Clause 38

Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 11 September 2014.

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Restriction on exercise of functions

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:15, 11 September 2014

Clause 38 sets out a restriction that applies to the commissioner in the exercise of his or her functions. The commissioner must not exercise his or her functions in relation to an individual case. That is to ensure that he or she maintains a strategic perspective and is not drawn into issues relating to individual cases. It would not be appropriate for the commissioner to become personally involved in individual cases when their remit is to transform and strengthen our overall approach to tackling modern slavery by encouraging good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of these terrible offences, and for victim identification.

I am sure that some hon. Members will feel that the commissioner should champion individual cases but I think that would be a dangerous path to go down. The role is to strengthen our collective response to modern slavery, working closely with law enforcement agencies. Of course, individual cases will help to drive that but it would be dangerous for the commissioner to intervene.  While their cases inform the commissioner’s work in this regard it would not be right for the commissioner to be an advocate for individual victims.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I was just thinking then of the case of “L” that Nadine Finch referred to when she gave evidence to the Committee. She had represented the Children’s Commissioner, who got involved because of her particular interest in that case. Would the clause prevent the anti-slavery commissioner from ever being able to exercise that right of being joined to a case where they might have an interest of policy? Does it preclude that altogether, whereas the Children’s Commissioner has that option?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The clause does not prevent the commissioner from considering individual cases in order to draw conclusions about a general case. Perhaps I could go back to our previous debate, in which the hon. Lady asked about the type of information that authorities would not be allowed to give to the commissioner; I wanted to put that on the record. It would be information prohibited by court order or under statutory restrictions—for example, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 in relation to intercept evidence. I am sure she understands why we expect that such information would not be disclosed.

The question of the differences and similarities between the commissioners and their ability to be involved in cases is interesting and a good point for the Committee to consider. I am sure the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk is delighted that he will not be receiving another piece of correspondence, as I would like to clarify the point about working with other commissioners and current practice. We expect the commissioner to work collaboratively with all other commissioners. That may be informally or more formally where both parties agree, such as a joint agreement of understanding. We will need to consider the relationship with devolved Administrations, and we have concluded discussions on the extent of the commissioner’s dealings with them. We are continuing such discussions. I will get back to him on his question about how the two Children’s Commissioners currently work, and to the hon. Lady on her specific question. I hope the Committee agrees that the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.