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The Somerset Guardian, 22nd June 2022

Attacks on free speech, the cancel culture and de-platforming have become a scourge of universities, which ought to be bastions of free speech. This is why I am so pleased that the Government has introduced the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, wrote to me about recently.

In her letter, the Minister told MPs that this country is seeing free speech eroded. The Academic Freedom Index, published by the Global Public Policy Institute, has found that the United Kingdom (UK) has experienced a substantial decrease in academic freedom over the last decade and reports from King’s College London and Policy Exchange have determined that there are cases of both students and academics self-censoring.

The Government is clear that higher education providers in England have a duty to ensure that freedom of speech is secured for members, students, staff and visiting speakers and that they must comply with it. The Bill will strengthen existing provisions in previous Education Acts so that registered higher education providers must promote and protect freedom of speech.

This movement will become a condition of registration status with the Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator in England. The Bill will establish a Director of Free Speech and Academic Freedom in the OfS, with the power to guarantee that providers are complying with this duty and the ability to issue sanctions if they do not. It will also introduce a new complaints scheme for those who consider that their right to freedom of speech has been unlawfully restricted as well as a statutory tort as a legal backstop.

The rising wave of censorship seems to be stemming from those promoting equality, surely negating what they are striving for. Freedom of speech, within the realms of the law, is a cornerstone of democracy and should be defended at all costs.

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