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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 9:30 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, this amendment deals with the question of how we put into statute a definition that will adequately cover some of the debates we had on the group of amendments before last, relating to freedom of speech. It is interesting that alongside that is Amendment 469 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lord, Lord Polak, which deals with the same issue but from completely the opposite direction. Amendment 468 in my name tries to stress the need for the definition and practice of freedom of speech in premises, forums and events, affecting staff, students and invited guests. The alternative version of this, which I think aims to come to the same place, is written in terms of completely the reverse option—that is, to avoid unlawful speech by the same people in the same areas. There is a very interesting question about which of these two approaches would be better if one had to choose between them.

In some senses, that picks up the theme of the last debate, which I have been reflecting on during the interregnum of the very important discussion on the advertising of cheating services, about what we are trying to do here. Without wishing to pre-empt the discussion, I will say that I still think there are probably two issues here: first, whether we believe that our higher education providers, particularly our universities, have to have regard to the issues raised in these two amendments; and, secondly, whether there are external constraints or opportunities to use other statutes and practices to bolster that. There is absolutely no point in having the most well-worked and beautifully phrased approach to this issue if it is not implemented in practice. The problem we all have is that we may well aspire to good words, good intentions and good practice but, if there is not an effective, efficient and speedy determination of where these things are not being practised well, we will all fail. I beg to move.