Free Speech Bill Gives Legal Protection to Hate Speech, Says Labor Party | Communal room
The government has denied that its controversial new free speech legislation will provide a platform for Holocaust deniers on campuses, arguing that the bill is vital to tackling “growing intolerance” in universities.
The Higher Education (Freedom of Expression) Bill has come under sustained attack by Labor, who have argued that the legislation is nothing more than “legal protection against hate speech “as they tried to block it during its second reading in the Commons on Monday.
Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green told MPs there was no free speech crisis at universities that necessitated the bill, which she described as “a zone without evidence “.
On the contrary, she said, “This is a bill that enshrines legal protections against hateful, harmful and divisive speech. The kind of speech that we would not tolerate in this House would be protected in universities across the country.
“This is a bill that creates a new legal framework to allow those responsible for such damaging speech to take legal action against universities, eating away at the resources that should educate our young people and support our world-class research programs.”
“It is a bill that is unnecessary, it is poorly drafted, but above all it is deeply flawed, and on this side of the House we will not support it.”
The bill proposes a series of new laws that the government says are necessary to “protect” free speech in universities, including the introduction of a “champion of free speech and academic freedom ”to investigate alleged violations of freedom of expression in higher education and then recommend redress.
It will also demand that the university regulator in England, the Office for Students (OfS), introduce a new registration requirement on freedom of expression, with the power to impose penalties, including fines for breach.
Higher education providers – and student unions – will have a duty to ‘actively promote’ freedom of expression under proposed legislation which also seeks to introduce a legal offense for breach of duty, allowing individuals to seek legal redress for any loss they have suffered as a result of any breach.
Outlining the details of the bill, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs: “Our universities must not become spaces where ideas are debated as part of a close consensus with those who challenge ideas. majority opinions and are themselves censored.
He continued, “It is absolutely clear that this bill will not and never create a platform for deniers. Public Order Act 1986, Equality Act 2010, introduced by Labor, as well as preventive duties in 2015 – this bill, if passed, will not create space to tolerate deniers and never will.
Williamson added: ‘These legal obligations are essential to ensure that the higher education sector in England continues to be an environment in which students, staff and guest lecturers are not only able but invited to express their views freely. opinions as long as those opinions are legal. “
Green, however, told MPs that an assessment by the Students’ Office found that only 53 of 59,574 events with external stakeholders were denied clearance in 2017-18. “So maybe it was an unusually slow year to cancel cultivation, and there is a real problem. But last year, a survey found that out of 10,000 events with external stakeholders, only six had been canceled. “
She said it was not acceptable, when there were so many other priorities, to use precious parliamentary time to bring forward legislation to tackle “a small number of cases” which might be of concern. anyway be dealt with more effectively without additional legislation.
Supporting the government’s proposed legislation, however, former minister David Davis called the so-called cancellation culture “modern McCarthyism.”
He told the Commons: “The bill before us is to correct a small one, and I grant you, it is a small, but extremely important symbolic aspect of this modern McCarthyism, namely an attempt to not put up a number of speakers including Amber Rudd, Julie Bindel, Peter Hitchens, Peter Tatchell and others. I hope this is in fact just the first step in a program to bring freedom of speech back to Britain. “