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Freedom of Speech: University Campuses

Volume 708: debated on Monday 31 January 2022

Freedom of speech is a fundamental principle of higher education and this Government will not allow the continued self-censorship of individuals facing negative repercussions for lawfully expressed views, which is why our Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will strengthen existing freedom of speech duties.

The University of Buckingham in my constituency has twice topped the charts for the university with the least restrictions on free speech, and under the outstanding leadership of its vice-chancellor, Professor James Tooley, proposals have been drawn up calling for new laws to ensure that academics can sue an institution or use the complaints scheme if it fails to protect them from targeted campaigns of harassment related to their academic freedom. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister work with the University of Buckingham to make that new protection a reality?

I welcome the University of Buckingham continuing to champion free speech. Our Bill contains exactly those sorts of measure to further strengthen protection for individuals who are being harassed for expressing their lawful views, and I am sure my hon. Friend will support it when it returns to this House.

Will the Minister agree to visit my constituency to see the efforts of some of our schools, including Eden Boys School, which is a feeder school into the University of Bolton, to make sure we get the balance right between freedom of speech and respect for religious values?

Of course I will be delighted to visit Bolton North East. Maintaining free speech in our universities and political impartiality in our schools while also respecting religious values is imperative, as tomorrow’s generation shape their views.