The Government has dropped the key section of ‘anti-terror’ guidance which threatened the free speech of university Christian Unions.
Widespread concern had emerged over the draft guidance for the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which said that university societies in Britain would be forced to hand over external speakers’ talks two weeks in advance for vetting.
It has been suggested that specific guidance on the issue of external speakers may be published before the General Election but it would not have any legal force.
The Christian Institute welcomed the change, while student charity UCCF said: “We are profoundly thankful to the Lord for overruling in this.”
The issue concerns the Prevent strategy which aims to counter terrorism by addressing “extremism”.
In January, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights warned that the “legal uncertainty” about the definition of ‘extremist’ “will have a seriously inhibiting effect on bona fide academic debate”.
During Parliamentary debate on the issue, the Government introduced an amendment to the Act which requires universities to give “particular regard” to freedom of speech when fulfilling their duty to combat terrorism.
Later the Home Secretary pledged that Christian Unions and other “genuine” and “well-intentioned” groups would not be caught by the guidance.
She also said the proposal for vetting external speakers would be clarified as “not necessary”.
A row between the Coalition parties emerged earlier this month over exactly what should feature in the final guidance.
The Conservative universities minister, Greg Clark, and senior Liberal Democrats backed efforts to protect free speech but top Tories resisted such a move.
The controversy has led to specific statutory protection for freedom of speech being introduced for Scottish universities for the first time.
Unlike their counterparts in England and Wales, Scottish universities were not explicitly obliged to protect free speech on campus until now.
The final overall guidance still requires approval from MPs and Peers.