I am sorry that I cannot be at the wreath laying service at Westminster Abbey to commemorate the work of William Wilberforce and to mark the United Kingdom’s commitment to combat modern slavery, this is due to commitments as Chair of the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners.
It is right and proper that we mark the work of William Wilberforce who used his position as a Member of Parliament to head the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty years, until the passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.
Wilberforce was committed to humanitarian reform, he read widely on the subject, learnt from those who were affected and worked with people such as Thomas Clarkson, a fellow graduate of St John’s, Cambridge, who supported Wilberforce in the need to end the slave trade. Wilberforce’s campaign took time – for 18 years he regularly introduced anti-slavery motions in Parliament. His determination and commitment paid off and in 1807, the slave trade was finally abolished.
Wilberforce ensured that Parliament took action, his determination, passion and success is rightly commemorated today by the laying of a wreath.
Despite moving on nearly 200 years, the grim reality today is that slavery still exists in towns and cities across the world, including here in the United Kingdom. It’s frightening that young girls are raped, beaten and passed from abuser to abuser and sexually exploited for profit. The fact that vulnerable men are tricked into working long hours, being locked away in sheds is disgraceful. The scale of this hidden crime in the United Kingdom is significant – in 2013 the Home Office estimated there were around 12,000 potential victims in the United Kingdom.
Politicians, Police & Crime Commissioners and government are determined to do all they can to stamp out modern slavery, we have seen the introduction of the Modern Slavery Bill – there is more to do and I am convinced that the beliefs and passion of Wilberforce are shared by people today. Modern day slavery is something that we must continue to tackle and services such as today highlight the work that is taking place across the country to put in place protections and support for victims and to ensure tough penalties for those who exploit people.
Together, we will make a difference.
Vera Baird QC
Police & Crime Commissioner – Northumbria
Chair of the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners.