Activities outside Parliament

Big Magazine Article - Wales, Britain and Slavery; Parliament Remembers

1st March 2007

It is rare – indeed unheard of – to have total unanimity in a Parliamentary debate. But this did happen recently when MPs commemorated the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery and I had the privilege of contributing twice in that debate.

The debate commemorated the 1807 Act which William Wilberforce was instrumental in passing into legislation. It also commemorated many black and white activists who campaigned against the trade as well as, very importantly, the many great slave rebellions in the West Indies including the first, Haiti.

I reminded the Commons that the West Indian historian C L R James wrote an account of the Haiti rebellion, The Black Jacobins. He completed this work in 1938 while staying in the Dulais Valley.

Wilberforce's Act outlawed the slave trade throughout the former British Empire and made it illegal for British ships to be involved in the trade.

This Act marked the beginning of the end for the transatlantic traffic in human beings. In the following years our Royal Navy was instrumental in enforcing the legislation.

Sunday 25th March marked the 200th Anniversary to the day when the Act was given Royal Assent. There are a series of events around the country to commemorate this. Have a look for yourself at:

The Royal Mint has issued a commemorative £2 coin and the Royal Mail has issued a series of 6 stamps and the BBC has also produced a series of programmes over the course of the year.

The 2007 Bicentenary is an important opportunity to reflect on the struggles of the past and to demand to know why today, in some parts of the world, forms of slavery still persist.

Our Labour Government is strongly committed to tackling slavery and human trafficking in all its forms. Recently, the Prime Minister announced that the UK intends to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

I was also present recently at a moving ceremony to commemorate the Welsh links with the slave trade. This was organised by the Wales Office and the Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain MP. We were reminded that the profits from the slave trade helped develop the slate, coal, iron and other Welsh industries.

The first deputy Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Harry Ernest spoke powerfully of his own great-grandparents who were slaves in St Lucia and the need to remember how Paul Robeson (the son of an escaped slave) gave us a better understanding here in Wales of the legacy of slavery world-wide – racism in all its forms.

If anyone wishes to have more information on Wales and slavery, please contact me for the Wales Office booklet.

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