ON Monday, I led Labour’s response to the Freedom of Speech Bill making its way through the House of Commons. As the Shadow Universities Minister, I’m concerned by the impact this could have on our brilliant universities – including the University of Warwick and Coventry University where many local residents study or work.
The Conservatives’ planned law would enable people with abhorrent or anti-intellectual views, such as Holocaust Deniers and the anti-science brigade, to sue universities or students’ unions if they are denied a platform to spread their ideas. It is a Hate Speech Protection Bill. It will tie universities and students’ unions up in costly legal battles – money which should be going into students’ education instead.
Moreover, the legislation is not needed. There is very little evidence that free speech is being limited at universities. Just six in 10,000 events were cancelled last year, mostly due to incorrect paperwork. The Government claim to be advancing the people’s priorities, but this issue is not one of them. Unfortunately, Conservative MPs voted for the legislation, but I will continue holding the Government to account as the Bill goes through the various stages before it can become law.
Elsewhere, the Government is getting itself into a pickle over the lifting of covid-19 restrictions on Monday. Their rush to remove all measures in one go, whilst infections soar, is reckless, and crucially, risks undermining public confidence and freedoms. Labour would keep three sensible measures in place for now – mandatory mask wearing on public transport and shops; allowing workers to continue working from home; and accelerating vaccines for young people.
At the same time, the Government have introduced new NHS legislation which would open up yet more privatisation of our health service. Now is not the time for significant reform of the NHS, when it is still fighting this pandemic. More than five million people on the waiting list means record numbers waiting in pain for treatment. Perhaps this would be a better thing for the Government to focus on.
As ever, I can be contacted by email at [email protected] or by ringing my office on 01926 882006.