HC Deb 16 December 1975 vol 902 cc1140-2
2. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has any plans to visit Sussex University.

Mr. Mulley

I have no plans to visit the university at present.

Mr. Gow

Following the banning of the meeting which was to be addressed by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) on 25th November at the university, will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to confirm that he and his Department will seek to preserve the crucial principle of free speech at our universities?

Mr. Mulley

I regard it as deplorable that free speech should be limited, whether on university campuses or elsewhere, by threats of violence.

Mr. Flannery

Will my right hon. Friend agree that although we wish to defend free speech, when events take place such as those that occurred at the meeting of National Council for Civil Liberties in Manchester recently, they are bound to create deep feelings, especially when there is violence as a result of actions by organisations such as the National Front, and that that is bound to make people worry even if they want to defend free speech?

Mr. Mulley

I accept what my hon. Friend has said. I am not familiar with the details of the meeting in Manchester to which he has referred Those in authority sometimes have to determine difficult issues, for instance, whether there is a risk of public disorder and injury, or a possibility that they may be condemned for taking decisions which may appear to be against free speech. The police and other authorities have some difficult decisions to make.

Dr. Boyson

Is the Minister aware that this is the second time that this has happened at Sussex University? Two years ago, the lecture of a distinguished Harvard academic, Professor Huntington, was disrupted. The authorities were forewarned by telephone, but they ignored the warning and did nothing afterwards. Could the University Grants Committee be given a hint at some time that the provision of public funds to higher education institutions that cannot guarantee the continuance of free speech and tolerance is an affront to British taxpayers?

Mr. Mulley

I think that on more mature reflection the hon. Gentleman will realise that this is not a matter that can be dealt with merely by a reference to the University Grants Committee. One small consolation that we might have, since the other incident occurred two years ago, is that at least it is bipartisan as regards political complexion of the Government of the day.