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Lord Watson of Richmond: It is not a matter of the good intentions of the Minister, or, indeed, of the clarity of the noble Lord's understanding of such issues: the question is what the law might in future say. When the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, was speaking to her amendment a short while ago, it was clear from the Minister's demeanour that he felt that she was painting an apocalyptic picture that was not justified by any likely outcome. With respect, I say, again, that that is not the issue. The issue is what the law might say.
As drafted at present, the law does not say enough and does not say the right things. That is the point we must address. It is not an issue of secondary legislation; it is an issue of primary legislation. Therefore, we are supportive of the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. Some of the colours in her picture may have been a trifle lurid, but her heart is most assuredly in the right place.
I have one further point to make. It is most important for all of us to understand the reality of the scientific and intellectual exchange that is so vital to the academic community in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. I declare an interest in that I now find myself chairman of the Chemistry Advisory Board at Cambridge, albeit that, by training, I am an historian.
Only last week, I was talking about this issue to Professor Saunders, who is head of the Chemistry Department at Cambridge and someone whom the Minister knows well. He expressed rather vividly the fact that he had within the past few weeks been involved in the writing of a scientific paper that had to be submitted in its final version within a 24-hour span. He did so on the basis of an hour-by-hour electronic interchange with scientists in Australia and in Europe. That exchange took place at a certain point almost on a minute-by-minute basis. That is the reality of the dynamic of research and the exchange of ideas. The phrase that the professor used was one that struck me powerfully; namely, that without conversations across the world all the time and every day, science simply could not move forward.
I remind the Minister that, as part of Cambridge University, we now have the Centre for Molecular Informatics, about which he is aware. The whole purpose of that centre is to bring to bear the very latest information technology to facilitate the day-by-day and hour-by-hoursometimes minute by minuteinternational exchange of data and of ideas. Therefore, my plea to the Minister is that he should understand the basis of the concern. It is not fear about something that someone might do; the basis of the concern is that this reality and importance of scientific exchange should be explicitly recognised in the Bill. It is not a matter for the Minister to deal with at a later stage, and it is not a matter for secondary legislation. It is a matter for the Bill.
Lord Judd: In our unqualified commitment to the principles of academic freedomI take second place to no one in this respectwe must ensure that we do not gloss over some very real issues that my noble friend the Minister has to face when dealing with this legislation. The Bill is about what can happen in the world in terms of suffering, slaughter, and the destruction of democracy; indeed, all the horrors that we have seen too frequently in recent decades. It is not simply in the realm of what are loosely called "weapons of mass destruction", although that needs to be qualified. As we recently saw most clearly, it is in the whole realm of bacteriological and chemical warfare, and so on.
An immense range of very complex issues is involved. We should not gloss over them. However, I should like to join noble Lords on all sides of the Committee who have stressed that, in our concern for that very real issue and the purpose of the Bill, we must remember what it is that we are trying to defend throughout the world; namely, a civilised, decent society of which academic freedom is one of the cornerstones. We must get the balance right. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to reconsider the matter.
I gained the impression that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, will not press the amendment to a vote and that she will go away and think further about it. I have one suggestion for her, which I hope she will find helpful. In the amendment, she refers to the transfer of information,
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: I was very relieved to hear the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. For a moment, I thought that he was going to take a different course. I, too, feel that this is an extremely important amendment. It is strange that this matter was not raised with vigour at an earlier stage and that it did not form an important part of our debate at Second Reading. Some of us were slow to be alerted to the matter. Fortunately, my noble friend Lady Miller was quicker than many of us.
This subject is one on which your Lordships' House has a very fine reputation. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others will remember a decade or so ago, when we were new to this House, that the then Conservative government proposed legislation that was felt by many to impinge on academic freedoms. Many of us from all sides of the House spoke out at that time with considerable vigour.
I do not for a moment imagine that the Government are seeking to do something nefarious at this turn. However, they are making the same old mistake that we encountered 10 years ago and subsequently; that is, they are relegating to secondary legislation the tidying up that follows and brings with it all of the dangers in question. I feel very strongly that the Government would be well advised to take these criticisms on board and bring back into primary legislation those safeguards that I am given to understand they have already given informally.
Some of these matters have already been rehearsed and I shall not go through them at length. The House of Commons Quadripartite Committee was told by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that,
It is now clear that it is really important to have primary legislation to enshrine the academic safeguards. I shall not go into detailthe case has already been made very well by my noble friend Lady Miller, who was perhaps a shade apocalyptic at times. However, as has already been said, the apocalypse may follow, and we do not always rely on the wisdom of noble Lords opposite to take a wise course because they will not always be in that position.
I strongly urge the Government to take the matter away. The academic world has been slow to wake up to the matter and Universities UK was perhaps rather ready to accept that secondary legislation might do. I have now taken part in many debates in your Lordships' House in which many Peers, from all sidessome academic, some notwished to defend the very principles that are at risk today. The Government would do well to take the matter away and see what they can introduce in primary legislation, via modest amendments, that will safeguard the principle without bringing them untold administrative inconvenience, which we are not seeking. We do not doubt that they are bona fide, but the noble Lord, Lord Watson, was absolutely right to say that it is important that primary legislation holds tight, although it also has to work subtly and effectively so that the Government can do their business.
No one wishes to exaggerate the threat, but there is a real threat in this regard. Frankly, now that the point has been brought to the surface in this clear manner, it will not be good enough unless the Government think further about it.
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