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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Meg spoke at the opening of the “Breaking the Chains” exhibition in Bristol, her remarks are below. The photo shows Meg with Baroness Howells, a direct descendant of a slave and who also spoke at the opening.

For further details: http://www.empiremuseum.co.uk/exhibitions/st2007.htm



I am privileged to be one of the lead ministers working on the Government’s strategy for marking the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. It gives me great pleasure to attend the opening of this exhibition., the centre piece for Bristol’s Bicentennial commemorations.


Slavery has long existed in human societies but the transatlantic slave trade was unique in terms of the destructive impact it had on Africa. Over 12 million people were transported. Some two million people died.


The passage of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act marked the beginning of the end of this barbaric trade and was a landmark event in the struggle for the equality, dignity and liberty of all people.


The Government is committed to marking this important bicentenary. We have worked to facilitate and support a range of local commemorative events across the country to pay tribute to those who suffered as a result of the slave trade, those who struggled for abolition and those who ensured the new laws were enforced. Highlights along with this exhibition include:

?        The opening of an International Slavery Museum in Liverpool in August

?        The re-opening of the Wilberforce Museum in Hull

?        An exhibition at the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth on the role of the Royal Navy in the suppression of the slave trade.


Meeting with representatives from the core cities such as Bristol, Hull, Liverpool and Birmingham it became clear that there are three stages to the year. Awareness raising, commemoration and legacy issues. Awareness raising of the terrible slave trade, the torture and the murder and here in the museum you can see examples of the irons used to shackle people. Commemoration of the work done by abolitionists both black and white.


I have visited the archives in my own city of Sheffield and seen the work done by the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society campaigning after the abolition of the slave trade to end slavery itself, and then to end the apprenticeships which the slaves were forced to serve. I also discovered that some of the chains were made in Sheffield.


In Birmingham they also had a female anti-slavery society which campaigned for many years beyond the abolition of slavery in this country to end slavery around the world. They have records of meetings up until 1919. It is also clear that the abolition movement was influenced by the stories of former slaves such as Equiano who visited the city to speak.


As a parliamentarian I’ve been fascinated by the way the abolition movement used techniques that are familiar to us today - the first time a mass movement grew up in Britain. The lobbying of the MP William Wilberforce to take up the cause, as I today am lobbied. The petitions presented to parliament and the boycott of sugar - possibly the first trade boycott.

But while learning about the past is important the Government’s slogan for the year is “Reflecting on the past, looking to the future.” We need to address the legacy issues. We need to reflect on the situation in Africa, people still in poverty and to continue our efforts to tackle that poverty. We need to reflect on the black communities in this country, descended from those who were enslaved and to continue to address the discrimination that too many of them suffer. We need to reflect on the continuation of slavery to the modern day - men, women and children still not free. Up and down this country in our towns and cities today there are people who are the victims of human trafficking. We need to increase our efforts to fight this horrific crime. These actions will be the legacy from this year.


I commend the exhibition in Bristol to you and hope very much you enjoy your visit.

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