UJS welcomes Minister Gyimah’s clarification on the role of the Office For Students. When we met with the Minister last month, we shared our position in support of free speech on campus, and also drew attention to the need for clearer guidance on the issue of free speech and incitement.
As the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into free speech on campus highlighted in their report and published guidance, it is already UK Law to curtail free speech to prohibit “Acts intended or likely to stir up hatred on grounds of race; religion; or sexual orientation”.
Free speech and freedom from hate speech are interdependent and important principles to promote rigorous and robust discussion and debate without endangering people, especially those belonging to minority groups.
We and our students also know too well how these principles can be undermined by those trying to shut down debate, with Jewish Societies and Friends of Israel Societies sadly having been subject to their free speech being denied when protests become aggressive. We expect the Minister to heed the advice of the Joint Committee that “Protest is itself a legitimate expression of freedom of speech. However ... Student Unions, Universities and law enforcement must hold such people to account–and ensure that sufficient resources are in place to prevent protesters from blocking debate”.
We hope to see this summit take these nuances into account, especially in light of the ability of no platform policy to sometimes act faster than government, as we saw with the no-platforming of National Action by NUS - a move motivated and mobilised by Jewish students - 2 years before the Home Office recognised the threat this far-right, extremist and violent group posed by proscribing them under anti-terrorism legislation.
We look forward to seeing the result of this guidance, and working closely with the OFS to ensure campus remains a place where a diversity of views can be expressed in a safe environment free from fear and intimidation.