TRANSPARENCY IN UK COMPANY SUPPLY CHAINS (ERADICATION OF SLAVERY) BILL – 19 October 2012

Dr Julian Lewis: I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) on his speech and on taking the Bill forward. I am delighted and proud to be one of the 11 sponsors from five parties, including no fewer than three colleagues who are all named 'Jim' – I am not quite sure of the significance, but I felt that it was worth placing that on the record.

I was first recruited to this admirable cause by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) when she brought in a Ten-Minute rule Bill along the same lines, and it was then taken up by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk in his excellent Bill before us today. I know that he, like me, will be disappointed if it does not proceed to Committee; but it has been given an airing today, as he rightly said, and I am sure that we are all grateful to the Government for having made certain that that would happen.

There was some confusion over the question of human trafficking in relation to the Bill. Human trafficking is certainly one of the concerns covered, but it is neither the Bill’s exclusive focus, nor even its main focus. The main focus of the Bill, as became apparent in the hon. Gentleman’s speech, was brought out at yesterday evening’s reception, which I was pleased to attend. We heard some horrifying tales about what actually goes on overseas in the unsupervised chain of production for many products we see on supermarket shelves, often without the knowledge of not only consumers, but the companies selling the goods. It is therefore also in the interests of the companies and their reputations that they should make an effort to investigate the chain of production for the products they sell, so that no-one would be tempted to go around marking them on their shelves as having been contaminated by the ruthless exploitation of child labour or that of other impoverished people.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Bill has a light touch. It would affect only very large companies, companies that have the resources to carry out the sorts of examinations and checks that would assure them and their consumers that the goods being sold had not been created as a result of an unendurable chain of human suffering. I think that I am right in saying that BP is an example of a major company that, although very tough-minded, has nevertheless seen it as appropriate to adopt such measures. If BP can adopt such measures, that sets a good example for other large companies to do likewise.

Jeremy Lefroy: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr Lewis: I will not give way, for a reason I am just about to explain. While talking of setting good examples, I would like to say that there are times for long speeches and times for short speeches. This is a time for short speeches. I look to hon. Members on the Back Benches and on both Front Benches to follow my good example and make short speeches so that this worthy Bill can proceed as it should to Committee.