HL Deb 14 July 1960 vol 225 cc333-56

5.15 p.m.

LORD SHACKLETON rose to ask her Majesty's Government what information they have on the continued existence of slavery, particularly in Africa and Arabia; what steps they propose to take to ensure the implementation of international conventions designed to bring this inhuman and degrading practice to an end, if necessary by the establishment of a special organisation within the United Nations, and whether they will raise this urgent problem at the July meeting of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have just been discussing one of the new scourges of humanity, and I rise to ask the Question standing in my name in order to draw attention to one of the most ancient scourges that have afflicted mankind. It was only last year that the bicentenary of the birth of William Wilberforce was commemorated, and your Lordships are well aware that his Parliamentary life was mainly devoted to the abolition of slavery and that his work has been carried on by many able people since. It is now the general impression among people in this country that slavery no longer exists, and the object of my Question is not only to draw attention to the amount of slavery that there is in the world but to ask the Government what information they have from their sources upon this subject, and, in particular, to ask what steps they propose to take by way of international action or by other means to put an end to this degrading business.

There is no need, I think, to go into the history of slavery. I think it is universally accepted that, however well a slave may be treated, none the less it is in every way a repugnant basis of life for mankind. And of course European nations have no reason to be mealy-mouthed on this subject, or to be proud of the part they have played. We know that some of the great civilisations in classical times were built on slavery and that many European nations have played their part in the slave trade. But we do not need to waste time on the past. Our problem is to consider what there is in the way of slavery in the world to-day and what ought to be done to end it.

One of the difficulties is to get exact information, to collect from the countries where this slavery is practised, either openly or in a clandestine way, information on precisely what is going on. The chief centre of slavery in the world is still the Arabian Peninsula, and in particular Saudi-Arabia, where it is estimated—and I must stress that it is only an estimate, and may be a very rough one—that there may be as many as half a million slaves to-day. My remarks will be mainly concerned with the slave trade as it relates tone Arabian Peninsula. It is the one region where the old chattel slavery still exists and is recognised as a legal status.

The countries of Arabia have theocratic government, and in them the law of the land is the Koran, which is supplemented by decrees made by the rulers. Slave owners and defenders of slavery—and this is important, because people are inclined to think that we should allow people to pursue their own historic customs—have argued that slavery is authorised by the Koran and by the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, but the weight of evidence, I am told, is against this. Mohammed tolerated slavery in the backward community in which he lived, but at the same time he condemned it and intended that it should be progressively suppressed. Islamic writers of authority have stated in no uncertain terms that if the teachings of Mohammed on slavery had been applied in all Moslem countries, slavery would have ceased to exist, not only, as it has, in some of them, but in all. It is still practised in not merely Arabia but also the Yemen, Muscat, Oman and the small sheikdoms and sultanates in the Aden Protectorate. There is an abundance of evidence from unofficial sources, from travellers and residents in Saudi-Arabia and those countries, that slavery exists there, and may, indeed, be increasing.

In 1936 the late King Ibn Saud of Saudi-Arabia made a decree regulating the conditions of slaves. This decree largely restated the teachings of the Koran, requiring masters to be kind to their slaves. It also gave slaves certain rights to buy their freedom and, above all, it required slave owners to register their slaves with the Government. But while the principal aim was to help slaves throughout their servitude, as well as to provide some prospect of freedom, it also authorised, as I have said, the licensing of slave traders. That decree is still law, and there is plenty of evidence that the law is fully taken advantage of. This decree makes clear that it is part of the accepted pattern of life in those countries.

I should like to quote some of the further evidence that exists. Some of it is, I admit, old evidence, although collected in the last few years, and some of it may be already familiar to your Lordships. One of our difficulties, of course, is to get official, up-to-date information. There is evidence supplied not only by ministers. There was one which, I know, has already been quoted in this House. A French Protestant minister actually went to investigate rumours of slavery in French Africa, and he reported in 1955 what he had found. In his report there is a dispatch written by the French Ambassador in Saudi-Arabia. He stated that slave traders in Saudi-Arabia were sending African emissaries to Africa to recruit slaves. They went and posed as Moslem missionaries and offered Africans a free pilgrimage to Mecca, which they said was being paid for by rich Moslems who had sinned and sought atonement in this way. Many Africans in the past few years have fallen into this trap. On arrival in Saudi-Arabia they have been arrested for entering without a visa, and have been imprisoned and handed over to slave traders. The French Ambassador estimated the number who suffered that fate at a few hundred a year. The Government of Nigeria has since taken steps to try to limit this by licensing travel agencies, particularly those who deal with the Arabian countries.

There is, indeed, plenty of evidence, also coming from the same source, of African Moslems going on pilgrimages and taking several servants with them whom they sell on arrival, using them as living traveller's cheques. It is astonishing that faithful Moslems who believe in the teachings of their Prophet, can sit back and allow, if not connive at, the holy places of Islam being used to lure innocent Africans into slavery. There are numerous examples, too, some of them from official sources, of the actual practice of slavery in particular areas. We have known, for instance, of the name of the chief slave broker in Riyadh. His name was, at any rate a few years ago, Abdulla Ibn Marwan. We have the names of other slave dealers. There have been examples which have been brought from other countries of this practice. For instance, in Iraq, a certain slave dealer, Mohammad Husain, was captured and put on trial. He was found to have 50 kidnapped under-age girls ready to tranship to Riyadh. He was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. In another place there have been examples of girls who have been kidnapped, and sometimes their relations have come out after them, trying to bring them back.

If anybody were to suggest that these slaves were always well treated, I would draw attention to a case, again well-founded, of twelve Baluchi slaves, some of whom were the personal property of the King of Saudi-Arabia, who tried to escape. They were discovered, tracked down, and three were beheaded in the desert by the search party; others were brought back to Riyadh for public execution, where they were duly beheaded by a negro slave whose name was Al Hilali, in the square in front of the palace, to provide a lesson to other would-be escapees.

There are other travellers whose names will be known to your Lordships. Wilfrid Thesiger, whose book Arabian Sands has been so widely read, admittedly writing on a period about ten years ago, said: It seemed that the enormous wealth which was pouring into Saudi-Arabia from the American oil company had greatly increased both the demand for slaves and the price paid for them. He had evidence because he met a caravan taking slaves actually along the road. James Morris, who was, I think, at one time a Times correspondent, is another well-known writer who has talked about slavery as a modern institution.

There are other areas in the world where slavery is practised. A Danish ethnologist has described the practice of slavery among the Tuaregs of the Sahara, and my noble friend Lord Maugham, who is shortly to speak, has some much more up-to-date and direct personal experience of this area. There is evidence collected by the Anti-Slavery Society through Commander Fox-Pitt, who went to West Africa and himself found plenty of evidence of this practice.

Finally, there has been some quite horrifying evidence of slavery in South America, in particular in Peru. It has been described in a book written by an American called Leonard Clark. If anyone should question it as a traveller's tale, I may say that a prominent Minister in Peru has written paying testimony to the reliability of the evidence, and promising that the Peruvian Government will take strong action to correct the shameful and inhuman slave practices which Clark found existed. There has been slavery in China, although there is information that the new Chinese Government is taking strong steps to wipe it out. But, as I have said, one of our problems has been to get really up-to-date official information. There is a lot of evidence, but one needs much more precise evidence if action is to be taken.

I should like now to turn to the legal and international position with regard to slavery. The first really effective international action was taken in the Brussels Slavery Convention in 1890. This was effective because it had machinery written into it for supervising its application. It is possible that this Convention may still be in force, but it would probably be difficult to resuscitate because some of the signatories, like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, no longer exist. After the First World War the Slavery Convention of 1926 was signed under the auspices of the League of Nations. This contained no machinery for supervision. It was not until after the efforts, largely of British initiative, of men like the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, Charles Roden Buxton and others, that a special Committee was set up, which was successful to a considerable degree in not only collecting evidence but gradually reducing the slave traffic.

I emphasise the phrase "slave traffic". It is a question not only of the existence of slavery in countries where there are already slaves, but of a continuing traffic, going on from different parts of Africa. After the last war a new Convention was set up on the advice of a committee of experts. This was signed in 1956. It lacks any machinery for supervising its application. This is what I wish to draw to the attention of the Government, of the Minister and of the noble Marquess, who I am sure is well aware of this fact. Under the Convention reports are called for, but so far only one Government have supplied a report—that is, the British Government—and the Convention is in danger of becoming a dead letter.

It has been argued that it is the duty of the officials of the United Nations to take action to enforce Conventions, but in the opinion, of many people that is not so. They are under no obligation to act unless they are directed to do so. What the Slavery Conventions need now is a Committee to examine information on slavery and to submit conclusions and recommendations to the Economic and Social Council. There are two possible forms of supervisory machinery. One is a special Committee, like the old Committee of the League of Nations. Another is to appoint a special consultant, a kind of Special Commissioner, who would collect information and advise the Economic and Social Council, which is, of course, the body responsible for the Slavery Conventions. The cost of this would be comparatively small.

My Lords, I should like to ask what Her Majesty's Government are going to do about this matter. In another place, in an earlier debate, the right honourable and learned gentleman the Foreign Secretary said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 590, col. 1313]: I do not think the machinery is satisfactory. This was said when he was questioned on the absence of permanent supervisory machinery; and I should like again to ask the question which was asked in another place: whether Her Majesty's Government are relying entirely on chance information and representations made by the Anti-Slavery Society. These reports come in and need to be investigated. Only in the last few days the Economic and Social Council have been meeting in Geneva, and I regret to say that it was left to representatives of voluntary bodies like the Society of Friends and the Anti-Slavery Society to raise the matter. I admit that some kind words were said by the British representative, but it was not on British initiative that any action was taken. The initiative came from the Danish delegate who moved a motion, on July 11, calling on all parties at least to supply the information they are supposed to supply under the Convention.

I feel it is particularly distressing that this country, which in the past has taken a lead in this matter, is failing to do anything very much about it at the moment. I would ask Her Majesty's Government to discuss this question and to make definite proposals, not only at the United Nations but particularly among the new Commonwealth nations, because they will have a particularly important part to play. For as the white man withdraws from Africa—and this is true of French Africa, and, indeed, of Nigeria and Ghana—there is a risk that some of the slave trading that is going on will tend to increase. I am quite sure that the rulers of these new countries, the leaders in Nigeria and Ghana, would be perfectly willing to co-operate, and we (and when I say "we" I mean the world) need their co-operation if slavery is to be stamped out. Furthermore, there is a danger that if the British, and white men generally, press too hard on this matter they will be accused by the Russians and others of using it as an excuse for some colonialist policy. That is why I would urge Her Majesty's Government to make their approach on a very broad front.

It will be argued by some that slaves are better off than the free men of the country in which they live. And I do not for one moment deny that many slaves are exceedingly well treated and looked after, and are doing very well. This has always been part of the history of slavery. There have always been slaves who have risen to great positions, but the fact remains that this is not true of them all. Many of them find that they cannot get their freedom, and some of them are cruelly treated. The children of many of them are automatically born slaves, and young babies are still bought and sold as if they were cattle; and there is cruelty practised on some of them.

This is not one of the world's greatest problems, and just because it is no longer so it is in danger of falling out of the public eye. There is the possibility that slavery may linger on indefinitely. It is only through international action that it can be brought to an end, and I hope that we shall hear from Her Majesty's Government to-day, whatever are the difficulties in the way of preserving good relations with some of these smaller Arab Rulers, that they will not shrink from expressing, in a very firm way, British opinion upon this. If they find it difficult to do much about it in territories where we exercise influence, I hope that at least they will speak out at the United Nations. It would be very sad if, for fear of offending some of the rulers of oil-bearing countries, we dared not take a lead in pressing for the freedom of the individual which this country has played so notable a part in doing in the past. I hope, therefore, that Her Maesty's Government will not trim their sails on this matter and that we shall get a forthright statement in reply to the Question I now ask.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I must beg that indulgence which is bestowed by your Lordships on those addressing you for the first time. Recently I read an article which seemed to me relevant to the Question of my noble friend Lord Shackleton. It said: Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates, and credulity encourages. A peace will equally leave the warrior and relater of wars destitute of employment; and I know not whether more is to be dreaded from streets filled with soldiers accustomed to plunder, or from garrets filled with scribblers accustomed to lie. The magazine was the Idler, dated November 11, 1758, and the author—as I expect your Lordships will have guessed—was Dr. Johnson. Times have changed since then, and I am glad to say that we no longer have anything to fear from the soldiers in our streets or, come to that, from the scribblers in our garrets. And I am all the more glad to say this because I was once a soldier and I am now most definitely a scribbler.

But the relevance of the quotation is this: in war and in cold war, truth is the first casualty, because both sides use propaganda. And propaganda is a boomerang which recoils upon the person who uses it. A Government puts out a distorted version of the truth and ends by accepting its own lies, and believing in them. The relevance of this to our present problem is this. Her Majesty's Government in general, and the Foreign Office in particular, have managed to convince themselves that slavery does not exist; and therefore, in the end, they have managed even to persuade tile public that it is practically non-existent.

Why do the Foreign Office want to believe that slavery does not exist? Your Lordships have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that Saudi-Arabia is the greatest slave-buying area in the world; and there are over half a million slaves there to-day. The main oil company operating in Saudi-Arabia is the Arabian-American Oil Company —"Aramco"—and if it were known that children are enslaved in Saudi-Arabia this might be taken as a criticism of Aranico's general moral influence over the country. Moreover, Aramco wields considerable influence in Washington; and the Foreign Office do not want to embarrass the Government of Britain's largest ally.

A friend of mine was attached to the Trucial Oman levies who in the autumn of 1955 captured the Buraimi Oasis from the Saudi-Arabian forces. In one of the outlying villages in that uncertain frontier between Oman and Saudi-Arabia, he discovered children in fetters. There they were, in a corner of the marketplace, and there were shackles on their ankles. This story haunted me, and so I approached the Anti-Slavery Society in London; I met more officers from the Trucial Oman levies; I consulted travellers; and all the sources confirmed what we have already been told, that Saudi-Arabia is the main and largest market. And as the wealth has increased so, of course, the demand for slaves has risen, because a man is known by the number of slaves he has: it is a form of snobbery out there—like having a Cadillac. Whereas formerly an able-bodied man slave cost £50, he now costs £150. Whereas formerly an attractive girl cost £150, she now costs anything between £400 and £700.

There are two main slave routes into Saudi-Arabia. The first comes from West Africa. It goes from the High Volta, through the Niger Provinces and the region of Timbuktu, across Africa to the Port of Suakin, and across the Red Sea, by dhow to Lith, a port south of Djedda. The other goes from Iraq and Persia and Baluchistan across the Gulf and then, by caravans of camels, across to Riyadh. The children taken on this route are generally children bought from poor parents in these countries, but quite often they have been kidnapped. What happens to these slaves after they have reached the slave markets? Arabists have told us time and time again that, in fact, the lot of a slave is really not all that bad; that, after all, he is valuable property, and so it is worth while looking after him and feeding and clothing him. Certainly when I crossed the frontier into Saudi-Arabia with Sir John Glubb in 1943 to visit the Emir Abdul Azziz el Sidari, at Kaf, I saw no sign of ill-treatment of the slaves there.

But, my Lords, conditions in Arabia have been changing and, as the noble Lord has said, the new wealth has undermined many of the ancient and respectable traditions. Western goods, Cadillacs and canned foods, refrigerators and radios, and Western ideas (which also come in cans, in the form of films) have undermined the old sanction of Koranic law, and sanctions of morality have crumbled. Vice is unrestrained and the means to gratify unusual lusts can easily be procured with money. There are now sheikhs who can obtain sexual satisfaction only with very young children. Slaves are often horribly abused for pleasure or mutilated as a punishment, and the castration of young boys is practised. The operation is performed on boys between the ages of ten and fourteen, and the amputation is done radically, both the penis and the scrotum being cut away.

My Lords, the children in shackles in the Buraimi Oasis were destined for Riyadh. The boys might be castrated and the girls bought by any merchant who fancied them. One of the British representatives there, in the Buraimi Oasis, noticed caravans and lorries coming into a little village called Hamasso at night, and when he tried to visit the houses he was denied admittance. So he began to watch the departure of Saudi aeroplanes. I should say that the planes were all Dakotas and, with the exception of one pilot, all the air crews were American. Shortly before the take-off a lorry would drive on to the airstrip and the children would be literally pushed and herded into the plane. My friend (I am sorry to have to keep saying "my friend" but he does not want his name used) then spoke to one of the American pilots and asked him into his house for a drink. He said to him, "Do you realise that you are carrying children into captivity?" And the man answered, "When I took on this job I was told to keep my eyes shut and my ears shut as to what was going on around here. And that is the way it is going to be. Another seven years of flying for King Saud and I'll have earned enough money to retire for life."

This information, in point of fact, I happen to know, was reported to the Foreign Office. It was never used at the time of the Buraimi frontier dispute, nor since. Why? Because the Foreign Office do not wish to embarrass a power-full Ally. Nor, I may say, is it only the Foreign Office who do not want to embarrass a powerful Ally. When I tried to interest various editors in this matter, some of these steely-eyed despots were alarmed at the matter which they thought might be revealed by my inquiries. The very steel of their eyes grew tarnished at the prospect. However, at last I found an editor who was prepared to back me. I then found that I was given no visas to enter any of the countries on the Trucial Coast. But since I could not get into the Coast and could not get into Saudi-Arabia, I decided to examine the alternative route. And last year I travelled in a Land-Rover from Gambia, through Senegal and Mauritania, into what was then the French Sudan and to the legendary city of Timbuktu, where I lived for a month making various inquiries. I then moved out into the Sahara. And there I bought a slave from his Tuareg master, like one buys a piece of meat. I paid for him 25,000 A.O.F. francs, which is the equivalent of £37 10s. 0d. His name was Ibrahim. He was twenty years old. I gave him his freedom and he now works as a free man in Timbuktu. My Lords, I bought this man and photographed the money changing hands with the master and took the number of the notes and so forth, entirely in order to come back with the actual proof that slavery exists in the Sahara.

The Tuareg are nomadic tribesmen, fair skinned, who have a slave caste known as the Bela. These Bela, men, women and children, belong to their masters, body and soul. I have lived in these Tuareg camps, and I have seen these slave girls and slave women working from dawn until dusk. I should explain that among the Tuareg women fatness is considered a sign of great beauty, and so the Tuareg women are not allowed to do any work, even if they want to. So there they lay, rather like sealions in the zoo after feeding time, watching their slaves from behind the folds of their indigo veils, and doing nothing. Moreover, the Tuareg caste of nobles refer to and think of themselves as nobles; and nobles do no work—nobles in the Sahara, I mean to say! No Tuareg noble would think of handling a spade, erecting a tent or carrying a gourd of water. And so they have these great herds of slaves, exactly as they have always had great herds of sheep; and in the great wastes of the Sahara they have been able to preserve this institution of slavery some 65 years after the French occupation put an end to slavery.

I have lived in these camps and seen these little skinny boys, with bellies horribly distended from malnutrition, going out in the morning, before dawn, with the herds; and I have known that, until they came back in the evening, they would be in the desert without anything Ito eat or drink. And when they got back, after the Tuareg nobles had eaten, and after their wives had had their ration of milk, if there was anything left they would get it. I have seen the marks of cruelty on their bodies. If they are disobedient, or if they lose an animal by neglect, they are tied to a tree and lashed until they lose consciousness—and sometimes they do not recover and are just left to die.

I have met, and know well, a little girl—Timulud is her name—who is sixteen years old. At the age of eleven, she was raped by her master. She has already had two children. The first was still-born, and the second was left behind when they moved camp because it was sick; and they told her to leave it in the desert. Long before these girls reach maturity, they are used by their masters; and if, as a result of rape, a child is born, that child is born a slave unless the master happens to wish, by some quirk of his own, to acknowledge it; but that happens very seldom. So when I gave Ibrahim his freedom, it meant not only that he could escape from the persecution of his master, and not only, as your Lordships have heard the noble Lord say, that his master could not take him to Mecca with him on a pilgrimage (and I have met a sheikh who went to Mecca with six children and returned with none because he had sold them all, like a human traveller's cheque) but also that he could marry the girl he loved and that the children of that union would be born free.

My Lords, slavery exists throughout West Africa, concealed behind a legal code that asserts it has been abolished, like a cancer the doctors refuse to diagnose. French and British authorities are trying hard, and have tried hard, to stamp out slavery in the areas that are under their control. But as these African countries, one by one, gain their independence they are going to be forced to deal with the problems themselves. Now I believe that in West Africa, certainly, the problem is largely, or certainly partly, one of education—that is to say, the Tuareg noble has been brought up to believe that the Bela is his slave, and the Bela has been brought up to believe that the Tuareg is his master; to such an extent that a Bela slave who has left the camp but is still working in Timbuktu, when he has made enough money, will come back and buy his freedom from his master, even though he knows that, from the point of view of the law, he is a free man. So it is a question of education. But can these newly independent countries, such as Mauretania, Mali or Nigeria, afford this mass education? They have neither the money nor the people to do it. One might think that the answer was that the former tutelary Power should provide the experts. That, I think, would be disastrous; because, unfortunately, the tides of nationalism have tinged the peoples of Africa with a deep suspicion of the colonialist Powers. A group of English educational experts would therefore be immediately suspect in Nigeria, and a group of French experts—people well equipped to deal with the psychological problem of the Tuareg and their Bela—would be very suspect in Mali.

My Lords, what is the solution? I think it can only be, as we have heard from my noble friend Lord Shackleton, through the United Nations. I should like to stress what he has said: that international Conventions are useless unless they have the machinery for supervising their application. An international Convention is a mere piece of paper if no agency exists for translating its terms into action. I believe that there should be a committee of experts to advise the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations on the decisions they should take about slavery each year. The members of this committee—no more than nine or ten—should be of different nationalities, and preferably not of the nationality of the former tutelary Power. They should be chosen for their knowledge of the problems concerned, and they should be there for an indefinite period to ensure continuity. They would be only advisory: the final decisions would still rest with the Economic and Social Council.

Lastly, I believe that every one of the experts and technicians and advisers needed by African countries should be sent to them by the United Nations. These people should be international not only in outlook but in fact—white or black, red, yellow or brown—and they should owe allegiance directly to the United Nations. I think they should go to the Africans as friends, not as patrons. Because, in the final analysis, to the Africans as well as to the Arabs, policies are less important than personalities; and, deep down, political equality is less important than social equality and friendship.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, we have had quite a time to wait for a maiden speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, but I think our patience has been rewarded by what might be considered as a very notable contribution—notable, perhaps, because we have discovered one who takes the trouble to go out and see things for himself. In considering a great human problem such as slavery, the number of people in this country who can claim personal experience could be counted on the fingers of one hand; and all the more, then, are we lucky to have had Lord Maugham's eloquence and sincerity to support that personal experience and personal contact with conditions. In the midst of so many grave international situations, the chances to discuss this persistent scourge are few—because, as it seems, the problem is always with us. I find it rather a curious reflection on our interpretation of values to note that this afternoon a very important matter such as the road operations in the Perivale area of the Western Avenue was considered by a full House, whereas the evidence we have just heard was noted by a comparatively scarce House.

We live to-day with a studied campaign of vilification against Western Powers, accompanied as it is by a ceaseless barrage on the theme of colonialism; and a debate such as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has initiated tends, in my view, to restore our sense of balance and proportion in international affairs. For that reason it is extremely valuable. It helps to remind this House—and, through this House, the public outside that may be interested —that some of those whom we have heard most effective and most noisy in the campaign to which I have referred are themselves responsible for conditions so barbaric as should, in a world which should be governed by justice, challenge the whole question of their fitness for international status and nationhood—a question which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, posed this afternoon. We have heard something about the technique in Saudi-Arabia. Last year, in the United Nations, some of us had to endure tedious hours of exaggerated oratory from the distinguished representative of Saudi-Arabia, and a constant arraignment of the Western Powers for their alleged crimes, political and humanitarian. Even more pointed did I find the circumstances which enabled a Power such as the Yemen to pontificate on the rights of the child. In October last year, the Third Committee spent several days trying to discover exactly when the rights of a child began. It is a topsy-turvy sort of world when representatives of a country which publicly displays its manacled prisoners chained together and where by no stretch of the imagination do adult men and women receive any rights whatsoever, are able to be taken seriously when they give their opinion on whether the rights of a child begin before or after birth.

We have to make a clear distinction between countries where slavery flourishes by consent, where authority chooses to look the other way, and where it is recognised by statutory arrangement, and other countries where slavery still persists, such as in Nigeria, but where the Administration are fully conscious of their duty in the matter and are doing their best to get on top of the problem. The latter deserve international sympathy and co-operation. The former deserve nothing better than organised international indignation. Even so, that indignation could yield to sympathy if we could be sure that the crime was recognised and that the country concerned was trying to set its house in order.

In referring to organised international indignation, I am throwing the whole weight of anything I can say in support of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for the developing of effective international machinery to deal with this crime. Only in this way can this running sore in the body of international society he healed. We have had our attention drawn to the need to include certain manifestations of slavery which hitherto have not been regarded as slavery within the terms of the 1926 Convention, and as a result we had the Supplementary Convention of September, 1956, which recognised practices similar to slavery as deserving legitimate inquiry. It is within this context that I think it appropriate merely to note that the present Slavery Convention was drafted by a commission of ten which included the Soviet Union.

I know that this is not the right time to spell out the long and tragic story of slave conditions behind the Iron Curtain. There will be other occasions for that. But, on the other hand, I think it would be quite unintelligent that we should neglect those conditions entirely that we should neglect the fact that the Power which actually contributed to the drafting of the Convention has been responsible for a vast network of slave camps and has been responsible for mass deportations from Hungary, the three liquidated Baltic States and Ruthenia. If anybody doubts the matter, they can study a publication of a perfectly respectable international organisation, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which has gone into the whole business. Where physical slavery has played itself out, so to speak, there mental slavery has taken over. The methods of operation may be those of mass production in contrast to private enterprise, as obtains in the Middle East, but the results are equally devastating. I repeat: if there is to be an international conscience in this matter, it is impossible that those conditions should be passed over—certainly not by any international machinery that is set up.

It is on the assumption that we have an international conscience in this matter that one asks whether the machine can be strengthened so as to make it more effective. In the last report of the Anti-Slavery Society, last month, the Director insisted (I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to this) that while the Convention looks well enough on paper, it is meaningless in its implementation. One sentence from the report, I think, is sufficient to bring home this point: None of the States concerned, which are under an obligation to furnish the United Nations with information under Article 7 of the Slavery Convention of 1956, have done so and it is nobody's business to remind them of their obligation. This, I suggest, indicates future conditions. The Director's solution is the appointment of either a small expert committee of three to five members—the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, mentioned ten—or a single expert. The function would be to sit at the elbow of the Economic and Social Council, receive reports and information, interpret them, advise generally and operate as an expert pressure group in the international sense. I find this extremely sensible, but I want to suggest an extension of its function.

To drive home my point I shall have to make a diversion for a moment. Your Lordships will recall that under the trusteeship system those responsible for trustee territories have to receive every so often, about once every three years, a mission from the United Nations, which reports to the Trusteeship Council. In this way, we ourselves have received United Nations visitors in Togoland, the Cameroons and Tanganyika, and I think that on the whole we have managed to satisfy them. Surely' it is equally rational that a similar system of inspection should be introduced by the Economic and Social Council in attempting to get on top of this problem of slavery. Why should the administrative achievement of a district officer in Tanganyika be a matter for international concern and inquiry while barbaric practices committed by Africans in Timbuktu are exempt?

I rather suspect that the answer one might receive in putting forward this kind of proposal would be that if the representatives of the United Kingdom tabled a resolution in the Third Committee, they would not receive in terms of votes sufficient support to pass the resolution. I shall always be extremely unsympathetic to that kind of suggestion. If we agree that the machinery needs strengthening, surely it is our duty to put up measures which we believe would be effective for the purpose. The fact that the measures may not be accepted in no way exonerates us from our duty of putting them forward. One wonders how much would ever be achieved if everybody started counting heads before they put forward one sane and just proposal. The only man who dislikes the police court is the man who stands his trial. The only man who dislikes the customs office is the smuggler.

It may be of some interest and it might serve an international purpose, in my view, to know exactly who would support and who would resist the proposal for a small international team of experts charged with the duty of inspection on the spot where slavery is concerned. I should have thought that the modern generation of a land which gave birth to a Wilberforce and a Lugard would expect Her Majesty's Government to put pressure on the international organisation and exert positive leadership in supporting a measure which could go a long way to end slavery for all time.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I want to say a few words in support of this suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. Until I came here to-day my sole knowledge of what was going on in the slave traffic derived from what I have read in the Reports of the Anti-Slavery Society. But now we have had an extraordinarily vivid story told by the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham—and I should like to join in congratulating him upon a remarkable maiden speech containing a great deal of information on this matter which he has given to your Lordships—which confirms what one had read and what one thought, and shows how necessary it is for some such action as that suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to be taken.

There are really horrifying stories of what goes on in the Arabian countries. Whether news of these conditions has been kept from us for commercial and economic reasons I do not know, but now we have been told what they are. They are shocking and frightening. One has heard of the tale of children being used as personal traveller's cheques by these wealthy sheikhs going on their pilgrimages; but now that it is confirmed by other noble Lords one sees that there is a great deal of truth behind these stories. What is even more frightening is that one realises that this traffic involves countries with which we are intimately connected. I know it is not their fault and they do their best to put down the traffic when it occurs, but that it should occur there at all shows how widespread it all is.

It was in December, 1949, when your Lordships were discussing a Bill to make a new planning of Parliament Square and there was a great amount of discussion about the Buxton Memorial Fountain which stood at the corner of George Street. We debated this fountain for some four or five hours because it was the one memorial put up in London to the anti-slavery movement. A great deal was then said by noble Lords about the great work Great Britain had done in the past to bring about the abolition of slavery in the world. I feel that your Lordships have given a very good follow-up from that debate to the debate that we are now having, and this shows that we still retain our great interest in the abolition of this appalling traffic.

It has been said by many people—but by nobody here, I am thankful to say—that the lot of the slave is not a bad one and he is far more comfortably taken care of than he would be if he were free, living in his own country. The same has been said sometimes about these countries that are now emerging from a state of benevolent paternalism under other countries. But it just is not true. People would far rather be free, even though not so well fed, so well housed or so well taken care of. Therefore I want to give all the support I can to the noble Lord who has put down this Question, and I trust that we shall get a satisfactory reply from the noble Marquess.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, before I say one or two words on this Question, I take great pleasure in felicitating my noble friend Lord Maugham on a truly admirable and impressive maiden speech, both in form and in content: indeed, I would pay him the highest compliment in saying that it was the kind of speech that one would expect to hear from the bearer of his name. I rise only to say a few words and to draw attention to a problem which is a domestic one. Most of the instances which have been quoted to us this afternoon have concerned territories which are directly beyond our control, but there is one part within the frontiers of the Commonwealth where slavery, at any rate, until quite recently, did exist. I refer to the deplorable traffic in slaves up and down the coast river in Eastern Nigeria. I hope that when the noble Marquess comes to reply he may be able to tell me that that trade no longer exists, but only a few years ago I was assured that the trade in boys who were taken up the river and sold to farmers in French territory, and in girls who were taken down the river and sold to Fernando Po, was very lively and causing great anxiety to the administrators in the area. I was told that the principal opponent was a woman, who I believe is no longer in the territory. This is an example which is very close to us and one for which we are directly responsible, and I hope that when he comes to reply the noble Marquess will be able to assure me that it is already a thing of the past.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for having put down this Question. I think it is most important that this horrible subject should be ventilated. We have listened to extremely well-informed speeches. I should like to add my word of congratulation to the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, on a remarkably well-informed and thought-out maiden speech. I would, however, at the outset of my remarks join issue with the noble Viscount when he says that he has the impression that the Foreign Office do not believe what is true—that was what I took him to be saying. Let me at once assure the noble Viscount that here he fell into error. We wish naturally to be the masters of the true facts but, as I am sure he will be the first to appreciate, they are not easily come by; and we are, of course, grateful to the noble Viscount for the trouble to which he has gone to obtain factual information on this very distressing subject.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who put down the Question said, we in this country, ever since the time of Wilberforce, have been in the lead in our efforts to obtain freedom for the individual. I can assure the noble Viscount that we feel as strongly now as ever we did. It was, as I know the noble Lord is fully aware, due to us that the 1956 Supplementary Slavery Convention was adopted, and there are 35 parties to it now. Her Majesty's Government, of course, consider, as I am sure do all noble Lords, that slavery in any form, whether or not the slave may be deemed to be more comfortable than he would perhaps be if he were free, is a degrading and terrible thing. But we have to bear in mind—and I was glad to hear this come out in the course of the remarks made by various noble Lords who have spoken—that it is largely a question of education that is going to be required so that the international conscience, to which the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, referred, will be felt by all concerned.

In his original Question the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked what information was available to Her Majesty's Government on this question of the continued existence of slavery. As I have already said to the noble Viscount, it is difficult to get accurate official information. As was pointed out, where there is profit there will be risks taken; and as you have the sale of narcotics and noxious drugs and so on, so there exists—and we do not deny this—also slavery. If there is sufficient profit in it, alas! this terrible trade may continue covertly, however hard we all may try to uncover it.

Nevertheless, I think there are certain reasons for a degree of optimism. As your Lordships know, there have been reports of increasing numbers of prosecutions for slavery, for instance in the Nigerian courts. I do not think that that necessarily means that slavery itself is on the increase. I think it would probably be true to say that these increasing prosecutions have been brought about by a change of heart and a change of attitude. I think that the authorities have been more successful in their efforts because the public at large is more ready to report cases of slavery. So, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon (though I do not pretend for a moment that the circumstances to which he referred in Eastern Nigeria no longer exist), I would say that there is a better climate of opinion, and that there is every likelihood that this terrible situation to which be referred, and of which I have some personal knowledge, having lived in French Equatorial Africa for some time, will be gradually improved. But I would not pretend for a moment that I believe it has entirely disappeared.

Under the Convention, one of the obligations of the signatories is that the parties should undertake to communicate to the Secretary General of the United Nations copies of any laws, regulations or administrative measures enacted or put into effect to implement the provisions of the Convention, and to give information of what is going on. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, reminded us, it is a regrettable fact but, alas! true, that only the United Kingdom has fulfilled this obligation. We do not believe that this instrument is perfect. I think that the observations made by the various speakers to-day should be seriously considered. I perfectly well appreciate that a Convention which, as it were, has no "teeth" in it, may risk being ineffective. But we have to consider that it is quite possible we should not have achieved this Supplementary Convention of 1956 at all if the establishment of a supervisory organisation had been insisted upon, because of the risk, as it might have seemed, of intervention in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State—the old argument with which we are all so familiar. But, we have to take life as it is, and it is quite possible that had these suggestions which have been made to-day been insisted upon in 1956, we might not have achieved a Convention at all.

I should like to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on what occurred on July 12 in Geneva in the Social Committee. Our representative had instructions to raise this question of slavery at the meeting of the Economic and Social Council, and it is perfectly correct that in fact the question was raised first by Denmark. But I do not think the noble Lord should take us too much to task for that. It happened that Denmark spoke first. The representative of the United Kingdom spoke strongly in support, and was, in fact, the only other speaker. So the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, should not chide us too much over not having taken the initiative. The instructions were given, and it so happened that Denmark rose to speak first.

I am not going to commit Her Majesty's Government from this Despatch Box this evening to any dramatic change in our policy, but I can assure your Lordships that what has been said here will be carefully noted. I am quite certain that if the Secretary General of the United Nations should report that he considers it necessary that there should be consultants, some sort of special committee, to advise him on matters arising out of the implementation of the 1956 Convention and, in particular, out of reports that have been furnished by the signatory States, Her Majesty's Government would give such a proposal serious consideration. I cannot go further than that this evening.

I should like to thank noble Lords who have spoken, and I should like to repeat my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I do not suppose for one moment that he will be satisfied with what I have said, but I can assure him that careful note is being taken. I believe he knows full well that what has been achieved already has taken time. What is still left to be done will also take time. But there is no question of an ostrich-like approach by Her Majesty's Government to this problem. We do not wish to conceal from ourselves the facts, and certainly we shall continue in the same way as ever to do everything we can to ensure the freedom of the individual which, after all, is one of the basic principles of our ideals.


My Lords, while I have no right of reply, may I ask the noble Marquess a supplementary question? As he said, he did not expect me to be satisfied, although we are always charmed by his replies. In view of the really brilliant speech of my noble friend Lord Maugham, and the evidence which has been put forward, and in view of the noble Marquess's own statement, that we should take life as we find it, would he not consider stimulating the Secretary General of the United Nations, and indeed finding out whether he regards himself as empowered to ask for the setting up of such a committee without a further Motion? I do not want to make a speech. Again I pay tribute to what was done in 1956. What we are asking is what further steps the Government might take, and whether they could take those through the Secretary General.


My Lords, the noble Lord is probably right in saying that he was breaking the rules, but never mind. I am unable to give a straight reply to that question, but I repeat what I have said already: that I have taken very careful note of what the noble Lord has said. I can go no further.