Student Visas

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 25th May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Lord raises an issue with which I am familiar and there is much to commend in what he says. Certainly, it is something that I will look into.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not think the Minister answered the second part of the question asked by the noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Why are we continuing to define international students as immigrants when they are clearly not in that category? Is he aware that nearly all OECD countries that have international students in considerable numbers do not define them as immigrants or migrants? They define them in a special category as overseas students. Why do we not move to doing that?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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It is clear that the students who have these visas are entitled to work for 20 hours a week, the dependants of students are entitled to work in an unrestricted way and they are obviously users of services provided by the state. For all those reasons, it makes sense that they be included in the net migration figures.

Windrush Lessons Learned Review: Implementation of Recommendations

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 12th January 2023

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I do not have that information to hand; I will need to find that out and write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister’s Answer to my noble friend on the Front Bench on the meeting of claims for compensation was a bit complacent. Can he explain why the number of claims that were dealt with last year was much lower than in the previous year? There must be some reason for that. Can he also comment on the remarks made by Wendy Williams in her report on the delays to the training of officials dealing with the Windrush scandal? Why has this been delayed and what steps is he taking as the Minister responsible for dealing with this problem?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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On the reduction, I hope the answer is demonstrated by the following statistics. Some 4,558 claims have been received by the Windrush compensation scheme, for which, as I said a moment ago, the total amount of compensation offered has been £59.58 million. There are 2,699 claims with final decisions—that is 59%—and 1,967 concluded claims: those are claims that received a final payment, a nil offer that has not been challenged in 60 days or rejected on eligibility, or claims that have been withdrawn. As regards the work in progress, there are 1,859 claims, and preliminary offers have been made in 666 of those. Only 522 claims are more than a year old.

Scheduled Mass Deportation: Jamaica

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Tuesday 1st December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I could not agree more with my noble friend. The types of crime that these individuals are being deported for have had a devastating impact on the victims, and of course on their families, which have been left without sons, daughters, mothers and fathers. The trauma of a violent sexual assault is hard for the victim and their family to recover from, and it has a long-lasting impact on communities. The Home Office’s priority will always be to keep our communities safe for everyone, and one of its key objectives, when legislation permits, is to protect the public by removing foreign national offenders who commit dangerous crimes. That is what we are doing by deporting these foreign criminals.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I want to press the Minister a little further on her answer to my noble friend Lord Rosser; she was a little evasive, if I may say so. Can she confirm that her department agreed a request from the Jamaican high commissioner that no one on the flight was under 12 when they first arrived in the UK? Is that true or not? If it is true, can she tell the House what is to happen in future? Does she agree that it should really apply to all those who arrived as children, regardless of their country of origin?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I am sorry if the answer was woolly, but I can tell the noble Baroness that the provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007 still stand, that any criminal who has served a custodial sentence of more than 12 months will be considered for deportation and that they are considered for deportation regardless of their country of origin.

Economic Case for HS2 (Economic Affairs Committee Report)

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Wednesday 16th September 2015

(8 years, 10 months ago)

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Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, as a member of the Select Committee that produced the report on the economics of High Speed 2, I stress that we were unanimous on the need for infrastructure investment in the UK. It is vital to the success of our economy, and if we neglect it we will not attain the economic growth that we need to build prosperity. We also agreed with the Government’s aim to rebalance the UK economy by creating a northern powerhouse with high growth and increased productivity in the north of England. However, after taking evidence from many expert witnesses, we were unconvinced that this costly project was the right infrastructure investment to which to attach such high priority. We were unconvinced, too, that it was the best way to achieve the Government’s goal of a northern powerhouse.

The Government claim in their response to the Select Committee report that the case for HS2 is clear and robust. Regrettably, it is neither. Of course there is a case for it, but much more clarity is needed about its value, about alternatives using existing lines, about the opportunity costs of the investment, about the robustness of the Government’s claims about capacity, about long-term projected demand for rail travel on this line and about its value with respect to connectivity to the north of England.

These questions are particularly pertinent in the context of austerity policies in which the Government are cutting public expenditure in many areas. Nearly all government departments are struggling to produce illustrative cuts of 40% and 25% for the spending review. Apparently, there will be little money for capital development. In such circumstances, many will ask whether allocating £50 billion for this project is justified. Moreover, as has just been suggested, it will be an underestimate when the extra work needed to mitigate environmental effects and the extra compensation that is likely to be demanded are taken into account.

Another reason for questioning it is that a high proportion of the beneficiaries will be the business people who travel on this line, who will not, according to the Government’s current plans, be charged higher fares, in spite of the time they will save on these ultra-fast trains. Can the Minister say why the Government are not assuming any upward adjustment of fares to reduce the high cost to the taxpayer? Not raising fares will increase the regressive nature of this investment. Why on earth is the Department for Transport treating Network Rail capital spending on an as-incurred basis rather than as an asset on which a return is required from fare revenues and access charges?

The second question of context about which I raise concerns is the Government’s projections of demand. I readily concur that the demand for rail travel has gone up greatly over the last 20 years. It does, however, seem dangerous to assume that demand from business travellers will go on rising exponentially. High-speed broadband, video conferencing and further technological developments seem likely to reduce the need for inter-city rail travel by business men and women. Will the Minister tell the House why there has not been more explicit consideration of these factors, which are likely to affect demand?

On capacity on the west coast main line, is it not odd to attach so much importance to capacity problems, when, as my noble friend Lord Hollick mentioned, long-distance trains for Euston are only 43% full on average and even at peak times are between only 50% and 60% full? Indeed, there is more spare capacity on this line than on any other main line out of London, with the exception of HS1.

As to alternative solutions, the Government concede that extending all trains to their maximum length makes an important contribution, but this solution has by no means been fully implemented. Would not a further substantial reduction in the number of first class carriages also help, as my noble friend Lord Hollick suggested? Railway experts also suggest that technological improvements to signalling can increase the number of trains using existing tracks. Why have the Government made no reference to this in their response to the committee?

Is there not a danger that many other parts of the railway system where investment is needed will be neglected while HS2 is given priority? We have already seen recent cancellations in starts for electrification schemes elsewhere. The mere fact that HS2 is planned to travel at a maximum speed of 400 kilometres per hour suggests that it has become something of a vanity project. This ultra-high speed, considerably higher than that of high-speed trains in other countries, adds a great deal to the cost and uses resources that might be applied to improving other lines. Will the Minister comment on this, too?

On connectivity in the north and the stimulation of economic growth, the Government have failed to respond to the committee’s evidence that capital cities appear to be bigger beneficiaries of high-speed links than provincial cities connected to the capital via these lines. Nor have the Government given adequate consideration to comparing the relative contribution of £50 billion of other forms of investment in the north of England, such as further education and skills training or investment grants for SMEs to give but two examples. The committee also suggested that improving conventional rail links in the north, and starting the investment in high-speed trains across the north of England, might make a greater contribution to its economic reinvigoration. The Government’s claim that HS3 can be built later is not a satisfactory response.

To conclude, I ask the Government to do further work on the many issues raised by the committee before the enabling legislation for HS2 goes through Parliament. To do otherwise, in the words of one of the experts who gave us evidence, is simply taking a punt.

Student Visas

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Tuesday 24th June 2014

(10 years ago)

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Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I hope that I have paid tribute. The Statement did, in fact, pay tribute to the “Panorama” programme. It has done the country huge service in revealing this abuse. I asked the very same question when I was being briefed on the issue earlier today. There was indeed an investigation by immigration enforcement—UKVI itself had initiated an investigation of the London colleges. It appears that the London-based colleges have been causing trouble, in particular where the universities are established elsewhere and have branches in this country.

We did not have suspicions about English-language testing until it came up as a result of the “Panorama” programme. The two things are complementary and reinforce the action that the Government have taken in investigating the matter.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, on what date was the subsidiary of ETS given a contract to carry out this work? What assurances were sought from these private companies when they were hired to carry out this work that they were competent to do it? Will the Minister admit that he is muddling up two completely different issues when he suggests that this has something to do with the category under which students should be placed, whether part of the migration statistics or in a separate category for students? That has nothing to do with the issue that we have been discussing today, the appalling lapse in standards by a company presumably hired by this Government, which the Minister has told the House about.

Protection of Freedoms Bill

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Wednesday 15th February 2012

(12 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin
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My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 56. In speaking to it I declare an interest as the Chancellor of the University of Exeter. I too thank the Minister for the time that he spent meeting with those of us who have concerns, which was much appreciated.

The Minister argued in Committee that there is little evidence to support the view of the university sector that the Freedom of Information Act is causing difficulties in universities. However, I have spoken to colleagues at the University of Exeter who have given me the clearest possible indications that this is not so, and have told me where the problem lies. I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to the importance of dealing with those problems and concerns effectively.

In particular, the University of Exeter has described the difficulties which the Freedom of Information Act creates when the university negotiates contracts with commercial companies—for example, where the university is working closely with a company to carry out research that might lead to a commercial product and where release of information might prevent a patent or product emerging.

Exeter is not alone. The University of Oxford has described similar difficulties with contract negotiations. For example, Glenn Swafford, the director of research services at the University of Oxford and a man with direct experience of negotiating commercial contracts, has provided examples of exactly these sorts of difficulties. In one case, the university was in negotiations with a large multinational company for a studentship involving £24,000 funding. Significant resources went into the negotiations, with FOI being the major sticking point. The contract was not signed, and although a one-off compromise was secured because the project in question was already under way, Oxford believes that the relationship has been permanently soured. The university has provided other similar examples of long and difficult negotiations.

The point is that large multinational companies have plenty of choices about who they choose to do business with. We want them to do business with UK universities. This Government and the one before them have done much to encourage this kind of research collaboration. But universities across the country believe that this legislation is a barrier to all that. We must take that risk seriously. As Universities UK has pointed out, my noble friend the Minister has argued that there is not enough evidence of harm to justify this amendment. I and others believe that if he examines the material that Universities UK has collected he will see that there is clear evidence of harm.

Secondly, much of what universities have argued has been about the consequences that this legislation may have in terms of people deciding not to invest in UK research. This will be a disaster. Companies do not generally publicise those types of decisions. That is not a reason for ignoring the risk to the UK’s economic interests.

Therefore, I would like to ask my noble friend three questions. Does he acknowledge that universities have commercial interests, for example, competing for students, academics and research grants? Will he undertake to reflect on how far the current exemption for commercial interests extends to universities’ competitive interests? Lastly, can he explain how or whether the exemption for commercial interests might apply where information does not have the quality of a trade secret, because it is not yet commercially exploitable, but nevertheless points towards commercially exploitable information, perhaps subject to further exploration or research?

I believe that we all want to send a clear message that this Government have our universities’ best interests at heart, and wish to protect their standing in the world so that they are recognised internationally as institutions that produce high-quality research with integrity and in confidence. A moral decision has to be made to secure this philosophy. I hope that the Minister will think again and look favourably on this amendment.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone
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My Lords, I support both Amendment 55A and Amendment 56. I do not want to repeat all the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I cannot support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I must admit that I found it exceedingly difficult to follow what he was saying at various points in his speech. Perhaps the Minister can reflect on the issues that he raised and explain them to the rest of the House. I also felt that the noble Lord had misunderstood some of the things said by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who was referring to the release of research data before publication, not after it. I think he was confused about that.

I want to reinforce two points. The first has already been raised today, and I raised it in Committee, which is the cost of all this to universities, and higher education institutions in general, when they have to release enormous amounts of data, prepare them for reuse and sometimes have to redact large amounts of data. Can the Minister reassure the House that he will look again at the regulations that relate to charging for such work? Otherwise, publicly funded institutions will have to spend large amounts of taxpayers’ money on requests to release information which may be justifiable in the public interest, but where the cost may be too high to make it desirable.

I also want to reinforce the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. Universities are slightly difficult to define as institutions. They are not public bodies under any conventional definition, although they are of course in receipt of substantial amounts of public money. It would be helpful to the House if the Minister could reply to the noble Baroness’s questions about how they are to be defined with respect to commercial interests. The work that they undertake in knowledge transfer may have substantial commercial impacts on them. We need to know whether something which may not be a trade secret but may eventually lead to viable, commercially exploitable data and work should be defined as commercial.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury Portrait Lord Phillips of Sudbury
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My Lords, I speak as Chancellor of the University of Essex and as a lawyer who has spent a good deal of his professional time dealing with issues of publication of research, in particular in relation to the Association of Medical Research Charities. I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Brinton and all the arguments advanced in support of it.

I shall make two points. The first is strongly to support what Universities UK has requested, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Brinton. If ever there was an area of law and practice in need of thorough practical review and, as far as possible, simplification, it is this, because it is a nightmare at the moment and getting worse. Without my noble friend's amendment, or something like it, it will get a lot worse. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, made the point that it would be severely self-damaging if we in this place were to encourage a state of affairs that put us at a competitive disadvantage with other countries.

I emphasise that this is a playground for lawyers and a nightmare for everyone else as it is because the judgments on the different aspects of this extremely difficult balancing act between freedom of public information on the one hand and necessary and proper restraint on the other could not be more complex. I do not envy my noble friend in having to summarise the debate, but I hope that the Government will take the Universities UK request seriously and urgently and that he will be able to support the practical and sensible points in the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Brinton.

Universities: Non-EU Students

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 6th February 2012

(12 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley
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My Lords, the restriction on bringing family members applies to undergraduates. The sort of senior research students who my noble friend refers to would be allowed to bring partners or members of their family with them, so I think I can say to my noble friend that that issue has been resolved.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone
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My Lords, is the Minister aware that contrary to what he has said some bona fide institutions—universities—have lost as many as 20 per cent of their overseas students, particularly from India? Is he aware that the restrictions on employment when graduating will put us in a very unfortunate position compared with our main competitors, the United States and Australia, which have much more generous arrangements for students who wish to work in the UK, for a temporary period, when they graduate?

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley
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My Lords, as I said, the overall figures show an increase, particularly in undergraduates. It might be that some particular institutions are losing out, and particularly on those from the Indian subcontinent, but we have seen proportionate increases elsewhere. I do not know whether the noble Baroness is old enough to remember the changes we announced back in the early 1980s when, again, there were cries that they would cause fatal damage to all the universities for ever. However, as the noble Baroness might be able to remember, on that occasion we saw an increase in the numbers of those attending universities, just as we will see one now.

Protection of Freedoms Bill

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 12th January 2012

(12 years, 6 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord May of Oxford Portrait Lord May of Oxford
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My Lords, I support the set of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, and Amendment 148B, which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has put down. I begin slightly narcissistically by saying that I think I have form in relation to openness. As Chief Scientific Adviser, I put in place the protocols for science advice on policy-making, which have gone through rounds of revision, saying “No more closed rooms. Everything open. We want to see it published”. I have been associated, and still am, with two of the three major journals in science—the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US and Science—in both cases promoting more open access within the framework of profit-making journals. More generally at the Royal Society, when I was its president I made our journals much more available, particularly to people in countries that could not afford to pay for them.

I am all for making things available but, at the same time, I shall mention something which is perhaps tactless—if not even politically incorrect—which is that the Freedom of Information Act has, as many of your Lordships will know, been used as a weapon of harassment in some circumstances. The climate change community in general, and the community at the University of East Anglia in particular, have not only been subject to criminal invasion of their databases, carefully timed for particular events, but are continually bombarded with very elaborate requests for information that go well beyond the sharing of basic data, so we have to be careful in how we draft this.

That brings me to two specific elements of the amendments suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill. On the suggestion that data should be provided in a format which the user requires, while I am sympathetic to the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, gave that it can be very inconvenient, on the other hand it invites the abuse of saying, “I want the data in some manner which is extraordinarily inconvenient”. This can be only partly protected by the other thing that I draw particular attention to: recognising that there is a cost associated with providing this data in any form and that it is only reasonable that people should be allowed to charge for it. I can see an offsetting, in some sense. If you allowed that people could request the form in which it be given, the offset would have to be really realistic. In some cases, that could reflect the degree of harassment and so on, so there are complexities nested within this.

I also like Amendment 148B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, simply because, like him, I could not understand what the provision meant.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone
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My Lords, very briefly, I support the amendments put down by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill. I should perhaps declare an interest as a very recently retired vice-chancellor. I also associate myself with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord May, about the care that we need to take in this area. These are very complex and difficult matters and some of the issues are highly technical—more technical than someone who is not particularly IT-literate, such as me, is able to follow totally and understand. I want in particular to follow up the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and repeat the question which I think my noble friend Lady Warwick put, about whether the costs of providing metadata would be chargeable under the Freedom of Information Act. This is an important issue as these costs become greater and greater. Universities that wish to pursue research that requires using this sort of data will be very stretched unless this is allowable.

I also want to ask another question. To what extent can universities make a charge for removing or redacting personal information from databases prior to making them available under the FOIA? Again, this is a practice that is going to have to become more frequent and common and, in a time when universities are extremely pressed as far as their funding is concerned, the cost could be very high.

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Lord Scott of Foscote Portrait Lord Scott of Foscote
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My Lords, I rise to express my complete support for the spirit and intention behind this amendment, which has been so cogently and lucidly explained by the three noble Baronesses in whose names it stands. I rise simply to make a drafting point on the amendment, which some of your Lordships may think is a rather tedious reason. It proposes two conditions to be applied to,

“Information obtained in the course of, or derived from, a programme of research”,

to enable that information to qualify as exempt information. The two conditions are under paragraphs (a) and (b) of new subsection (1A) that the amendment would insert into Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act.

My point relates to the condition under paragraph (a), which states that,

“the programme or project is continuing with a view to a report of the research … being published by”,

bodies specified in paragraphs (a)(i) and (a)(ii) in the amendment.

I puzzled over the identity of the possible publishers who would fall under those categories. Paragraph (a)(i) refers to,

“a public authority as defined by section 3 of this Act”,

which would exclude other public authorities that are not so defined. Paragraph (a)(ii) refers to “any other person”. When the word “person” is found in statute, it may include, according to the Interpretation Act,

“a body of persons corporate or unincorporate”,

but that depends on the context. An authority which is not a public authority as defined in Section 3 could be a corporate or unincorporated body and could qualify as a person. It is the contrast between the two that might, if someone wanted to argue the contrary, raise some doubt.

I began to wonder why it was necessary to identify the proposed publishers at all. The important condition is that,

“the programme or project is continuing with a view to a report of the research … being published”.

It really does not matter by whom the matter will be published because anyone will do. I think that that is the intention behind paragraphs (a)(i) and (a)(ii), although the language used might suggest the contrary. Therefore, I respectfully suggest that the words in those paragraphs (a)(i) and (a)(ii), and the preceding preposition “by”, should go and that the condition in paragraph (a) should simply refer to,

“the programme or project is continuing with a view to a report of the research … being published”.

Doubt and confusion is simply raised by the attempt to specify the individuals or organisations which fall under paragraphs (a)(i) or (a)(ii).

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone
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My Lords, I support these amendments but I, of course, defer to the noble and learned Lord who is much better versed in the legal aspects of the drafting of this amendment. I ask that the Government accept the amendments in principle but possibly come back with a redrafted version with the omissions proposed by the noble and learned Lord.

Quite a lot of comments have been made about scientific and medical research, but I want briefly to speak as a social scientist. When they undertake empirical research, social scientists are heavily dependent on the agreement of individuals to participate in surveys, whether they are large-scale quantitative surveys or small-scale qualitative surveys.

I respectfully suggest that, unless this amendment or something like it is accepted, it will be more difficult for social scientists to carry out their work. Advanced data manipulation techniques make it much more difficult to guarantee the anonymity of data even where personal information has, as far as possible, been removed or redacted from data sets. I noticed that the Minister did not respond to my particular question about whether financial support would be given when extensive redaction has to take place. This causes particular concern when highly sensitive information is provided by individuals whose identity may need to be protected to save them from harm. Given the difficulties of guaranteeing effective protection of identity, the research community in the social science world has raised a number of concerns that the very process of securing informed consent from potential subjects of research may stop them participating at all. That would be a disastrous consequence.

Finally, I want to pick up the point made by several speakers about the fact that other jurisdictions have managed to come up with legislation whereby the issues raised today have been dealt with. This may be a sensitive week in which to ask the Minister to have a look at Scottish legislation passed in the Scottish Parliament. Nevertheless, I think that he and his officials should do so. Moreover, it is also very important that we look at the Irish legislation, which is rather broader based in how it treats universities for these purposes or research associated with academic work—it may not be done in a university; it may be done in a separate research institution. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, read out the section of the Irish Act. Mention has been made of the United States. I ask the Minister a direct question. Has he looked at those three pieces of legislation in those three countries? If so, what has made him decide not to follow the same route? It would be very helpful to have a direct answer to that question.

Lord May of Oxford Portrait Lord May of Oxford
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I express my approval of the amendment. I would go beyond the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in saying that I understand science to embrace the social sciences within it. In this case, it goes wider than that in extending increasingly the large areas of the humanities that use large databases. It is a really important problem and the spirit of this amendment addresses it in a significant way. I very much hope that all that has been said here is taken to heart.