Parliament launches inquiry into free speech at universities
MPs and Lords have opened an inquiry into free speech at Britain’s universities amid concerns that controversial debate is being squeezed out by dogmatism.
Harriet Harman, the lawyer-MP and former Labour solicitor-general, announced the start of the investigation yesterday under the auspices of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Harman, who chairs the joint Lords-Commons committee, said that while “everyone agrees that freedom of speech is a vital part of a free society … not everyone agrees where its boundaries are”.
The inquiry will study issues including whether government policy on free speech in universities is coherent. It will also look at whether university authorities have a statutory duty to secure freedom of speech, including on student union premises. Some student unions argue they are private bodies and therefore have a right to refuse speakers, a controversial practice known as “no-platforming”.
The committee will study whether university authorities should have responsibility for the activities of their student unions. It will also assess whether there is firm evidence that free speech is being suppressed in universities and who should be responsible for monitoring incidents.
The committee has asked for written evidence to be submitted to its website with a deadline for contributions on December 15.