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House of Lords

Thursday, 26 November 2015.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

Introduction: Baroness Featherstone

11.07 am

The right honourable Lynne Choona Featherstone, having been created Baroness Featherstone, of Highgate in the London Borough of Haringey, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Tope and Baroness Northover, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Lord Hague of Richmond

11.12 am

The right honourable William Jefferson Hague, having been created Baron Hague of Richmond, of Richmond in the County of North Yorkshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Stowell of Beeston and Lord Finkelstein, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Oaths and Affirmations

11.17 am

Lord Fairfax of Cameron took the oath, following the by-election under Standing Order 9, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Superfast Broadband


11.18 am

Asked by Lord Holmes of Richmond

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of when 100% of the United Kingdom population will be able to enjoy the benefits of reliable superfast broadband.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe): My Lords, delivering superfast broadband to 100% of UK premises is challenging, as experience with our delivery programme has shown. In the final 5% of the UK, these challenges increase because of higher investment costs and lack of existing infrastructure, so it is good news that the Prime Minister has announced that, by 2020, a designated provider or providers will be obliged to connect people, no matter where they live, at minimum speed up to a reasonable cost threshold.

Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con): My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we are to rebalance the UK economy and push productivity, superfast broadband will be a vital part of that plan? Will it be a key element in the digital transformation plan which will be published early next year?

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I entirely agree with my noble friend.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane (Lab): Would the Minister share my curiosity at the Prime Minister shifting the Government’s position from a universal service commitment—which is very important—to a universal service obligation, which carries with it a possibility of legal challenge? If I live in a remote area and do not get good broadband, who do I sue?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, one reason this will take us until 2020 is that we must get it right. We must look at exactly this sort of issue. Obviously, we will have to legislate and find the right way of implementing the USO to deal with the complexities and get ahead. This is now a utility and it makes sense to have a stronger commitment.

Lord Maxton (Lab): My Lords, what exactly does BT charge to put in a telephone line, which is essential before you have superfast broadband? You must have some form of glass fibre link into the house. What is its charge in remote areas?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I do not know the answer to that. There are a number of different providers and charges vary because it is a competitive market.

Lord Sugar (Non-Afl): My Lords, the noble Baroness will recognise the high capital cost of laying fibre cables. The return on investment simply does not work to service areas where there are not so many people. I understood from her that the Government will insist that service providers carry this out. Does she not feel that this will end up with other consumers having their prices increased to recover the costs of this?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, this is an important mission but time is needed for legislation, proper consultation and developing the arrangements with Ofcom. Obviously, the financial arrangements are to be determined and we will look at different options, including an industry cost-sharing mechanism.

Lord Skelmersdale (Con): My Lords, the problem in rural areas where you have scattered houses is that, as was just said, fibre-optic cables are not appropriate—but satellite is. Does my noble friend intend to alter the planning Acts so that satellite dishes can be put on listed buildings?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that satellite is part of the solution to ensure access for everyone to at least two megabits per second by the end of this year. I would be cautious about planning, and particularly about historic buildings.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, given the undoubted importance of universal coverage, could the Minister update the House on the

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progress of the state aid negotiations? Is she satisfied with the progress of rollout to business parks in the connecting Devon and Somerset areas?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I will write to the noble Baroness about the progress in Brussels, which I know my friend in the other place, Ed Vaizey, has been extremely busy on. I will also write about the particular circumstances in Devon and Cornwall. Actually, I was a sceptic on this but we have made a lot of progress. I look forward to telling her about that.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, I suppose that in these post-austerity times we must be ready for a flurry of announcements and good news all round, and broadband is no exception. But where exactly do the Government stand given the two slightly contradictory statements we have now had? The Chancellor pledged in the last Budget to introduce broadband speed of 100 megabits into nearly all homes in the country. Does that fit with what the Minister just said? Exactly what speed can we expect?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, the Prime Minister talked about 10 megabits per second because that is fast enough to enable households to, in combination, stream films, watch catch-up TV, make a videocall and browse online. The expectation is to get there by 2020. Clearly, ultra-fast speed is incredibly important, too. It was probably not noticed, but there was an announcement in yesterday’s Budget that we are setting up a broadband investment fund that will look at public/private support for alternative network development, looking at ultra-fast broadband in particular.

Lord Tebbit (Con): My Lords, could my noble friend say how we equate the provision of a service such as clean drinking water as against broadband services? I lived not long ago—and many people live now—in a place where there was no mains water supply. Is broadband really more essential than water?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I, too, was brought up on a farm with no mains water supply and I survived. The point we are making is that broadband has become like the other utilities. It is really important, particularly as we move online—for example, for public services—so we have to try to extend it further. We want to extend it as far as possible and raise our game. That does not mean that at the top of every mountain there will be broadband, but there is a lot we can do by 2020 and we are investing in that.

NHS: Food Banks


11.25 am

Asked by Lord Beecham

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the provision of food banks at, and the distribution of food to people in need by, NHS hospitals.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con): My Lords, decisions about such schemes are rightly

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made locally. The Government’s policy approach is that economic growth, productivity and employment offer the best route to give people a better future and reduce poverty. We implemented a long-term economic plan which is working. The employment rate is at a new record high and earnings are growing. We also announced that a new national living wage will be introduced from April 2016 for those aged 25 and above.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, four weeks ago the Guardian reported that hospitals in Tameside in Greater Manchester and in Birmingham were opening food banks on their premises. In the ward I represent in Newcastle, all six primary schools and the local secondary school run a breakfast club for their pupils. These stark facts are reflective not of lifestyle choices, as some would have it, but of real need. When will the Departments of Health, Education, Work and Pensions and the Treasury come together to develop and implement policies to address the scandal of food poverty in what is still one of the richest countries in the world?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, the people running the schemes in the two hospitals in Birmingham and in Tameside are to be congratulated. I am not sure that there is a similar scheme in Newcastle. I know from experience of homelessness how difficult it is, for example, to discharge patients when they have nowhere to go, with the risk of discharging people onto the street who will then come back into hospital. The work they are doing in those two hospitals is to be applauded. We have a welfare safety net in this country. Tragically, anywhere around the world there will be some people who fall through that net. The fact that there are voluntary groups and charities prepared to help pick those people up is a cause for celebration. It is that combination of a state welfare net with an active civic society which makes this country as good as it is.

Baroness Walmsley (LD): My Lords, does the Minister agree that the location of food banks should not be at the top of the priority list of cash-strapped NHS hospitals, most of which are in deficit at the moment? Does he also agree that food banks need to be conveniently located so that those who need them can visit them regularly? I would rather hope that those people would not have to visit hospitals regularly.

Lord Prior of Brampton: I do not think that anyone is saying that the food banks in the hospitals in Birmingham and Tameside are their top priority, I just think that it is a very human reaction of people working in those hospitals who want to help very vulnerable people who are being discharged.

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, more than a year ago I visited Drumchapel citizens advice bureau and the food bank there to see what the situation was. I have now looked at the updated figures. In a two-year period from 2012 to 2014, referrals for benefit changes and delays went up from 127 in 2012 to 1,192—an increase of almost 850%. Is it not time

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for an independent investigation into what is now becoming a very worrying and scandalous situation in this country?

Lord Prior of Brampton: It is interesting that the use of food banks is increasing not just in England but in America, Canada, Germany and across Europe. The policy response of this Government is that we should focus on a strong economy, more jobs and the national living wage.

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, is it not paradoxical that, seven years after the world economic crisis, more and more people in this country are needing food banks? Will the Government look much more carefully than they have done up to now into the connection between benefit sanctions and food poverty?

Lord Prior of Brampton: It is interesting that the previous Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, said that there was no statistical link between the Government’s benefit reforms and the provision of food banks—so I am not sure that there is that link. It is also a paradox that we have this issue with food banks at a time when obesity is one of the biggest threats to the future. It is a strange situation around the world when we have both a problem of obesity and an issue of nutrition.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con): Will the Minister assure me that the decision in these matters will be up to hospitals themselves, as some hospitals have adequate space and are ideally situated for this purpose whereas others may not be? The Minister said that food banks already exist in some hospitals, which means that there is no bar from the Department of Health on having them. Food banks are doing very important work, but their locations should be assessed against where else would be more convenient. That point has been brought out in the debate. There are many aspects to consider, and it should be a free choice on the part of the hospital and the people who live in that area who may see that as the best place.

Lord Prior of Brampton: I thank my noble friend for that remark. It is entirely up to local organisations and local institutions, and those doing the work in Birmingham and Tameside are to be congratulated.

Lord Cashman (Lab): My Lords, I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity in his answers, but I point out that food banks result because people are going hungry. People are starving in this country and should not have to rely on such charity. Does he agree that obesity often occurs when people on very meagre budgets have to have the worst kind of food in order to feel satisfied?

Lord Prior of Brampton: The factors behind obesity and malnutrition are extremely complex. The all-party inquiry referred to complex and frequently overlapping factors. The work done by the University of Warwick found that there was no systematic evidence on drivers

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of food aid in the UK—and the evidence was drawn not just from the UK but from the US, Canada and Germany.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: Does the Minister recognise that the comments at the time of the previous Government about there being no link between benefit changes and food banks was significantly challenged at the time and that our experience in Church of England, which is involved in the vast majority of food banks across the country, is that between 35% and 45% of people coming to get support from food banks report that the reason for running out of food is to do with changes to the benefit system and sanctions?

Lord Prior of Brampton: All I can do is repeat what I said before which is that, as Ed Davey said, there is no statistical link, in his view, between the Government’s benefits reforms and the provision of food banks. I think that the issue is much more complex than the most reverend Primate is suggesting.

Identity Cards


11.34 am

Asked by Lord Campbell-Savours

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further consideration they are giving to introducing national identity cards.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, the Government have no plans to reintroduce identity cards for British citizens.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, I am sorry to hear that. Nearly all European countries now have national identity cards. Germany’s latest card, which is highly secure, includes a digital photo, an electronic data function and biometric data, which can include a fingerprint. In these difficult circumstances, when identity is at the heart of our problems, should not all the political parties now reconsider their positions on the introduction of national identity cards? If other European countries can have confidence in their ID card systems, why cannot we do the same? Times are changing—the world is very different.

Lord Bates: The noble Lord will be aware that we have had this debate before. The decision that was taken to abolish the national identity register and identity cards, which had been introduced by the previous Labour Government, was done on two grounds: first, on cost, because it cost £85 million to run and nearly £1 billion was required to maintain the register; and secondly, in terms of effectiveness, because the very people whose identity we might want to have would be the last people in the queue to comply with the requirement for the ID card. That is not to say that we are not doing anything about that; we are simply saying that we have a different approach. We have passports and driving licences—84% of the population

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have passports and over 60% have driving licences—and all people who come from outside the EEA to live in the UK for a period in excess of six months are required to have a biometric permit to do so.

Lord Deben (Con): My Lords, with hindsight, would it not have been better to have corrected the faults in the Labour Party proposals and put them into operation so that now we would have a system which worked? Is it not odd that we are the only country in Europe that thinks that this system without identity cards is somehow superior? Should we not learn from others just occasionally?

Lord Bates: Of course we learn from others, and the reality is that we have a system of photographic ID—I have mentioned lots of types, such as biometric passports, but also general passports and driving licences, which we have in this country. At a time when our principal concern is national security, we have said that we choose to spend the investment that would be required to put in place a system of ID on better equipping our security forces and better securing our borders to ensure that we can keep people secure and safe.

Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as the Home Secretary who introduced ID cards. I say to the Minister, and through him to noble colleagues on the Cross Benches and the Liberal Benches, that I have always been aware and am still aware of the balance between privacy and security for the nation. However, I hope in the present circumstances, which have changed considerably over the last decade—not only as regards immigration and the introduction of digital services for individuals and citizens but particularly in regard to the national security and the protection of all of our citizens in counterterrorism and the assurance that we can give that to them—that the Government will reconsider their position on this before it is too late. I welcome the fact that the Government are not averse to U-turns, including very big ones, and I hope that they will reconsider on this one; no one will score any political points, because it is now a matter of national security.

Lord Bates: I hear the point the noble Lord makes, which of course I would accept if it was a question of effectiveness, but our view is that it was not going to be effective, because the very people you would want to catch would be the people who would not comply. That is the reason why spending the money on better security and surveillance, better use of intelligence, the investments in national security we have announced, the improvement to the funding of the police and cybersecurity is the right way to go at the present time.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): I welcome the Minister’s statement that there will be no rethink of identity cards. Knee-jerk reactions often lead to massive expense and total inefficiency. We remember the personal interviews when people wanted to get passports—I do not know whether the Home Secretary who introduced this is in the Chamber today. That proved to be totally

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wrong. Will the Minister confirm that in the first four years it was introduced 1.5 million interviews took place, of which only 12 were rejected, and when it was established, that there were—

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I will continue with my question. Can he confirm that there were 68 offices in the UK, of which 30 have been closed over the last few years? Can the Minister please tell us what the situation is with this personal interview for passports?

Lord Bates: A personal interview is required for all adults applying for a passport for the first time. It is an important deterrent element as well. One of the factors that is not recognised is that, in the numbers that the noble Lord quoted, there are more than 1,000 people each year who do not turn up for an interview when they are required to do so to support their passport application.

Noble Lords: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, I have only just arrived. It is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB): I thank the Leader of the House. I do not see why we should not try identity cards. Those of us who drive have to carry a driving licence around with us, otherwise there are always difficulties with the police if you get stopped. I really do not know why we should not see whether it actually works. It works in other countries and why, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, should we not learn from other countries and try it here?

Lord Bates: I hear what the noble and learned Baroness says, but the reality is that we did try this. We had a live test of this and our conclusion was that it did not work; it did not tackle the problems that we wanted it to tackle, it was very expensive and there was no compliance from the very people that we wanted to be protected from.



11.41 am

Asked by Baroness Helic

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the implications for the United Kingdom strategy in Syria of the shooting down of the Russian plane by Turkish forces.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, this incident is deeply concerning. The UK joins our NATO colleagues in supporting Turkey’s right to defend its airspace and in calling for de-escalation. UK policy

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on Syria remains to defeat ISIL and seek a political solution to the Syrian crisis, thereby eroding the threat of ISIL and reducing the flow of refugees from Syria. The Prime Minister is now outlining UK strategy in Syria and the Leader of the House will repeat that Statement shortly in this House.

Baroness Helic (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her answer. I realise that the Prime Minister is making a Statement, and I welcome the Government’s determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in Syria. However, can the Minister tell the House whether there is any prospect of a stronger NATO presence in southern Turkey, particularly on the border with Syria, which seems to have been turned into a gateway for extremism, not only in terms of manpower but for supplies as well?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the UK believes that NATO has a key role in the south to improve partner resilience and reassure allies. Indeed, next week, NATO Foreign Ministers will discuss a new strategy for the south, including through its defence capacity-building initiatives and partnerships. The Prime Minister and the Secretary-General have said that the fight against ISIL must be full spectrum, with NATO playing a role. NATO-EU co-ordination is also vital.

Lord Wright of Richmond (CB): My Lords, there will no doubt be opportunities later this morning to discuss government strategy in Syria. But is the Minister in a position to comment on reports in today’s press that the Russian air force has been dropping cluster bombs on the rebels? Are these the rebels the British Government support?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The noble Lord has rightly raised the question of the use of cluster bombs—and in the past, I believe, of chemical warfare—across the area by different groups. I have not seen the reports to which the noble Lord refers but I will certainly look into those. It is a matter of great concern that those who are seeking to defeat ISIL follow the normal international procedures.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, we have an international coalition that is supposed to be focusing on ISIL. Are we in an active dialogue with our Turkish allies about the extent to which defeating ISIL rather than the Kurds is a main priority?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, indeed we do. The Turks are a valued ally in the fight against ISIL/Daesh, and we have regular conversations with Turkey on the basis referred to by the noble Lord.

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, I have asked a question before about in what forum we are discussing airspace co-ordination. It seems extraordinary that with such a complex air picture, with so many assets being used within limited airspace, there is not a proper forum where this is being fully discussed. When I asked this question last time, it did not seem that the UK was involved in that and I have real concerns for

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our aircraft. Will the Minister confirm that a proper forum has now been established and that we are establishing proper airspace security?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the coalition has implemented safe separation measures for aircraft operating in Syria and keeps the issue under constant review. British aircraft are already flying combat missions over Iraq and reconnaissance missions over Syria. That includes overflying Turkish airspace by agreement with the Turkish Government and following long-standing practice among NATO allies, which ensures full transparency and communication at all times. I assure the noble Lord that all these missions are co-ordinated by the US-led coalition co-ordination centre.

Lord Dobbs (Con): My Lords, there are inevitably conflicting and competing claims about what actually happened. Can my noble friend cast any light on whether in fact that Russian jet was over Turkish territory? If so, for how long was it over Turkish territory? Is she able to tell us whether the Turks did indeed give adequate warning of their intention to shoot it down?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, we support Turkey in the way in which it has presented the facts of the case. Turkey has said that the Russian plane was warned 10 times in five minutes before they shot at the plane, and the US military spokesperson has corroborated that. It is clear that the most important thing at this time is that the issue is de-escalated. As President Obama and the Prime Minister here have said, it is important that all sides consider carefully their relationship with each other.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (LD): My Lords, I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but is it not the case that the last Saudi Arabian plane to join the coalition over the battlefield was seen three months ago, in September, and the last Qatari plane nine months ago, in February? If we are to ask our pilots to go in, should we not be pressuring our allies to ensure that they do not pull theirs out?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it is important that all members of coalition play a strong role in whatever they may bring in the way of technical support and assistance, airpower or overflying with drones. It is a matter for command and control of the coalition to determine how best that effort is delivered.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.47 am

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

That the debates on the motions in the names of Baroness Deech and Lord Crisp set down for today shall each be limited to 2½ hours.

Motion agreed.

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Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

11.47 am

Moved by Baroness Evans of Bowes Park

That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Welfare Reform and Work Bill has been committed that they consider the bill in the following order:

Clauses 11 to 12, Clauses 4 to 6, Clauses 13 to 15, Clauses 1 to 3, Clauses 7 to 10, Schedule 1, Clauses 16 to 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 32, Title.

Motion agreed.

Education and Adoption Bill

Membership Motion

11.47 am

Moved by Lord Nash

That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 3 to 6, Clauses 13 to 18, Clauses 1 and 2, Clauses 7 to 12, Title.

Motion agreed.

Syria: Foreign Affairs Committee Report


11.48 am

Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab): My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): Does the noble Lord want to speak before I have repeated the Statement?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I appreciate that this is a rather late request from the Dispatch Box, but there is a full Chamber today and I was wondering whether the noble Baroness would accede to the House having an extended period of questions for Back-Bench contributions.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, I would normally hope to receive such a request before we got to this point in proceedings. Clearly, I do not want to deny the House the opportunity to ask questions, but we will have a debate on related matters next Thursday and we have had a debate on the strategic defence review earlier this week. As and when there is any further debate on this matter in the House of Commons, I would expect my noble friend the Chief Whip to schedule time for that. None the less, I will be happy to extend Back-Bench questions by just 10 minutes, so we will do 30 minutes for Back-Bench questions.

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With the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows.

“Mr Speaker, I said I would respond personally to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on extending British military operations to Syria. I have done so today, and copies of my response have been made available to every Member of the House.

The committee produced a comprehensive report which asked a series of important questions. I have tried to listen very carefully to the questions and views expressed by Members on all sides of the House, and I want to try to answer all the relevant questions today. There are different ways of putting them, but they boil down to this: why? Why us? Why now? Is what we are contemplating legal? Where are the ground troops to help us meet our objectives? What is the strategy that brings together everything we are doing, particularly in Syria? Is there an end to this conflict, and is there a plan for what follows?

Let me deal with each of these questions very directly. First, why? The reason for acting is the very direct threat that ISIL poses to our country and to our way of life. ISIL has attacked Ankara, Beirut and, of course, Paris, as well as the likely blowing up of a Russian plane with 224 people on board. It has already taken the lives of British hostages and inspired the worst terrorist attack against British people since 7/7, on the beaches of Tunisia. Crucially, it has repeatedly tried to attack us right here in Britain. In the last 12 months, our police and security services have disrupted no fewer than seven terrorist plots to attack the UK, every one of which was either linked to ISIL or inspired by its propaganda, so I am in no doubt that it is in our national interest for action to be taken to stop it—and stopping it means taking action in Syria because it is Raqqa that is its HQ.

But why us? My first responsibility as Prime Minister—and our first job in this House—is to keep the British people safe. We have the assets to do that, and we can significantly extend the capabilities of the international coalition forces. That is one reason why members of the international coalition, .including President Obama and President Hollande have made it clear to me that they want Britain to stand with them in joining in air strikes in Syria as well as Iraq. These are our closest allies, and they want our help.

Partly, this is about our capabilities. As we are showing in Iraq, the RAF can carry out what is called ‘dynamic targeting’, where our pilots can strike the most difficult targets at rapid pace, and with extraordinary precision, and provide vital battle-winning close air support to local forces on the ground. We have the Brimstone precision missile system, which enables us to strike accurately with minimal collateral damage—something that even the Americans do not have. The RAPTOR pod on our Tornado aircraft has no rival, currently gathering 60% of the coalition’s entire tactical reconnaissance in Iraq, while also being equipped for strikes. In addition, our Reaper drones are providing up to 30% of the intelligence in Syria, but are not currently able to use their low-collateral high-precision

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missile systems. We also have the proven ability to sustain our operations—not just for weeks, but if necessary for months into the future.

Of course we have these capabilities, but the most important answer to the question, ‘Why us?’, is even more fundamental. It is this: we should not be content with outsourcing our security to our allies. If we believe that action can help protect us, then, with our allies, we should be part of that action, not standing aside from it. From this moral point comes a fundamental question: if we will not act now, when our friend and ally, France, has been struck in this way, then our allies in the world can be forgiven for asking, ‘If not now, when?’.

That leads to the next question, ‘Why now?’. The first answer to that, of course, is the grave danger that ISIL poses to our security—a danger that has clearly intensified in recent weeks—but there are additional reasons why action now is so important. Look at what has changed—not just the attack in Paris, but the world has come together and agreed a UN Security Council resolution. There is a real political process underway. This could lead to a new Government in Syria, with whom we can work to defeat ISIL for good, but as I explained to the House yesterday, we cannot wait for that to be complete before we begin acting to degrade ISIL and reducing its capability to attack us.

Let us be clear about the military objectives that we are pursuing. Yes, we want to defeat the terrorists by dismantling their networks, stopping their funding, targeting their training camps and taking out those plotting terrorist attacks against the UK, but there is a broader objective. For as long as ISIL can peddle the myth of a so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it will be a rallying call for Islamist extremists all around the world. That makes us less safe. Just as we have reduced the scale and size of that so-called caliphate in Iraq—increasingly pushing it out of Iraq—so we need to do the same thing in Syria.

Indeed, another reason for action now is that the success in Iraq in squeezing the so-called caliphate is put at risk by our failure to act in Syria. This border is not recognised by ISIL and we seriously hamper our efforts if we stop acting when we reach the Syrian border. So when we come to the question, ‘Why now?’, we have to ask ourselves whether the risks of inaction are greater than the risks of taking action. Every day we fail to act is a day when ISIL can grow stronger and more plots can be undertaken. That is why all the advice that I have received—the military advice, the diplomatic advice and the security advice—all says yes, the risks of inaction are greater.

Some have asked specifically whether taking action could make the UK more of a target for ISIL attacks. Let me tell the House that the judgment of the director-general of the Security Service and the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee is that the UK is already in the top tier of countries that ISIL is targeting. I am clear that the only way to deal with that reality is to address the threat we face and to do so now.

Let me turn to the question of legality. It is a long-standing constitutional convention that we do not publish our formal legal advice, but the document

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I have published today shows in some detail the clear legal basis for military action against ISIL in Syria. It is founded on the right of self-defence as recognised in Article 51 of the UN charter. The right to self-defence may be exercised individually where it is necessary to the UK’s own defence and, of course, collectively in the defence of our friends and allies.

The main basis of the global coalition’s action against ISIL in Syria is the collective self-defence of Iraq. Iraq has a legitimate Government, one that we support and help. There is a solid basis of evidence on which to conclude, first, that there is a direct link between the presence and activities of ISIL in Syria and its ongoing attack on Iraq, and, secondly, that the Assad regime is unwilling and/or unable to take the action necessary to prevent ISIL’s continuing attack on Iraq—or, indeed, attacks on us. It is also clear that ISIL’s campaign against the UK and our allies has reached the level of an ‘armed attack’, such that force may lawfully be used in self-defence to prevent further atrocities being committed by ISIL.

This is further underscored by the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2249. We should be clear about what this resolution means and what it says. The whole world came together, including all five members of the Security Council, to agree this resolution unanimously. The resolution states that ISIL,

‘constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security’.

It calls for member states to take ‘all necessary measures’ to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL, and to,

‘eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria’.

Turning to the question of which ground forces will assist us, in Iraq the answer is clear. We have the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga. In Syria, the situation is more complex, but as the report I am publishing today shows, we believe there are around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters, principally of the Free Syrian Army, who do not belong to extremist groups and with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on ISIL.

In addition, there are the Kurdish armed groups who have also shown themselves capable of taking territory, holding territory and administering it and, crucially, relieving the suffering that the civilian population had endured under ISIL control. The Syrian Kurds have successfully defended Kurdish areas in northern Syria and have retaken territory around the city of Kobane. Moderate armed Sunni Arabs have proved capable of defending territory north of Aleppo, and stopped ISIL’s attempts to capture the main humanitarian border crossing with Turkey and sweep into Idlib province. In the south of Syria, the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army has consolidated its control over significant areas and has worked to prevent terrorists from operating.

The people I talked about are ground troops. They need our help; when they get it, they succeed, so we should do more to help from the air. But those who ask questions about ground troops are right to do so. The full answer cannot be achieved until there is a new Syrian Government who represent all the Syrian people:

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not just Sunni, Shia and Alawite, but Christian, Druze and others. It is this new Government who will be the natural partners for our forces in defeating ISIL for good. We cannot defeat ISIL simply from the air, or purely with military action alone. It requires a full political settlement. The question is: can we wait for that settlement before we take action? Again, my answer is no, we cannot.

On the question about whether this is part of an overall strategy, the answer is yes. Our approach has four pillars. First, our counterextremism strategy means we have a comprehensive plan to prevent and foil plots at home, and also to address the poisonous extremist ideology that is the root cause of the threat we face. Second is our support for the diplomatic and political process. We should be clear about this process. Many in this House rightly said how vital it is to have all the key regional players around the table, including Iran and Russia. We are now seeing Iran and Saudi Arabia sitting down around the same table as America and Russia, as well as France, Turkey and Britain, working towards the transition to a new Government in Syria.

The third pillar is the military action I am describing to degrade ISIL and reduce the threat it poses; it is working in Iraq, and I believe it can work in Syria.

The fourth pillar is immediate humanitarian support and longer-term stabilisation. Of course, the House has heard many times that Britain has so far given more than £1.1 billion—by far the largest commitment of any European country, and second only to the United States of America. This is helping to reduce the need for Syrians to attempt the perilous journey to Europe. The donor conference that I am hosting in February, together with Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the UN, will help further.

However, the House is rightly also asking more questions about whether there will be a proper post-conflict reconstruction effort to support a new Syrian Government when they emerge. Britain’s answer to that question is absolutely yes. I can tell the House that Britain would be prepared to contribute at least another £1 billion for this task.

All these elements—counterterrorism, political and diplomatic, military and humanitarian—need to happen together to achieve a long-term solution in Syria. We know that peace is a process, not an event. I am clear that it cannot be achieved through a military assault on ISIL alone; it also requires the removal of Assad through a political transition. But I am also clear about the sequencing that needs to take place. This is an ISIL-first strategy.

What of the end goal? The initial objective is to damage ISIL and reduce its capability to do us harm, and I believe that this can in time lead to its eradication. No one predicted its rise and we should not accept that it is somehow impossible to bring it to an end. It is not what the people of Iraq and Syria want; it does not represent the true religion of Islam; and it is losing ground in Iraq, following losses in Sinjar and Baiji.

We are not naive about the complexity of the task. It will require patience and persistence, and our work will not be complete until we have reached our true end goal, which is having Governments in both Iraq

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and Syria who can command the confidence of all their peoples. In Syria, that ultimately means a Government without Assad. As Ban Ki-moon has said, ‘A missile can kill a terrorist; but only good governance can kill terrorism’. This applies so clearly to both Iraq and Syria.

As we discuss all these things, people also want to know that we have learnt the lessons of previous conflicts. Whatever anyone thought of the Iraq war, terrible mistakes were made in its aftermath in dismantling the state and the institutions of that country, and we must never make those mistakes again. The political process in Syria will, in time, deliver new leadership and it is that transition we must support. We are not in the business of dismantling the Syrian state or its institutions.

In Libya, the state and its institutions had been hollowed out after 40 years of dictatorship. When the dictatorship went, the institutions rapidly collapsed. But the big difference between Libya and Syria is that in Syria this time we have firm international commitment from all the backers of a future Syrian Government around the table at the Vienna talks. The commitment is clear: to preserve and develop the state in Syria and allow a new representative Government to govern for all their people.

I have attempted to answer the main questions: why? Why now? Why us? Is it legal? What are the ground forces? Is there a strategy? What is the end point and the plan for reconstruction? But I know that this is a highly complex situation and that Members on all sides will have other questions, which I look forward to trying to answer this morning.

One will be about the confused and confusing situation in Syria with regard to Russia’s intervention. Let me reassure the House that the American-led combined air operations centre has a memorandum of understanding with the Russians. This enables daily contact and pragmatic military planning to ensure the safety of all coalition forces, and this would include our brave RAF pilots.

Another question will be about whether we are taking sides in a Sunni versus Shia conflict. This is simply not the case. Yes, ISIL is a predominantly Sunni organisation, but it is killing Shia and Sunnis alike. Our vision for the future of Syria, as with Iraq, is not a sectarian entity but one governed in the interests of all its people. So we wholeheartedly welcome the presence of states with both Sunni and Shia majorities at the Vienna talks, and their support for international action against both ISIL and towards a diplomatic solution in Syria.

The House will also want to know what we are doing about the financing of ISIL. The document sets this out. It includes intercepting smugglers, sealing borders and enforcing sanctions to stop people trading with ISIL. But, ultimately, ISIL is able to generate income through its control of territory, so while we are working with international partners to squeeze the finances wherever we can, it is the rolling back of ISIL’s territory which will ultimately cut off its finances.

Two of the most complex questions in an undoubtedly complex situation are these. First, will acting against ISIL in Syria help to bring about transition? I believe

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that the answer is yes, not least because there cannot be genuine transition without maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria. ISIL denies this integrity. Crucially, destroying ISIL helps the moderate forces, and those moderate forces will be crucial to Syria’s future. Secondly, does our view that Assad must go help in the fight against ISIL or, as some claim, does this confuse the picture? The expert advice I have could not be clearer: we will not beat ISIL if we waiver in our view that ultimately Assad must go. We cannot win over majority Sunni opinion, which is vital for the long-term stability of Syria, if we suddenly change our position.

In the end it comes back to the one main question: should we take action? All those who say that ultimately we need a diplomatic solution and a transition to a new Government in Syria are right. Working with a new, representative Government is the way to eradicate ISIL in Syria in the long term, but can we wait for that to happen before we take military action? I say we cannot.

Let me be clear: there will not be a vote in this House unless there is a clear majority for action, because we will not hand a publicity coup to ISIL. I am clear that any Motion we bring before this House will explicitly recognise that military action is not the whole answer. Proud as I am of our incredible service men and women, I will not pretend or overstate the significance of our potential contribution. I will not understate the complexity of this issue, nor the risks that are inevitably involved in any military action, but we face a fundamental threat to our security. We cannot wait for a political transition. We have to hit these terrorists in their heartlands right now. We must not shirk our responsibility for security or hand it to others.

Throughout our history, the United Kingdom has stood up to defend our values and our way of life. We can, and must, do so again. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

12.11 pm

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, we are grateful to the Leader for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement, and welcome the publication of the Prime Minister’s response to the Select Committee report. Both are necessary and detailed, and cover a range of issues which all Members of your Lordships’ House will wish to consider and reflect on.

The first duty of any Government is the safety, security and well-being of their citizens. My party does not take an isolationist or non-interventionist position. We have never been reluctant to use force when it has been deemed necessary. I understand and appreciate how difficult it is when making such judgments to ensure that decisions are right and fair and that actions are justified.

Our interventions as the Labour Government in 1999 to protect Muslim Kosovar Albanians from genocide by Milosevic, and in Macedonia in 2001, were central and crucial to the protection of citizens and supporting peace. We used military action in Sierra Leone to bring order and stability, and we still have British

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citizens there playing a central role in building and maintaining that stability. We have also provided military support in times of humanitarian crisis; for example, fighting Ebola in West Africa.

Your Lordships’ House, Parliament as a whole and, indeed, the general public are convinced of the evil and brutality of ISIL. They are very aware of and well informed of the atrocities. Paris brought it so close to home: not only is ISIL willing to cause death, terror and mayhem—and apparently rejoicing in that—but it has the capacity to do so. If anyone doubts that such attacks will continue, they have only to look at the videos and messages posted online as recently as last night: they are chilling, they are frightening and they must increase our determination to protect our citizens.

Our efforts must focus on a comprehensive strategy to tackle not just the actions of ISIL but the environment which encourages such views to develop, and we have to support the overwhelming majority of Muslims here in the UK who themselves challenge and reject such a violent interpretation of their religion and culture. That is why any strategy to defeat ISIL has to be so much more than military action alone.

As we know, the UK is already engaged militarily, providing intelligence and logistical support to our allies in Syria who are engaged in flying missions. We are directly involved in targeted military bombing in Iraq, and we must judge any proposed extension of UK involvement against the wider support it can gain, against the contribution it will make to the chances of success and against the additional capacity it will create. Proposals that are brought forward must also be judged against how they can contribute to the future transition to peace and stability and to the protection and security of our citizens in the UK.

There are also broader issues. There is not just a war to be won; there is also a peace to be won. The issues raised by the Foreign Affairs Committee focus on extending military operations, and the committee identified seven challenges to the Government that should be addressed before the Prime Minister asks the House of Commons to consider this matter and vote. When the report was published a month ago, the Foreign Affairs Committee was not convinced that the Government would be able to provide convincing answers to the points raised. Of course, we will all want to consider with care the Prime Minister’s answers and the committee’s response.

The conflict in the region is not straightforward. Indeed, as the noble Baroness said, it is highly complex. The civil war in Syria has meant not just the physical collapse of a country but the absolute collapse of society. The skills of, and commitment to peace by, those who have been forced to leave their homeland and become refugees will be needed to build the future. So when the extension of air strikes on strategic targets in Syria is considered, it must be as part of a political, diplomatic, humanitarian and economic strategy. We will seek reassurances that the Government fully understand that, and that they will be engaged in and committed to working closely with countries across the region towards the reconstruction and a peace process. The Vienna talks are vital. Whatever the

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difficulties, that framework and the bringing together of so many countries provides some movement towards political and diplomatic progress.

I have a few questions for the noble Baroness that I hope she will be able to address. Can she say whether any assessment has been made of the direct threat to British citizens from ISIL here in the UK? Can she be clear about the additional capacity that British participation would bring militarily, given the support that is already being provided? Has any assessment been made of the impact of UK involvement on the success of the objectives of military engagement? Can she also say whether the service Chiefs of Staff have been able to participate directly in the decision-making process by providing expert strategic advice? The noble Baroness will understand the concerns about any possible unintended consequences of increased military action, particularly civilian casualties. Therefore, can she also say something about the impact of military action in terms of civilian casualties in Iraq as a result of UK action?

The Government’s response says that,

“a political solution to the Syria conflict”,

is “finally a realistic prospect” following the establishment of the International Syria Support Group and the Vienna talks. This is going to be a difficult process. The government response rightly states that this issue must not be reduced to a choice between Assad on the one side and ISIL on the other. In repeating the Statement, the noble Baroness was clear about the Government’s opposition to Assad. Can she say something more about the longer-term future of Assad and about how the British Government can achieve our objectives, given the atrocities for which Assad and his Government are responsible? I know where the Government stand on this but I am thinking particularly of how we think we can achieve the objective of removing Assad. Finally, can she say something further about the legal basis for military action following the United Nations Security Council meeting on 20 November?

Today’s Statement will obviously be considered carefully over the coming days before the Prime Minister brings any Motion before the other place. These are not issues on which your Lordships’ House has a vote, but I hope that—and put it to the noble Baroness that—given the military, diplomatic, political and humanitarian experience and wisdom in this House, we will have an opportunity for an early debate in addition to the scheduled debate she referred to. I urge the Prime Minister to consult those in this House whose expertise will be of great value.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness (LD): My Lords, I join the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition in thanking the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement, and thank her also for early sight of the Prime Minister’s response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

From these Benches we unequivocally condemn atrocities perpetrated by ISIL, be they in Paris, Ankara, Sharm el-Sheikh, Tunisia or Beirut, or indeed the day-in, day-out victimisation of people in the Middle East. We have also recognised that in defeating an

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enemy like ISIL the use of military force will be necessary, and indeed we have supported air strikes in Iraq. But the use of lethal force should never be used simply as a gesture—not even a symbolic gesture. It has to have effect. And to have effect, it must surely be part of a wider strategy, not least on the diplomatic front. So the challenge is not whether the Government have made a case to justify bombing but whether they have a strategy to bring stability to the region and lay the foundations for a peaceful future for Syria.

We have consistently called for a diplomatic effort to put together a wider coalition, including others who have an interest in the defeat of jihadism, notably Russia and Iran. While it is understandable, it is not right either to have a knee-jerk reaction to engage in air strikes in Syria or to avoid being involved in another conflict in the Middle East at all costs. Given the gravity of the question that we are being asked, we will look carefully at the Government’s response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and take a considered response.

In doing so, we will apply five tests to what the Prime Minister has said. First, is military intervention legal? In fairness, the response that we have had today is reassuring on that point. Secondly, is there a wider diplomatic framework, including efforts towards a no-bomb zone to protect civilians? Thirdly, will the UK lead a concerted international effort to stop the funding of jihadi groups within the region? Fourthly, is there a post-ISIL plan for Syria and Iraq? Fifthly, what is the Government’s plan domestically? I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could provide the House with further details. What is the Government’s plan for post-conflict reconstruction, especially in terms of the vacuum that would inevitably be created in an immediate post-ISIL Syria? What discussions are the Government having with Turkey about its contribution to the fight against ISIL? Can we be assured that we fully share each other’s objectives?

The document before us helpfully discusses the precision with which on a number of occasions our own military capabilities can add to the current actions. However, as we have seen from recent TV reports, some of those already engaged in the region do not act with the same kind of restraint and precision as we can and would. So if we were to become engaged in military action, what responsibility would we have for the actions of other members of the coalition? Perhaps more importantly, what influence could we bring to bear on other members of the coalition with regard to the restraint and precision with which they would take action?

What pressure is being put on our coalition partners in the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to rejoin the air strikes, as my noble friend Lord Ashdown asked at Questions? They appear not to have been involved in them for some months. What are the Government doing to ensure that they play their part? I am sure that we agree that ISIL would like nothing better than to be able to frame a narrative that the conflict was one between the crusading West and them as defenders of Islam. We must give the lie to that, and that requires the evident and active involvement of coalition partners from the region itself.

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Further, what efforts are being made to stop the funding and supply of resources to ISIL? Do the Government have confidence that some of our coalition partners are doing enough within their own countries to stop the funding of ISIL and other extremist groups? The strategy before us does not seem to address that question. What further steps do the Government intend to take into investigating foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups at home in the United Kingdom?

It is disappointing that the document says nothing about trying to have a no-bomb zone, which would help the refugee and humanitarian situation in the region and beyond. Humanitarian aid alone, while important, cannot stop the flows of people, and there is huge pressure on Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, which cannot maintain the numbers in refugee camps within their borders.

Finally, since we cannot separate the domestic and international aspects of the fight against ISIL, will the Leader of the House tell us what steps the Government are taking or intend to take to ensure that, in the event of action, the British Muslim population fully understand and are supportive of the actions that the Government propose?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, for their comments. As the Statement and their contributions have reflected, we all understand that this is a very serious matter and are dealing with it in a very careful, measured and constructive way. I am grateful for their contributions in that regard. In responding to the points that have been raised, I would say in the first instance that the Prime Minister has replied personally to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report this morning. It is a comprehensive reply. I recognise that noble Lords will not yet have had an opportunity to study that document properly, but the Prime Minister intends it to be one for all parliamentarians to reflect on and consider. I think that the House will see answers in that document to many of the questions raised by the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord this morning.

The noble Baroness asked directly about having a debate in this House, should the Prime Minister decide that he wanted to bring the question to the House of Commons. Clearly, I would want to ensure that we schedule a debate in this House and would expect, in discussion with my noble friend the Chief Whip, us to follow a similar arrangement to that in previous years. We would have a debate in this House at the same time, or on the same day, that the House of Commons was debating this matter. As noble Lords will know, this House is not invited to divide on such a matter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, both asked about the legal basis of the proposed action outlined in the Statement. The Statement was clear that we have the ability, through the respective existing UN charters, to take action on the basis of self-defence—both in our own self-defence and collective self-defence of Iraq. But the comprehensive UN resolution passed

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last week, which urged all countries to take the necessary action to defeat ISIL, gives further resounding support for that action.

The noble Baroness asked for more information about the direct threat to UK citizens from ISIL and what assessment there has been of that threat. I would point out to her that, as she knows, there has been an attack on British tourists recently. There has also been evidence of imminent attacks in the UK, which our security services have been successful in thwarting. The noble Baroness will recall that, only in September, I came to the House and repeated the Prime Minister’s Statement when we took action on one of the British terrorists who was based in Syria. We had clear evidence that an attack was imminent on UK territory, which was why we took that action.

The noble Baroness asked what additional contribution the UK would make to the effort in Syria. Clearly, we have equipment which is not available to other coalition partners. This equipment is not just in addition to what they have available but brings an extra degree of precision and accuracy to targeting. That is why the coalition partners are very keen that we join their action in Syria. She also asked what the chance of success was. I believe absolutely that there is evidence of success. So far, what has been happening in Syria is that the coalition partners have been able, with their air support, to give the cover necessary to the moderate opposition fighters who are against Assad to regain territory. We think that, with greater effort, they will make more progress. Indeed, we have to help them make progress, because we need to achieve stability in Syria so that the country has a chance of a Government who will govern for all its people.

The noble Baroness asked whether the military chiefs had been consulted and involved. Of course, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of the Air Staff and many other key military figures have been properly consulted in the process of putting together the Government’s strategy. She asked about civilian casualties in Iraq. So far, in more than a year of strikes against ISIL targets in Iraq, there have been no reports of civilian casualties resulting from UK air operations. As I have already said, the equipment that we have available to us is a very important part of ensuring that we minimise civilian casualties. She asked about the long-term future of Assad and how we will achieve stability in Syria with a new Government that governs for all its people. This is part of our strategy. The diplomatic and political effort has restarted, via the talks in Vienna that the Foreign Secretary attended recently and through all the various different diplomatic channels. We are supporting the UN envoy, who is pursuing the same agenda. There is a concerted effort, and now more than ever, post the UN resolution on Friday, there is the will among all countries to see stability in the region. It is clearly recognised that that will mean a Government who can govern for all Syria’s people.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about discussions with Turkey and their objectives. Turkey is very much part of the international diplomatic effort and was part of the recent talks in Vienna. He asked also about the clarity and precision of other

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partners and what influence we could bring to bear to ensure that they, too, approach this objective in the same way that we do. This is about working together in a coalition partnership to defeat ISIL and recognising that we must achieve that aim with minimum civilian casualties. As he knows, and as the Prime Minister said in this Statement, Russia has been targeting the moderate opposition to Assad rather than ISIL. We see signs now of it shifting its approach and recognising that it, too, is under threat of attack from ISIL. As the PM said not so long ago, the gap between us and Russia as far as Assad is concerned remains but is growing narrower all the time.

As for the neighbouring countries among our coalition partners rejoining air strikes and playing their part, one of the benefits of the recent United Nations resolution which all countries signed up to and the restarting of diplomatic and political talks is that that will bring much more effort and influence to ensuring that all the neighbouring countries play their part. However, it is worth saying that they are already playing an active part and contributing extensively. Some of those neighbouring countries are providing a huge amount of support just by giving a place of refuge to all the people who are being attacked and fleeing both ISIL and Assad.

The noble and learned Lord asked about the funding and supply of terrorist groups. We were cosignatories to the resolution that the funding of terrorist groups had to stop. We continue to apply pressure on that and are very much behind the sanctions regime that is in place to apply if there is any evidence of that objective being thwarted.

Overall, both the noble and learned Lord and the noble Baroness raised some very important questions. I hope that I have been able, through both repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement and publishing his reply to the Foreign Affairs Committee today, to provide comprehensive answers to all those points. I hope that the House will take the time to consider and reflect on those documents in the next few days.

12.35 pm

Lord Spicer (Con): Are the Russians showing any willingness to become involved in aircraft co-ordination over Syria?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Yes, there is co-ordination in place.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: I thank the Leader of the House for the repetition of the Statement, and particularly the publication of the Foreign Affairs Committee report, and welcome the seriousness of the emphasis in both the Statement and the report on a comprehensive approach—the seriousness of military action but also the integration of soft and hard power, support for jobs, education, family and community life and stability, and of communities flourishing in the neighbouring countries, which comes out very strongly. The test will obviously be the total mobilisation of effort in a focused way that recognises the long-term

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needs of security for indigenous populations, particularly the Christian populations, which are being harried out of the area.

For the first time in almost 300 years, we are facing a conflict that has a distinct theological and religious element which we have not faced before. Recent studies—there is a particularly authoritative one in which I should declare an interest because it was partly written by one of my children, who is interested in the subject—demonstrate the theological basis of the extremist groups behind jihadist thinking. Do the Government realise that, in facing this conflict, there must be an ideological response that is not only national in dealing with the threat of extremism here, but global in challenging the doctrines that draw so many people to support ISIS internationally? What steps are they proposing to take to put together the conflict at the ideological and theological level, as well as the humanitarian and military levels?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The most reverend Primate raises an important point about ideology being an important element to us combating Islamist extremism. The Statement gives an indication of the comprehensive way in which we are approaching combating this huge threat.

On the specifics of the ideological approach, here in the UK, we have the extremism strategy, which is directed at addressing the risks associated with people here, but internationally we are doing quite a lot, taking the lead to address matters within the internet industry. We have a very effective approach on that. At a conference only about a week ago in Qatar, the UK was seen very much as a leader in bringing together all the respective players on that issue. The UK is hosting the coalition communications cell, which is an effort to address the communications aspects and drive a new narrative counter to that coming out of ISIL, and is a better way for people to understand the alternative to what it is proposing.

Lord Stirrup (CB): My Lords, I welcome the Statement the Leader repeated and the additional capabilities that she explained the UK will be able to employ against ISIL in Syria. However, would she agree that the worst possible argument for inaction is that other people are already doing plenty of things? It is one thing to believe that military action is counterproductive; but to believe that it is necessary for our own security, and then to suggest that we should not employ that military capability because others already are is not only wrong but shameful. The noble Baroness talked about precision weapons. Those go where they are pointed, but they must be pointed at the right thing at the right time. Could she assure the House that, should military action be taken against ISIL in Syria, the necessary specialist personnel will be deployed on the ground to make sure that those weapons are used properly and to best effect?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I could not agree more with the noble and gallant Lord on his point about us not doing anything because others are. We cannot shirk our responsibility here. We are under threat; we

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see this ISIL force as a direct threat to our own way of life. How can we possibly hand over responsibility for that to other people? We do not think we should do that whatsoever. On weapons, the noble and gallant Lord is absolutely right: clearly, they need to be directed at the right targets. On the ground force issue, we are clear that this is not for UK ground forces; it is for the ground forces currently operating in Syria. We want to support them. We see that as a key difference and a lesson we have learnt from recent military interventions.

Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords, it cannot make sense to prevent the RAF from taking out targets on the Syrian side of the border that it can identify or from playing a full part in the coalition. I thoroughly support the Government in seeking to remove that anomaly now. Can we have an assurance that the intention is to improve our effectiveness against Daesh and not to pursue the Government’s vendetta against Bashar al-Assad? It cannot make the slightest sense while we are engaged in an involuntary and unavoidable war against Daesh—which of course we must win—to fight on the same territory another entirely voluntary war against one party in the Syrian civil war. The Government’s prediction that the Bashar al-Assad regime was about to collapse—made consistently for three years now, and which I assume was part of the basis of their policy—has proven completely wrong. I spent last weekend in Damascus and was very struck by both the health of the economy and the resolve and morale of the regime. I fear that the Government up till now have been very misconceived in their double approach, and hope that they will now be able to concentrate on the real enemy: Daesh.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: As I made clear in the Statement, this is about ISIL first. Militarily, we propose to take action in Syria alongside the action already being taken in Iraq because we cannot stop at a border that our enemy does not recognise. At the same time, we must also achieve a political settlement in Syria that will provide for stable government in future and in which al-Assad will not be able to play a part, because he will not provide the stability that is the long-term solution for eradicating ISIL.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (LD): My Lords, I thank the Leader for what is, I am sure the House will recognise, by any standards a very substantive Statement, and particularly for her understanding that it will take a little time for us to digest and study this. I am grateful for both those things. The new element here is the UN Security Council resolution, which seems, as my noble and learned friend said, to provide a pretty clear case for legality. Secondly, there is the diplomatic track at last being followed—not before time, some might imagine.

May I test the Leader a little on the ambitions of the Vienna talks by drawing a parallel? The Dayton agreement that stopped what was a terrible sectarian war was an international treaty drawn up to include neighbours across the religious divide and underpinned by the great powers in guarantor fashion. It provided a framework for military action and for the peace that followed. Is that the model the Government have in mind for Vienna? If it is, then I strongly support that.

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The Dayton agreement produced a very messy outcome, and whatever outcome, whatever peace we achieve in Syria—God help us, I hope we do—will be even messier. This will not be a comfortable peace; it will be a fractured peace and the very best we will be able to say of it is that, fractured, uncertain and unsatisfying as it is, it is better than continuing this terrible war. If that is the case, that is good enough for me.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I can tell him and other noble Lords that there are clearly differences between some of those involved in the Vienna talks—I mentioned that Russia is involved and there are some differences between us—but on 14 November they agreed a timeframe for political negotiations to begin by the end of the year, for a transitional government to be in place within six months and for a new constitution and free and fair elections within 18 months. The key thing everybody is signed up to is that a government in Syria—like a government in Iraq or, indeed, anywhere—must govern for all the people and provide the stability that is necessary for all those who live there.

Lord King of Bridgwater (Con): May I tell my noble friend how impressed I am by the approach the Government have taken in response to the Foreign Affairs Committee report? The thoroughness is, I have to say, in stark contrast to the previous occasion, at the time of the chemical weapons concerns, when bombing was suggested. Then, we were to debate the issue on Thursday and bomb on Friday. I have listened to the exchanges in the Commons, and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt, speaking in a personal capacity, has indicated that he believes the Government have answered the questions that the committee very sensibly asked.

There is one weakness in the Government’s position, which is inevitable. Arguments are centring on the existence and substantial nature of the ground troops, but the reality is that we have to deal with where we are. The hope is that if there is an effective air campaign, co-ordinated with the existing total allied commitment, we may see rather more troops appearing on the ground than are presently willing to show themselves.

Any of us who have had any dealings with tackling the challenges of terrorism know that at the back of it all is money. What I welcome in the allies’ recent efforts is the attack on the oil supplies—the source of income. There is no doubt that ISIL has been very well funded up to now. Resources; weapons production; weapons support, enabling its people to travel round and cause terrorist outrages in various places—all that takes money. I welcome the mention in the Statement of the steps now being taken, particularly accurate targeting in the air campaign, to tackle the economic forces that are keeping ISIL alive. I support that very much.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am grateful to my noble friend for providing us with an update on how the Statement is being welcomed in the other place. We estimate that there is a ground force of about

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70,000 troops in Syria who are fighting ISIL, and who would make up a moderate opposition to Assad. These troops are having some success. They have regained territory, and where they have done so they are able to administer those areas. We are already providing non-military support, trying to maintain the civic society in Syria which is so important to long-term stability. My noble friend is absolutely right about the attacks on the economic resources that ISIL relies on—that is where we have to continue to focus a lot of our energy.

Lord Wright of Richmond (CB): I note that the Statement says that diplomatic advice has been received that inaction is more dangerous than action, but how much action is taking place now in this very dangerous situation with other actors in the Syrian field? How much diplomatic contact do we have day-to-day with the Russians, the Iranians and, most particularly—and I am afraid the answer to this must be none—the Syrian Government? After all, it is their territory on which we are talking about military action.

I have two other quick questions. What diplomatic efforts are we or our American allies making to persuade the Saudi Government to withhold any further financial or material support from their allies in ISIS? And do we seriously still regard the so-called Syrian Free Army as a credible replacement for the secular Syrian regime in Damascus? I think we should all be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for having given us a very rare picture of what life is like in Damascus now.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: On the noble Lord’s first point about financial support for the terrorists, I can be absolutely clear that we are very clear in our requests to our partners to withhold any kind of financial support from terrorist groups. The reason why I can be clear and confident with him is that we now have in place resolutions that prevent this happening—and there is no evidence of this coming from Governments, from partners. We are urging our partners, the neighbouring countries in the area, to apply their efforts to make sure that individuals in those countries do not provide financial support to terrorist groups.

The Free Syrian Army is being effective on the ground. We believe that it will continue to increase its effectiveness with greater support from the air.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab): My Lords, the Statement says that we are now seeing Iran and Saudi Arabia sitting down at the same table as Russia, America, France, Turkey and Britain. These are not easy bedfellows. Many of these different parts of the coalition have long-standing, real, substantive difficulties with each other. Page 8 of the Statement says that the full answer cannot be achieved until there is a new Syrian Government that represents all the Syrian people, not just Sunnis, Shias and Alawites, but Christians and Druze, but how much is that fundamental point made in the Statement accepted by all the people sitting around the table? That is a crucial point not

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just in going into a conflict but in coming out of it, as the Statement makes clear later. I think we all agree that the aftermath in Iraq saw the appalling dismantling of the institutions. That has to be agreed, and understandings have to be reached before any real fighting gets under way in the way that the Statement anticipates.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: We are very clear that a stable Government in Syria is an essential part of the long-term eradication of ISIL. Ensuring that is at the heart of the talks in Vienna. The Statement says that there are some differences, which Prime Minister has acknowledged. We are working to achieve full and clear agreement on that—and that is what we will pursue, because we know it is essential to long-term success.

Lord Lee of Trafford (LD): Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government have made RAF Akrotiri available to the French air force? If we have, are we not to all intents and purposes already involved in the military campaign?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: We have certainly offered RAF Akrotiri to the French Government. I am afraid that I do not have any information beyond that, but I will see if I can provide anything further to the noble Lord in writing.

Lord Deben (Con): As one of the 16 Members of Parliament who voted against the Iraq war and defied a three-line Whip, I point out to my noble friend that this situation is wholly different from that very foolish occurrence. In this situation we ought to support our allies, and to accept that we are involved and that our people are in fact threatened. The Prime Minister’s Statement should gain the support of all of us.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am very grateful to my noble friend for his comments, particularly because of the remarks he prefaced them with about his views on the war in Iraq.

Lord Dobbs (Con): My Lords, may I nudge my noble friend very gently on this issue of the position of Assad, which has come up in many comments this morning? Up to this point, the British Government have been absolutely clear that this is black and white and that they will not under any circumstances talk to Assad. Yet in this search for peace and stability in Syria, diplomatic solutions occasionally require us to get our hands dirty. I listened very carefully to the Statement this morning, which said that we are,

“working towards the transition to a new government in Syria”,


“ultimately Assad must go”.

That sounded to me as if we were being rather more flexible on the matter of talking with Assad. If that is the case, I suggest to my noble friend that many of us would welcome that flexibility.

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I must be absolutely clear that ultimately, Assad cannot be a part of Syria’s future, because the Syrian people will never accept his rule. That is at the heart of this. When we talk about good governance—a theme I have returned to, having repeated a couple of Statements recently—we are saying that the people who run that Government have to command the confidence of the people within that country. The Syrian people cannot accept Assad as part of their future. However, we are flexible about how political transition would work. We are certainly discussing that, and ultimately it is for the Syrian people to decide. But Assad cannot be part of the future.

Lord Green of Deddington (CB): My Lords, I welcome the Government’s very clear Statement of their policy towards Syria and endorse in particular what one might call the evolution of their attitude towards the Government in Damascus. Here I endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wright, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies. We underestimate the strength and stability of the regime in Damascus. More importantly, will the Minister assure us that while seeking a regime more widely acceptable in Damascus, we will above all avoid a collapse of authority in central Syria? The only result of that would be not just chaos but the most appalling bloodshed, and it must be avoided.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, to be clear, we are proposing military action to attack ISIL. However, we are saying that Assad cannot be part of the future of Syria, because for us ultimately to eradicate ISIL we will have to see a different regime in Syria. I say to the noble Lord, and partly in response to my noble friend Lord Dobbs, that Assad has been barbaric to his own people; he has used chemical weapons on his own people. That is why he cannot be part of a future, because there has to be a stability if we are to see a future that is safe for all of us, wherever we live in the world.

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, the Prime Minister quoted in his Statement the words of Ban Ki-moon— that a missile can kill a terrorist but it takes good governance to win the battle. I suggest that good governance involves winning the battle for hearts and minds. What worries me about bombing without substantial demonstrations of support on the ground and without active military support on the ground is that it has an ugly tendency to play into the hands of the extremists, who can exploit it. It therefore seems to me very important if we are to go ahead—I am not against going ahead but I am very much in favour of going ahead from the strongest possible position—that we get very substantial, specific assurances from sufficient people with authority on the ground that they will provide the military support that is necessary.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, the extremists are already attacking us. That is why doing nothing is not an option. We are already in this country a target for ISIL. We know we are because we have been able to avoid at least seven attempts to launch a direct

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terrorist attack here in the UK. The noble Lord asks about the ground troops that are already in place in Syria. At the moment, they are starting to make progress in defeating ISIL. We have to be in there too because, together, we will be able to achieve the success that we need to achieve.

Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD): My Lords, if the ground forces to which the Leader has referred were defeated or looked as though they were losing, would the British Government send in ground troops to make sure that they did not lose?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I have been clear that our proposal is about providing air support to existing ground forces. We are doing it this way because we think this is one of the key lessons that we learned from previous military interventions over the last decade or so. So no, this is about local ground forces that are already there.

Lord Marlesford (Con): My Lords, I thought that the Prime Minister was making an absolutely clear distinction between military action against ISIS and the desire that the Government have to see the end of Assad. But as the Statement progressed, I felt that there was more and more confusion between the two. I was particularly concerned when my noble friend, in answer to a question from the Opposition Front Bench, said that we have to help the anti-Assad forces to make progress. Can she reassure me that in no circumstances will British military action be taken to help the anti-Assad forces make progress against Assad?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Forgive me if I was not clear, but the point I was trying to make is that the moderate opposition forces are the forces that are also fighting ISIL. They are fighting two fronts. When I say that, the point I am trying to make is that these are people who are in opposition to Assad. They are not his people; they are the moderates. They are the people who he has been trying to attack; he does not want them there because they are a threat to him continuing. ISIL is also attacking the moderates. The moderates are under attack on all fronts, but they are the only forces on the ground that are actively attacking ISIL.

Lord Elton (Con): My Lords, the quarrel with ISIL is different from the quarrel with Assad. I agree with my noble friend when he says that the two must be kept separate in the minds of those planning what is to happen. Those of us of a certain age remember when large western and British forces were advancing east across Germany to meet large military forces from Russia advancing west. We remember the tensions that evolved then, the ruin of that state and the need to replace it with something that worked. I suggest that, as a contingency plan, some department of the Government should be looking at what actually happened and how that difficulty was resolved.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Clearly, there are always lessons to be learned from history. However, what I have outlined today is a clear and comprehensive

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strategy and approach that the Government want to pursue to ultimately defeat ISIL and bring stability to the region, for all the reasons that I have already outlined.

Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD): My Lords, I make one final further attempt for a greater degree of clarification in response to the noble Lord’s question about any potential use of British military forces, their targeting and the rules of engagement that they may well operate under. Can the Leader of the House be quite clear on whether they will rule out British military forces being used to target Assad-regime assets?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Our plan is to target ISIL. This is a strategy to target ISIL and that is what we are going to do. This is not about military action against Assad; it is about military action against ISIL. ISIL is our target and that is who we are going to go after.

Universities: Freedom of Speech

Motion to Take Note

1.07 pm

Moved by Baroness Deech

That this House takes note of the protection of freedom of speech in universities.

Baroness Deech (CB): My Lords, if ever there was a time when free speech was vital, not only in our universities but in general discourse, it is now. I am therefore especially pleased that there are two maiden speakers today who both have special and different perspectives on the topic. We all look forward to their contributions and wish them well in this and all their future work in this House.

Many Members of this House will have been students when there were troubles of one sort or another, depending on the age. Indeed, we may have cut our teeth on some of them. There were protects, sometimes violent, in the past, but never have those protests been so widely or indiscriminately launched and never have the university authorities been so complicit in allowing the free exchange of ideas to be closed down. Nor, in my experience, have students ever been so self-censorious. They claim a right not to be offended, but we cannot secure freedom of expression if we all also maintain a right not to be offended. That closes down the freedom of speech of others and, as explained by my noble friend Lady O’Neill in a recent Theos lecture, offence is subjective. Only that which is unlawful should be banned.

Free speech is under attack because of a widespread culture of victimisation and grievance. People are fearful of the consequences if they express unpopular views and so they stay silent. Academic freedom and freedom of speech are the poorer for it. There is a pincer movement between students blocking speech

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they disapprove of and the operation of the many laws imposed on universities to promote and control speech, which I will explain.

Universities have a unique responsibility to promote and secure free speech, not only for the advancement of public knowledge but for the training of our future leaders and professionals. Universities are bound by statute to give external speakers a platform, provided that they are speaking within the law. Extreme but lawful views should not be repressed but challenged. But extremist speakers are not being challenged because the students themselves are silencing the challengers.

The freedom of expression, belief and assembly is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. But restrictions are allowed, as are prescribed by law, which is necessary in a democratic society and for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

According to a ranking by Spiked magazine, 80% of universities and 61% of student unions censor speech to some extent. Some of the London universities are among the worst. They mandate explicit restrictions on speech, including but not limited to bans on specific ideologies, political affiliations, beliefs, books, speakers or words, and students may even be expelled on the grounds of their controversial views.

The National Union of Students and some other unions have invented a safe space policy, the gist of which is that students should always feel, “comfortable and safe”. Any idea that has the potential to upset students or cause discomfort is seen as a problem. Some beliefs are branded as dangerous and to be repressed. So the protection of safety for some students means that others are labelled as dangerous and hateful. The NUS wants all campus speech to be empowering, non-judgmental and non-threatening. If it is not, it will be shouted down, obstructed or banned.

These are some examples of students closing down freedom—some are ridiculous, some are serious. Examples include the banning of sombreros at a student fair; banning Halloween costumes and Bibles; and the requirement to refrain from using hand gestures that denote disagreement, such as applause. Pro-life groups are banned, as are Coca-Cola and a Nietzsche reading group. Students are allowed to opt out of difficult topics and have to be given a so-called “trigger warning” that something in the lecture may upset them. Oxford banned a magazine with articles defending colonialism. A Muslim woman who had been assaulted in Egypt during the Arab spring was stopped from giving a talk at London Met on the need for a sexual revolution in the Middle East.

Speakers are banned for holding politically incorrect views about transgender issues or even for addressing the free-speech problem. The NUS has a no platform policy that blocks what it defines as racist, fascist, transphobic and rape-denying speakers, so it is no to the name of Cecil Rhodes but yes to the millions of funding given to universities by Middle Eastern despots who in their states repress the freedoms so dear to our students. Students have stopped speeches by many politicians, including some of your Lordships. York cancelled an International Men’s Day debate about the challenges that men face in education and employment. You could not make it up.

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The worst case was the dismissal of the Nobel Prize winner Sir Tim Hunt from his position at UCL after a poor joke about women scientists. Those who objected to him could not themselves begin to measure up to his achievements in science and the promotion that, in practice, he gave to women scientists. Lecturers and authorities are bowing to students’ whims. There is an academic boycott of Israel, which has been condemned by the Prime Minister and is discriminatory—and some Israeli or Jewish students do not get to enjoy the safe space that the NUS guarantees to others.

While interesting, lawful speech is being stopped, at the other end of the spectrum, illegal and authoritarian speakers are not being blocked or challenged. We cannot deny that, whether radicalised at university or not, some of our own terrorists are graduates of British universities—for example Jihadi John from the University of Westminster, and the underpants bomber from UCL. Other students’ minds are being filled with unlawful material about homophobia, hatred of minorities, apostasy and the repression of women. The think tank Student Rights logged 123 extremist speakers on campus in 2014—speakers who called for religious law to prevail over democracy, the enslavement of women, support for convicted terrorists and intolerance of minorities and non-believers. At several universities, speakers rejected the idea of freedom of speech and called for the death penalty for homosexuality and fornication.

The NUS conference in 2015 resolved to work alongside the organisation CAGE, an organisation which had praised Jihadi John, supported jihad against British soldiers abroad, and was close to the killer of Lee Rigby—although the NUS later said that it would not work with CAGE. What is so sad about the speeches on religious jurisprudence at universities is that they are sermons, not open to debate or challenge, which are after all the best way to open young minds, especially in current circumstances. Not only is that poison allowed to spread, it is actually against the law, and the universities are failing in their duty to apply it.

This is a quick run-down of the laws—arguably too many—that mean universities must monitor free speech. The Education (No.2) Act 1986 requires them to secure freedom of speech within the law for members and visitors. They are obliged to maintain a code of practice in relation to speakers. The Public Order Act 1986 bans race hatred. The Education Reform Act 1988 provides for protection of academic freedom. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 bans threatening and abusive behaviour causing alarm and distress. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 does what it says. The Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006 ban its glorification. The Charities Act 2006 applies to student unions. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 bans the inciting of hatred on the ground of sexual orientation. The Equality Act 2010 includes an obligation to foster good relations between different groups on campus. In sum, freedom of speech is what is left only after the law is taken into account—no harassment, defamation, hate speech, discrimination and incitement to violence. Encouragement of terrorism and inviting support for a proscribed terrorist organisation are criminal offences.

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Given the evidence of effective exposure to terrorism in our universities, it is hard to object to the motive behind the Prevent policy and guidance, introduced by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015—nor is it new. It has been estimated that 17 UK graduates have been involved in terrorism and some have gone to Syria, and those who wish to recruit can easily target university students. The Prevent guidance requires universities to ensure that where there are speakers with extremist views on terrorism or who preach non-violent extremism they should be challenged with opposing views at the same event, rather than be banned from speaking. But they should allow the event to proceed only where they are “entirely convinced” that the risk can be “fully mitigated”, not if there remains any doubt. So where a lecture falls into this category of extremism, the university may impose conditions to ensure openness and peaceful debate.

This is difficult stuff. Many of the phrases that I have just used require definition and great sensitivity, balancing implementation and the need for academic freedom and freedom of lawful speech; and there are practical difficulties in getting advance notice and ensuring that the audience can challenge. Yet the need for lawful speech only is clear and indisputable. It applies not only in universities, but in the nation generally, that we should not call for killing, hatred of minorities or the subjugation of women.

Nevertheless, the NUS is opposing the Prevent policy, although it is hard to take that union seriously given its inability to distinguish between unpalatable views, which it is happy to ban, and the unlawful. The union calls it racist, that it will mean lecturers spying on students and will inhibit controversial ideas. Some 500 lecturers objected to it, those self-same lecturers who have been supine in the face of student censorship and the visits of extremist speakers. It suggests that it is hard to deny the actuality of terrorism and its student supporters. There is no evidence of lecturers spying on students: they are actually quite reluctant to do anything for fear of being accused of being racist. The bus bomber in Tavistock Square 10 years ago was noted by his lecturer as an extremist without any following intervention.

So what is to be done about these increasing limitations on free speech? We need to be helpful and supportive to universities, for they bear a heavy burden. First, they and their lecturers should know, or be trained in the law. It is not right to shelter behind the excuse that student unions are autonomous bodies, for they are not. They are subject to charity laws and many of the other laws I have listed. The lecturers should know that they have a duty to promote good relations between different groups on campus, including in student unions under the Equality Act. They should be told that boycotts are racist, discriminatory, undermine academic research and are contrary to the global knowledge goal of the International Council for Science.

Rather than citing health and safety laws as an excuse for closing down an event where there are likely to be protests, the universities should challenge the protesters and carry out the risk assessments they are obliged to undertake. Prevent training and explanation should be mandatory for all student union officials.

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Above all, more work needs to be done to make the prevent guidance user-friendly. Words such as British values, extremism and radicalisation need to be defined. A compendium of all the relevant laws and definitions should be compiled. Students should be told in no uncertain terms to stop being sanctimonious ninnies and to drop illusions of victimisation.

Will the Minister ensure that these steps are taken? The time is ripe for national leadership from Universities UK on the whole issue, not fence-sitting. An apology is owed to Sir Tim Hunt. Come back Cardinal Newman. In his The Idea of a University he said that,

“it is a place of teaching universal knowledge”.

That phrase should be emblazoned on the literature of every fresher manual. Students should be armed with the procedures to defend it. I beg to move.

1.21 pm

Lord Patten (Con): My Lords, the noble Baroness’s speech was absolutely masterly. I have not enjoyed a speech so much, or agreed with a speech so much, in the whole time I have been here in the House of Lords—with the exception of one or two that I myself made and have reread.

I have absolute sympathy with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said. The only addition I would make before resting my case is that I think we need not just protection but much more promotion of freedom of speech in our universities by those who are meant to be the leaders of our universities—the vice-chancellors, heads of colleges and others, who need to come out from cowering in their common rooms and offices to take on these issues much more themselves.

I believe that freedom of expression is vital. I also think that freedom from intolerance seems central to the very idea of the university as a community of thinkers, and should be absolutely central to the soul of any university—if universities and institutions can have souls. I may need the advice of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely on that, perhaps at a later stage outside the Chamber. I respect the freedom of universities to run their own affairs as independent bodies corporate and to take their own individual approaches on how they protect freedoms with their own codes of practice. Freedom of speech rankings were produced by Spiked, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has already referred—I had not come across it until lately, and am now an avid reader and may even become a subscriber to this magazine. It was much publicised back in February for purporting to show that only one in five universities absolutely subscribes to total freedom of speech, according to red, amber and green dashboard rankings.

These are just league tables based on qualitative evidence, with all the inaccuracies and unfairnesses that sometimes league tables have. So I did a bit of my own research and picked on a particular university: Exeter. It seemed to be very good and lo and behold it turned out to get an emphatic green from Spiked. Why was it given that award for supporting freedom of speech? Well, maybe it has to do with its seemingly excellent code of practice. Perhaps the students are a

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rather quiet bunch who do not like rioting. Perhaps it has a strong vice-chancellor and strong college councillors who have stamped on some of the issues to which the noble Baroness referred.

My own instinct tells me that good, firm leadership is needed. When corporate outfits, whether they are political parties, churches, great national companies or indeed universities rot, they generally rot from the head down because there is inadequate leadership from the top. The best form of protection of freedom of speech within universities comes from the strong and active promotion of freedom of speech. I shall give two examples of where I wish there had been that promotion. They both come from this month. Cambridge University asked a scholar called Dr Starkey to take part in a promotional fundraising film, but there were some protests from students and some faculty members who doubtless wanted to preserve their budgetary position, so it simply airbrushed the good doctor out of the film and carried on. I have heard nothing from the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University about this, and whether this is in the interests of freedom.

Secondly, also this month, across in Oxford, scholars, young and old, are disapproving of Cecil Rhodes. There is nothing wrong with that; it is their right to disapprove of what Cecil Rhodes said and wrote. However, they are now demonstrating and chanting “Rhodes must fall”—which means that they want to see the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford pulled down, for all the world as if he were Saddam Hussein or, after the wall came down, a dictator like Lenin.

I ask, in conclusion: have the students of the University of Oxford lost their sense of irony? They are suggesting by pulling down a statue of Rhodes that they should follow what ISIS is doing in iconoclastically pulling down statues of which they do not approve in the Far East. I think that universities serve the purpose of freedom of speech not by being silent but by coming out and showing leadership on issues like this.

1.26 pm

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD): My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, has, with regret, had to withdraw her name, so I now join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for introducing this important debate, and for such a comprehensive overview.

As she set out, this is an issue of growing concern. There is indeed no right not to be offended. Matters we might find offensive can sometimes serve the useful purpose of making us challenge our assumptions and views, analyse why we find something offensive and sift out what is intrinsically bad from what makes us feel uncomfortable. Universities UK has suggested that by providing an environment for debate, universities create a forum for differing and difficult views to be discussed and challenged. This gives students the opportunity to develop important skills in the analysis and refutation of accepted ideas, positions and modes of behaviour. If students only ever hear and discuss ideas with which they agree, their education will not have served them well. Indeed, it would be a sorry university experience which never took them out of their comfort zone.

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A classic example of our long-standing regard for freedom of speech came in the 1930s with the famous King and country debate at the Oxford Union in February 1933. The motion,

“That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country”,

was carried by 275 votes to 153. It is one of the most widely reported and discussed debates at the Oxford Union. There are varying opinions as to how far it influenced Hitler and Mussolini into thinking that the British were pacifists who would present little opposition to potential aggressors.

Interestingly, the Cambridge Union had staged a similar pacifist debate in 1927, also carried by 213 votes to 138, but it went unreported. Both universities felt unfettered in debating issues which could well have caused offence and expressing views which could have been seen as seditious. But that was before the days of instant, widespread communication. Email and other forms of social media mean that simple messages can go viral, without reflection, analysis or context. The process that used to allow for thinking before writing has been abbreviated into a process of communicating without finding out the facts or considering wider implications. People today respond rapidly, if not instantly. They react on the spot. Under these circumstances, any boundaries for freedom of speech become much more difficult to define.

The Prevent strategy sets out that:

“Colleges have a clear and unambiguous role to play in helping to safeguard vulnerable young people from radicalisation and recruitment by terrorist organisations”.

Equality policies also state that homophobic, sexist and racist language will not be tolerated. Inevitably, there will be grey areas where freedom of expression will appear to be curtailed to take regard of the care of students. It is impossible to legislate for all the occasions when this might arise. Universities, more than ever, have a requirement to ensure that channels of communication remain open between staff, students and outside organisations.

This requires a whole new skill set from the academics of yesteryear. They are rising to the challenge. As Universities UK relates, the actions undertaken by institutions will vary, but will normally include participation in multiagency work, training student-facing staff to improve awareness of the signs of violent extremism, developing policies relating to external speaker requests, supporting interfaith activities, and many more. I ask the Minister: what are the Government doing to ensure that universities are supported in these endeavours and not stifled by legislation?

Exposure to a whole range of ideas remains an important part of university education. Universities perform a vital role in providing a safe place for views, beliefs and even prejudices to be challenged and debated constructively. We have a great tradition of being a tolerant society. Tolerance does not mean indifference, but creates a multicultural nation that draws strength, rather than conflict, from its differences. Even the National Union of Students, which has great regard for the care of students, asserts that the right to freedom of speech is integral to any democracy. It is too precious to lose.

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1.30 pm

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB): My Lords, I, too, say what a splendid speech we had from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech.

I am chairman of a commission on religion and belief in modern-day Britain. We are issuing a report next month. I want to share with the House two points that have come out of evidence we have taken right across the United Kingdom. The first is the importance of tolerating difference: the learning of respect for other people’s views—even when those who listen strongly disagree with what is being said—and of the benefits of that disagreement with what they are listening to.

The second point, which the Government should take into account, is the unintended consequences of important counterterrorism legislation, in particular the rhetoric that accompanies it. One of the problems with it is that the Muslim population in this country—we have heard a great deal of evidence about this—feel that they are “other”, as they put it, that they do not belong. They feel that they are not trusted. There is a much greater need for dialogue, discussion and listening to those with whom one disagrees.

Therefore, universities are places of learning outside of the academic studies followed by undergraduates, postgraduates and so on. It is a crucial setting for argument, dissent and opposing points of view. I was particularly dismayed by students who have been preventing robust discussion by speakers of whom they do not approve. I was particularly shocked by the examples that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, gave in her speech. Yesterday in Questions, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, reminded us that freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend. That should be censored only for very good reason. I perhaps should add that the freedom to offend does not include a duty gratuitously to offend.

There is a very difficult balance to be struck between the necessary excluding of extremist, unacceptable speakers on campus—which, as we have again learnt from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, is not necessarily followed by those who should be dealing with it—and academic freedom of speech. It seems to me that the Government should be careful not to add to excessive restrictions on academic freedom to discuss the issues that our commission believes need urgently to be exposed to robust debate.

1.33 pm

Lord O’Shaughnessy (Con) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I give my maiden speech, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for calling this important debate and for her superb speech.

It must be because I work in education, but in the last month I have found it impossible to lose the sensation of joining a new school: a complicated set of rules to learn, overseen by a kindly but authoritative headmistress, with plenty of older boys and girls to look up to. And, of course, the wag who makes everyone laugh, played, on the day of my introduction, by my two year-old daughter Hope, who, as I entered

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the Chamber, shouted, “Daddy” from up in the Gallery. Having read Walter Bagehot at school, I now understand that this House is not only “efficient”, but the most “dignified” part of the British constitution. Its hallmark is the great courtesy and kindness shown by everyone—the doorkeepers, clerks, Peers and staff. It makes the House a joy to spend time in, as well as a huge privilege.

For their wisdom and guidance, I thank my Whip and mentor, my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie, and my supporters, my noble friends Lady Evans of Bowes Park and Lord Nash—the noble Baroness being responsible for giving me my first job in politics. I also thank another former boss, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for his advice. He once bought me the box set of “The Godfather” and said, “Watch this, it’ll teach you everything you need to know about politics”. I am not sure how well Don Corleone would have got on at this end of the Palace.

In 15 years of working in policy and politics, I learnt that every successful political party must have a deep compassion—a love, in fact—for the British people, their history and their culture. I have also learnt that politics is at its most powerful when it seeks to ensure that everybody, especially those who are disadvantaged or excluded, can play a full part in our island story. I call this idea progressive conservatism, and it lay at the heart of the 2010 general election manifesto, which I had the honour of authoring. That document was called Invitation to Join the Government of Britain, although when drafting it I did not expect that the first people to RSVP would be the Liberal Democrats.

Nevertheless, the coalition Government I was very proud to serve were a radical and reforming Administration, and some of their greatest achievements were in education. The policies on free schools, turning all schools into academies and the pupil premium have roots in a report I wrote in 2005 for Policy Exchange, called More Good School Places. But, critically, they draw on Labour and Liberal Democrat ideas, too. There is a strong history of bipartisanship in school reform, so it is a particular honour to take my place in this House with so many former education Ministers, including my noble friends Lord Patten and Lord Baker, the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Adonis, and others—yet another reason why this House still has so much to offer.

The purpose of education is much disputed, but for me it is best summed up in the words of Martin Luther King, who said:

“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education”.

This sums up the philosophy behind the group of primary schools I founded. Floreat Education aims to help children flourish by giving them a knowledge-rich curriculum, while explicitly and purposefully developing their character virtues. Our first two schools opened in September and we will open three more in 2016.

A true education, I believe, allows young people to draw on the accumulated knowledge of civilisation to develop what Aristotle called phronesis, or practical wisdom. Its goal is to give people power to become the authors of their own life stories, to think critically and to seek truth. Nowhere is the pursuit of truth more important than in our universities. John Stuart Mill

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said that truth unchallenged becomes dogma, so we all have an obligation to seek out views that differ from our own. This can be uncomfortable: we prefer to hear information that supports what we already think. Psychologists call this confirmation bias, but it is an impulse to be resisted, not indulged.

Freedom of speech, then, is not a luxury of liberal democracies; it is the sine qua non of intellectual progress. Of course, it is right that no freedom exists unfettered. Given the threats we face, it is right that incitements to violence and hatred are against the law. But it is a profound mistake to believe that every view we hold is shorn of imperfection and should never be challenged. Our centres of advanced learning must be at the vanguard of attempts to find universal, ethical truths about the way we should live. That is impossible unless people are free to speak, to challenge, and to seek common understanding.

1.38 pm

Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy on an excellent maiden speech—albeit a little short due to the time restriction—and welcome him to your Lordships’ House. We are lucky to have someone who has spent so many years thinking about education, our country and how to improve it, not least as head of research at one of the country’s most distinguished think tanks, Policy Exchange, but also, of course, advising our Prime Minister as his director of policy. It is always good to be surrounded by smart people. We can only welcome the enhancement of this House by someone who has been described as a new Aristotelian promoter of positive psychology in education. Clearly, we will hear much more from someone who is fizzing with ideas and enthusiasm on his next steps in public service of this country.

I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on securing this debate and on her excellent speech. We could all be forgiven for thinking that such a debate was unnecessary because, if universities are for anything, surely they are for a pluralism of thought, a debate of ideas and the fundamental principle that everything should be challenged in order to strengthen it. The noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, has reminded us that John Stuart Mill said that if an opinion,

“is not fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth”.

Sadly, as the noble Baroness and others have said, our universities are in danger of becoming anything but the place for free speech.

I was moved to speak in this debate partly because of actions of my alma mater, the University of Southampton. In April of this year it was due to host a conference, the entire premise of which, backed up by a homogenous list of speakers—the usual suspects—was to question the right of Israel to exist as a nation state, and essentially to call for its elimination. No other nation state had ever had its right to exist questioned at Southampton University. I followed the example that my noble friend Lord Patten would have welcomed of writing to the vice-chancellor to ask for

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his leadership in this matter. We corresponded because I was upset by the university’s failure to lead on this, but I did not get very far.

However, the response from the Academic Friends of Israel was much more dignified than mine, in refusing to call for the conference to be cancelled or even for balance to be added to the programme. Instead, they simply chose to exercise their own right to free speech, to publicly criticise the one-sided nature of the programme, and to expose the questionable biographies of some of the speakers.

Contrast this with events of the previous autumn, when an Israeli professor, Mark Auslander—whom I have never met—was due to give a talk at Southampton on the subject of optical sensors: not views about the State of Israel, just views about science and technology, a field in which Israel has apparently long been a world leader. Almost unbelievably, the lecture had to be cancelled due to intimidation. This was suppression of free speech, combined with the worst of the politics of identity. Protestors were so afraid of what an Israeli might have to say about optical sensors, that they would not even hear him out. Perhaps they were interested in hearing about optical sensors, but not from an Israeli.

As our own Prime Minister has said:

“It is absolutely right that in Britain's universities, students and faculty should be able to criticise Israel, just as they can criticise any country … But it is absolutely wrong that in any of our universities there should be an environment where students are scared to express their Judaism or their Zionism freely”.

The problem is, of course, bigger than Southampton, bigger than Israel and bigger even than anti-Semitism. It is not confined to the UK. Speakers ranging from Condoleezza Rice, the IMF head Christine Lagarde, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, have all been invited to speak at American universities and then had their invitations withdrawn due to howls of protest from students.

There is room for hope. The University of Chicago has recently published a report in which it says:

“It is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive”.

I commend this conclusion and sincerely hope that other universities will follow suit, both in the US and in the UK.

Indeed, this House, too, can be an example. Whether it is on defence and security, the economy, welfare or public services, we strengthen our democracy by coming here and airing our disagreements, improving our arguments and bolstering our understanding. Let us hope that university campuses will allow Professor Auslander and other distinguished academics from around the world the same courtesy.

1.43 pm

Lord Pannick (CB): My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for securing this debate and for opening it so forcefully. It is much more entertaining, I can tell your Lordships, to listen to the noble Baroness in this House than to be subjected, as I was in the 1970s, to her powerful academic freedom as my tutor when I read out a tutorial. I hope that I do better today.

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I want to focus on the damage that is being done to freedom of speech in universities by the guidance that has been issued by the Government under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 to address non-violent extremism. Your Lordships will recall that, when the Bill was debated earlier this year, this House persuaded the Government to include references to the importance of free speech and academic freedom. The guidance was approved by this House and by the other place in September. The guidance is not directed at speech that encourages terrorism because that, of course, is already a criminal offence. There is no definition of non-violent extremism. The Minister for Security, Mr Hayes, told the House of Commons in September that the concept would be defined in a forthcoming Bill. It would be very helpful if the Minister, when she comes to reply, could tell the House when that Bill will be published.

This guidance is drafted in very restrictive terms. It says that a university must prevent a speaker from being heard in relation to non-violent extremism unless the university is “entirely convinced” that the speaker will be answered so as to remove “any doubt” that the risks of non-violent extremism will be “fully mitigated”. If taken seriously, this would impede debate on many sensitive subjects. I entirely share the Government’s analysis of the seriousness of the threat to our society posed by terrorists and their sympathisers, and I agree that the root cause of the current wave of terrorism is a perverted ideology. The central question, however, is how best to combat such beliefs, and the essence of the principle of free speech is that the answer to dangerous ideas is more speech, not less speech.

The principle, in this context, marches together with pragmatism. Requiring universities to close down debate whenever there is any risk of an extremist not being adequately answered will not drain the poison; it will make it harder to detect and it will confer on such ideas a banned status that will make them only more attractive to the potential audience. We need to confront and challenge the non-violent extremists in universities so as to expose the poverty of their reasoning and their contempt for the values of our civilised society. We are in danger of losing our confidence in free speech, one of the central values that define the society that we are defending against the terrorists. It is ironic indeed that, in answer to the non-violent extremists’ attack on our core values, the Government are weakening one of those very values—freedom of expression—and are doing so in the very place, the universities, where freedom of speech is so vital to the health of our society.

1.48 pm

The Lord Bishop of Ely: I, too, take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for bringing this debate about. I would be very glad to engage in metaphysical conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, about the soul of the university sometime outside the Chamber. I am more concerned for us to promote and understand the importance of religious literacy in the defence of free speech, and the Church’s engagement with a number of institutions in seeking to make the most of the Prevent agenda without throwing aside openness and readiness to engage in full debate.

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One of my heroes in theology is Peter Abelard who, in the 12th century in Paris, by taking risks with academic freedom at the time in his Sic et Non lectures, had students flocking to Paris. While recognising that at the heart of study was risky engagement, he put himself at risk under an oppressive church authority at the time to set people free. This is the foundation of western education, which we must continue to promote. Universities must be places where there is passionate and forensic debate, actively promoted. That is not only a statutory obligation; more importantly, it is at the heart of any scholarly purpose, as we discover the truth with one another and for ourselves.

At the heart of Christian teaching is the recurrent theme of reconciliation. The churches are all committed to building resilience in conflict transformation. It strikes me that universities are places where students may first learn about intellectual and community conflicts. If we allow the dominant agenda to become the refusal to be exposed to being offended, we deny ourselves the rich opportunity to be agents of the transformation of conflict through positive engagement.

Many years ago, I was preaching at a midnight mass and someone came into the church and said, “You are all hypocrites”. I said, “Well, come in, there’s always room for one more”. We all need to engage with people, even those who are different from us, recognising that people have the right to challenge us and to speak out against us. However, we need to make that positive engagement and to continue to believe—and to encourage our students to have the character and the confidence to believe—in the power of persuasion around our own truth claims and what we want to make of them. This is how I believe that universities serve the resilience of our democracy.

If there was more than one right reverend Prelate here this afternoon, I am sure we would agree on all sorts of things, but there would be other matters where there would be considerable debate and disagreement between us. This serves a robust and generous pluralism. This must be cherished in our universities and must not be undermined by excessive institutional caution or by the unintended consequences of laudable policies to tackle hate crime and extremism. Where the clash of ideas flows from strongly held moral and ethical convictions, it is even more important that our universities actively enable and support the patterns of debate and good disagreement which are at the heart of learning and intellectual exploration. It is a vital area of learning that we do not aim at a strangely disconnected tolerance of almost everything but at the serious critical engagement with unpalatable ideas while still honouring the integrity of the person expressing them.

1.52 pm

Lord Trevethin and Oaksey (CB) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, it is a great honour to stand up in your Lordships’ House for the first time. I echo the expression of gratitude to which the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, gave voice. I have been very touched by the kind and generous welcome that I have received from Members of the House who have shown me the ropes. I am also very grateful to the parliamentary

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staff who see me trying to look purposeful and businesslike as I walk around the House from one corridor to another, wondering whether it is the corridor that I was in five minutes before. They conceal the fact that they know that perfectly well, so I am grateful to them, too.

I have received a lot of welcome advice about what I may say and, probably more importantly, what I should not say on this occasion. I know that I have to avoid controversy, which I will certainly try to do. I also know that I have to be brief. There appears to be a division of opinion on the extent to which the House welcomes autobiographical information. I will exercise economy in that respect. One noble Lord suggested that I should at all costs conceal the fact that I am a lawyer. I thought that that was going too far, so I confess that I have been a barrister for 30 years or so.

The matters to which the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, referred so eloquently matter a lot, in my view. I apologise to my noble and learned friend Lord Brown for stealing his thunder, since he was going to use exactly the same dictum, but I draw the House’s attention to some remarks of Sir Stephen Sedley in the Divisional Court. He said:

“Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence”.

He went on to say, memorably:

“Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having”.

That is clearly right.

Something is going on in our universities. I understand from those who know more about this than I do that it is a development which has gathered pace over the last five years or so. It may have travelled from America to some extent, but it is certainly gathering pace now in our universities. Why should that be so? Obviously, I do not know but one can speculate that the overprotective parenting of my generation may have played a part. One can speculate that the increasing tendency to demonise one’s political opponents, away from your Lordships’ House, has also played a part. One can also surmise—the chronology works well in this respect—that the advent of social media has lent force to this very unwelcome development. Facebook, Twitter, and a lot of others, whose names I do not know, make it easy to form crusades, express outrage en masse—what could be more fun than that?—and identify and pillory people who are traitors to the cause.

This is a very substantial problem. As identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, the failure of the universities to exercise their statutory obligation to promote free speech is letting our students down, causing them to weaponise hypersensitivity and will send them out into the wider world oversensitive and inclined to engage in emotional reasoning, not critical analysis.

1.56 pm

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB): My Lords, I am privileged to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, to this House and, indeed, to these Cross Benches, and congratulate him on a most delightful and insightful maiden speech. I would have expected nothing less of so conspicuously successful

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and a well-respected practising Silk, whose advocacy at the Bar I have enjoyed, admired and, indeed, benefited from periodically over the years. I cannot pretend that the noble Lord always persuaded me that he was right, but that could have been the fault of his case, or perhaps my fault, and certainly not his. I have no doubt that in the years to come he will from time to time lay aside his practice and make valuable contributions to our proceedings, as he did today. I greatly look forward to his doing so.

I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on securing this debate and introducing it so comprehensively, eloquently and, indeed, compellingly. I had intended to say one or two things about the Prevent strategy and countering extremist ideology. Universities really ought to be the Speakers’ Corners of the educational process. It is better by far to hear, challenge and reject extremist or, indeed, any other erroneous views than to ban them, but the fortnightly column of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, which appeared in today’s Times, says more succinctly and persuasively than I could all that I would have wished to say on the subject. Of course, today he and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, have valuably elaborated on that. Therefore, I pick up instead on a rather different thread of the debate, following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, said at the end of the last Oral Question yesterday—namely, that,

“there is not and cannot be a right not to be offended”.—[

Official Report

, 25/11/15; col. 698.]

Of course, this, too, has been discussed by many speakers today.

Listening recently to one of Professor Roger Scruton’s admirably provocative talks on BBC Radio 4’s “A Point of View”, I was struck by what he had to say about taking offence. There is time only for one short quotation:

“One last word about the art of taking offence. Nowhere has this art been more assiduously cultivated than on American campuses … the professor may now be required to issue ‘trigger warnings’, lest he stray into areas that might trigger the memory of some traumatic event in the life of the student. Visiting speakers with heretical views about feminism or homosexuality are also preceded by trigger warnings. Some campuses even provide safe rooms where the trembling students can retire for consolation should they have been exposed to the contamination of an unorthodox point of view”.

I hope that our universities will not succumb to quite that degree of lunacy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, observed earlier, we have started some way down this road but perhaps, not yet at least, to safe rooms. A safe room would surely be a very poor substitute for the college buttery.

Finally, on the question of offensive speech, I return briefly to Lord Justice Sedley’s famous judgment in the Redmond-Bate case. As my noble friend has just observed, he has already shot my fox. It is worth reminding ourselves of the final sentence of the paragraph in which Lord Justice Sedley deals with all this. He says:

“We in this country continue to owe a debt to the jury which in 1670 refused to convict the Quakers William Penn and William Mead for preaching ideas which offended against state orthodoxy”.

The lower courts in that case, and indeed in some earlier cases concerning a breach of the peace, had

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taken a wrong turn. They had decided that action should be taken against those exercising their right to free speech rather than those unreasonably provoked to violence by it. We should ensure that we do not make that mistake again.

2.02 pm

Lord Polak (Con): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on securing this debate and delivering a rather brilliant tutorial. I declare certain non-financial interests: I am the honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel; the unpaid director of a company that provides support for the All-Party Britain-Israel Parliamentary Group; and a trustee of the Yavneh Foundation Trust, a charity which owns the land and buildings in which a Jewish academy school operates.

In recent years, an environment of censorship, hostility and intimidation has emerged on university campuses across the United Kingdom. This current trend and the actions of some student bodies increasingly risk threatening freedom of speech at universities—places where debates and dialogue are fundamental. It can be difficult for Israel-supporting students to hold discussions on some campuses because of the prevailing attitude among many students and academics. By enabling extremist-linked organisations to speak on campuses but formally adopting boycott, divestment and sanctions—BDS—against Israel, the NUS has demonstrated selective discrimination.

The BDS campaign has actively sought to delegitimise Israel since 2005. Astonishingly, it has also consistently opposed efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to work towards peace. BDS leaders advocate boycotting cultural exchanges between Israeli and Palestinian artists, and condemn educational co-operation between Israeli and Palestinian universities.

I am also concerned about what is happening here in Britain. In March 2015, staff and students at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies—SOAS—voted strongly in favour of a full academic boycott of Israel. The boycott campaign specifically called for cutting ties with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where BA students from SOAS itself can spend a year studying. In June 2015, the national executive committee of the National Union of Students voted to boycott Israeli companies and formally align itself with the aims of the BDS Movement. Yet, quite unbelievably, only a few months earlier the NUS executive committee had voted against a motion condemning Islamic State terrorists on the grounds that doing so could be considered Islamophobic. Principally, the academic boycott campaign is a major infringement on the right to free speech and directly impacts on the ability for academic co-operation between the two countries.

One answer to an academic boycott can be greater collaboration between academics in the UK and their counterparts in Israel. This Government and the British Council, together with the Pears Foundation, have taken a lead on this, most strikingly with BIRAX—the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership—which has many projects. Funding has been awarded to leading universities in Britain and

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Israel: Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford; and the Hadassah School of Medicine, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Galilee Research Institute, Technion, and the Weizmann Institute of Science. The University of Manchester and Technion in Haifa partnered in 2013 to collaborate jointly on research projects focusing on heart disease, stem cell and genetic research. There are many other areas of collaboration. In cybersecurity, for example, the bilateral UK-Israel academic partnerships are the University of Bristol and Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv; University College London and Bar-Ilan again; and the University of Kent and the Ministry of Science and Technology at Haifa.

Britain, Israel and society as a whole have much to lose if this sort of collaboration is stopped. The funding of these programmes should be not only safeguarded but enhanced. Does my noble friend the Minister agree with me that academic exchanges can help undermine those who wish to boycott and stifle freedom of speech? Will she confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will not only safeguard the programmes I have mentioned but extend and enhance them?

2.07 pm

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB): My Lords, we are all deeply grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for unleashing an energising and vital debate. During the debate, we have learned of horrendous stories of where universities and the students within them have abused their desire to seek knowledge and instead have become the guardians of ignorance. I had the great privilege of speaking at the Cambridge Union just two weeks ago, addressing a large group of medical students who are using information technology as a mechanism to drive medical analysis, particularly in the continent of Africa. That is a great example of how students continue to become proactive and intelligent in pursuing issues rather than just fighting over ideas.

One of the greatest activists of our age was Mother Teresa. She said that at all times we should preach—in her case, preach Christianity—and teach,

“but only use words when necessary”.

I am sure the House needs no reminding that silence is sometimes a very powerful way to speak, but so is taking action. I have been associated, as have many of us, with an organisation called Enactus, which works in 53 universities across the UK with nearly 4,000 students. The thousands of students associated with Enactus—formerly called SIFE, or Students in Free Enterprise—actively use their time while at university and frequently thereafter to give voluntary hours in order to create enterprise that empowers others to have meaningful, economically effective lives.