Veterran Tory former Minister David Davis criticised the cancel culture movement and the “corrosive trend” of “no platforming” of public figures, branding it “censorship”.
Freedom of speech, the MP for Haltemprice and Howden said, was “under threat in the very institutions where it should be most treasured, our universities”.
Mr Davis’s Freedom of Speech (Universities) Bill would place a duty on universities to promote freedom of speech and make provision for fining institutions that do not comply with that duty.
He said: “Today the cancel culture movement think that it’s reasonable to obliterate the views of people they disagree with, rather than challenging them in open debate.
“They’re wrong. Why? Because the unwillingness to hear uncomfortable opinion, the refusal of platforms to people you disagree with, is damaging to us all.
“Today there is a corrosive trend in our universities that aims to prevent anybody airing ideas that groups disagree with or would be offended by, and, let’s be clear, this is not about protecting delicate sensibilities from offence, it’s about censorship.”
A number of the UK’s international allies protect freedom of speech “much better than we do”, he said.
He added: “When you either explicitly or indirectly ‘no platform’ Amber Rudd, Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell, Peter Hitchens and others, you’re not protecting yourself, you are denying others the right to hear these people and even perhaps to challenge what they say.”
UK laws protecting freedom of speech, he said, were “buried in education acts, resulting in the protections not being widely known and universities not always upholding their duties”.
The Bill would “in effect make universities responsible for upholding free speech throughout their campuses”, the MP said.
Speech that was illegal, he said, would be forbidden, such as incitement to violence, but speech that was “merely unpopular with any sector of the university would not be proscribed”.
He said: “Whilst we may not agree, whilst we may not approve of what’s being said, the right to free speech is the foundation stone of our democracy.
“To stand idly by while this foundation is being eroded is a dereliction of our duty. This Bill makes it the absolute duty of every university authority to protect that most fundamental of our freedoms, the right to free speech.”
The Bill was listed for a second reading on Wednesday but is unlikely to become law due to a lack of parliamentary time.