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Freedom Of Speech

Volume 100: debated on Wednesday 25 June 1986

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science (1) whether he will publish in the Official Report a list of all incidents reported to him in which students or invited speakers were denied the right to speak, asked not to appear, had invitations to speak withdrawn, were physically or otherwise stopped from speaking at universities or other institutions of higher education in the last two years; and if he will give a description of each such incident and details of any information he has on subsequent disciplinary action taken;(2) whether he will publish in the

Official Report a list of all incidents reported to him occurring in the last two years at universities and other institutions of higher education where students or duly-invited guests have met with violence where there is evidence that the cause was related to views they held.

The detailed information sought by the hon. Member is readily available only for the period since November 1985. Most incidents followed up by the Department have involved invited speakers rather than students. Some allegations have been received about action by students against other students, and two were pursued with the institutions.The denial of free speech may of course be much greater than the following list reveals. Only reported incidents car be stated. There may he many other instances where the existence of a "no platform" policy or the threat of disruption has led to a controversial speaker not being invited. It is in the nature of the problem that such denial of free speech will not always be known.SPEAKERS ASKED NOT TO APPEAR/INVITATIONS WITHDRAWN1.

Guildford College of Law—October/November 1985

In late October 1985, the press reported the alleged banning of meetings in mid-November 1985 and in February 1986 at which Mr. Jeffrey Archer and the Solicitor-General respectively had been invited to speak. The college, a small private establishment, explained that it could not accommodate other than strictly private meetings arranged by students on its premises. It assisted the College Conservative Association in finding and funding an alternative venue for Mr. Archer's meeting a few days, later on premises provided by the University of Surrey. The college wrote to both Mr. Archer and the Solicitor-General to explain the position and invited the latter to speak on a later occasion as a guest of the college.

2. University of Essex—6 November 1985

The University Conservative Student Association had failed to give notification in accordance with established rules to the university authorities of their invitation to the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), and was required to withdraw it.

3. Sheffield University—26 November 1985

Following the severe disruption that a small number of activists had caused at a debate addressed by Mrs. Victoria Gillick on 29 October, the university had supported the student union in concluding that a brief "cooling-off" period was needed before any further meetings were held on clearly controversial subjects. When, during this period, my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North was invited by the Student Conservative Association to speak on the sporting boycott of South Africa, the university authorities supported the student union in cancelling the proposed meeting.

4. York University—13 February 1986

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North was invited to speak to students at the university by the Conservative Student Association. The student union then re-adopted a "no-platform" policy against speakers deemed to be "racists". The university authorities immediately reinstituted legal proceedings against such a policy (action had lapsed when the student union at a mass meeting overturned the no-platform policy in October of the previous year). In order to avoid confrontation before a legal ruling and an injunction could be obtained, the university authorities cancelled the proposed meeting.

5. Leeds Polytechnic—20 February 1986

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North accepted the conclusion of the director, Mr. Christopher Price, reached on the basis of police advice, that his visit should be postponed to a later date.

6. Bristol Polytechnic—March 1986

Mr. Ray Honeyford was invited by Bristol Polytechnic Conservative Students Association to address a student meeting. The proposed meeting, said to have been advertised by the student association in emotive terms, had caused much local controversy. Although the polytechnic authorities were prepared to allow the meeting to proceed, with the intention of preparing against disruption, the governing body decided that the meeting should not take place "at the present time on polytechnic premises".


1. Manchester University—8 November 1985

The Minister of State, at the Home Office, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington) was invited by the University Conservative Student Association to speak on the Government's immigration policy. The meeting was held in the student union's premises. It was violently disrupted and my hon. and learned Friend was forced to leave. The university initiated disciplinary proceedings against four students. Following an appeal by all four students against the decision of the disciplinary committee, it was decided on 21 March that three of the appeals be rejected and one upheld.

2. Bradford University—13 February 1986

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. John Carlisle), was invited by Bradford University Conservative Student Association to address a mainly student audience on politics, sport and South Africa. Shortly after he arrived my hon. Friend was knocked down and assaulted by a group of young men. Those involved were said not to he students. The university's student union deplored the incident and immediately offered to co-operate with the police in any investigation.

3. Sunderland Polytechnic—16 February 1986

My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon), was invited by the Student Christian Movement at Sunderland polytechnic to speak to students on the "Future of the North East". The student union at the polytechnic supported the invitation, providing a room and the necessary facilities. The meeting passed without incident. After the meeting, whilst talking to students in the student union bar, Mr. Fallon was struck in the face by a person who is believed to be an associate member of the bar (possibly an ex-student of the polytechnic). The student union deplored the incident and sent a formal apology to my hon. Friend on 19 February. My hon. Friend declined a police invitation to prosecute.

4. Oriel College, Oxford—17 February 1986

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. John Carlisle), was invited by Oxford University Monday Club to speak about sporting links with South Africa. A number of people barricaded themselves in the room at Oriel college where the meeting was to be held and so prevented the meeting from going ahead. Only one student was identified as having been present and it has been accepted that he was attempting to clear the room. The university believes that those responsible for the incident were members of the Socialist Workers Party from outside the university. Mr. Carlisle has been invited back to the university, but no date has yet been agreed for his visit.

5. Bolton Institute of Higher Education—5 March 1986

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, was jostled by demonstrating students who attempted to prevent his entry to the institute, where he was to address a meeting. The students union declined on invitation to a meeting with him. Following police intervention, my hon. Friend gained access to the institute.

6. University of East Anglia—24 April 1986

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. John Carlisle), was invited by the University Conservative Student Association to speak to students on sporting links with South Africa. The student union voted to mount a silent vigil on the steps of the hall where the meeting was due to take place. Conservative students were prevented from entering the building when some of the demonstrators blocked the steps and resisted police attempts to move them. Mr. Carlisle was forced to cancel his proposed speech. Some of those involved were said to be from outside the University. The university authorities proposed to take action against any of those involved whom they could identify as students of the university.
An additional incident not covered by the question, but where freedom of speech was denied, concerned Professor Vincent of the University of Bristol, whose lecture was disrupted by students of the university. Disciplinary action was subsequently taken by the university against 7 students.


1. Polytechnic of North London—1984

During the summer of 1984, fellow students attempted to exclude Mr. Patrick Harrington, a National Front Organiser, from lectures at the Polytechnic. Mr. Harrington obtained a High Court injunction to prevent the picketing against him. In December 1984, a committee of inquiry was established by ILEA into the management of the polytechnic.

2. University of Essex—May 1985

An article was published in the London Evening Standard on 20 May 1985 which alleged Left-wing intimidation of students at Essex university. The university, supported by a number of its student societies, denied the allegations. The author of the article is understood later to have admitted that the article contained a number of inaccuracies and falsehoods.