Baroness Deech warns of campus racism

Baroness Deech

Baroness Deech

Universities must not be complacent in tackling campus antisemitism, a government minister has warned.

Baroness Verma, the Business, Innovation and Skills spokeswoman in the House of Lords, said laws on the issue were clear and reinforced: "There is absolutely no place in our universities for racism, including antisemitism."

She was responding to Baroness Deech, who asked the government to clarify what universities and student unions should do in the event of an antisemitic incident on campus during a Lords debate on Tuesday.

"Universities tend to take refuge behind the doctrine of freedom of speech and do very little. They do not seem to realise the limits of freedom of speech as constrained by recent legislation," she said.

Baroness Verma said universities "have the tools to tackle antisemitism. They have access to a very strong legislative framework and practical guidance to provide protection and deal with any antisemitic incident.

"We expect universities to act swiftly to investigate and address any antisemitic incidents reported to them."

But she warned that the government could not dictate who universities or student unions could invite. "Vicious speakers" and their contributions should be countered using the "very strict codes of practice" already in place, she said.

Lord Janner said the government needed to implement a "national approach" for dealing with racism on campus, while Lord Palmer, noting that 21 per cent of Jewish students were concerned about campus antisemitism, called for the government to take greater steps to tackle "what is a real problem".

But Lord Campbell-Savours advised peers to "draw a very clear distinction between the actions of antisemites and those who feel passionately about the actions of the state of Israel in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip".

Last updated: 1:32pm, March 8 2012