HL Deb 17 July 1935 vol 98 cc392-432

LORD NOEL-BUXTON rose to call attention to the Report of the Slavery Committee of the League of Nations, and to the recommendations made by that Committee to the Council of the League; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is no need to remind this House of the stupendous nature of the evil of slavery. It has been debated several times in your Lordships' House, and many members of this House took part in celebrating the centenary of the liberation of the slaves in the British Empire. When they did so they had to have regard to the really amazing fact that, after one hundred years, slavery still survived in many parts of the world. Certainly several million slaves still exist, and the volume of suffering which this debate may possibly affect in course of time is therefore great. We know that slavery is very deep-rooted in the social customs of many countries, but its antiquity does not prevent it from being a deadly canker. It is said very often that the evils of slavery are exaggerated; but there is no need to exaggerate the facts, which are known from calm inquiry.

Of course many slaves are well treated. A predial slave may rise to be an important person. He may even rise to the comfort of the position of one of the family of the owner. There is never, however, any security against savage cruelty if the master is so minded, or, as often happens in slave-owning countries, is a drug addict. The most terrible facts are being elicited at intervals. At the best it is a system in which the husband may be sold away from the wife and in which the children are frequently torn away from their mothers. There is no need of "sob stuff" in connection with this subject to remind us of the urgency of reform. If the question has not the prominence in the public eye of a matter of Party controversy still, measured by the happiness or unhappiness involved, its importance cannot be over-stated. Today I want to show the urgency attaching to the new situation in regard to slavery.

I would like to say how much I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Lugard, is not here to-day. We had hoped that he would have opened this debate, but it was not found possible to arrange any date that would suit him, and he has asked me to say that he deeply regrets to have to be away to-day at a meeting of the African Institute at Basle. He was a member of both the previous Slavery Committees of the League, and his monumental work, "The Dual Mandate," is the classic on the subject of slavery. It was he who stated his conviction, after unparalleled experience as an administrator, that slavery is as demoralising to the master as it is debasing to the slave, and he took a leading part at Geneva in the development of the action of the League. We have to-day reached an important stage in that development. We have got machinery established, and we have the first Report of the new Expert Committee. I would remind your Lordships that the establishment of that Committee had been urged in this House on the Government, and we may feel legitimate pride that British influence has played a leading part in this development at Geneva. The British representatives there and the Foreign Office itself, backed by the untiring efforts at Geneva of Sir John Harris, have been the chief factors in bringing that about. We have now what is called the Advisory Committee of Experts with seven members, including as the British representative Sir George Maxwell. He is a man of the widest experience in the Far East and I think we are very fortunate to have him as a member of the Committee.

This debate is no occasion for criticism of His Majesty's Government but for suggesting lines of action while thanking them for what they have done. Let me remind your Lordships of what is defined as slavery by the League of Nations. The League has advanced further in regard to slavery than in regard to other parts of the great question of the treatment of native races. The other sections of the subject are classified as "forged labour" and again as "contract labour." There may be differences of opinion among us with regard to those fields of the subject, but there is none in regard to slavery. The definition of "slavery" in the Slavery Convention is this. It involves "the status of a person over whom any of the powers attaching to the rights of ownership are exercised." But though the League has advanced further in regard to slavery than in regard to forced labour, its work is not complete and the machinery of to-day is not the machinery which was urged in this House in previous debates.

Two main points arise from the Report. The first is that slavery is widespread and the second that the Committee is limited in its powers of exposing it. Let me take the first point. The Report deals with various aspects of the question, with the status of slavery, with trading, raiding, dealing in slaves, and with the modified forms of bondage. Reviewing what has happened since the last Report of the Temporary Slavery Committee of 1932 it begins by mentioning the States where slavery is still legal, notably Arabia, Yemen, Ethiopia, the various Sultanates of the Persian Gulf, with hesitating references also to Liberia and to China. The Report deplores that slavery still subsists where it was established in 1932 and later it says no measures appear to have been taken with a view to its abolition in those countries.

We can find several things in the Report which are hopeful. At Jeddah the British Legation has exercised its rights which were obtained by Treaty to deal with slaves transported across the Red Sea who present themselves at our Legation on the Eastern Shore, and 212 were liberated in that way who had originally come from Ethiopia. Then we have the statement of the Abyssinian Government, covering the period from 1933 to 1934, giving the figures of 3,647 slaves liberated in that time, 218 of those belonging to the interesting incident of the insurrection of the powerful Prince Hailu, which was suppressed, and following on that the Emperor liberated that considerable number of slaves. Then we have in the Italian Report a reference to 927 slaves who were liberated at the Kufia Oasis, from the Senussi.

In other directions there is not so much consolation. Take the matter of Arabia, conspicuous as the chief slave market still left in the world. We know how the Moslem law regards the slave as on the same legal footing as cattle. On the other hand the Koran enjoins kindness and liberation as an act of piety. But very little is known as to the numbers of slaves in Arabia or the real situation. His Majesty's Government in their very interesting contribution to the Report note how it had been urged by the previous Temporary Committee that any Treaty with an Arab State ought to in clude a clause abolishing slavery, but there we cannot record any advance. When we ourselves made a Treaty with Saudi Arabia we were only able to stipulate that the slave trade should be forbidden. The Report goes to to speak of the Yemen and says it has been undertaken by the Yemen Government that there should be no importation from Africa. The Report, however, is obliged to say that no information has been received in regard to the steps taken to carry out this obligation, and it goes on to say that: The Committee would be glad to know whether any proclamations have been published, whether any persons have been arrested for slave trading, and whether in reality the importation of slaves from Africa into these countries has been prevented. This lack of information is really of very great importance. The well-known authority on Arabia, Mr. Rutter, holds that Ibn Saud would listen seriously to proposals for abolishing slavery altogether if other Moslem States, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and others, were to express their views as to the advantages which would accrue to them from liberation, but that cannot be done till the League Committee can speak.

Now I come to a country which occupies a prominent place in the Report, Ethiopia. If I were to deal with the subject as the Report does under the headings of status, raiding, and trading, I should have to turn to that country each time and I want to avoid boring your Lordships by reiteration and to condense what must be said about it. There is a special reason also in these days for condensing what one says about Abyssinia. We shall all agree, I think, that this is a question which must be kept perfectly distinct from that of the present international crisis in which that country is involved. While it is not possible in such a debate as this to omit all discussion of conditions in one of the main centres of slavery in the world, what has to be said on that subject must not be taken as an apology for acts of aggression. On the contrary, the frank discussion of the evils in question and the genuine attempt to find a remedy for them, one which will not infringe International Law or the principle of collective security, is the best answer to any attempt to make the existence of those evils an excuse for military action.

Abyssinia reported in the autumn of last year to the League Committee and gave some very interesting facts. They recorded how in August, 1932, the Central Slavery Bureau was established followed by local bureaux combined with courts—slavery Judges—the number of which was raised from twelve to sixty-two. Reference is also made to the advantages in regard to slavery of new motor tracks, of trained troops in different parts of the country, and of sentences passed upon offenders. Perhaps I might add what the Emperor did not, in regard to himself. Lord Polwarth and I, on behalf of the Anti-Slavery Society, went to Abyssinia in 1932 and had many interviews with the Emperor, and I should like to say how much I feel that the admiration felt for him is justified. He struggles against reactionary forces of very great power. We urged upon him that he should ask the aid of the League of Nations in the form of an adviser, and I feel that success is almost impossible without such aid. The position, indeed, would be very much better in every way to-day if such aid had been invited.

The report from Abyssinia goes on to speak of the number of slaves liberated, but it says nothing to indicate any new legislation since the last Report. On the other hand, slave-trading has been tackled in some parts. The suppression of the rebellion of Prince Hailu gave good ground for optimism in the spring of 1932, and a very noticeable fact was the appointment of a British ex-official as adviser on the question of slavery, with a department responsible directly to the Emperor. A very good secretary-general was appointed, and things looked very well in the autumn of 1933. Unfortunately, then a set-back occurred, efforts were relaxed and at the end of 1933 the British adviser, Mr. de Halpert, felt that it was useless to remain, and he resigned. A great deal had been made of his appointment, but in the Report there is no mention of his resignation. That illustrates the extraordinary limitations under which the Committee worked in securing information.

There is much else that one might say on the subject of Abyssinia, but I see Lord Polwarth here, and I hope that he will deal with the details. I should like to say that I think the breakdown of 1933 has been largely due to the fear of aggression. There are two curious facts in regard to Abyssinia. One is that the Emperor has virtually the whole administration of the country in his hands, and that is almost beyond human capacity to deal with. Secondly, the officials of the provinces hove up to now been very largely unpaid. Owing to the fear of aggression, the attention of the Emporor was naturally diverted in a marked manner; and the funds which might have been available for a real bureaucracy, for a paid police, for paid Judges—all essential to reform—were also diverted. The fear of aggression became a deplorable influence against the development of a hopeful movement. Partisanship in regard to this question is no help to the cause of the abolition of slavery. To reach a just view in regard to Abyssinia one must take into account, on the one hand, the extraordinary difficulty of reform, slavery being rooted in custom and a so in religion. On the other hand, also, it is necessary to consider the gravity of the evils which remain and which are described, for instance, from official and other sources in Lady Simon's book on slavery. We shall, however, all agree that, Whatever settlement follows the present crisis, slavery must be dealt with.

Then the Report has passages on China and on very many British Colonies and Dependencies. There is the greatest variety in the character of slavery with which they deal, but every variety has some character of property abiding in the relation of master and slave. There are so many varieties and different countries that I can only touch very briefly upon them. I trust that other speakers will deal with them at length. The British Report deals with no fewer than 22 of our Colonies or Protectorates: most careful reports, full of interest, but not as a rule dealing with anything like crude slavery. We may feel the greatest pride, I think, in the prominent part occupied in the Report by these reports showing the enormous attention paid to the native question by British officials. Only two evils seem to me to be serious among the British reports—one is that of the girl slavery in Hong-kong, and the other is that of the Masarwa in Bechuanaland. In those eases, delay is frankly admitted. It may be regarded as blameworthy by some people, but none of us would wish that there should be concealment of the facts, and I hope that our example in facing them will encourage those States which opposed the formation of the Committee at Geneva in fear of the exposure of facts which existed under their administration.

What the Report says is very notable, but what it does not say is still more notable. There is nothing about Portugal, there is practically nothing about Liberia, yet Portugal has figured in the slavery connection again and again. It has, indeed, had an international history: Lord Grey was constantly occupied with the conditions prevailing in the Cocoa Islands. Rut such is the procedure under which the Committee has to work that there is no reference to Portugal at all, and the same applies to Liberia. The noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, has himself talked in this House on the misery prevailing in Liberia not very long ago; in fact, it is on the tapis at this moment. There was a debate in this House last year, and Mr. Eden raised the subject at the Council in the autumn. The American Government was invited to give its view, but not a word appears in the Report on this great question. Indeed silence, as well as these statement of the Report, is a reason for more means of information.

Now I come to the action that I want to suggest to His Majesty's Government. I want especially to urge that greater powers ought to be given for the obtaining of information. The limitation imposed on the Committee is as follows: The Committee may not receive depositions, or consult international or national organisations, whether public or private, or private persons. These may only send their complaints or observations to the Committee through the intermediary of their respective Governments. Of course the Governments about which it is most necessary to obtain information are the least anxious to give it, and here are some of the statements in the Report showing the need.

The Committee expresses the hope that the Chinese Government will agree to furnish more definite information, and "will be good enough to communicate statistics concerning the application of the Edict of September. 1932." As regards Arabia, the Committee does not possess information as to the steps which have been and are being taken by the Sultans and Sheiks of Muscat, etc., to give effect to the Treaties mentioned above. Again, the Committee is not in possession of any information regarding the slave trade inside Saudi Arabia and the Yemen. It has "no official information" with regard even to the situation of slaves in the peninsula. It would be glad to obtain information in particular on slavery in the plantations and pearl fisheries. Indeed the appeal for further powers appears on every page. The need for stirring the interests of backward States is shown by the proportion of matter appearing in the Appendices contributed by various Governments. Out of ninety pages your Lordships will hardly believe that various British Governments provide 68 pages, Italy 6½, France 2½, Holland 1½, Ethiopia 1¼, and Belgium, Spain and China one-half each.

The procedure for obtaining information is really as ridiculous as the procedure of a Law Court would be if it prescribed that no evidence can be adduced by the plaintiff, and that the case against the defendant must rely entirely upon any evidence which the defendant may feel disposed to provide. Of course every reasonable safeguard should, and could, be provided, but regard must surely be given to the main object of the slavery Committee's existence, which is to abolish slavery. It is no use blinking the fact that there is opposition to reform by some interested States; but that is an opposition which has in the past been shown to be capable of defeat. It is actually the case that the present powers of the Committee regarding information are less than those of the former Committees. Lord Lugard was a member of both previous Committees, and he has sent me his conclusions, which I think will interest your Lordships.

In 1924 no restriction was placed upon the Committee on Slavery as to the collection of evidence. It proposed to the Assembly that it should be free to consult persons designated by any Government, and that if it wanted information from other persons it should ask that Government if they were reliable persons; that charges should be forwarded to the Government accused, and that persons should be invited to appear, or to write their memoranda to the Committee. The Assembly approved that system, and no adverse comment arose from its practice; but when we came to the Committee of 1933 less power was given. In the discussion at the Council Mr. Madariaga said the rules consisted of a series of negations, and Sir John Simon urged that more powers were needed. I very much hope that the noble Earl will be able to tell us that the Government's delegates will press for an extension of those powers.

There is one specific proposal which I should like to make. There are many in the course of the Report, and I select one in regard to the Red Sea traffic—the chief case of oversea trade in slaves. It is a trade which has happily become difficult because it must pass through a, European Colony to reach the coast. It is still more difficult because of the British naval action, which has been well known and has been so active for a very long time, but the trade is not entirely suppressed. I myself have evidence of the fact that this trade in small dhows, which conceal themselves behind the coral reefs and cross the narrow straits with a favourable wind in a single night, continues, and without motor boats and hydroplanes it is perhaps impossible to eradicate it altogether. The proposal in the Report is that a new Convention should be brought into being. Indeed the Slavery Convention of 1926, in Article 3, urges that there should be a special Convention in regard to local problems of this kind. I will say no more on that, because I think my noble friend Lord Arnold will give the facts and the details.

There is one other point that I would like to urge, and that is that the Committee should not be limited, as it is now, in regard to the frequency of its meetings. At present the rule is that it should meet every two years. Anyone who glances at the Report can see that there is work to do without delay and the Committee must have parted at its last meeting with the feeling that a meeting in the early future would be very appropriate. The Mandate's Committee meets twice a year. The British delegates have before now expressed their view at the Assembly, and it was owing to British interest that permission was given to hold an extraordinary meeting next year. But that is hardly enough, and I trust that His Majesty's Government will instruct their delegates to press at the Assembly that there should be a meeting at least not less than once a year. These are the main points that I want to make, my Lords. I am sure the Government agree with the dictum that slavery is a crime against human nature. They know that before even the slave trade can cease slavery must come to an end, and I am confident that they will wish to expedite what is an avowed and specific object of the League of Nations, the abolition of slavery in all its forms. I beg to move.


My Lords, I desire to lay a few words in support of the Motion of My noble friend, and they must be very few, because I have to be elsewhere, I am sorry to say, shortly, under the orders of the Government. Therefore I cannot, even if I wished to, occupy a great part of your Lordships' time. This Report which is the occasion for this debate initiated with such thoroughness, and such a very hereditary right to be heard on this subject, by Lord Noel-Buxton, is an extremely interesting document, and deals, though prepared under evidently great difficulties, with the subject extremely fully.

I think it is perhaps worth while recalling to your Lordships, though I hope most of you know it very well, that in this matter a succession of British Governments have played a very worthy part, if I may be allowed to say so. It was the late Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, acting for a British Government, who originally raised this matter before the League in 1923. The result of that was the appointment in 1924 of the Commission to which my noble friend has referred, which reported in, I think, 1925. The matter was then raised by a British delegation in the form of the Slavery Convention in 1925–26, and that was adopted. We did not get everything we wanted in that Slavery Convention. If we had had the drafting of it exactly as we liked it would have been a more effective document than it actually was, but still we got a good deal. In 1929 again the British Government desired to appoint a Commission to see how the thing was getting on, how it was that such very meagre results were presented to the League, and so on. We struggled for three years at that time before we succeeded in getting it. We then did get the appointment of a Commission which reported in favour of a permanent advisory body, which was created.

There again, I think you may say without undue national vanity that it was the British Government which urged the appointment of this permanent body, and was principally instrumental in persuading the Assembly to appoint it, and to draw up the rules of procedure under which it functioned. Again we were not able to get everything we wanted. There were certain Governments—one in particular which it would be indiscreet to mention by name, which I am quite sure was very anxious to prevent slavery, but was also so obsessed by the desire of not doing anything which could possibly interfere with national sovereignty that it saw difficulties and dangers where my more obtuse intellect was quite unable to perceive them. However, that was ultimately done, and this is the first Report as the result of that long study.

I think the document is, on the whole, an encouraging document. It is perfectly true that it testifies to the fact that a considerable amount of slavery still remains, and that here and there, particularly I am afraid one must say in China, the extent of something which is really indistinguishable from slavery, at any rate in some forms of its existence—the well-known mui-tsai—exists to a larger extent than I was aware of, and apparently it exists in many other countries which are more or less under the influence of Chinese institutions. Still, a great deal has been done there. I read with great pleasure of what has been done in Hong-kong in that respect, because your Lordships will be aware that for many years there has been great anxiety in many quarters as to the toleration of the institution of mui-tsai in Hong-kong and it was only after very considerable struggles that at last the local Government there was induced to agree to the institution of the system of registration. It is rather interesting to note the fears which they entertained as to the result, because I think it is encouraging always to see how official anxieties so often turn out to be quite unfounded when you overrule them and adopt your system in spite of the dangers that are threatened.

It was said that in view of the movement of the population to and from the mainland registration in. Hong-kong would be impossible until it was also enforced on the mainland; that it was practically impossible to prove that any girl was a mui-tsai girl; that an army of inspectors would be necessary and their visits would arouse resentment in respectable families; and that enormous expenditure would be incurred in providing homes and employment bureaux for mui-tsais. I believe it to be true to say that not one of these anticipations has been proved to be even moderately correct; and that, in point of fact, the number of registered mui-tsai girls has gone down to less than half what it was when the system was instituted; that in point of fact the expense has been negligible; that instead of an army of inspectors I think there have been two or three—all but one of whom, if I remember rightly, were voluntary workers—and that the system has moved with great smoothness and without exciting any anxiety or serious opposition. I think that is very satisfactory, because it gives one hope that it may be carried out in many other parts of the world. Indeed, I gather that in many other neighbouring parts the same system has been adopted, and I hope will produce the same results. You can only hope that something of the same kind may be done in China, though the difficulties, one must admit, are very great in China at the present time. I know that it is said that mui-tsai is not slavery, and no doubt very often it may not be, strictly speaking, slavery, but on occasions it is very bad indeed, and I do not think you can really seriously doubt that it does come within the definition of slavery—namely, the exercise of ownership by one human being over another.

My noble friend has gone through the matter very carefully, and there are only two other countries about which I wanted to say a word. One is Abyssinia, and there I quite recognise that there is still an immense deal to be done. Yet I think it is a fair reading of this Report that the Commissioners think that something has been done, and that there has been at any rate good will in the Central Government of Ethiopia in this matter. As to Liberia, the other country to which my noble friend referred, I should like to know whether the Government have any more information on the subject. Liberia is a difficult country, I admit, and the efforts which the League of Nations made to come to its assistance proved entirely abortive, owing mainly to local jealousies, and partly also to a feeling which is very important and must never be neglected in any consideration of this question—namely, the great, and perhaps one must admit the growing, jealousy between the black and white races. If my noble friend can give us any further information as to the circumstances in Liberia I am sure it will be very acceptable.

My noble friend Lord Noel-Buxton asked for three definite things. He asked for a fresh Convention to facilitate the prevention of slave trading, particularly in the Red Sea. The second thing lie asked for was the sweeping away of the hindrances imposed by the rules of admissible evidence for the Advisory Commission; and the third thing was that there should be more frequent meetings of the Advisory Commission. I want to say a word about each of those three points. As to a fresh Convention, the history of that matter is interesting. In the British draft of the 1926 Convention we proposed to make slave trading piracy. That would by itself have given very great rights to British ships both to search and to arrest dhows thought to be guilty of slave trading and to free any slaves that were found on board them. Unfortunately, certain of the other maritime Powers thought this was a device to fasten the British marine tyranny on the waters of the oceans. They were up in arms and would not hear of it, and all we could do was to get this rather feeble alternative, as I am afraid it is—namely, an undertaking that the countries concerned would formulate and conclude Conventions giving all necessary powers to deal with slave trading. That, I think, is really necessary.

I observe it stated—my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong—that within the last ten or twelve years British ships, of which I understand two are detailed for the duty, have arrested as many as 126 dhows which they had some grounds for thinking were engaged in slave trading. In each case they were forced to release the dhow because there was no evidence that there were any slaves on board belonging to other people. In each case there were slaves on board, but they were alleged to belong to the owner of the dhow, and so there was no question of slave trading. All that may be quite true, but it does present a certain amount of doubt to my mind as to whether, in the powers that now exist, the real facts were disclosed to the British commanders. My noble friend will know whether that doubt is shared by any of those engaged in the business of checking slave trading, but I cannot help having that suspicion myself. Certainly there is the strongest possible suspicion that slave trading still goes on. Indeed, not long ago, I read a book of reminiscences by an adventurer—not a British adventurer—in which he openly declared he had quite recently been engaged in this slave trading. Therefore I hope we may revive that suggestion of the Convention of 1926 and press that something should be done after these nine years to carry that into effect, if the advisers of my noble friend think it desirable and that more effective powers may be given to stop this horrible trading.

There is the second point which my noble friend raised on the question of the rules of evidence. I do not think that outside "Alice in Wonderland" any more fantastic arrangement was ever agreed to than we find here. The Committee may not receive depositions from, or consult, any international or national organisation, whether public or private, or private persons. These may only send their complaints of observations to the Committee through the intermediary of their respective Governments; at any rate that is how it has been treated. That is a perfectly ridiculous situation. There again., it was the result of vehement opposition, and it was a question of whether we could get an Advisory Committee at all or whether we should make the concession, the very large concession, of limiting its power of getting evidence in that way. I cannot help hoping that in some way or other that difficulty may be overcome. My noble friend has pointed out with great truth that from this document itself you can see that on many occasions the Committee have had to report they do not know about this or that, that they had not been able to ascertain exactly what the facts were about it is, that, and so on. I have not counted the number myself, but I should think it would be an underestimate to say that the phrase is repeated half-a-dozen or a dozen times in the Report. The broad fact that we get such very meagre reports from some of the Governments compared with the reports we have made, shows I think a very unsatisfactory state of things.

I cannot help hoping that every effort may be made to get that put right, and I am going to make if I may two suggestions on that point for the consideration of the Government. I do not ask them to reply, but I hope they will do me the honour of considering them. The first suggestion is this. I remember that when we agreed to that provision we contemplated that some well-disposed Government, the British Government for instance, might undertake to forward complaints by serious people, even if they were not strictly from Governmental sources. I think that is within the terms of the rule. As long as it comes from a Government, and the Government make themselves responsible for the seriousness of the evidence, that evidence may be received by the Commission. I should like the Government to consider whether they have done as much as they can do in that respect. Of course that is not a very satisfactory solution.

The other, and much the better plan, would be to get a simple change in the rule. On that point there is an important technicality which, again, I would ask the Government to consider carefully. As your Lordships are aware, nothing, as a general rule, can be done by the Assembly of the League—and I suppose this would have to be done by the Assembly of the League—except by a unanimous vote; but there is an exception on matters of procedure. It certainly appears to me that this is emphatically a matter of procedure. The nature of the evidence that may be received is a matter of the procedure of the Advisory Committee, and in that case any change can be carried by a majority of the Assembly. I have very little doubt it would be very easy to get a majority for a more easy rule. It may be, of course, that one or two countries with exaggerated fears as to their sovereign rights may resist, and if it is a question of unanimity that makes the position very difficult; but I believe this is a case where unanimity is not required, and it can be clone by a majority.

These are the observations I wanted to make on the question of evidence. The only other specific point raised by my noble friend's speech was the right of the Committee to sit more than once every two years If I remember rightly that provision was purely a matter of economy. I thought it was a ridiculous provision at the time, but it was thought it would cost so much more at that time; and the view prevailed, and perhaps still prevails, the perfectly idiotic view, that the amount spent at Geneva was very important, whereas it is really very unimportant. If you could save a few pounds by having meetings only once every two years instead of meetings more frequently, that was a reason which overbore any question of efficiency in stamping out the slave trade! I hope that kind of point of view is passing, if it has not already passed, and I hope the Government will press for what is the reasonable thing—namely, that the Committee should meet as often as it thinks desirable from the point of view of its work. That is the reasonable thing to do. That also seems to me to be a matter of procedure which, I venture to think, can be set right by a majority vote of the Assembly. I shall not trouble your Lordships any longer. I would only say in conclusion that we have for more than one hundred years a very fine tradition in this matter. That is not only a matter of gratification to us, but it imposes a very special responsibility on us with regard to what may be done in forwarding the great cause of stamping out slavery in the world.


My Lords, I think we shall agree that the noble Lord opposite has done a good service in asking your Lordships' House and the Government to pay heed to the remarkable Report which has just been issued. After what has fallen from my noble friend about the position of this country, I do not require to stress the need of paying great attention to every matter that concerns this great cause—the suppression of slavery throughout the world. It has been for a hundred years the special privilege of this country and of each successive Government to regard this as a matter which lies upon their honour. It will be within your Lordships' recollection that it was chiefly on the initiative of His Majesty's Government that this Permanent Slavery Committee was appointed by the League of Nations and therefore its first Report must needs be a document of very special interest and importance both to the Government and to the country.

I do not propose to dwell upon the two defects which have been fully explained by the two noble Lords who have just spoken. Suffice to say that I most cordially associate myself with what has fallen from them both as to the inadequacy of the present rule of procedure by which the Committee is debarred from receiving evidence except through the channel of the Governments concerned. No one can read this Report, as I have tried to do, without seeing the truth of the observations that it is just those Governments from whom information is most needed who obviously supply least—the countries especially of China, Liberia; Ethiopia and Arabia. It seems to me common sense—and I hope that common sense will prevail over the technicalities which have just been mentioned—that this most important Committee should not be debarred from taking depositions from private bodies or individuals in the course of their inquiry.

True, every care must be taken lest the Committee should be embarrassed by the effusions of all those irresponsible cranks and enthusiasts who follow in the wake of every good movement, as no one knows better than I do. But it will be sufficient to make it plain that all these depositions which come from private individuals or bodies must be regarded as confidential until they have been submitted to the Governments concerned for their observations. I do not think we can get much further in this matter unless greater freedom is allowed to the Committee as to the sources of its information. I think the remark made by the noble Lord cannot really be questioned, that the present procedure is really as if in a court of law it were laid down that the only evidence admissible was evidence on the side of the defendants. The other point, about the time of the meeting of the Committee, seems to me also to carry with it obvious agreement. No one can read this Report without seeing the range of matters with which it deals in every part of the world, and I think there is grave danger lest, within two years, evils may grow up which might have been checked if the Committee had been able to meet more frequently.

After what has been said with far greater authority than I can possess by the two noble Lords who have spoken, I only propose to refer, and that briefly, to three matters within the Report itself. First of all with regard to Arabia, still one of the main centres of anxiety in this matter, I think His Majesty's Government in the past have done everything they can through the various treaties which they have made with the different States in Arabia, and nothing could be more praiseworthy than the efforts of our own Navy in the Red Sea. I think there are now two sloops continually engaged in this work, and, if I remember rightly, in 1932 they covered no less than 38,000 miles in that comparatively restricted sphere. I think it s true that they have not discovered any slave dhow of the old and bad description, but I fear there is only too much reason to believe that what my noble friend Lord Cecil has just said is true, that under the guise of shipments of other kinds and under the excuse that the apparent slaves found on board were in the employment of the shipowners, a great number of persons are admitted into Arabia who are really slaves, and a considerable number of those who may be admitted free are afterwards enslaved.

I am afraid there is need of constant vigilance in this matter. And here I would hope that His Majesty's Government would at least give careful attention to the suggestion of the Report, that in this matter, in order to prevent—shall I call it the hoodwinking which goes on in the transhipment of slaves from Ethiopia into Arabia?—the three high contracting parties who have territories on the Red Sea, France, Italy and ourselves, might make that special agreement contemplated by Section 3, paragraph 3, of the original Slavery Convention.

Then I turn, and may perhaps say a little more about it, to that old centre of anxiety to which both noble Lords have alluded, the system of mui-tsai in China and other parts of the East. I give it the name that is most familiar to us, though it has many other names in different parts of that area. Your Lordships are well aware of the system. It is that by which the parents of a poor family transfer one of their children to the guardianship of another family. There was much to be said for it in the old days. Economic pressure, and the poverty of families made it very natural that some of the poorest families should endeavour to have what they hoped would be a comfortable home for some of their children, and were willing to allow other families to go through the process which was called "adopting," but it really meant taking the child into the permanent and unremunerative employment of another family.

When conditions were more simple, and when the home to which the child in infancy was transferred was within reach of the parents or of their relatives, everything in many ways worked well, and it is unquestionable that there was a very great deal of kindness shown by the adoptive home towards these adopted children. But circumstances are entirely different now. The children are taken to an immense distance from their homes, and I fear there is only too much reason to believe that there is a very shameful traffic still going on with these children. Not to take up your Lordships' time, if you wish to see the evils which are still inherent in this system you have only to read that extremely able memorandum on the whole system which is appended to the Report by Sir George Maxwell, one of the greatest authorities on the subject. I think, after reading that Report in that Appendix, there can no longer be any question as to our right to regard this system as little short of the kind of servitude which we are pledged to do our utmost to suppress.

So far as China is concerned, it has put itself right, in a manner, by the Edict of 1932, by which it was declared that the taking of one of these Children into a home was prohibited unless the master regarded her as an employee and undertook the obligation of returning the child, if she ceased to be employed, to the parents or to some charitable organisation. But there is absolutely no information as to how far that Edict is observed. I fear it may be like other admirable Edicts in that country, where the control of the Central Government is so difficult. But here again is a matter on which further information is urgently needed, and is not likely to be very readily given by the Government of China itself.

I turn with more concern to our own Colony of Hong-kong, and there I agree with what the noble Viscount has just said about the improvement that has taken place. As I think he said, since the law of 1929 was passed making the registration of the children and the inspection of them compulsory, there has been a rapid diminution from 4,368 in 1930 to 2,291 in 1934. This has been done, it is worth noting, with the cordial cooperation of public opinion and of many voluntary societies largely composed of the Chinese themselves in Hong-kong. On the whole it is true to say that conditions there are immeasurably better than they were when attention was first called to this matter in your Lordships' House by my revered predecessor many years ago. I doubt very much whether it would be wise at present to press for anything like prohibition at least until the economic conditions of China are very different from what they are now, but a great deal could be done in steadily encouraging and pressing forward the good work that has been done in Hong-kong.

But things are not nearly so satisfactory in the International Settlements. In Shanghai, as I understand, most of the better-to-do Chinese families have one or two of these unfortunate children. I am not for a moment saying that in many cases they are not most kindly treated, but there are, so far as I know, no municipal regulations. And the same is true of Kulangsu in the Fukien Province. Therefore with great confidence I think that pressure can be brought to bear in the International Settlements to extend the system prevailing in Hong-kong. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I again call attention to the Report of Sir George Maxwell because I think it is full of information on the present system in different parts of the world.

Let me turn for a moment to a country which is much in our thoughts to-day, Abyssinia. I have not much to add to what has been said already, and what has to be said here at the present time must be said with great care and with no desire to enter into the most formidable region of international tension which exists at present and is probably more tense than has existed, shall I say, since the War. It is, true, I am afraid it must be admitted—though I cannot speak with the authority of the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, or Lord Polwarth, who I understand will speak—that there was a raid in 1932 into the Soudan region where, I think, men, women and children were dragged from our territory into Ethiopia. There was a recent raid into French Somaliland which had to be followed up by a punitve expedition in which a French officer was killed. I suppose it must be admitted that large tracts of that country are still to be found where slavery still exists deep-seated in the traditions and customs of the tribes.

But it is only fair to recognise the efforts which have been made. My noble friend Lord Noel Buxton seemed to imply that there has been no legislation of a definite kind on the matter of slavery, but unless I am misinformed there were legislative acts of 1923 and 1924 declaring at any rate the status of slavery to be illegal within the Empire of Abyssinia. We all know how difficult it has been to enforce them, but let us at least remember what was said this afternoon that there are sixty-two bureaux and courts in Abyssinia, and that between September, 1933, and August, 1934, no fewer than 3,640 slaves have actually been liberated.


Will the most reverend Primate forgive me if I interrupt to say that my allusion was to the statement in the Report that since the Report of 1932 there had not been legislation?


Thank you very much. The reduction in numbers and the efforts to spread these bureaux which are intended to make legislation more effective, is a sign that the Emperor has been endeavouring to do his best. It has been questioned whether with slavery existing it was wise to allow Abyssinia to enter the League of Nations, but I cannot refrain from saying that Abyssinia was not the only country as to whose internal government no inquiries were specially made before admission to the League. At any rate Abyssinia is not to blame for that. I think every sympathy should be extended to the Emperor, whom some of us know personally, on account of the efforts he has gallantly endeavoured to make in spite of many difficulties. I am quite certain that the noble Lord was right in saying that it was the beginning of the threat of forcible intervention from outside that has retarded efforts which otherwise would have been made, and certainly no such aggression is likely in the least to solve, and may very likely increase, the difficulty of slavery in Abyssinia.

May I conclude by saying that a great step has been taken by the appointment of this Commission and by the publication of its First Report? It must be extraordinarily difficult for His Majesty's Government, with the deepest difficulties and anxieties in every part of the world, to be as alert as they otherwise might be about this particular matter, but it is essentially one in which constant vigilance is necessary and in which want of vigilance increases difficulties and makes them harder to overcome in the future. I am sure I shall carry your Lordships with me when I say that I hope that His Majesty's present Government, like all British Governments, will regard it as one of their honours and privileges to be foremost throughout the world in combating if not suppressing this worst crime against humanity.


; My Lords, I feel it to be my duty to say a few words in this debate because many years ago I had the honour of being Governor of a part of His Majesty's Dominions where three-quarters of the population were the children of slaves and where there were still living those born as slaves under the English flag—the Federation of the Leeward Islands. As a result of my experience I would suggest to your Lordships' House that there should be differentiation between the general question of slavery and the repression of the slave trade. I am in full accord with and. indeed, I would go much further than the noble Viscount who spoke, with regard to regulations and administrative measures to suppress the slave trade, but as regards slavery itself those who were close to the time when the slave traditions and habits existed under the English flag feel it a matter of doubt whether the conditions of slavery were not preferable to those that exist under the system of competition. Life is easy in some tropical countries, in countries where food is easily procured, and where raiment is only required for the purposes of modesty, but not where between one season and another there is no food and no certainty for the future.

That exists also in China, for opposite reasons. What the most reverend Primate said with reference to Hong-kong was impressive, because there the long contact with English government has had and is having its educational effect. But when he referred to Shanghai and Northern China, he showed that the conditions are even worse than were put before your Lordships' House. There are large bodies of Christians only a short way outside Shanghai who are Christians because for three or four generations the children have been bought by the missionaries or by charitable persons for sixpence. The Christians have grown in numbers through those charitable efforts because life is so difficult in that part of the world. There is nothing but work, work, work; no Sunday, no Bank Holidays, no limitation of labour There are, therefore, conditions where to have certainty as to the food for to-morrow and the next week may have for human beings and for human nature an attraction which must be separated from the necessity of dealing with the slave trade.

As regards the slave trade, the sea belongs to all the civilised nations. There is something even more powerful on the sea than what the most reverend Primate referred to as common sense. There we have the law of nature, which is imperative; we have International Law; we have the right of the English nation and the English flag to enforce our principles, perhaps apart from the feeling of other nations and other communities. Nothing too great can be done to strengthen and support British ships and British officers in suppressing the slave trade, even to the extent that if mistakes are made, those who make those mistakes should be supported. But that is a very different thing from our nation, or any influence and power on our behalf, interfering with the internal-affairs of other nations and perhaps interfering with the best interests of the majority of the community, where very rapid or excessive interference with existing conditions might tend to lower instead of increase the standard and duration of life and that measure of peace and contentment which is called liberty, and which we should not seek to impose too rapidly and without a mandate upon other nations.

Let us remember that, before Christianity and altruism came upon the world, there was no progress and no civilisation except under the slave-driver's whip. Altruism and Christianity have changed all that. We have our noble friends opposite, and those who think with them in another place, talking about the slavery of the competitive system in countries whose condition of life we cannot possibly understand without going there and living there—we who live here amidst a standard of comfort never known before in the history of the world, or in Australia, where the standard of comfort and prosperity is even greater than we can imagine, in a country where a man can buy an acre of land for 10s. and have twenty years in which to pay for it.. There is no starvation and no pressure, and nothing can make him fear for the morrow. We should not interfere in countries where life of that kind does not exist, but should leave things alone. I hope that pressure will be brought to bear upon those in authority to refrain from using it to take steps beyond what is really required by the principles of Christianity.


My Lords, my only reason for venturing to intervene in this debate is that it was my privilege three years ago to accompany the noble Lord, my relative, on the other side of the House, who proposed this Motion, when we paid a visit to Ethiopia on behalf of the British Anti-Slavery Society and on the invitation of the Emperor himself to advise him as to how he could best liberate the slaves in his country. However doubtful we may have felt at first as to whether the Emperor really desired this reform, we were quite convinced after we had seen him and consulted him and his Ministers. We had three interviews with the Emperor and more with two of his Ministers appointed for that purpose. After that we were quite convinced that the Emperor really was in earnest in his desire to abolish slavery from his He expressed his views quite plainly: he said to us that his was a very Christian country, that slavery was inconsistent with Christianity, and that therefore he wished to see it abolished. He, at all events, had no doubt whatever that slavery was inconsistent with the character of a nation claiming to be civilised and in the comity of nations.

But I must say—and one speaks just now with great reserve and great thought—that I cannot help thinking that we have a little cause for disappointment with the results already obtained. As was mentioned in the Report of the Slavery Committee, he expressed to us the view that, as a result of the measures he had taken or would take, slavery would be extinct in his country in fifteen or, at the most, twenty years His own people stated to us the probable number of their slaves at 500,000 or 600,000. This was probably a very great underestimate; doubtless they put it as low as they could. But even taking that figure, and taking the figure stated in their own report that some 3,600 had been liberated during the year up to August last, you will see that it will take a very long time at that rate of progress before slavery ceases to exist, even allowing, of course, for the additional decrease in the number of slaves through death.

Here I may digress for a moment to refer to the legislation, to which indeed reference has already been made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. The law of 1924 provided that the children of slaves born after that date should be free. Unfortunately, that law did not abolish the status of slavery as regards existing slaves, only as regards the children who should be born of them. These are entitled to claim their liberty when they reach an age to act for themselves—fifteen or sixteen years—and in the meantime the masters of their parents are obliged to support them. The number included also, as the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, has already mentioned, those who were the property of Ras Hailu. When that man, who was the most powerful of the Chiefs in Ethiopia, was convicted of treason, the Emperor confiscated most of his property, and ordered, in a Proclamation of which I saw a translation, those in charge of Ras Hailu's slaves to bring them to a certain place in order that they might receive their freedom. I cannot help thinking that those in charge of his slaves must have used a great deal of discretion in carrying out that order. Certainly popular repute would have assumed that Ras Hailu possessed far more than 200 slaves; he was living in Addis Ababa when we were there, with a very large retinue of 1,000 men, of whom many would be slaves, and probably his subordinates took the opportunity of disposing of the slaves in some other way.

But we must admit that the difficulties concerning the Emperor are very great. He did carry out his promise, and he did appoint a special bureau. We have been told, and they tell us in the Report, that it has 62 subordinate bureaux in different parts of the country, and they have, upon one ground or another, and mostly under the law of 1924, liberated 3,647 slaves. This law provides also that slaves escaping from their masters, and being absent and unclaimed for eight days, can claim freedom, as also can a slave who is treated cruelly. The law also forbids the sale of slaves from one person to another do not imagine that we can for a moment suppose that the sale of slaves does not go on, but it has been driven underground and is very difficult to trace. We also have evidence of kidnapping, even of children, in order to make them slaves.

A disappointing thing is that the British adviser has found it, impossible to carry on his work, and has had to resign. The slave bureaux are functioning to a limited extent, but until the officials are paid salaries, whether they be Governors of Provinces or Judges of outlying Slave Courts, the temptations to abuse will, I am afraid, be undoubtedly too great. One would not like to criticise the Emperor for perhaps failing to take action at the present time, as his thoughts must be very fully occupied with other matters, but the Report which has been quoted brings us down only to August of last year, before the present crisis had in any way arisen. Making every allowance for the difficulties, I do feel some disappointment. On the other hand, it is satisfactory to note that the Report of our Soudan Government states that since the raid of 1932 there has been no raid across that frontier for slaves, and there has been more control over the local Chiefs exercised by the Ethiopian Government.

I do think, however, it is due to that country to make allowance for the very great difficulties that, have to be faced Not only are the rulers owners of hundreds of slaves, who form a large part of their retinue, for no Abyssinian Chieftain would ever think of riding into the town on his mule without fifty, a hundred or even five hundred followers behind him; not only have the great men their slaves, but the priests of the Church, who are very numerous, all have their slaves for the purpose of doing domestic service. Even quite small men have their slaves. We saw an instance of a woman slave acting as nurse to the little child of a comparatively small headman living in a thatched but in a village outside the capital, and a man whom we employed as a groom for a time told us that his parents also had slaves. That will convince your Lordships how very widespread slavery is in that country, and that it will take a long time to eradicate it. The problem is also an economic one. If by a sudden decree you were to liberate all these slaves, what would they do Unless work could be provided in some way for them, or unless they could be settled upon the land, you would be faced with the problem of having thousands of men who could only live by thieving and robbery, and who would tend to become brigands in the country. This is a matter which will require careful attention in any general measure for emancipation in that country.

I do not think there is any occasion for me to detain your Lordships any longer after the clear and full statement which has been made by the mover of the Motion; but I very earnestly hope that action will continue to be taken, and that the League Committee will be given those greater powers which have been asked for, and about which Lord Cecil spoke a few minutes ago. They are absolutely necessary if the Committee is to function properly. I think we can quite safely say this with regard to Ethiopia, without in any way prejudicing the present position. The Emperor is in earnest, but he is faced with immense difficulties. There is no Press, except a small official Gazette and there is no public opinion behind him to support him. He deserves our sympathy, because he is an enlightened ruler, and it has been said that he has practically the whole government in his hands. Ministers do not function as Ministers, and a story is told of a call made at a Ministry when the whole staff of the Department was found to be out making hay for the Emperor. Doubtless it was a pleasant occupation for them, but hardly one tending to the efficient transaction of official business. I beg to support the Motion.


My Lords, the noble Lord who initiated this debate has an hereditary interest in the subject of the freedom of slaves. I had not the pleasure of listening to his speech, owing to another engagement, but one hundred years ago my grandfather, in the 1832 Reform Parliament, did raise his voice repeatedly in favour of the liberation of slaves. At that time the case was very clear for emancipation, the facts were easily to be ascertained, and the country was horrified when it learned of the facts relating to slavery throughout the world. Emancipation was gradually proclaimed. It is now some forty years ago since I ventured in another place to protest against slavery in the East of Africa, especially in the British Protectorate of Zanzibar, and to move Resolutions year after year, even as a private Parliamentary secretary voting against my own Government, in order to call attention to the evils of the slave traffic and especially to the frightful mortality among the slave-bearers of commodities carried between the coast and Uganda.

To-day I have been looking through the Parliamentary Paper which contains a Report indicating that slavery is still existing in many parts of the world, but one of our difficulties in connection with the slavery which exists to-day is that steps have been taken to prevent evidence being procured—evidence which is required in order, I think, to convince the country of the necessity of the Government taking action. All we can do in this House is to press the Government, when they go to Geneva next September, to use their best endeavours to prevent the limitation which now exists on the means of securing evidence. The provision which we object to is "that the Committee may not receive depositions or consult international or national organisations, whether public or private, or private persons." We are aware from this Committee's Report that there is a good deal of slavery going on. There is a certain amount of raiding, there is a certain amount of selling of slaves, and a certain number of slaves are being imported from the mainland into Arabia.

We give full credit to our British Navy for endeavouring to stop the traffic in slaves. They have not succeeded in doing so, although they have examined a great number of dhows that have passed across the Red Sea. That that slave trade continues to a limited extent we have every reason to believe, and it is very easy, I am informed, for dhows containing slaves to go across from the mainland to Arabia. But what is essential is that we ought to be allowed to get that evidence in order to bring home to the individuals representing various countries at Geneva the responsibility of those countries. At the present time that is prevented, and that is the one point that I want to press upon the Government more than any other.


My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend who introduced this debate whether I have correctly understood him. He said that there is a considerable amount of slave trade across the Red Sea. All the west coast of the Red Sea is in the occupation or jurisdiction of European Powers. If that is so, how is it that such a considerable amount of this traffic should be allowed to continue? Is any one particular portion of the coast specially advantageous for this traffic? I gathered from the most reverend Primate that only small vessels were engaged in this trade, vessels ostensibly engaged in commercial business, and under that disguise carrying slaves across to Arabia. Presumably there can be only a very small number carried in this way. These vessels cannot be like real slave dhows. They can only carry three or four slaves in such small craft. I am only asking questions of my noble friend. At the same time I am glad to have heard—and fully concur in—the praise given to the Emperor of Ethiopia for his bold and honest efforts to put down slavery in his dominions. I think he deserves all the credit given to him this afternoon.


My Lords, although the discussion this afternoon has been necessarily somewhat long, but not too long for the importance and magnitude of the subject, I would crave permission to make some remarks, particularly about the transit of slaves across the Red Sea. It is not necessary for me to make any remarks of a general nature after the speeches which have been made, and after the very comprehensive and valuable speech of my noble friend Lord Noel-Buxton. Before I come to the Red Sea, I would just like to say one word on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strickland. I was under the impression that this was one of those occasions when there was practically no difference of view in your Lordships' House, but I am not quite sure what the position of the noble Lord, Lord Strickland, is. It seemed to me that nearly all his arguments about the slave trade were used in the old slave days to buttress up slavery itself. It was the same kind of argument. I do not think anybody wishes to go back to those days, though perhaps the noble Lord wishes to go still further back to the days of Aristotle, who had something to say about slavery. However, speaking generally, there is unanimity in your Lordships' House.

In regard to the transit of slaves across the Red Sea I would say in the first place, in reply to the noble Lord opposite, that I do not think it is suggested that the slaves who may be carried across or through the Red Sea necessarily come from Ethiopia. There may be some, for instance, who come from Madagascar or other places further a field Still his main observations were directed to Ethiopia, and I will try to deal with that. What does the Advisory Committee say? In paragraph 37 they say: It is not impossible that, in spite of the measures taken, human beings in limited numbers are still introduced into Arabia as slaves or, having entered as free men, are there enslaved. Then they say in paragraph 32: In reality Ethiopia and Arabia are at present virtually the only countries that persons engaged in the slave trade have in view when committing acts outside those territories. So it would appear that slaves are being imported into Arabia and, if so, many of them must come across the lied Sea. The Committee also say: It is chiefly from Ethiopia that slaves introduced into Arabia can come. Those are, I think, the main passages dealing with the particular point which the noble Lord raised.

It is true, as the noble Lord has said, that all the Red Sea outlets on the African side opposite Arabia are held by European Powers. There are the Soudan, Eritrea, French Somaliland, British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland, in that order. There you have the whole coast on that side of the Red Sea. Much has been said to-day about the Emperor of Ethiopia and his position in regard to this matter, but the Emperor has made this point I believe—and it seems to me with some force—that if the traffic across the Red Sea is going on, at any rate he cannot be held altogether responsible for that, because he has no outlet to the Red Sea. As I say, it is the European Powers who have the control over the outlets to the Red Sea. The noble Lord asked: How is it possible for these things to be happening, if that is so? I am not going into that. There are various ways which occur to me in which it can happen, and I think, as far as we can be humanly certain, that to some extent it is happening. I will read to your Lordships a sworn statement from a Chief Officer on board a cargo liner trading between Europe and the Far East. Obviously I cannot give any of the names. it is not very old—the date is July 24, 1934, and it relates to something that happened in 1933.

This is what he says: I am Chief Officer on board the … a cargo liner trading between Europe and the Far East. On or about the fifteenth day of August, one thousand nine hundred and thirty-three, the … on which was then Chief Officer, was passing through the Red Sea on a voyage from China to London. At about 6 o'clock a.m. when the … was about thirty miles north of Abu Ail I saw a large dhow speeding tinder sail … this was a large dhow; not a vessel carrying only three or four slaves, which the noble Lord referred to— across the Red Sea from the African side to the Arabian side. While looking at the dhow through my telescope the force of the wind broke the main halliards of her lateen mainsail and caused it to come down with a run, and the dhow flew up in the wind under the influence of her mizen sail. The Master of the vessel who had now come on deck gave orders that she should run up close to the dhow as we suspected that she was engaged in the slave trade. The vessel came to within about 100 feet of the dhow— 100 feet is very close; it is not very much longer than your Lordships' House, so that it is possible to see very clearly what is happening— and I could clearly see that the dhow was packed from end to end of her open waist with negroes. The negroes were seated on thwarts or benches and appeared to be fastened by their ankles to the bottom of a compartment. About twelve or fourteen negroes were stowed abreast, and there were about twenty rows of them, so that considerably over 200 were being transported in tins one vessel. The crew of the dhow having effected the necessary repairs, the dhow continued on her voyage towards the Arabian coast with her human cargo. A wireless message was sent out from the vessel, giving the position of the dhow, in the hope that it might be received by some vessel which would intercept the dhow before she reached the Arabian coast. I make this solemn declaration, conscientiously believing the same to be true, and by virtue of the provisions of the Statutory Declarations Act, 1835. Statements like that—and I think that can be accepted—go to confirm the fear that slaves are being transported across the Red Sea.

I want particularly to emphasise—and this is the point I am coming to in regard to the reply of the noble Earl—that officers and others engaged in antislavery work in the Red Sea are often in great perplexity because of the difficulty of not knowing exactly what the legal position is. The question which I should like to ask the noble Earl is this: What is the legal position? Possibly that cannot be said this afternoon, but I want it to be considered. Under what Treaty has Great Britain the right to stop and to search vessels suspected of slave trading? There seems to be no general rule. It depends on what flag the suspected vessel is flying, and our rights vary in different cases. They derive apparently from a whole number of bilateral treaties with different Powers. Our general obligation to suppress the slave trade rests on the clause in the Treaty of St. Germain, which has superseded the Brussels Act, and on the 1926 Geneva Convention. We are relying more and more on the Geneva Convention. As regards detailed procedure, the matter rests on usage and on those two bilateral treaties of which I have just spoken. In most cases, for instance, we have the right to send the boat back to its own port to be dealt with by its own authorities.

In some cases, without having the right of search, we have the right to ask to see their papers and verify their flag. If they are not flying their correct flag we can complain to the Power concerned, probably a signatory of the Convention. Therefore it is not easy to see what the legal rights in the matter are. If we here in your Lordships' House do not really know that, how are officers on these two sloops in the Bed Sea, which have been referred to by previous speakers, to know precisely what their legal rights are. Surely the time has come when something should be available much less confused and less confusing so that they may know exactly where they stand. This matter has been pressed on the Government—it is referred to in the Committee's Report—the question of the three European Powers, ourselves, France and Italy, possessing African territories on the shores of the Red Sea, considering the possibility of concluding a special agreement for this purpose, an agreement such as is envisaged in paragraph 3 of the Slavery Convention. I do want to ask the noble Earl whether the British delegation at Geneva cannot press that that should be done. As the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, has said, nine years have now elapsed since 1926. That is a long time, and nothing has been done. This Convention is badly needed. So far as I know there is no objection to its being made, and, if this Convention were made, it would, I think, have great value. If, as the result of this debate, that should happen, it would be a very satisfactory outcome of our deliberations this afternoon.

I want in one minute to refer to a matter which has not been touched upon so far or, if so, has only just been mentioned. That is the question of pilgrims and their servants going into Arabia to the holy places, to Mecca and so on. I am afraid there is only too much reason to believe that pilgrims going to the holy places across the Red Sea, taking servants with them, in some cases take servants who are in reality slaves, and these slaves may be left in Arabia and become definitely slaves there. Not a great deal can be said about this matter, because the Committee are so hampered, as previous speakers have said, in getting at the facts. That is another reason for their having more powers. But something has been done to deal with this very problem. I am glad to see that Great Britain in various territories over which she has control has encouraged a system of transports. A list of those travelling has been sent, I think, to the British Legation in Arabia so that the matter can be checked, and it may be seen whether the people come back or not. One Government actually sends an officer who accompanies the ships and then waits until the last ship has returned to cheek the whole position. That seems to be a very excellent plan. There are other ways in which something can be done to deal with this evil in so far as it exists. In this matter of the pilgrims, the Committee should have more powers to get information. If they have more powers to get information it would be possible to do more in this and other respects to remedy the evils to which attention has been drawn by my noble friend this afternoon.


My Lords, I rise to offer a personal explanation. I have not advocated slavery. I have respectfully submitted that there are some who wish to suppress it by greater evils, evils more repugnant to the natural law, to the Decalogue, anti to the precepts of Christianity.


My Lords, no one who has to speak from this box on behalf of the Foreign Office ever welcomes a debate, but I think I can, at any rate, say that the debate which we have bad this afternoon is one which I welcome far more than any other I can remember. It is quite true that several of your Lordships have trodden on dangerous ground, and perhaps have not fully realised how widely your words would be read and followed in many parts of the world. I was glad indeed that the most reverend Primate was good enough to remind us of the difficulties with which we are faced at this moment, and how serious they really are. I think every member of your Lordships' House is agreed that this is not a Party matter, far less a Party matter even than foreign affairs. It is the general rule with regard to foreign affairs that we agree with the policy of successive Governments although we sometimes criticise the methods by which that policy is pursued. In this case think every one of your Lordships has emphasised the work done by successive British Governments, and now being carried on by His Majesty's Government at the present moment.

I was glad indeed that my noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood, who has had to leave the House to attend a Committee, emphasised the great work which has been done by this country over a long period of years and drew attention to the fact, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord who introduced the debate, that there would have been no Committee for Slavery, and no Report before us to-day, had it not been for the action of successive British Governments. I should like, too, to support what was said in thanking Sir George Maxwell for the admirable Report which he made on the mui-tsai system which appears as a final appendix of this Report. I think we were extremely lucky to have got someone with such wide experience in Malaya and elsewhere to become a member of the Permanent Committee. One more word of commendation perhaps might be allowed, and that is upon the work being done by His Majesty's sloops in the Red Sea. Thirty-eight thousand miles, which was not, I think, done in one year as the most reverend Primate thought, but in three years, is none the less a tremendous performance, and when we, who sometimes are inclined to complain of the heat of the weather in this country, think of what the Red Sea is at this time of year in a small vessel, I think we will realise that the officers and men of His Majesty's Navy are doing strenuous work in covering that distance.

I am not going to pretend that the work which they are doing in the Red Sea has definitely brought the slave trade to an end, but what I think it has done is to reduce it from a big stream to a trickle. I think it is true that dhows may slip across during the hours of darkness, and, of course, as only a few of our ships cover this very wide area, there is always a chance of some of these dhows slipping through. But even taking the cases that have been quoted, apart from that given by Lord Arnold who talked of a dhow filled with people, the fact that there are dhows with one or two natives on board who may be slaves is obviously a very different story to the story that used to be told in old days when dhows were constantly crossing crammed with individuals going to be sold as slaves. As your Lordships are aware, the Report of the Slavery Committee was only signed on the 10th of April, and was submitted to the Council of the League of Nations by the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, my right honourable friend Mr. Eden, on the 22nd of May. There has not been a great deal of time therefore to get in touch with authorities all over the world to see what action should be taken, but the idea of a Convention with the Powers round the Red Sea is a matter which is receiving consideration at the present moment.

Your Lordships will note that the Council of the League, at its meeting on May 22, gave full effect to the conclusions of the Committee. If your Lordships have looked at the report of the proceedings, you will have seen that my right honourable friend drew attention strongly to the lack of evidence which was received from various Governments, and proposed a Resolution to the effect, first of all, that those who had not acceded to the Slavery Convention should do so at the earliest possible moment, and that those who had acceded but had not ratified, should also do so at an early date. Then the Resolution went on, in paragraph 7 (e), to say: Trusts that the Governments will continue to supply full and precise information on the basis of Article 7 of the Convention and of the various resolutions of the Assembly. Paragraph (f) was as follows: Requests the Governments concerned to be good enough to note the suggestions put forward in the Advisory Committee's Report, in conformity with Article 16, paragraph 1, of the Committee's rules of procedure, for obtaining such further light as the Committee has deemed desirable on points arising in the documents supplied by those Governments. Several of your Lordships have drawn attention to the rules of procedure of the Committee. That, as I must point out, is a matter for the Committee itself. My noble friend Lord Cecil, I think, thought that we should have to get unanimity at the Assembly before these rules could be changed. As I understand it, the terms of reference were drawn up by the Assembly, but the rules were made by the Committee on Slavery itself, and, therefore, it appears to be a matter for the Committee on Slavery to make a recommendation saying that they wish to alter their rules in such and such a manner and to make that recommendation to the Council. I need hardly say that if the Committee decide to take such action His Majesty's Government will give them every possible support, because they are anxious to increase the influence and power of this Committee to the utmost possible extent. As your Lordships will see, it is not a matter upon which we can, first of all, take the initiative, because it is one that the Committee must themselves start; then we can give them our support. I can definitely tell your Lordships that we are anxious to give the fullest possible support to the work of this Committee. If they make a recommendation we shall do our best to use all our influence to get it received and, I hope, accepted by the Council.

So far as we ourselves are concerned, I think we have always forwarded any evidence that we have received which we think is suitable—when I say "suitable" I mean reliable—whether it is in accordance with our views or whether it is not. For instance—I am not suggesting that we disagree with them—any reports and recommendations which are made by the Anti-slavery and Aborigines Protection Society are always forwarded to the Committee. I understand that so far as we are concerned we by no means rely only on official evidence, but we are only too ready to send any evidence which we think will be valuable to the Committee. I think your Lordships have noted that in this Report of 92 pages no less than 70 pages are taken up with matters which were communicated by either His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom or other parts of His Majesty's Dominions. Your Lordships will therefore see that this country is maintaining the lead and the share that it has always taken in the attempts throughout the past hundred years to abolish slavery. The lack of information which is due to the non-communication of information by other foreign countries of the world causes this Report to be little more than a preliminary Report, and the Committee say that they are not yet in a position to decide exactly how far they can be of value until they get more information and see how that information can be used. That appears in the preliminary note to the Report. It is obvious that the small amount of documentary material has definitely limited the work of the Committee in the past.

As regards the more frequent meeting of the Committee, my right honourable friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs himself recommended at this meeting that there should be a special meeting of the Committee on Slavery next year, and this will come up for consideration before the Assembly at its meeting in September next in order that financial provision shall be proposed for the meeting of that Committee. As the Committee at present is to meet every alternate year, that will mean that, subject to the approval of the next two years, we shall get what is equivalent to an annual meeting. At the end of that period, or before no doubt, the Committee will be in a position to consider whether they can do useful work by meeting annually, or, indeed, even more than once a year; but it will depend how information comes in. It is obvious that it would be of very little use if the Committee were to meet and have no reports from the countries on which they could make recommendations. I am not sure that I would quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, in saying that slavery is as widespread as he intimated to the House So far as I have been able to gather, slavery exists in various forms in many parts of the world, but it is being reduced and slavery as we used to understand it is very much less than it was, although there are a good many cases of systems analogous to slavery. At any rate the purchase aril sale of slaves and the slave trade are, I am glad to think, steadily getting better thanks to action taken in various parts of the world.

Both the noble Lord and the most reverend Primate referred to the mui-tsai system in China. It is quite true that the officials of Hong-kong viewed the proposals put forward by His Majesty's Government with considerable dismay, and thought they would lead to a number of difficulties which in fact have not eventuated. But it is fair to say that one of the predictions they made turned out to be true. They said that as the distance from Hong-kong to the mainland was so small there would be a considerable traffic and it would be difficult to keep in touch with the mui-tsai girls. The last report is that the addresses of 754 of these girls were unknown, so that registration was not quite so easy as would appear on the surface and it was difficult to keep in touch with these girls. That is even more the case when you get to the international settlements on the mainland. I need hardly say that the Government will take what action seems possible to see that the method adopted at Hong-kong shall be brought before the International Treaty Ports for adoption by their municipalities if we can manage to persuade them to do so, but it will nut be easy in view of the widespread nature of the system throughout the whole of China.

I think the noble Lord behind me was right when he said that it is not advisable to press these things too fast. The report of Sir George Maxwell in fact rather suggests that when these proposals were brought forward at Hong-kong for the registration of the mui-tsai girls a good many of the owners were frightened into thinking that some drastic action was going to be taken against them. They were rather inclined, therefore, to hide these girls and not to give the information required. When it was found that we were going to behave in a perfectly reasonable way, that all we wanted was to know where the girls were and to see that they were properly treated and looked after as they should be, then the owners came forward and registered their names freely. Sir George Maxwell suggests that when similar procedure is brought in elsewhere in China and in Malaya it might be desirable to give more time so that the owners of mui-tsai girls may discover what is intended and not be frightened into opposition. We want to educate them to our views and not send them into opposition, which makes the task of looking after these girls, and others in similar conditions, so much more difficult.

The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, asked me under what treaty we stop slave trading. I am afraid I cannot give him that information off-hand. I should imagine that a good deal depends on custom. We have for such a long period of years taken to ourselves the duty of performing this service both in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf that I think nobody now is inclined to dispute it, unless we get right up against the Persian coast and interfere with Persian vessels. Even there I understand the Shah and others feel in accord with us in trying to suppress this traffic. There was a case in which a dhow was engaged in the slave trade and we dealt with the owner and publicly burned the dhow. I doubt whether there is provision for that in any treaty. It was probably the most effective method, though I do not suggest that it is a method we are going to adopt in all parts of the world. It does, however, show that we take drastic action whenever we find a suitable case. I think there is very little I can add in the way of definite information to what I have already stated. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for having brought the matter forward, and I hope he will recognise that the Government, no less than their predecessors, are going to give their utmost support to the suppression of slavery in all forms and are going to support the Committee at Geneva.


My Lords, I desire warmly to thank the noble Earl. Before I go further perhaps I might be allowed briefly to reply, to the question put to me as to how the trade succeeds in passing through European Colonies. Apart from other reasons there is a very evident geographical reason—the coast line is of immense length, extremely broken, and has a peculiar feature unknown in Europe of coral reefs along a great part of it. A small dhow, perhaps twenty feet in length, can pass into an immense number of small harbours, and it is extremely difficult to control such dhows without a very large number of reliable officials of the country concerned. I am sure we are all greatly obliged to the noble Earl for the sympathetic reply he has given, and I would repeat how much all of us concerned about the question feel indebted to His Majesty's Government and to previous Governments and to the Foreign Office for the great activity they have shown in this matter. I am glad to know that the noble Earl is in favour of burning dhows that may be concerned with the slave trade.

He has given a lead to the Advisory Committee that it should ask for further powers in regard to obtaining information. I understand that a certain amount of hesitation was felt by the members of the Committee in regard to making that proposal themselves, but what the noble Earl has said ought to be an encouragement to the Committee to ask for further powers. I am quite sure that we may take it that His Majesty's Government will instruct their delegates to take any opportunity of putting forward proposals particularly because of what the noble Earl has himself said in regard to frequency of meetings. He said the need for meetings would depend on the information for them to deal with, but unless there are further powers for obtaining information the information will not be there. I am sure he will be good enough to bear that in mind. We all know that if His Majesty's Government will press for- ward this cause, they will be contributing to the alleviation of human suffering on a vast scale. I thank the noble Earl very warmly on behalf of us all, and I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, with drawn.