Bristol University: Freedom of Expression:Written question - 238264

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(New Forest East)
[N]
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Asked on: 28 March 2019
Department for Education
Bristol University: Freedom of Expression
Commons
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the Daily Telegraph article entitled University cancels talk on extremist speakers, published on 26 March 2019, if he will commission an inquiry into (a) the circumstances in which the free speech society at Bristol University was prevented from hosting a meeting featuring the author of Extreme Speakers league table; (b) the nine occasions listed in that league table when allegedly extreme speakers were hosted at Bristol University; (c) the criteria applied by the University in deciding to ban meetings on security grounds; and if he will make a statement.
A
Answered by: Chris Skidmore
Answered on: 03 April 2019

Free speech plays a vital and important role in our society, and universities should be places where students are exposed to a range of issues, including those which may be controversial, and are encouraged to debate and challenge them.

It is right that extremist views should be exposed and challenged. That is why, under the Prevent duty, (to have due regard to prevent people being drawn into terrorism), Higher Education (HE) providers must have policies in place around the management of speakers. This means ensuring the right steps are taken to contest extremist narratives and to make sure that those wishing spread hatred do not go unchallenged.

However, challenging extremism does not mean banning lawful speech, and the Prevent duty also explicitly requires further and higher education institutions have regard to their duty to secure freedom of speech. It is up to individual institutions to determine who they deem appropriate to invite to speak on their campuses on a case-by-case basis; government does not dictate who should and should not be invited to speak in higher education providers, providing their speech is within the law.

We do not routinely comment on individual cases. However, monitoring of the Prevent duty by the Office for Students shows us that HE providers are navigating the balance between freedom of speech and challenging extremism pragmatically and effectively. We recognise that these are complex issues, which is why the government supports the sector on Prevent implementation through our network of Further and HE Regional Prevent Co-ordinators on the ground. We have also worked alongside the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and wider stakeholders to produce the recently published Freedom of Expression guidance. This will enable universities and student unions to understand their obligations for protecting and supporting free speech, and sets out where speech may be unlawful, alongside relevant case studies to support providers in balancing their duties.

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