Peers Vote Down Law Preventing Uni’s From Cancelling Controversial Speakers

Last night, the House of Lords voted against a free speech law that would have prevented universities cancelling speakers deemed to be too controversial.

According to The Telegraph:

Freedom of speech protections for academics and students have been dealt a blow by a rebellion in the House of Lords.

Peers voted on Wednesday night to scrap a free speech law designed to prevent universities from cancelling controversial speakers.

The opposition to a key part of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill was led by Lord Willetts, a former Conservative universities minister, who argued that new powers to enable academics and students to sue for breaching their freedom of speech rights would be overly burdensome for universities and were unnecessary for protecting free speech.

He put forward an amendment to entirely scrap Clause 4 of the Bill, which sets out the new powers via a statutory tort, saying that the Government should have “confidence in its own regulator” to police freedom of speech without needing to use civil courts. The amendment was accepted with 213 votes in favour and 172 against.

The planned law, now under threat, was announced by ministers early last year following a string of rows over the so-called “cancellation” of academics and students over their views.

The Government faced a backlash last week for attempting to take the teeth out of the statutory tort by saying it could only be used as a “last resort” after university and regulator complaints procedures had been exhausted. Ministers had hoped the move would be enough to placate rebel peers.

Ministers are now facing pressure from free speech campaigners to fully restore the statutory tort when the Bill returns to the House of Commons.

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