Examination of Witnesses

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:31 pm ar 13 Medi 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Danny Stone MBE and Hillary Gyebi-Ababio gave evidence.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Llafur, Bradford South 6:00, 13 Medi 2021

Q We will now hear oral evidence from Danny Stone MBE, director of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, and Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students. We have until 6.45 pm for this session. I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

Thank you again for having me. I am Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, the vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, representing students here today.

Danny Stone:

I am Danny Stone, the chief executive of the Antisemitism Policy Trust.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Thank you both for coming along this evening, and for the evidence that you submitted in advance. May I ask a couple of questions of you, Hillary, first? Perhaps then I can turn to you, Danny. Just out of interest, Hillary, what are the current issues on campus among student unions? What are the priorities that you are facing?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

There is a plethora of issues that student unions are facing and that students are talking about right now, from mental health, which is a really serious issue that continues to pervade higher education, to funding and students not having enough money for accommodation and to live at university. Sexual violence is still prevalent on our campuses, and students are really going through it without enough support orenough measures for justice. Those are just a few, to not take up too much time. Students are going through a lot on campus right now, and seriously need solutions to problems that they are experiencing on the ground.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Student unions are feeding back to me that they are struggling financially. The past year and a half has been pretty tough. Incomes are right down, wherever they may be getting them from—some may be directly on campus, through facilities and so on. You may have seen that it is estimated that it will cost almost £800,000 a year for all SUs to sign off and distribute the codes of practice. How do you think that will go down with student unions? What impact will it have?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

I think that will have a massive hit on student unions. For information, student unions are often funded through negotiations with parent institutions. That is how they get the bulk of their funding. Especially over the pandemic, student unions have been subject to so much lost from not being able to run their commercial services. Often student unions have bars, shops or discounted outlets for students to shop at and experience student life. Student unions, as a collective, spending almost £1 million every single year trying to abide by the Bill will reduce what they can do, at the root of it, which will stop them doing the already fantastic work that they do, facilitating events and a student life that is worth having, and representing students on all the issues that I spoke about earlier.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q We just heard from Professor Grant of King’s College London, who said that we have a very good system in place to address speech issues at events on campus. Do you find that currently it is working generally pretty well? Other than KCL, do you have any other examples where you know the process has been working?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

I think it is commonplace that student unions and universities work together when it comes to events, to approving external speakers, and to ensuring that freedom of speech is facilitated on campus. You only have to look at the NSU calendar to see the wide range of events that are constantly going on, often led by students. A lot of that is facilitated by close relationships with universities. If there is an area on which universities and students work closely, it is that. There are measures in place; there are quite detailed ways that free speech is facilitated on campus through the partnership between student unions and universities. I think they are doing a good job in making that work. Where they need to improve, they are constantly eager to work together to do that.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Do you have concerns about some of our smaller higher education institutes? It is very easy to think about the big names, because they are the ones that always come up in the media, but in my few months in this role, I have begun to realise the scale of HE institutions that are covered. How do you think this will affect the hundreds of smaller institutions?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

I think that is a really important question. If I am being completely honest, a lot of stuff in the Bill is really, really concerning, such as measures under which people could get monetary sanctions for breaches of freedom of speech. Not only will that involve lots of bureaucracy for universities and student unions to make sure they are complying with the Bill, but it will take away from their ability to freely and fairly facilitate freedom of speech on campus.

Those smaller institutions are often places where students try to share their views, beliefs and experiences in a really tight-knit way in quite close communities. The Bill runs the risk of making those specific institutions—alongside the whole sector—much more risk averse in running events and facilitating freedom of speech, simply because they cannot bear the amount that the Bill would put on them, in addition to the fact that they already have internal processes on which they have worked hard for years and years. We are really concerned about that and about the impact the Bill will have on such institutions, as well as on larger institutions and student unions.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Thank you. Danny, can you give us an overview of the current landscape of our universities and campuses? I am interested to hear specifically about the situation with regard to antisemitism. Can you give a flavour on that?

Danny Stone:

Sure, and thank you for having me today. We have data: the Community Security Trust, which records antisemitic incident figures, reported that there were 58 university incidents in 2018-19, including four assaults; 65 incidents in 2019-20, including two assaults; and 109 incidents in 2020-21. We know that in May, issues occurred in universities where there had not previously been issues. Certainly, some of the abuse has moved online, and the Union of Jewish Students in particular has reported online abuse.

On the issue of speakers, which I suppose is of particular interest to the Committee, the CST reported that from 2018 to 2020, 15 speakers who had some association with antisemitism or had made antisemitic remarks in the past came on to campus. As a former officer of the Union of Jewish Students, I dealt with some of those cases. In 2005, at SOAS—the School of Oriental and African Studies—a speaker said:

“I’m not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act”.

Somebody who came to Oxford had actually been barred from entering the UK and was broadcast in. They had been barred because of their views on terrorism. In 2017, after the passing of the Equalities Act 2010, a speaker said:

“Zionists should be treated like Nazis”.

The point is that people are coming on to campus and expressing antisemitic views. The concern is that those impacts are being properly considered and that they do not get additional protections. As the trust, we have a couple of recommendations for the Bill, including that the codes of practice that are drawn up and the complaints scheme appropriately address the complexities around legal harms and freedom of speech, which Sunder Katwala pointed out to you.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Finally, other legislation is quite clear in how it addresses and balances competing freedoms, but there is seemingly no such balance in this legislation. Can you expand on the importance of balancing competing freedoms on campus, particularly in a higher education setting?

Danny Stone:

I learnt a lot about the balancing of freedoms from a guy called Ray Hill. He was a far-right mole who talked to me about the importance of not always shutting down debate. His experience of working with young people, particularly on the far right, was that opportunities to ask difficult questions and raise difficult issues should not be shut down. Equally, he acknowledged the harms caused by some people who express particular views in harmful ways.

This has been addressed in the higher education sector. Malcolm Grant did a report in 2010 in which he talked about trying to promote freedom of speech while understanding its limits. He said that universities need to balance the competing interests and might reach

“different but equally legitimate conclusions about the same matters.”

The Prevent guidance that followed talked about freedom of speech and moral obligations to address harms. We have seen it in Government guidance from 2008 about free speech, which said that everyone can be safe and not intimidated at university.

In fact, the human rights memorandum for this Bill says that there will be competing freedoms, but it suggests leaving it to the end point: the universities. You have heard from people today who say, “Well, the universities aren’t getting it right.” My view is that it should be on the face of the Bill, per the Online Safety Bill, the Joint Committee on which I appeared before the other day. Recognition of the complexities and the competing freedoms would be welcome.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

Q Danny, you have previously raised concerns about a lack of consistency in the duties on higher education providers, in that they do not apply to student unions—something that this Bill would correct. Do you think that it is important that we do that?

Danny Stone:

In terms of student unions? Absolutely. Again, if we are talking about complexities, there was a move to essentially prohibit the Jewish society at the University of Essex from becoming a society. That was unacceptable, and I believe it was reversed in the end. Similarly, there have been moves in the past to ban Jewish societies, and I was involved in campaigning against a motion at the University of Manchester that essentially would have done that.

On the flip side, there are front groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is not a proscribed organisation, that will seek to set up on campus, and there are far-right organisations that will seek to set up student societies on campus. That presents me with real concern. Could they potentially appeal and try to get money and find a route through? Yes, they might. There is a complexity in this which I would like to see recognised in the Bill. I would like to see something about the competing freedoms that exist.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

Q Do you think Jewish students feel comfortable reporting incidents where they may have had their freedom of speech inhibited?

Danny Stone:

I think it depends on the institution and on how confident they might be. For example—I am sure we will come back to this—at the moment at Bristol, and potentially at Warwick, there have been concerns raised by the Union of Jewish Students about the operation of their procedures. In fact, I think the OfS may have taken at look at Warwick. It will depend, but I can well imagine there will be instances in which Jewish students would be nervous about reporting their concerns.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

Q Thank you. Hillary, in the past you have said that there is a freedom of speech problem on our campuses. Can you explain why you said that? Was it from personal experience?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

Could you clarify where and when I said that, please?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

It is from one of the documents we have from a while ago.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

Sure. I cannot recall exactly when I said that—apologies—but to speak to the background of the Bill, I think there are concerns around the evidence upon which this Bill has been brought about. If there is anything that we need to be worried about on campus, it is facilitating what would look like equitable free speech for everyone. Some students on campus do not feel that they have the same level of rights to free speech as others because, for example, existing legislation makes them nervous about speaking about their views or what they believe. In 2018, 43% of Muslim students, if I recall correctly, talked about the Prevent duty having an impact on their ability to feel—[Interruption.]

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Llafur, Bradford South

Order. There is a Division. The sitting will be suspended, and I shall resume the Chair in 15 minutes’ time, just before half-past six o’clock.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Llafur, Bradford South

We resume the sitting, which will now end at 7 pm.

Photo of Charlotte Nichols Charlotte Nichols Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

I will direct my questions to Mr Stone. Earlier, Professor Goodwin said in evidence that he would happily have invited someone from the BNP or the National Front to speak to students, if they were available. He also spoke about the need for academics to feel welcome, safe and secure, but that does not seem to apply to students, in particular those from minority groups, including Jewish students. Under the proposals in the Bill, the OfS will have a specific condition of registration relating to the promotion of freedom of speech. Should it also have a condition in relation to discriminationQ ?

Danny Stone:

This is something that I wrote about when the OfS was first established. My view was, “Wouldn’t it be helpful if the OfS had a condition relating to discrimination?”, so that students could look to a regulator and see whether there were particular things that their proposed institution was doing—or not doing. In the end, that was not included. The first ministerial guidance to the OfS suggested that it looked at discrimination. Since that point, it has been consulting on a sexual abuse and harassment procedure. It has put out a statement, which has gone to institutions, and institutions have had to respond on whether they comply—I assume that they have all said that they can comply. It strikes me, talking again about complexity, that the OfS, which already has certain principles that it must abide by in respect of freedom of speech, as Nicola Dandridge was saying, will now have a specific condition of registration, so this is the time to include a condition of registration in respect of discrimination. That then enables the OfS to look at the whole picture, ensuring that the complexity is properly reflected. Rather than it waiting for a non-legislative fix on discrimination, we have the balance brought all the way up. This is where I would do it, if I were putting the Bill together.

Photo of Charlotte Nichols Charlotte Nichols Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

Q You referred to this earlier, so I am interested to know what you think that the Bill, if enacted, would mean for cases such as that of Professor David Miller at the University of Bristol? He has been widely condemned by the Union of Jewish Students, the Board of Deputies and more than 100 parliamentarians across both Houses of Parliament and all political parties regarding allegations of antisemitism. Would the Bill protect him?

Danny Stone:

Before coming here, I had a look at the expertise that David Miller’s professes on the Bristol website, which is the Zionist movement, the Israel lobby and racism. One can see, using the Miller case as an example, why that might present an issue in the future. If an academic has the right to protest that they have not got a promotion or have been passed over for a job because of free speech they have used in their area of expertise—well, hold on, the area of expertise here is Israel, Zionism and racism.

David Miller, however, has talked about Jewish students

“being used as political pawns” by

“a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing.”

Everyone, I think, recognises that that is an antisemitic statement. Certainly, as you say, across Parliament it has been recognised as such. There will be other examples of academics who have a particular area of expertise and that area of expertise will potentially give cover for them saying particular things. If you remove that, the problem is not fixed, because in the past other academics have spoken in an antisemitic way when those particulars are not their area of expertise.

Yes, that needs looking at, and those complexities need bringing out in the Bill. I do not necessarily have a particular suggestion, but I worry about it.

Photo of Charlotte Nichols Charlotte Nichols Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

Q Hillary, is there anything you would like to add?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

It is important, especially in reference to your first question and whether we think about discrimination and what the Bill could allow for. First and foremost, the Bill needs to give stronger reassurances that will not allow for free rein on discrimination, especially of vulnerable groups. However, it is also really important that we recognise that there are students who are made much more vulnerable by different types of speech than others, and unless the Bill recognises that they need protections and unless it can work alongside existing Acts and duties, it is going to make a lot of those students feel unsafe on campus—even more so than they do now with just their general experiences. I think that many elements of the Bill need to be looked at closely to ensure that that is embedded in there.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

FurtherQ to the last point, speaking from a personal point of view and a NUS point of view, presumably you believe in freedom of speech in the sense that you believe in the freedom to disturb, to alarm, or even to shock or outrage.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

Yes. As the NUS, we believe in freedom of speech.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

Q Even if that makes people feel very uncomfortable?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

What I would say is that to focus on freedom of speech as just being about making people uncomfortable is quite restrictive. If we are going to speak about freedom of speech in that regard, we also have to speak about the freedom of people to have opposing views and the right of people to protest when they do have opposing views. Even more so, I think it is important that when we think about freedom of speech, we acknowledge the fact that freedom of speech is important to have, to champion and to promote, but we also have to be mindful of where it might encroach into places where people feel harmed, and are harmed, especially if they come from a vulnerable or marginalised group with protected characteristics under the Equality Act.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

Q Of course, you are right that freedom of speech is unqualified in the sense that both views need to be put and many opinions need to be shared. There should be no prohibition on that within the law, and the law does prohibit incitement to hatred, incitement to terrorism and various other things, as you know. However, within those lawful constraints, is the freedom to offend important to you?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

I would say to that that we could speak about the freedom to offend, but I think it is important that if we are so focused on offending rather than promoting an environment of debate in which people are able to voice opposing views, rather than just allow people to have the freedom to offend, I think we are not speaking about freedom of speech in the way that it should look like—in a balanced way, you know. If people should have the freedom to offend, people should also have the freedom to express opposing views, and to express that as freely as people would offend. Again, going back to the Bill, we cannot talk about this until there are proper reassurances that the Bill will not allow that freedom of offence to flirt with where it might encroach on hate speech or harmful speech, especially when people are from marginalised communities.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

Q Hang on, I want to be clear about this. I totally agree with you that there need to be plural opportunities for people to express their views. I may find those views entirely unacceptable, possibly shocking and maybe offensive, but I would defend people’s right to be able to express them. We have laws that protect against hatred, incitement to violence, incitement to terrorism and so on, so are we clear that what the Bill does is to allow pretty pervasive freedom of speech within the law, allowing all kinds of views to be articulated on campus? That is a good thing, surely.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

Again, I would just reiterate that we believe in and champion freedom of speech on campus. It is not a secret that the NUS and the student movement have been facilitating this happening for years and years, so that is what I would say to that.

I think, though, that what the Bill proposes, and some of its elements, come across as finding ways to promote free speech by introducing a body to bring in punitive measures where that is inhibited. I think that does not give enough acknowledgement to the fact that there are already existing processes to ensure that, when free speech is inhibited, that is dealt with. There is already promotion of free speech by student unions, by universities and by the NUS, even, and we need to think about whether the Bill will have the effect of promoting free speech, or whether it will have an opposite effect that causes people to be very risk-averse.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

Q Very briefly, Chair—I know others want to speak—let me be clear. I am relieved and delighted by what you said about the NUS’s position. So, the NUS is against no-platforming, it is against a list of proscribed speakers who can lawfully make their views known elsewhere, and it is basically in favour of a pretty permissive free speech policy across universities.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

If I may, that is not what I said exactly, especially in reference to the no-platforming policy. We have a no-platforming policy that includes six organisations, most of which the Government would also see as racist and fascist organisations. To say that we do not agree with no-platforming is simply not true.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

Q Are these lawful organisations? Are you saying that you are in favour, then, of prohibiting lawful free speech in certain circumstances?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

No. I am not saying that I am not in favour of lawful free speech. I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that the NUS supports, champions and cares deeply that free speech is championed, enabled and supported. To say that we do not agree with no-platforming where there are organisation like those I referenced with NUS’s no-platform policy that share and promote hate speech that hurts people from marginalised groups––to say that we do not support that is not true.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

Q This is not just about free speech within the law. Conservative Members may not recall that the Minister wrote to universities asking them to adopt the definition of antisemitism. The Chair of the Education Committee has promoted, and asked universities to adopt, the definition of antisemitism. That definition is not law, so there are times when we want to restrict what people say that are not necessarily within the law. Do you want to comment on why adopting that definition is important, despite it not being law?

Danny Stone:

There are two different issues here. Sir John, I found the your exchange earlier with Sunder Katwala really interesting because there are points in society where we turn round and say, “Sorry, this isn’t acceptable. There are societal standards here.” We do that with Ofcom. We do it with the British Board of Film Classification in our film regulation. We do it in other areas of public life where we say there are some kind of limits. That does not mean that the speech cannot happen, but Parliament sets a standard and it allows regulators, for example, to have a say on those standards. That is why I think that the complexities I spoke to should be on the face of the Bill.

I am pleased to have the chance to talk about International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, so thank you. The IHRA definition is excellent and it was created––people may not know this––to try to bring uniformity for practitioners who were trying to understand why Jews were fleeing antisemitism and antisemitic terrorism in Europe. It helps to bring a standard of understanding to people. What it does not do––I disagree with Sunder’s evidence earlier––is to block people from saying anything. It is an advisory tool. It helps people to understand what antisemitism may be in a particular context. That is a very useful thing for universities, and the Secretary of State and the Minister have been very good in supporting the IHRA definition. But, as you say, it does help to guide what our expectations are around antisemitism, and presumably, if something is found to be antisemitic, we do not really want that. There is a societal standard that we aspire to. Sorry for a long answer but, yes, I do think that these complexities need to be addressed in the Bill.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Llafur, Bradford South

I realise that these are very complex issues, but I ask Members and the panel to try to be succinct because we still have an awful lot of people who want to ask questions. I will try my level best to let everybody in.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Ceidwadwyr, Congleton

Thank you both for coming today. Danny, you have given us some carefully collated data on antisemitism which has been very helpful, not just in relation to the Bill but more widely. What are your thoughts about faith-based views being expressed and how there may have been an impact on those in the university arena, including in terms of the chilling effect? The kind of views that I am talking about have perhaps not been mentioned in the witness sessions we have had so far, in which we have talked about the political spectrum of restrictions on freedom of speech. What about things like a biblical view of creation, pro-life views or a faith perspective on the meaning of marriage—or indeed having a faith at all? Could you comment on how those areas have been affected by the issues that we have been discussing?Q

Danny Stone:

In truth, I do not have specific data on that.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Ceidwadwyr, Congleton

I would not expect you to.

Danny Stone:

I would want to speak to, for example, the University Jewish Chaplaincy about that to understand what has happened. From my limited knowledge, I know that there are issues around exams on Jewish festivals, but I do not have much more. My general principle, as before, is that there has to be a right to offend. There has to be a right of freedom to express difficult, controversial opinions, but I am afraid that I do not have enough on the specifics for you.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Ceidwadwyr, Congleton

Q That is all right. Hillary, do you have any comments on students being freely able to express that kind of view within the university environment?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

I do not necessarily know that it is for me to comment. I would reassert that freedom of speech is important, especially when there are views that offend or might alarm, but that has to be balanced by the ability of people who disagree to oppose and challenge those views. It is important that whenever we speak about freedom of speech there is balance. It is not just about allowing alarming views; it is about also allowing people who challenge and oppose those views to have the right to freedom of speech in an equal and equitable way.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Ceidwadwyr, Congleton

Q Thank you. A further short question, if I may. We have asked witnesses about the impact that they think not having the Bill would have on the university environment in 10 years’ time. One witness said that there could be a monoculture or a lack of development of critical thinkers. I am really interested in what your impression is of the effect on wider society of not having the Bill, in 10 years’ time when all the students who have experienced that environment are in positions of responsibility.

Danny Stone:

It depends whether the Bill has the amendments in it that I have proposed or not—[Laughter.] The truth is that I do not know, but I can tell you that the Union of Jewish Students asked me to raise specifically that there has been disruption of where Jewish students who have a particular Zionist identity are looking to host Israeli speakers. Those talks, in numerous cases—I have 20 different examples in front of me—have been interrupted and the students have not been able, in their opinion, to host people with views that they want to be shared.

These are not controversial things; it is Israeli students and a group of Israeli minorities cancelled at short notice. There is a concern in that regard about being able to have a well thought through, rational and calm discussion about what is happening in the middle east, and whether that might be impacted. The UK Lawyers for Israel have raised that in front of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I thought that concern might fit in answer to your question.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

Q To follow up on that, I remember that when I was a student at the University of Bradford, I hosted a speaking tour of Zionist refuseniks—people who were proud Israelis and Zionists, but at the time were refusing to fight in the Israel Defence Forces. I remember the paperwork and bureaucracy required to host those young people from Israel at university, and to get them to speak about their experiences and how they, very importantly, were not anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist, but had disagreements on certain policies. It almost meant that some of the objectives did not happen. Is there a danger with some of this, particularly around tort, that universities will require even more paperwork and more thresholds that might mean that people such as myself in Bradford, who had a countervailing view at the time, might end up saying, “I can’t be bothered to host that speaking tour”?

Danny Stone:

I will give you another answer about complexities. In some instances, that bureaucracy can be helpful. We worked on the Manchester guidelines, which meant that when a speaker was coming to campus it was advertised in a bar so that students could raise concerns if somebody was coming and they thought that there would be a problem. Then the university could put in place various measures to ensure that that talk went off without any problem. Perhaps the event was recorded; perhaps the speaker was asked to undertake to uphold the various principles that the university has or its requirements in respect of the public sector equality duty. Those things are helpful, so I do not think all bureaucracy is unhelpful, but I do not know yet; I suppose a lot will depend on how this is enacted and whether that may cause bureaucracy. Certainly as a student, the less paperwork I could fill in, the better.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

Q I was on a panel at one event where there was—I do not think he is even a professor—the Miller chap from Bristol, and I remember that at the end of the event I said I think what has been said here is a load of rubbish—I think I was more fruity in my language. I told my office at the time to write a letter to him to say that I would not sit on any more panels and would not host any events with him. Is there a danger that if I were an institution and then wrote to Mr Miller with that, I would open myself up for tort liability, because I would be effectively saying, “I don’t want to host your views anymore”? I can do that as an MP, but as a university I would be potentially liable to be sued.

Danny Stone:

The truth is I do not know how this will play out. I do think there is a difference between people in public life being on panels and deciding their engagement with particular speakers—and institutions. I do think there is a qualitative difference. I do not know—it may very well. That is why, in all these cases, whether it be in relation to the director of freedom of speech for the OfS, the code of practice or anything else, that balance and the reference to complexity and competing freedoms will be hugely important in trying to get the balance right.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

Q Hillary, you always get—and it is fantastic—some contrary students in student unions, who want to rock the boat. That is basically the point of a student union, under the Education Act 1994 and case law—v. Brady and others, for example. But is there a difficulty with this, particularly, that there might be a reverse chilling effect, and that rather than allowing students to invite whomever they want and then doing as Danny says and seeing whether there can be a process to ensure that things are followed, some student unions just go down the course of saying, “You can’t invite in anyone, because we don’t want to breach”—

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

That is an important concern to raise: the inadvertent or indirect—well, I do not even know whether it is indirect. I think a direct unintended consequence of this Bill could be that student unions would become more risk averse to inviting speakers, because they just cannot handle the bureaucracy; they just cannot handle the prospect of having to pay lots of money in the case of litigation. They are having to worry about doing what they already do well and facilitate very well, in a way that is much more complicated and adds so many more layers of process to what they already do very well, in order not to face the consequences of this Bill. If we are going to think about bringing student unions into this duty, we have to think about the fact that they already have regulators, regulations and provisions to make sure that freedom of speech is facilitated well and strongly on campus. I think that is a legitimate direct consequence that this Bill could create for student unions—not least the £800,000 a year in printing and signing off the code of practice.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Ceidwadwyr, North West Durham

Q My first question is to Mr Stone. I just wanted to pick up on something that we got evidence on earlier, which was that about 20% of students are apparently feeling unable to express their views in the classroom. I just wondered whether there were any specifics around Jewish students, given what you had said about the UJS having difficulty with people coming on campus.

Danny Stone:

As I say, there have been various Israeli speakers that they have sought to have on campus, including a professor of international law at City University in 2015—cancelled. In 2018 it was the Israeli ambassador; the event was initially cancelled and then held after a legal threat. There is a suggestion by a law lecturer at City University that they had been refused a sabbatical for attending a law conference in Israel. For Israeli minorities that I spoke to, events were cancelled at short notice and held off campus, because the SU imposed charges. This is actually something fairly important; it has happened a number of times—student societies being asked to pay a fee to cover the security costs of an event going ahead.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Ceidwadwyr, North West Durham

Q Did you study under Professor Matthew Goodwin when you were at Birkbeck for your master’s programme?

Danny Stone:

No, I did not.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Ceidwadwyr, North West Durham

Q He raised a particular concern around academic freedom and the lack of voices from certain points of the political establishment. Do you find that that is also an issue that Jewish academics face?

Danny Stone:

There are anecdotal examples of Jewish academics who have felt that they have been passed over for a promotion, or that they have not necessarily had the support that they thought they should have for speaking about antisemitism. On the flip side, as I pointed to before, I know that there are academics who have expressed antisemitic views, and we have significant concerns about that. One that I spotted today—this points to the earlier discussion about conspiracy theories—had a conspiracy theory on their personal website, which is linked to the university website. It is complex. There are issues there. The Jewish community is like the rest of the world, and will experience the same issues that others face.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Ceidwadwyr, North West Durham

Q Miss Gyebi-Ababio, we had evidence from Kathleen Stock, from the University of Sussex, about her concerns around academic freedom. One of the things that you mentioned earlier was that you want to believe in and champion freedom of speech, and that is what the NUS does. Would that extend as far as people like Kathleen Stock, who push gender-critical thinking?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

I do not think it is necessarily my place to say who is and is not okay to speak on campus. I would say that there are frameworks in place to facilitate people with views that might be viewed as controversial or unpopular to be able to speak on campus. Those are already in place and already happening. I think it is important that, where freedom of speech is championed, we are trusting in the existing processes that are facilitating that already.

I think that this Bill puts in place undue measures, in an excessive way, to solve something that just has not been proven to be widespread. The data released by the OfS last week shows it. When 0.002% of events were cancelled—that is under 100 of the 43,000 events that were reported for them to look at—free speech is already being facilitated on campus, and universities and student unions are doing it well. Again, as I said at the start, they are learning as they go. They are continuing to learn and continuing to improve their procedures, and doing that really well.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Ceidwadwyr, North West Durham

Q One of the issues that has been raised, rather than this direct cancelling of events, which Mr Stone has spoken to, is also the self-censorship: people not inviting people, and that sort of thing. I believe you are here on behalf of the NUS, at least in some part. I just wanted to raise something—a term called TERFs, or trans-exclusionary radical feminists. I am just looking at the NUS website now, from June this year, and it says, basically, that “the gender-critical perspective” is essentially “trying to rebrand” people who are “just…hateful bigots”. Do you agree with that?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

It is important that NUS is able to express its views and opinions, just as we champion the right for people to be able to express their own. That is us exercising our freedom of speech in challenging a view that we do not agree with. I do not know how that necessarily speaks to the Bill, but again, I want to reiterate that this Bill does some really important stuff in promoting free speech, but it does not offer enough—

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Llafur, Bradford South

I am sorry to interrupt, but I am afraid we are running out of time, and we have one more question to take. It will have to be the last question of the day.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

I was just finishing the sentence.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Ceidwadwyr, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

Q I thank Danny for his comments about the usefulness of the IHRA definition. A brief question for Hillary: you said in a number of your responses that there are a lot of things in the Bill that need to be closely scrutinised; luckily, the purpose of this Committee is to ensure that scrutiny. Can you say specifically which points in the Bill the NUS wishes to express a view about, and how you feel the Bill should change in the light of the NUS’s point of view?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio:

Hopefully you will have seen our amendments, so to save time I will not repeat them. All our amendments cover the fact that there are confusing regulatory positions in the Bill, which add regulation to a sector and a space that are already regulated quite well. It is concerning, in that the Bill will cause chaos and confusion for students and academics alike, I imagine. There is not a lot of clarity around the measures. I have spoken a lot about the disproportionate financial impact that they will have on student unions. They do not show a preparedness to be transparent and accountable in relation to the Director for Freedom of Speech, and more generally in how the regulatory framework will work. Again, as I said—and this speaks to the last question I was answering—there is not enough reassurance—

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Llafur, Bradford South

Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allocated for the Committee to ask questions of this panel. I thank the witnesses on behalf of the Committee for their evidence. I invite any member of the Committee who wishes to register an interest to do so now.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

As I did previously, I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests relating to my role at the University of Bolton.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Ceidwadwyr, North West Durham

I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Durham University.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

As I mentioned in the previous sitting, I am a trustee at the University of Bradford union, I receive money from the University of Sussex to provide educational opportunities to its students, and I have received support from the University and College Union.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

My wife works at a higher education provider.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Michael Tomlinson.)

Adjourned till Wednesday 15 September at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.