The Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg labelled Charity Commission rules on potentially controversial speakers as "deeply objectionable" and "suspicious" during a select committee hearing on free speech at university campuses.
Speaking at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights yesterday in parliament, Rees-Mogg, the MP for North East Somerset, said that the regulator’s rules on controversial speakers were more worrying than claims that students were trying to shut down free speech on university campuses.
Last week, Rees-Mogg was filmed attempting to prevent a fight between protesters and audience members during a speech he gave to a student politics club at the University of the West of England.
The MP, who is a trustee of the Oxford Literary and Debating Union Charitable Trust, said the commission’s regulations meant there were regular discussions at the charity’s board meetings about its policy on speakers.
"I am much more worried about the Charity Commission saying it is against charitable objects to invite someone with controversial views than I am about the students," he told the committee. "I think the students like inviting people with controversial views."
Rees-Mogg said that having to develop detailed policies on who students could invite to speak at the union was "deeply objectionable" and it was not the business of the Charity Commission to regulate who spoke at Oxford Union events.
"I think it is a matter of routine law that if we invite people who break the law then, yes, we should certainly get into trouble," he said.
"But if we invite people, whatever their views, who don’t break the law, I never really thought it was the business of the Charity Commission. But we are worried for our charitable status so we have to go along with the requirements that they make."
Rees-Mogg said the Charity Commission’s rules had caused the charity’s trustees to spend considerable amounts of time ensuring that the students did not inadvertently invite someone the regulator would not approve of.
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said in a statement: "Charities with educational purposes, such as student unions, may further their purposes by arranging events and meetings involving speakers and encouraging debate. This is legitimate, provided that their trustees are able to demonstrate that doing so furthers their charitable purposes and that they have managed associated risks in accordance with their duties."