Bishop of Worcester warns of risk of counterproductive responses to freedom of speech concerns at universities

On 22nd February 2016 Baroness Deech asked Her Majesty’s Government “what steps they are taking to ensure freedom of lawful speech at universities, in the light of recent disruptions to speeches.” She made reference in her follow up question to “incidents of intolerance and violence” on campuses, including “the silencing of a female Muslim reformer at Goldsmiths; smashed glass, fire alarms set off and the police called at King’s College London to stop an Israeli peace activist from speaking; Peter Tatchell at Canterbury and other examples”. She asked the Minister to speak to vice-chancellors “to ensure that the law on freedom of speech is upheld”. The Bishop of Worcester, Rt Revd John Inge, asked a follow up question:

worcesterThe Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, now is not the time for confessions but I would observe that as an undergraduate, I saw things in very black and white terms. I do not now, despite what might be suggested by my attire. I would have loved to have been rebuked by Parliament as an undergraduate. Does the Minister agree that in intervening in situations such as these, we run the risk of being counterproductive?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: Universities are autonomous bodies. As I have already said, students and academics have the right to protest peacefully, and we cannot quash freedom of speech. That is why, as I said, we will be supporting universities and making sure that legitimate, lawful debate can take place, that people have their views heard and that views that people may find offensive are robustly challenged.



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