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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 Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 9:30 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, I very much support Amendment 468. It puts the matter clearly and positively. It needs doing. You only need to look at what is happening in US universities. There is a particularly nasty story coming out of Princeton today on the suppression of free speech. This ought to be the core of what is happening in universities. Within universities, we ought not to prohibit people from offending other people. There has to be the free exchange of ideas and this can be pretty buffeting from time to time. As is said in Amendment 468, if there are things going on which are illegal, then we should deal with them as illegal. Beyond that, we should not. We should allow ideas to flourish and grow and contest with each other at universities.

I do not support Amendment 469 in the same way. The idea of preventing speech requires you to know in advance what is going to be said. This means, if you fear that someone might say something, you are justified in stopping them coming to speak. This is a very difficult road to go down. Yes, take sanctions against people who allow illegal speech—this seems reasonable. If I invite a speaker in and they are then horrifically unlawful, I should face sanctions for that, even if I lose my right to arrange future meetings. However, to prevent it—to say that somebody at the university should know what someone is going to say in the future—I do not think is a good way to go.

I hope we will have the courage to stand behind Amendment 468 and say where our principles are because there is a great tide of the opposite coming across the Atlantic.