Higher Education and Research Bill - Report (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:47 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees 6:47 pm, 13th March 2017

My Lords, I added my name to this amendment and spoke to it in previous stages of the Bill. I will be brief; in any event, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, set out a comprehensive argument as to why this is so important. Who would have thought that it was important in this country to champion freedom of speech? Sadly, obviously that has become necessary. We are living in strange times. We have heard tales of students closing down free speech, and universities have taken remarkably little action over some issues when freedom of speech should have been protected.

It is difficult. There are obviously grey areas between what is lawful and what is not. As the noble Baroness said, we must not in any way encourage hate speech or incitement to violence but university students should be subject to ideas they find uncomfortable and be in a safe place where they can address them without those ideas immediately being shut down. This amendment also includes students unions, so it should help activities and events organised by students to make quite sure that they too encourage freedom of speech. It is a precious and valued part of our national life, and it is currently under threat. This amendment would add powers to ensure that we preserve it.