Gavin Williamson in bid to end censorship on campus

New laws protecting freedom of speech at universities will bring an end to the "chilling effect" of censorship on campus, the Education Secretary has said.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson MP
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson MP

Gavin Williamson said the Government's new bill would stop universities and student unions from "hounding out" speakers whose views they object to.

Announced as part of the Queen's Speech, the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will place new legal duties on students' unions and universities to ensure free speech - with a regulator able to issue fines for any breaches.

South Staffordshire MP Mr Williamson told the Express & Star: "Freedom of speech is a right in this country, but sadly at our universities there have been some instances where it hasn't been available to all.

"We have an absolute right to articulate our views which others may find objectionable, providing they don't meet the threshold of hate speech or inciting violence.

"We've got to be able to protect that right in order to prevent the chilling effects of censorship on campus.

"Students and staff should always feel they are safe to put forward and debate new ideas, without fear of repercussions, even if these are sometimes controversial and unpopular.

"That's what this bill is going to be delivering.

"Universities should be amazing places where people can share ideas and thoughts.

"We can't be having a situation where student unions or universities decide they don't like a particular view and decide to censor it by hounding out people."

Mr Williamson said he had been written to by a large number of academics thanking him for pushing the legislation.

"What was so sad was that so many of them did not dare put their name and address on the letter because they were so worried about potential repercussions," he said.

"That for me is not the kind of free thinking university system we want to have."

There have been numerous instances in recent years when speakers perceived not to fit in with a left-wing worldview have been no platformed at university campuses.

Former West Midlands MEP Bill Etheridge was once banned from speaking at Sussex University having initially been invited by a body called the Free Speech Association.

Last year Bristol students' union demanded nearly £500 to pay for security at a talk by the Israeli Ambassador, despite charging nothing for a talk by his Palestinian counterpart.

And former Tory Home Secretary Amber Rudd also fell foul of leftists when her talk at the University of Oxford to mark International Women’s Day was cancelled after students complained about her role in the Windrush scandal.

Under the legislation, speakers will be able to seek compensation through the courts if they suffer a financial loss from a breach.

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