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Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill completes passage through Parliament

12 May 2023

A university lecture hall

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill returned to the Lords for consideration of Commons amendments in ‘ping pong’, on Wednesday 10 May. Following agreement by both Houses on the text of the bill it received Royal Assent on 11 May. The bill is now an Act of Parliament (law).

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill seeks to strengthen freedom of speech in higher education (HE) providers registered with the Office for Students by promoting academic freedom among students and staff, creating a complaints system and enabling legal redress for breaches of freedom of speech rules.

Consideration of amendments 

The bill was considered by the House of Lords between 14 June and 13 December 2022, before returning to the House of Commons. 

The bill then passed between the Houses as members of the Lords considered Commons reasons for disagreeing to Lords amendments to the bill.

Amendments discussed on Wednesday 10 May covered criteria for bringing civil proceedings.

Commons reasons were accepted by members without a division (vote).

Catch up

Explore further information

Read background on the bill in the House of Lords Library Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill briefing.

What's happened so far?

Consideration of amendments day one: Tuesday 21 March

Members of the Lords considered Commons reason for disagreeing to Lords amendments to the bill.

The House of Commons had disagreed to a Lords amendment to remove clause 4 of the bill which would allow individuals to bring legal proceedings against a higher education provider if they were not protecting freedom of speech. The House of Commons disagreed to the amendment as they consider civil proceedings to be important in remedying breaches of duties imposed by the bill. 

The Lords did not insist on their original amendment. However, after a debate on the floor of the House, the Lords put forward some alternative amendments and these were agreed to without a division (vote).

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Third reading: Tuesday 13 December

Third reading is a chance for members to ‘tidy up' a bill, making small changes to ensure it is effective.

No amendments (changes) were put forward ahead of third reading. Members discussed the progress of the bill through the House at the conclusion of Lords stages.  

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Report stage: Wednesday 7 December

Report stage is an extra chance for members to closely scrutinise elements of the bill and make changes.   

On Wednesday, members considered changes relating to:

  • rights set out in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
  • providing guidance on the legislation to student unions
  • the appointment of a Director for Freedom of Speech.

Lords divisions 

There was  one division (vote) on a proposed change to the bill.

Civil Claims

The vote was on amendment 22, which removes Clause 4 of the bill. Clause 4 enabled people to bring civil proceedings against higher education providers, institutions within them and student unions.

Members voted 218 in favour and 175 against, so the change was made.

Get involved

Committee stage day three: Monday 14 November

Members speaking on the last day of committee stage put forward amendments(PDF) (changes) to the bill to be discussed. 

These amendments covered a range of subjects, including:

  • a statutory regulator with power to resolve disputes 
  • the threat and shadow of potential litigation which could bankrupt a student union 
  • specifying the route through which complaints must go, i.e., the Office for Students cannot intervene until a university’s own procedures, or those of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, are exhausted
  • ensuring that the Office for Students has a duty to monitor over-reliance on overseas funding from a single country.

Catch up 

Committee stage day two: Wednesday 2 November.

Members speaking on day two of committee stage put forward amendments (PDF) (changes) to the bill to be discussed. 

These amendments covered a range of subjects, including:

  • managing duties of care with commitments to free speech
  • preventing discrimination in distribution of research funding
  • regulation of student unions and the impact of duties created by the draft law.

Catch up 

Committee stage day one: Monday 31 October

Members speaking on day one of committee stage put forward amendments (PDF) (changes) to the bill to be discussed. 

These amendments covered a range of subjects, including:

  • the definition of freedom of speech in the bill
  • extending academic freedom protection to academic visiting speakers
  • forbid punishment of academics for lawful exercise of academic freedom.

Catch up 

Second reading: Tuesday 28 June

Members discussed the main issues in the bill during second reading and drew attention to specific areas where they thought amendments (changes) were needed.Topics covered during the debate included:

  • wider issues the higher education sector and students are facing
  • the scale of the issue of free speech in higher education
  • overseas funding of universities
  • the administrative burden on universities created by the bill, including financial reporting requirements
  • how new complaint schemes fit with existing routes
  • alignment of the draft law with the Online Safety Bill and Bill of Rights Bill
  • the new role of ‘Director of Freedom of Speech’ and its appointment process.

Members speaking

Earl Howe (Conservative), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, opened the debate and responded on behalf of the government. 

Members speaking in the debate included: 

Find out more about the issues discussed:catch up on Parliament TV or read a transcript inLords Hansard

Get involved

Watch and read the debate

Catch up on Parliament TV or read a transcript inLords Hansard.  

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