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Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): The Opposition wish to agree with the Lords and with the Minister. We are
These matters have been through the determination of many Members in both Houses. When my noble Friend Lady Miller of Hendon introduced her amendment in the other place, which was designed to protect and preserve academic freedom, she was supported by Cross Benchers and by Lady Sharp of Guildford for the Liberal Democrats. In its present form, the amendment is accepted by Universities UK, which represents the vice-chancellors, by Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, who has worked hard on these matters, and by the Association of University Teachers. We are glad to come to such a happy conclusion.
I must pay particular tribute to my noble Friend Lady Miller. I record my gratitude to Lord May of Oxford, the distinguished president of the Royal Society, who has similarly worked extremely hard on these matters. I pay tribute also to the Information Policy Research Foundation and to Dr. Ross Anderson of Cambridge university, as well as to Mr. Nicholas Bowen, who is a solicitor. He is a member of the electronic law committee of the Law Society. Similarly, I pay tribute to others who wish to remain anonymous. I record my gratitude to Professor David Vincent, the deputy vice-chancellor of Keele university, whose common sense has illuminated the argument.
A happy conclusion has been reached, and the Opposition are happy to speed the Bill on its way. We are grateful to the Government for seeing sense and coming to a happy conclusion.
Alan Howarth (Newport, East): Happily, this is not the occasion for a substantial speech. I want to express my gratitude to the Government, and in particular to the Minister responsible for science, for heeding the legitimate concerns that were expressed by Universities UK and by more and more in the academic world as they became aware of the possible consequences of the legislation as previously drafted in terms of jeopardising academic freedom.
Those of us who raised concerns during parliamentary consideration of the BillI speak for myself, but I imagine that this applies to us allhad no desire to frustrate the Government in their effort, vital in every sense of the word, to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I recognise that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government had no malign or, as the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), has just put it, unscrupulous intentions towards academic freedom. However, it is always a prudent principle for Parliament not to confer on Governments unfettered powers that maymuch more often as a result of a fit of absence of mind than of any deliberate intentionbe abused.
After all, Departments are focused on their particular departmental preoccupations. Other Departments do not like to interfere with them, and perhaps do not even notice
It is therefore to the Government's credit that they have listened and recognised that there was a legitimate problem. They took it seriously and acted on it. They have revised the proposed legislation to strike a balance that we can regard as satisfactory between those imperatives that were liable to be in tension, the Government's desire to protect our lives and our security, and the fundamentally important need to preserve academic freedom.
We should acknowledge that the main debates on this issue occurred in the other place. The other place is yet not much reformed, but on this occasion at least, and from time to time on other occasions, it has been more vigilant for our freedoms than we have been in this place. I conclude by noting that it is important that further reforms of the other place do not impair its capacity to exercise that vigilance, by strengthening the grip of the party machines, for example.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): I endorse the spirit of the remarks of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and those of the right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth). I appreciate that the Government have listened and that we now have an improved piece of legislation. The amendment that has been agreed to is a model of brevity and clarity compared with what went before.
We must praise the effort that has been made in the past few weeks. As the hon. Member for Salisbury acknowledged, the campaign was a cross-party effort. I acknowledge the role that Lady Sharp of Guildford played from the Liberal Democrat Benches in another place. She fought for academic freedom and then helped to forge a compromise with the universities and the Government.
It has always been our view on the Liberal Democrat Benches that, in this instance, academic freedom had to be qualified. There had to be some qualification because military technology transmits itself through ideas as much as through hardware. I recall one of my distinguished academic constituentshe was engaged in material sciencetelling me about the evening when he lost his innocence in that field when working late at night. He went to the laboratories and saw one of his Iraqi PhD students making off with key documents from the department. That is the sort of practice that the proposed legislation is designed to guard against.
One of the positive outcomes of the exercise is that we shall see the passage of the Bill into law. We welcome that. It is half a loaf, or even a third of a loaf, rather than a whole loaf, but it is welcome none the less. We regret that the Minister did not listen to our suggestions on sustainable development, on brokerage and on parliamentary scrutiny. However, we welcome the overall thrust of the Bill. We also welcome the compromises that have been reached on academic freedom.
Nigel Griffiths: I am pleased that we are all agreed that the text provides proper protection for important freedoms while
I look forward to the Bill receiving Royal Assent shortly. This is landmark legislation and I am grateful to all Members, Peers and others who have a strong interest in these matters. I am proud of what we are achieving, and I urge the House to agree to the Lords amendments.
Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.
Norman Baker (Lewes): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A parliamentary written question from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) was answered today. It relates to the record of ministerial travel over the past 12 months. Some of us believe that such questions should have been answered throughout the parliamentary Session, but in any case they have all been collated for today, the last day that Parliament is sitting before the recess.
The answer is thin, and the detail is contained in a document which, we are led to believe, is in the House of Commons Library. Ten minutes ago I went to the Library again, and staff there confirm that no such document has been received, some four hours after the original parliamentary question was answered. Indeed, the Library staff are in some doubt as to whether the document will be received today, which leaves open the prospect that the House will be in recess when the detail becomes available to hon. Members, although I understand that, in typical style, the media have copies of the document.
Is it not an affront to Parliament first, that the questions are not answered regularly throughout the Session, and secondly, that the information that which is now available, apparently, is not in the Library, contrary to the implication of the parliamentary answer given today, and may not be there until the House is in recess? Surely it is not beyond the wit of the authorities to ensure that documents are sent on timeelectronically, perhaps.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he would raise this matter and put it on the record. Obviously, the Chair has no responsibility for the wider issue that he raises about the way in which parliamentary questions are answered. I refer to what Mr. Speaker has said on a number of occasions, and his hopes that Members' questions will be answered as promptly as possible. If the hon. Gentleman is correct about the sequence of events today, there would certainly appear to have been a slip-up, which is a serious one. As the matter has been raised, Government Front-Bench Members will have notice of it. I hope that the omission can be put right as quickly as possible.