Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House
Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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First, I apologise for not attending Second Reading; I could not be here. I shall speak very briefly against Amendment 16 because I think it is very dangerous to leave out “controversial or unpopular opinions”. Newton had a particularly controversial opinion, Einstein too, and Galileo’s opinion on Copernican heliocentrism, which for you and I is the earth rotating daily and revolving around the sun, was met with opposition by the Catholic Church; he was tried under the Roman Inquisition in 1615 and spent the rest of his life in house arrest. To suggest that we remove the words “controversial or unpopular opinions” is, I think, very dangerous.

Lord Strathcarron Portrait Lord Strathcarron (Con)
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My Lords, I speak to my Amendments 17, 18, 19 and 21. We have already debated Amendment 17 at some length. I hope that Amendments 18, 19 and 21 are uncontroversial; I merely hope to tighten up and future-proof for anything that comes in the future. I believe that they address some concerns raised in an earlier group by the noble Lords, Lord Collins of Highbury and Lord Triesman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and I hope they prove agreeable.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I briefly say that I think the noble Earl has three things he needs to address in this group of amendments. The first is academic freedom, which has been referred to before. My noble friend Lord Triesman has brought to the Committee an amendment that deserves consideration, because I think it helps us. The second issue has created quite a discussion—what is the interface between the terms and conditions, the values and employment of an academic and their speech? I am not going to comment on that, frankly; the noble Earl is going to have to tell us what the Government think about that. The third issue, of course, is whether the other issues raised in this group affect the practicality and appropriateness of universities’ appointment procedures. I am not sure at all that that is the case. Those are the three issues I think the noble Earl will have to address, probably the next time the Committee meets.