HC Deb 17 December 1985 vol 89 cc151-2
13. Mr. Maclean

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what response he has had from vice-chancellors and principals of institutions of higher education to the concerns that he has expressed over the suppression of free speech.

Mr. Walden

Higher education authorities have affirmed their support for the principle of free speech. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals yesterday published guidelines for the universities on freedom of speech and lawful assembly. My right hon. Friend welcomes this action and will consider whether the content of the guidelines raises questions that he would wish to discuss with the committee.

Mr. Maclean

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is it not a fact that the report from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said, in effect, "Of course we believe in free speech, but"? Did it not then produce a series of excuses for not being able to implement that belief in reality? Will my hon. Friend and the Government consider the prosecution of any student who is involved in incidents such as that which we saw at Manchester university involving my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington), the Minister of State, Home Office?

Mr. Walden

The practical problems of ensuring that an individual speaker is given a fair hearing are formidable. The Government are grateful for the advice of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the vice-chancellor of Manchester univerity expressing his view that a refusal to give a hearing to a Minister who had been invited to explain Government policy cannot be defended. He noted that the university's declared intention was to take firm action in response to the incident at Manchester on 8 November. The university made it clear immediately after the incident that it would consider recommending its council to withhold a proportion of the student union's grant if the latter's full report on the incident and its causes was not satisfactory.

Mr. Conlan

Why does the Minister not inform his hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Maclean), as the Prime Minister is fond of informing others, that prosecutions are for the police and have nothing to do with the Government?

Mr. Walden

The premise on which the hon. Gentleman's question was based is obviously wrong, but his assertion that criminal prosecutions are matters for the police is obviously right.