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.