Jacob Rees-Mogg says freedom of speech is a ‘lynchpin of the constitution’
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Jacob Rees-Mogg clashed with Thangam Debbonaire after she suggested the proposed Free Speech Bill, also known as the Higher Education Bill, which will introduce new rules and safeguards for speech on UK university campuses is a “pointless skirmish”. She added the bill was promoting a culture war as she echoed Labour’s stance that the bill will legally protect those who espouse hate speech at universities. But Mr Rees-Mogg called the position “shameful” as he said the privileges enjoyed in the House of Commons should be shared with institutions specifically designed to challenge their students’ views.
Speaking during a House of Commons session, Ms Debbonaire took the chance to grill her opposite number on the Free Speech Bill and blasted it for protecting hate speech.
She also suggested the Government had not read public opinion on the bill as she claims the wider population opposes it.
The Labour MP explained: “I’m afraid to say, Mr Speaker, that the evidence seems to be suggesting that this Government is driven more by online trolls and socially conscientious British values.
“Yet the Prime Minister said yesterday, ‘I do not want to engage in a political culture war of any kind, I want to get on with delivering for the people of this country.’
“Mr Speaker, I’ve already listed just some of the ways that this government is failing to get on with a different for the political British people.
“And on the culture war, we’ve got the bill on free speech in universities, a classic example of a pointless skirmish in a pointless culture war. Why is the Prime Minister unable to read the mood of this country?”
Mr Rees-Mogg replied to the Shadow Leader and said: “Mr Speaker, we on this side believe in freedom, we on this side believe that defending freedom is crucial.
“That as we rebuild from the pandemic, yes we need money to help students, but the whole point of university is that ideas should be challenged.
“There should be this great clash of intellects as people discuss what is right and what is wrong, they put arguments from one side to the other – as we do in this house.
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“We see in our universities that political correctness has been waving over them to try and stop this type of debate.
“We need to ensure that there is genuine freedom of debate freedom of speech, one of the linchpins of our Constitution, in our finest world-beating educational institutions.
“It may be sad that we need to do it, it may be a shame that the universities have not been defending free speech themselves.
“But it is an even greater shame that the opposition actually wishes to limit our freedom of speech and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
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As part of the bill, higher education institutions like universities will be told to sign onto “free speech charters” which can punish universities for breaches in free speech.
Universities will be forced to sign the charter or face having government funding withdrawn.
Free speech champions will also be designated to investigate breaches of the charter and will have the power to issue fines if breaches are found.
The bill appears to be a result of some speakers on campuses being prevented from speaking despite the Green Party pointing out there were only 53 out of 59,574 events with external speakers being refused permission in 2017-18.
Labour fear the bill will allow holocaust deniers and those who spread hate speech to operate on campuses and will vote against the bill.
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