Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Part of Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill - Commons Reason – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 21 March 2023.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 5:00, 21 March 2023

I am grateful to the noble Lord, but I think we all agree that universities, par excellence, are places that should be safe spaces for freedom of speech, as my noble friend Lord Willetts said, whatever may happen outside the confines of the campus.

As to the timing of the coming into force of the Bill, I can tell the noble Lord that it will not be before the start of the next academic year. The Government need to consult on the regulations and indeed draft them, which will take a little time.

I simply cannot agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that my noble friend Lord Willetts’s amendments represent a fudge—in other words, a watering down of the tort or a “soft tort”, as my noble friend Lord Moylan put it. With respect to my noble friend, I utterly disagree with him that the amendments send a signal, or any semblance of a signal, to the other place or the world that the Government are not serious about protecting freedom of speech in our universities. The idea of watering down, I suggest, is more theoretical than real.

As I said earlier, the vast majority of complaints will be successfully handled and dealt with without any need to go to court. However, where a complainant believes that that has not happened, they will still have the option of going to court. In other words, the amendments from my noble friend Lord Willetts underscore what we think will happen anyway.

I hope that Members of another place will come round to that view and that both Houses of Parliament will reach the endpoint that Ministers and the Government have felt it their duty to try to achieve, which is consensus.