Free speech ‘restricted’ at universities, says Human Rights report

University students should be free to air opinions on controversial issues such as abortion and transsexualism, MPs and Peers have said.

A report by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) said it is “unacceptable” that certain topics are being restricted.

It warned that such interference “could be having a ‘chilling effect’ on the exercise of freedom of speech more widely”.

Safe spaces

So-called safe spaces came in for particular criticism, with parliamentarians pointing out that they “cannot cover the whole of the university or university life without impinging on rights to free speech”.

The report added that universities must be places of “open and uncensored debate” so that students can develop their own opinions on unpopular, controversial or provocative ideas, stating: “Minority views should not be barred from student union premises”.

“Groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities.”

Key Issues

Released yesterday, the report found that “many of the incidents in which free speech is restricted often revolve around discussion of key controversial or divisive issues”.

Included in the list of issues were transgenderism, pro-life views, sexuality and faith.

Christian MP Fiona Bruce, who sits on the JCHR, told the BBC the evidence that free speech is being restricted is “very concerning”.

Speaking on the Today programme, she cited examples of pro-life groups having “difficulty at several universities getting stalls at freshers’ fairs”.

No platform

“A student union at one university passed a motion never to provide a platform for pro-life groups”, she added.

Pro-life students at a number of UK universities have experienced concerted attacks against them including at Glasgow’s Strathclyde University, Newcastle University and Cardiff University.

Mrs Bruce later told Premier Radio, “There is no legal right not to be offended, people can say things which might offend others but if they don’t, for example, go as far as to incite violence or terrorism under the Prevent legislation then that speech is lawful”.

Chris Hale, Director of Policy at Universities UK, said: “Universities must continue to be places where difficult topics are discussed and where people, however controversial their views, should be allowed to speak within the law, and their views challenged openly.”

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