Normally I don’t receive gifts from Conservatives, but in 2007 William Hague gave me a copy of his book on William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade. This followed a debate in the House of Commons, to which he and I contributed, to mark the bicentenary of the vote in Parliament to abolish the slave trade.
It is shocking to think that our country participated in the sale of human beings on such a huge scale. More than 3 million men, women and children were shipped from Africa, in the most appalling conditions, to be sold in slave markets in the Americas in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Most of those who survived remained slaves until their dying day.
The ending of slavery only happened after a huge campaign and a hard-fought political struggle. And those slave owners who were forced to abandon their inhuman trade only did so on the basis of generous government compensation. When I was Wales Office Minister my office was in London was Gwydyr House in Whitehall. This was the place from where the compensation scheme was administered in the 19th Century.
Given that most people would now assume that slavery belongs to the past, I am sure that many would be shocked to hear that slavery still exists in 21st Century Britain. For example, we know that there have been cannabis farms in Gwent run using child slaves who have been trafficked to Britain from Vietnam.
Also, last year, Gwent Police carried-out an investigation in Marshfield after a 43-year-old man was found living in terrible conditions after he was reported missing by his family 13 years ago. The police found another man, of Eastern European origin, who was also being kept as a slave.
The police are conducting an on-going inquiry into other cases where they suspect that individuals have been coerced into servitude. Behind these cases and the terrible cases of sex trafficking which we have seen, is the profit motive. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous individuals who will stoop to any level to line their pockets.
Disturbingly, such trafficking is a growing phenomenon, and it is something all decent people must make sure is stamped out. Just as our forebears did 200 years ago.
This article was written for Local View.