Statement on Debating Society

The Students’ Union can confirm that a proposed event hosted by the Debating Society and featuring Katie Hopkins will not be taking place next week.

The Students’ Union can confirm that a proposed event hosted by the Debating Society and featuring Katie Hopkins will not be taking place next week.

It is important to note that our student groups are given as much autonomy and freedom to operate as possible with this extending to the organisation of events which inevitably, may be deemed controversial by others.

All events must go through a thorough risk assessment with the student group, and no events take place without the possibility of conditions being imposed – for example security at the event itself, the creation of a designated protest zone, the requirement for an alternative perspective in any debate, or monitoring of the event to ensure all attendees are safe. This would also include the provision to close down any event if illegal speech, or incitement to violence, is present.

It is within this context that we must highlight that the safety of those involved in events such as this is paramount and the history of events involving Ms Hopkins shows that the chance of a counter protest to her presence is extremely likely. The requirements of ensuring the safety of all those involved should this take place presents a number of logistical issues for the Union which we are unable to overcome within the timeframe of the notice given.

In addition to this it is important to distinguish between free speech and platform. The Officer Team have stated that they cannot resource the funding of security for this form of event which would require funding being taken away from another area of the Union’s work. Like any student group, it is expected that funding for their activities is generated through their membership and fundraising activity.

Freedom of speech is exceptionally important, and the Students’ Union does not have what many people refer to as a ‘no platform’ policy, that would place further democratically decided limits on the type of guests invited by groups or the Union itself. If students want this, then the Union’s democratic structure would allow this, and of course, future events would be subject to it. And indeed, we would encourage any students who feel strongly on either side of this issue to engage with our processes on this topic.

The President of the Students’ Union, Jack O’Neill commented on behalf of the Sabbatical Officer Team: “The views of Katie Hopkins are at odds with the values held by the Officer Team and the Students’ Union and we would never personally invite her onto campus ourselves.

“Despite this, healthy debates are crucial in a higher education environment but these need to take place in a structured format so that topics can be explored, supported or rejected by those in attendance.

“Having met with the Debating Society today, they understand the issues with the event in its current format and have taken on board why the officers feel they cannot provide Union resources to a student group outside of formal funding rounds.”