We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 9:00 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, the threat we face from terrorism is unprecedented and very real. In addition to the framework of the criminal law, we must have a strong and robust preventive element to our counter-terrorism efforts. We must collectively help in the fight against terrorism and try to protect those who may be vulnerable or susceptible to radicalisation towards acts of terrorism.

I want to make it clear that HE providers are not being singled out as the potential cause or root of radicalisation. Responsibilities under this duty have also been placed on schools, hospitals, prisons, local authorities and colleges, and other institutions which regularly deal with people who may be vulnerable to the risk of radicalisation. In higher education, the Prevent duty exists to ensure that providers understand radicalisation and how it could impact on the safety and security of their staff and students.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for her helpful, informed and powerful contribution, which was cogently authoritative. What the Prevent duty does not do is undermine free speech on campus. Higher education providers that are subject to the freedom of speech duty are required to have regard to it when carrying out their Prevent duty. This was explicitly written into legislation to underline its importance both as a central value of our HE system and of our society.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England, the body responsible for monitoring compliance with this duty in England, reports that the large majority of institutions have put in place clear, sensible policies and procedures that demonstrate they are balancing the need to protect their students and their obligations under Prevent, while ensuring that freedom of speech on campus is not undermined. We have seen higher education institutions become increasingly aware of the risks to vulnerable students and there have been some really good examples across the sector of how to proportionately mitigate these risks.

On the whole, the higher education sector is embedding the requirements of the Prevent duty within its existing policies and procedures. It gets ongoing advice and support both from HEFCE and from our own regional Prevent co-ordinators. There is a wide range of training available to staff in HE and there is an ongoing dialogue between the Government, the monitoring body and the sector to ensure that the implementation of this duty is done in a pragmatic way.

It is also important to note that this amendment has another consequence because it seeks to disapply the Prevent duty not only in relation to English higher education providers but in relation to Scottish and Welsh institutions. That would require the consent of the Scottish and Welsh Ministers.

We welcome discussion about how Prevent is implemented effectively and proportionately, but blanket opposition to the duty is unhelpful and, dare I say it, dangerous, given the scale of the terrorist risk before us—the threat level currently stands at severe. The Prevent duty is an important element of our fight against the ever-increasing threat of terrorism. We must have an efficient strategy for trying to prevent people being drawn into it. On this basis, I very much hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw Amendment 466.