Freedom of Speech: Student Campuses

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th March 2017.

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Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell UKIP, Clacton 12:00 am, 20th March 2017

If she will make it her policy to issue guidance to higher education institutions on ensuring freedom of speech for students on campuses.

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

A broad range of higher education institutions are covered by an existing legal duty under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 to take “reasonably practicable” steps to secure freedom of speech; and the Higher Education and Research Bill, which is currently in the other place, proposes to extend that to all registered providers. The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that I have today written to the sector highlighting the importance of this duty, reminding institutions of their responsibilities in this respect and emphasising the importance of action when freedom of speech issues arise.

Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell UKIP, Clacton

Notwithstanding the obligations under section 43 of the 1986 Act, does the Minister believe that action is needed to safeguard universities as places of free speech and challenging ideas?

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

Indeed. Policies and codes of practice should not simply be allowed to gather dust; they are crucial to demonstrating to students that free speech should be at the heart of our university system. They need to be meaningful documents that students and staff understand and, crucially, respect.