[The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Claire Coutinho): ... Subsection (5) will mean that a claimant who is applying only for an injunction will no longer have to exhaust the complaints schemes first. Those claimants will therefore have direct access to the courts. It is important to allow for that to avoid delays that may cause further harm to the claimant. If, for example, a student is expelled from their course because of a free-speech issue, it may take a long time to resolve their complaint, and damages would not be sufficient. The student would be seeking re-entry on to that course to continue their studies. In that scenario, subsection (5) will allow the student to seek an injunction from the courts as quickly as possible. I am sure the whole House agrees that that is sensible and justified.]
Sir Julian Lewis: Yes, it is an excellent change. The only question in my mind is why this rather obvious feature was not included at the beginning. Could the Minister look into that and – if not now, on another occasion – throw some light on it? It was an obvious flaw in the Bill.
[Claire Coutinho: I thank my right hon. Friend. I think the fact that we have now included that in the Bill shows that we have worked with both sides to ensure that the Bill is as strong as possible. We have always had the academics, visiting speakers and students that it seeks to protect at the forefront of our mind.
I should reiterate that the provision concerns injunctions where there has already been a breach of the relevant duties. Where there is an anticipated breach of the duties, a claimant can apply for an injunction to prevent that – that has always been the case, since the requirement to exhaust the complaints scheme only applies in the case of an actual breach. It is important to note that we believe that this exception will apply only in a minority of cases, as most claimants will not seek, or have their case result in, an injunction. Nevertheless, we are sympathetic to complainants who find themselves in the difficult circumstances in which an injunction may be required. Further to this, we expect the OfS will take into account the implications of the amendment when drafting the complaints scheme rules.
I hope that the House will therefore accept amendments 10B, 10C and 10D from the other place, and agree with the Government’s proposed new subsections (2) to (5), which are consequential upon the amendments.]
Sir Julian Lewis: It is a very serious step for anyone, particularly a student with limited means, to go to court and seek an injunction. Surely the hon. Gentleman can see that no one will do this on a whim. They will do so only when their rights are being seriously infringed.
[Matt Western (Shadow Minister for Higher Education): I have a huge amount of respect for the right hon. Gentleman, as he knows. Of course I would be concerned about the case of an individual student, but I fear more generally about the tort being a channel for more vexatious claims by well-funded individuals or organisations, and where that may take us. ...]