The Guild says the aims of the petition go against Free Speech legislation.
This week, the Liverpool Guild of Students was caught up in a furore of controversy following its decision to approve a Pro-Life Society. On Monday 14th November, a petition was set up to ban the society. On Tuesday, the Guild released a statement defending the society’s right to exist.
Today, the petition was removed from the Guild’s website because its aims were inconsistent with the University’s Policy and Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech.
In a statement given to The Sphinx today, the Liverpool Guild of Students said:
“Following the registration of a pro-life society at the Guild, we received a proposal through our “Change it” platform, calling for the society to be closed down. Over the past few days this idea has received considerable attention and student input. We would like to thank all the students who let the Guild know their thoughts on this matter. We understand that there was an expectation from many members that, due to the interest shown this matter would be referred to the Guild Summit.
“As part of the University’s Policy and Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech the Guild is required to ensure that individuals and groups are free, within the law, to hold meetings or other activities “regardless of the beliefs, views, policies or objectives of that individual or body.” Further, the law makes clear that students unions have to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the use of premises of the establishment is not denied to any individual or body or persons on any ground connected with (a) the beliefs or views of that individual or any member of that body; or (b) the policy objectives of that body.” (Education (No.2) Act 1986).
“This means that the Guild is unable to turn down a proposal for a society simply on the basis of that group’s ideas or views, unless those opinions break the law. Our requirement to protect free speech means that, even if our democratic structures were to decide that they did not wish to approve a particular society, we would be unable to act on that direction, as doing so would be in breach of our obligations to protect free speech. We recognise that this will disappoint members who wanted this matter to be discussed, however, we do not believe it is fair to give students the impression that they are able to make change, where this is not the case.
“We understand that this is an issue that inspires strong feelings on both sides, and we are committed to working with our members to ensure that the debate is carried out in line with our Code of Conduct, in a respectful and inclusive way.
“We understand the concerns our members have raised about women’s rights on campus and we maintain our support and commitment to women’s rights. The Guild’s priority remains ensuring that all of our members feel safe and supported. We are committed to ensuring that any student who needs support can access non-judgemental, confidential advice that empowers them to make the right decision for themselves.
“Any student seeking advice on pregnancy or sexual health can contact Sexual Health Liverpool, and under 25s can speak to Brook Liverpool (0151 207 4000).
“Students who have been affected by sexual violence can access support and advice from RASA Merseyside.
“Students seeking advice on housing or University procedures, or who would like to be signposted to an external agency can speak to our advice team.
“Our Nightline service offers a non-judgemental, confidential listening service.
“The University’s Counselling Service is open to all students and is free and confidential.
“Any students who have questions can contact the Guild Officers.”