I was extremely excited to find out I had the opportunity to speak at the House of Lords because it is a place of such great historical significance and has a massive role to play in the scrutiny of government. I have previously visited the Houses of Parliament but it is such an interesting and amazing place that I could never turn down a trip again.
I am eagerly awaiting my chance to speak on a topic that interests me so much: whether we should censor, monitor or have complete freedom of speech. I will, thankfully, be arguing on the side of censorship and regulation. As someone who casually refers to themselves as a true anarchist, this viewpoint doesn't come naturally to me. However, I think this debate is especially important because, whilst I may believe that in an ideal world we would live without laws, we must recognise the problems of today.
Recently the NSPCC released findings that suggest more than half of LGBT students in British schools are the victims of verbal abuse. I'm sure we have all seen or had personal experiences of how abusive behaviour can influence people's education. In a society that aims for equal opportunities, I believe we must then also believe in freedom from verbal persecution. This means a state that regulates media and can intervene on private conversation upon complaint.
Regulating the press to some degree is also an extremely important issue for the government. For instance, in the lead-up to the EU referendum The Sun published a piece which claimed that the 'Queen Backs Brexit'. Without regulation, this sort of misleading reporting could become dangerously out of hand and the state would lose the ability to legally challenge it.
Another side of the Free Speech debate is that we should, as a state, monitor people's conversations. This is understandably a very attractive argument but the way the government has currently implemented monitoring is a danger to our freedom. The government's anti-terrorism strategy is called 'Contest' but the most infamous part of this is 'Prevent' and for good reason. This strategy makes it a legal requirement for teachers to report to the police any suspicious behaviour from students. However, upon further inspection, there are clear flaws in a strategy like this.
An internationally famous example is the 14-year-old school pupil in Texas being handcuffed and arrested after a teacher thought his potato clock looked like a bomb. Not only is it a problem in practice, but with a recent ECHR ruling stating the collection of our data for 17 years by MI5 and GCHQ was unlawful, we can see that international judges also see monitoring a threat to our rights as individuals.
On another, equally important, subject I'm sure I'm not alone amongst my peers in having faced the question, 'why do you care if you can't vote?' This irritates me because, as a believer in 'votes at 16', I feel the need to listen to others to understand how people experience living in our country. This can be done in multiple ways: a good example of this would be the House of Lords debate I will be taking part in this Friday.
I also think debates such as those that are held in the Youth Parliament have a big part to play in understanding how people perceive our country and the government. I think Youth Parliament really showed its strength this year when my good friend Darragh O'Reilly (MYP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone) made such an impassioned speech that it went viral and had over 2.9 million views on the Channel 4 news Facebook page. I think this shows that people do want to listen to the youth of our country and are interested in a wider debate.
My belief in 'votes at 16' is partly what makes me so excited to visit the Lords as, in the run up to the EU referendum, it voted for us to get the vote only to see it blocked in the Commons. It seems bizarre to me that the unelected, often seen as undemocratic, House wants to expand democracy whereas the House that represents the electorate does not want to support this.
Both conversations come back to the underlying question of how do we express ourselves and in what manner. I am sure that the debate in the House of Lords will help us all to explore our own views on the subject, which can surely only be a good thing.
The House of Lords Chamber Event - The Free Speech Debate - starts at 15:20 on Friday 25 November. You can watch the debate on Parliament TV (http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/da62e090-cc41-4ca6-a625-f9b73728c224)
The English-Speaking Union has partnered with the House of Lords to deliver the debate model and training for the speakers. Find out more about The Free Speech Debate (http://www.parliament.uk/business/lords/get-involved-with-the-lords/outreach-programmes/lords-chamber-event/2016-chamber-event/ )
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