Peers: Let uni free speech flourish, not flounder

Free speech should be allowed to flourish at universities but it is being threatened by Government proposals, Peers have warned.

Members of the House of Lords voiced concerns about the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which is due to be debated again in the House of Lords this week.

The former head of MI5, Baroness Manningham-Buller, noted a “profound irony” in attempts to combat terrorism by trying to curtail certain views.


Lord Renfrew, a Conservative Peer and former Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, noted that universities are places where “free speech should flourish”.

And a previous head of the civil service, Lord Butler, said the “whole point of university” is to allow students to “make up their own minds on what’s right or wrong”.

Under guidance introduced alongside the Bill, university societies, such as Christian Unions, would be forced to hand over presentations to be vetted.

They would also have to submit names of speakers to be checked at least two weeks in advance, and risk their events being cancelled by university authorities.


Speaking in the House of Lords, Baroness Manningham-Buller commented, “I am afraid that it is a profound irony that we are seeking to protect our values against this pernicious ideology by trying to bar views that are described, too vaguely, as ‘non-violent’ extremist”.

Lord Renfrew noted, “I think that the Government, in seeking to constrain the enemies of the open society, are wrong if they take steps that constrain free speech and academic debate”.

“Universities are places where free speech should flourish and should be constrained as little as possible”, he added.

Different opinions

And Lord Butler, speaking to Sky News, said the Government was treating universities like schools which “have got a duty to teach children what’s right and what’s wrong”.

“The whole point of university is that they should have a good deal of freedom to hear different opinions and make up their own minds on what’s right or wrong.”

Responding to the criticism in the House of Lords, Home Office minister Lord Bates noted Peers’ “trepidation” and said the Government would consider if changes were possible.

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