea of "Back to Africa," and who sent numbers of liberated slaves from the southern States of America in the hope that they, who had suffered so much in their own lives, would be eager and zealous to do everything that they could to prevent similar happenings among the tribes of the country to which they went. And still, I am told, the motto of the country is: "The abolition of slavery and the love of liberty brought us here." Yet the 15,000 or so negro and half-caste Liberians who have control of the country have imposed upon it every form of serfdom and of slavery. These heirs of liberty are the creators of a widely-extended system of slavery. The evidence of the Christy Commission cannot be set aside. That evidence shows that between 1914 and 1927 no fewer than 7,268 slaves were taken away on ships, chiefly to Spanish and Portuguese plantations. I know of one contract for the procuring and shipping of 3,000 labourers at £9 each.

These unfortunate simple natives are decoyed, deceived and carried away, often not knowing where they are going, often treated with the greatest cruelty; and, in fact, all the old excesses of the slave days seemed to have been largely repeated. There is one particular evil feature of the system, as I understand, that is prevalent, and that is the system of pawning. I hope it is no longer true, but until recently the Government imposed all sorts of arbitrary fines and, in order to meet these fines, parents were ready to pawn their children. The pawn could not be redeemed except by a third party. The persons who were pawned could not redeem it themselves. I should be very grateful if any information could be given as to whether, through the League of Nations and the co-operation of the United States of America, some improvement of the situation might be effected in that alas! ill-governed and unhappy country.

The only effective influence that can be brought to bear upon this problem is, of course, the League of Nations. Happily the phrase which the noble Earl used, "an international conscience" is now not only a phrase but a fact. It exists and it has its organ and instrument in the League; and we must all wish that the League should undertake this matter with the same continuity with which it has undertaken questions of the care of refugees, the sale of noxious drugs, the spread of disease and the white slave traffic. But the Anti-slavery Convention is not enough. The report once a year to the Assembly is not enough. There is need of unremitting vigilance and pressure and therefore I would most cordially endorse the plea made by the noble Earl that there should be created in connection with the League a standing bureau of information. I need not repeat the reasons which he has so clearly and fully given, but I am certain, so far as I can see, that in order to make the Anti-Slavery Convention really effective some such permanent Committee of experts, for the assembling of every sort of information and giving to the Assembly a report really based upon accurate and accumulative knowledge of the facts, is necessary. Certainly we cannot rest satisfied with the position which still prevails over so large a part of the world, and we trust that by the time the centenary of 1833 comes round we shall be able to secure some further progress towards the abolition of a system which is degrading alike to the owner and the slave.


My Lords, it has become a tradition that the question of slavery should be discussed in one or other of the British Houses of Parliament, and it is entirely, as the most rev. Prelate has said, in accordance with tradition that the discussion this evening should have been inaugurated by one who bears a name so honoured in the annals of the suppression of slavery as the noble Earl, Lord Buxton. There can, I think, be no doubt of the value of these discussions in maintaining public interest on behalf of a class who cannot speak for themselves, and also in educating and informing public opinion on the subject. They afford proof that in spite of all its many other pre-occupations at the present time this country has not ceased to champion the cause of liberty. In these days there are very few countries in which slaves still exist as an integral part of the body politic. We all know that slave raiding and slave trading are regarded as criminal offences throughout the British Empire, but it is also true that in certain of the British Dependencies there still happily exists a system of permissive slavery. I say "happily exists" because we have learnt that the forcible emancipation which compels a master to turn adrift his house-born slaves, whether they are aged or sick or unable to provide for themselves, is an act of cruelty, forbidden by Moslem law, which would drive men into crime and women into prostitution.

We have learnt that the, essential thing is to abolish the legal status of slavery, and to make it known to every slave that he or she can assert his or her freedom without having to appeal to the Courts of Law or to go through any other formality, such as to prove that they have employment or otherwise. They can assert their freedom without formality and without deterrent. The point is that the owner has not committed a crime against the law if he allows his house-born slaves to remain, at their own wish, in his household. In practice the relation becomes that of master and servant. It is only a transitory stage, for all children born in the house are born free. Lest there should be any doubt on this question, within the last two or three years the legal status of slavery has been formally abolished by special Ordinances in the British Dependencies of Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Somaliland, Nyasaland, Uganda, the Gold Coast, Ashanti, the Northern Territories and Northern Rhodesia, and a notification to that effect has been sent to the League. This was the course urged by Sir John Kirk, our Plenipotentiary at the Brussels Conference in 1890 and the greatest authority we have had on the question of slavery. He pointed out that it was by this means that slavery was gradually abolished in India by the decree of 1843, without the dislocation of society, without compensation to the owners, and without the hardship and suffering which would have been involved by sudden emancipation. We have learnt, moreover, that there are forms of servitude even worse than the status of the slave,, because they lack the protection which, alike in ancient times and in modern Moslem States, is afforded to the slave by the obligations imposed on an owner in those States in which slavery is still recognised as a legal institution by the State.

It is to these forms of servitude that I would confine the few remarks which intend to make; the more so that the noble Earl in moving this Resolution has dealt very largely with the subject of slave dealing and slave trading. I would merely wish to emphasise my view that the three most important aspects of slave dealing and slave trading are, as he said, the sale of women and children in China, the smuggling of slaves across the Red Sea to the Arabian coast from Abyssinia—in that connection we have been reminded that Abyssinia is a landlocked country without access to the sea, and that the slaves must therefore be shipped across the Red Sea from a port under European control—and thirdly, the sale of children and of persons taken to Mecca under the guise of pilgrims: not merely slaves who are smuggled to Mecca, but people who have gone as servants to pilgrims and there been sold by their masters.

The Western nations—Europe and America—cannot escape the responsi- bility which their civilisation and their supremacy over the coloured races have imposed upon them. I do not allude to conditions in Russia because your Lordships have recently passed a Bill on this subject introduced by my noble friend Lord Phillimore. I refer only to the coloured and subject races among whom these abuses have too often been prevalent. These races are growing more articulate and vocal and they are justified in asking how these responsibilities are being discharged. The Slavery Convention of 1919 referred to the forms of servitude to which I allude as conditions analogous to slavery and pledged its signatories to the abolition of slavery in all its forms. Foremost amongst these was the question of forced labour, the new Convention regarding which will come into operation next May. It prohibits the use of forced or compulsory labour for private profit and also forbids the employment of military conscripts for any work or service which is not purely military. It decrees the progressive abolition of unpaid forced labour disguised as a tax or exacted by native chiefs, many of whom are frequently merely nominees of the State, and it imposes very stringent conditions pending abolition.

All other forms of compulsory labour must in the future be fully paid, and they may be only resorted to if the work or service is a necessary one and is for the immediate benefit of the community concerned, and no voluntary labour is available, and if the burden is not too heavy. In the form of a recommendation, the Convention adds that it urges Governments not to push forward too rapidly the economic development of primitive regions or the settlement of non-indigenous people without careful consideration of the strain which will be imposed on the communities, both on the supply of labour and on the social fabric of the people. This Convention is a long step towards the amelioration of one of the conditions most analogous to slavery, but it must be recognised that it will not be easy to give full and thorough effect to some of the clauses to which exception was taken by several of the other colonial Powers, and it is therefore all the more a matter for congratulation that His Majesty's Government have been able to announce that they will not only sign the Convention without reservation, but also proceed to ratification forthwith.

But there are other forms of forced labour to which the Slavery Committee of the League of Nations and later the so-called "Committee of Experts on Native Labour" called attention, but upon which the Convention is silent. We condemned the abominable system of debt slavery, to which the most rev. Primate called attention just now—a form of debt slavery which goes by the name of peonage in South America, by which ignorant workers are involved in servitude for life, and also the system of "pawning" for debt which was described in the recent Report regarding Liberia. It is wholly prohibited in all British Dependencies. We condemned also the system of child adoption which, so far as the Far East is concerned, has been very much referred to recently, and about which we have just heard so full an account.

I will not detain your Lordships longer in going into details in regard to these forms of servitude, most of which have already been dealt with, but there is also a very essential duty which falls upon the controlling Powers, to spare no effort to eradicate the servile habit of mind—an extreme manifestation of the "inferiority complex"—such as also produced the "untouchables" in India, which permeates the minds of those who have been born as slaves, or have been long in slavery, and makes them regard themselves as the rightful property of their owners, even after emancipation. Mere physical emancipation is of little value without the ability to appreciate and to use it. This can only be effected by the right kind of education, and by methods of government which teach individual responsibility, and incidentally there is no more effective antidote to racial antagonisms.

I have spoken of slavery and of forms of servitude analogous to slavery in countries which are subject to the control of civilised nations upon whom direct responsibility rests. We have also to consider the case of those States in which the institution of slavery is still the basis of the whole social system. An enlightened ruler in such a case finds himself confronted with a problem so difficult and complex that we only have to recall our own mistakes and failures in dealing with it to realise the magnitude of his task. We have heard how courageously the problem was faced and solved by the Maharajah of Nepal. That surely is a case unique in history which merits our unstinted admiration. Then there is the case of Abyssinia, whose progressive ruler Ras Tafari, now known as Haili Sillassye, whom I have the privilege of knowing, has lately applied to the Anti-Slavery Society for advice on the problem of suppressing slavery. I, too, in the last week or two, have had a series of letters from a friend there who enjoys the confidence of the Emperor, and who was able with his concurrence to inform me fully of his views and wishes.

By a curious coincidence it was only last night that I received a letter informing me that the Emperor had heard that the debate was taking place in this House, and had asked my correspondent to send a telegram to the London Press, which he did in the following terms: In view of the forthcoming debate in the House of Lords I sought an audience of the Emperor in order to ascertain the present policy of the Ethiopian Government on the slavery question. The Emperor stated that it was his firm intention to enforce the existing slavery law and to ensure continuous progress towards the complete emancipation of slaves in Abyssinia. He told me that, moved by these desires, he had entered into correspondence with the Anti-Slavery Society in London, and that the response of that Society was most satisfactory. I do not know whether this telegram ever did appear in the Press, or whether the Emperor's reception of the Anti-Slavery Society's letter is news to the noble Lord. I shall probably hear fuller details in the next clay or two.

Abyssinia was admitted to membership of the League of Nations on certain definite conditions which she is accused of having failed to implement. I would rather ask, is it possible for her to comply with them under the circumstances? The rulers of the great provinces are kings, over whom Negus Negast—"King of Kings"—exercises lout a precarious control, and the powerful ecclesiastical dignities uphold the institution of slavery as a system decreed by Jehovah under the Mosaic law. The country is impoverished by the world depression and especially by the fall in the value of silver currency and the lavish expenditure on coronation ceremonies. The problem is largely financial, and the Negus, who, I am convinced, is quite sincere in his desire for reform, is powerless without financial assistance. If that be forthcoming I am not without hope that we really might be able to do something effective.

There is another country, Liberia, which is often spoken of as the only other which has retained its independence. In point of fact, it has 2,500,000 inhabitants, who are described by Sir Alfred Sharpe, than whom perhaps no one knows Africa better, as among the finest and most capable of the African races he has ever met, and who are ruled by a handful of American negroes wholly alien to them in sentiment. The Commission sent out by the League of Nations has submitted a Report, which I trust many of your Lordships have found time to look into. It is an exposure of ruthless cruelty rivalling the worst accounts of the slave raids of the past. The chief agent of these atrocities so vividly depicted by Dr. Christy and his colleagues, two of whom were negroes, after a full investigation on the spot, is the Frontier Force, of which the United States, I believe, claims to appoint the officers. American opinion was profoundly shocked by these revelations, and the Secretary of State addressed a letter to the President of the Liberian Republic, a letter of reprobation, in terms which could hardly have been more forcibly expressed. The League soon after appointed two Commissioners with a British doctor, to make recommendations for reform, and their report is awaited now with great interest.

But even more important than their report, in my opinion, is the attitude which the United States intend to adopt towards that country and towards the Firestone Concession. Hitherto it has been understood that the United States Government had applied a kind of Monroe doctrine to Liberia, but disclaimed any direct responsibility for its administration on the theory of its independence. That independence has been shown to be nothing other than the unfettered tyranny of some 10,000 to 12,000 so-called Liberians over the indigenous population. The reply of the Liberian Government to the British and American Consuls, who in January last sought an interview with the President, was, I understand, to the effect that the Liberians desired advice and not control—ignoring the fact that they had so terribly abused the control which they had been permitted by the nations of Europe to exercise over the indigenous population during the past eighty years.

The President later wrote a letter explaining his views to an American gentleman, a friend of mine, who occupies a past of responsibility in that country. I have seen this letter and it is a very remarkable document, but your Lordships, I think, will agree with me that, pending the report of the special envoys of the League, it would be unwise, if not improper, for me to express any opinion as to the course which should be adopted, or to forecast the reply of the Liberian Government. I can only hope that the Government of the United States, whose citizens have set an example to the world by their generosity in endowing schemes for the welfare of the backward races, will make perfectly clear the precise extent to which it will exercise its influence and accept responsibility for the unfortunate inhabitants of that country, or the extent to which it will co-operate in the action which the League of Nations may propose to adopt.

However valuable a debate on this subject may be for the purpose of awakening and sustaining public interest, it would be still more useful if it inaugurated some practical suggestion. The noble Earl, Lord Buxton, has revived the proposal of His Majesty's Government that a permanent bureau should be set up to deal with these questions, and I hope that your Lordships will support that proposal. In my view the bureau should be an expert body which will realise where the real objectives lie and will not be carried away by unpractical enthusiasms. It should be capable of giving sound advice both to the League where financial or diplomatic assistance is required, and to applicants who need sympathetic and practical suggestions. It is, in my view, essential that it should not only be an organ of the League but that it should have its location at Geneva and not in any other country. It should be international and small in numbers and endowed with a wide discretion as to the measure of publicity which it will accord to the information placed at its disposal.

The Foreign Office placed at my disposal, as a member of the International Slavery Committee appointed by the League in 1926 and of the Forced Labour Committee, a number of documents marked "secret." They contained information which was not accessible to the public, but I was able to make use of them in a way which, I understand, was completely satisfactory to the Foreign Office and at the same time was invaluable to the Committee. I very greatly appreciate the confidence in my discretion which this action of the Foreign Office indicated. At the same time, I could not but feel how unfortunate it was that such material—collected, no doubt, with great effort and trouble—would in ordinary circumstances have necessarily remained in the pigeon holes of the Foreign Office for lack of a suitable body to whom it could be confidentially communicated. If a small permanent committee or a section of the League Secretariat, to which two or three unpaid experts might be attached, were set up it would not be unreasonable to hope that the Governments concerned, as in the case I have mentioned, would forward to their members confidential documents which might be of great value, trusting to their discretion to use them rightly. I have the honour to support the Resolution of the noble Earl.


My Lords, on behalf of the Government I beg to thank the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, for the Resolution he proposed, which certainly we would wholly assent to, for the moderate tone which he adopted in proposing it, and for the very practical suggestions he made regarding a permanent body or bureau constituted, as Lord Lugard has said, at Geneva in order not only that there may be resolutions on matters of this kind but that practical and beneficent work may be assured in the future. For the moment I wish to say only one further word upon that point. Fortunately, we have amongst us this afternoon the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. Everyone is aware that on matters of this kind the noble Viscount has taken a very prominent position in representing this country at the Assembly at Geneva, and I shall ask him, because his knowledge is much more direct and complete than mine, to deal if he will, with that part of the question in order that it may not be dis- cussed twice over, which, I think, is unnecessary. I shall attempt to answer the questions asked by the most rev. Primate and by the noble Earl, and will leave to the end the particular point raised by Lord Lugard.

First of all, I think the whole world and our own country in particular are very deeply indebted to the Anti-Slavery Society for the work they have done in connection with the repression and suppression of slavery in all countries daring the last 100 years. It is just about 100 years ago that they were first instituted for dealing with these questions, and during that time and up to the present they have done a noble and great work. Upon this point I should like to emphasise a little a matter which was also indicated by the noble Earl. We must aim very directly at the slave owner. I think it is very important in dealing with the question of slavery that the slave owner should be dealt with effectively. If there were no slave owners it goes without saying that we should not be troubled with slave-raiding and other slavery questions. More than that, the slave owner is the person mainly responsible, and to give remedies merely to the slave or the suggested slave is very often more than ineffective, because he really cannot find an opportunity of bringing his grievance to public notice and, if he does, he knows that he very often suffers immensely in his own position and in the punishment he receives.

With reference to the definition of slavery I want to make clear at the outset what we are dealing with. I think the definition in the Convention of 1926 is perfectly satisfactory. It bases it on property. As the most rev. Primate pointed out, it is utterly un-Christian from every point of view that one individual should seek to make property of another for his own profit and advantage. I should also like to remind your Lordships what always has appeared to me to be a very admirable definition of slavery—I mean the original definition in the great judgment of Lord Mansfield given in 1772. I think people sometimes forget that Lord Mansfield's decision was an upsetting of former legal opinions in this country, particularly of Lord Hardwicke and Lord Chancellor Talbot. I think Lord Mansfield states the matter more clearly than it has ever been stated since, and I think his words are wholly true. These were his words: Slavery is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it but positive law. Your Lordships may recollect that at that time Somerset was sent for transportation for slavery in Jamaica. At that time in Jamaica by positive law slavery was recognised and was legal.

Then we come to the great Act of 1833. I do not think we have hardly sufficiently recognised that the whole credit of obtaining that Act was due to the Fowell Buxton of that day. It was just about the time when Wilberforce, unfortunately, was either dead or dying. What did the Act of 1833 do as regards slavery? It enacted that: from and after the said first day of August, 1834, slavery shall he and is hereby utterly and for ever abolished and declared unlawful throughout the British Colonies, Plantations and Possessions abroad. That was the first great Act that dealt in a wide way with the question of slavery, and, as I think has already been pointed out, £20,000,000 was provided in order to give compensation for those slaves who were freed. Slaves up to that date had been regarded as property.

I think I have now made the general position clear. Let me come to the questions which were asked by the three speakers who preceded me. I need not emphasise what the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, has said that, although in some cases no doubt slavery may be carried on without cruelty, yet the institution of slavery is the cause of some of the most brutal cruelty in the world now as in the old days. The first question he asked me was about China. We must differentiate when we speak of that country. China of course, is a vast country and there are a very large number of slaves in it; there is no doubt about that. If slavery is to be suppressed in China it must be done by international action. But the question of Hong-kong is an entirely different one. Hong-kong is an English Possession, and a very large number of Chinese inhabit Hong-kong; about 1,000,000 is the estimate. I have been asked as to the position of what is called the mui-tsai. I should like to emphasise what has been said, that the present Colonial Secretary has, in fact and in truth, in my opinion, carried out the desire of the Government to put an end to what for a long time has become a sort of plague spot.

I should like to state what has been done in regard to this matter. It is believed that practically all the mui-tsai in the Colony were registered up to the end of the six months period. That is the compulsory registration. No more mui-tsai can now be brought into the Colony, and the number not registered is steadily diminishing by natural causes, the return of girls to their parents, marriage, death, etc. The number remaining on the register on November 30, 1930, was just over 4,000. In fact, the mui-tsai custom has now been abolished in Hong-kong. All suggestions of a servile status have been removed, and the girls on the mui-tsai register are free and in the position of paid domestic servants. The noble Earl was quite right when he pointed out that the provisions which were intended to put an end to this system some years ago were hardly in fact administered in a way which would bring about that result. That is all changed now, and the desire of the Colonial Minister and the Government is that this system shall come to an end. It will die out in a comparatively short time. Under registration a large amount of protection is given, and the system now prevailing will be superseded by the ordinary rules of free domestic service.

The most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury asked me two questions, first of all as to how far this proposal of registration had been completed. The information I have is that it is completed at the present time. Then he asked me a very important and a very practical question about the appointment of additional inspectors. Additional inspectors are to be appointed for the very purpose of ensuring that the directions which come from the Colonial Office will be in fact carried out, and completely carried out.

The next question he asked me was in regard to Abyssinia. I am one of those who have had the advantage of seeing a good deal of Ras Tafari and let me express my agreement with the view stated, I think by all three speakers who have preceded me, that he really is in earnest, and desires to put an end to, or at least to put some substantial check upon, slavery in Abyssinia. But the difficulty is that there slaves are looked upon as part of the important property of the Governors of a particular district. It is undoubtedly a matter of great difficulty, but he will do his best I believe, and in time I hope that the difficulties which now exist in Abyssinia may be modified, or even after a period of time be brought to an end. I should like to mention two other points in regard to Abyssinia. In the south-west of Ethiopia, or Abyssinia as we call it, and what is called the borderland between the Sudan and the south-west, there is a large country as regards area and acreage which has been inhabited from time immemorial, I suppose, by half-civilised and nearly independent tribes. That country has now become largely desolated because these tribes have fought with one another in order by tribal raids to obtain slaves for purposes of export and sale. Of course, that is a terrible condition of affairs. I was reading the other day a book by the Consul who has been there lately, and it shows a terrible condition of devastation in this district.

I think that Lord Lugard referred to another point. I am not quite certain that I appreciated it, but I think so. A book was lately published suggesting that slave dealing was rife in Kenya and Uganda and on the British side of the border. Information was asked for among the officials in these districts and the suggestion was absolutely and totally denied. It was said that there was no foundation for it whatever. Of course, as we all know, slaves escape over the border and provision is made as far as possible that they shall not be driven back to their ancient owners—I think that would be the right expression—in Abyssinia. That no doubt arises from the attempt of the British Government officials in Kenya and Uganda and Tanganyika to do the best they can to help the escaped slaves and give them sufficient areas of land for their occupation and preserve them against return to their old degraded positions. I imagine that everyone thinks that is the right thing to do, and indeed no British Government could adopt any policy except the one which I have indicated. On the other side, the question arises of the sea traffic, or the export of slaves across the Red Sea.

Perhaps I ought to have added one word as to the raiding by these tribes. That, no doubt, has been rendered largely possible by the export of arms which are purchased by the banditti and raiders in that country, and any step which could be taken to prevent that export of arms would be, in my opinion, of great value in suppressing this terrible slave traffic. I have asked particularly for information as regards the export of slaves across the Red Sea. A book has been published which I have read myself, although I have forgotten the title for the moment, in which it was shown that whatever precautions were taken slaves could be carried across in small numbers, in the guise very often of being part of the crew of the dhow.

I was asked as to our action with Italy and France in this matter. We have acted in the most friendly co-operative manner with Italy and France. We have two sloops in the Red Sea and they act most cordially with the vessels of Italy and France. Our experience—this, I think, is very remarkable—is that since 1922, although there has been constant supervision, we have not, in fact, come across any case of the export of slaves by sea from Abyssinia to Arabia. I do not mean to say that some have not gone across—they probably have, because it is not a difficult trade for smugglers—but no large numbers have gone, and so far as our ships are concerned, the information which I have been given is that. since 1922 no case has arisen where they have found this export of slaves going on from the Abyssinian coast across the Red Sea to Arabia on the other side.

There is one other point I was asked about and that is the case of Arabia. Of course, there again it must be a question of international arrangement. Arabia is not a, member of the League of Nations and therefore is not in the same position as China. Through centuries of time, from time immemorial, there has been a very large amount of slavery in Arabia, and no doubt it still exists. If the noble Earl or His Grace the Lord Archbishop would make any practical suggestion at any time by which we could diminish the number of slaves or improve their condition in Arabia, every member of His Majesty's Government would cordially support any effective proposal of that kind.

I think those are all the instances and illustrations about which I was asked, with the exception of Liberia. The question of Liberia has been brought forward internationally at Geneva, and there is also in connection with it the question of United States action about which Lord Lugard spoke, so that rather than deal with it partially myself I have asked Viscount Cecil to deal with the matter as a whole. I am sure that would be the most effective way of bringing it to the notice of your Lordships. I do not think that any other question has been asked me about slavery in these various districts, but I do not want in any way to leave unanswered any question. I say that for two reasons. Firstly, I am anxious that all publicity should be given; and secondly, that the sincerity—if I may use that word—of the Government may be shown, a sincerity which is not political, which does not specially affect this Government, but a. sincerity which I think represents the public opinion of Great Britain, upon this point, and which has been represented substantially since the year 1772, and certainly since the year 1833.

There is one point I should like to mention about the Act of 1833. The Act of 1833 did not affect slavery in protected States or in our Protectorates, but now, I believe, in every instance protection has been given. In all cases where the Act of 1833 does not run, because Protectorates and protected States were not included in it, there has been legislation applicable to the particular districts for the purpose and object, which to a great extent has succeeded, of putting an end to those brutal conditions of ownership in the form of slavery. It was a pleasurable statistic which Lord Buxton gave us as regards the diminution of slavery in Tanganyika of about 450,000 within recent times, and as to the possibility of direct British influence. I am convinced that this Government—I do not say that there is any special virtue in it—as well as any Government representing Great Britain, will do all in their power to put an end to what is regarded by us all as an injurious and odious ownership and traffic.

One point I think I have not answered, but Lord Lugard will tell me if I have misapprehended him—namely, the question of forced labour. The particular-question asked me to-day has reference to slavery, but I agree very much with what Lord Cromer said—I heard him say it often in this House and always agreed with him—that under certain conditions forced labour brings about a status practically similar to that of slavery itself. Of course a great deal depends on how forced labour is imposed and the purpose for which it is used, but I think the Forced Labour Convention covers this matter, and it has already been assented to by the British Government. I will read a passage from the Anti-Slavery Reporter. On page 112 it deals with the specific question in these words: It is announced in the White Paper issued in April— that is, April of this year— that the British Government proposes to proceed with the ratification of the Draft Convention concerning forced and compulsory labour adopted at the International Labour Conference in Geneva in June, 1930. The recommendations guarding against indirect compulsory labour and for the regulation of compulsory labour, where recourse is had to it, are also to be adopted by the British Government. By that Convention— this is what we are going to adopt— States which ratify undertake 'to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms'. I do not say that they are all equally bad, but they may tend to become synonymous with slavery. The Report continues: Forced Labour for private enterprise is barred absolutely;— for a long time that was allowed if the private enterprise was for public utility purposes— forced Labour for public purposes is allowed for five years, but it must not be used unless efforts to obtain voluntary labour at local rates and on local conditions have failed, but any labour requisitioned must be paid for at local free labour rates, and in no case can labourers be called upon for more than sixty days in a year, including journey time. I think Lord Lugard will think that it is satisfactory that the Government have announced their intention of proceeding with the ratification of this Draft Convention. It is the latest Convention on the point, and I think it sufficiently covers all the matters to which he referred.

I agree with him, and it is the basis of the position of the present Government, that none of these resolutions, Conventions or suggestions can be relied on unless you have an effective system of seeing that they are maintained in continual operation. I entirely agree that this ought to be done either by a bureau or by some organisation of an effective character, with headquarters at Geneva. Power to see that these matters are properly dealt with is essential. I think your Lordships will find, after Viscount Cecil has addressed you—I leave this matter with him—that the Government have not been backward. They have pressed it to the utmost, and I hope that we may be successful either at the next or at some future Assembly. I am afraid I have addressed you at some length, but I want to express once more my gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Buxton for bringing this matter forward.


My Lords, my noble friend who has just sat down has asked me to say a word to your Lordships about the question of Liberia. After what my noble friend Lord Lugard has said, there is really exceedingly little to add to his account of that incident—or rather more than an incident. The only addition that I should venture to make to his history of the matter is to recall to your Lordships that it was—and it is fair that this should be remembered—at the instance of the Liberian Government that the Christy Commission was sent out to Liberia to enquire. They asked the League of Nations to appoint that Commission, and it was because of their request that the League did appoint it; and after it hail reported it was due to the request of the Liberian Government for further assistance from the League, that the League was able to send out the Commission which is now engaged in making inquiry into the matter, to see what administrative reforms are really necessary in order to put a stop to the very terrible state of things that was demonstrated by the Christy Commission.

That Commission has gone out. It consists of a French Chairman, a Dutch member and a British member. Its proceedings were a little delayed because yellow fever is endemic in Liberia and it was felt to be really too dangerous for them to go out until some preliminary sanitary measures had been taken to diminish the incidence of yellow fever in that part of the world. That was done by a British medical officer who went out at the request of the Liberian Government, and he has carried out some provisional measures which I hope will render the proceedings of the Commission itself reasonably safe. They are engaged on the Report. I had the honour of being introduced to their chairman M. Brunot, who has a very fine colonial record, and I am quite satisfied that he will do everything that is possible to make a complete and satisfactory job of this reform.

Undoubtedly the point which Lord Lugard alluded to is the real difficulty—namely, the financial situation. As he knows, Liberian finances are of a very exiguous character and they seem to have been mortgaged, if I understand the position rightly, to this Firestone Company. At any rate the real question is as to what financial arrangements can be made, and we hope, with the advice and assistance of the United States, to make sufficient finances available to carry out whatever reforms turn out to be necessary. Until we have the Report of the Commission it is not possible for us to say exactly what will be required. I hope that the position is satisfactory, so far as it can be satisfactory at the present time, and I venture to remind your Lordships that this is a case where undoubtedly it was the action of a private inquirer, bringing to light a very serious state of things and thereby bringing to bear upon the local authorities the public opinion of the civilised world, which induced the whole of the action that has taken place.

I should not have ventured to trouble your Lordship, as the matter has now been very fully discussed, except that I do very much desire to have the opportunity of supporting to the utmost of my power the suggestion made by Lord Buxton that the British Government should continue in their efforts, because that is really what he wants, to support art improved machinery in this matter in the League of Nations. I do feel that that is a matter of the very first importance. We have got a Draft Convention. No criticism has been made of the definition of slavery in that Convention, and there are the strongest possible words put into the second clause providing for the abolition of slavery. It has been stated that that has been ratified by some forty different countries, and, therefore, as far as agreement can do anything, we have taken, I think, all the steps necessary for the abolition of slavery. And yet we have regretfully to admit that slavery is still—I was going to say rampant, but still something very like rampant.

The most rev. Primate told us that there are still 5,000,000 slaves in the world, and although I suppose the estimate is a little in dispute I do not hunk the reality falls very far short of that number. That is a very serious state of things, and what I think one has to realise is that this system exists almost entirely because of tradition. Its economic value is exceedingly small. It is much less than that, for at any rate in Abyssinia the existence of slavery has undoubtedly been economically disastrous. I think my noble friend said that the whole of the districts in the southwest of the country have been almost depopulated in consequence of the existence of slavery, and it is, therefore, almost entirely traditional, and very strong tradition on the subject is backed up very often by a very powerful local opinion.

You see it in the case constantly referred to of mui-tsai in China, where apparently there is a deep feeling among large sections of the population in favour of this power of adoption of little girls, leading to something undistinguishable from slavery. In Abyssinia, undoubtedly, the great difficulty with which the Emperor has to contend is that a very strong feeling in favour of slavery exists among the feudal chiefs, who consider it part of their power and dignity to have so many slaves. So, if one went into history, one would find that the existence of slavery in the southern States of America was based upon a strong local feeling. That is the great obstacle which we have against this reform—persistent tradition, particularly in those countries where tradition is very powerful. Then, of course, there is the complication of the question, the immense variety this system takes, from the forced labour we are trying to deal with by a separate Convention, to the system of adoption to debt slavery, to which Lord Lugard alluded. That is a complicated matter and requires to be dealt with not casually but scientifically and elaborately by properly organised machinery.

A great deal has been said as to the function of the League of Nations. I believe that the League can do a great deal, but in this matter, as in most other matters, it must be remembered that the great weapon, and almost the only weapon, which the League has at its disposal is public opinion. It cannot—and I do not think it would be desirable that it should have the power—interfere with the sovereign rights of the Administration in any of these countries. All it can do is to bring to light the actual facts as they exist, and then publish them to the world. It is, as I see it, for that purpose almost essential, and certainly in the highest degree desirable, that there should exist some permanent, impartial, highly-skilled body, such as was sketched by Lord Lugard—some kind of Commission.

I do not think it would be so desirable to have a section of the Secretariat. The Secretariat cannot act in any way in criticism of any one of the Members of the League. I think it must be a Commission outside the Secretariat, but of a permanent character. I think that is essential, and certainly it must be of a highly-skilled and impartial character, and consist of men appointed not because they belong to this or that country, but chiefly because they are men in whose skill, probity and knowledge the world will have confidence. Then it must have a continuous policy. It will not merely deal with some particular grievance or scandal, but it will have a continuous policy of setting up a standard of freedom and pointing out that this, that or the other circumstance fails to come up to that standard of freedom. I regard this continuity as almost its greatest value, and then it must have skill and knowledge.

There are two other reasons why it is very desirable to have such a body. At present it is recognised that slavery is an international matter, but if anything is to be done, if any attention is to be called to a condition of slavery in any particular country, it must be called by some particular Government getting up before the Assembly or Council and being placed in the position of accuser of that particular country. That is an exceedingly invidious position for any country to take up, and not very desirable from a broad international view. It is far better that the information should be furnished to such a body as this Commission, and then this Commission would be able to consider it and take whatever action it thought right. Lord Lugard told us how valuable he had found the unofficial communication when sitting on the Temporary Commission. I agree that it would be one of the most valuable characteristics of a body of the same kind that unofficial information could be put before it. Undoubtedly, the impartiality of such a body is also of importance. In the Liberian case the fact of the impartiality of the international Committee, consisting very largely of States which had no direct interest in Liberia, was one of the greatest elements of the possibility of success in this matter.

I ought to say one word upon the difficulty which has always been found in pressing this proposal upon the League of Nations, for it is not a new proposal. It was put forward in 1929, and again in 1930, and I have every reason to hope that it will be put forward by the Government in 1931. The great difficulty is the fear that the countries feel that this will result in an interference with their sovereignty. There is a very widespread feeling, not unknown to your Lordships, in this country against any interference by foreigners in any matter of national administration. There are the less respectable difficulties of those who simply wish to conceal disreputable transactions which are going on under their own authority; but apart from that, which I hope is a very small influence, the main difficulty is the fear of interference by foreigners in national administration. Well, I think it very important that those who advocate this proposal should make it quite clear that no direct interference is contemplated at all. All that is contemplated is that this body shall set up a standard of administration in the public mind, and shall be in a position to publish to the world the facts of any particular case. It is mere publication that is contemplated, and no interference beyond publication in the administration of a country.

I would say to those who are afraid of a proposal of this kind, what is the alternative? The alternative is violent agitation at intervals dealing with some particular case. Some country is brought up as it were at the bar, very often of quite uninstructed public opinion. The matter is raised, it may be, in the Assembly of the League of Nations, or in some national Parliament, and some country is violently attacked, without any knowledge, without any recourse to any impartial body to clear its character. Surely, for every respectable Government, in a matter which is now recognised to be an international matter, it is of the first importance that there should be some impartial body before which they could go and say: "Well, these charges which are now being suggested against us in the public Press or in public speeches are untrue, and we can show that they are untrue and we are only too ready to have a full investigation into them." It is far better that these matters should be treated by an impartial body, such as I have tried to describe, than by the chance violence and rhetorical exaggeration of a political assembly, whether at Geneva or elsewhere. It is for these reasons that I personally am very, very anxious that we should press this matter forward to the utmost of our power at Geneva, and I very much hope that the Government will give instructions to its delegates to do so at the next Assembly.


My Lords, I am in entire sympathy with the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Buxton. The noble Lord, Lord Lugard, said it is quite proper that public attention should be drawn to and people made acquainted with the fact that it is estimated that 5,000,000 people are in slavery at the present moment. I do not think the public realise that at all. Then there is another aspect of the matter. Some of those who do know about slavery say that the slaves are generally fairly well treated and are happy and contented. May I read from a speech lately delivered at a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society by Sir Harcourt Butler, who has had such a distinguished career in the East, and who was instrumental in putting down slavery in Burma? He told his audience never to believe that slavery could be justified even when it is only a form of domestic slavery. He said: I have seen myself slaves on the confines of China, who I was told were living a happy existence. When I saw them myself I was satisfied that it was nothing of the kind; it is quite impossible to lead a happy and contented existence when your children, or your wife, or your husband may he torn from you and sold away … There are degrees of misery; anyhow I came to the conclusion when I had seen it all that slavery is the worst thing that I have seen in the world. He then made another remark which bears on what Lord Lugard said about the emancipation of slaves in Abyssinia: The second lesson I had was that the emancipation of slaves is an expensive business. He says the third lesson he learnt was the necessity of looking after the slaves that had been emancipated. I think that is very wise counsel. You cannot expect anybody to have a happy existence who has no personal rights whatsoever, and is subject to gross forms of cruelty, usually without any redress. It is natural to mankind to be willing to oppress their fellow creatures. It is a natural instinct, as history has shown and experience has taught me in various parts of the world. I can remember that many years ago, in a country where the whole force of British administration had sway, a Judge told me that, where there is a white jury and a native is one of the people in a suit, the native could not expect to have any justice; it entirely depended upon the Judge to secure him a proper meed of justice.

If that is the case where our own system of laws is in full operation what must it be in countries where slavery is held by tradition to be quite right, and a man behaves cruelly to one of his slaves? Is it possible, except in very few instances, that there can be any proper redress? Some people think that many generations of this form of usage have habituated the slaves to their treatment, and blunted their feelings. To show how people do not become inured to cruelty, a medical man, Dr. Harrison, who had spent over 14 years in Arabia, described the terror of the slave when about to be punished. When one of these negro slaves, he writes, as if suddenly crazed, runs round shouting and gesticulating as if a new personality had possessed him, even the hard Arab masters are a good deal awed and hesitate to inflict the punishment they have planned. In one sense that is satisfactory as showing that more humane feelings are becoming prevalent in Arabia.

I might quote other eases, but I think none of the speakers to-day have wished to harrow our feelings by a relation of the cruelties that have been and are being inflicted in China. Reuter's Agency, in a telegram in January this year, reported that over 400,000 slaves had been sold in China in recent years. That shows to what extent this form of servitude exists there. The trouble is that in so many of these countries, as in the case of Abyssinia and Arabia, custom and religion permit of slavery as being a proper system. Not only that, but we know there is a regular status of slaves in Arabia. It is recognised that women should be simply kept for that purpose, and when a woman has reached a certain time of life she is cast adrift. As Mr. Rutter described in some of his writings, she becomes a beggar and a miserable object when her process of child bearing has been taken from her. I think the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, referred to China as having issued regulations against slavery. On the other hand, I understand that no documents have ever been presented to the League by the Chinese representatives, although they have been very faithful and loyal attendants at the meetings. I understand also that when the Anti-Slavery Society protested to the Chinese Ambassador in this country two or three years ago that China had never presented any documents on the subject or let the rest of the world know what was going on in China, they received no reply whatsoever from him.

Although it seems very terrible that such a condition of affairs should exist in the world at the present time, there are many features of a satisfactory nature. First of all, Mr. Rutter, in narrating his many experiences in Arabia, speaks of the influence of the Koran. We are told that Mahomet recommended slavery. Mr. Rutter agrees, but points out that the Koran also states and reiterates that the most acceptable act in the sight of God is the liberation of slaves. That is a feature which ought not to be lost sight of. Mr. Rutter also says that if slavery was practised in accordance with the dictates of the Koran the abolition of slavery would soon be brought about. That is a distinctly satisfactory feature having regard to what has been said this afternoon about the condition of slaves in Arabia. That condition has been described very forcibly by that great traveller, Mr. Bertram Thomas, but he mentions in one of his writings that another feeling is beginning to permeate that country regarding slavery. Even in China it is satisfactory to note that a Chinese magistrate is reported as having regretted that he could only give two years imprisonment to a person charged with ill-treating a slave.

A good deal has been said this afternoon about Ras Tafari and his desire to abolish slavery in his dominions. I think the noble Earl mentioned as a curious feature the fact that the price of slaves was going up in those dominions. That may mean, of course, that there is more difficulty in getting slaves, and if that is so it may be regarded with satisfaction. Mr. Spender has described the wonderful change that has come over the Sudan and Khorassan, a vast area about the size of Europe, through the extinction of slave raiding and the giving of peaceful occupations to the people. It must be remembered, however, that to get rid of slavery as it exists at present is a very complicated matter. I cannot see any other means of doing it than through the League of Nations, as has been indicated this afternoon by every speaker. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, said just now that the League of Nations itself could not take any action; that all it could do was to create and inform public opinion.


Not the League of Nations—the Secretariat.


The Secretariat. It is true that all that can be done is to arouse public opinion in Europe as to the necessity of ventilating the question in those countries where slavery continues to exist. The only disheartening feature is that there should he any delay in agreeing to the setting up of such a bureau, seeing that Geneva is so central for the purpose. I understand that the Mandates Commission has been a distinct success and that seems to be an example that should be followed. With that example before the nations it would be very unfortunate if there were any delay in establishing a permanent slavery bureau. It is satisfactory that all Parties in your Lordships' House, and that everybody in this country are agreed that whoever represents us at Geneva should do his very best to secure the setting up of a bureau of the character suggested so that there may be continuity, that information may be obtained, and that anybody interested in the question may have facilities and be able to discover what has been done not only by the bureau but in every country where slavery is practised.

It is very much to be desired in creating public opinion that the Press of this and every other country should seriously devote attention to the subject. It is very satisfactory in this connection that so many Frenchmen have taken the matter up. The incident about the dhow owner quoted by the noble Earl was based, I think on a report written by a French writer, and Le Matin, I understand, published twenty articles dealing with this question. Therefore, if the attention of the world is drawn to the desirability not of taking action, but of making those countries in which slavery exists ashamed of a practice which differentiates them from the rest of the world, something will be done to make. those countries desire to put themselves on a higher plane of civilization.


My Lords, I desire to support the Motion before your Lordships' House by way of evidence which lately came to my notice regarding Africa. Africa furnishes the largest contingent towards the shocking total of five millions of slaves which, on the very judicial authority of and carefully compiled by the Anti-Slavery Society, must be taken as a figure within the mark. Africa has the most melancholy chapter in the whole history of slavery. It is thought that the population of Africa has been reduced by slavery alone by 100,000,000. The whole of Africa has now a population of only 120,000,000—extraordinarily small for that vast area. That is due to slavery and the slave trade in the past.

I want to contribute some facts which came to my notice last month when I attended an International Conference at Geneva on Juvenile Welfare in Africa. Many facts came to light at that conference in regard to slavery and forced labour, although it was a conference not called ostensibly to discuss those subjects. It was a conference rather unique in importance, because it included representatives of Governments, officials from all parts of Africa, scientists, doctors, and missionaries representing both the Roman and other Churches, and it had collected during two years with very great labour the answers to questionnaires which had been furnished by some 350 resident experts in all parts of Africa. As it was not aimed at revealing slavery, the evidence which came to hand was all the more weighty, being incidental. Constantly in the reports which have been compiled, there were references to direct slavery or analogous conditions; and what they showed was the many-sidedness and complication of the question.

It seems to me greatly to reinforce the argument for a bureau and for an expert department at Geneva. Both in autonomous Africa and in Colonial Africa, European ruled, evidence came to hand. I need not labour what has been said to-day in regard to Abyssinia and Liberia. They are notorious fields of crude slavery. They illustrate slavery also in the wider field of semi-slavery. We have, for instance, in the Report on West Africa, referring to Liberia, this sentence: Among certain backward tribes, parents sell their children, who become slaves or concubines. Children are also handed over to a creditor as guarantee for an unpaid debt, finally becoming his slaves or the serfs of his family for generations. Such practices count as slavery under the Convention. It. is true they are not exactly defined in the text, but the Committee on the Convention said, through its rapporteur, who was the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil: The Convention applies not only to domestic slavery but to all those conditions mentioned by the Temporary Slavery Commission … i.e., debt slavery, the enslaving of persons disguised as the adoption of children, and the acquisition of girls by purchase disguised as payment of dowry. It seems to me that facts of this kind greatly reinforce what has been said to-day.

A still more difficult question arises in regard to forced labour. There was very much evidence at this conference on forced labour of different kinds. The statements illustrated the difficulty of discriminating between the forced labour which is slavery within the meaning of the Convention and forced labour which is not slavery because it is work done for Governments. We had, for instance, in the report on Central Africa, words to this effect: In certain regions of Central Africa (e.g., in parts of the French Cameroons) children are obliged to do work which is beyond their strength and which causes them physical harm …. In addition, women and children are sometimes obliged to help in heavy labour connected with road-making, supervised by native chiefs. How the Convention is to be made effective as to these subsidiary forms of slavery is a very great question.

We have been told that about forty States have adhered to the Convention, but the League cannot deal with abuses of this kind without the advice of men of administrative experience. All that I have quoted illustrates the great complexity of the question, and seems to me to show that progress imperatively requires such a bureau as has been sketched to-day. The function of providing technical examination of reports will be very valuable. The Convention binds its signatories to furnish reports, but before these can go to the Council or the Assembly they evidently require an examination which they cannot get to-day. Again, the function of advising States of the steps which are taken by other States requires a clearing-house of information. Information which is merely thrown at the head of the Secretariat, as it must be to-day, is not utilised. It comes home to one, if one sees the official now concerned with dealing with slavery information, how greatly a department is lacking. At present it is referred to the Mandates Department, and action awaits the fitting machinery.

It is melancholy to reflect that a whole century has elapsed since British liberation took place. It took forty years of strenuous agitation to end British slavery and the slave trade. It was a tremendous task, but it was simple in one way because the agitators had to deal with our own Government alone. It was a very great event in history, and in confirmation of what has been said to-day it is interesting to recall the words of Mr. Lecky when he said: The crusade of England against slavery may probably be regarded as among the three or four perfectly virtuous acts recorded in the history of nations. To-day the problem, as we have heard, is greatly changed. The influence of States which preserve slavery to-day is based upon the fact that slavery is there indigenous, rooted in ideas largely religious, and there have arisen also, what we had not a hundred year ago, insidious forms of slavery stimulated by industrial development and backed by economic pressure.

But in one way the problem is much simpler, because we have the League to act; and action by the League avoids the odium of interference by a single State and it saves the face of the State which needs reform. Our own Government, as has been said, has acted with vigour, and let us hope that it will continue to do so till success is attained. In doing so, it has been true to the tradition of this country, which is based on the fact that it has very often been the leader in movements for liberation. To succeed it needs the backing of a keen public opinion. I think we may say that the noble Earl who introduced this debate has fully expressed the public opinion of the British race—the opinion that slavery must without delay he brought to an end.


My Lords, perhaps I might say one or two words in reply. May I thank noble Lords in the House for the way they have received this Resolution, and especially the Leader of the House for what he has said with regard to the action of the Government in one or two matters? In listening to the debate I recalled to memory the biography of my grandfather, and I traced in my mind the difference between the reception that he had in his time and that which I have received in mine. He was received during the ten years he was endeavouring to deal with this question with the greatest misrepresentation, with vile abuse and with all sorts of insinuations. I receive bouquets; he received brickbats. I think that is indicative of the enormous change which has taken place in regard to this matter.

There are several points on which I should like to say something, but I do not wish to detain your Lordships at this time of the evening, and so I will only deal with two matters. The first is in reference to what the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House has said about slaves going between Abyssinia and Arabia. In my speech I ventured to remark that co-operation between France, Italy and ourselves was greatly required. I was very glad to hear the noble and learned Lord say in reply that that co-operation is now very cordial, and we may hope it will be effective.

The other point is one raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, in reference to what he called direct interference with sovereign States. I do not know whether he heard my speech, but I referred to that especially—exactly, I think, from the point of view he expressed. I said that in all these cases the danger that there would be a feeling of interference with the sovereign independence of Members of the League of Nations was a thing which must be clearly guarded against, but, at the same time, if you had a bureau of this description, you would have a body which would be able to assist those desirous of dealing with slavery in their own countries. I agree with him that that is a danger to be guarded against, or rather, I would put it in this way, that the difficulty of getting these proposals accepted by the League of Nations is the danger of a feeling of interference. I feel sure that the Government will give to this point the attention desired by the noble Viscount, because I am sure it is an important point in getting these proposals accepted by the League. I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord.

On Question, Motion agreed to.