Amendment 26

Part of Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 7 December 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 7:45, 7 December 2022

My Lords, I hope that the Government will take this away, consider whether there is a way of adapting to some of the valid points made on these amendments and, if necessary, come back at Third Reading—when, I suspect, any further government amendments would be welcome.

I will briefly raise a question that I have already raised with the noble Baroness’s private office, which is how Clause 9 on overseas funding relates to a substantial clause of the National Security Bill, which had its Second Reading yesterday. It seems in some respects to overlap or possibly duplicate it. We have to be very careful about the potential to ask universities to supply further information, answer reports and weigh down their central administration. We already have the National Security and Investment Act, which lays down a number of obligations on universities, which they are fulfilling—justified but additional burdens. This Bill and the National Security Bill will potentially add a further layer of detailed reporting by universities to government, which I am not sure government will be entirely capable of handling. I wish to mark that before those two Bills pass: we should be very clear that they are compatible with and complement, rather than contradict, each other.

Having said that, the question of funding and student unions wants looking at. I was not aware that there is significant overseas funding for student unions. I suppose it is possible that the Chinese, Saudi or even Russian Governments could decide that covert funding of student unions would be a way to influence the British debate, so perhaps there is a half-justification for this. But these Benches, having talked to a number of student unions, are concerned about these small, underfunded bodies, which have a very rapid turnover of officers—as is their nature—having burdens placed on them that are heavier than they can cope with and are not justified by the situation. I mark that as a caveat and hope that the Government take it back for further consideration.