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Universities (Freedom Of Speech)

Volume 81: debated on Tuesday 25 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had with the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals about his proposals concerning freedom of speech in universities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Peter Brooke)

My right hon. Friend has discussed this issue with the committee and will be doing so again next month. Recent events continue to give concern.

Will my hon. Friend press ahead with those discussions as soon as possible? Does he agree that recent events in some of our universities, involving militant action against free speech by tiny groups of student—stiny both in number and in mental stature—give rise to doubts, particularly in the case of the recent incident at Bristol university, about the fitness of such people to be in universities in the first place?

I readily concur that the correspondence columns of the Bristol university periodical are a rich quarry on the subject of freedom of speech in an academic environment — indeed, with a vigorous freedom of speech of their own that is worthy of Burke.

Does the Under-Secretary of State recognise that tenured appointment for university staff has been an important element in safeguarding freedom of speech and thought in universities? Does he not realise that the Government's intention to threaten that tenure is causing great concern about the future of freedom of speech in universities?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has made it absolutely clear in what he has said about tenure that freedom of speech and of thought—academic freedom in total—will not be threatened.