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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

As part of the commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade the Department for Communities and Local Government is hosting an exhibition in Eland House, London. Meg was invited to officially open it, her remarks are given below.

 

Having been heavily involved in the Government’s preparations to mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, it gives me particular pleasure to open this two-day event in my own department. 

 

Slavery has, of course, long existed, but the transatlantic slave trade was unique in terms of its impact on Africa. The numbers involved were huge - over 12 million men, women and children transported, with 2 million dying on route to North America and the Caribbean.  

 

The 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act marked the beginning of the end of this barbaric trade, and is an important occasion in the struggle for the equality, dignity and liberty of all people.

 

At Communities and Local Government we have been very involved in the Government’s strategy for marking the Bicentenary. Central to this has been working closely with a range of key stakeholders including other government departments, Local Authorities, community groups and grassroots organisations.

 

We wanted to support a range of events marking the Bicentenary in a way that is meaningful to local communities. We have also developed a comprehensive programme of Government activity that complements activities being undertaken within local communities. The programme encompasses a range of activity to both commemorate the past and address contemporary issues.

 

Overall there are three main phases to the Government programme;

  • awareness-raising of the Bicentenary the transatlantic slave trade and Britain’s role in both the trade and abolition
  • commemorating those who suffered as a result of the slave trade, those who struggled for abolition and those who ensured the new laws were enforced, and
  • tackling the legacy issues arising from the slave trade including poverty and inequality on the African continent, contemporary slavery in its various forms and inequality and discrimination in Britain today.

 

Awareness-raising and commemoration

The Government programme encompasses a range of awareness-raising and commemorative activity. A number of significant events and activities have already taken place or are underway:

 

The Department for Education and Skills is working to embed teaching about the slave trade in the curriculum permanently - the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently consulting on a new draft secondary curriculum which, for the first time, will include the slave trade as a compulsory element in the Key Stage 3 history curriculum. £10 million has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund for bicentenary projects across the country.

 

An International Slavery Museum will be opening in Liverpool in August.

 

During the coming months the focus for the bicentenary will be on dealing with overseas contemporary issues such as poverty, disease and inequality in parts of Africa. Poverty is at the root of most forms of slavery and forced labour today. West Africa has suffered due to the transatlantic slave trade which created long term problems and left it impoverished.  

 

The third focus will be on eradicating contemporary slavery in its various forms.

 

Human trafficking is one of the main forms of modern slavery, an appalling crime where people are treated as commodities and traded for profit. Working with Home Office colleagues we have ensured it is covered within the Government’s Bicentenary Strategy. Last week we launched the Action Plan on Human Trafficking after signing the European Convention.

 

The exhibition

This two-day event encompasses a range of activities including music, lectures, exhibitions and poetry - commemorating the past and setting out our work on contemporary issues.

 

The first day includes poetry readings by KhandorPhact and lectures by Aidan McQuaid, Director of Anti-Slavery International and David Montieth, whose programme ‘The Last Slave’, was broadcast on Channel 4 earlier this month.

 

The second day will focus on the work the Equalities Group is undertaking to tackle issues of contemporary slavery and legacies of racism, discrimination and inequality.  The day will be opened by BBC correspondent Rageh Omar, and will include presentations from the Women’s Equality Unit and the Windsor Fellowship, one of the Race Equality Unit’s strategic partners. 

 

During both days there will be also be two concurrent exhibitions. The first commemorates the life of Granville Sharpe, a philosopher and lawyer who campaigned against the slave trade. The second charts campaigns against slavery from the 18th century through to today’s campaigns.

 

I have been particularly struck by the role women, particularly British women, played in the campaign against the transatlantic slave trade. Despite being banned from the committee that co-ordinated the original abolition campaign, the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, their contribution to the campaign was crucial.

 

In addition to their financial contributions, women were also virulent campaigners. In 1825 women including Annie Knight, Mary Lloyd, Sarah Wedgwood and Elizabeth Herrick began to form anti-slavery societies for themselves. These women’s anti-slavery societies soon came to the forefront of the debate - in 1827 the Sheffield Female Society became the first anti-slavery society in Britain to call for the immediate emancipation of slaves.

 

I hope you find the events here over the next two days interesting, informative and helpful in thinking about what went on 200 years ago. Both the extent of the slave trade, and what people from many different communities, rich and poor, black and white, did to ensure the slave trade was stopped within the British Empire - and from 1833 slavery itself.

 

The photo shows Peter Housden, the Permanent Secretary of the Department, Meg and people who have been working on the bi-centenary of the slave trade.

 

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