Former MI5 chief says new terror measures jeopardise free speech...

Former spy chief says new terror measures jeopardise free speech

Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former director general of MI5, says Theresa May's plan to force universities to combat Muslim extremism is 'potentially in conflict with free speech'

By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent

4:32PM GMT 30 Jan 2015

The former head of MI5 has said she is unable to back controversial anti-terror measures which will force universities to restrict Muslim extremists on campus.

Wide-ranging opposition to the powers, by Baroness Manningham-Buller and other peers, means Theresa May, the Home Secretary, could face defeat in the House of Lords over the proposals next week.

A wide range of peers have argued that the proposals in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill will damage free speech.

Lady Manningham-Buller, director general of the Security Service until her retirement eight years ago, said the government’s proposals could “jeopardise” the Government’s anti-terror programme, known as Prevent.

The former spy chief said: “This is potentially in conflict with the university’s existing obligations to protect free speech, something we are all concerned about.

“My instincts are very often in support of the Government on these sort of subjects, knowing that countering terrorism is not straightforward.

“However, the doubts that I expressed … about putting Prevent, whatever its importance, on a statutory footing, in particular with regard to universities, have not been assuaged by anything that I have heard.”

Under Mrs May’s plans universities will have a statutory duty to prevent extremism taking place on their property.

The legislation includes powers to charge university vice-chancellors with contempt of court if they fail to enforce the guidance.

Lady Manningham-Buller said in the House of Lords it was a “profound irony” that ministers claimed to be protecting British values by barring views which fell short of criminal behaviour.

She appeared to refer to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris when she said democracy included the right to be “offensive and insulting”, and the Government measures risked being seen as “double standards”.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC, the former director of public prosecutions, also opposed Mrs May’s legislation.

“Universities are not places of surveillance … and they cannot become so without fracturing what is best about them,” he said.

“As far as I can tell, no concern at all appears to be expressed in the legislation or in the guidance that what is being proposed is a form of institutionalised censorship with academics at its heart.

“This legislation seeks to control not only violent extremism but also speech in universities even where that speech is not otherwise a crime.

“The role of surveillance and control is one that is entirely inimical to the purpose of a university as we have understood it, which is to analyse, to explain and to discover.

“In that sense, open debate is the lifeblood of an institution of higher learning.”

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, the Conservative peer and former master of Jesus College, Cambridge, suggested the new laws could damage debating societies such as the Cambridge Union.

“I think that the Government, in seeking to constrain the enemies of the open society, are wrong if they take steps that constrain free speech and academic debate,” said the former professor.

“Universities are places where free speech should flourish and should be constrained as little as possible.

“This year is the 200th anniversary of the Cambridge Union Society.

“I cannot see how a society like the Cambridge Union Society could flourish with the constraints applied to it in the draft guidance.”

Lord Bates, a Home Office minister, said: “I make clear that the Government are committed that the duty should not undermine academic freedom or genuine research into terrorism.”

He said he understood peers’ “trepidation” and said he would discuss the measures with other ministers before the Bill reached report stage in the House.


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