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Higher Education and Research Bill - Committee (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 9:00 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, the suggestion of an independent review bears very serious consideration. A very difficult issue confronts us on the matter raised in this amendment. In the considerable amount of time that the House has spent in recent years on issues of security, one thing that has always concerned me deeply is the dividing point between essential action and what in fact begins to be counterproductive.

We have to approach the issue of how universities play their part in the security of the nation by considering the danger of fostering extremism and unacceptable views by heavy-handedness or the appearance, however far from reality it is, that universities are acting as agents of the security services. If that perception gains ground, it will certainly provide more potential recruits for extremism and unreasonableness in the student community. I do not dissent, with the evidence of anti-Semitism and hostility to Islamic people, from the view that urgent action by the state is necessary. Security is the responsibility of the state and universities must play their part within the law and vigorously ensure that they uphold it—of course, that is right—but when we start using words such as “prevent”, I think myself into the position of young students discussing issues and saying, “What the hell is going on? Is this university really a place where we can test ideas?”. We must have self-confidence in the middle of all this; we must not lose our self-confidence. The whole point of a university is that we encourage people to think and develop their minds. Therefore, it is a very good place to bring into the open the most appalling ideas that some people have, so that they can be dealt with in argument, and the rationality and decency of most people can prevail. They are places where what is advocated may be argued against effectively and where those arguments may be demonstrated. If there is any move towards preventing such opportunities to take head on in the mind the issues which threaten us, we will be in great danger of undermining our security still further.

I said in an earlier debate, and I mean it profoundly, that the battle for security in the world must be won in hearts and minds. It will not ultimately be won by controls; it will be won by winning the arguments. If the opportunity to win the argument is not there in universities or begins to be eroded, what the dickens are we doing in terms of undermining our own security?