5 Baroness Chakrabarti debates involving the Department for Education

Earnings: Mothers and Fathers

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Wednesday 13th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clearly, such cases are extremely regrettable. I can only repeat what I have already said: the law is absolutely clear on this, as are the routes to redress.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, surely the law is flawed, because it leaves it to individual women to enforce the law themselves. We do not do this for school standards, food standards, environmental standards, and so on. It is asking too much, surely, to expect an individual woman to find out what her colleagues are being paid and then sue her employer. Surely there is a role for the state in investigating and enforcing equality law.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is the third time in fairly short order that the noble Baroness and I have touched on this important subject. As she knows— I know she believes this is not sufficient, but to be clear—the law already protects people who want to have these crucial conversations about pay with their colleagues. We are seeing that people are increasingly open in discussing their salaries, and the Government welcome this shift. There were, of course, a number of cases: over 2,500 equal pay claims were entered into the employment tribunal system between July and September last year, and each one of those is an important reminder to employers of their legal obligations.

Children’s Private Information: Data Protection Law

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Monday 12th December 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure that the Dispatch Box is the ideal place to go through the line-by-line analysis. The noble Lord is right that the way that the department’s contracts were set up at the time did not give the same recourse if the terms and conditions of a contract were breached by a third party. That has now been changed.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I find this whole saga staggering. It should give serious pause for thought to anyone who does not think that data protection and personal privacy matter. When the Minister replies in writing to the noble Lord’s earlier question about facial recognition technology, will she include in that response, and perhaps place a copy in the Library, an answer as to whether CCTV cameras on school premises are provided by Hikvision or any other Chinese companies?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would be delighted to add that information.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I first declare my interest as a former chairman of King’s College London. In that position I was a layman, not an academic—we have had a number of very informed academic contributions—and I am certainly not a lawyer. I regret that I was not able to be present for Second Reading; I hope noble Lords will forgive me for intervening at this stage.

I am very surprised that the Government have sought to introduce this Bill at all, and certainly Clause 4. I have not yet detected a single Member of this House who is seeking to defend Clause 4 as currently drafted; every contribution has wished either to delete or amend it. The noble Lord, Lord Johnson, is in his place. He introduced the higher education Act a few years ago when he was Minister for Universities. I admit that I opposed many aspects of that Act. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, himself described it this afternoon as having introduced a very powerful regulator in the Office for Students; I would say that it is too powerful already.

However, we do have the Office for Students, and I really cannot understand the justification for putting into the Bill a statutory tort as well as the existing arrangements we have for the regulation of universities. On the whole, universities are surely one of the sectors of this country that have performed outstandingly well over many, many years. We have some of the leading universities in the world. We are recognised as being in that position; our universities are admired. Rather like the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, I think I am opposed to the whole Bill; but I am most definitely opposed to Clause 4.

We all have such respect for the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and I do hope that Ministers will seriously consider withdrawing Clause 4 as currently drafted. If it is still in the Bill when we reach Report, I shall certainly oppose it—as, I believe, will many other noble Lords.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow so many contributions from noble and learned Lords across the House. I declare my interests, first as a lawyer—unashamedly; we need to be loud and proud in these difficult times when we are so denigrated—but also my academic interests as listed in the register.

Like other noble Lords, I would prefer not to have the Bill at all, but this is not a Second Reading moment. It is a combination of virtue signalling on the one hand and “something must be done”, in the context of very difficult times culturally, with a polarised society, intergenerational disputes and so on. However, in a Bill that is not great, Clause 4 is the worst part.

Against myself, I would rather go back to a halcyon age where universities were largely self-regulating, as I think it was a rather good way of preserving their academic and free speech independence; but perhaps I am a dinosaur to think that universities could be self-regulating. I do understand that, when a lot of public money is being spent on universities, people will be concerned that they should not be totally self-regulating—and they are not, in existing law. But Clause 4 is problematic for a number of reasons that have been well drawn out—and not just by the lawyers, I might add; some of my asterisked and underlining notes are from the contributions of non-lawyers with practical experience of the academy.

To get into the “otiosity”—if that is a word—dispute between the noble Lord. Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, I am probably, not for the first time, with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. If Clause 4 were removed—incidentally, what is it about fourth clauses? I am glad that my noble friends on this side are giggling at that and are not upset. My reading of the Bill if it existed without Clause 4 is that it would give some further definition to the rights that already exist under Article 10 of the ECHR, which deals with free speech, and the duties placed upon public authorities to respect that duty in relation to those who would otherwise be deprived of their free speech rights in a university.

The noble Lord, Lord Johnson of Marylebone, made an important point: it is one thing to say that a university regulator that already exists and has all sorts of duties relating to this publicly financed space will take on extra responsibilities and concerns around guaranteeing free speech, but another thing to have, alongside all that architecture, a new statutory tort that brings financial compensation into it. Those things stand in tension, which is why I also have sympathy with the noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, who said, “Let’s at least try to define this new Clause 4 duty or look at what it is we want to achieve by it.”

My own understanding is that courts and employment tribunals should already be ensuring that people’s free speech is protected in the context of their employment and appointment rights. If that is in doubt, so be it: provide for that in the employment law system, the appointments system and the regulatory system. But to create a free-standing and wide-ranging tort, which by definition would bring financial compensation in a context where civil legal aid is virtually dead in our jurisdiction, is an invitation to think tanks and NGOs, including international ones, to do what some people call making mischief—although, as a lifelong mischief-maker myself, I perhaps should not bang on about that too much.

Clause 4 will do the opposite of what is intended. What I believe to be intended is that we should once again be encouraging the clash of ideas, even when they are uncomfortable—even, occasionally, when they are offensive—in the academic space. To hand the right to litigate to people who should be debating, not litigating, is by definition to be handing it to some and not others. I have no doubt that that will have the opposite effect from what is intended.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said, “Will it be just about financial loss or should it be about other kinds of loss as well?” One needs to be very careful about that in the context of free speech. I have been called a bigot. I do not think I am a bigot and it is not nice to be called one, but if people want to call me a bigot, they need to be able to challenge me on my prejudices, including in the academic space—and including in this Committee, where we are protected. Our free speech is protected in this place more than most people’s in the country and around the world, and we should be careful about imposing new duties and obligations that bring litigation in the name of free speech.

I have concerns about it still, but if this Bill must pass, let it be about regulating universities and empowering them to do better in the difficult navigation exercise that they have. Let it not be a recipe for more litigation, under a Government who are always saying that we have too many “activist lawyers” and human rights lawyers—do not get me started as this is the language of the current Home Secretary and former Attorney-General. What a contradiction it is to say, “There is too much activist litigation” and then to design a recipe for more and more of the same.

Schools: Biometric Technologies

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Monday 6th June 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness is right. The department is working on the guidance and is aware that it needs updating. I am expecting it to be updated very soon. There will be some important changes within it, particularly in relation to the use of live facial recognition technology.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Minister quite rightly spoke about data protection. Do the Government agree that this is not just about the individual’s data but about their dignity as well? Is this the way we should be softening up our young people for treatment by corporates coming out of China or anywhere else in the future?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government are not softening up our children. The use of biometric data in schools requires explicit consent from both parents of a child, and the child themselves can overrule that, should they wish.

Higher Education and Research Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I, too, draw attention to academic interests in the register. Most importantly, I have the privilege of being the chancellor of the University of Essex, and before that I was the chancellor of Oxford Brookes University for some years. As little more than a maiden myself, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, on a thoroughly gracious maiden speech. I also thank the Minister from the other place, Mr Johnson, for his characteristic courtesy and fortitude in attending this debate for so long. I rather wish that a seat could be found for him, because I hate to see him standing uncomfortably for so long, rather like a man in the dock—I hope that it does not feel too much like that.

This debate—your Lordships are now only part of the way through the marathon—represents this House at its best. It has been a rigorous, if good-willed, debate thus far, and based on so much experience and expertise that I hope that the noble Lords opposite on the Government Benches will listen. I agree with so much of what has been said, but of course it has not yet been said by me. I will try not to be overly repetitive.

In my previous life, I tried to wean myself off the use of certain adjectives. One of them was “Orwellian” and another was “Kafkaesque”. I failed to find an adjective named after a woman writer. I will exercise similar self-restraint in your Lordships’ House. However, the temptations do come. Many of your Lordships will have inboxes like mine, which groan with the depth and breadth of concern in our world-class higher education sector about the Bill. It is quite an achievement for a policy to combine both unnecessary authoritarianism with dangerous degrees of deregulation. That is quite the feat that the Bill appears to achieve.

We go yet further down the road of marketising higher education, which has been the greatest gift in my own life. We treat students too much like customers, and not enough—as my noble friend Lord Stevenson said—like scholars. We prioritise competition in the sector over collaboration. We ignore perhaps too much, and at our cost, the social good that higher education provides at a local, regional, national and international level. The biggest concerns that run through this legislation are about independence and autonomy on the one hand and excellence, in all its richness, on the other.

The University of Essex is one of over 50 pre-1992 universities that are governed by royal charter. The royal charters are an enormous source of pride, protection and international prestige. I have heard nothing to explain why they should come under threat from this new all-powerful Office for Students—or indeed from the Secretary of State. The Privy Council seems a perfectly appropriate custodian in this country of who may or may not call themselves a university. I do not understand the need for the change. So noble Lords have their work cut out on the Bill, and there is much that they could do to greatly improve it: making sure that there are appropriate checks and balances on this Office for Students and the Secretary of State; ensuring that the Secretary of State sets standards; removing the power of the Office for Students to validate degrees; protecting the autonomy of the research councils, and so on.

I will add one further thought—perhaps your Lordships will consider it at an appropriate moment during the passage of the Bill. The Bill would be an appropriate place to provide that all refugees and asylum-seekers in this country ought to be treated as home students.