The government is considering forcing universities to protect free speech after student unions banned events, including several organised by pro-life societies.

The Times reported that Jo Johnson, the minister for higher education, has written to all universities in Britain reminding them they have a “legal duty” to protect freedom of speech.

Mr Johnson said that university premises must not be “denied to any individual or body on any grounds connected with their beliefs or views, policy or objective”.

The Education (Number 2) Act 1986 already obliges universities to protect freedom of speech, and to have a code of practice detailing their policy. Mr Johnson said that such documents must not be neglected, since they demonstrate to students “that free speech should be at the heart of a higher education community”.

He added: “It is important to note that the duty extends to both the premises of the university and premises occupied by the students’ unions, even when they are not part of the university premises.” Mr Johnson said this duty could be cemented by making universities “include a principle about freedom of speech principles in their governance documents”. The Government may have the power to make universities include such a principle under “public interest”. Mr Johnson said the Government would launch a consultation on this possibility.

The Free Speech University Rankings, assembled by the magazine Spiked, have detailed a rise in censorship on university campuses. Pro-life societies have been among the main targets of censorship. Most recently, groups at Cardiff, Strathclyde and Newcastle have had to fight against proposed bans.

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