Lord Rumi Verjee’s maiden speech

It is a tradition for LDV to bring 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. Last Thursday, Lord Verjee made his maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. His words are reproduced below.

Lord Verjee (LD): My Lords, it is with a very full set of emotions that I stand before noble Lords this afternoon to make my maiden speech in the House.

These emotions are hard to describe but they include great trepidation, great gratitude and great humility. I will deal with the easy one first: great trepidation as I stand before this august House, full of its long history, tradition and the wisdom of all the noble Lords gathered here today. This would indeed be humbling for any new Member of this House and I will have a great sense of relief when I complete this maiden speech and sit down.

I stand here in gratitude for so many reasons, including gratitude to my noble friend Lord Chidgey for introducing this debate. I am very fortunate to speak in this debate for many reasons. We are debating here a Global Fund not just for HIV but for tuberculosis and malaria, and in the country where I was born, Uganda, malaria is still the biggest killer. It accounts for nearly half of all the deaths of children in any one year.

Ten years ago, I myself contracted malaria in the jungles of India. There are two types of malaria. There is the less lethal type that none the less revisits you and debilitates you year after year, and then there is what is called “cerebral” malaria, which goes straight to your brain and kills you. I had the second kind. That day, I could have easily joined the ranks of the well over 500,000 people who die of malaria every year. I was told I had only a day or more to live. It is only because I had access to the best medical treatment that I survived. Today, thanks to the deal that was recently made in Washington DC, far more people will survive and become malaria-free, as I did. I am proud to say that the British Government’s contribution to the fund has trebled, and we continue to be the second largest contributor in the world — for this, I am here to say thank you.

I am also full of gratitude to all the staff, team, police and security personnel, and to Black Rod’s department, for all the most courteous, patient and kind help over the past few weeks as I so obviously wandered around very lost but trying hard not to appear so. I am full of gratitude, too, to my supporters: my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lady Brinton. To follow in the immense footsteps of my noble friend Lord Dholakia is both a privilege and a challenge for a new Member of the House, and for me in particular, as we both hail from east Africa. I am full of gratitude to my noble friend Lady Brinton for all her help, support and confidence as we launched a leadership programme for my party that is designed to mentor and develop people from underrepresented groups so they can become MPs and participate in the governance of this country.

I am full of gratitude most of all to the country and people of Great Britain. My family were dispossessed by Idi Amin of Uganda in 1972 because we were Asians, yet I was able to come here and prosper in this country and become an entrepreneur, and my family and I were able to live in freedom and dignity. This country gave me the opportunity to thrive and I truly hope I can help many more people to have that very same opportunity.

The Global Fund and similar institutions provide these very same opportunities to people all over the world. I recently had the honour to travel with former President Clinton, who works with the Global Fund, to five countries in Africa. We visited Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa, to see the projects supported by the Clinton Foundation. In Zanzibar, we visited a project called ZAPHA+, established some 20 years ago for Muslim women in a tiny community who had been stigmatised and shunned for being HIV positive. This project took them in, provided support groups and business skills for them and helped them to turn their lives around. When we visited, the women were happy, healthy and confident, and introduced us and President Clinton to their HIV negative children. It showed me what aid money can achieve when it is well spent. I assure noble Lords that the money committed by our Government will transform lives.

Finally, I speak with a great sense of humility. The late President Nelson Mandela once said that,

after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.

It has indeed been a great hill for me to climb from my birth in Uganda to my ascent into the House of Lords. I see now that there are many more hills to climb — hills on which there are people who need our help. I can rest at the end of this, my maiden speech, knowing that I will be climbing those hills together with other noble Lords. Thank you.

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5 Comments

  • ISHvinder Matharu 20th Dec '13 - 7:40pm

    Well Done..!

  • An excellent speech by Rumi Verjee and great causes to fight for, but in the case of Uganda, how good it would be to have someone like him, born in the country, fighting another scourge, homophobia. There is shocking news coming out of the country about how it has passed a new law to persecute gay people.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25463942

  • From Wiki – for those people like me who did not know of Rumi Verjee before he became a Lord;-

    Rumi Verjee, Baron Verjee CBE is a British businessman and philanthropist.

    Rumi Verjee was born in Uganda in 1957 and spent his early childhood in Kenya before coming to Britain.
    Many of the Verjee family assets were seized under Idi Amin’s regime in 1972.
    He attended Downing College, Cambridge where he gained a BA in Law, before being called to the Bar from Middle Temple.

    Aged 27, Verjee approached Tom Monaghan at a conference in America, and persuaded him to sell the franchising rights to Dominos Pizza in the UK.
    Verjee launched the chain in Britain and it now employs over 20,000 people in the UK.
    Verjee sold his stake in the firm in 1989, and went on to oversee the development of the Brompton Hospital site.

    From 1993 until 1997, Verjee, alongside the singer Elton John, co-owned Watford F.C.
    In 1995, he bought Thomas Goode, which holds two royal warrants.

    An active Liberal Democrat for several years, Verjee was appointed to the House of Lords in August 2013. His political activity includes support for the party’s Leadership programme to improve representation from under-represented groups.

    To support this work he donated £770,000 from the company he owns, Brompton Capital Ltd, to the Liberal Democrats. .
    On 17 September 2013 he was created a life peer taking the title Baron Verjee, of Portobello in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

  • Vali Jamal, PhD 4th Feb '14 - 4:39pm

    I write as a Uganda Asian. When we look at Lord Rumi – and a host of Uganda Asian lords and baronesses and MPS – we look at them as embodiments of the Uganda Asian success story of rising up from the ashes of the expulsion from Uganda in 1972. Lord Rumi acknowledges that in his speech, and in recognition of our pride in our people, this speech has now been forwarded within the community 12s of times. We exult in the success of the Uganda Asian entrepreneurs who – giving credit where credit is due – changed the shopping and eating habits of the people of the islands. We see their success in Canada, USA and 24 other countries where they dispersed. We applaud the success of the Asians who returned to Uganda – no more than 2,000 from the 80,000 expelled or world-wide in 1972 – at the behest of President Museveni. They succeeded the most. In Lord Rumi some of us see the Verjee family who did so much for the community’s education in East Africa from the start of the colonial enterprise. His father, the much-admired Jimmy Verjee, opened up the Aga Khan schools in Uganda to Africans before even independence came to Uganda. He was following in the footsteps of his uncle BKS Verjee. Time to give thanks! Some of that history is now in the clouds, gone with the pioneers. I took it upon myself to recover some of that in the words of the descendents of the pioneers and words of those expelled, stayed on in Uganda or went to refugee camps all over Europe – and settled down in those 20 or more countries. It’s just a million-words book! Out in July. Hope it is noticed at the Lords – and the Lords cricket ground because it contains the stories of all our Uganda Asian and Uganda African cricket heroes!

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