Amendment 26

Part of Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 7 December 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 7:30, 7 December 2022

My Lords, we have three amendments in this group, which have been proposed by my noble friend Lord Collins, with the support of my noble friends Baroness Royall and Lord Blunkett. They pick up some of the questions that were raised in Committee about transparency and proportionality with regards to overseas funding.

Amendment 26 would make provision for collegiate universities, making it clear that it is the governing body of a college, rather than its overarching provider, that should report information to the Office for Students under Clause 9.

Amendment 27 is intended to make the OfS power to gather information more proportionate, and to prevent commercially sensitive information being subject to a freedom of information request through the regulator having requested it. Several colleges and universities have contacted us about this matter, as I am sure is true for other noble Lords, so it is important that this be clarified at this stage.

Amendment 28 would prevent universities having to disclose sensitive commercial information to the OfS, and prevent independent trading entities—for example, the university press—being forced to violate commercial contracts not governed by UK law, because, of course, many of them have contracts with overseas organisations and institutions.

That is a summary of the amendments, and as my noble friend Lord Collins said at Second Reading or in Committee, the key to addressing these issues is transparency and ensuring that that transparency is proportionate. I could quote to the House many of the problems that have been outlined to us by others who are concerned about this, but because Clause 9 explicitly includes commercial partnerships, it is vital that the Government take on board these concerns and explain, on the record, how they will be dealt with, or provide clarification at the next stage of the Bill. I beg to move.