Lords Chamber Event 2016: The Free Speech Debate

Participants in the 2016 House of Lords Chamber Event.

The 2016 House of Lords Chamber Event took place on 25 November 2016. The event involved young people from around the UK as well as members of civic organisations 38 Degrees, English PEN and Speakers’ Corner Trust, coming together for an intergenerational debate on free speech in the UK.

2016 Chamber Event

Freedom of speech is often regarded as a fundamental right in a free society, and in many countries is constitutionally or legally protected. But certain types of speech can be seen as problematic, and can be limited in law or by convention. Where should the lines be drawn? What is the role for government, or for civil society? 

For the 2016 and tenth event in the Lords chamber, the debating theme and title was: ‘The Free Speech Debate: Should there be limits to freedom of speech in the UK?’ A debating motion outlining three angles for debate sat under this theme:

  1. No limits: Speech should be as free as possible. The best counter to harmful speech is debate not censorship
  2. Monitor it: Speech shouldn’t be censored but the government should be allowed to monitor closely what people are saying and intervene if they need to for security reasons
  3. Censor it: We should be able to restrict or censor harmful voices or divisive figures from expressing views that aren’t consistent with our nation’s values.

The final vote result was:

  • No limits: 98
  • Monitor it: 75
  • Censor it: 16

The House of Lords opens up the chamber every year, inviting people from across the UK to take part in a debating event. This year’s debate was the latest event in a broad outreach programme that aims to raise awareness of the role and work of the Lords.

Subjects up for debate in recent years have included defence and remembrance, social care, climate change and the future of the Lords itself:

More information

Image: House of Lords 2016 / Roger Harris