In light of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and given the threat facing the UK, the Government’s Counter Terrorism and Security Bill is designed to keep up with the rapidly changing threats we face. It gives greater powers to the police and enhances our ability to combat the underlying ideology that feeds and supports terrorism.
We have a proud tradition of religious tolerance and free speech here in Oxfordshire and we must continue to tackle extremism and prevent radicalisation in our communities. Of course this is a difficult balance to strike and that is why Nicola was pleased that the Government amended the Bill to ensure that, in undertaking their duty to prevent students from being drawn into terrorism, it is also made clear that Universities will also be required to ensure freedom of speech. Rightly, the Government will produce guidance, which will be voted on in Parliament, to make clear how this duty will work in practice and to ensure it will not override academic freedom.
Nicola took the opportunity to get this assurance from the Home Secretary herself, asking:
The Home Secretary is generous in giving way on this point. I am sure she can understand the concerns raised locally with me, a university MP, and I welcome the renewed emphasis on freedom of speech and on the stronger scrutiny for Parliament in amendment 16. Can she assure me that the guidance will be sufficiently clear for universities to have no uncertainty about their responsibilities under the new legislation?
The Home Secretary responded:
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to make it absolutely clear that we intend the guidance to be clear. We have produced the guidance for consultation; as I said, we are considering the responses to it; and we are looking at areas where we need to clarify the guidance. It is important for universities, notwithstanding academic freedom and the need to secure freedom of speech, also to recognise the duty of care they have to students. That is why I believe it absolutely right for universities to be within this legislation and within the Prevent duty that is being put into statute. We will, of course, make the guidance clear, so that universities can operate appropriately.
To see the full debate, follow this link: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2015-02-10a.728.3&s=nicola+blackwood#g738.0