Baroness Fox of Buckley debates involving the Leader of the House during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 26th Feb 2024
Wed 7th Feb 2024
Victims and Prisoners Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage part one
Mon 5th Feb 2024
Tue 18th Apr 2023
Tue 21st Mar 2023
Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Mon 20th Mar 2023

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Moved by
148E: After Clause 47, insert the following new Clause—
“Change in gender recorded in relevant police register(1) A condition of the release on licence of perpetrators of criminal conduct of a sexual nature is that criminal justice bodies must take all reasonable steps to identify and record any change of legal gender by such perpetrators at the point at which they are released on licence.(2) Criminal justice bodies must ensure the sexual offences register and police database record accurate name and birth sex information for perpetrators of criminal conduct of a sexual nature at the point at which the perpetrator is released on licence.
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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I dedicate this speech to Lord Cormack because, the last time I spoke to him, we discussed this very issue. I make no claim that he would agree with me; it is just that, as was his wont, he was very supportive of me tabling this amendment. I acknowledge that he did not agree with me on many things but he was still a great Peer.

Amendment 148E looks at identity changes and recording on registers. On the front page of Scottish newspapers over the weekend was the story of Marc Sherland, the head of the Robert Burns World Federation, who has been unmasked as a convicted sex offender who abused two boys in the past. He exploited a legal loophole that meant that Douglas Hammond, which was his name when he committed earlier offences, could change his name to get the job. Chillingly, his role at the federation allowed him access to children.

Thankfully, instances of sexual offenders changing their name to escape their past are being tackled, not least by the efforts of campaigners for Della’s law, named after six year-old Della Wright, who was raped by a man who had legally changed his name five times. I am glad that the Government have endorsed amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill that will block offenders from, for example, using deed poll to obtain a new identity.

I particularly congratulate the honourable Labour MP Ruth Jones, whose Private Member’s Bill, the Community and Suspended Sentences (Notification of Details) Bill, passed its Second Reading in the other place only on Friday, 23 February. I congratulate the Government on signalling their support for that Bill. It is designed to tackle the hundreds of sex offenders across the UK who slip off the radar because they lawfully change their names and then apply for fresh identity documents, allowing them to escape the authorities and their past and, potentially, to secure jobs working with children.

Now, you might say that, because of the Private Member’s Bill that I just mentioned and the Government’s support for it, which deal with my worries, there is really no need for my amendment. However, we are told that the Bill will mean that all offenders will have to notify their probation officers and others about any name changes, online aliases or changes in contact details when, actually, perhaps not all offenders are covered by this. My amendment probes another loophole that seems to have gone beneath the radar. I hope that the Minister will address this—I do not necessarily mean this evening, but before we get to Report.

The new arrangements that I have discussed are about not allowing sex offenders simply to change their identity to escape their past crimes. Offenders will not simply be able to change their identity on official documents. This is true for everyone, except for when a little-known exemption applies. It relates to a sensitive applications clause that applies to those who have changed their identity not simply via deed poll but via transitioning gender. This sensitivity clause can be utilised by convicted male sex offenders who change gender after committing a crime, once they are incarcerated.

I discovered this loophole from a bizarre tale that ended up being rather personal to me. Ceri-Lee Galvin is now a delightful 25 year-old mum who is training to be a paramedic, but she had a traumatic, hellish childhood. From the age of eight, she was sexually abused and raped by her own father, Clive Bundy. This horrendous ordeal went on for eight years until, eventually, in 2016, Bundy was arrested and sent to prison for 15 years. Having served only half of his sentence, Bundy was released on licence less than a year ago.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this seemingly early release—I think it was unseemly that Bundy was released so early—one would think, after his release had been agreed, that at least Clive Bundy would be in clear sight of the relevant criminal justice agencies for protection and safeguarding. But there is a catch. Two years prior to Clive Bundy’s release, he declared himself a woman and changed his name to—wait for it—Claire Fox. For those of you who know me only as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, my name is Claire Fox, so I noticed when I heard this story.

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I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, will find this information helpful. While I am of course willing to write to her if I have not picked up any subtleties of the points she raised, I hope she will feel comfortable at this stage in withdrawing her amendment.
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the responses I have received. I will take what the Minister has said, and look at it myself, and maybe we can both clarify whether we have missed anything. I do not want to delay us too long now. I will say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Brinton, that if the wording of this amendment will not correctly pick up the problem I have identified, I would be happy to take their advice on how to improve it.

I think that a genuine loophole does exist, however. I was a bit concerned when the response seemed to be to suggest that there would be a lot of work involved in solving a small problem. I have listened to such passionate speeches from the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Thornton, about threats to women and girls, from stalking in particular, and about the importance of child protection and so on; I would have thought that they would have grabbed any opportunity to close down a loophole on safeguarding. I hope they will work with me.

The loophole in general of sex offenders changing identity has been identified by the Labour MP and backed by the Government. I have simply drawn attention to a loophole within that loophole that was being closed. I have used particularly the examples of DBS checks. They are very important; I have always thought that the Government went slightly over the top with DBS checks for people volunteering with the Brownies or what have you in the past but, if you are going to have them, you need to be able to rely on them. When the Minister gave his assurances, I did not feel they would capture the DBS point. That is what I have tried to do in the amendment. It will be improved; I will be back on Report. In the meantime, I withdraw the amendment—and I am glad that people appreciated the spirit of it.

Amendment 148E withdrawn.
Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, I support all these amendments. As Victims’ Commissioner, I have been in contact with many victims who have experienced criminal offending and are going through the family courts. I have raised concerns about how, as I hear from victims of domestic abuse in particular, the family courts can be a highly traumatising environment. Anecdotally, from someone who has worked in family law, I hear that you have only to go into the family courts to see how private they are. You cannot even walk freely. The barristers take over and you go before the judges. It is very clinical at an emotional time.

I was pleased when this was acknowledged by the Government, which resulted in the harms panel report, as has been discussed. I was also pleased that the Government legislated through the Domestic Abuse Act, in which I was heavily involved, to prevent perpetrators of domestic abuse cross-examining their victim in family court proceedings. However, we still have issues within the family courts for victims of abuse. As has been said, parental alienation has been increasingly argued in the family courts and even on social media when you speak out about it. It is interesting that we are talking about it in this Chamber to protect those victims. I am aware of cases where it has been used by an abuser to discredit their victim in child custody hearings. I was also shocked to discover that so-called experts in these cases are not always qualified or regulated to provide such opinions, and yet weight is frequently given to the evidence in court.

As we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, abusers will often try to paint the abused parent as unfit in other ways, sometimes relying on medical records which detail evidence of the mental effects of trauma that they have caused. In fact, I would like to see that put down to coercive control by the abuser, rather than the victim having problems. We have to back up these claims for mental instability. It cannot be right that an abuser can go into a family court and use it as a tool of abuse. Therefore, I am wholly supportive of the measures to reduce the opportunity for an abuser to make false claims about their victim, and which seek to ensure that only qualified experts give evidence which is considered by the family courts making these difficult decisions.

I urge the Government to support Amendments 110 and 117. Although it is relatively rare, thankfully, we know that children die at the hands of an abusive parent during unsupervised contact, where abuse is a factor in the marriage breakdown. Research conducted by Women’s Aid considered the deaths of 19 children in such circumstances in a 10-year period—even one such death is too many and no children should be at risk in this way.

I urge the Government to support Amendment 111, which seeks to prohibit unsupervised contact for a parent awaiting trial, or on bail for domestic abuse, sexual violence or child abuse-related offences. The Government first proposed legislating to create Jade’s law after campaigning by the family of Jade Ward, who was killed by her former partner. This law seeks to, in effect, remove the parental rights of someone who kills their child’s other parent—a move I welcome. However, it does raise concerns about what it means for women who kill an abusive partner. Are we really saying that they should automatically lose their parental rights, as well as being imprisoned? I am in favour of measures which seek to mitigate the effect of Jade’s law in such circumstances being included in legislation. I therefore ask the Government to support Amendment 89.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I rise with some trepidation, but also with an open mind because I want some clarity on one or two of the amendments. In general, the group of amendments we are discussing seem eminently sensible in terms of safe- guarding, but I seek some clarification. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, can give me some help, because her explanation was very well made, detailed and useful, and explained the two different groups.

My concern is specifically with Amendment 82, which says, in effect, that anyone who is a victim of criminal conduct within Section 1

“cannot be considered by the family court as a potential perpetrator of parental alienation”.

It seems an extraordinary thing to put into law. To say that somebody can never be considered by the family court to be a potential perpetrator of anything would seem to go against the spirit of open inquiry; for example, the possibility that even if one is a victim, one might well indulge in something unsavoury.

In the previous group, we heard a huge amount about the damage that can be caused by false allegations. We must always consider the possibility that false allegations are used to alienate one parent against another; this has become known as “parental alienation”. I am rather sympathetic to the concern raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about medicalisation —I particularly do not like quack medicalisation—and I am glad to hear that many noble Lords are worried about the fact that so many people who call themselves experts are not necessarily experts, which is something I have been arguing for quite some time across a range of issues, so all that is good.

None the less, Amendment 82 uses the term “parental alienation”, and I want to know how this amendment will help, because if anyone is using, for example, falsifications that are aimed at removing one parent from a child’s life, even if that parent was previously guilty of a crime, we have to be careful, do we not?

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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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Yes, I said the other day in speaking to my amendments, I hope everyone accepts, that more women are the victims of domestic violence, but it is also the case that it can work both ways. I would like each allegation to be carefully examined by the courts; that is all. It needs to be that way, because we should have the aspiration that both parents should work to restructure the family in a healthy manner after separation, even after the massive disruption of domestic abuse. In the spirit of saying that I want people who commit certain crimes to become rehabilitated and to become responsible citizens, I do not want something that is so blanket as Amendment 82.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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The argument that the noble Baroness is expanding on now would be a case where a couple had separated and there may have been some domestic abuse or domestic violence. She is saying that they should both have the opportunity to try and get together and work things out together for the sake of the children. I do not believe there is anybody in your Lordships’ House who would disagree with that sentiment, but that is not what this amendment is trying to do. It is saying that, when the charge of parental alienation is used, it is almost demonstrating—simply by using the terminology and everything that goes with it—that the battle by one party still continues against the victim. Therein lies the problem. The noble Baroness’s latter principle is absolutely fine, but that is not the way that the people who bring forward claims of parental alienation behave in the court system.

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.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 72, which I am delighted is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Jackson of Peterborough. This was originally an amendment to Clause 15 relating to guidance for independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisers, but the Government have rather usurped that, as we have heard. However, the issues my amendment probes the Government on—specialist victim support for women, in my instance—are still pertinent. I listened to the debate on the previous two or three groups and refrained from speaking, but the issues we have been discussing could have been reflected in all the themes I am interested in looking at.

To state something absolutely obvious, but it is important to remind ourselves: certain crimes are predominantly aimed at women. Although it is true that anyone can suffer domestic abuse or be raped—I acknowledge that male victims may be underreported and I do not want to downplay that women can be perpetrators—all the evidence suggests that approximately 90% of victims of rape or domestic abuse are female. I will return to the reliability of data and whether we can trust it with an amendment in the next group.

My amendment probes whether the Government can ensure, via this Bill, that female victims of sexual and domestic violence have the option of female advocates, advisers and services, and that these victim advocates respect victims’ requests for access to women-only provision. This choice is no longer guaranteed, largely due to the turmoil and confusion caused by gender ideology and political rather than material definitions of what a woman is. This turmoil was vividly illustrated by an invaluable report published last week by the campaign group Sex Matters, entitled Women’s Services: A Sector Silenced. I will ensure that whichever Minister responds gets sent a copy of the report because it is a must-read. Will the Minister agree to meet with its authors? Its contents directly relate to the Bill’s important aim of improving service provision for victims.

The Sex Matters report reveals that the women’s service sector is mired in confusion as it grapples with the conflicts arising out of a move towards either trans-inclusive or so-called gender-neutral services, which are often forced on them by funders and commissioners, all at the expense of women victims’ choices. I will stress why this choice is crucial for victims of certain crimes. I have used the point about choice and options very carefully in my amendment. I quote JK Rowling explaining why she financially backed Beira’s Place, a single-sex rape crisis resource service in Scotland:

“As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I know how important it is that survivors have the option of women-centred and women-delivered care at such a vulnerable time”.

I testify to that from my own experience.

The Equality Act recognises the importance of offering such support as a choice and uses rape counselling as an example of a service where it is proportionate to discriminate—for example, by restricting counselling jobs to women. Despite that, even services that claim to be women-only are compromised by policies based on the belief that anyone who identifies as a woman—even those with male bodies—is a woman. To quote the head of operations of one charity that offers, it says, counselling, advocacy and group work for survivors of sexual violence and abuse in Sussex:

“We do not police gender and we do not define who is and is not a woman; we allow women to define this for themselves”.

I am afraid that such policies are hardly reassuring and create real quandaries for some victims and, indeed, service employees alike.

As we speak, a high-profile and important employment tribunal is taking place in Scotland, involving former staff support counsellor, Roz Adams, who is claiming constructive dismissal against the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre. In evidence, Ms Adams explained how she was told that revealing the biological sex of support workers to centre users was transphobic. The issue arose when a 60 year-old female survivor of sexual assault said she would feel uncomfortable talking to a man, but when she inquired about the sex of the centre’s volunteers, Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre’s response was that it was inappropriate to disclose such information. Worse, her question led to her being sent an email saying that she was not a suitable user of the service—the wrong sort of victim, I assume. Surely it is essential that any advocacy or advice services should be honest with victims about something as basic as the sex of staff who will provide victim support.

Yet, to muddy the water further, consider this. When Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre advertised a senior post a couple of years ago, the job blurb read “only women need apply”, citing the single-sex exemption in the Equality Act. All clear, noble Lords might think, and that would satisfy me. Or perhaps not, because the “only women need apply” job advert then added that as a diverse organisation, applications from trans women—that is, biological males—were especially welcome. Noble Lords may think, “That’s just Scotland: it’s all got a bit gender bonkers up there”, but these confusing trends are widespread throughout the UK. The domestic violence and sexual violence service sector is in turmoil. As the Sex Matters report reveals, there are serious consequences, such as women victims self-excluding and being reluctant to seek help because they do not want to risk being counselled by a man.

A story from Sussex Rape Crisis Centre illustrates the dilemma—it has been in the news recently. One service user, Sarah Summers, is suing Survivors’ Network for discrimination because it refused to provide a women-only peer support group. Sarah had joined a female-only group, which she found helpful and supportive as a victim, until a man who identified as a trans woman joined the group, making her feel uncomfortable and unable to be open about her past trauma. Sarah explains, in completely reasonable terms, that she knew:

“Some women are happy to be in that space, and obviously trans survivors have a need for that support. But single-sex spaces should be an option”.

Indeed, Survivors’ Network has such groups for trans, non-binary and intersex people.

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Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, was not here to move his amendment. Given the debate we had on the previous group, I think he would have made the point that we need specific guidance for other specialist services as well. I hope that the Minister will respond to that.

I was very taken with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, about older people. We assume that it is younger people who tend to be victims of domestic abuse, economic abuse and sexual violence, but that is not the case. Older people’s circumstances are often different, and they require more specialist advice. That does not mean that a person cannot be qualified to be a specialist adviser in two or three areas, but it means they have done the training and understand the differences. I am very mindful of that, and these Benches are supportive of it.

On the amendment spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Jackson of Peterborough, I am wondering how it would work. I think the noble Baroness is saying that trans women are incapable of understanding, helping or addressing trauma, yet trans women are already accessing women’s refuges because they have been victims of trauma.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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Let me develop this point first. The difficulty that I have is that the one place where a trans woman can feel safe if she has been assaulted by a man is a women’s refuge. I have looked and looked to see whether I can find evidence of trans women assaulting women in refuges, and I can find none. I cannot find any publicity, and in the current culture wars that the noble Baroness spoke of, it would be everywhere if that were the case. I hope that it does not happen. From talking to trans women, I know that they have frequently—more frequently than women, if you look at the ratio; it is a very small number of trans women—been assaulted and raped. Therefore, I would be very concerned about anything that removes their rights. I am worried that there is not a problem that needs to be solved. I say that with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and the noble Lord, Lord Jackson.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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I only want to clarify. The example that I used, to be clear, concerned instances where there was provision for trans women but not all natal women wanted to share their trauma with trans women. I did not mention assault by trans people against anyone, because that is not what this is referring to. The women’s-only facility argument in relation to services for sex, sexual assault and violence and domestic abuse is quite straightforward; it is understood in the law that women can have only-women provision, but the use of the word “woman” is now so misunderstood and can be interpreted as including trans women that it gets very confusing. I am afraid that that means that the lack of choice is not for trans women but for natal women—women.

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Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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I am afraid that the response to my noble friend is that the Government are absolutely adamant that service providers are the right people to make these decisions. They deal with a number of different concerns from victims and have to balance those against the resources available to their organisations.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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I know that noble Lords want to move on, but the key to what I was saying is that service provision has been compromised by political and ideological interventions. If anything, this undermines the very exemptions in the Equality Act. I am afraid that saying “It’s up to them”, when they are the problem, potentially, is not quite going to cut it.

Could the Minister at least take back to the department that we will be returning to this issue on Report? It is very important, and we need some clarification. Maybe it can come after the meeting with the Sex Matters report writers, but saying that the status quo prevails does not work in this instance.

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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I am very happy to take the noble Baroness’s comments back to the Minister and the Government, and to discuss them.

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Lord Meston Portrait Lord Meston (CB)
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My Lords, reference was made briefly to Amendment 80, and

“services for victims … with no recourse to public funds”.

I want to offer brief but firm support for that amendment. Quite simply, victims of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds are some of the most disadvantaged people that one sees in the family justice system. It is unthinkable, in my view, that they could be excluded in any way from the benefit of services under the victims’ code.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I have an amendment in this group—sometimes the way the groupings lie is a bit difficult. This group covers violence against women and girls, and my amendment relates to how we assess data on that violence. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Jackson of Peterborough, for their support—and we shall hear from one of them shortly.

Amendment 105 seeks to probe problems with the data that we use to develop policies and ensure that there is guidance to establish that sex registered at birth is used for any analysis of patterns of offending and recording victim and perpetrator profiles. Ideally, this would apply throughout the whole criminal justice system but, for now, this amendment focuses on violence against women and girls. I hope that, on this topic at least, there will be unanimity in acknowledging that sex difference between men and women can impact on people’s experience of victimisation and offending and on patterns of offending and risk.

Official crime data is used to assess the most appropriate services that should be developed, and how resources should be targeted effectively—something that the Bill has focused on at length in relation to support for victims. But any claims for evidence-based policy must be based on material reality and cannot depend on, for example, subjective assertions or ideological beliefs, both of which could be misleading. I invite people to agree with me that data needs to be accurate, credible and consistent. The problem is that accuracy, credibility and consistency are being undermined at present, because the criminal justice system has either conflated or replaced data based on immutable sex with data based on more fluid concepts, such as gender identity or self-declared sex.

I am aware that even discussing the collection of data based on a person’s sex, whether male or female, has become controversial these days. One has only to look at last week’s media reports of internal rows taking place in the Office for National Statistics about the methodology used in the census. But that is all the more reason why my amendment emphasises the need to raise the consistent measure of sex registered at birth. At present, there is an inconsistent model of options. The variable category of “gender” is used carelessly in criminal justice circles as interchangeable with sex. Sex can mean, if used imprecisely, sex as self-declared gender. It can mean a legally recognised but none the less acquired gender, sometimes evidenced by a gender recognition certificate—GRC. It can also mean changed government records, such as passports, driving licences, or NHS numbers, even though a person’s biological sex does not change, even if the documentation does. But the introduction of this vast array of recording practices creates a lack clarity about what is being measured and what exactly some types of official criminal justice data represent.

To illustrate that confusion, let us consider that a few years ago the British Transport Police stated that, because the BTP treats all people—victims, offenders and witnesses—with dignity, it

“records their gender according to the gender they present as, and/or how they self-identify their gender”.

That seems to suggest that the British Transport Police is undoubtedly well meaning but none the less prioritises validating people’s identity rather than understanding that data collection is a critical variable in crime statistics. It is important we ensure that official statistics are not treated as personal records of preference; they must be objectively accurate if they are to be useful. What is more, different police forces use different criteria for data collection, and this is very important for our understanding of violence against women and girls.

Keep Prisons Single Sex is involved in an invaluable project and public service which annually submits freedom of information requests to all police forces in the UK with the aim of determining how they record a suspect’s sex. The campaign’s findings for 2023 make for troubling reading. Just for a taster, of the 32 forces that answered the freedom of information request, no force records sex registered at birth in all circumstances; 20 forces use legally recognised acquired gender where the suspect has a GRC; and 13 forces stated that, where a suspect has a self-declared gender identity, they will record this as sex, rather than sex at birth. Some 22 forces answered the question on how a rape suspect’s sex is recorded, with 20 forces recording legally recognised acquired gender—in other words, GRCs—and only one force recording sex registered at birth. This means that suspected rape perpetrators and convicted rapists can be recorded in official statistics as female, if they no longer wish to identify with their male birth sex. To confuse matters further, 22 forces answered questions on how they record the sex of a suspect who identifies as non-binary, with 11 recording sex as “indeterminate” or “unspecified other”, and only nine using sex registered at birth.

Noble Lords might wonder whether any of this matters, and some say it does not. However, in 2019, when Fair Play For Women revealed results from its FOI requests to police forces, the National Police Chiefs’ Council responded that:

“There is no evidence to suggest that recording a person’s gender based on the information that they provide will have an impact on an investigation or on national crime statistics, because of the low numbers involved”.

That is wrong-headed and complacent. On the point about the low numbers involved, one might ask what will happen if many more people apply for a legal sex change. Organisations such as Stonewall claim that the UK trans population is up to 500,000, even though only a small minority have GRCs. That would make a significant error in the datasets. Small numbers of cases misclassified in this way can lead to substantial bias in crime stats, and, importantly, can distort and mislead public understanding of the nature of, in particular, violence against women and girls and offending patterns in relation to sexual offences.

If the police now record female crime based on gender identity, this means female crime statistics include both women who were born female and trans women who were born male. I do not know whether noble Lords recall that, in 2021, newspaper headlines screamed that the number of female paedophiles had doubled in four years. This shocking statistic was based on a Radio 4 “File on 4” documentary that used data from FOI requests. It claimed that, between 2015 and 2019, the number of reported cases of female-perpetrated child sex abuse prosecuted by police in England and Wales had risen from 1,249 to 2,297, an increase of 84%. A moral panic followed, as people assumed that that meant that more women were sexually abusing children, with endless talking heads on TV discussing why. The furore calmed down only when it dawned on commentators that no account had been taken of whether males who identify as women might be responsible for the apparent increase because of confusion about data protection. Of course, maybe it is the case that there are more women sexually abusing children—after all, offending patterns do change. However, it is impossible to know or make that claim from the collected data based on a mixture of gender identity and sex registered at birth.

This sort of unreliability surely erodes public understanding. Trust is eroded when sex-disaggregated data held by the police does not actually record what most people think it does. Unsurprisingly, this can lead to media reports of female rapists, women as sex abusers and so on, when in fact what is being reported is male perpetrators claiming female gender identity. We have to look only at the widespread public shock when it was revealed that a double rapist treated as a woman when remanded in a Scottish women’s prison was in fact not the female Isla Bryson but Adam Graham. Indeed, that scandal precipitated the downfall of the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

To finish, routinely such confusions continue. Only last week, in media coverage of a trial at Southampton Crown Court, both broadcast and print media reported that a 56 year-old female charity shop worker was charged with exposing “her” penis. Lawyers in court were quoted as describing how Samantha Norris pulled down “her” trousers and manipulated “her” penis in front of two 11 year-old girls as they walked past the window of “her” home. But it is “his” home, “his” pants and “his” penis. Mr Norris may identify as a woman and be treated as such by criminal justice agencies, but he is male. How can the public or public authorities have any realistic picture or analysis of the threats posed by violence against women and girls if these confusions are reflected in official data?

Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con)
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My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and shall speak to her Amendment 105. I apologise that I was not able to participate at Second Reading due to attending another meeting.

I submit that sex registered at birth is a fundamental demographic and explanatory variable reflecting the reality of sex-based differences between men and women. Sex registered at birth is a powerful predictor of outcomes and is established throughout the criminal justice system as important in the analysis of offending and pathways into offending and risk.

Males and females offend at different rates, with males offending at significantly increased rates to females. In September 2021, women represented just 4% of the total prison population. Some offence categories, including serious violent and sexual offences, are only very rarely committed by females, with the overwhelming majority of these offences being committed by males. For example, in 2019, women comprised 2% of prosecutions for sexual offences, 16% of prosecutions for violence against the person and 7% of prosecutions for possession of weapons. The groups with the highest proportion of males prosecuted were sexual offences, at 98% male, and possession of weapons, at 93% male. Pathways into offending also differ between the sexes. There are strong links between women’s acquisitive crime—for example, theft and benefit fraud—and their need to provide for their children. For women, a history of male violence, including coercive control, frequently forms a distinct pathway into offending.

Sex registered at birth underpins the provision and planning of services within the criminal justice system, with the female offender strategy providing an evidence-based case to address the distinct needs of women in the criminal justice system. More generally, differences due to sex underpin risk assessment processes, the provision of offender treatment programmes, and the differing security categorisation and arrangements in the male and female prison estates. It is for these reasons, I suggest, it is fundamentally important that, throughout the criminal justice system, suspects’ sex registered at birth is recorded—for all offences, not just violent or sexual offences against women and girls.

However, despite the clear, established, evidence-based importance of sex registered at birth, throughout the United Kingdom police forces routinely record suspects’ gender identity, self-declared gender, legally recognised gender or transgender identity and not their sex registered at birth, including in the case of rape. I will not quote all the statistics which the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, quoted on the freedom of information access requests acquired by Keep Prisons Single Sex, but it seems to be the case that in at least 32 of our police forces there is a complete mishmash in recording the sex of offenders, and that leads to perverse consequences.

There is no evidence that either legally recognised acquired gender, where an individual has been issued with a gender recognition certificate, or self-declared gender or gender identity have even equivalent explanatory power. In fact, where evidence is available, it continues to demonstrate the superior explanatory power of sex registered at birth to offending. I am sure some will argue that, even if sex registered at birth is erased from data in this way, surely the number of times it happens is so small that there is no appreciable impact on the data overall, so why does it really matter and why get upset about it.

Parliamentary Democracy and Standards in Public Life

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Thursday 11th January 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, as I expect all Back-Bench noble Lords have done, I have thought long and hard about how best to use my three minutes. I have chosen to devote a large part of them to repeating the words of Julie Hesmondhalgh, the actress who played Suzanne Sercombe—the partner and now wife of Alan Bates—in “Mr Bates vs The Post Office”. On “The World at One” on Monday, 13 minutes into her interview she was asked why she thought this drama had been so spectacularly influential. She responded insightfully. I will read her words in part:

“It is really important to remember that this was a systemic failure … it’s about lies and corruptions on a systemic level. I think part of why this series has been so popular is that we’re at peak lies and corruption and that people have had enough and that this has … been the … final straw. The expression of that and the representation of that on screen has made people say, ‘That’s enough now’”.

In these words, Julie Hesmondhalgh is speaking for the nation. We, the political classes, need to pay attention to that state of mind—particularly so in this election year as it will naturally affect how people will vote. This therefore demands a collective and corrective response.

The extent of the lies and corruption to which Julie Hesmondhalgh referred is captured in a briefing from Spotlight on Corruption and Transparency International that we all—with the exception of the Leader—received on Tuesday. It accurately and compellingly sets out the recent extent of scandal and impropriety in Westminster and Whitehall, including:

“the sale of privileged access to the Prime Minister … government awarding £1.6 billion in PPE contracts based on political connections … ministers making ‘unlawful’ decisions to favour party donors … the award of life peerages to those who have made generous political donations … An MP caught lobbying ministers in return for cash … secretive lobbying by a former Prime Minister seeking commitments … that would put tens billions of pounds of taxpayers’ funds at risk … These follow decades of scandal over expenses, cash for questions and cash for honours”.

Helpfully, the briefing also contains clear recommendations about what needs to be done to respond to the public’s strong appetite for significant reforms to uphold public integrity. Many of them are recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

As it is impossible for me to do justice to this excellent briefing in the time available, I shall ensure that the Leader gets a copy. To the extent that he does not cover the recommendations in his winding-up speech, I ask that he treats them as my questions to him and writes.

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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the Library briefing for this important debate from the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, notes that the distinctive feature of parliamentary democracies

“is that the executive receives its mandate from, and is responsible to, the legislature”,

but there is a revealing omission here. Actually, the distinctive feature of democracy is that Parliament receives its mandate from, and is responsible to, the demos—half of the word “democracy” along with kratos, meaning “power”.

Yet “people power” is the opposite of the public’s experience of late; indeed, it is disparaged as populism. Voter-mandated manifesto legislation is blocked by forces beyond the electorate’s control while national and local government frequently outsource decision-making to arm’s-length bodies, unelected quangos and consultants ring-fenced away from popular pressure. The public feel sidelined. Like other noble Lords, I suspect that that is one reason why the plight of the sub-postmasters has so captured the public’s imagination, way beyond the atrocious miscarriage of justice. Millions identified with the sheer frustration of being ignored and shouting into the void as the computer, the bureaucrats and the establishment machine say, “No”. Talk to a vast array of grass-roots campaigners, service users and parents’ groups: many of them also feel that they are battling against a technocracy that acts as though it knows best. Although they are not branded as criminals or frauds, as the sub-postmasters were, citizens are branded as everything from ill-informed dupes to extremist bigots because they are concerned about ULEZ, rip-off leaseholds, the politicised school curriculum or whatever.

What does it say about attitudes towards the demos that, beyond the self-interested Post Office management, so many in the judiciary, political life, corporate tech and auditor companies did not question when suddenly hundreds of decent postmasters had become venal thieves? To restore trust in democracy, it is essential that parliamentarians—the establishment—restore trust in the demos.

On the other aspect of this debate—how to halt declining standards in public life—I issue a note of caution. Many proposed solutions—such as more stringent codes of conduct and endless training courses and ethics committees—seem more like process-driven bureaucratic box-ticking than a real enriching of public service. We should also acknowledge that initiatives to regulate standards themselves have become mired in contentious ideological scandals—for example, pushing values such as diversity, inclusion and equity, as though they were interchangeable with improving standards in public life.

In the last few days, there was an apocryphal DIE tale. Rachel Meade, a Kent social worker for 20 years, won a landmark claim after being subjected to a lengthy “fitness to practice” investigation by her own professional regulator, Social Work England, because she posted legal expressions of her belief that a person cannot change biological sex. A 51-page judgment described the standards disciplinary process itself as a form of harassment. We saw similar with the hounding of the now totally exonerated noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, where unfounded allegations of bullying at the EHRC were used to mount an ill-judged process. We must beware these processes, set up to police standards, being weaponised for malicious and politicised reasons, or we will inadvertently create even more miscarriages of justice than we have seen at the Post Office.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Lord Jackson of Peterborough Portrait Lord Jackson of Peterborough (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak to all the amendments in this group. I support them all, with the exception of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, on which I am agnostic at the present time.

The comments made by my noble friend Lord Lansley were interesting and I completely endorse them. I was extremely disappointed by Ministers resiling from their original commitments to planning targets that arose from the ministerial Statement last December. Noble Lords might wish to look at the excellent paper that was published in January by the Centre for Policy Studies, The Case for Housebuilding, which disabuses people of the canard that housing targets, and local housing in particular, are unpopular. Qualitative and quantitative data collected in that paper by the CPS shows that this is not the case.

My noble friend Lord Lansley is absolutely right that Ministers now have the opportunity to restate their commitment to housebuilding—a commitment made in the 2019 general election manifesto. Clearly, it is imperative. There is an urgent need to reassure people, particularly people under the age of 40, that they have a Government who are committed to providing them with the options to at least think about owning their own home. It is difficult, of course, because there are competing interests. It is basic economics that, if you own capital, you do not want to diminish the value of that capital by giving capital to other people. However, the bigger issue here is one of fairness and social equity, particularly for younger people. The Government have an obligation to look again at ways they can facilitate more homes to be available through strategic planning policies, not just in cities but on brownfield sites and urban extensions in rural and suburban areas.

I commend the Home Builders Federation for its unfortunately titled Planning for Economic and Social Failure, published in March, which contains a lot of interesting data, and the Housing Today magazine’s campaign, A Fair Deal for Housing.

I want particularly to talk about the very interesting remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who brings great expertise and experience to this issue around housing for older people. He is absolutely right that the figures are pretty stark. There will be around 500,000 new over-75s within the next five years. As he said, by 2032, there will be 5 million people over the age of 80. This is not a luxury that we can dismiss with any degree of insouciance. Older people’s housing is an important issue, for a number of reasons.

If I can take noble Lords back to 2015, I was fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to attend a barbecue at No. 11 with the then Chancellor, George Osborne, as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed—well, slightly addled—Back-Bencher in the other place. He asked: “What policy do you think I should put forward in this Parliament that would really make a difference?”—this was just after the general election. I said tax breaks for extra-care facilities to help older people in need into extra care and to alleviate the cumulative impact over time on acute district hospitals, general practice and social care. Clearly, I did not make much of an impact, because successive Administrations have not necessarily followed my advice.

I think the beauty of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, is that it is a probing amendment that begins the debate. Ultimately, the debate will land at the feet of the Treasury, because in our centralised system it makes the decisions. For very narrow financial reasons, because of the demographic time bomb we face, it makes sense that we focus, look again and review housing for older people.

McCarthy Stone makes the assertion, which I am sure it can support by data, that pursuing a policy of encouraging downsizing of older people into extra-care facilities might release 2 million rooms across different tenures of housing. That accommodation would be available to families, younger people and those who are languishing on social housing waiting lists. It is something we need to look at; we desperately need new national guidance. We should require local authorities to assess local housing need and to include policies for older people in their local plans. We also need to think, potentially, about exempting older people moving into a retirement community home from paying stamp duty; that is extremely important.

This will have a wash-through into the health service and social care. It is about not only money but providing good-quality facilities for older people to support their dignity and independence, because too much of social care is about trying to solve a problem. I will finish with some statistics. If noble Lords remember the excellent report published by the Built Environment Committee in January last year, entitled Meeting Housing Demand, they will remember that by international comparison the UK is in a very poor place in the provision of housing for older people. In Australia, New Zealand and the United States, approximately 5% to 6% of over-65s have access to housing with 24/7 staffing, community facilities and bespoke care facilities. In this country, it is a pitiful 0.6%.

We can do better. I do not expect Ministers to develop policy on the hoof straightaway, but by accepting this excellent amendment by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the noble Lord, Lord Best, we can begin the debate and discussion. I think there is a political consensus across parties that this is an issue and a problem that we cannot turn away from for very much longer.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I like this group of amendments. We have just had a group of amendments in which we talked a lot about protecting species’ habitats. I am an enthusiast of the hedgehog as much as anyone else, but I am worried that the Bill neglects human habitats: housing. I am really glad that we are going to focus in on that.

We heard an imaginative, problem-solving amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, who brilliantly motivated homes for older citizens, something that I would like to see developed. I have added my name to Amendments 215 and 218.

I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for focusing on housing supply. I made that the focus of my Second Reading speech and I continue to raise the issue, but it has been explained and motivated so well so far that I will confine myself to Amendment 210 in my name. However, unless there is some movement from the Government on tackling the blocks to building more homes and increasing the stultifying and sluggish housing supply, I will happily support the noble Lords and the noble Baroness if they table similar amendments on Report, because this is an issue of great urgency.

Amendment 210 is a modest amendment that deals with how homes are categorised and marketed in local plans. It would ensure that any local plans are honest and transparent about housing data and targets. Housing is usually categorised as either rented or owned, but I suggest that we need a third category that might more honestly reflect reality. If you go into an estate agent’s or look longingly in the window, you look at either rented accommodation or accommodation for sale. If you are lucky enough to buy a home, you assume that it is fully yours, but the sad reality is that the one in four so-called home owners who buy a leasehold property—nearly 5 million homes are in this category—are not home owners at all.

People should know what that means. When they go to an estate agent, we need to ensure that there is less mis-selling and that the estate agent advertises in its window “homes to lease”, rather than “homes to sell”, when it comes to leaseholders. This is important, because a lot of the Government’s rhetoric on housing and levelling up is intended to motivate an increase in the number of home owners. Arguably, leaseholders should not be counted in those figures.

I will give a few definitions and a bit of history. The reality of what the nature of leasehold really means came as rather a shock to many of us when it was exposed by the post-Grenfell building safety crisis. It has become increasingly apparent, at least to leaseholders, that we are not home owners—I declare an interest as a leaseholder. We realised that what we had purchased was a time-limited licence to occupy a concrete shell, of which the leaseholder does not own a brick, even after the mortgage has been redeemed.

In contemporary debates on this issue—of which there have been many recently, in both Houses—leasehold is often described as feudal serfdom. When I heard that, I thought it was just a bit of political hyperbole, but in fact leasehold tenure harks back to an age when land was correlated with power; and even in 2023, leasehold is indeed still firmly rooted in a sense of serfdom and manorialism. The medieval aristocracy enjoyed perpetual land ownership by allowing serfs to occupy premises on their land in return for labour and, later, in exchange for financial contributions.

As if to emphasise how much of that ancient history continued well after the end of feudalism, for many years leaseholders did not have the franchise. Why? Because the property qualification that was required in order to have the vote meant that you had to own your own property before you could choose who governed you. Because leaseholders did not count as owning their own property, they were not given the vote. When the democratic struggles succeeded in abolishing this egregious property requirement for voting, there was, unfortunately, no abolition of leasehold—but not for the want of trying. Even in 1884, Lord Randolph Churchill decried leasehold for empowering landowners to

“exercise the most despotic power over every individual who resides on his property”.

Indeed, between 1884 and 1929, there were at least 18 attempts to legislate against leasehold. It seems ridiculous that this has been going on for so long. But here we are, in 2023, with seeming cross-party unanimity, at last, on abolishing leasehold altogether.

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Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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I have two points on what the Minister said in his response. First, I am not sure that the Planning Inspectorate has entirely got the message about local choice in the planning system, particularly on housing numbers, otherwise it is hard to see why 50% of plans are still not confirmed by the Planning Inspectorate. That is still an issue, and we need to consider it further and whether anything can be done about it as we go through the Bill. It is right that local people should have a say in what happens, but that is not always upheld by the Planning Inspectorate when it comes in.

I think we have mentioned my second point already this afternoon, but it bears repeating. We are constantly told that the things which are not in this Bill will be in the National Planning Policy Framework, but as I understand it we are not going to see the framework before the Bill is completed. It is very difficult for those of us who are trying to make sure that, somewhere, these very important issues—such as supported housing, student accommodation, housing numbers and so on—are covered properly in one of those places or the other if we have not seen one of those documents. Can I urge again that the Minister and his colleagues on the Government Front Bench consider that and what we might do about it so that we have an idea of how these issues are going to be dealt with in the forthcoming National Planning Policy Framework?

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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I want to clarify just one thing. I understand the balancing act between not wanting to impose on local communities and, as the Minister has indicated, the one-size-fits-all approach. However, what is confusing about the issue of targets versus localism is that the national housing targets were set by the Government, who then backed off in the other place. At one point, they thought it worth having national housing targets, so it cannot always have been some sort of communist plot to impose a national plan. The Government thought that this was a good idea and then backed off.

There is a second important point that people have made. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, used a quotation I had also wanted to use—he used it the other evening as well—from Theresa Villiers MP, when she boasted that the success of the amendments in the other place was leading to less housing being built locally. We have seen recent figures on the front page of the Times indicating that fewer homes are being built—that there is a hold-up. What do the Government suggest one does in a situation where local councils, for whatever reason, are not building the homes and there are no targets to hold them to account? These amendments at least try to rectify that situation.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for joining in and for nearly everyone commending the amendments that would lead to more housing for older people. I am extremely grateful for all those contributions. This has been twinned with a separate, and in some ways rather bigger, debate on the whole question of whether we should have national targets for the number of homes that we build, or whether that should be left to local authorities to determine. That huge question of the balance between those two things will run and run, and there will be more to follow.

I want to pick up one or two of the points which relate more to the needs of older people. I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Jackson of Peterborough, championed that cause too, and I liked his statistic that there will be another 500,000 more people aged over 75 in the next five years. It is an extraordinary phenomenon that we are getting older in such numbers. He advocated tax breaks to stimulate the production of new homes to meet this need. My all-party parliamentary group has advocated stamp duty relief for those who downsize because of the impact in terms of those homes that are left behind and then occupied by families. In fact, although the Treasury has resisted any attempts to reduce stamp duty—one can understand that—the net figure for the Treasury would rise, because once an older person has moved out of their home, a chain reaction follows. Two and a half or just under three sales would flow from that, from which the Treasury picks up stamp duty, so this would be a very sensible contribution to the national coffers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, raised one or two points. In relation to housing for older people, she made the point that there are cases where those managing these properties are not behaving well—for example, service charges are being abused in some way. I am afraid that I have had to repeat this many a time, but this is where we need the regulation of property agents, estate agents, letting agents and managing agents of leasehold property. The report on RoPA—the regulation of property agents—was delivered to the Government in 2019 and acclaimed as the way forward, but we are yet to see progress. We may see some progress in either the renters’ reform Bill or the leasehold reform Bill; I certainly hope so.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, mentioned the problems facing students. In a way, you can list almost every category of need and discover that the overall shortages we are suffering from as a country are hurting the people in that category, and students are no exception. They need to be taken fully into account.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, talked about slow buildout. I am a great fan of Oliver Letwin’s report, which addressed a lot of those issues. I think the noble Earl knows this, but water neutrality, nutrient neutrality and biodiversity net gain—all these issues which are affecting the housebuilders’ willingness to build—are being explored at present by the Built Environment Committee of your Lordships’ House. The committee is having a good look at the impact of this accumulation of different environmental requirements and how best we can handle that, so your Lordships should watch that space.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich reminded us of Professor Mayhew’s recent review of housing for older people. Professor Mayhew got to a figure of 50,000 homes being required every year, which is further than others have taken this. That was a seminal and very important report, and he made the fundamental point—which is in my original amendment that started this debate—that the local plan needs to incorporate a requirement for a proportion of housing for older people.

The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, really got us going on the government retreat from the requirement on local authorities to deliver the 300,000 homes that the Government still stand by, quite properly, as a national target. He also reiterated his support for housing for older people, which I much appreciated.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, raised an issue which he has raised before—and rightly so—that we can boost housing supply in various ways, one of which would be to give a lot more money to housing associations and social housing providers in grants. However, another would be to have more emphasis on neighbourhood plans, because when people get around and talk about these things, some of the resistance we have been hearing about evaporates. I must admit that I am one of the people who have been surprised by this, but neighbourhood plans are producing more homes for development, not fewer, in the end, when they have decided what is needed for their neighbourhood.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, made the point—and reiterated it—that these were all wise and helpful words, but the developers will find a way—they have done so far—to evade responsibilities and plead feasibility and other excuses for not doing the things that everyone knows that they should. This means having a very clear requirement in a local plan, sticking by it and ensuring that there is no retreat from what is in it on those various spurious grounds.

I was delighted that the Minister was able to say soothing words that the NPPF will take further the Government’s commitment to achieving more diversity of provision for older people, and indeed will be about boosting supply. I hope the taskforce that the Government have now established will help promote that and put some flesh on the bones of it, and that guidance—which will be statutory—will be helpful in pressing the case. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Lord Grabiner Portrait Lord Grabiner (CB)
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My Lords, I confess to be rather miffed by the Government’s acceptance of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, because it deprives me of the ability to make the fire and brimstone remarks that I had planned to make. However, I certainly welcome the Government’s reaction to the excellent amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and can as a result be quite brief.

On Clause 4, we have really come full circle and are back where we started. As has been pointed out, in our debates Clause 4 was subjected to many serious criticisms by noble Lords across the House, and I will not repeat them. In the face of those criticisms, at Report in this House the Government accepted a clarifying amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, which incorporated a reference to damages in Clause 4. In a further attempt to meet these criticisms, the Government brought forward their own amendment, as the Minister has pointed out, which gave priority to the regulatory regime and deferred the ability of a private claimant to deploy Clause 4, pending those regulatory procedures being exhausted.

I respectfully urge your Lordships to support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. As to those amendments, the loss point would clarify and emphasise the need for proof of damage as a condition for making a Clause 4 claim. It would deter some frivolous claims, and to that extent would be a valuable amendment.

The priority point in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is perhaps rather more important. The OfS will have extensive regulatory powers for dealing with an offending student union. Clause 7 would amend the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, whereby the OfS would be obliged to monitor student unions’ performance of their new duties. Importantly, the OfS would also be empowered to impose a financial penalty on a student union and seek an injunction in court. Common sense suggests that the Bill would be significantly improved if priority were given to the regulator and claimants were not able to invoke the private law cause of action until the regulatory function had been performed and completed. This was the Government’s view just a few weeks ago, and I am absolutely delighted that it still is their view—at least in this House.

If I may, I want to briefly draw attention to the email from Ministers which arrived while we were in the Chamber but before this debate began. I will reference the end of the sixth paragraph, which is a point to which the noble Lord adverted when he opened this debate just a few minutes ago. The letter says: “Those affected by the Bill are at the forefront of our minds and it is only right that we reflect that the Government may wish to explore further opportunities to achieve consensus when it returns to the Commons”. The only point I want to make about that is this. The implication of what is said there, and of what the Minister said at the Dispatch Box, is that there may be amendments in the other place that will take away the amendment that I hope we are now going to support, possibly without even a Division. My concern is this: I believe that that would not be a sensible thing for the other place to do.

I would urge one point: if there are felt concerns in the other place that are not satisfied by these amendments, a more appropriate route to be undertaken would be directed towards the regulators, rather than to diminish the quality of the amendment that I hope we are about to make. The regulators are very powerful—they have strong powers in the statute and in this Bill. In my view, the correct party to be concerned with in dealing with the kinds of concerns that trouble everybody in the story, and the proper starting position, is the regulator. That is what the regulator is there for. It would not be right, in my view, to undermine the quality of the amendments that have been put forward in respect of this provision without first facing the possibility that the regulator ought actually, if I may be blunt about it, to pull its finger out.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I was all ready to welcome the restoration of the original Lords amendment to this Bill by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Previously, I was despondent that we had passed legislation with no teeth, which was potentially a lame duck law, so I was delighted with the reinstated, stronger statutory tort in the Bill that would mean staff and students would have a robust backstop that allowed the ability to sue in the civil courts for breach of their speech rights. In explaining the change, the Minister said he has spoken to many noble Lords. But I am rather taken with the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Claire Coutinho, who noted that she had spoken to many leading academics and that they shared her belief that the tort was necessary to secure cultural change on campus, and that that is why she had introduced the amendment I was prepared to welcome. I can ask only what on earth has changed, other than that the Minister has spoken to noble Lords rather than to leading academics or students.

It is disappointing that we are now being asked to accept a fudge, in the form of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. I fear it will mean that the new, enhanced free speech duties will be viewed as more box-ticking by university managers and student union bureaucrats.

Perhaps I can share my own recent lived experience—to use the fashionable jargon—of being cancelled. I hope at least my remarks will be heard by those in the other, elected place when they consider this debate. Last year, I was delighted to be invited by the University of London’s Royal Holloway debating society to give a talk this February. It was a lovely invitation, from a student called Ollie, who wrote: “We would absolutely love for you to speak to the society about your interesting career, and to talk about the Academy of Ideas and the House of Lords to our keen crop of debaters.” Never one to miss a chance to meet and talk to a keen crop of debaters, I set a date firmly in my diary and I reorganised a number of clashes.

Unbeknown to me—though this has become routine these days for student societies—behind the scenes the debating society had to go through onerous and bureaucratic checks imposed by the student union on whether I would be given permission to speak. Student unions these days have created a veritable cottage industry in safeguarding checks, risk assessments, et cetera. It was a complete pain for the students and time-consuming, and with an undoubted chilling effect on inviting outside speakers. That is what this Bill set out to address, was it not?

Eventually, I was given a clean bill of health by the student union. Apparently, there was no evidence that I was a hatemonger or a threat. However, just a week before I was due to speak, the debating society cancelled. What happened? Once the event was advertised, the same student union bureaucrats claimed that six societies had raised concerns about me coming on to campus, the evidence for which was that I retweeted a clip from a comic on Netflix. Maia Jarvis, the president of the student union, wrote a menacing message to the debating society, stating:

“I hope that you can see that Claire Fox retweets and praises a video of Ricky Gervais being overtly transphobic. I wonder if you have thought about the impact of bringing a person who is an advocate for hate towards trans people and publicly ridicules them. And whether you are comfortable with the fact that that is the message your society is sending out to RHUL trans students.”

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Lord Triesman Portrait Lord Triesman (Lab)
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My Lords, I am not sure that I am going to be offensive; I now feel that my presentation is lacking as a result. Let me at once declare an interest. I was the general secretary of the Association of University Teachers in times when the issue of—and necessity for—freedom of speech in universities was regarded as one of their paramount responsibilities.

I readily agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who said that that is fundamental to almost all of us who have been concerned with higher education. I appreciate what the Minister has said; this has been a very solid development. I also support the amendment the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, introduced, for much the same reasons as the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner.

I feel a sense of disappointment and sadness on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. It is obviously never pleasant to be invited somewhere and then told you are not going to speak, but I urge her to get over it. The truth is that when you go into academic climates and start talking to academics, you are going to find—rather like with lawyers—that a large number will agree with you and a large number will disagree. They will tell you that with all the spitefulness, generosity and so on while they do it.

I have come across a lot of academics who want to make sure that the world of universities does not automatically become subsumed in a world in which people pursue litigation against one another, rather than try to resolve things through more sensible routes. It was bound to end in a reasonable compromise, and I think the Minister put that very fairly and very well.

In welcoming these developments, the academics who have bothered to get in touch with me have told me that the kind of change we are contemplating today is the kind they would find easiest to live with. They are more and more—probably in part because of the debates we have had—sympathetic and attentive to the problems that have been created by cancel culture. I used to cancel my own culture when I was a lecturer, largely by giving very erudite lectures on obscure mathematical problems. Very few people enjoyed them. There is only so much multiple regression you can hear about before you conclude that you should take yourself home because no one is going to be that interested, but it was what I was teaching.

That is why I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that of course some people will be uncharitable and malevolent, but it is something we can get past with a sensible compromise of the kind we have seen—particularly in the light of the reservations the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, has about it.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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To clarify, as I stated earlier—this really is important—I do not have a right to a platform and I do not care if people disagree with me. I do not mind if students invite me and then disinvite me. All I care about is if students are bullied into disinviting me. It is for the students that I made the speech, not for myself. Who cares about my feelings? They are of no relevance.

My point is that many academics and students have looked to this Bill and the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, has talked to people who want the compromise. I have talked to people who think it is a fudge. Let Parliament decide—fair enough—but I do not think anyone can claim they have spoken to all the academics, and this is the only answer. I think that this is a cop out.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I just say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that strictly speaking there should not be any interventions at this stage of the Bill.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, in the interests of some balance, while I have no idea what Clause 77 is doing in the Bill—I agree with the objections that have been raised; it is far too prescriptive—I thought it might be worth noting that, in Haringey where I live, over £100,000 was spent on renaming Black Boy Lane as La Rose Lane. That was due to concerns that the old name had racist connotations. However, it is disingenuous to talk about the idea that this was based on local consultations. The council did launch a consultation after the death of George Floyd but, since then, it has admitted that a significant number of residents of the street objected to the idea. Its inbox was full of messages from people objecting to the name change but it decided to carry on regardless.

The culture war is not so much in the Bill as in society. I do not think it is fair to say that this is all to do with Oliver Dowden playing the woke card, because there are real issues happening on the streets of the UK.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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Will the noble Baroness accept that I said that this clause was based on what Oliver Dowden said? It was a direct quote. Would she also agree that the example she gives could be dealt with if the 1907 Act were deemed to be appropriate for all street name changes and the 1925 Act repealed? Then there would not be a need for this clause at all—the 1907 Act allows for street name changes with votes.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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It is true that I am not familiar with the 1907 Act in detail, if at all. It is also true that I did not introduce the subject of Oliver Dowden or the term “woke”; I was responding to the comment that was made. I would just like to carry on, as this bit of what I am saying is important to the Bill.

Sometimes people speak on behalf of local democracy and actually the problem is that what passes for local democracy at the level of consultations is often faux and sham consultations, and local people feel aggrieved. In Haringey, there has been a big row about whether the name even has racist connotations. Local people have put forward all sorts of ideas that it was to do with chimney sweeps or was based on King Charles II —all sorts of things. Local supermarket owner Ali Demirci has been going round asking people what they thought the original name was. Whereas the council seem convinced it is racist, local people do not necessarily.

The bit where levelling up comes in is as follows. Carol Lee, who has lived on the road for 35 years and has mixed-race children, was quoted in the Guardian as saying:

“I’ll have to change my driver’s licence, and that’s £40 alone. You have to look after your money these days”,

as well as saying that she objects and that this has been imposed, and so on. Graffiti has been put up on the changed sign and signs put up in windows with the original name on them.

I was simply making the point that, although I do not think this Bill is the right place to deal with it, I do not think there is nothing to be dealt with. As to the Colston statue question, it would be wrong if, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, suggested, we took to pulling down statues that we disagreed with because things did not go our way. I think that would be a destructive conclusion to reach.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, before my noble friend responds to the debate, I want to ask a couple of questions. I do not want to get into the detail of the public health Act, although I might say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, who quoted marking and painting, the text here is simply the same as the public health Act, so I do not think the draftsman can be criticised too much for incorporating some of the original drafting in the process of rewriting this bit of legislation.

I have two questions. First, subsection (10) of this clause says:

“No local Act operates to enable a local authority within subsection (1)(a) or (b) to alter the name of a street, or part of a street, in its area.”

That relates to a district council or to a county council for which there is no district council. Are there any such local Acts? I was not clear what the import of this is, and whether there are local Acts that have given this power and they are being disapplied by this provision. I wondered whether my noble friend knew whether there were any such local Acts.

Secondly, I did not give him notice of this question, but I am asking my noble friend if he will be kind enough to see what the department’s view is on it. If one knows Cambridge at all, one knows that to the west of Cambridge there is a new town called Cambourne. I was the Member of Parliament there when it was first proposed and, in the original naming process for what were then three linked villages, it was intended to use the name Monkfield, since they were actually built on land that was called Monkfield farm.

However, the local authority discovered that it had no power to determine what the name of a new village or town would be. Presumably, the legislation, except in the context of development corporations, never believed that local authorities would be naming new villages or towns that were put on to greenfield sites by private developers. As it turned out, the private developer had the right in law to determine the name Cambourne, which it chose using Cambridge and Bourn, a local village. Everyone is perfectly happy about that now, but at the time it was questioned whether it was appropriate that a local authority could name streets but could not name a town. That is a curious situation for us to have arrived at.

As it happened, the local authority subsequently came up with the excellent name of Northstowe, which I think slightly reflects the point made in the other amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, since it used the name of the hundred within which the town subsists—namely, Northstowe—which historically had never been applied to a specific village or town, so a historic name was able to be given a modern usage. Fortunately, that worked okay without anyone having any problems with it. The question is: should the local authority have such a power and, if not, is this worth thinking about at some point?

Democracy Denied (DPRRC Report)

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Thursday 12th January 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thank both committees for these excellent reports. What is more, I thank them for making them readable. The DPRRC apologises for its report being full of parliamentary nomenclature and technical procedural explanations like some “esoteric constitutional essay”. However, I thank the committees for their clarity and making the opaque accessible. The start of chapter 2 of Democracy Denied?, explaining terms such as “Henry VIII powers” and “skeleton legislation”, is invaluable, and, in the spirit of the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, I will be recommending both reports as must-reads far beyond Westminster.

I especially commend the committee consciously aiming to make the report comprehensible to the public. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, explained, the issues raised are anything but esoteric and affect the freedoms and rights of every single person in this country. However, the public are not just objects of law changes; that is too passive a depiction. The report details a worrying shift in the balance of power. Evidence of the Executive’s power-grab is compelling, but when we demand that the Government be accountable to Parliament, we must also stress that Parliament needs to be accountable to the public. Too often in recent years the demos, the foundation of democracy, have felt that parliamentarians sometimes refuse to act on their wishes. If the Government promise the public that they will, for example, act to control borders but when they attempt to act the public see parliamentarians trying to block that action, does that not give the moral high ground argument to the Executive to breach convention to push through publicly supported laws? That is a warning to this unelected House about indulging in overreach, acting more as an Opposition than as a scrutineer, and using every tactic in the book to fight laws it does not like, even if the electorate do.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Prentis of Leeds, in his impressive maiden speech, outside this House there is a growing visceral distrust of Parliament per se. Conversely, I agree with the report’s concerns that when laws are delegated, the public are done a disservice and in turn are confused when some laws sail through without parliamentary challenge. An example already mentioned was when in lockdown the Government scandalously made it mandatory for anyone working in a care home to be fully vaccinated or be sacked. This happened with no risk analysis of the cost-benefit impact on the care sector, and there was nothing parliamentarians could do about it. Some 40,000 care workers were driven out of their jobs then, and now almost daily we hear discussed the crisis of care worker shortages and never acknowledge how bad lawmaking contributed to this disastrous state of affairs. No wonder the public are confused and disillusioned. This is why it is so important to shine a light on anti-democratic lawmaking processes. The shocking use of disguised legislative instruments should, in fact, be front page news.

I have a couple of thoughts on solutions. In the reports, Permanent Secretaries claim that increased use of statutory instruments is due to the competition for parliamentary time. Is not the solution here obvious? There should be fewer laws. To the Minister, I repeat the question posed by Lord Simon in a 1990 debate:

“to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will reduce the quantity and improve the quality of legislation.”—[Official Report, 31/1/1990; col. 382.]

I suggest that lawmaking has become a technocratic substitute for political leadership. Is this because politicians lack the imagination or moral courage to try to persuade citizens of the need for social change and instead rely on the law to compel it? So many laws feel unnecessary and performative—headline-grabbing responses to demands that something must be done.

As we enter Report stage on the Public Order Bill, we have, as many noble Lords have noted, a statute book full of legislation that could deal with the egregious aspects of modern protest tactics. The problem is that they are not being enforced, and more laws will not solve this problem.

By the way, the enthusiasm for creating new laws to tackle all and every issue is not just a weakness of the Conservative Administration. Often, the Opposition’s main demands on Government are even more laws, if different ones, or myriad amendments so detailed that they could constitute new laws in their own right.

On time constraints, why are so many Bills such enormous, complex, impenetrable tomes, containing everything bar the kitchen sink? Is this the attempt of politicians to micromanage every conceivable aspect of the public’s autonomous choices because they do not trust the voters? Such expansive Bills are often far removed from their original intent. The Online Safety Bill is a case in point: once conceived narrowly but importantly as protecting children, now so huge it represents an existential threat to the free speech of adults. This is a crisis not just of democracy but of our freedoms.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Moved by
4: Clause 1, page 2, line 14, at end insert—
“(c) to express opinions about the registered higher education provider, including opinions concerning—(i) the content of any curriculum adopted by the provider, and any decision taken by the provider regarding such content, and(ii) any affiliation between the provider and a third-party organisation that concerns teaching and research at the provider, or questions of public interest,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to ensure that the Bill upholds international standards of academic freedom by protecting academics’ freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work (UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel in 1997 and Russia v Kharlamov).
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the purpose of Amendment 4 in my name is that the law should recognise that one of the key chilling aspects of exercising academic freedom in contemporary times is when higher education institutions—via their HR departments, senior management or brand enhancement initiatives, or when they are advised by PR consultants—sign up to third-party organisations that set targets, codes and charters which, in effect, impose demands, often on the curriculum, research priorities and academic content of academic life, that are determined not by the demands of the discipline or scholarship but by fashionable external ideological diktat. In these instances, academics need to know that the law protects them if they challenge and/or defy such demands. This therefore requires us to recognise that academics can criticise their own institutions. This is about encouraging not gratuitous criticism but a defence of the autonomy of scholarship to define what is taught.

Since we have started deliberating the Bill, many have expressed reservations about this legislation as a threat to institutional autonomy by government interference. However, universities cannot be effective self-governing communities if they use institutional management power to silence internal criticism of their governance. Universities putting their own house in order is one thing, but, if they start adhering to external bodies and signing up to bureaucratic, top-down edicts, the academy as a self-governing community of scholars is threatened, as is scholarship itself.

What happens when highly contentious ideology begins to influence teaching and research and when the pressure of consensus and being on the right side makes dissent more difficult than usual? Academics dissenting from some of these ideological interventions, with legitimate concerns about their discipline being interfered in and even about the concept of what a university is for, should know that the law will protect them if they speak up and contribute to the debate.

When I was considering this issue, I recognised from my time in this place that noble Lords like nothing better than an international legal example to bolster their concerns. I have not usually relied on this, but I thought I would provide some international legal precedent. The Strasbourg court has consistently affirmed academic free expression as a fundamental right, and, in around eight Strasbourg cases concerning academic free expression, one principle has been particularly consistent: academics must be free to voice their opinion about their university. The 2016 Kharlamov v Russia case concerned a Russian physics professor who was sued for defamation by his university after criticising its leadership at an all-staff meeting to elect a new academic senate. The Strasbourg court found in his favour, saying:

“The principle of open discussion of issues of professional interest must … be construed as an element of a broader concept of academic autonomy which encompasses the academics’ freedom to express their opinion about the institution or system in which they work.”

All the cases brought to Strasbourg implement the influential 1997 UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel, which was the subject of an amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, in Committee. The recommendation states:

“Higher-education teaching personnel are entitled to … freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work, freedom from institutional censorship and freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies.”

It goes on to make the key point:

“Higher-education teaching personnel should not be forced to instruct against their own best knowledge and conscience”.

I will use a couple of examples to illustrate why I think this is an issue now, rather than just an abstract principle. The examples I will give relate to the popularity of critical race theory on university campuses. I do not want us to focus on what we think about CRT in particular, and I stress that the vast majority of lecturers have no truck with racism, even if they are critical of a particular brand of anti-racism, such as CRT. When higher education institutes sign up to organisations such as Advance HE’s race charter, one of the new issues they face is that they have to adopt a particular and contested view of race. Advance HE states that

“universities are institutionally racist spaces that have had a historic role in producing the knowledge that racism is based on”,

and, therefore, it demands that educational practice be “decolonised”.

In fact, we have seen this happening recently. A diversity drive by the Welsh Government is putting pressure on universities to decolonise courses. The devolved Government want HE providers to achieve a “race equality charter mark”, a score that grades organisations on their diversity and inclusion policies, as part of a plan for an anti-racist Wales. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales has made £3 million of public money available to help universities pay companies and providers to score them on racial equality, as decided by Advanced HE, which urges a rethink on all subject matters and courses. I am worried that that puts pressure to review curriculums in line with Advanced HE’s decolonisation guidance.

Meanwhile, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, which advises universities and monitors the quality of courses, now uses CRT recommendations to say that we should decolonise 25 fields of study—noble Lords will have read about this in the newspapers. I was particularly interested in psychology. Apparently, psychology courses are

“historically based on research and theory from homogenous white, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic countries and do not represent diverse voices and contributions to the discipline.”

Some people I know who work in psychology and who argued against this were promptly recommended to go on an unconscious bias training scheme—so my concern is that there are consequences.

When the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Music decolonised its curriculum in response to student pressure, the university itself sought to forbid criticism of the new curriculum. With this law, we have to ensure that academics are free to speak up in this ideological hothouse atmosphere to say that they disagree according to their own expertise and conscience; for example, if they want to say that decolonisation is misguided and malicious.

I will give one more example, which is about the Architects Registration Board, a statutory body that is mandated by the Government to respond to legal and regulatory changes for architects to become architects. It is perfectly right that it wanted to change the curriculum to fit in with fire safety regulation and building regulation that has been passed here. However, the Architects Registration Board got rather carried away with itself and decided that it would use this opportunity to tell all architecture departments that any undergraduate or postgraduate degree or professional diploma must, for example, show:

“The importance of advocating for sustainable or regenerative design solutions … The relationship between social sustainability, social justice and environmental sustainability … How to design … to integrate and enhance natural habitats which encourage biodiversity”,

and so on. The point I am making is that you cannot become an architect now unless you sign up to that, so architects who are trying to assert their academic freedom come up against these third-party bodies which say that this is the only way that students will be allowed to graduate.

With Amendment 4, I simply want the Bill to recognise that there are new threats to academic freedom—quiet and silent threats, as it were—when it comes to academics being able to say that they disagree or agree with values that are imposed on them by institutions trying to make their name as doing the right thing. However well intentioned, I am afraid that it is a real threat to freedom. I therefore beg to move my amendment.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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In speaking to my Amendment 5, I shall comment briefly on the previous speech. In all my experience of universities, the problem has usually been getting academics to stop disagreeing with each other, rather than their agreeing with each other and being scared to differ. I do not recognise the picture the noble Baroness has painted. In the universities I keep in touch with, and certainly in the case of the London School of Economics, it has been rare for any department—except the economics department—to have a clear consensus that we were not allowed to dissent from. In that case, the consensus was not a left-wing one, and I am afraid it probably still is not.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, as we have heard, the amendments in this group relate to the important issue of academic freedom. I turn first to Amendment 4, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, which seeks to amend the definition of academic freedom set out in new Section A1 to make it explicit that academics can voice opinions about the institutions where they work, without fear of adverse consequences.

In responding to a similar amendment tabled in Committee by my noble friend Lord Strathcarron, to which the noble Baroness also put her name, I clarified, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, kindly mentioned, that the definition of academic freedom as currently drafted already covers the questioning and testing of received wisdom, and the putting forward of new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions. This speech is not limited to particular subjects, so it would include speech concerning the institute at which an academic works. The Bill will therefore already protect the freedom of academics to put forward opinions about the curriculum content adopted by their provider or third-party organisations with which the provider is affiliated.

As the noble Baroness highlighted, there is a reference in the explanatory statement to the UNESCO recommendation. It may be helpful for me to put on record that the Bill as drafted protects academics in a number of the ways listed in that recommendation. Specifically, it protects the rights to freedom of teaching and discussion; freedom in carrying out research, and disseminating and publishing the results thereof; freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work, as I have already said; and freedom from institutional censorship. However, the Bill does not cover conduct which is not speech, such as the act of affiliating with or joining an organisation.

The noble Baroness also referred to the 2015 case of Kharlamov v Russia, and I can confirm the essential features of the case that she set out. Mr Kharlamov was a physics professor who said during a conference that he was unhappy with the nominations process for candidates to the academic senate. The university sued him for defamation. The European Court of Human Rights in due course found in his favour on the basis that the Russian courts failed to fairly balance the relevant interests and establish a pressing social need for protecting the university’s reputation over the claimant’s freedom of expression. I hope that, in the light of what I have said, noble Lords are reassured that this amendment is not in fact needed.

Amendment 5 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, seeks to probe the workability, as he put it, of new Section A1(7)(b) in Clause 1. Taken at face value, it would amend the definition of academic freedom so that it would no longer specify that an academic should not be put at risk of a reduced likelihood of their securing promotion or different jobs at the provider. I realise that it is a probe. It is correct that this provision is not included in the existing legislative definition of academic freedom in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 and the Education Reform Act 1988. However, we want to be clear in the Bill that academic staff should be protected in as expansive a way as possible—so not only from losing their job or privileges, but from being less likely to secure promotion or a different job at the provider. If we do not specify that these are also covered, there may be only partial protection. A person might not be fired but might be held back in their career, by not being promoted or given another role at the provider because of something they have said.

As I mentioned, the noble Lord wants to know how this provision will work in practice. An academic will of course need some evidence to support a complaint that they have been wrongly held back because of their views. They may have been told by a colleague the reason why they have not been promoted. There may be notes from an interview that suggest why this is the case. There may be an email which makes this clear. In the face of such evidence, the question will then be whether the provider has failed to comply with its duties under the Bill. I note the noble Lord’s point about the OfS guidance and I will ensure that the OfS also does so. This is the way that evidence in employment law is often presented. It is not new, nor is the concept of protection from not being promoted, since that can be a matter leading to constructive dismissal, which has been a feature of employment law for some time.

I hope that this explanation reassures the noble Lord that this is an important aspect of academic freedom in the context of freedom of speech, and that he agrees that the provision will protect academic staff to the fullest extent.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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I really appreciated the comments of noble Lords in this short debate. I want to stress a couple of things. This is not about the rights and wrongs of any particular examples I gave; it is perfectly legitimate if people want to support decolonisation or critical race theory, for example, but the point is that it is not imposed. I am also concerned about an ideological conformity that stifles the sort of professional exchanges that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was advocating.

I was bemused when the noble Lord suggested that I was almost stuck in some social science nightmare. As the noble Lord, Lord Patten, pointed out, it is precisely the fact that this has now been extended into the hard sciences that may wake up even the noble Lord, Lord Saltaire, to the problems, as perhaps he should look quite closely at the decolonisation of physics, computing or mathematics. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, was right when he said, “Why does everybody not just leave the QAA?” In many instances during the discussions in this House, people talk as though we all run colleges. The problem is, if you are an academic in a college where the college vice-chancellor or principal does not resign from the QAA but rather likes it or cites it, what do they do? I hope everybody tears up their QAA membership because of this, but what if they do not?

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, really explained what is at stake here. I was avoiding mentioning Stonewall but, in a way, that is what got me interested in this very thing. It has become compelled speech for individual academics who are told that because of the institutional values that the university has signed up to—for example, around the compulsory use of pronouns and/or a particular attitude to biological sex versus trans identity rights, and so on—if you do not agree, you are open to being accused of bigotry and sent on mandated courses. I was not joking; individual members who criticised the music decolonisation were indeed put under huge pressure by people at the university to go along with this. I said “the university” but I do not always understand the institutions and it is fair enough if the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, wants to correct me.

I will finish with this point. I mentioned the Architects Registration Board. We are in a situation whereby a statutory body that the Government are involved in says that all architecture academics must teach all levels of architecture the realities of the ecological crisis. That is a national curriculum by the back door. It is a difficulty that has to be recognised. I want to take the reassurance of the Minister, who said, “Don’t worry, it’s all taken care of”, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, explained, references to and uses of these international examples can only strengthen the message, with which the Minister seems to agree, about the legal obligations on university management not to allow these kinds of things to get in the way of academic freedoms. It would be a great reassurance to individual academics to know that this is what the Bill wants to do and to see it spell it out. What harm could it do?

Although I will withdraw my amendment at this point, I do not want the Minister to become complacent. This is a really big, serious contemporary issue that must be taken on board by the Government—indeed, whoever is in government.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.
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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, I have put my name to Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan.

Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, suggested that the front page of the Telegraph, complaining about the Government backing down, was simply complaining about mere amendments to the Bill. My concern, though, is that the government amendments are in danger of gutting the Bill. I thought that the Bill’s hope was to allow a shift in the balance of power in higher education institutions away from censoriousness and towards open-minded, tolerant free speech. However, it seems to me that so much turns on enforcement because one’s rights are only as effective as the remedies available when they are violated.

Clause 4, as was, underpinned the duties designed to protect academic freedom through allowing a person to bring civil proceedings against a university or college in respect of a breach of those duties. That would mean hitting universities where it hurts: their pockets. An institution found guilty of violating academic freedom would have to fork out cash to an individual whose rights were infringed. As one academic—Julius Grower, an associate professor of law at the University of Oxford —points out,

“the threat of this alone should be enough to encourage university and college leaders to promote academic freedom.”

Let us see what we are left with following the Government’s new amendments; it is all a matter of national-level administrative procedures, where a person may now bring private proceedings only if they have previously

“brought a complaint relating to the same subject-matter … under a relevant complaints scheme”—

that is, via the Office for Students.

It is with relying on such complaints schemes that I have a problem. Anyone familiar with these schemes will know that they can be sclerotic and bureaucratic and can take months, sometimes years. What is more, they are vulnerable to political interference. A political appointee will, after all, oversee the complaints procedure of the Office for Students, so a beleaguered academic whose freedom has been violated will have to wait and wait before being able to bring a meaningful claim against the university. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, would avoid the threat of overly litigious responses, which has been mentioned, and give us a way out. No one is claiming that these remedies will suffice to keep campus cancel culture at bay, but it is important that they will give university authorities pause while encouraging intimidated staff and students to have the confidence to voice their dissenting views.

Most of the push-back against Clause 4 has been from university vice-chancellors and those who run colleges. I absolutely agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Moore, on this issue. They are a powerful, privileged lobby group of people with an interest in this. I appreciate that, if you run a college, it is your worst nightmare to have a civil tort aimed at you. I understand that. However, it is precisely those who run universities who need to feel that the pressure of this legislation is more than words because, despite all the focus on ideological trouble-makers and mischief-makers that we have heard from noble Lords today, they are presented as the villains just waiting to pounce into the civil courts and throw litigation around. This is an incredible example of straw-manning.

The very driver of the Bill is that there are real-life, concrete trouble-makers, here and now, in universities, who are targeting closing down free speech and declaring that certain views are verboten. They are not imagined trouble-makers; this is really happening now. Yet the imagined villains that have been described are those who are somehow waiting to use this clause only to make money. The truth is that, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, suggests, vice-chancellors are not, as yet, queuing up to invite JK Rowling to speak at their universities. The suggestion that she can speak is good. Invite her, all of you—why not? A challenge.

The villains of this piece are often posed as generation snowflake, or social justice warriors who are young. Goodness knows, I spend huge amounts of my time when I am not here going around talking to students at universities and to sixth-formers. Generation snowflake does exist—and wow, do they heckle; I know all about that. But I actually do not think that they are the problem. Often the problem is university senior management, which either spinelessly gives in to the loud demands of a minority of students or leads the charge with ideological silencing policies that are adding to a censorious climate. I talked about this in my earlier speech.

The University of Sussex has been named and shamed so often in this House in relation to Professor Kathleen Stock that I have got to the point where I am feeling sorry for it. The university’s vice-chancellor is not some outlier; he is one of many. We just happen to know about Kathleen Stock because she went public. This is not some imaginary culture war. These are university managers who are hanging out to dry their own professors, academics and often students.

The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, mentioned Professor Jo Phoenix. I have heard a variety of interviews with Professor Phoenix and have met her on many an occasion; she is battling away in an employment tribunal. It is true that it is difficult to sort out how she can get redress for her reputation having been traduced. She is taking action against the Open University and the way she was treated by the University of Essex. She said that she was shocked but not surprised that the Government had folded on Clause 4, and felt that she had been abandoned yet once more. There are many people like Jo Phoenix who are fighting on and on. Look, for example, at the files kept by the Free Speech Union, of which I am an advisory member. People think that my membership must mean something, and it does: it means I am committed to free speech. In those files there are hundreds of examples of students and academics who have been suspended by university authorities and gone through disciplinary procedures for mis-speaking and saying the wrong thing.

For me, I wanted this law to frighten university authorities —a little bit. I thought that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, had done a huge amount to ensure that the overchilling impact—which the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, talked about—of litigiousness everywhere could be kept at bay, while also ensuring that that tort exists. It will not solve all the problems; there is a much bigger cultural problem in relation to free speech in society. Those opposing Clause 4 are too often not loud enough to fight that culture either. They tell us that they do not need the Bill and that they do not need this clause, and that everyone here is a free speech warrior—I wish. We need this clause, and we need you all to become free speech warriors as well.

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Portrait Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB)
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My Lords, after a lifetime in the law, I was thrilled beyond all else to hear what my noble friend Lord Moore said about the merits of the courts as he lauded the courts, independent justice and so forth. However, I profoundly disagreed with what he said in this debate, because one other thing I have learned over a lifetime in the law—actually it seems a good deal longer than a lifetime—is that any legal proceeding has real downsides to it.

Cost is the first and obvious one: all the problems outlined today about that are true in spades. Secondly, there is the delay in getting to the hearing of the action on the statutory tort, and the subsequent delay between the hearing and the result, with the uncertainty that these delays inevitably carry as to the exact position in law—assuming that there is any law in the case and that it is not just asking for a fresh, factual decision. There has been talk of delay under the statutory regulatory processes. This statutory tort has no special time limit: you can bring it for six years. And why would it end with a first-instance decision? It might wind up in the Supreme Court. Is that what you want?

The third downside during the whole process is the hassle and worry. It is a nightmare for the litigant who is dragged into the process. Therefore, unless there are the most compelling reasons, I say that it should be avoided at all possible costs.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is with pleasure that I support the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, in his Amendment 23. Noble Lords will note that, as has been the case with quite a number of amendments to the Bill, there is certainly a broad political range of support for this one. I think that is a demonstration of the fact that what we are looking at here is an issue that is recognised right across the political spectrum as a matter of grave concern. As the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, just said—I agree with him—it really was not adequately addressed by either Front Bench in Committee. This is my first contribution on Report, so I should declare that I now have the support of my second excellent intern from King’s College London.

The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, set out in Committee, and tonight, a range of areas where this is likely to be an issue: defence, gambling, tobacco and medicine. I would add to that agrochemicals and plastics. Of course, we should not forget the issue of research into government policies, which is so obviously a crucial matter of public interest. The international case study—the most famous or infamous case—is that of Mincome, the Manitoba basic income experiment, which was launched in 1974 under a broadly progressive Canadian state Government and shut down in 1979 under a new conservative Administration. The data from that big, significant trial disappeared into the Winnipeg regional office of Canada’s national library and archives. It was the initiative of one researcher, decades later, to dig out 1,800 dusty boxes packed with tables, surveys and assessment forms, and to digitise the lot. This revealed the positive impact that basic income had had. It was a really significant trial, but that knowledge was denied to the people of Canada, who had funded it, and to the world for decades afterwards.

The House may be pleased to hear that I will not test your Lordships’ patience by telling my own academic tale of woe about research into abomasal bloat in goat kids many decades ago. Suffice it to say that I am well aware of the often pernicious impact of commercial interests on academic research.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, just outlined, in some ways he has watered down the amendment presented in Committee. I would definitely prefer this amendment without proposed new subsection (3)(b). A great deal of the research we are covering is conducted in public institutions by academics; it may be funded by a private interest or the Government, but its main support comes from public funds. Any research for which that is the case should be fully open and available to all. None the less, adding this amendment to the Bill would be a significant improvement.

The Green position overall remains that the Bill is unnecessary and more gesture politics than serious law. But if we are going to have it, this amendment could be a useful protection for academics seeking to add to the sum of human knowledge—and very often contribute to the public good—when they are in danger of being muzzled by private, commercial or government interests. That, combined with the impact of the casualisation of academia, inadequate pay, job insecurity and government policies seeking to narrow the scope of academic research, particularly research critical of the status quo, presents far greater issues for academic freedom than the alleged issues covered by most of the rest of the Bill.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, for tabling this amendment. It is such an important issue and I am glad that he has brought it back.

We all want multiple funders for research—this is not an attempt to argue against the funding of research—but we need to be wary of a tendency towards advocacy research, from any direction. We sometimes assume that this concerns mainly big bad corporates; we need to look carefully at business interests, which have every interest in having their interests represented by the apparently impartial academic sector, but this can also be true of the big charities sector. It is often assumed that their backing of research will always be on the right side, but we should remember that they are also lobbying organisations.

That is why I am so glad that the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, mentions all sectors, including philanthropy. His main point is basing our decisions on transparency. As he rightly says, transparency should go way beyond just listing them, because in that instance you can end up with a situation where people think, “This big corporate has sponsored that, so therefore it must be corrupt research,” but also, “This big charity sponsored this, so it must be good research.” You want to know exactly what influence any funder has on the research. The amendment is particularly important since the phrase “the research shows” is often used as a precursor to “so we don’t need any debate”, because research is treated as a holy grail of truth. We need to make sure that research is reliable.

Finally, there is another threat to the impartiality of research: the ideological capture of research organisations, sometimes associated with the Government. I mentioned in Committee that UKRI, a non-political organisation to distribute government largesse which is the largest funder of research that we associate with the Government, boasts in its new equality, diversity and inclusion strategy that it has been inspired by political advocacy groups and grass-roots movements. It advocates that UKRI-supported research is “delivered in inclusive ways”, “uses levers” to make change, and so on. That calls into question impartiality in deciding the distribution of public research money.

Whatever the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, decides to do with this amendment, I hope that the Government and the Minister will take into account that this area cannot be neglected if the Bill is to be successful in protecting academic freedom.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Baroness that ideological capture takes place in as quite as many places as she has suggested over the course of today’s debate. Of course, “ideological capture” is itself an ideological term. I think I know enough about UKRI to know that ideological disagreement and disagreement about evidence and priorities will continue to plague it, as all such organisations are likely to be plagued. I am sympathetic to this amendment, although I suspect that what it seeks to achieve is best provided by codes of practice and guidance.

I have had some experience in my career of having difficulty with getting research that I have done published. The first and hardest battle I had was with the Board of Trade, which had commissioned from Chatham House a study of the principles of trade policy. The economists who wrote it for us actually talked to a number of trade policy people and therefore produced something that was not entirely in line with the conventional wisdom of the economics profession. The economists at the Board of Trade therefore wanted to prevent us publishing it. We fought hard and they eventually gave in.

A more recent example was when I was asked by a think tank to contribute to a group of essays on the experience of outsourcing in the public services. I wrote something which was quite critical of outsourcing. I should have looked at its website, annual report and list of funders before I accepted the job. When I discovered that the largest outsourcing firms were among its largest funders, I realised why it had some hesitation about publishing what I had written. Again, after a small number of editorial changes, it finally accepted it.

I compliment that think tank for making as transparent as it did who its funders were. One of the briefing papers we have had for the Bill has pointed out the paradox that Policy Exchange, the fons et origo of much of the Bill, demands that student unions and others should be much more transparent about their funding but is itself entirely opaque about its funding. When I read the policy papers which led to the Bill, I was struck by the number of footnotes to American sources—much more than to any other international comparison. I wondered how much funding from various right-wing foundations in the United States had come into Policy Exchange. I do not know—perhaps there was none—but it should be a great deal more transparent about its funding. During the passage of the National Security Bill, I intend to push for more transparency from lobbying charities of that sort, to increase our sense of open debate.

I support the principles of this amendment, but I am not sure that we need to incorporate it in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister, in the spirit in which he has taken the whole Bill, will wish to make sure that the arguments are taken into account and that the principle of open research and publication is accepted and pursued, and not blocked by either civil servants and Ministers in government, or those outside government who commissioned the research.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Portrait Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab)
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My Lords, the Faculty of Music at Oxford University does excellent research. Earlier on, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said:

“When the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Music decolonised its curriculum in response to student pressure, the university itself sought to forbid criticism of the new curriculum.”

I have checked with the head of humanities at Oxford University, Professor Dan Grimley. There were indeed some articles in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail suggesting that that might have been the case, but I have it from the professor—from the horse’s mouth, as it were—that the music curriculum at Oxford has not been decolonised and there has been absolutely no attempt to stifle debate.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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Briefly, on the horse’s mouth, I did not get my information from the Telegraph; I got it from music academics at Oxford University.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Baroness Fox of Buckley Excerpts
Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, that is not the intention. The use of “particular” arises because universities, both as universities and as public bodies more generally, have a range of obligations under the law. All the wording is intended to do here is to say that that particular obligation needs to be taken into account because this Bill relates to freedom of speech in academic bodies. It is not intended to give priority; it is intended to draw attention to, and have particular regard to, that matter.

In natural language—this is of course legalistic language, to some extent—one would say “to have regard particularly to that as among the other obligations that universities have”, but this is how it is expressed in legal language. I assure the noble Lord that the intention is not to trump one over the other but to require a balancing of these existing obligations and put that requirement in the Bill. At the moment, although it might be said that they both exist and it is for universities to balance them, universities are not balancing them in a way that satisfies the intentions of this Bill.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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I will speak to Amendment 35, to which I have put my name; it relates to amending the Equality Act, as has just been discussed. I will also speak in support of Amendment 69 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, which would strengthen the academic freedom protections of the Prevent duty.

I start with Amendment 69 on Prevent. On Monday, a noble Lord—I think it was the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, but I cannot find it in Hansard so I cannot say; I wrote it down at the time—said that there is no place on campus

“for extremist views that masquerade as facts”.—[Official Report, 31/10/22; col. GC 21.]

I do not know who said that but somebody did, and it is quite a frequently said thing. I want to probe who the extremists are; indeed, I want to probe who the fact-checkers are in this instance.

During his first unsuccessful leadership bid, the present Prime Minister suggested an expanded definition of extremism to include anyone who hates Britain. It hit the headlines for a while, with people going around saying that there would be Prevent orders thrown at all sorts of people who might have been heavily critical of Britain or the UK. He backed off from it, but my point is that the whole concept of extremism has become so elastic and broadened that it has discredited whatever it was that Prevent was trying to do.

I have had a problem with the Prevent scheme since its inception. Such is the nature of today that, as this is recorded and in Hansard, I want to make it absolutely clear that this is not because I have any soft sympathies with Islamist terrorists of any nature; in fact, if anything, I think that the Government have been rather lackadaisical in not dealing with them more harshly. Putting that to one side, I was always worried about Prevent, particularly in an educational setting.

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Lord Smith of Finsbury Portrait Lord Smith of Finsbury (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I remind the Committee of my declaration of interest as master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, although I am of course speaking in an entirely personal capacity.

I have considerable sympathy with the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mann. I fear some of the practical consequences of the amendments as exactly framed, but the principle behind them seems to be rather an important one. The Bill is all about ensuring that universities do what they ought to be doing, which is encouraging and facilitating freedom of speech, expression and ideas, while also encouraging the contesting and debating of those ideas. That is what an academic process has to be all about.

There is a danger in some of the advocacy for this Bill in assuming that only one kind of freedom of speech, rather than all kinds, is to be encouraged and facilitated. Ensuring that what we do here enshrines the principles of contest and debate alongside the principle of freedom of speech is rather important. I am not sure that the precise amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, get us there but it is important that we find a way of doing so.

Turning to Amendment 35, as I indicated in my intervention in which the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, kindly allowed me to ask a question, I am worried about the phrase “have particular regard to” the freedom of speech duty. Universities have to take account of an array of different bits of legislation, such as the Equality Act and the Prevent duty, and their responsibilities as employers under employment law. Now, they also have duties under freedom of speech legislation. They need to find ways of balancing those duties. Putting into the Bill language implying that the freedom of speech duty should trump everything else in all circumstances seems to present us with a problem. It should not.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I think the difficulty here—this goes back to our earlier discussions—is around what the purpose of a university is. The purpose of a university is not employment or fulfilling equality; it is the open pursuit of knowledge without any restraint to academic freedom. That is the purpose of a university. It should be a space distinct from somewhere else. Surely in some ways a greater privilege has to be given to academic freedom than to those other duties. What has happened is that this has become only one of the many different things that happen on campus so universities have forgotten that academic freedom is the core purpose of a university.

Lord Smith of Finsbury Portrait Lord Smith of Finsbury (Non-Afl)
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I think we are entering dangerous territory if we seek to argue that one bit of law is more important than another. Upholding the duties that are placed on a university generally is something that universities have to do. Giving universities the task of balancing the requirements placed on them under legislation is the way we ought to go.

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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.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I am very much in favour of Amendment 31. To put a different emphasis on it from what there has been so far, the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, is helpful in making a positive attempt at promoting free speech. The amendment says

“foster a culture of free thought and open-mindedness, in all decision-making concerning the provision of higher education and in conducting and managing research activities”.

It is that bit about promotion that is helpful in terms of shifting the emphasis of the discussion a little bit about how we should view the Bill.

I found that I was reading this small HEPI—if that is how you say it—pamphlet in preparation for the student union group of debates later on. I found it a really interesting little book. The foreword is by Professor James Tooley, the vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, which has also co-published the book. I should declare my interest that I am a visiting professor at the University of Buckingham. Professor Tooley says:

“For many academics, the focus”


“only on the negative, on the ‘sticks’ of the law”.

He advocates that we focus on

“the positive, the ‘carrots’ of the intellectual and social attraction of academic freedom”.

Many people have said that the problem with the Bill is that does not tackle the cultural issues—that it avoids the question of what has happened to the positive association of universities with academic freedom. One of the contributions earlier asked why the 1986 duties have not worked and what the point is of bringing them under the Bill. Quite a lot has changed since those duties were brought in in the sphere of academic freedom, which is why I believe we need to pass a version of the Bill, no doubt amended, but not to use it as a silver bullet that avoids tackling the cultural issues. Anything that the Bill does to foster the promotion of free speech is very important. The main thing that I would urge is that the status quo position of “leave it as it is” is not acceptable. That is the kind of complacency that I hear. Universities will not survive and the academic standards that have just been referred to will deteriorate.

There is a tendency to blame students when we look at what has changed recently; they are either disparagingly written off as “Generation Snowflake” or, more positively, posed as uniquely sensitive to the issues of oppressed identity groups—unlike previous generations, who have never understood suffering—and having a unique insight into them. A combination of both is true. I do not want to blame students, but it is true that, whenever I talk at universities on free speech, many of them talk about it as if it were a value from “ye olden days”. They sometimes say: “We respect your right to think that free speech is important, but we have other priorities.”

I often find that commitment to free speech, on and off campus, is under strain not among the young but among the grown-ups, as it were. At best, there can be a shallow, instrumental lip service paid to the value of free speech, with so many “ifs”, “buts” and caveats that it is barely there. There is hardly a compelling case for the positive virtues of free speech, but rather a grudging acceptance that it is important, always accompanied by an emphasis on how it can play a corrosive and dangerous role in society and lead to a toxic political culture, hate crimes and, as we have heard in this debate, all these charlatan quack scientists dragging down educational standards.

Even the emphasis that the Bill and everyone else want to place on free speech within the law as a qualifier feels a bit tepid, especially when Governments of all stripes have regularly infringed free speech through legislation. As we speak, we have a Government proposing a pro-free speech Bill at the same time as the Online Safety Bill and the Public Order Bill, which are hardly wildly pro-free speech pieces of legislation. On campus, we have seen lots of academics, rather than students, introducing things that have undermined the culture of academic freedom. Whether it is mandated courses in microaggressions or unconscious bias, people feel as though they are walking on eggshells.

It is very important that we use this legislation—this is why I like Amendment 31—to make a positive case for the inviolable moral good of free speech. There was a lot of coverage of the seminar in Cambridge where, as the newspapers described it, students were trained in free speech. One of my colleagues ran it, Alastair Donald from Living Freedom; Andrew Doyle, the author of The New Puritans, spoke on Milton and Dr Piers Benn on Locke. What was really fascinating was that the reports of the students who attended last night said things such as, “I thought that coming to Cambridge would be like this, but it hasn’t been until tonight”. They also said that they often feel constrained in what they can say at university by their own tutors tut-tutting if they say the wrong thing.

When I brought out my book ‘I Find That Offensive!’ in 2016, I was warned that it was exaggerated—of course, it ended up completely underestimating the problem—and that young people would hate it and shun me because it addressed “Generation Snowflake” and the culture of “safetyism”. The truth is that, when it was published, the people who hated it were the educational establishment; it got terrible reviews in all the educational press. The people who really liked it were students. I spent two years doing a tour of all universities speaking about it. The students said, “Phew, it’s a relief to have somebody talking about this. I had never heard arguments like this before. I never really understood the history or philosophy of free speech.” It was not that they all loved me or agreed with me; they were just glad that someone was prepared to have the open discussion and debate.

We have to use this piece of legislation to promote free speech and academic freedom as much as we can. I support Amendment 31.

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Lord Stevens of Birmingham Portrait Lord Stevens of Birmingham (CB)
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My Lords, I should take the noble Baroness’s prompt and declare my interest as an honorary fellow at Balliol. I was prompted to speak by what has just been said in respect of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Sikka. He makes a very important point but, were this to progress beyond Committee, it would require very careful attention to the wording so as not to produce completely counterproductive results.

I was looking it up as the noble Lord was speaking, and I think I am correct in saying that, in 2019, about a quarter of R&D was via the higher education sector and about two-thirds was through the business sector. There is a sort of make-buy boundary, a decision, for a lot of research funders as to where they will get their research done. It just happens to be a contingent fact that quite a lot of that is done through the university sector, but it need not be. As worded, the amendment would capture, for example, conversations that the Wellcome Trust or Cancer Research UK would want to have with individual academic research teams, particularly about their research methodologies. Those are very productive conversations that improve the quality of research. So I understand the thought, but the precise mechanism perhaps warrants further attention.

More broadly, I oppose Amendment 34 from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, specifically in relation to its suggestion that statute should be interfering in the discretion that universities have in grant funding allocations where the amendment says that universities would no longer be able to take into account in those grant allocations the lawfully held principles that individual researchers might adhere to. I get the bit about political opinion, but the “principle” bit is, I think, potentially quite problematic. One of the many dictionary definitions of a “principle” is “a general scientific theorem with numerous special applications across a wide field”. If you do not believe in the scientific basis of cell biology and have a particular “principled” adoption of homeopathic beliefs in bio-miasms, you will be driven in a particular direction. It seems to me that universities have a responsibility to say no to putting homeopathy funding on an equal basis with anything else. We want them, in pursuit of their distinctive mission to advance knowledge and education through structured debate and evidence-based reasoning, to be able to say no so that research on certain “principled beliefs” can be disbarred.

This comes back to the confusion that we touched upon on Monday. The Minister dealt with this point in respect of the employment of academics but, when it comes to the grant funding, we cannot have a situation in which universities’ hands are tied and they are not able to make judgments as to the merit on which those grants are allocated across their institutions. It is the inclusion of the phrase “the principles” of the contending grant application that ensures that, unfortunately, Amendment 34 as currently worded is fundamentally flawed.

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.

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My final point is this: of course, it may be that all 67,000 of them will not conclude that they are going to do awful things, but it is still a very small percentage that will create a very large number. That, I am afraid, is something that we have not worked out at all thoroughly and that cannot be made to work through this Bill in the way that is described.
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thought long and hard about how to approach this debate because I support the autonomy of students to organise separately without interference, not just the academic autonomy that we have talked about—although I would like that. I also appreciate the points that have just been made about students not being excluded from collegiate atmosphere; you want them to be involved in it. On reflection, though, I think that student unions need to be subject to this obligation to secure free speech. However, I appreciate what has just been said about the difficulties in that; I have no solutions but I want to raise some of the issues.

One of those issues is that student unions have become the power brokers of free speech in the new free speech wars on campus. That is the reality of the situation. They can—and often do—withhold affiliation for student societies on the grounds that they disapprove of their views. It makes them a powerful body in this discussion.

One story that really shocked me was when Kevin Price, a Labour councillor who was also a porter at Clare College, resigned from Cambridge City Council when he felt that his conscience could not allow him to vote for a Liberal Democrat Motion that began, “Trans women are women. Trans men are men”. I am not saying that to make a point; these are the facts of the matter. When they learned about his actions, student activists at Clare College, with the support of the college union—I confess that I do not know about Oxbridge because I went to Warwick, but I know that these are not necessarily student unions; my point is that I get confused—held a campaign demanding that this man resign as a porter. They described him as

“unfit both to hold public office and to be in a position of responsibility over students”.

They called him a bigot and a “potential risk” to trans students.

This campaign went on for some time. Nothing happened in the end—although, needless to say, it was very unpleasant for Mr Price—but here were student activists demanding that a member of staff, and not even a member of the academic staff, be sacked. I just think there is something about that story that we can recognise.

The only other story I want to tell involves a group of students at Sheffield University who tried to set up a free speech society in February 2020. When they applied to the student union, their application was declined. Theirs is not the only example of this, by the way; it happened at LSE, which got there eventually, and at Leeds University as well.

The group from Sheffield appealed to the student union. They won—they had some outside back-up—but were told that the student union had identified that the free speech society was on a “red risk list”. This meant that officers would have to attend risk assessment training and that they could not invite any speakers on to campus without first having to submit a list of prospective speakers to the student union three weeks ahead of time for full and final approval.

That is one of many stories that any of the people who have done work on this will tell you. I have been involved in lot of them. Students have contacted me, either through a free speech union or through any number of different activist groups. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, asked—“How will all these societies cope?”—I assure him that they are already having to cope with a lot of bureaucratic nonsense if they want to invite anyone on to campus to speak, and it is the student unions demanding it.

I once went and spoke at a student event with 250 people. I was giving a lecture on free speech. By the time I arrived at the event, the students who had invited me—remember, these were 19 year-old kids who had set up a free speech society—looked ashen as if they had gone through a terrible experience. They had because they had had so much trouble about inviting me, but I did not know that at that point. They looked as if they were in trauma. When the event was going on, there were three people sitting in the front row with crossed arms and writing notes. I thought that they did not look friendly. I asked afterwards who they were and was told that they were student union officers who had come in to check what I was talking about to make sure that I did not breach any rules. That was disconcerting.

I then went to the bar and the same three people sat at the table next to us. I said, “Do you want to join us?” They said no, and then they sat at their table in silence. It was a bit like the Stasi keeping their eye out. The students who had invited me said, “That’s what they do. It’s an intimidation tactic”—and it really was intimidating, by the way. I am an old hand and I found it intimidating, so imagine if you are 19.

The outcome of the event was that I did not get them into too much trouble but it was felt that it was too near the mark, so the students had to go on training courses and all the rest of it. The outcome—this is the significant bit—was that the three people who had set up the free speech society at that university said that they were going to drop out of politics because they could not cope with the student union. They did not want the hassle. They had really enjoyed my speech but it was like an ordeal. As it happens, the Committee will be unsurprised to know that this has happened to a lot of students who have invited me to speak, to such an extent that I now warn them off from inviting me to speak and say, “Look, you don’t want the hassle, to be frank. It will cause you a lot of hassle.” So I do not get cancelled before I arrive because I know that it is probably not worth putting the kids through that.

The main reason why I am telling the Committee all this is that it is the student unions that are implementing all this. In that sense, my collegiate feeling towards student unions have evaporated somewhat, but my collegiate feelings towards those students who want to be politically active have extended. I am hoping that, by incorporating student unions and putting free speech at the forefront, this Bill might help students to be free to organise societies as they wish.

Lord Smith of Finsbury Portrait Lord Smith of Finsbury (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I should probably have declared an interest when I spoke earlier, not just as the master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, but as the chair of the trustees of the Cambridge Union Society. It is not a student union. It has been a place of free speech since 1815 and continues to be so. The student officers of the Cambridge Union Society regularly invite highly controversial speakers with whom there will be substantial disagreement among the student body, but the whole point is to hear views and debate them. That is how these things ought to happen.