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 Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour 7:30, 7 December 2022

My Lords, I support these Amendments. Amendment 26 is self-explanatory, and it would be great if the Government could clarify that the governing body of a college, rather than the overarching university, will be responsible for reporting information to the OfS. It would be very good if the Minister could put that on the record today in Hansard.

With regard to proportionality and the fact that there should be reasonable grounds for suspecting a breach, it is important to have some articulation from the Front Bench that there will always be a sense of proportionality. However, the amendment that I will focus on, because I think it is extremely important, is Amendment 28, which would prevent universities having to disclose sensitive commercial information to the OfS. This is utterly critical, because it cannot be right that income generated by commercial partnerships and contracts for the receipt and delivery of goods and services, such as university presses, as mentioned by my noble friend, should be in scope of reporting to the OfS.

As noble Lords will be aware, reporting the details of such contracts to a regulator would mean that they were subject to FoI. That would be completely out of kilter and would compromise commercially sensitive information. As my noble friend said, it could also violate overseas data protection law and the confidentiality terms of contracts that are not governed by UK law.

It would be very interesting to know why the Government think it might be appropriate to require the disclosure of sensitive and confidential commercial information. We will listen to what the Front Bench says, but I would be very grateful if the Government could reflect further on that and, as my noble friend said, perhaps come back at Third Reading, because this is of extreme importance to some of our universities and presses.