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Bullying

Volume 617: debated on Monday 14 November 2016

This week is national anti-bullying week, an opportunity for us to come together in condemnation of bullying in all its forms and consider how best to tackle it, particularly in our schools. The Government are providing 10 organisations with £4.4 million to enable them to deliver effective anti-bullying projects, including for children with special educational needs and disabilities and the victims of hate-related bullying, together with support for pupils and parents to report bullying online.

Do Ministers share my concerns that no platforming and other endeavours to shut out free speech at universities are becoming increasingly close to bullying? What discussions have Ministers had with universities about this highly disturbing trend?

I think we can all agree that students should be able to challenge those they disagree with by means of open and robust debate. Academic freedom and freedom of speech are central to our higher education system. There is no place for intimidation to attempt to shut down open debate. Universities have a clear legal duty to secure freedom of speech for students, staff and visiting speakers, and they must have clear policies for how they will ensure that that can happen. Should my hon. Friend wish to discuss this further with either me or the Minister with responsibility for universities, I would be happy to oblige.

Sadly, bullying occurs in most schools. In some cases, it leads to young people effectively self-excluding from school, which puts themselves and their parents in a particularly difficult position. Groups such as Red Balloon in my constituency do very good work. What support would the Minister give to such groups?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We can safely say that every school will have bullying at some point in some form, and we need to ensure they have the tools available to tackle it in the best way possible, particularly with the additional threat of cyber-bullying outside the school gates. ChildLine, which the Government help to fund, is receiving more calls. This will remain a very high-profile issue for years to come. That is why we support organisations to help schools more effectively tackle these issues, but we need to be alive to the new ways that bullying will emerge in the future. We will continue to work on that with all organisations, including Red Balloon.

After the EU referendum, teachers warned us of a disturbing rise in levels of racist bullying in schools, and now we are seeing the same following the election of Donald Trump in the US. In the spirit of Anti-bullying Week, will the Minister take this opportunity to condemn not only such bullying but the politicians whose hateful, divisive rhetoric has made some children think that this is acceptable?

As I said, I think we all condemn all forms of bullying, from wherever it comes and for whatever its purported reasons, but we also need to make sure that we educate our children to understand the effects that bullying has on others, so that, as they grow older, they do not repeat the mistakes of those who have gone before them.