Today, the UK Government’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill receives its Second Reading in the House of Commons.
Labour have vowed to vote against this Bill and as an MP representing a constituency that’s home to three fantastic universities, I will be voting against it.
The Conservatives’ planned law would enable people from Holocaust Deniers to anti-vaxxers to sue universities or student unions if they are denied a platform to spread their ideas.
Labour’s record in Government saw us enshrine the right to freedom of expression in UK, but the Conservatives’ plans are trying to solve a problem which does not exist resulting in people with offensive and dangerous views being able to sap funding from universities.
There is no evidence to support the Conservatives’ claim that further action is needed to protect free speech on university campuses. A survey last year found just six out of 10,000 events on campus been cancelled – four due to incorrect paperwork, one was moved to a larger venue, and one was to promote a pyramid scheme.
However, the Government’s plans would open the door to vexatious legal action, which risks tying up universities and student unions in costly legal battles. Alongside external speakers, university staff would be given a new right to take out legal action against institutions if they were passed over for promotions or new jobs, while student unions could face court battles if they turned away speakers.
Conservative MPs lined up to vote for the proposals which could put universities in a position where they are being sued by anti-vaxxers, Holocaust Deniers and those looking to spread division across our campuses.
Students have been neglected throughout the pandemic by the UK Government and on top of this, have failed to create the jobs and training opportunities young people need.
Instead they are manufacturing a debate purely to sow division and hate and to distract from their own failings – and we will be voting against it.