Lack of free speech at universities is a 'great blight of our age', Lord Lawson says

Camilla Turner
Lord Lawson

Suppression of freedom of speech in universities is "one of the greatest problems of our time", a former chancellor has warned.

Lord Lawson, who led a Conservative campaign for Brexit, said that political correctness is a “great blight of our age”, adding students often have their way because of "totally supine" university authorities.

"Safe space" and "no platform" movements have swept across campuses including a campaigns to ban certain speakers who are deemed offensive.

Speaking at an event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the University of Buckingham, the UK’s first private university, he said it is crucial that universities are independent from Government.

Germaine Greer has been banned from speaking on university campuses after her comments on transgender people were deemed offensive  Credit: Clara Molden for The Telegraph

“But now we have a new problem in the university sector, which is not the problem of government control – though that always needs to be watched – but the problem of the suppression of free speech,” he told the audience, Times Higher Education reported.

“The problem comes from political correctness to some extent, which is the great blight of this age. A view is either politically correct or not, and if it is not, then it should not be heard.”

He went on: “This is happening throughout the universities today, where it is pushed by students – they may not be the majority of students but they are very vocal and they have their way because of totally supine university authorities.”

Lord Lawson

Lord Lawson, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s,  added: “the suppression of freedom of speech in the universities now is one of the great problems of our time”.

His comments come after the Higher Education and Research bill was rushed through parliament this week. The Bill, which will receive royal assent later this year, has been criticised by academics who say that universities will be forced to pander to the demands of "snowflake" students.

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), where universities will be awarded gold, silver or bronze medals on the basis of a range of factors including student satisfaction, teaching excellence and preparation for the world of work. Universities are currently ranked based on quality of research output.

Education leaders fear that this will lead to a "fantastically dangerous" culture where authorities will give in to student demands, however unreasonable they may be.

Lord Lawson  lambasted the BBC for revoking his invitation to speak on climate change Credit: Getty Images Europe

Lord Lawson, who is chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation think tank, lambasted the BBC for revoking his invitation to speak on the topic.

“I have taken an interest in, and am involved in a think tank on, the issue of climate change,” he said. “And the BBC kept asking me to appear on the Today programme [on Radio 4] to talk about economic issues, but never on climate change.

“Eventually, about three years ago, I was asked to take part in a debate on climate change, and the uproar from the fanatical greens was such that the BBC authorities put out a statement saying that I shouldn’t have been allowed to speak because my views were not in accord with the traditional wisdom and the evidence, quote unquote, of the computer models. So I shouldn’t have been allowed to take part and they apologised.”

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