Category: House of Lords Speeches

Sustainable Development Goals — Motion to Take Note

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for introducing this debate. The millennium development goals have been largely a success: with levels of extreme poverty being reduced by 50%; with 42 million more children at school; and with the maternal mortality rate declining by 45%. However, we have to remember that about 1 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day—the World Bank measure on poverty; more than 800 million people still survive on very little food; there are still 58 million children with little or no access to education; millions of women still die in childbirth; and child mortality, although almost halved, still stands at around 6 million.

After 15 years there is still much to do, and the sustainable development goals have a much broader agenda. Point 17 of the draft resolution submitted by the president of the General Assembly of the United Nations states that the framework being announced,

“goes far beyond the MDGs. Alongside continuing development priorities such as poverty eradication, health, education and food security … it sets out a wide range of economic, social and environmental objectives. It also promises more peaceful and inclusive societies”

More importantly, means of implementation are defined that focus on,

“interconnections and many cross-cutting elements across the new Goals and targets”

There is no doubt that economic development is key to securing long-term peace and security as well as eradicating poverty; it is no longer about wealthy countries helping the poor but about partnerships across the globe.

After months of intergovernmental negotiations and the SDG outcome document, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there was an agreement by all 193 negotiating countries. The 17 goals—as opposed to the eight MDGs—and the 169 targets will most likely be formally adopted by world leaders at the special UN summit later this month. Some would say that there are too many goals, but as Amina Mohammed, the UN Secretary-General’s special adviser on post-2015 development planning, said that it had been,

“a hard fight to get the number of goals down to 17, so there would be strong resistance to reduce them further”

This broad agenda, while to be commended for including key issues of women’s empowerment, good governance, peace and security, also has to be strategic to be effective. We have goals underneath that are targets and underneath the goals there has to be a measurable indicator. Otherwise, we cannot monitor the progress that we make.

I draw attention in particular to point 53 of the draft resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which states:

“The future of humanity and of our planet lies in our hands. It lies also in the hands of today’s younger generation who will pass the torch to future generations. We have mapped the road to sustainable development; it will be for all of us to ensure that the journey is successful and its gains irreversible”.

As a member of the advisory board of UNICEF in Scotland, I believe that that focus on children is key. Goal 16 is about society and governance, and target 16.2 is to,

“End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children”

This has been welcomed as a step forward in addressing the protection of children across the globe. The indicators are still being discussed by an expert group. Each indicator is being assessed for its suitability and relevance, as well as for how feasible it will be. These indicators are due to be finalised in March 2016. I would stress that the indicators must also include the number of children who experience violence from a care giver. I speak of children in the developed world—and of children here in the UK—as well as of the countless who face untold horror and violence in conflict zones around the world, or those who are trafficked and cruelly subjected to slave labour in the developing world.

The universality of the goals is possibly one of the most striking aspects of the new framework. On Tuesday, at the IDC session, the Secretary of State for International Development also mentioned the universality of the goals, stating that she will work with the Cabinet Office to ensure that the UK also plays its role. UNICEF has declared that the lack of global attention and commitment to tackle violence has made it impossible to deliver the millennium development goals in full, despite huge improvements in child well-being since the goals were agreed. Tackling the risk of violence must be a key priority if the other development areas, such as child mortality and education, are to thrive. For example, how can we expect children to learn if they are being abused at home?

The sustainable development goals will officially be adopted at a UN summit in New York this September and will become applicable from January 2016. The deadline for the SDGs is 2030. This means that we need plans and commitments at national levels from those that have signed up and a global partnership if we are to see the measurable results that we would wish to see 15 years hence. The sustainable development goals, like the millennium development goals, are to be celebrated as a noble effort to make this a better and fairer world, but they need the full support and commitment of the 193 Governments that have signed up, both in implementation and in financial terms. The SDGs are, after all, an aspiration—a beacon of light and hope for something better in what is otherwise, for millions on our planet, a very dark world.

Trade and Investment – Motion to Take Note

My Lords, I join my fellow Peers in welcoming my noble friend the Minister to his new position and in congratulating him on a most accomplished maiden speech. He has made an auspicious start. I had the pleasure of meeting him recently and his positivity and keenness to engage really impressed me. I have no doubt that he will perform superbly in this new role and I very much look forward to working with him.

One of the great considerations for trade and investment currently is our relationship with the European Union and our potentially key and central role as part of the EU in negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or free trade agreement, with the United States. While this, along with our trade and investment relationship with India and China, is a priority—and rightly so—there are other opportunities that we cannot ignore or overlook. There is great scope for British companies in a number of emerging markets, and I would like to comment on one that I believe is in danger of being overlooked, particularly by our business community.

Last month, I visited Islamabad and Lahore in my capacity as the chairman of the Pakistan Britain Trade and Investment Forum and as the Prime Minister’s UK-Pakistan Trade Champion. Those who know me will be aware that I have been championing the cause of UK/Pakistan bilateral trade and investment for many years, well before being given the honour of the official title in April 2014.

In the past I have argued that, while the annual UKTI budget to facilitate trade with China and India has been substantial, the figure for Pakistan has been a dismal zero, or a nominal amount in support of a conference. Although I am keenly aware that issues such as security have been an impediment to this potential trade, the arguments for engaging with this market are many: a significant population of 185 million—of predominately young people—vast natural resources, a growing middle class, the relative ease of doing business and English as the language of business, to name a few.

Recent developments mean that we can no longer ignore this market. I cannot say this emphatically enough: we, the United Kingdom, cannot afford to ignore this market. The most significant of these recent developments is the visit by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, to Islamabad in April this year and his commitment to provide $46 billion towards building an economic corridor through the length of Pakistan. That is the biggest overseas investment announced by China to date. It will link Kashgar in China’s western region of Xinjiang, down through the lush, agricultural expanses and bustling cities and towns of all four provinces of Pakistan, to the new deep sea port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. This economic corridor—a network of roads, railway and pipelines to transport oil and gas—enables China to develop a cheaper and shorter route to trade and investment with the Middle East, Africa and Europe. According to analysts, it will place Pakistan at the heart of four out of the five fastest trade flows in the world.

When I met the Petroleum Minister Shahid Abbasi in Islamabad, he could not say more clearly that Pakistan wants, above all, UK companies to come and operate in the country because of the trust and admiration for British expertise and the historic ties and special relationship with Britain. The same sentiments were expressed by the various ministers at the Office of the Chief Minister of Punjab in Lahore. The general view held by the business community at the Lahore chamber of commerce was that the Chinese investment or loan is greatly appreciated and welcome but it allows China to bring in its equipment, its companies and its labour to build this economic corridor and then to leave. The alternative of UK companies, through the many contracts, would mean the delivery not just of excellent projects and products but of expertise and knowledge and the legacy of a highly trained workforce.

Incidentally, the chief executive of the UK company with me on that visit, Lagan Construction, which built the runways at the new Islamabad International Airport, had this to say: “We have worked in over 30 countries around the world and the workforce in Pakistan is second to none. The workers are conscientious, they pick up skills very quickly and they work extremely hard”. I saw for myself the scale and quality of what Lagan had delivered, and it was truly impressive. The excellent workforce available should be another incentive for UK companies to operate in Pakistan. Of course, the UK companies that are already operating there—there are over 100 companies, some of which have been there for many years—benefit from huge profits. That includes companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, which has a 28% share of the market, Standard Chartered, Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser and the Ashmore Group plc, not to mention the many retailers, such as Debenhams and Mothercare.

Business opportunities will only accelerate over the next decade but it is important that we take this market seriously now. The British Chambers of Commerce and their overseas business networks initiative—a partnership between UKTI, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Chambers of Commerce—has a crucial role to play in increasing the number of UK exporters of goods and services.

The energy requirements of Pakistan are severe, and the UK has much to offer in that regard. We have expertise in solar, biomass, hydro and wind. Scotland particularly has much to offer. In the oil and gas sector, Aberdeen is full of excellent companies that currently need export markets, and Pakistan has yet untapped, but certain, oil and gas deposits. Pakistan’s Petroleum Minister expressed his interest in visiting Aberdeen to personally invite companies to come and explore the opportunities open to them. The potential is there, not just in energy but in infrastructure, agriculture and dairy.

From a poverty alleviation point of view, we should consider how some of the money that is channelled through DfID could be channelled as technical assistance or as seed or anchor funding towards some of these energy projects. It would bring benefit to the deprived communities in Pakistan through economic development and bring a commercial return to the UK in helping to boost our exports and our trade and investment figures. I request that the Minister consider this suggestion and prioritise this particular emerging market economy.

Women: Economic Empowerment — Motion to Take Note

My Lords, like all noble Lords I welcome this opportunity to debate the issue of women’s economic empowerment. I agree with other noble Lords that much needs to be done to address gender inequalities: from the issue of the gender pay gap to the cost of childcare, which makes it prohibitive for some to seek employment; and from fewer girls taking STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—which would lead to higher paid jobs, to the lack of women on FTSE boards, despite there being enough women of seniority and talent available. I know that much has been done to address this, but we still have some way to go. There are also cultural issues preventing aspiration and discouraging women from achieving their full potential.

Of course, there are differences and degrees of gender inequality between countries. Indeed, between the developing and developed world there are extreme and pronounced differences. In fact, women in the developing world are at a serious disadvantage both in education and the labour market. There are many strands to the subject of the economic empowerment or disempowerment of women, and these issues are both national and international. The international issues are enormous and other noble Lords have spoken passionately about these—they need increased and persistent effort. As time is limited, however, I shall confine my remarks to the area of entrepreneurship within the national sphere.

The Institute for Public Policy Research has indicated that men across Europe are 90% more likely to be self-employed than women and that in every European country the rate of female self-employment lags behind the rate for males. The IPPR has also stated that, while the relatively high rates of women entrepreneurs in emerging and developing countries is due to a high level of necessity, in the developed world women are often motivated by other factors, such as maintaining a balance between work and caring for family. There is no doubt that in the UK significant strides have been made in recent years in addressing many of the issues faced by women, with the Government putting in place very many measures to help women into work and to start up businesses. However, we must explore every aspect of what it will take to create real gender equality and real economic empowerment for women.

First and foremost, we must kindle a sense of confidence in women, to make entrepreneurship an attractive career option. Statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that, in 2014, 1.4 million women were in self-employment in the UK—just under one-third of the total number employed. Although this number has increased by 34% it should be noted that the top three occupations for self-employed women were: first, cleaners and domestics; secondly, child minders and related; and, thirdly, hairdressers and barbers. While these activities are important, women have also a role to play in high-worth businesses. For this, we must continue to provide support such as mentoring as well as providing access to education and information and communication technologies.

Very importantly, there must be support in financial literacy along with access to finance. The report of the OECD, Enhancing Womens Economic Empowerment through Entrepreneurship and Business Leadership in OECDCountries, found that women often have less experience when they start up a business and are also less likely than men to borrow money to finance their business. Although both women and men in OECD countries are likely to hold accounts with formal financial institutions, men are more likely to receive a loan from these institutions. Women also tend to raise a smaller amount of capital when it comes to financing business expansion. According to that report, there is also evidence that women are constrained in accessing equity and venture capital because of their weak representation in key networks.

These are just some of the issues. If the aim is to raise productivity, employment and economic growth nationally, then these concerns have to be addressed. It has been acknowledged that women play a crucial role in driving economic development throughout the world. Expanding our existing business development services to take into account those issues faced by women entrepreneurs would be a useful exercise. Industry-specific business training programmes for women, or other such initiatives, would go a long way towards encouraging more women into business and helping those already there to grow.

If we wish to close the gender gap and to create a diverse and inclusive society where individuals can attain success, then entrepreneurship and leadership for women can play a vital role towards achieving this aim.

Modern Slavery Bill – Third Reading

My Lords, I, too, add my name in support of the noble Lord’s amendment, which I believe will be helpful to both businesses and consumers. I am particularly pleased to note that the business community, through the Ethical Trading Initiative, has expressed its support. I echo what it said about the need for a level playing field. I am proud of what we have achieved on the Bill and I am committed to the journey that we have begun, so I very much hope that my noble friend will feel able to accept the amendment.

Modern Slavery Bill — Report (2nd Day)

My Lords, I rise in support of Amendment 98A of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. If the requirement for those companies in the category whereby they are obliged to prepare and submit a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year of the organisation is to be meaningful and effective, a central repository for statements makes infinite sense. The office of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner—the commissioner-designate, Kevin Hyland—is fully supportive of this proposal. A central repository for companies to be able to upload a human trafficking and slavery statement would be an effective way in which to assist with monitoring compliance and public accountability, and it is to be welcomed.

In order for leadership in companies to take this seriously, this amendment is important. It would require companies to include a fair summary of the statement and the web address of the full statement to be included within the directors’ report. This would not be unduly onerous for companies. The upside for companies is that such a duty would prove their due diligence and that it is a matter of real ethical concern to them. That makes for a more attractive proposition to investors and encourages a healthy competition to eradicate the blight of modern-day slavery, which can only be a good thing.

I hope that the Minister, my noble friend Lord Bates, who we all know has been working tirelessly on the Bill for many weeks, will be able to accept this amendment. It enjoys cross-party support as well as support from wider civil society and the commissioner-designate.

National Infrastructure – Motion to Take Note

My Lords, I rise to make a few points in this debate on what is clearly an extensive subject and one which has a significant impact on our own and our children’s long-term future. I would like to say first that in this debate, whatever our political allegiance, we all essentially want the same outcome, which is an infrastructure that will strengthen our economy and ensure that we remain one of the leading economies of the world. To do that, though, we cannot rely on our Victorian heritage. We must have a long-term vision and the will to make it happen. As the Chancellor said last year:

“We must learn from the past, not be the past. Decide or decline. That is the choice”.

That means not only putting aside our political differences but doing things differently, for clearly, as it stands, the system of decision-making still leaves considerable room for improvement. I welcome Sir John Armitt’s proposals for an independent infrastructure commission because it has sparked a debate and, it is hoped, will lead to the outcome that we all want.

From a business perspective, there is clearly support for doing things differently. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, quoted the views of the CBI on this. That is not to say that the direction of travel in recent years has not been positive. The publication late last year of the road investment strategy and the forthcoming publication of a digital strategy this year indicate that we are starting to think beyond the immediate future. The innovations in the Infrastructure Bill currently going through the Commons are helping to put in place the building blocks for this. These are less controversial, though, than some of the tough decisions that are still outstanding, and none is more pressing than the key question of the airport capacity that is required if the UK is to remain competitive, and if we are to rebalance our economy and secure longer-term sustainable growth.

The experience of the Airports Commission, currently led by Sir Howard Davies, offers interesting insights upon which we can draw, demonstrating the importance of taking an evidence-based approach. When analysed in the cold hard light of day, the case for new runway capacity in the south-east is clear. With this clarity, it is essential that we as politicians play our part and commit to implementing the proposals when they are published in June, so that we can finally increase our capacity and grow the links to emerging markets that our businesses so desperately need. In the past five years, while we have been reviewing one runway, China has gone from 175 to 230 airports.

Getting value for money is important, although I cannot help but ask the question: did the Victorians rigidly cost-benefit analyse every project they undertook or did they start with a vision of what they wanted to achieve as a country? Where do we want to be: among the top industrial nations of the world or lagging behind because we have made an industry of analysing the detail of the tools we require in order to get there? Indecision on new runway capacity is already impacting on business investment, so we must take action as soon as possible. Business needs clarity, and not just on aviation but on the long-term future of infrastructure across the board, from our energy supplies to our funding for upkeep of the road network. These are key aspects that will promote growth. In all these areas we need to have an adult conversation both with each other and with the public about what we need and when we need it.

For too long, major infrastructure projects have become a painful process which has been hijacked by bureaucracy, electoral cycles and interest groups, despite the fact that we have democratically elected representatives to take these important decisions. It is important that we have a national debate which involves both politicians and the public, but we must also keep the end goal in mind—job growth, prosperity and security for our citizens. Perhaps an independent body made up of experts is the best way to help politicians to achieve this.

Economic Leadership for Cities – Motion to Take Note

My Lords, the subject of this debate, enabling economic leadership in cities, can be interpreted in a number of ways, but the aim is clearly a constructive discussion on how we encourage economic activity in our cities and give people the tools, the skills and the space to flourish. With ever more people moving to cities, it is clear that our economic future is dependent on these urban centres. As we well know, where you have a critical mass of people, there is a growth in creativity and economic activity; thus cities should be nurtured. I think it is precisely this sentiment which is the driver behind the city deals agenda currently being implemented. The drive towards localisation, and the understanding that local communities themselves best understand what they need for economic growth, is a really positive and ambitious step.

Twenty-six city deals have been announced and each of these has its own unique formula or mix of priorities in deciding how to spend funds and create an environment for growth. In the limited time available to me, I shall make a few points on my own city of Glasgow and on the £1.2 billion Glasgow and Clyde Valley city deal. It is hoped that this will create 29,000 jobs over the next 20 years and unlock a further £3.3 billion of private investment across the city region. The proposals as to how this money will be used are available for those interested. Up to 20 major infrastructure projects across the city region, including rail and road, have been proposed. Among several employment schemes there is a £9 million scheme proposed that will work with more than 4,000 vulnerable and unemployed residents currently in receipt of employment benefit, along with life science research and medical technology projects. This is an exciting time for the city.

For this strategy to be the kind of success that we would wish for, true leadership and vision are required to make the most of it. This is an opportunity for generations to come and should not be squandered. First and foremost, there has to be complete transparency in implementing these projects. A fair chance must be given to the SME community to benefit from contracts, as ultimately they are the real drivers for future economic and job growth. Part of our consideration has to be about public procurement so that some of the benefits of this injection of public funding filter down to SMEs. A lot of thinking and discussion has taken place in Scotland on the subject of public procurement—certainly, as far as my own involvement is concerned, for the past decade and a half—but I know for a fact that it goes much further back than that. We are sadly still far from the ideal situation of a fair bite of the cherry for SMEs, but perhaps that discussion is for another time.

I would suggest that we offer affordable space in the heart of the city for small-scale manufacturers such as weavers, potters and all manner of artisans. When do young people see someone making something with their hands and then selling it for a profit? These are basic principles to encourage enterprise and at the same time bring back vibrancy, creativity and industry to the city centre. I would add that along with affordable industrial and commercial space must come better public transport and affordable, accessible parking. In Glasgow, those at the helm of the revival of the city have to take into consideration the current prohibitive access to the city by their draconian use of parking meters and other road regulations. According to a BBC report on 2 September 2014, Glasgow city imposed £3.2 million of bus lane fines in 2013, one of the highest figures in the UK. I refuse to believe that there were so many people in Glasgow deliberately breaking the law.

I would suggest that, when we come to implement these major projects, true leadership means talking to ordinary people in the street—the workers and the small businesses. We have become too accustomed to dancing to the tune of interest and lobby groups. While there is most definitely a place for these groups as experts on many social and environmental issues, there is also something to be said for speaking to those who simply work, live and breathe in the city.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for securing this debate and I congratulate the Government on the city deals initiative. I am confident that true leadership at the local level will bring rich rewards to our cities and communities.

Modern Slavery Bill – Committee (4th Day)

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I am grateful to him for tabling it.

I have put my name to this amendment because it would do two important things. First, it will give businesses more certainty and clarity when producing the slavery and human trafficking statements required of them. That clarity is vital in saving businesses time. Secondly, however, it would also provide consumers with the information they need to hold businesses to account. Without the clarity that the amendment would provide, I am concerned that stakeholders, investors and campaigners will not be able to play their part effectively in helping stamp out the abhorrent practices that exist in some of our supply chains.

The media have done an excellent job in highlighting just how far slavery and forced labour have penetrated the supply chains for many of the goods and services that we take for granted, from basic foodstuffs to electronic goods, clothing and fashion. But modern slavery exists across the globe, and whichever form it takes, business supply chains are involved in some way or another. Slavery in supply chains is closer than we often realise. A couple of weeks ago, the owner of a bed factory in West Yorkshire that supplied retail chains such as Next and John Lewis was charged with human trafficking and slavery offences.

I believe that it is not for government to keep legislating. One could say that we should deregulate in order to get the economy going. Indeed, we must work with private sector organisations, such as the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI, to take the lead in education within various industry sectors. However, when considering any new regulation to impose on business, we must answer three important questions: is it necessary, is it clear, and how much will it add to the bottom line?

On the first of these questions, I am left in no doubt as to the necessity of the amendment. It is rare for business groups and civil society organisations to reach common agreement on new regulation, but in this instance that is exactly what they have done. All are calling for minimum measures of disclosure, greater clarity in reporting, and tougher monitoring, enforcement and compliance. On the second question, the amendment would make it clearer for all those who have to produce these statements what they need to include, where the statements need to be lodged and what they can expect if they do not comply. Thirdly, I believe that the amendment would actually be good for business. It would help protect businesses, because constant stories about the failure of companies to monitor their supply chains will cause significant harm to their reputation and brand, and thus their bottom line.

Transparency in supply chains is the first step in the journey of rooting out slavery and forced labour from supply chains for good. The more explicit we can be at this stage, the more effective we will be over the long term. Both the Ethical Trading Initiative and the British Retail Consortium have written to me in support of the amendment. Their members include global companies with thousands of suppliers—familiar high street brands such as Asda, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer—so their views on this issue should carry significant weight.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has indicated, there is a consensus across civil society groups as well as businesses that the amendment is needed, and that it would provide the information they need to play their part. I would also bring to noble Lords’ attention the fact that more than 20 asset management providers have added their support for the inclusion of supply chain reporting requirements in the Bill, including Hermes, Rathbone Greenbank Investments and Alliance Trust.

I recently spoke with Katherine Garrett-Cox, the chief executive of Alliance Trust, who is a highly respected figure in the Scottish business community. She says:

“We have been passionate advocates of a greater level of transparency in the management of supply chains and believe that the UK has a unique opportunity to lead the way in recognising those that do this well—by rewarding companies that promote and practise strong values. As a leading investor we also believe that by focusing upon this critical topic, our industry will increasingly differentiate between good and poor practice and can rightly hold those who violate basic human rights in their business models to account.”

Finally, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Bates for all his efforts in steering this important Bill through the House, and ask him to bear in mind that Clause 51 has been added because there is a genuine effort on the part of the Government to progress this matter. I hope that he will be able to respond positively to the amendment, which I believe would make what is already a good Bill even better.

House of Lords: Modern Slavery Bill (Maiden Speech)

My Lords, when I was first given news of my appointment to your Lordships’ House, I must admit I was astounded, and, on my introduction, most honoured and flattered to be in your Lordships’ distinguished and learned company. In the few weeks that I have been here, I have found this to be a truly enlightened place, where civility and kindness predominate throughout—from the attentive Doorkeepers and helpful security guards to the courteous catering staff. At my every wrong turn in the many corridors of your Lordships’ House, there has been someone to offer assistance, and always with a welcoming smile and warm words.

I feel truly blessed by this and because I have been introduced to the House by my esteemed and noble friend Lord Strathclyde, having had the honour of serving on his commission on further devolution in Scotland on behalf of the Conservative Party, and the esteemed and noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, whom I have known for many years. Our paths crossed in the business world in Scotland, most recently in meetings in his capacity as chairman of Glasgow 2014 and the Commonwealth Games, and mine as chair of CBI Scotland. I also offer my gratitude for the guidance offered to me on entering the House by my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie.

Having been asked by some as to what brought me here, I can only say that it is as a result of a series of rather random activities in my life, including some attempt at academia, as well as involvement with business, voluntary roles and charitable causes. Certainly there was no master plan, only a desire to engage and play a part in the wider world, which I hope that this new chapter in life will further allow me to do. Indeed, my 89 year-old father, someone in possession of one of the strongest personalities I have come across, now believes me to be finally qualified to write the occasional letter for him. I feel that I have finally arrived.

When taking stock of life on an occasion such as this, it is important to remember one’s elders and forefathers. My father and late mother were unique individuals, who gave much of their time and wealth to serving their community and to charitable causes. My father, having served in the British Indian Army during the Second World War, went on to establish a successful business in Pakistan, post-partition. In 1958, he ventured out of his homeland with the intention of exploring business possibilities in Canada, but stopped off in Scotland having heard much about its natural beauty from a British officer whom he had befriended during his Army years. The rest is history. He stayed in Scotland where he established several more successful businesses. However, that was only part of his achievement.

As I have already declared, both of my parents had a great belief in serving their community and in helping others who were less privileged—something which I, too, believe in and aspire to. Hence I choose this debate on the Modern Slavery Bill to make my maiden speech—not because I have significant expertise in the subject but because, for me, there can be no better reason to serve in this House than to speak for those who have been denied a voice.

There are many issues in the world today which are of great concern and need our attention: war and conflict, poverty and disease, food, energy and water scarcity, lack of education and healthcare, and the plight of persecuted minorities of all ethnicities and religions around the globe. Here in our country and in my city of Glasgow, there are those who feel disfranchised, struggle to make ends meet or are in a downward spiral of drink and drugs. All those social issues need our attention, and many are surely interconnected, but slavery in all of its insidious manifestations—human trafficking, bonded labour, domestic servitude—is such a direct attack on the human spirit.

I am conscious that while I sit in this glorious Chamber in comfort to contemplate and debate among your Lordships, countless others live in squalor and fear. While I am able to walk freely among nature and appreciate God’s bounty, for others there is only endless toil. It is estimated that 21 million people—according to some sources, as many as 30 million—are in some form of slavery today. Just a short distance from here in Westminster Abbey lies William Wilberforce who, with others, took up the cause of the abolition of the slave trade in the 19th century, which eventually led to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. It is indeed disturbing to think that in 2014 we still face this moral outrage.

The Prime Minister has committed that Britain must once again lead the way in tackling slavery globally. Today we have the Second Reading of the Modern Slavery Bill, and I welcome the Government’s introduction on Report in another place of measures to address the issue of transparency in business supply chains, building on the pre-legislative scrutiny committee and recommendations of the evidence review. It is heartening to know that there was a clear and strong cross-party consensus in this regard, with certain reporting requirements to be included in the Bill.

Although it is important that we do not place undue burden on business, it is the moral duty of business to take positive action to eliminate this practice. No legitimate business would wish to tolerate any element of forced labour in its supply chain, and it is right that the Government legislate and provide the tools for business to audit effectively. Clearly, the financial gain which is derived by illicit and unethical practice is what drives bonded and forced labour and ultimately distorts markets. As a small business owner and a member of the council of CBI Scotland for many years, I can say that my colleagues, many representing big business, were highly principled, cared about social issues and would wish always to act ethically.

I have always believed that business has a very significant part to play in delivering prosperity for all and can be a great force for good. As the Institute for Human Rights and Business stated,

“as part of their responsibility to respect human rights, companies must be prepared to ensure the safety and dignity of all those who make their products or provide services”.

The Centre for Social Justice set up by my right honourable friend in the other place, Iain Duncan Smith, and its slavery working group report has exposed some of the shocking circumstances of those who are trapped in slavery. It has made recommendations for a fresh approach to tackle it, including equipping those on the front line to recognise modern slavery and act, offering compassion and support to rebuild those whose lives are affected and ensuring the part that business has to play in effecting transparency in its global supply chains.

The press has highlighted the issue of slavery in the shrimp trade in Thailand and the global garment supply chain, which directly impacts on our retail sector, but slavery does not only happen elsewhere; it exists here in the UK. The UK Human Trafficking Centre has evidence of forced labour in industries such as agriculture, food processing, construction and tarmacking, where vulnerable people are exploited by unscrupulous gangs and individuals.

It is not an exaggeration to say that modern day slavery is one of the humanitarian catastrophes of our age and I, for one, hope to be fully engaged in following the Bill through its passage in Parliament, so that we can put in place legislation which will help to eradicate this scourge from our midst.