5 Lord Storey debates involving the Leader of the House

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, this debate started with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, talking to us about the importance of free speech at our universities; he used the word “discourse”. He told us briefly what the Bill was about—first, putting further duties on higher education, which would be done by a code of practice. The Government are very good at developing codes of practice; they are just not very good at following them. I hope that if this code of practice appears, the Government will make sure that it is followed.

The Minister also told us that there would be a director of free speech. I wonder whether the former editor of the Daily Mail will be pushed into this job, or whether the position will be filled in a proper way.

Every single person I have listened to in this Chamber has rightly said how important free speech is and has stressed the importance of free speech in our universities and colleges. Quite a number of noble Lords have referenced Professor Kathleen Stock. I have to say that the way the University of Sussex handled that matter meant that it was not the University of Sussex’s finest hour. However, very few Members have mentioned all the other people who have been shouted down, abused, insulted and, in some cases, lost their jobs—through the institution called social media.

In a liberal democracy, citizens have, thank goodness, the right to speak their minds on the great and small issues of the day. Whether that is on a soapbox at Hyde Park Corner or in a lecture theatre in a university, the hallmark of our society is freedom of speech. Fundamentally, it is the right that makes our universities among the best in the world. We must remember, however, that with this great freedom comes great responsibility to uphold the law of the land. You can speak your mind on the most controversial issues, but allowing your argument to devolve into, for example, racism or xenophobia, is patently unacceptable and so it is also unlawful for individuals or organisations to hide behind freedom of speech while inciting hatred and violence. Speech has its boundaries. Protecting the human rights of some individuals should not entail infringing the rights of others.

There will be occasions when universities judge that in the interests of the safety and well-being of their collegiate body it is not advisable for a particular speaker to lecture on campus as their presence may either dangerously inflame passions or otherwise threaten students. It is a difficult decision to make, but it is a power that Governments retain when they decide to refuse entry permits for certain overseas visitors who are invited to speak at events; likewise, it is a decision that must remain the prerogative of individual universities, which have a duty of care and well-being for all their students. I fear that if passed, the Bill will strip those institutions of this ability to make those important decisions on behalf of their students’ safety and will subject universities to unending and needless lawsuits.

In truth, the Bill is just not needed, as my noble friend Lady Garden said. We have heard a lot of noise from the Government about how free speech is being curtailed on university campuses, speakers are being no-platformed and students are apparently unable to speak their minds. However, the Office for Students has found no evidence of free speech being systematically suppressed on campuses. Further, of all the speaker requests made to universities from 2019 to 2020, only 0.21%—I stress that—were rejected. Could the Minister tell me where is this “epidemic of suppression” the Government have been droning on about? Why are we spending hours on this legislation, subjecting university authorities to a potential landslide of civil suits and rendering universities less able to safeguard their students, all to rectify a problem that, if it exists, is very minor—0.21%. Is it really an issue?

The Bill sounds like a dog whistle for right-wingers who feel that universities are hothouses for left-wing thought and action. They are the very same right-wingers who shout “foul” when critics take aim at their ideas, be it the British Council, as my noble friend Lord Wallace said, or the BBC et cetera. The Government should not be entertaining this group of people at all, not least with a Bill such as this which opens up a Pandora’s box for our already stressed universities.

Those same stressed, and now threatened, universities are on the cutting edge of research, often doing world-leading work in conjunction with our international partners. It is vital this work continues, so I welcome the Bill’s inclusion of new, easier reporting requirements that will allow more seamless research agreements between our universities and our most trusted friends around the world. But the Bill could go further. We should also raise the reporting threshold for such agreements, so that small partnerships with other friendly nations are not needlessly held up by red tape.

Like the noble Lords, Lord Johnson of Marylebone and Lord Stevens, I welcome the addition to the Bill of countries exempt from the before-mentioned reporting standards. This will ensure that research partnerships with our most trusted allies will be unencumbered by the regulatory friction that can so often stall the best of agreements. Is the Minister worried that enforcing reporting requirements on non-exempt countries might have a chilling effect on foreign investment in our universities? I should be very appreciative if he could meet me and other concerned Peers at a later date to discuss this issue.

In closing, the Bill does more harm than good for our nation’s most important centres of education. Far from encouraging unfettered speech, I think we all need to recognise that language is a powerful weapon, and we should all be aware of the harm it can cause. We live in an age when we are, I hope, more aware of people’s feelings and of how words can affect people’s well-being and mental health. Protecting hurtful speech in the way the Bill does is not conducive to a more understanding society.

Covid-19

Lord Storey Excerpts
Thursday 28th January 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. Lord Morris? I will move on. I call the noble Lord, Lord Storey

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD) [V]
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My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree to publish the written advice from NHS England and the Chief Medical and Scientific Officers that led to the letters issued by the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution to political parties and MPs about campaigning in the local elections? Will she request a statement from the Government’s law officers confirming the precise legal status of this advice? Could the noble Baroness tell the House whether this is her advice, the Government’s view, or part of the legally enforceable Covid regulations?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con) [V]
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I will pass the noble Lord’s question to the relevant Minister.

School Curriculum: Creative Subjects

Lord Storey Excerpts
Thursday 14th July 2016

(7 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I am certainly happy to acknowledge the importance of creative and arts subjects. As I said, we have been doing a lot of work in providing funding to encourage arts and music programmes for schools. Schools themselves are leading the way in valuing these subjects and making sure that their young people have access to a whole range of activities. The new Progress 8 measure will give more scope to include creative subjects within it, which we hope will also reinforce the importance of creative subjects.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, the creative subjects are hugely important to the British economy. We have seen the creative industries grow by 8.9%; I think that as a total package they are now worth £84 billion. Music alone has gained £2 billion in exports. Is it not absolutely crazy to see creative subjects in our schools declining because of this nonsense of not including them in the EBacc? The Minister talked about the Progress 8 measure, but what is happening is that the other subjects being chosen are the three sciences or another of history or geography.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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The noble Lord is absolutely right that the creative sector is a great success story and is outperforming other sectors in our economy, with a growth of almost 9% in 2014, which was nearly double that of the economy as a whole. As he said, the core sector was worth £84 billion in 2014. We want to continue to see that great success, which is why we are also reforming the computing GCSE and the art and design GCSE to make them more relevant and ensure that young people have the skills for success in these great industries.

Careers Education

Lord Storey Excerpts
Wednesday 15th June 2016

(7 years, 10 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to develop careers education.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con)
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My Lords, later this year the Department for Education will publish the Government’s strategy for improved careers education and guidance for young people. This will set out a clear vision of the progress that we want to achieve by 2020. We are investing £90 million into careers policy over this Parliament. This includes £20 million to increase the number of mentors from the world of work, supporting young people who are at risk of underachieving.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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I am delighted to hear that the Government are producing this strategy. Would the noble Baroness not agree that careers education is hugely important to young people, particularly those from low-income backgrounds and from certain ethnic groups, who may not have the informal social networks that provide the equivalent advice and opportunity? She must also be concerned that the last Ofsted inspection found that only one in five schools was offering effective careers education.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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Of course I am concerned if careers advice is not properly provided to students in all schools. It is vital that people have access to good careers advice and that through careers advice they can see clear opportunities for them when they leave school that go beyond just the academic route. That is why the Government have invested £90 million into careers policy this Parliament and will continue to place great emphasis and importance on careers guidance.

Child Safety: Video Games

Lord Storey Excerpts
Monday 8th July 2013

(10 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal
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The noble Baroness makes some valid points there. The PEGI ratings now have traffic light warnings to try to make it clearer which are the particularly inappropriate games for children. It is also trying to make clear that the age-rating symbols relate to the content of the game, not to the playability, because that has also been a misunderstanding. There are prominent statements on the website, askaboutgames.com, which has had a quarter of a million visitors since it was set up, and which has a great many explanatory aspects. The noble Baroness is right that there are different sorts of unsuitability—but there are symbols on the PEGI guidance as to whether the game involves violence, pornography, fear, and so on, which again should guide both parents and young people.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey
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My Lords, the Minister will be aware that parents generally have regard to the classification of films by the British board. That is probably a result of widespread consultation with parents. Will the games industry regulatory body have the same consultation with parents to ensure that they understand how the labelling and marking works?

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal
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My noble friend makes a valid point. Of course, we need to get the communication to parents as accurate as we can. The difference between film classification and games classification is that games are interactive, children are playing them with people on screen, and the graphics have become ever more lifelike and realistic since the days when they were little cartoon characters, so it is really important is that both children and parents are aware of what these games mean.