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Online Safety Bill: Priority Offences

Volume 708: debated on Monday 7 February 2022

I wish to inform the House that the Government will be making a change to the Online Safety Bill, to set out priority offences in primary legislation on the face of the Bill.

This change responds to the calls for greater clarity about the criminal offences in scope of the new regulatory framework, and will increase the pace of implementation of the regulatory regime.

Specifically, this change responds to calls from the Online Safety Bill Joint Committee and the Digital, Culture Media and Sport Committee’s Sub-Committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, which recommended that the most relevant criminal offences should be included in primary legislation. The Petitions Committee further specified a number of offences that it believes should be listed, including hate crime.

We plan to include offences within the following categories on the face of the Bill:

Encouraging or assisting suicide.

Offences relating to sexual images, including revenge and extreme pornography.

Incitement to and threats of violence.

Hate crime.

Public order offences, harassment and stalking.

Drug-related offences.

Weapons and firearms offences.

Fraud and financial crime.

Money laundering.

Exploiting prostitutes for gain.

Organised immigration offences.

Offences relating to terrorism and child sexual abuse and exploitation are already listed in the Bill. The Secretary of State will have the ability to designate additional offences as priority by statutory instrument, which will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

Priority offences represent the most serious and prevalent illegal content and activity online. Companies will need to take proactive steps to tackle such content. Companies will need to design and operate their services to be safe by design and prevent users encountering priority illegal content. This could include, for example, having effective systems in place to prevent banned users opening new accounts.

Beyond the priority offences, all services will need to ensure that they have effective systems and processes in place to take down quickly other illegal content once it has been reported or they become aware of its presence.

Listing the priority offences on the face of the Bill, instead of in secondary legislation, is an important step in strengthening this pioneering legislation designed to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. This will mean that platforms do not need to wait for secondary legislation to start tackling the most serious illegal content.

We will respond fully to all three Committees’ reports in due course alongside introduction of the Bill, and thank them for their recommendations.