Lord Raj Loomba’s maiden speech

In recent months, LDV has been bringing its readers copies of our new MPs’ and Peers’ first words in Parliament, so that we can read what is being said and respond. You can find all of the speeches in this category with this link. On Friday, Lord Loomba made his maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill [HL] . His words are reproduced below. We featured Baroness Doocey’s and Baroness Kramer’s maiden speeches over the weekend.

My Lords, it is with some trepidation, but a lot of courage, that I rise to address your Lordships for the first time in this magnificent Chamber. I was introduced to your Lordships’ House by the leader and the deputy leader of my party, my noble friends Lord McNally and Lord Dholakia, for which am most grateful.

I was introduced last Monday, just four days ago, but it feels as if I have been here much longer. Nobody warned me about long night shifts. The good thing is that I have enjoyed my short time here, but it would be so nice to get back to normality soon.

Your Lordships may like to know that I am a businessman. However, during the past 13 years, I have been engaged with my charity, the Loomba Foundation. It is committed to raising awareness of the plight of widows and their children around the world who suffer through poverty, illiteracy, HIV, conflict and social injustice.

I am glad that my charity has been able to give respect and dignity to widows, but we need to do more. My work in the poverty, education and empowerment of widows has crossed political boundaries. It has also crossed geographical limitations, because disadvantage does not honour national boundaries.

The Loomba Foundation has educated thousands of children of poor widows in India. It has also provided financial aid to their mothers so that they can live a life of dignity. As part of our global work, we are empowering unfortunate widows by setting up businesses for them in Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Syria.

We are hugely proud that on 22 December 2010 the United Nations recognised 23 June as International Widows Day. It was launched by the Loomba Foundation at the House of Lords in 2005, and we continued to campaign for its recognition by the United Nations.

Noble Lords may ask what is the relevance of my charitable work and the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. Let me explain. Those trapped in a cycle of deprivation find it almost impossible to get out of it. Furthermore, many are dragged into crime, drugs, alcoholism, abuse and human trafficking because these are the only avenues open to them. I support the Bill on the basis that giving offenders opportunities for rehabilitation is a matter of elementary justice. When an offender is sentenced by a court, he or she receives a sentence which the court considers the just punishment for the crime. When an offender has paid the penalty, it is surely wrong in principle for society to inflict further non-judicial punishment on the offender, such as making it difficult or impossible for him or her to obtain employment.

However, rehabilitation is not only in the offender’s interest; it is also a vital part of public protection. The more effectively we can rehabilitate offenders, the fewer crimes there will be in the future. Rehabilitation not only helps former offenders to avoid wasting their lives in criminal activity, it also reduces the loss, distress and injury suffered by victims of crime. There is nothing more distressing for a former offender who is genuinely trying to put his past behind him than to be refused a job because of past offences he is trying not to repeat. There is nothing more distressing for a former offender seeking insurance so that he can get honest employment in a driving job than to be refused insurance because he has a criminal record.

Yet these things happen to former offenders day after day. Many employers and insurance companies will not consider people who have a criminal record, however sincerely they are trying to reform their lives. In a government-commissioned research study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, employers said that they were likely to reject people with criminal records for half their vacancies and to reject those with more serious convictions for 90 per cent of their vacancies.

The human cost of the current position was well illustrated in a letter received by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, from a former offender who had read about his Private Member’s Bill. The letter said:

“I am an ex-offender who committed a single criminal act at the age of 18 whilst in the grip of an addiction to gambling, for which I was sentenced to three years in a young offender institution. At the time I thought the loss of my liberty and my chosen career was the greatest punishment but I was so wrong. Having to live in fear at every job interview that I will be asked ‘the’ question has hung over me like a cloud since the day I was released over 21 years ago, even leading to bouts of depression”.

When this happens, there is always a risk that in despair and depression the individual will return to the criminal way of life that he has been trying to leave behind. Therefore, I strongly support the provision of this Bill, which will reduce the number of old and irrelevant convictions that ex-offenders have to declare to employers.

The extent to which society supports rehabilitation of offenders is a key test of that society’s civilised values. Do we want to live in a society that offers those who have made mistakes in their lives an opportunity of rehabilitation and inclusion, or do we want to live in a society that continues to inflict punishment on former offenders for the rest of their lives, driving them further and further to the margins of society and making it difficult or even impossible for them to find redemption and reform? I believe that the first kind of society is in every way morally preferable and ask noble Lords to join me in supporting this Bill as a step towards a society that reflects the values of compassion, fairness and justice. This is something that has shaped my life and is the basis of a decent, civilised society.

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