Modern Slavery Bill — Report (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 25th February 2015.

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Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 9:15 pm, 25th February 2015

I should like to speak in particular to Amendments 97A and 98A, but that certainly should not be taken as diminishing the importance of the other amendments in this group.

One value of transparency over the actions taken to tackle modern slavery in the supply chain is that it creates a level playing field. I suggest that government Amendment 97, welcome though it obviously is, would still leave it optional as to what companies put in their statement and thus not necessarily achieve the level playing field that is surely required. Ensuring a level playing field between businesses on what kind of information they must disclose will also allow for easier comparisons between businesses, even if they are in different industry sectors.

However, to achieve really effective comparisons, we need the terms of Amendment 98A. This would introduce a requirement to put slavery and human trafficking statements on to a central website maintained by the office of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner in order both to facilitate those effective comparisons across companies and sectors and to assist with the monitoring of compliance and public accountability.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, said that the commissioner-designate is supportive of this, but the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said he might have lost a degree of enthusiasm, because he might have to do it himself as opposed to somebody else doing it. I am afraid that I have not had a personal meeting with Mr Hyland, so I am unable to add a third version of what his views might be on this particular issue, but it seems as though he is supportive, even though there might be a difference of view as to who should be carrying it out. Without a central site for statements, holding organisations to account will be very difficult, if not impossible, to fulfil. It is surely clear that having that central site where those statements would be is actually quite crucial. That is really one of the things that Amendment 98A is seeking to address.

Amendment 98A would also help ensure boardroom responsibility for the eradication of slavery and human trafficking from corporate supply chains. It would also draw the slavery and human trafficking statement to the attention of mainstream investors who might otherwise not have been aware of it, and enable them to ask questions of the company, which is another form of accountability and another pressure point to take the appropriate action.

Once again, I hope that the Minister will feel able to give a helpful response. Perhaps he might feel able to reflect further before Third Reading on the points that have been made tonight from all around the House, particularly in relation to the two amendments to which I have specifically spoken. In the spirit in which the Minister has been operating up till now—which has, indeed, been highly successful—with the amendments that he has put forward and made, which have been much appreciated around the House, I hope that he might be able to agree to reflect further on this issue before Third Reading.