11 Baroness Chakrabarti debates involving the Leader of the House

Wed 7th Feb 2024
Victims and Prisoners Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage part one
Mon 5th Feb 2024
Tue 28th Jun 2022
Wed 21st Jul 2021
Mon 20th Jul 2020
Business and Planning Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am the first to agree that a code of practice takes us only a certain distance. We also need to ensure that there is proper training for police and others. We had a short debate about this earlier in the week, and I hope I gave some useful information to noble Lords on that front. I am, of course, very happy to speak to my noble friends about this—as I am sure my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy will be, once he gets better. It is not a simple matter, and I did not intend to suggest that it is.

On the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Bertin, as I have already said, it is vital that victims of crime can access the justice system and get the support they need without fear that their privacy will be violated. I am aware of concerns that deeply private information about victims, including notes from counselling sessions, have sometimes been used inappropriately to discredit victims—in particular, victims of rape and serious sexual offences—seeking justice through the criminal justice system. This can, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed out a minute ago, prevent victims from accessing the support they need in the first instance. That should not be the case, and I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the topic through the amendment.

My noble friend’s amendment seeks to put in place a judicial barrier for disclosure of counselling records and, with some exceptions, to create a requirement for the court not to grant access to this material where the disclosure was made in confidence by the victim to a person providing support services in a professional capacity.

Through the Bill, we are placing a new statutory duty on the police, as I have said, to request victims’ information from a third party only where necessary and proportionate in pursuit of a reasonable line of inquiry. Police must also provide information to the victim on what information has been requested, why, and how it will be used.

As I have outlined, the Government have asked the Law Commission to examine the trial process in sexual offence prosecutions and consider the law, guidance and practice relating to the use of evidence. This review will include consideration of whether a court direction should be required before accessing third-party material such as counselling records, and consideration of international examples where this system is in place.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. I have not spoken in this group so far, because I agreed with everything said by the proposers and did not want to take up the Committee’s time, but, in the light of what I have just heard—in general, but also specifically about counselling notes— I feel moved to. A general obligation on necessity and proportionality is not going to cut it, I am afraid, because counselling and therapeutic notes are special. Just as legal advice is special, and subject to special protection in the courtroom, there is no reason why we cannot act to make such notes special too.

I appreciate that the noble Earl is heroically stepping into another’s brief, no doubt at short notice, but I think that it is for the department to reflect on the quality of thinking so far. Waiting for the Law Commission will take too long. There are already too many women who have not come forward to report their rapes because of the well-publicised problem with counselling notes. They are being counselled by public authorities to choose between counselling or taking their criminal case forward—this is totally unacceptable.

My goodness, the irony of relying on general principles in the Human Rights Act is perhaps the richest I have heard in a long time, given some of the positions that senior members of the Government are taking on that Act and the ECHR. I hope the noble Earl will reflect on these answers or urge others responsible to reflect.

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Moved by
82: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Parental alienation in criminal domestic abuse casesIn section 1 of the Children Act 1989, after subsection (7) insert—“(8) Anyone involved in the case who is also a victim (of criminal conduct) within section 1 of the Victims and Prisoners Act 2024 (meaning of “victim”) cannot be considered by the family court as a potential perpetrator of parental alienation.””Member’s explanatory statement
This clause would seek to ensure that victims under this Bill could not be disadvantaged by considerations of parental alienation in the family court.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I have recovered my calm and my optimism that we may get some more positive noises from the Government in the next group.

This large group could easily have been degrouped because it covers two fairly distinct areas. This is a very long Bill with a lot of amendments, so maybe keeping this as one group was an attempt to assist the business managers. I hope that the Committee will bear with me in separating the two principal issues covered by this long list of amendments.

Amendments 84 to 100 are about what is called Jade’s law. There are other concerns about the family court and the way in which its process has been and is being used abusively against victims within the definition in the current Bill. Amendments 82, 110, 111 and 117 refer to this.

I turn first to Jade’s law. The Committee will remember that last October the Government amended this Bill in the other place to include new Clause 16. This is what is being called Jade’s law. The intention is to ensure that a parent who kills a partner or an ex-partner with whom they have children will automatically have their parental responsibility suspended upon sentencing. The purpose is not to burden family members already in a state of some trauma with having to apply subsequently to the family court of their own volition to ask for the parental rights of the killer to be removed. Parental rights could be suspended as part of the sentencing process to take away that additional procedural burden. It is often bereaved grandparents and close family members who are in that devastating situation.

Jade’s law is named for Jade Ward, who was murdered by her former partner in 2021, with her four children sleeping in another room. Jade’s family campaigned for a change in the law after Jade’s murderer was able to continue to take part in decisions relating to the children. There are other case studies too.

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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My only final point is to say that the term “parental alienation” has become problematic on both sides. It seems to me that one side can use the term “parental alienation” in the way that has been described—I have made the point that the term is used in the amendment—and another side can basically say that anyone who uses the term “parental alienation” does not understand the problems of victims of domestic violence, which is usually the accusation, as is that they are on the side of men’s rights campaigners. I am not saying any of that. I want some clarification on one amendment only of this very big group, because it is unhelpful to put it in the law.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I will briefly respond to the noble Baroness. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for her constructive engagement and for everything she has said. I will respond on that specific amendment. I understand where she is coming from.

Perhaps I did not put it very well, but what I was trying to articulate before is that I fully accept, as a fact of life, that marital breakdown will, sadly, sometimes —maybe even often—create a rancour that can be passed on to the children. The children can be caught in the middle, and they may feel that they are pulled in two directions, or perhaps in one direction more than the other; it does not matter. That is a fact of life. It is a matter of evidence and fact that is not, in my view, a matter for medical experts, but a matter for the judge to deal with and cope with—I think the noble Baroness is slightly sympathetic to that point.

In many cases, it will be about encouraging the parties, whatever their pain, to reflect on their actions in the interests of the child. However, it does not require the kinds of sums of money and the sorts of diagnoses that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, was talking about. It has to be said again that we are often talking about some very wealthy men; it need not be, but it is usually men. These are some very wealthy individuals who pay some very expensive, slightly dodgy—and if the noble Lord, Lord Russell, can use the “B” word, I can use “dodgy”—experts, whose expertise I would query, but whose greed I would not.

I can always reflect on drafting; that is what Committee is about. Here, when we talk about being

“considered … as a potential perpetrator of parental alienation”—

as opposed to simply saying bad things to their kids about the other party—we are talking about this syndrome. That is what I was trying to reflect. As for the fact that they should not be diagnosed or considered for diagnosis for 90 days for this syndrome, frankly, if they are a victim of abuse, it is almost inevitable that they are going to have some rancour or anger towards the other partner, unless they are a saint. Judges are well capable of considering that and working out what to do on the facts.

It is really about attempting to separate facts from expert evidence. These are hard facts that judges can deal with, with other court reports. This so-called “alienation expertise”, that some of us believe has become a bit of a racket, is being weaponised against victims. If there is something in the clarity of the drafting that can be improved, that is the great benefit of Committee, but I am trying to respond with the intention behind my amendment. I am very grateful for the opportunity to do that, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox.

Lord Meston Portrait Lord Meston (CB)
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My Lords, having started to grow old in the family courts, I feel that I ought to address some of these amendments, some of which I would like to support and some of which I would like to qualify.

I begin by clearing up one particular point, which was possibly a slip by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. There is no question now of unrepresented litigants being allowed to cross-examine mothers, particularly in contested cases involving domestic abuse allegations. It simply is not tolerated. No judge would tolerate it and we all know how to deal with it when it arises.

Turning to the individual amendments, as quickly as I can, and dealing first with Amendment 82 relating to parental alienation, I am worried by the proposal to restrict the family court’s approach to cases involving allegations of so-called parental alienation by what would amount to a statutory exclusion of evidence. There are two main grounds for concern that I suggest. First, the amendment would restrict the scope of what the court might want or need to consider. Secondly, and ironically, it might tend to elevate the significance of the concept of parental alienation. Allegations of alienation, whether justified or not, have become part of the weaponry of high-conflict parental disputes. The concept of parental alienation is controversial, and, indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, the idea that there is a syndrome is largely discredited. That in itself may be one reason why it should not find its way, in any way, into a statute.

I was not going to refer to what was recently said by the President of the Family Division, but in view of what I have heard, I will say that in an important recent decision, in 2023, the President of the Family Division said:

“Family judges have, for some time, regarded the label of ‘parental alienation’, and the suggestion that there may be a diagnosable syndrome of that name, as being unhelpful. What is important, as with domestic abuse, is the particular behaviour that is found to have taken place within the individual family before the court, and the impact that that behaviour may have had on the relationship of a child with either or both of his/her parents. In this regard, the identification of ‘alienating behaviour’ should be the court's focus, rather than any quest to determine whether the label ‘parental alienation’ can be applied”.


It is often said that the family court has to take a holistic view of the child’s welfare. It has to look not only at what happened in the past but at what might be possible in the future. Cases of this type have a particular complexity. The signs of parental alienation are, frankly, not difficult to identify. In my experience, Cafcass is well equipped to do that. The causes are more difficult to understand. Cases in which one parent tries to turn the child against the other parent, consciously or unconsciously seeking to punish the other parent, present differing degrees of alienation and varying motivations.

These cases are not easy to resolve. They require an understanding of the family dynamics, and an assessment of the impact of what has happened and of the harm to the child concerned. The evidential picture is not always clear-cut. Indeed, there are some cases in which there may quite well have been some level of domestic abuse by one parent, but the alleged parental alienation is wholly unrelated to it; or the persistent hostility revealed is quite out of proportion to the type of abuse that has been experienced. The Children Act and the practice direction governing cases in which abuse has been established fundamentally require the court’s assessment of harm, or risk of harm, from all sources. Those are the vital considerations.

Amendment 82 would insert the label “parental alienation” into primary legislation. It could artificially restrict—and, indeed, distort—the proper analysis of parental behaviour and attitudes in their context, and could restrict the careful handling that such cases sometimes require. I doubt that would be helpful. Indeed, it could well be unhelpful.

I turn now to Amendment 84 and others that wish to introduce the use of Section 91(14) orders. For the uninitiated, Section 91(14) orders restrict further applications to the court without leave of the court. It is a valuable power. Although Section 91(14) orders are not strictly speaking barring orders, as sometimes described, they provide a necessary protective filter to ensure that inappropriate applications will not be allowed to proceed.

In reality, a Section 91(14) order may or may not be necessary in any individual case of this type—that is to say, a case involving the application of Jade’s law. However, in these extreme cases, if there is any possibility of an inappropriate application by the convicted offender, such an order would be justified. Indeed, under current guidance there does not always have to be a risk of repeated applications, but rather the risk of any application without merit.

In the situation covered by the Bill, when, unfortunately, one parent has killed the other and the victim’s family or foster carers have stepped in to care for the child or children, they should be shielded from the prospect and distress of further court proceedings. However, in that context, and slightly tangentially, I will just qualify one observation made by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, when she referred to parental rights. One of the great improvements brought about by the Children Act 1989 was to remove the concept of parental rights. What is being restricted here is the exercise of parental responsibility.

My only reservation about the Section 91(14) amendments relates to the question of who should be responsible for making such orders and when they should be made. From experience, I emphasise that the orders require careful, case-specific drafting. It is therefore always necessary, when making such an order, to specify its duration, which is not dealt with by Section 91 itself. That may require consideration of the age and circumstances of the child and, in these situations, the position of the surviving adults. I rather assume that those proposing these amendments would wish the order usually to run until the youngest child reaches 18 years of age, but I suggest that should be made clear, either in the statute or in the order.

However, I add that these are not orders of which most Crown Courts will have had any experience. At the sentencing stage in the Crown Court, there might not be the material on which to craft an appropriate order. Accordingly, while I do not in any way wish to oppose the principle of the amendments relating to the use of Section 91(14), I suggest that under the existing scheme of the Bill it would be better to leave any mandatory imposition of a Section 91 order to the required review hearing in the family court, for which the Bill provides in new Section 10B.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord for those comments and will ensure that they are fed back to my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy, and the department as a whole.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I take the opportunity of this conversation to request that, when the noble Earl feeds back to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, he emphasises that the concern here was not the Crown Court versus the family court and disrespect for any court’s expertise; it was for families being dragged into another process, possibly without legal aid, and going through the trauma of that procedure when they have just lost a loved one to murder by the spouse or partner. If, somehow or other, the Government could consider—the noble Earl dropped some breadcrumbs when he spoke of the duties of local authorities—a way to relieve the burden on the families who have to spend money and go through further trauma, that would be very welcome.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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I take the point about burdens placed on families at exactly the point they should not be, and I will feed that in.

Amendments 85 and 96 seek the automatic suspension of parental responsibility in cases where a parent has been convicted of sexual offences

“against the child, or a child in the family”.

I understand the motivations behind the amendments, but there are good reasons for limiting Clause 16 to instances of murder and manslaughter. Where one parent has killed the other, the children involved will, in many cases, have no one left to exercise parental responsibility apart from the perpetrator. It is absolutely right that, in those circumstances, those caring for the children are spared the burden of commencing family proceedings to restrict the offender’s parental responsibility.

Where a parent has committed another serious offence, the situation is very different. The other parent will, in most cases, be able to exercise their own parental responsibility and, if required, apply to the family court to restrict the offender’s parental responsibility. Legal aid is available for these applications.

There is a further point here. There may, and almost certainly will, be many cases in which an offender is not seeking to abuse anyone, or even to exercise their parental responsibility, and the children and family involved therefore have no interest in going through court proceedings to see their parental responsibility formally restricted. In those scenarios, it is unlikely to be in the best interests of the child and their family to be drawn into court proceedings that would inevitably be triggered by the automatic suspension, and the further distress that this will cause. Again, these amendments have a worthy aim but there is already a clear legal route for these restrictions to be put in place, and I hope that provides some reassurance.

Amendment 110 seeks to ensure that only experts regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council can undertake psychological assessments in family court cases. As the noble Baroness knows, the instruction of an expert within the framework of Section 13 is a matter for judicial discretion. There are, however, clear rules governing the use of experts in the family court. Practice direction 25B covers the role of experts in the family court, and an annexe outlines the 11 standards that experts must comply with. Where an expert’s profession is not regulated, it details the alternate obligations to ensure compliance with the appropriate professional standards.

I have already mentioned the Family Justice Council’s draft guidance on responding to allegations of alienating behaviour. The guidance notes that only experts regulated by the HCPC should give evidence in cases where alienating behaviours are alleged. Despite the measures already in place, and the upcoming guidance, it is clear that concerns exist. Officials are considering what else can be done in this area. I am mindful that we are dealing with an existing system of judicial discretion, so I am keen that any additional action does not disrupt the safeguards already in place but addresses the legitimate concerns that have been raised.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said on this topic. I hope she is reassured that we are taking seriously the issue of unregulated experts and seeking to resolve this matter through the appropriate route.

Amendment 111 seeks to remove the presumption of parental involvement in domestic abuse cases and to prohibit unsupervised contact between any person and a child where they are awaiting trial, are under police investigation, are on bail, or are going through criminal proceedings for domestic abuse, sexual violence or a child abuse-related offence. I recognise how important the issue of parental involvement is. However, the existing legislation, namely the Children Act 1989, provides sufficient safeguards to address these concerns. Section 1(6) of that Act, first, requires courts to consider whether a parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm. The presumption of parental involvement applies only if that test is met. The presumption, where it does apply, is also rebuttable where there is evidence that the involvement will not further a child’s welfare. The court must treat the child’s welfare as its paramount concern.

In addition, practice direction 12J clearly sets out the factors that the court should consider when deciding whether to make an order for a parent to have involvement with a child. The court must be satisfied that the physical and emotional safety of the child and the parent can be secured before, during and after any contact.

I appreciate the aims of this amendment, and the noble Baroness will be aware that the Government are currently reviewing how the courts apply the review of the presumption of parental involvement, which will be published in due course. However, as there is already a clear legislative route for the court to determine if parental involvement should be prevented to protect the child. I therefore believe the proposed amendment is unnecessary.

Next, I will address Amendment 117, which seeks to prevent the family court from ordering a victim of domestic abuse to disclose their medical records to their abuser, unless there are exceptional circumstances. The Family Procedure Rules give the court the power to control the disclosure of evidence. Rule 22 provides that the court may give directions about the type and nature of the evidence it can order, alongside outlining the nature of the evidence required to reach a decision. The court will also decide how any evidence should be placed before the court. Rule 4.1(3)(b) gives the court the power to make an order for disclosure and inspection, including the disclosure of documents, as it thinks fit.

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After what has been a useful debate, albeit fairly lengthy, I hope the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw Amendment 82 and not move the others in the group.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am so grateful to the Committee for the time we have spent on this lengthy but, I hope everyone will agree, important group of amendments.

I will not thank everyone or summarise their contributions because that would not assist the Committee at this late hour, given the groups that need to follow today, but I reserve particular thanks for the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, the noble Lord, Lord Meston, and the Minister. In Committee we benefit the most from detailed scrutiny of Bills and amendments, and their comments, particularly about drafting issues and the need to refine some of the ideas and amendments, were very helpful; they will allow me and those I am working with to reflect and improve amendments in areas where it is thought they should still be pursued.

I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, with his lifetime of expertise in the family courts, for the generous humility that he brought to the debate, given that I am not at all an expert while he is a very distinguished expert in the field. On the issue of psychological assessments of suspects, defendants and offenders being just as important as those of victims, I completely agree—but one was limited, as one always is, by the scope of the Bill.

I listened with great care to the points on Amendment 82 from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Meston, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. I think the Committee understands our concern, and there may be something we can do to address that concern without naming the syndrome that we know has been discredited. I am thinking about how people are treated rather than trying to interfere with any court’s finding of fact, so I was grateful for that. I am still concerned about unsupervised contact with children by the kind of offenders we are talking about. We will have to return to that, along with some of the other concerns here. I made the point that respecting the expertise of the family court is without question, but we have to protect victims in particularly dire circumstances from being dragged from one court to another if that can at all be avoided.

It is always a pleasure to face the Minister across the Chamber. He is drafted in like a Marvel superhero by the Government because he is one of their finest advocates. It is a particular delight to be charged with attempted breaches of Article 6 or any other article of the convention, and to be reminded of the importance of not ousting the jurisdiction of the courts. If only the noble Earl could have a word with the Home Office about those values, I would be incredibly grateful. With that, I thank the Committee again and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 82 withdrawn.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
I pay tribute to the inventiveness—imagination underplays it—of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for thinking this up as a possible process. However, the Government are not convinced that it would be a useful process, and it would undoubtedly lead to the diversion of time and resource to legal proceedings. If there is one thing the Government are doing their best to avoid in this area, it is money unnecessarily going on legal proceedings. The Government are not persuaded that Amendment 31 would be an appropriate way to go.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Perhaps the Minister can drink a bit more water at this point, though that is not the sole reason for my intervention.

I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification, but my own clarification is that no one suggested, at any point, that Clause 5 is an ouster of judicial review. Last time, I was trying to make it clear that, in Clause 5, the code does not give any right to civil proceedings, and so no individual can sue on the code. In the creative scheme that we devised, we were not suggesting that individuals should be able to sue either. We certainly agree with not wanting more litigation for people who have already had a terrible time with litigation and probably have no civil legal aid anyway.

The point was that the Victims’ Commissioner should be more than a toothless tiger. Whether or not it is through force of personality, as with the current commissioner, future commissioners should have something in their back pocket for recalcitrant public authorities which, year after year, do not respect the victims’ code. Even in the scheme that we developed, litigation should not be the first resort for a Victims’ Commissioner either today or in future. They should have to jump through hoops first—the issue of private notices followed up by the issue of public notices. Only in extremis should the Victims’ Commissioner alone—in relation not even to particular a criminal case but to systemic failure—be able, as a last resort, to sue on the code. I understand the Minister’s position, but I hope he will at least take the opportunity to reflect on what noble Lords have suggested before the next stage.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. I will continue to reflect on all the points made, including this one. The Government’s present position is that this “slap on the wrist” power for the Victims’ Commissioner probably does not take matters much further forward, but I may reflect on that further.

I turn to Amendments 37 to 42 from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and other related amendments, which, as I understand it, require the Secretary of State, rather than the police and crime commissioner, to monitor code compliance for a local police area. For transparency, the Government are committed to national oversight via the ministerial task force, but there is an essential role for local accountability. There is a hierarchy here, and the police and crime commissioner is the right person to be responsible for ensuring compliance in that local area as they already play a vital role in improving and championing services for victims through commissioning support services and chairing local criminal justice courts. The Government attach importance to that local activity.

This brings me to Amendment 36, supported by the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Bach, which seeks to specify that criminal justice boards and PCCs may use local criminal justice boards for the purposes of local review. We entirely agree. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said—I completely recognise this—we need a wider debate about placing local criminal justice boards on a statutory footing. The Government have expressed support for that happening in a way that reflects the full remit of the work they do. Once we find a legislative opportunity to do so, it should be taken forward. The Government are very much of the view that their often vital work should be supported.

I return to awareness and training in Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, and Amendment 83 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, on training in support for victims of stalking. The noble Lords are quite right that there is an obvious need for more training. The Government hesitate to have a national training framework because so much will depend on the local situation. These amendments apply to a vast range of organisations and a one-size-fits-all approach will not appropriately support staff to meet the diverse needs of victims in the wide range of settings in which they operate.

However, it is very difficult to imagine guidance on Clause 11 which does not include a reference to the kind of training that should be done. If you are placing a duty on the agencies to work with victims day in, day out to promote awareness of the code, it seems implicit that the relevant persons have to be properly trained. The Government agree with that.

Military Interventions Overseas

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Thursday 25th January 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Asked by
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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To ask His Majesty’s Government, following further airstrikes by the United Kingdom and United States against Houthis in Yemen, in what circumstances Parliament should be consulted before military interventions overseas.

Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have acknowledged the need to notify Parliament of significant military action either before or after the event. In regard to the recent air strikes in Yemen, on both occasions the Prime Minister updated the House of Commons and I updated your Lordships’ House at the earliest opportunity. Decisions on whether to consult Parliament in advance of military action reflect a number of factors including, critically, the security of our Armed Forces and that of our operational partners.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for that, for his Statement yesterday and for the updates that he describes. However, he will note that the Cabinet Manual that was published in 2011 by the then Prime Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, observed a developing constitutional convention for prior Commons consultation where possible. The noble Lord sets out moments when that might not be possible, but I wonder, given the relevant expertise from across this House, and given that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron—as he is now—is Foreign Secretary, whether this might be the place to look at reviving that constitutional convention and looking at checks and balances for moments even when the House of Commons may not be consulted.

Death of a Member: Lord Judge

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Thursday 9th November 2023

(5 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, like others who have spoken, I corresponded with Lord Judge during his illness. It was mainly about books—he was, indeed, a bookish man—although there was the odd foray into the need for further agitation on secondary legislation. I worried when I sent him a book, because I knew what an erudite man he was, and it was not about cricket or history. It was more frivolous but very important: I sent him Lessons in Chemistry. He absolutely loved it. He wrote back to me about how many of his family he had given it to, including the men in the family as much as the women. The last thing he said was that he was very lucky because he had a father who had instilled in him the importance of the education and empowerment of women. He was a great feminist as well as everything else. He ended that note about his father by saying, “He was a lovely man”. So was Igor.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I first knew Igor in my mid-20s as a young Home Office lawyer and later had the privilege of working with him on legislation in your Lordships’ House. He was unchanging in the interim period. We did not always agree but, goodness me, he was a master of disagreeing well. When we did agree, I felt the warmth of his solidarity and wisdom and felt, ridiculously sometimes, almost invincible. He sent notes on both my books—I will not tell noble Lords what he said. I shall miss him hugely.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, I had the great privilege of working quite closely with Igor in my role as chairman of the Conservative Peers. My noble friend the Leader of the House and others have said everything about his qualities. I will not repeat them; if he were here, he would tell me off for doing so. But I will make this point: in the course of our lives, we all meet someone whom we will never forget, who made an impact on us. For me, that was Igor Judge. It had something to do with his combination of integrity and kindness but, above all, his respect for Parliament and our constitution, and his ability to try to do everything he could to maintain those little conventions that are our constitution. The other striking thing about him was that he could take a really divisive issue, where daggers were drawn on all sides, and somehow find a compromise that everyone could agree to. Blessed are the peacemakers. We will miss him.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
I would love to be in a world where we quite simply trusted universities to exercise these fine judgments on their own. Sadly, rightly or wrongly, that world has gone. Given that we are entering this new world, transparency around what the guidance is, so that universities know where they stand, is a minimum requirement for the extra powers that this law would bring in.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I will briefly probe the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and probe the Minister a bit by way of that amendment. I support the amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Willetts and Lord Stevens of Birmingham.

On the latter, I lament this intrusion into university autonomy, which has been going on for some time. I listened carefully to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox: what is a university? Clearly, universities are to be places of free speech but also of free inquiry and independence from the state. They predate all the legislation that we have cited, which is really quite special. I am concerned about regulatory creep—not on employment and non-discrimination but on the content of the actual academic enterprise, if I can put it like that.

I broadly support the noble Lords in their common-sense amendments and I do not think anybody should really disagree. I do not want the Office for Students and all the rest of this architecture to be needed, but if it is going to be there then surely the duty to provide guidance should be a “must”, not a “may”, once we have entered this arena.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan—I am using it as a means to probe the Minister—wants the universities to

“have particular regard to the need to … (a) eliminate unlawful interference with freedom of speech within the law and academic freedom”.

Surely he should want them to seek to eliminate lawful interference with free speech too. Some of the problems that he must be concerned about are where people are not putting bricks through windows or breaching the criminal law to intimidate but are just making it not very pleasant to have debate and free speech. If he is to bring his amendment back, I say in a spirit of bipartisanship that that is a drafting problem or has not been completely thought through.

My real probe relates to something that the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, said last time that I found particularly revelatory. Of course a university must be a place of free speech and debate, but it must also be a place of academic excellence, or at least of academic quality. Surely that must sit alongside free speech. A university is not just a debating society or the public square; it is a place of academic improvement, inquiry and even excellence. Despite my politics, I do not shrink from the word “excellence”.

My question to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, is again on the territory that we opened up with the Minister last time: where in this proposed statute or any other, if we are going to be prescribing duties around free speech, are the duties to protect academic standards? It was the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, who opened up this issue in my mind and I have been worried about it for the last couple of days. If free speech trumps everything, or at least academic standards, and those standards and the duty to maintain them are not prescribed in law, what happens with bad science and fake facts? What happens when a person declares that they must be protected from management, and possibly even from losing their post, because they are just writing and teaching rubbish? Our students, who are now consumers, deserve better.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I am not sure the noble Baroness was in the Committee when I covered that very point quite near the beginning of our debate today. I tried to cover it on Monday but I expanded on it today as well.

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Lord Willetts Portrait Lord Willetts (Con)
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Briefly, the debate we have just had shows why the amendments are necessary. They do not change the underlying framework of law but make explicit something which otherwise would just be implicit. There are benefits for universities and people participating in them by it being explicit.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I forgot to declare my interests as a visiting professor of practice at the LSE and in receipt of research services from a PhD student from King’s College London. To support the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, if this is becoming such a difficult area, it will be tempting for regulators that “may” issue guidance not to do so in a particular contentious area. We go down this road or we do not, to some extent. If there are rows between competing minority interests and around particular foreign policy issues, then if I were a regulator, it would be all too tempting to sit back. That has sometimes been the case in the past, whether with the police or regulators. That is in support of the rather tighter duty that the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, proposes to put on the regulator.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I am not going to say very much because this debate has covered most of the ground that we need to cover on how this issue should be decided. However, I always listen to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, very carefully. When he says that simplicity is best, that is probably right. We definitely find Amendments 33 and 54 to 56 the more attractive amendments. As my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said, they are the common-sense amendments. I am more attracted to them than to Amendment 31 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan.

This debate has shown, and I agree with those who have said so, that while the words in the noble Lord’s amendment are of course very laudable, actually it is the words that go in the Bill and create the law that are important. That is our job here in this House. It is certainly not our job to put words into legislation that might create more confusion and proclaim values at this stage. The Minister will probably tell us how the Government feel about that. My noble friend Lord Smith outlined in the earlier debate what a hard job the leaders of our universities have in balancing their duties and rights. That was amplified by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, when he spoke to his amendment.

In reflecting on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, I do not think that this amendment would have stopped what happened to Kathleen Stock. That was a failure of the leadership of her university to fulfil their duty of care to her and their need to promote free speech in their institution. This amendment would not have stopped that, because it is to do with how that university conducts itself.

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Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I hope they will forgive me if, in the interests of time, I respond only to the comments made by my noble friend Lord Willetts.

First, I must congratulate him on his masterpiece of oratory whereby he implicated our noble friend the Minister in his view such that it would appear almost churlish, by the time the Minister came to respond, that he should disagree with my noble friend on almost any matter at all. I have much to learn from him in that regard.

However, I wish to turn to one point made by my noble friend Lord Willetts. It has struck me with increasing force because it builds on something said earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, and other noble Lords: that nothing will be changed by this Bill and all change will be achieved by the code of conduct. That seems to be the message; in fact, it was almost explicitly the message given by my noble friend. I have been in your Lordships’ House only a couple of years but the tendency I have seen here is to say that, where guidance of a binding character is to be issued, we should scrutinise it and set the terms for it. When it came to what the College of Policing is doing about non-crime hate incidents, it was a united view across the House that the guidance issued by the college should become statutory guidance precisely so that we could scrutinise it.

Here, however, we seem to be taking a completely reverse approach. Nothing must appear on the face of the Bill, and everything must be left to the guidance to be issued by the Office for Students. As far as I can tell—I am open to correction by noble Lords—this guidance is not to be the subject of parliamentary scrutiny nor issued through the “made affirmative” process as a statutory instrument. It is not to come to our attention in any way at all. We are simply abdicating all the guts of the Bill to the Office for Students in how it will apply. I simply say to my noble friend that I find this really rather strange. I am tempted to suggest to him that, if my amendments were reformulated not as obligations on universities but as obligations on the Office for Students to include those things in the guidance, his principled objection would fall away—or is he absolutely determined that the Office for Students should have a completely free hand, with no parliamentary scrutiny, in how this Bill will be implemented if it becomes an Act?

I raise that as a challenge to what I might call the forces of institutional conservatism, which range across the Room—those who wish to see nothing change. Are your Lordships really suggesting that change can be achieved only by abdicating our responsibilities to a relatively new public regulator?

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I congratulate the noble Lord, if I may—he congratulated his noble friend in what became an absolute tour de force of a response itself. I have huge sympathy for his general proposition that in this place we allow too much not to be in the statute book and delegate far too much to secondary legislation and even to guidance. It is often something that we do when we are giving overly broad powers and we have made a bit of a mess of the legislation—“Don’t worry, it’ll all be sorted out in guidance.” However, I have to say, in fairness—perhaps I have become part of the new forces of conservatism; that I am now considered a conservative will show you how much politics has moved to the right in this country—that there is a qualitative difference between coercive police powers and pedagogy and creating a culture of learning and inquiry in an academic establishment, which would be very hard to legislate for at the level of detail that I personally would like something such as police powers to be provided for. I have huge sympathy with the noble Lord’s general proposition that bad law leaves a lot of stuff to be dealt with later invisibly by guidance but I am not sure that the analogy with police powers and creating cultures in universities is quite comparable.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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I have to say that I am sinking in sympathy on the general principle in this Committee, which is coming at me from every side. Nobody lacks sympathy with what I am saying—in general. It is only in the particular that they object to what might be put forward to practical effect—I am always open to the charge that I may have erred in drafting and may have got the wrong approach, and all that—but without substituting any particular proposal for the ones that they particularly find objectionable in my case. I agree that it is not a suitable parallel. Coercive police powers are not a suitable parallel with pedagogy—I picked it off the shelf—but they are perhaps a suitable parallel with somebody being driven out of their job because of particular views, because that too is a coercive act. If they are not defended from being driven out of their job, and we are simply saying that it will be dealt with by guidance and not in the Bill, what are we doing? They are skewered, because they now admit the need for change but they want it done by somebody else.

I now come to my noble friend the Minister, because I really must wrap up, and we have to move on.

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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I really welcome the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Sikka and Lord Moylan, on their amendments, because this issue of money is important and it is a good way of getting the discussion going—or not just to discuss for the sake of it.

What I cannot get my head around is how in any way you can legislate on this. I cannot see a way of doing it, even though I think I have added my name to one of the amendments. But it is important to discuss this. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, I thought he made a very strong case for the problem of corporate funding of research if it distorts outcomes. Nobody wants that, but I do not necessarily know that I do not want any corporate funding of research—so the question is how you deal with it.

It is also the case that, these days, some of the big players in terms of funding are charities or NGOs. We mentioned the Wellcome Trust, which I worked with for many years. It is true that the Wellcome Trust would often say, “These are our priorities this year” and you knew that, if you wanted a Wellcome Trust grant, you had to fit your research into those priorities. That had a distorting impact—I am not suggesting it was corrupt in any way, but you knew that was the way that you would get the money. I certainly know people who shifted their focus in order to get the grants.

This is important in terms of academic freedom. I wonder if the popularity of politicians saying, “The evidence shows”, and evidence-based policy being fashionable incentivise a tendency towards politicised research outcomes. There is a sense in which a lot of academics have wanted to be in on the policy discussion, often with outcomes predetermined. There have been times when I have said to Ministers, “Where’s the evidence for that?”, and they have said, “We have commissioned the evidence”—but they were announcing the policy. Do not tell me that it has not happened before because it happens all the time. They have commissioned the evidence from a university, in fact. I am just saying.

The reason why I think it is important that research is completely separate from that is because there is a place where academic freedom is under the surface and genuinely under threat, although I do not know whether the law can change that. I know of two people who put in for research on detransitioning—to raise that issue—and they were told there was just not a cat in hell’s chance of getting any funding for that because it was going to be too controversial. Whether we like it or not, the broad problems around some of the other issues in terms of what you can and cannot look at are affecting what is funded in terms of research, particularly postgrad research. There are a lot of complaints about that when you meet postgraduates.

By the way, that does not mean I do not appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, said. It is also the case that people can for ever more moan that they are not getting their research funded when it is actually no good, and that actually, you do want academic judgment. I am just pointing out that politics enters into it.

The one thing that I am really concerned about is that UKRI, which after all distributes billions of pounds of research money, produced a draft equality, diversity and inclusion strategy—my favourite topic—earlier in the year, in January, which is a cataclysm of management-speak and right-on political outlooks. You could write it; you know exactly what it is going to say and do. A lot of it is about its staff, which is fine. I have no objection to that. But I worry when it starts basically to express its political aims. You have to question its impartiality.

As far as I am concerned, in the sciences the money should be given to the best science that advances knowledge; it is not humanities research, which is likely to give us interesting insights, and so on. But UKRI demands of people that apply for it that they deliver on the diversity and equality outcomes. A lot of people who read that immediately thought, “How do I prove that?” That is a layer of work that you have to do that you do not need to do. The document sounds quite threatening: “If you don’t tell us when you apply for this that you’re going to deliver on these things, you won’t get it.” So great science is sidelined in the name of equality, diversity and inclusion. That is something that we have to watch. I do not know if the Bill can do anything. I am hoping it will create a climate of discussion about the importance of academic freedom that will counter some of these trends and some of the secret censorship that goes on behind the scenes.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, I would be grateful for guidance from someone as to how often one is to redeclare interests in the course of Committee. Should one do it in every group that one speaks on? I am sure there is an answer and that this is just my ignorance. I gather that it is once, but is it once a day or once in Committee in total? I have done it today.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Finlay of Llandaff) (CB)
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For clarification, it seems that it is once for the Committee stage rather than each time we speak.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Deputy Chairman. I hope the Committee will forgive my ignorance; I hope that will help others as well.

I think noble Lords are really on to something here. I have found all the previous contributions compelling. They speak to aspects of my own experience. I have seen the way that funding can either promote or chill free speech, expression and academic inquiry. I understand that there are real challenges in this area. In particular, it is going to be very difficult to compel a corporation in any way to fund research that would be directly contrary to its interests. However, I do not think that we should totally give up on all of this; I do think that my noble friend Lord Sikka and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, are on to something.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Portrait Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (CB)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as the former warden of Wadham College, Oxford, and as an honorary fellow there and at St Edmund Hall, Oxford.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in which he identified a problem but suggested that this Bill was not the right way to confront it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, rightly said, the problem is a very deep-seated cultural issue that I doubt will be dealt with significantly by this legislation, should it pass. It is my experience of running a college that has led me to feel rather queasy about some of the slightly nightmarish, as I see them, schemes and bureaucracies proposed by the Bill.

Of course, there is an issue. The case of Kathleen Stock is the most egregious example. In my view, she was disgracefully mistreated by her university and professional colleagues, not to speak of the students at the University of Sussex, some of whom seemed to be clearly breaking criminal law with the demonstrations they mounted against that highly respected academic. Young men—they seemed to be men—wearing balaclavas, holding flares and chanting threats against her seemed to me clearly to represent a breach of the criminal law, and it is a great shame that the university did not see it that way.

However, it is not just Kathleen Stock. The events in a Cambridge college over the past few days have also been deeply disturbing. The idea that a writer such as Helen Joyce, who I would regard as entirely in the mainstream, should be regarded by the most senior figures in that college as unacceptable as a speaker seems deeply depressing and redolent of a cultural problem, not just in that college.

An amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, therefore attracted my interest. It is the one that relates to the question of a hecklers’ veto. The way I perceive it, the issue in universities is not so much that events are being stopped by demonstrators standing outside chanting and making a nuisance of themselves; it is the more or less cowardly response of university and college authorities who decline to host events when they fear or are warned that that sort of response will eventuate. This is a true hecklers’ veto. I have some sympathy with that amendment, although I share again the hesitation expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that the Bill should contain a clause which is anti-free speech, if you like, rather than it being consistently pro-free speech.

I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, but I strongly disagree that Article 10 is somehow deficient for our needs in this area. On the country, it provides generous and comprehensive jurisprudence on the right to free speech; it is suitably qualified and well understood by our courts, public bodies and public institutions. It is certainly well understood in the University of Oxford, the university I have been most associated with. I think Article 10 is entirely fit for purpose and I strongly support the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, to reference it in this legislation. It would provide consistency and legal certainty, so I hope the amendment will not in the end be controversial with the Government.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I did speak at Second Reading, so I really am not going to make a Second Reading speech; I am not going to say I am not and then do it. Although I have been clear that I think the Bill is a mistake that will lead to a great deal of time-consuming, heartbreaking and expensive litigation for our universities, which should instead be engaging in what they should be engaging in, including creating the culture that we all want, I say in some sort of spirit of bipartisanship to the noble Lords and Ministers opposite that the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is a learned and friendly gesture indeed.

All these amendments and everything that I have heard so far merely emphasise the dangerous complexity of legislating so clearly in the realm of a convention right without referring to it at all, save the statement that the Minister is required to make on the cover of the Bill about compatibility with Article 10. It is clearly the Government’s intention that this Bill, wrong-headed though I think it is, should comply with Article 10, so to try to redefine Article 10 in a slightly different way in the body of the Bill is a mistake that adds to the complexity and the danger for different regulatory bodies, be it the Equality and Human Rights Commission or the Office for Students. The noble and learned Lord has helped by making it clear that freedom of speech within the law in the United Kingdom means compliance with Article 10 of the convention. Frankly, that was pretty much the case before incorporation by way of the Human Rights Act.

I take the point from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, that, with the resurrection of the former Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, he wants to future-proof and hopes for the scrapping of the Human Rights Act, but even the rather botched and misnamed Bill of Rights Bill purports to comply with Article 10. It is jumping the gun to try to define freedom of speech within this sector differently from the way it is defined in every other aspect of UK law and life.

I also say to the noble Lord, whose libertarian instincts on free speech I share, that, as a matter of jurisprudence and law, he is mistaken in a number of ways. It is all very well banging the drum for the common law, but there literally was no actionable right to free speech in this country until Article 10 was incorporated by the Human Rights Act. There could be under a future Bill of Rights, but there literally is not this magic thing in the common law that will protect people’s free expression without Article 10. Why? Because Parliament is sovereign and every other law that impacts on free speech will trump the free speech that I believe the noble Lord wants to see. Evidence for that lies in the issues around policing and all the other things that he has touched on in the Chamber in his time in the House. Parliamentary sovereignty will trump common law, and without Article 10 there is currently no actionable right to freedom of expression in this country.

With respect, his Amendment 28 fails to achieve what he would like. It is much more limiting a protection than the protection in the extensive jurisprudence of Article 10. For example, to say:

“‘Freedom of speech within the law’ means”


freedom of speech that

“is not prohibited by law”

is somewhat circular.

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Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, it sounds to me that the noble Baroness is making the case for why Article 10 is insufficient. It applies already and it is not working. She has given a number of reasons why it is not working. It has not achieved the culture shift that—I think this is common ground—we believe needs to be achieved.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Inasmuch as there is a limit to what any legislation can do without the resources and culture, clearly that is the case. This is an argument that people make against human rights all the time. My point is simply that, if you are legislating for free speech in any sector in this country, you have to make reference to the human right to free speech in this country. Our current legal regime means that that is Article 10.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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With respect, I have not made a case against human rights. The definition I propose does not impinge on or restrict Article 10; it actually gives greater freedom and greater rights. I quibble at that point, because it is quite a serious point if it is being suggested that I am trying to impinge on existing rights. I am not.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I beg the noble Lord’s pardon. I take the point, and I tried to make it clear that I know that he has a very libertarian instinct towards free speech, which I share. I tried to argue that his Amendment 28 is more restrictive than Article 10; that is a matter of the way that it has been crafted.

My general point is that if this area of complexity that we are entering is to be made even more complex and potentially incoherent by having two different definitions of freedom of speech—one for everyone in the country and in the Council of Europe, to some extent, under Article 10 and another in relation to universities only—then that is at the heart of the problem in a thoroughly problematic Bill.

Lord Grabiner Portrait Lord Grabiner (CB)
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My Lords, I also apologise for not having participated at Second Reading. I have a perfectly excellent excuse: I was having knee surgery, which I am afraid has not worked out as well as I had hoped, so I will have to go back for some more. That is my reason for not having attended before.

I should disclose my interest in this Bill. In previous lives I was for nine years chairman of the LSE and for seven years, until last year, the master of Clare College, Cambridge. I am an honorary fellow at both places. I am currently president and a non-executive director of the University of Law.

Unlike some noble Lords who believe that there is no need for this Bill, I take the view that there would be great value if legislation was in place that enshrined the duties spelled out in Clauses 1 to 3. On the need for the statutory duties, I respectfully agree with the points the Minister made at Second Reading, especially when he listed numerous examples of recent behaviours that were designed to stifle freedom of lawful speech or had that effect. I completely agree. I take much the same position as the one advocated at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven. There is a serious problem, but in key respects the Bill addresses it, though not necessarily in the best way and possibly in the wrong way.

As far as the matters that are being discussed are concerned, I will deal very briefly with one point. It has become apparent from a number of points that have been made thus far that there really should be a definition in the Bill, and ultimately in legislation, of freedom of speech within the law. At the moment, the Bill contains no definition provision at all. My view, for what it is worth, is that the definition put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, is a perfectly excellent and workable suggestion.

I would not go so far as to say that I disagree with the proposal in Amendment 28 from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and others because at the moment I have not fathomed in my own mind the relationship between the noble and learned Lord’s proposal and the noble Lord’s. There may be some scope for a combination of the points made in both amendments—I do not know. If anything was to be added to the definition in the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, I would be interested in seeing precisely what that was before coming to a final conclusion on the validity or worth of one amendment versus the other.

The one point that I would pick up on in relation to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan—the noble Baroness adverted to it moments ago—relates to the reference to “any confidentiality agreement”. In my view, that is far too wide. Non-disclosure agreements have developed a good deal of notoriety, especially over the last few years. If the non-disclosure agreement were to be used as a mechanism effectively for suppressing free speech—of course that is very often precisely why they are devised and forced on one side to sign up to—the reference to the confidentiality agreement proposed in Amendment 28 would not be acceptable.

There may be very good occasions when a confidentiality agreement needs to be properly respected and observed, when it is not being used for that offensive objective, to suppress free speech. There will be many circumstances, commercial as well as in a university environment, where the need for confidentiality is absolutely critical, but I would not agree simply to have a broad exclusion for confidentiality agreements.

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Lord Stevens of Birmingham Portrait Lord Stevens of Birmingham (CB)
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The noble Baroness is making precisely the point I was seeking to draw out. As we discussed at Second Reading, freedom of speech is not the same as academic freedom. We need to make sure that, in protecting both appropriately, we do not stand in the way of the kind of management action that it would be reasonable for universities to take. In a nutshell, we are saying that universities are not a single space. There is a space for freedom of speech, particularly in respect of students, but the classroom is a place for verified expertise. Perhaps in his response the Minister can give us the assurance that nothing in the Bill will stand in the way of universities continuing to exercise that function.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, first I need to apologise—I forgot to declare my interests in the debate on the previous group. I refer to my academic interests as set out in the register. I also forgot to thank the Minister and his colleagues for the meeting they had with many of us last week, which I for one found very helpful in trying to unpack such a complex area.

This is a vital group of amendments in probing the class of people protected by the new duty, which dovetails with what will come later—the new statutory tort. I suspect that, in replying, the Minister will try to give comfort that the class defined in new Section A1(2) is intended to be a very wide class and to cover tenured and non-tenured academic staff, postgraduate teaching students, et cetera. I am instinctively for that.

I would even go further and say that universities are vital centres of the communities in which they are situated. They have a wonderful economic and cultural impact in the towns, cities and rural areas where they exist. One of the many things that they contribute is public lectures and meetings, where people who have never even attended university themselves get the opportunity to come and hear from world-class academics and other speakers. That is all wonderful, but it creates challenges in relation to these very divided times we live in.

One of the smaller questions that I put to the noble Earl’s team last week—for me, this is a grey area; I am not an expert in education law—is the relationship between subsections (2) and (3) and whether there is potentially an even wider group of people who may be protected and therefore have the benefit of the statutory duty. To be clear, and to go back to my comments in the first group, I want freedom of expression to be protected for the broadest group of people in our society, subject to the caveats and balancing exercises in Article 10. If a member of the public comes to a public lecture, I do not want them to be unnecessarily censored, manhandled or thrown out just for having a different point of view, even though they are not a member, staff member or student of the university. I am confident that that is properly protected by Article 10. The beauty of Article 10 is that it does not really invite lots of financial damages and therefore does not cause too much of a nightmare for the university. However, now we are talking about a statutory tort and pecuniary damages, so we have to be a little bit careful about whether the point in subsection (3) about

“securing that … the use of any premises … is not denied to any individual or body”

is not too broad in relation to bodies which are not even constituent parts of the university.

I know that the noble Earl’s team have views about that, and I certainly believe that the Government’s intention is that only the people covered by new Section A1(2) get access to the statutory duty. Subsection (3) is not intended by the Government to throw the statutory duty wide open to anybody who is thrown out of a meeting for heckling, et cetera; but I urge caution, because this clause will be read expansively, not least because of the duty in Section 3 of the Human Rights Act to which the noble Earl referred in his earlier remarks. Maybe he will have something to say about that.

Even if every heckler who is ultimately thrown out will not be protected, because subsection (3) is not intended to expand upon subsections (2)(a) to (2)(d), we have quite an issue—that is, quite an expansive category of beneficiaries under “visiting speakers”. I am absolutely clear that to make sense, “visiting speakers” here must mean putative visiting speakers, otherwise there is no point to this paragraph. So many of the stories noble Lords have complained about are about people who could have come, would have come, were invited, were nearly invited but were never quite invited because of the atmosphere there, or were denied. So, I am quite clear in my own mind that in subsection (2)(d), “visiting speakers”, must and will include—and will be found by a court to include—potential, putative speakers.

I put the scenario to the noble Earl last week of the meeting that takes place to discuss the speaking programme. A controversial name is mentioned, and the decision is ultimately made that that person is not to be invited because of fear of controversy. People are tweeting after the meeting, because that is what people on Twitter do—I am not in that category—and we now have potential litigation from the putative speaker, whatever level of controversy they excite.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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With great respect to the noble Lord, I challenge any university to point to a provision in the Bill that changes the duties and responsibilities it has at the moment to take decisions for itself about what constitutes malignant speech, unsound science or whatever it happens to be. The Government are not trying to interfere in any way with the autonomy of universities in that sense.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am really quite surprised, because I hoped that the noble Earl was going to respond to my question, which was based on the question from the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, with some magic provision in the Bill or in the parent 1986 Act—if I can put it like that—which ensures that academic standards are specifically protected and held in the balance with the vital freedom of speech. If that is not the case we really do have a problem, because we then have the potential for one of the scientists I described in my hypothetical to sue under the new tort on the basis that they are being dismissed because of their speech and beliefs. The university will say, “No, it’s because of your bad science”, but they could say, “No, it’s because of my speech and beliefs”, and then the university would face costly, lengthy litigation.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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We always have to come back to what the Bill specifies that a university should do, which is to take reasonably practicable steps. That is governed by the circumstances and facts of the case, which the university will have to weigh up: the pros and the cons, the arguments on either side. That is nothing different from what they do at the moment. In a later group, the ninth, I think, we shall come to the issue of tort and, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, I will not cover that now, but I shall cover the questions that she asked me about who exactly we are referring to in subsections (2) and (3) of proposed new Section A1.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare interests as a former chancellor of the Universities of Oxford Brookes and Essex, as, variously, a visiting and honorary fellow and professor of a number of universities and constituent colleges, as a visiting professor at the LSE and as, over this last academic year, someone who has benefited enormously from working with a PhD student at King’s College London.

I have always campaigned for freedom of speech and for all other fundamental rights and freedoms, from which it cannot be plucked or separated. I have done this, or tried to do this, on behalf of those who were for the moment vulnerable, demonised and endangered, including those with whom I profoundly disagreed and who have even denigrated the very rights that should protect them.

Today feels like “a bright cold day in April, with the clocks striking thirteen”. This Bill is wrong-headed in principle and clumsy in execution. Freedom of speech is not advanced by particularism, complex or onerous regulation or government tsars but when we each practise what we preach, lead by example and understand that it is the ultimate two-way street in a human rights framework built upon equal treatment, the very antithesis of which is partisan protection and hypocrisy. In short, my speech cannot be free while yours is always treated as a little more expensive or otherwise put practically beyond reach.

This Bill comes amid a wave of anti-rights legislation and rhetoric. In particular, on-street dissent has been criminalised today by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and will be eroded still further if the measures copied and pasted from anti-terror law in the Public Order Bill are allowed to pass. Cabinet Ministers and other government sources are on the record for their “war on woke” which, by definition, prioritises opinions that they find agreeable over those that they find uncomfortable in a kingdom that they do not seek to unite.

In a manner reminiscent of Mr Trump across the water, pro-Brexit protesters in 2019 and statue defenders in 2020 were actively encouraged by some of the same Ministers who now seek to impugn climate and race-equality activists and lawfully striking and picketing trade unionists. So higher education providers and student unions have good prior reason to give a critical, sceptical reading to this Bill.

To add insult to injury, we are speaking less than a week after the Government’s introduction of what Amnesty International called the “Rights Removal Bill” and at least one noble Lord opposite called the “Bill of Wrongs”. This proposes to repeal the Human Rights Act without a single enhancement of rights protection but drastic diminution instead. This is forensically important, as the Department for Education relies heavily upon the Human Rights Act in its various explanations and justifications for this opaque Bill.

In particular, while the rights removal Bill has been sold as enhancing free speech, it reduces the positive obligations on public authorities to guarantee rights within their realms and attempts to limit Article 10, on free speech protection, to areas outside the criminal law. That licenses ever-broader anti-speech offences and police powers in the future. So far from being universalist, the Government’s approach to rights and freedoms is not even constitutional or one-nation. Instead, it is contradictory and partisan.

As to the detailed convolutions of this Bill, your Lordships’ House will want to allow significant time for their scrutiny in Committee. In the meantime, will the Government prepare new memoranda explaining how the provisions will interact not just with the Human Rights Act, which they plan to scrap, but with its so-called replacement, alongside the Equality Act and Prevent programme, which has been such a complication of, if not threat to, free speech on campus, and all the other pre-existing regulatory duties on higher education bodies?

How can it be a protection of academic freedom to give more and more power over independent institutions of scholarship to the Government’s Office for Students and the new director for freedom of speech? Who is going to fund litigation for claims and defences of a breach of the new statutory duty, at a time when civil legal aid is virtually non-existent? How will institutions be protected from vexatious litigation by wealthier interest groups in particular? As to the new provisions relating to foreign funding, who should decide which funding is or is not acceptable in our world-class academy? How will our institutions of higher learning be protected from the weaponising of provisions in this Bill as proxies for human rights and other disputes internationally? What are the Government doing about what many academics feel to be the real threats to their freedom—precarious employment, lack of representation on governance structures, directions as to which research to undertake and political interference, including the attack on the arts?

You cannot cancel cancel culture, any more than you can realistically no-platform ideas you detest in the age of the internet. However, you can demonise the courts, the arts, the academy and even the young in a culture war of divide and rule. Some speech is free, it would seem, and some is rather more expensive: that is the real message behind this Orwellian Bill.

Ecocide

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Wednesday 21st July 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I know that the noble Baroness has a lot of support on this issue around the House, but the UK will use its COP 26 presidency and all the leadership positions it holds to continue to demonstrate global leadership on climate and nature. Of course I will relay her comments to the Italian conference tomorrow. It is not possible to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees without radical action on nature; I think we all agree on that. Our presidency will seek to drive action to protect and restore ecosystems, and to invest in sustainable agriculture throughout the world.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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The Minister replies in her characteristically generous tone, but although I share her concerns about the functionality of the International Criminal Court, does she agree that it is worth exploring this new offence domestically and internationally? Grave offences are about not just enforcement but setting the tone for the kind of society we want to live in and operating as a deterrent. In this context, they could be a significant deterrent against corporates that ignore the grave catastrophe facing all of us for the reasons agreed.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I agree with the noble Baroness that we have to drive this forward. I know that an international group has recently defined ecocide, but I say again that the UK is a key player in all the multilateral forums focusing on tackling climate change. The significant amendment that would be required to establish a crime of ecocide is not only likely to distract from reform of the international court. It would also be extremely difficult to secure the agreement of all state parties and could occupy international negotiators for many years, which is why the UK is concentrating on what we can do domestically and to influence international parties.

Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd September 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I believe that the right to shelter is just that—a fundamental human right. Incidentally, in the light of recent remarks, I also think that that right comes even before someone’s right to buy to let. That said, I understand the property right, but the crucial thing here is that in a pandemic, of all times, we do not need people to be rendered homeless, whatever the reasons for that homelessness. Therefore, it is my belief that the Government should enact emergency legislation after this debate to ensure that no one is homeless during the pandemic. How will it be possible to enforce further local or national lockdowns, or to deal with this catastrophic crisis of social mixing, before there is a vaccine if we cannot guarantee that everyone has basic shelter and that no one is homeless?

At the moment I am minded to support the regret Motion rather than the fatal one, and not just because of constitutional conventions, significant though they must be in the context of an unelected House. Can the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, explain in a little more detail in her summing up the legal effect of annulling retrospectively Civil Procedure Rules that have granted eviction protection for the past month? It is a concern about throwing that last month’s protection and legal certainty into doubt that gives me real pause for thought about the fatal Motion.

Therefore, as I said, at the moment I am minded to support the regret Motion, but not just as a debating point. Your Lordships’ House is not the Oxford Union or Cambridge Union; it needs to have more teeth than that. I am not a great fan of this Government but the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is a fantastic representative of them and a distinguished Member of this House. However, this is not just about adjudicating fairness between landlord and tenant. If we are to be fair to both, there is no problem with the Government stepping behind landlords and tenants, and providing the finances to make sure that no one need lose out or become homeless in this crisis. That can be done with emergency legislation to ensure a basic income, including the rent payments that people need and, where necessary, emergency social housing.

Business and Planning Bill

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 20th July 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh (Con) [V]
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My Lords, at the outset I reiterate what I said at Second Reading and in Committee. I welcome the Bill, which will trigger a revitalisation of our businesses and help people’s well-being. We would like the economy to pick up and create employment for people who have been idle for the last few months. We need to take steps to enable restaurants, pubs and cafés to expand their businesses and provide additional facilities to attract customers. Our hospitality sector has taken a massive hit and we need to assist the sector to get back on its feet. We should therefore give consideration to how we can do this. One way is to allow customers to be served outside the premises and on the pavement.

I support these arrangements but we need to look at certain issues that may cause problems to pedestrians. I am concerned about accessibility and the passage of blind, partially sighted and disabled pedestrians. They must be able to get through the customers outside a premises without being obstructed in any way. Blind and partially sighted people already feel less independent during the lockdown. If we do not have proper controls and make appropriate provisions, they will encounter difficulties. If adequate arrangements are not made, these persons may go on the road, take someone else to go with them or not go out at all.

Some disabled persons are in wheelchairs that need to be carefully manoeuvred. If people are congregating on the pavement without adequate controls, manoeuvring will be difficult and cause distress to the disabled persons. Furthermore, there is the possibility of an accident arising because of a lack of proper spacing for wheelchairs to get through, which may cause injury to a customer or the disabled person.

As far as pedestrians are concerned, in Committee I expressed concern about Muslim ladies who may be harassed or picked on if they are walking through a crowded area. Since my speech in Committee, I have been approached by other Muslims expressing support for what I said. It is therefore important to bear in mind issues concerning Muslim ladies. I have been told that since the lockdown has been eased, there has been a spike in Muslim women being insulted and abused.

In addition, there needs to accessibility for all persons, with a distance of at least one metre for everyone’s benefit and as a safeguard against the spreading of the virus. I therefore support Amendments 1, 2, 5 and 6. I also render support to Amendment 7, which will

“establish a right to appeal the approval of an application”

within the time stated in the amendment.

Furthermore, I support Amendment 12 regarding the need for a local authority to investigate a complaint where there are issues of accessibility relating to people with disabilities or other pedestrians. I feel that Amendments 7 and 12 are necessary to ensure that relevant persons with genuine issues are listened to where there are difficulties regarding passage or accessibility.

Finally, I support Amendment 16 as I feel the Secretary of State must

“specify conditions for pavement licences”.

I am sure that in doing so, the Secretary of State will be minded to ensure adequate access and passage of all pedestrians without hindrance.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I associate myself with so much that been said in this discussion about the rights and accessibility of disabled people in particular; the importance of employer-employee co-operation in the fight against the virus; the need to return to economic activity; and enforcement. That is perhaps why the swipes at the trade unions were particularly gratuitous and jarring.

The deadly pandemic we are still in the grip of seems to discriminate quite brutally and savagely, so it is particularly important that we do not discriminate in our response to it. If anything, we should work harder—perhaps even more radically—to redress the balance in the discrimination provided by the virus.

The economy exists for the benefit of people, not the other way around, so there ought not to be any real tension between the aspiration of protecting people—all people, the vulnerable in particular—and wanting to bring the economy back and to restore some normalcy in our lives.