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Company Transparency (Carbon in Supply Chains)

Volume 673: debated on Tuesday 17 March 2020

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require companies to prepare an annual statement on carbon in their supply chains; and for connected purposes.

It may seem odd that, on a day when we are focusing on an immediate crisis facing the world, covid-19, we should also look at other issues facing the world, but there is no doubt that climate change is an immediate crisis. It will still be here when the immediate crisis we face over covid-19 is more manageable and under control, so it is right that we should not stop looking at global matters at a time when we have an immediate health emergency. I think that hon. Members would agree that this is probably the most significant long-term threat to our health, wealth and happiness, and that, like covid-19, it is an issue that affects the whole world.

Climate change, like covid-19, is an issue that requires global action. It cannot be tackled by any one country taking unilateral measures. It requires global leadership, which we in the UK have a duty to provide. We have done so already. We are the first developed country to legislate to be net zero by 2050 and I am extremely proud to have been a part of the Government who brought in that legislation. We are taking other significant measures at home, which are welcome. I also welcome the opportunity provided by hosting COP26 in the UK this autumn. This is a real opportunity to showcase the measures we are bringing in at home and to demonstrate our global leadership. At a point when the world has seen what a global pandemic can do, it is also an opportunity for the UK to shine. I want to put on record my thanks to former Member Claire Perry-O’Neill, who spotted the opportunity to make sure that COP26 would be brought to this country. My only regret, as the former Northern Ireland Secretary, is that I was not able to secure it for Belfast—or indeed Stoke-on-Trent. They were my two first choices.

We can always do more. When the UK is responsible for less than 1% of global emissions, and China responsible for 25% of global emissions, it is important to consider the actions we can take in the UK to ensure global action. The action we take here will come to nothing if it is not replicated globally or if businesses try to get around our rules by moving production overseas, using third-party suppliers who are not as clean and green as our industries. I particularly want to reflect on energy-intensive industries such as ceramics—I declare my interest as a north Staffordshire MP—where more and more ceramics production takes place overseas to deal with such issues as the energy trading scheme and other matters. It is quite right that we have measures in place to ensure our industries are as clean as possible, but we cannot allow business to move overseas, affecting our highly skilled and excellent businesses in the UK, just to get around carbon emissions.

I considered what it was possible for us to do and looked back to something I had done previously as a Minister, which was in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. As co-chair of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery, I look at that issue on a regular basis. As with climate change, modern slavery and human trafficking is a global issue, and it can only be tackled globally. As a Minister, I was incredibly proud to take the Modern Slavery Act 2015 through Parliament. I thank my fellow Ministers who took it through with me: my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), and Lord Bates and Baroness Garden in the other place. It was a world-leading Act, introducing new measures that had never been seen before in a developed country.

There were, however, challenges. One was how to deal with extraterritoriality—not least trying to say extraterritoriality when I had a horrible cold—and we looked at what we could do to ensure that businesses did not just offshore and outsource modern slavery. One measure championed by former Members Frank Field and Fiona Mactaggart, as well as by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord Randall and our very old friend Anthony Steen, was the transparency of supply chains. Many others also campaigned on this matter, but they were the real leaders. We wanted to shine a light on supply chains. We wanted visibility on what businesses were doing to identify and eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery in supply chains. Businesses wanted that, too. Businesses wanted legalisation, because ethical, well-behaved businesses wanted to cross the line together. They wanted the Government to help them to make sure that when they took the right steps to eradicate modern slavery in their supply chains others would do the same.

Section 54 of the 2015 Act is a light-touch regulation under which businesses have to declare on their website every year the steps they are taking to identify and eliminate human trafficking and modern slavery in their global supply chains. They can say, and be completely in line with the law, that they are taking no steps to identify human trafficking and modern slavery in their supply chains. It is entirely legal for them to do that, but I think the public will see that and they will want action to be taken. The all-party group wants to look more at how that provision is working in practice. I think we should look at how we can replicate it elsewhere.

An important part of the provision is that it elevates the issue to board level. A director has to sign off the statement, so members of the board have to look at the action that is being taken. By giving the public that information and letting them see what action businesses are taking, they can make informed and educated decisions about whether they want to work with those businesses. I propose that we adopt a similar approach to carbon emissions. It is really important that we ensure businesses take seriously the level of carbon emissions in their supply chains. I was contacted yesterday by my former college, Imperial College London, which is doing an awful lot of work on how to identify and decarbonise supply chains. We know that this work is going on, and we know that businesses and others are interested in it.

I say to the Government that this is an opportunity to show global Britain at its best. It is an opportunity to show us on the world stage taking steps above and beyond those taken by other countries. It would ensure that we say to the businesses that want to operate and sell to consumers in this country that they have to act ethically with regard to carbon emissions. I urge the Government to seize the initiative, so that by the time of COP26 we have taken steps that are extraterritorial and can make a real difference. If we do that and show that leadership, we can make a real difference.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Alex Norris, Mr Laurence Robertson, Mark Garnier, David Mundell, Mark Logan, Mike Kane, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Christine Jardine, Dame Diana Johnson, Mrs Maria Miller, Darren Jones and Karen Bradley present the Bill.

Karen Bradley accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 May, and to be printed (Bill 113).