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Higher Education: Anti-Semitism

Volume 508: debated on Tuesday 23 March 2010

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills what recent reports he has received on (a) anti-Semitic and (b) anti-Israel speeches made by speakers at British university campuses; and if he will make a statement. (323656)

The Department has received a number of letters from Jewish students following a Jewish student lobby of Parliament about “hate speakers” on some university campuses. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has also written to me about a reported anti-Israel speaker appearing at two universities.

Decisions about external speakers must rest with universities themselves. In this area universities are bound by the law both in protecting freedom of speech on campus, even if that free expression is controversial, and protecting students and staff against harassment or violence. The Government have made clear that there is no place for anti-Semitism or any other form of racism or intolerance in HE. Universities have access to guidance from both Government and the sector itself on promoting good campus relations, which draw out the considerations institutions need to give to free expression on campus and to addressing illegal behaviour.

There is a very clear dividing line set out in law between political debate, discussion of doctrine or faith and incitement to commit or glorify violence or terrorism. This line should not be thought vague. When the law is broken on campus those responsible must be reported to the relevant authorities. There is both a moral duty and importantly a legal obligation to do so.