My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if those noble Lords who wish to leave do so before I call the next amendment.
Clause 15: Internet pornography: requirement to prevent access by persons under the age of 18
My Lords, we all share a common purpose in wanting the new age verification process in Part 3 to be robust, trusted and effective. It is of course vital that we put in place powers to protect children from viewing inappropriate pornographic material, and we have rehearsed the arguments as to why it is important many times before in the House. We therefore believe that there should be an overriding duty of care on internet service providers and ancillary service providers to keep children and young people safe when using these sites.
The details of how this duty should be applied need to be subject to further consultation, which is what our Amendment 54B seeks to achieve. However, more substantially, we are concerned about the scale and the scope of the regulatory functions in the Bill, which to our mind have not been thought through and were not given sufficient scrutiny in the Commons. This was not helped by the fact that substantial new clauses were added to the Bill late on in the process which considerably extend the powers of the age verification regulator. The result is that Part 3 feels very much like a work in progress, with many of the usual checks and balances unresolved.
This was identified by the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee which, as we know, raised a number of specific concerns that we will address in later amendments. By way of example, the Constitution Committee stated:
“We question whether the House can effectively scrutinise the Bill when its scrutiny is impeded by the absence from the face of the Bill of any detail about the operation of the proposed age-verification regime”.
We agree with that point and we have concerns about the whole regulatory structure as it is currently set out in Part 3. That is what Amendment 54D seeks to address.
The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, specifies that the regulator should be the British Board of Film Classification, and it has been widely assumed that it would take on a similar classification role for online to that which it already carries out for offline. But the new, expanded role set out in Part 3 has much more extensive powers to follow up those who fail to apply age verification filters with fines and ultimately with the blocking of their sites by internet service providers. We believe that these functions are separate and should be carried out by a separate regulator. Indeed, when we recently met the Minister, Matt Hancock, he said that Ofcom was in a better position than the BBFC to handle the financial penalties proposed.
In addition, there is a need to specify who will carry out appeals and to ensure that this is a separate, independent organisation and not one that is appointed by the regulator. This point was raised by the Delegated Powers Committee and again we have tabled separate amendments on it that will come up later. Finally, we would argue that there needs to be effective oversight and supervision of the new regime to ensure proper governance and value for money. Arguably, Ofcom rather than the Secretary of State should have a role in holding both the classification and the enforcement agencies to account, as well as reporting to Parliament from time to time on progress. But of course Ofcom cannot do everything, which is an additional reason why we believe that we need to take time to allocate the different layers of responsibilities correctly.
No doubt other noble Lords, like ourselves, have received over the past few weeks representations from many bodies providing internet service provision, payment and ancillary services. They have raised concerns about the new powers in the Bill and how they will work in practice. Indeed, one of the ISPs went as far as to say that it was so concerned that it was going to redraft the whole of Part 3—so there is a major concern about how the powers are to be allocated. This is why we believe that it is important to get this right by taking more time to consult on the role and functions of the regulator or regulators and to bring a clearer set of proposals back to both Houses. Amendment 54D would achieve this objective.
We believe that we need to take extra time to get this right. It should not be left to the Secretary of State and the eventual system for protecting children, which is something we all agree with, will be much more robust as a result. I beg to move.
My Lords, with the permission of the Committee, it may be helpful if I say a few words before other noble Lords make their contributions in order to help the rest of our debate on this part of the Bill and to put on record the Government’s position on a key issue that we will be debating today.
The BBFC is going to be given powers in the Bill to give notice to payment service providers and ancillary service providers under Clause 22 and to ISPs under Clause 23 of websites that have inadequate age verification as well as prohibited material. Many noble Lords have raised concerns with me about the scope of what amounts to “prohibited material”, so let me put on record what I have been telling those noble Lords in the many meetings we have had. The Government disagree that “prohibited material” should be excluded from the regulator’s powers. We must not unintentionally legitimise all types of pornographic content as long as age verification controls are in place. Extreme pornography can involve dangerous content. The current definition of “prohibited material” in the Bill would bring parity with the offline world—material that would not be classified by the BBFC, including material that is in breach of criminal law.
The Government’s intention is to protect children from harmful content. We have listened to the arguments that in doing so, the drafting of the Bill may have unintentionally extended the powers of the regulator too far. We all share a common goal of keeping children safe and the Government will ensure that, in achieving this aim, we have a proportionate and fair impact on others who enjoy the freedoms and equalities that are important to everyone. So I can commit that we will give this further consideration in order to reach a conclusion that this House agrees is a satisfactory way of meeting our aims of protecting children from harmful pornographic content. I will be very happy to discuss this with interested Peers before Report.
My Lords, as I said at Second Reading, I am pleased to be speaking today on a subject that I have regularly brought before your Lordships’ House over recent years in my several online safety Bills—the importance of protecting children online, which is very much today’s subject. I have tabled my probing Amendment 55 so that the Government can set out their plans for which organisations will act as the age verification regulator for which sections of this Bill, as this is crucial to ensure the child protection provisions of Part 3 are successfully implemented.
My amendment would designate the British Board of Film Classification as the age verification regulator for the whole of this process. I know that many in this House and the other place were delighted to hear the Government’s announcement that the BBFC will be the notification regulator for Part 3, a position for which it will be formally designated later this year. I am sure we can all agree that it will bring a level of expertise to that role which will be really invaluable. The use of the term “notification” regulator, however, suggests that the BBFC will provide only part of the regulatory function and that another kind of regulator will have a role to play. Indeed, this was backed up by the BBFC, which stated in its evidence to the Public Bill Committee in another place that it did not intend to have any role in enforcement under Clauses 21 and 22 on fines and informing payment providers and ancillary service providers.
This same message is repeated in the Explanatory Notes:
“The BBFC is expected to be the regulator for the majority of the functions of the regulator (including issuing notices to ISPs to prevent access to material), but is not intended to take on the role of issuing financial penalties and enforcement notices to non-compliant websites”.
This begs an important question to which the Minister must now provide an answer. Who will be the other regulator? It is one thing to have not clarified this at the point of introducing the Bill. It is, however, quite another for the Bill to have passed entirely through one House and be well on its way through another without any update.
In asking this question, I should say that I was very pleased to see that the Government have said that the BBFC will assume the enforcement role in relation to Clause 23, which was introduced on Report in another place. This, however, still leaves questions about the enforcement regulator for Clauses 21 and 22 and how the enforcement regulator in these clauses will interact with the BBFC in its role as “notification” regulator.
In its report on the Bill, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee criticised the lack of information about the regulator, saying:
“The decision as to who to appoint as regulator should be taken before, not after, a Bill is introduced so that it can be fully scrutinised by Parliament. This is especially because the regulator will have important and significant powers conferred by Part 3 which include the ability to impose substantial civil penalties”.
Parliament should know who the enforcement regulator will be, since it will be able to impose these substantial penalties.
Your Lordships’ House should be informed how the enforcement regulator, assuming the Government are still planning on a second regulator, will operate with the BBFC in terms of the mechanics of deciding whether to issue a fine, an enforcement notice, or notice to internet service providers to block certain sites, and how the two regulators will produce consistent guidance for this part of the Bill. Ofcom would be an obvious option for enforcement, but last November it made it clear that it does not want the role. I ask the Minister: who do the Government have in mind? When will he bring that information to the House? I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for not taking part in Second Reading. Having led on the Investigatory Powers Bill and the Policing and Crime Bill I was hoping for some time off for good behaviour, but apparently a policeman’s lot is not a happy one, even when he has retired.
My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones and I have Amendment 55B in this group. The first thing to say is that we on these Benches believe everything that can be demonstrated to be effective should be done to restrict children’s access to adult material online. We also believe that everything should be done to ensure that adults can access websites that contain material that it is legal for them to view. That is why Amendment 55B would require the age-verification regulator to produce an annual report on how effective the measures in the Bill have been in general in reducing the number of children accessing adult material online and how effective each enforcement mechanism has been. We also share the concerns expressed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Howe of Idlicote, on these provisions having been made somewhat at the last minute, and that they may not have been completely thought through.
The aims of the Bill and the other amendments in the group are laudable. The ideal that there should be equal protection for children online as there is offline is a good one, but it is almost impossible to achieve through enforcement alone. We have to be realistic about how relatively easy it is to prevent children accessing physical material sold in geographic locations and how relatively difficult, if not impossible, it is to prevent determined children accessing online material on the internet, much of which is free. An increasing proportion of adult material is not commercially produced.
That is not to say that we should not do all we can to prevent underage access to adult material, but we must not mislead by suggesting that doing all we can to prevent access is both necessary and sufficient to prevent children accessing adult material online, the detail of which I will come to in subsequent amendments. Of course internet service providers and ancillary service providers should do all they can to protect children, but there are also issues around freedom of expression that need to be taken into account.
My Lords, in light of these and some later amendments, I want to raise the matter of ancillary service providers. My understanding is that social media platforms continue to argue that they do not fall within the definition of ancillary service providers and are seeking confirmation from government that they have no role to play in preventing children accessing pornography online.
I am aware that the Minister stated at Second Reading:
“The Government believe that services, including Twitter, can be classified by regulators as ancillary service providers where they are enabling or facilitating the making available of pornographic or prohibited material”.—[Official Report, 13/12/16; col. 1228.]
I was pleased to hear him say that, but I would like confirmation that it remains the Government’s position. Unless such platforms are included, I simply do not understand what Part 3 of the Bill hopes to achieve.
I am unconvinced that it is possible to remove all adult content from the purview of children, but it is imperative to make it clear to young people that viewing adult sexual content is a transgressive act and not a cultural norm, so, at a minimum, it should be as difficult as reaching the top shelf in a newsagent or being underage in a pub. That is imperative for reasons I set out in great detail at Second Reading, so I will not repeat them here but simply say that children and young people are turning in large numbers to pornography to learn about sex, with unhappy consequences. Often violent, mainly misogynistic, unrealistic adult male fantasy is not a good starting point for a healthy, happy, consensual sex life.
I would have preferred for the age verification system to be fully thought out, prototyped and beta-tested before it came to the House in the form of legislation. None the less, I agree that Part 3 is a valiant attempt to stem the flow of adult material into the hands and lives of children. In the absence of a better, more thought out plan, I support it. But if this is the path we are taking, we must be clear in our message: this material is unsuitable for those under the age of 18.
The BBFC says that it intends to take a proportionate approach to its new role and will target the top 50 adult websites as accessed by viewers in the UK. Its research shows that 70% of all those who access such sites in the UK visit the top 50. Among children, concentration among those top sites is even higher. In that respect, I understand that age-verifying 70% of adult material websites sends a clear message.
However, a brief search on Twitter, which has a joining age of 13, shows that commercial pornography is readily available, with popular accounts attracting hundreds of thousands of followers. Many of those who access pornographic social media accounts do not publicly follow them, so it is more than likely that the follower figures are dwarfed by the number of actual viewers. In the case of younger viewers, such platforms if accessed via an app leave no browser footprint that might be discovered by parents—a very attractive proposition.
If social media companies provide alternative access to the same or similar pornographic material with no restriction, surely the regulator should be entitled to take the same proportionate approach and target pornographic social media accounts with similar viewer numbers to those for adult websites. For most young people, social media platforms are the gateway to the internet. Unless they are to be included within the definition of ASPs, neither the problem of young people accessing pornography nor the ambition of setting a social norm that puts adult sexual material beyond the easy reach of children and young people will be achieved. It will simply migrate.
I note that social media platforms are not homogenous and that some, including Facebook and Instagram, already take steps to prevent pornography being posted and act quickly to take it down when it does go up. It is disappointing that not all platforms take this approach. I do not want to focus on Twitter, but noble Lords might like go to the account, @gspot1177, with its 750,000 public followers, which has been publishing pornography with impunity since 2009. Surely it is necessary to bring this into scope of the regulator. Nobody is claiming that the measures set out in the Bill will prevent 100% of pornography being seen by children and I understand Ministers’ arguments that doing something is better than doing nothing, but I am concerned that in the lack of clarity about what does and does not fall within the definition of ASP there may lie a lack of political will about holding certain stakeholders to account.
I would love to hear from the Minister whether major social media platforms including Tumblr and Twitter have confirmed to the Government how they would respond to requests from the BBFC to withdraw services from a non-compliant site—and whether his statement at Second Reading that social media platforms may be considered ASPs by the regulator still stands.
My Lords, I welcome the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. I also want to pay tribute to the work that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lady Benjamin have done on this area. I well remember my noble friend Lady Benjamin almost doorstepping the former Prime Minister David Cameron to get something done on this area. He agreed that action would be taken.
I spoke on this at Second Reading—not in any technical way because I am not a particularly technical person; I spoke as a head teacher of 20-odd years on the harm that pornography potentially does, and is doing, to young people. We are rightly always concerned about the safeguarding of children and young people. We put in place all sorts of safeguarding procedures, yet we seem to find all sorts of reasons why we cannot do anything about pornography. Many young lives, frankly, are being corrupted in the pure innocence of childhood as they follow an older brother or sister, a friend or a mate, who might say, “Oh, have a look at this”. Once they get involved in this, it does immeasurable harm, not only to the child but to their view of women, for example.
A young child of 12 or 13 on the internet, perhaps by accident, perhaps by a dare, perhaps encouraged by another person, watching female rape enacted—this is not something I want to be part of. I do not want a society that allows that to happen. It is important, and my noble friend Lord Paddick is right to say, that we should be effective in what we do. He also said that if children are determined they can access this, no matter what we put in place, but that is not a reason not to do something. The vast majority of children will do something. If somebody is determined to do something, they will always be able to do it. I hope that will not be a reason not to do something. I am relaxed about our having a look at this to get it right. I know it whizzed through the Commons, but even at this late stage I am relaxed about making sure that every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed in the interests of young people.
My Lords, I spoke at Second Reading on this aspect of the Bill. I was one of the people who said very clearly that I should much prefer not to have pornography of any sort on any website, because the world would be much better without it. The previous speaker is quite right. The influence that modern communication has on young people is devastating. In some families, it really has been disruptive and led to unfortunate consequences within them.
I welcome the Minister’s statement that they will take this away, think about it and come back again. I reiterate my dismay that again we have another very important Bill from the Commons that really has not been dealt with in the proper manner. I hope that in future the Commons will be allowed more time or will organise itself so that it can do the job it should and can do, and not leave it to this House to be the one saying, “Hang on”.
If you look at the number of amendments tabled to this one Bill, it reinforces the whole position that my noble friend the Minister must deal with, which in many cases should have been dealt with before. I am an old hand here and still feel strongly about this. I do not complain that my right honourable friends at the other end have not had the opportunity to do this—that is how the system works. However, we go on, year after year, saying the same thing and it is high time we got to grips with this. I would like to push a little further on the Minister’s response earlier that the Government will look at this: it is hugely important that they do.
I have slight concerns about Ofcom being perhaps one of those who should undertake this. In some ways, Ofcom is not always as robust as I would like it to be, which is perhaps unfair. Secondly, we certainly need to identify in the Bill before it leaves our House exactly what is to happen: who the enforcer is where there are dual splits within what we seek to do in the Bill. The Bill is hugely important and I hope that the Government will, as they have already indicated, take it away after Committee and think seriously about it. I would hate to think that some of the final detail will come through in secondary legislation, which we cannot alter. We need to get this into primary legislation. I support the comments made by other noble Lords and look forward to the Minister responding and, I hope, being able to take it away and come back, even if that means it happens a little later. It is much better to get it right later than to leave it in its current form.
My Lords, I will make some brief points. First, on this set of amendments I am afraid I disagree with the noble Baroness: we must get on with this. It will not be perfect on day one but the sooner we get moving the better. We have talked about this for a very long time. That is why I am not really pro these amendments.
On Amendment 55, I agree entirely with my noble friend Lady Howe. She is absolutely right to spot this lacuna: the BBFC will look at this stuff and age verification, but who will enforce it? That is a problem and I was going to raise it later anyway. She was absolutely spot on there. My noble friend Lady Kidron was also absolutely spot on about these sites. Twitter could be classified as commercial because it takes money from pornography sites to promote them. I can get evidence of that. It would be difficult for it to say that it does not promote them.
Very quickly on what the Minister said, I was going to raise under the group starting with Amendment 57 the issue of including prohibited material with the age verification stuff. We should separate protecting children from protecting adults or it will confuse things. The big danger is that if we start using this to protect adults from stuff that they should not see—in other words, some of the adult prohibited material, of which there is quite a lot out there—we run the risk of challenges in court. Everything that the BBFC does not classify because it falls into certain categories is automatically prohibited material. It is not allowed to classify certain acts. I should probably not tell noble Lords about those now as they are pretty unpleasant but they are fairly prevalent in the hardcore pornography out there. If the pornography sites are blocked from supplying adults with what they want, they will just move offshore and get round this. If they do that, there will be no point in doing age verification and we will not protect our children. That will create the first major loophole in the entire thing.
I have this from the pornographers themselves. They know what they are doing. However, they are very happy—and would like—to protect children. If we leave them alone and argue through the Obscene Publications Act and other such things as to what they must stop adults seeing, they will help block children. They are very keen on that. Children just waste their time as they do not have money to spend. At the end of the day, the pornographers want to extract money from people.
I am advised that the real problem is that prohibited material includes content that would be refused a BBFC R18 certificate. The Crown Prosecution Service charging practice is apparently out of sync with recent obscenity case law in the courts. Most non-UK producers and distributors work on common global compliance standards based on Visa and Mastercard’s brand-protection guidelines. Maybe we should start to align with that. We should deal with that separately under the Obscene Publications Act. It will be very easy for the BBFC, the regulator or the enforcer to tell what does not have age verification on the front. That is yes/no—it is very simple. The trouble is that if we get into prohibited material, it will end up before the courts. We will have to go through court procedures and it will take much longer to block the sites. I would remove that from here. I shall leave my other comments to a later stage.
My Lords, I am grateful for those contributions. They address some very important issues, some of which we will deal with now and some of which we will deal with later during the progress of the Bill. To start at the end, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, made some interesting points regarding the statement that I made. We absolutely acknowledge some of them. I have listened to his suggestions. Our focus here is to protect children. That is what this Bill is for. That is what our manifesto commitment was. When he sees our suggestions, I hope that he will be able to contribute to the debate on Report—but I have noted everything he said.
The introduction of a new law requiring appropriate age verification measures for online pornography is a bold new step. It represents the first stage of ensuring that commercial providers of online pornographic material are rightly held responsible for what they provide and profit from.
Amendment 54B would require the regulator to publish guidance about the overarching duty of care on internet-service providers and ancillary service providers, and their responsibility to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure the safety of a child or young person involved in activities or interaction for which the service provider is responsible. The purpose of our measures is to protect children from pornographic material. Seeking to stretch the framework further to regulate companies on a different basis risks the delivery of our aim. However, that is not to say that we want to ignore the issue. We take the issue of child safety online seriously and engage intensively with the industry through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety to ensure that robust protections are in place.
The Government expect industry to play a leading role in internet safety provisions, as it is best placed to offer safety and protection to children and young people. We know that it is already doing this and has default protections for under-18s, including the use of parental controls and tools to allow users to flag content, protect user privacy as well as educate users on staying safe with information and advice. We will have further opportunities to discuss the role of the industry, including social media and internet service provider filters later in Committee.
Amendment 54D seeks to introduce a new clause with the requirement that the Secretary of State must consult on the role of the age verification regulator. The clause further seeks that the Secretary of State must lay before each House of Parliament a report on the results of the consultation and the Secretary of State’s conclusions, with any appointments to be subject to approval in each House. The introduction of the measures requiring appropriate age verification for online pornography follows public consultation. We asked about the powers that a regulator should have and there was strong support for a number of responsibilities that we have introduced. The passage of this Bill has provided an important opportunity for debate on this and we have seen the introduction of an important new blocking power for the regulator, which we shall discuss later.
We are grateful to the DPRRC and the Constitution Committee for their reports, which a number of noble Lords mentioned. They made a number of recommendations about the designation of the regulator and how the regulator should fulfil its role. We are carefully considering those and will publish our response before Report.
Amendment 55, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, would specify that the Secretary of State is to designate the British Board of Film Classification as the age verification regulator. As the Committee will know, Clauses 17 and 18 provide for the designation of the regulator and we intend to designate the BBFC to carry out most—as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, reminded us—of the functions of the regulator. Indeed, some noble Lords may have seen the BBFC’s recent presentation to the Children’s Media and the Arts APPG.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his opening statement and for his comments now, but I do not really feel that he addressed our concerns about the overarching architecture of the regulatory structure: where the power should lie, the detail of which regulator has which functions and so on, and whether there is a need for someone to oversee the whole regime.
I also thank the Minister for his offer of further discussions about this, but as a number of noble Lords have said, it is rather frustrating that the information and debate that we ought to be having here in Committee is being shifted backwards so that we will have it in correspondence or perhaps offline before Report. Normally, we would expect the government proposals to be in front of us here, so that we can debate them in detail. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, once again we find that the debates that we should be having in Committee are happening on Report, which makes it very frustrating for everybody involved. That also applies to the reports from the Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee. With respect, the Government have had those documents for several weeks now, and I would have thought it would have been possible to have given us a response as to how the Government intend to react to them before today’s debate. I find this whole process for considering Part 3 very frustrating. Notwithstanding that, I know that the Minister means well and I am sure we will all want to take up his offer of further discussions, if that is possible.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, made a very good point about who the other regulator will be, and I was not sure that the Minister really answered it. Again, if we are going to get down to putting in the Bill that the BBFC will have part of that function, it is right that we should also say who will have the other part of it; otherwise, the Bill is not going to make sense. So I have an ongoing sense of frustration. Some of the issues that a number of noble Lords have raised will spill into some of the discussions that we will have on other amendments and will no doubt come up several times, regrettably, although maybe that is just because of the way that we have structured some of the amendments.
I agree absolutely with the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, that we need a much clearer definition of ancillary service providers. To the outside world, that is a non-phrase really, but it means either so much or so little, and we just need some clearer definition of what it means in terms of the responsibilities of social media providers. It may well be, as I think the noble Lord was suggesting, that some of them have different responsibilities from others, but we need that debate. It is a really important debate, since as the noble Baroness was saying, children are accessing this material and there do not seem to be any real proposals in front of us for how we are going to get a grip on that. That is perhaps something that we can return to later as we debate other provisions in Part 3.
Finally, I think the Minister strayed into the whole issue of what is prohibited material. Again, we have amendments on that later and will return to it when those are discussed, but I thought that we had made more progress on that than the Minister is now suggesting. I know that a number of noble Lords had a meeting with Matt Hancock, the Minister, a couple of weeks ago, and I thought that we were edging towards a new form of words, but it does not seem that this is before us from what the Minister has said. So again, we have a level of frustration about this.
Let me confirm that I hope we are edging towards some agreement; it is just that, as the noble Baroness will be aware, there are times when one can announce these things and there are times when one cannot. I agree with her that it is somewhat frustrating—in the same way that it is frustrating when, though we have had the Explanatory Memorandum since the Summer Recess, amendments appear at the last minute. It is a frustrating process.
Well, this is because the discussion has gone on over the summer, with yourselves and with other people. We have been seeking clarification, which we have not had, which is why we finally put down amendments. Anyway, this debate is going to continue, I think, through the course of Part 3. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, this returns to some of the more detailed proposals of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee. As I have already said, when we first looked at Part 3, we were immediately concerned about the lack of oversight and accountability of the powers and functions of the age verification regulator or regulators. So we were not surprised, when the reports of the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee were published, that they very much echo our concerns. For example, the Constitution Committee said:
“We are concerned that the extent to which the Bill leaves the details of the age-verification regime to guidance and guidelines to be published by the as yet-to-be-designated regulator adversely affects the ability of the House effectively to scrutinise this legislation. … The House may wish to consider whether it would be appropriate for a greater degree of detail to be included on the face of the bill”.
This is what we are debating and grappling with today.
The Delegated Powers Committee raised a number of more detailed criticisms. For example, it was concerned that the Bill leaves it to the Secretary of State to determine who the regulator or regulators should be, and said that it is inappropriate for the regulator to then decide what the appeals mechanism should be. It flagged up the need for this to be an independent body. It was deeply concerned that the regulator would be left to draw up its own guidelines on the circumstances in which internet sites would be deemed to be publishing pornographic materials. It went on to say:
“We consider it objectionable as a matter of principle that a regulator, who is to be clothed with extensive powers to impose fines and take other enforcement action, should itself be able to specify how key concepts used in clause 15(1) are to be interpreted”.
It also noted that further broad discretion to the regulator was being granted to produce guidelines on the application of those financial penalties. In all these areas it therefore recommended that the regulator’s guidelines should be laid before Parliament and subject to the affirmative process. In the absence of a positive government response to these recommendations, we have been helpful by setting out a number of amendments that aim to achieve that desired outcome.
So Amendment 54C would require the guidance on the types of arrangements for making pornographic material available, and circumstances in which it is judged to be commercial, to be laid as SIs before both Houses. Amendment 55A specifies that the Secretary of State should make regulations for a clear appeals procedure which would come before both Houses, and makes it clear that the appeals regime should be independent. We are also supporting Amendments 69 and 229B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which aim to achieve a similar outcome.
Amendment 56A would require an SI on the arrangements for issuing enforcement notices to those who contravene the age verification regime. Amendment 62A would require the guidelines on the blocking of access to sites via payment providers and ancillary service providers to come before both Houses in the form of SIs. All these proposals are drawn from the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee.
I have also added my name to Amendment 66, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. We believe that the power to block sites, while important as an ultimate deterrent, should be imposed proportionately and with careful scrutiny. The current wording of Clause 23 allows for the regulator to give a notice to an internet service provider that it should block non-compliant sites so that the offending material cannot be accessed. The clause also specifies that the regulator should inform the Secretary of State of its intention to give such a notice. We do not believe that that is the right mechanism, and it does not provide enough independent scrutiny of the decision. This is why the amendment requires a blocking injunction to be initiated by the Secretary of State in conjunction with the regulator.
My Lords, when I spoke on Second Reading on 13 December, I addressed the enforcement provision in Part 3, and want to do so again today. I warmly welcomed Clause 23, as have other noble Lords, that the Government introduced on Report in another place, and I continue to do so.
Clause 23 is a robust provision and I believe that it would be far more effective than the proposal in Amendment 66, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Clement-Jones, which would replace Clause 23 with one entitled “Court orders”. The truth is, as I shall explain when speaking to amendments in the next group, that there are real problems with the enforcement mechanisms provided by Clauses 21 and 22 of the Bill, especially in relation to websites based outside the United Kingdom. This has always been a special concern, because the vast majority of online pornography accessed from within the UK is accessed from sites based in other jurisdictions.
The failure of Clauses 21 and 22 to provide credible enforcement mechanisms for the age verification requirement in Part 3 was highlighted very effectively in another place by parliamentarians from across the political spectrum. The critical thing about Clause 23 is that it gives the age verification regulator the power to enforce the age verification check provision without delay. The knowledge that, regardless of where in the world the site is based, it can be blocked by the UK age verification regulator will give those sites a strong incentive to introduce robust age verification. Amendment 66, by contrast, would place this in great jeopardy.
I want to raise three major problems with Amendment 66. First, it causes delay in the sense that, if it were to become law, we would then have to wait for the Secretary of State to introduce regulations, without which the age verification regulator would have no power to initiate IP blocking. Secondly, Amendment 66 makes the provision of these regulations, and thus the provision of IP blocking, entirely optional. If the Secretary of State does not get round to producing the regulations, there will be no IP blocking at all. Thirdly, in depending on a court injunction process, this amendment apparently prefers a very much slower, more expensive and more cumbersome mechanism, which websites will know cannot be used very often. This will give them hope that they can carry on without age verification checks because the chances of their being caught will be much less. Of course, the existence of the current Clause 23 powers does not mean that those powers will be used frequently, but the fact that websites will know that they could be deployed quickly and easily will make them much more wary about taking such risks, and will therefore keep children that much safer.
In setting out these objections, I make two other points. First, I understand the argument that there is a copyright precedent for the use of court injunctions, but the idea that we should therefore necessarily follow it is not remotely compelling. There was once a time when injunctions were not used in relation to copyright, but—rather than saying that there is no precedent to act and therefore we should not act—the decision was made that we should act and, in the case of copyright infringement, the use of injunctions was appropriate. Today, though, we are not dealing with copyright infringement; we are dealing with something quite different, which has a concern for child protection at its core. In this context, the mechanism set out by the Government in Clause 23 is more effective and much more appropriate. Secondly, if Amendment 66 is based narrowly on a civil liberties concern, I would have to say that, quite apart from the fact that this concern has to be balanced with a concern for child protection—which, in my view, Amendment 66 does not manage to achieve—it is important not to lose sight of the fact that any decision on the age verification regulation could be judicially reviewed.
When faced with a relatively robust provision of an enforcement mechanism for age verification that would help keep children safe, Amendment 66 with its delays and optional, rather than mandatory, standing cannot but be seen as an attempt to weaken the child protection provisions in the Bill, which I find deeply disturbing. Part 3 of this Bill entered your Lordships’ House as a robust and progressive measure placing us at the cutting edge of child protection online. If we were to replace Clause 23 with Amendment 66, it would leave us much weaker and—in the sense that websites would know that they could risk never being held to account for not having age verification checks—fatally compromised. I believe that this is misjudged, misconceived and mistimed. I very much hope that the Minister will stand by Clause 23 and oppose Amendment 66.
My Lords, I am absolutely delighted that we have had the views of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, about my amendment before I had a chance to speak to it, but maybe that’s life—he has given me the benefit of his views before I have set my own on record. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, set out extremely well the frustrations of those of us who, in the words of my noble friend Lord Storey, are very keen to make sure we get the right shape for this part of the Bill. There is absolutely no difference between us, in that we wish to see Part 3 be as effective as possible in preventing access to child pornography. We have been debating for only an hour and it is quite clear that this part of the Bill is worryingly embryonic.
My Lords, just for the sake of clarity, the noble Lord used the term “child pornography”, which is not the purpose of the verification. Verification is to stop children accessing pornography—let us get that absolutely right and on the record.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, for that intervention. He is entirely correct—I misspoke. We are also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for highlighting that the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee both pointed out considerable flaws in the way this part of the Bill is constructed.
In particular, I want to speak about the lack of appeal mechanisms. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said:
“We consider it inappropriate for the important question of appeals to be left to ‘arrangements’ made by the regulator, subject only to the approval of the Secretary of State, without any type of Parliamentary scrutiny”.
The committee was not the only one that made such comments. Interestingly enough, even the UN Special Rapporteur has commented on this:
“Moreover, I express concern at the lack of judicial oversight with respect to the power of the age-verification regulator to shut down websites that do not comply with the age-verification requirement. Any legislation restricting the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy, as well as any determination on the shut down of websites must be undertaken by a body which is independent of any political, commercial or unwarranted influence in a manner that is neither arbitrary nor discriminatory”.
That is fairly powerful testimony.
There are a number of different ways of achieving an appeals mechanism. The first mechanism, to which the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, takes such considerable exception, is to have a judicial process at the beginning, before any website blocking can take place. The other is to allow an appeal after a website has been blocked. With regard to the appeal afterwards, at the time the amendment was drafted it was thought that the BBFC would be the age verification regulator, and we very much welcomed its involvement. However, it has now become clear—perhaps “clear” is not the adjective I should use; rather, it appears to be emerging—that the BBFC will not be the only regulator involved in Part 3.
When Amendments 69 and 229B were drafted we tried to make the new form of appeal very similar to the kinds of appeal mechanism that that the BBFC uses for the purposes of the Video Recordings Act. In fact, most of the rubric in Amendment 229B comes from the part of the BBFC website that demonstrates the system of appeals on certification and so on. That seemed a sensible and reasonable way of proceeding, on the basis that the BBFC would be the age verification regulator for the purposes of Clause 23. One may wish to adopt a different form of appeal if that is not the case.
The second approach, which the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, objects to so strongly, is set out in Amendment 66. That is obviously a mechanism designed to make sure that before the very serious step of website blocking is taken, a certain procedure is gone through, ensuring that it is a last resort, and that there is proper oversight of the way in which the age verification regulator has conducted itself. That, too, seems an entirely reasonable approach.
What we are all looking for is an indication from the Government that they accept the need for this kind of appeal mechanism, whatever it may be, and that we will be able to have a look at it on Report. I should point out that we finish our fourth day in Committee next Wednesday, after which we break up for half term, and then come almost straight back to Report stage. There is very little time for much debate and discussion about these matters. This is one of the real issues, so I hope the Minister will ensure that the discussions start immediately and that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked, the Government will respond quickly to the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and also to the Constitution Committee’s report. Otherwise we will all remain in the dark until the Minister decides to enlighten us on 22 February.
My Lords, I put my name down to one of these amendments because I wanted to talk about appeals. The reason for that is very simple and comes back to what I said earlier. I do not think there should be any question about there being no age verification. That should be almost an absolute offence: if there is no age verification, a site can be blocked, just like that. If the relevant people want to make an appeal, they can do so later and make it as complicated as they like. The main issue has already been raised and I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, that Clause 23 is ideal. I entirely agree with the point about the foreign sites. They are not going to do anything if we do not block them. They will just mess around and children will get access to adult pornography for goodness knows how long. We need to be able to block immediately sites that do not have age verification.
I refer to appeals as we are muddling up the question of what is pornography with that of what is material that adults are not permitted to view. We need an appeals mechanism as we are going to get wrapped up in the lacunae and the mismatches between the Obscene Publications Act, the court cases and everything else, as I said earlier. We can see a Lady Chatterley-style case going through and taking years. In the meantime, all the non-age verified sites have to do is to keep appealing or whatever. That is not going to work. If we are going to include what is permitted for adults to view in this part of the Bill, we need an appeals process for that, but not an appeals process if the relevant sites do not have age verification in relation to potentially pornographic material. I will talk about that when we discuss the group of amendments commencing with Amendment 57.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for his opening remarks at the beginning of this debate. I was pleased to hear that the Government are in listening mode as we work our way carefully through this Bill.
When we speak about the crucial subject of the enforcement of the age verification provision, it is vital to remember that we are talking about how we ensure that children and young people are kept safe. All the evidence is that early exposure to pornographic material can be extremely harmful to children. The Economist reported that given the view that sexual tastes are formed around puberty,
“ill-timed exposure to unpleasant or bizarre material could cause a lifelong problem”.
As I repeatedly say, childhood lasts a lifetime.
There is evidence that pornography can lead to unrealistic attitudes to sex, damaging impacts on young people’s views of sex and relationships, putting pressure on how they look or influencing them to act in a certain way. All of that reminds us of the context in which we are having these discussions on the finer points of enforcement. With this context in mind, we need to make sure that the age verification provisions in Part 3 are backed up with the most effective means of enforcement.
We have heard noble Lords set out why they think Amendment 66 would be better than Clause 23, but does it really stand scrutiny? There is a concern about the delay that would result from Amendment 66. Quite apart from the fact that requiring the age verification regulator to enforce the age verification requirement through court injunctions would be much slower and much more expensive than the procedure under Clause 23, there is the fact that Amendment 66 would further delay the provision of effective enforcement, and therefore child protection, through the requirement that IP blocking would take effect only if the Secretary of State at some future point decides to make regulations allowing this. In this regard I am particularly concerned that the drafting of proposed new subsection (1) in Amendment 66 implies that the Secretary of State can consider making regulations only when the BBFC considers that there is an actual person in contravention. The BBFC cannot be ahead of the game and will be on the back foot while it waits for the regulations to be made, if they are to be made at all. This does not make our children and young people safer. I am also concerned that Amendment 66 does not provide legal clarity for ISPs at this stage of the Bill on whether IP blocking will be required and, if so, how that will need to be delivered.
While Amendment 66 does not provide certainty, Clause 23 sets out very clearly its central requirement in subsection (2)(c) that an ISP must,
“prevent persons in the United Kingdom from being able to access the offending material using the service it provides”.
It sets out when that would be required in subsection (1), how it would be implemented in subsection (2) and the obligations on the ISPs in subsection (8). The BBFC knows what it can do; the ISPs know what will be expected of them; and the pornographic websites will be clear that their sites might be blocked if they do not comply with Part 3. In comparison with the much weaker Amendment 66, Clause 23 is so effective that exchanging them would fundamentally weaken the child safety provisions in the Bill. That would be a real tragedy.
Why are we making exceptions for porn merchants? We have had a system in place in the UK for dealing with child abuse images for over 20 years. It is the envy of the world. It has never required prior judicial authorisation. Let us be clear: the Internet Watch Foundation, which runs the system, could at any time be brought to court to explain an action or decision it has taken, because it is subject to judicial review. Not only has the IWF never lost a judicial review case, no one has ever taken one against it. We get rid of terrorist material without requiring any judges or courts to get involved and I have never heard any criticism of that system. But if we are talking about protecting children against porn—oh no. Everything slows down, everything becomes more expensive and we have to get a judge and lawyers involved, because it is suggested that, uniquely, we need prior judicial authorisation.
However, the age verification regulator will have an appeals system. Every decision the regulator takes can be made the subject of a judicial review. If the regulator gets taken to court and loses all the time, perhaps we would need to look at the provisions again, but I have absolutely no reason to believe that would be the case. Therefore I think that Amendment 66 should be rejected, because the material we are talking about here is extremely harmful to children and we want it out of sight as quickly and simply as possible. I am sure that no one in this House would want their children or grandchildren ever to be exposed to or damaged by this vile material. Our overworked courts and judges have enough on their plates. We simply do not need to drag them into this on a routine basis. Let us put our children’s well-being and protection first. I very much hope that the Government will stand by Clause 23 and reject Amendment 66.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, I rise to speak against Amendment 66, which in my judgment would seriously undermine the scope for Part 3 of the Bill to be enforced. I have campaigned for child safety online for many years and am far from reassured that the amendment will deliver on that objective. I have also raised repeatedly concern about the quantity and type of pornography accessed in the UK but based in other jurisdictions. I am very pleased that the Government have recognised that this is a significant issue. However, without being able to ensure that foreign websites take the action that is required under Part 3, in practical terms we will be no further forward.
This is no theoretical discussion. In its evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the other place, the British Board of Film Classification said that it planned to target regulation at about 50 sites and that it does not expect any of these to be in the UK. Clause 21 sets out fines but is far from clear about what the Government can do if a site in another jurisdiction refuses to pay a fine; your Lordships can come back to that when we debate the next group of amendments.
Clause 22 has a better international reach but it fails in a number of different scenarios relevant to the discussion on Clause 23: first, if a site offers free pornography; secondly, if it does not use conventional credit cards but relies on payment methods such as bitcoin; and thirdly, if the website does not use a UK-based ancillary service provider. These very brief statements highlight the need for another enforcement option for foreign websites, and I am pleased that many members in the other place agreed. I commend the work of Mrs Claire Perry, the honourable Member for Devizes, who had the support of 34 MPs from seven parties for her amendment, which had a similar objective to Clause 23. I also congratulate the Government on responding constructively with the introduction of Clause 23.
For Part 3 to be effectively enforced, it is critical that foreign sites know that the UK regulator could block them. The Digital Policy Alliance, in its briefings on the Bill, said that that there would be a major loophole in the Bill without an IP-blocking option. To this end, the proposals in Amendment 66 are deeply problematic. My noble friend Lord Morrow has already mentioned concerns about delays arising from the need for the Secretary of State to produce regulations and the question of whether he or she will use the power. On top of this, court injunctions are expensive and cumbersome, and every website would know that they could be used only very occasionally, which could tempt foreign sites accessing the UK to risk not bothering with age verification.
I am also concerned that Amendment 66 would undermine the admirable work the Internet Watch Foundation does on removing child abuse images. I understand that if blocking of pornographic and prohibited material should require court injunctions, it will form a very difficult precedent for bodies such as the foundation, which help to keep our children safe. If it had to use a court injunction every time it requested that a page should be taken down, that would greatly limit and inhibit its capacity and as such would be a grave and very serious mistake.
By contrast, Clause 23(1) allows the BBFC to use IP blocking, after notifying the Secretary of State, from the day Part 3 comes into effect. The BBFC may need to use this power early into the Bill’s implementation if it cannot trace a foreign website or if the website is unresponsive and does not use credit card payments, which might be blocked under Clause 22. There will be no delay as to when this enforcement power can be used. Secondly, it will give the BBFC the power to ask ISPs to block sites when they need to. It is not saying that they must use this power but that they can. There will be no delay or the expense of going to court to get a blocking injunction. Thirdly, there will be no negative impacts on the Internet Watch Foundation and the admirable work it does on removing child abuse images.
In a context where the majority of online pornography accessed in the UK comes from websites based in other jurisdictions, the provision of a robust and flexible IP blocking mechanism is central to the ability of this legislation to enforce the age verification provisions that are at its heart to keep our children safe. To swap Clause 23 for Amendment 66 would not reflect well on us. In closing, I warmly congratulate the Government on Clause 23 and hope that they and the Minister will stand resolutely by it and against Amendment 66.
My Lords, this has been an important and interesting debate—I can tell that by the number of Peers who are arriving to hear my response. I also appreciate very much the offer of help given by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I have listened carefully to the arguments and again I acknowledge that we are not able to give our answer on the DPRRC’s report, but as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, it is very important to get it right and we will produce the response soon.
The age verification regime was designed to provide a proportionate and practical response to the very real problem of the easy availability of internet pornography to children, and we need to bear that in mind when considering this issue. Amendments 55A, 69 and 229B are concerned with appeals. The BBFC has a strong track record in running the system of classification, including a two-stage appeals process which includes an appeal to an independent authority. We understand the desire to specify in detail on the face of the Bill what an appeals process must look like for what is undoubtedly a serious matter, but we are satisfied that the BBFC is in a strong position to develop and administer a fit-for-purpose appeals process. Clause 17 specifies that the Secretary of state may not designate the regulator until satisfied that arrangements will be maintained by the regulator for appeals by the key persons involved in the regulatory framework, as set out in Clause 17(4)(a) to (e). As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, the DPRRC has made some well-considered recommendations on appeals that we are considering and will be responding to before Report.
Amendments 54C, 56A and 62A provide that the Secretary of State must, in regulations made by statutory instrument, lay guidelines before each House of Parliament on different areas of the regulatory framework. The internet, as we all know, is a fast-changing area and the legislation has been drafted with the necessary flexibility to create a proportionate regulatory framework. For example, it will be for the regulator to publish guidance about ancillary service providers. I have also noted the recommendation of the DPRRC on these matters and I can assure noble Lords that we are considering it carefully before responding.
On the issue of ISP blocking, government Amendment 67 ensures that the regulator must not direct an ISP to block a non-compliant site should that be detrimental to national security, the prevention or detection of serious crime, or an offence listed in Schedule 3 to the Sexual Offences Act 2003. We believe that it is right that the actions of the regulator in seeking to protect children from pornographic content should not have unintended consequences for the work of law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies in combating serious crime and protecting national security. I am confident that the industry will take a responsible position and therefore envisage that the regulator will need to use this power only sparingly. However, where it does need to be used, I would suggest that the regulator would never wish to be in a position where it might have an unintended impact on efforts to ensure public safety.
The provision provides an important safeguard for circumstances in which a site might form part of an investigation. The Government and the regulator will agree arrangements for how the deconfliction process will take place. This is an important step towards ensuring that the regulatory regime functions in a successful way and giving the regulator a framework in which to succeed.
Amendment 66 tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and other noble Lords brings forward blocking by court order. We recognise that providing the regulator with the power to direct internet service providers to block content is a serious step, but the conflicting views of noble Lords in the debate show that this is a difficult area to get right. We have always been clear that we want to build an effective regime. This is fundamentally different content to regimes where court orders are used. As I have said, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, agreed, we envisage that the regulator will need to use this power only sparingly. However, the cost and process of the court order procedure would place undue burden on the system We know that the court order process for copyright, for example, is not without issues, and unlike copyright where the individual is seeking a court order, in this case there is a regulator with expertise in classification.
It is important to note that our regime is about encouraging compliance by the industry. Giving the regulator the power to direct internet service providers is the proportionate and right approach to ensuring that children are not inadvertently exposed to harmful pornographic material. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this discussion. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, that we are all trying to balance child protection and civil liberties; that is the issue we are trying to resolve. Indeed, there is no black-and-white answer and it may well be that we will need to have further discussions. But I remind noble Lords that the Delegated Powers Committee said that it considered it objectionable for an unspecified regulator—people have talked about it being the BBFC but I do not think it necessarily will be—to have so much power to impose fines and take other enforcement action. We need to look again at how we can ensure some other oversight of those powers. Amendment 66 would provide a legal structure for all that, and we still feel it would provide the certainty that does not exist under Clause 23. Further, it would provide a degree of independent oversight, which Clause 23 as it stands does not.
I say again that the ISPs caught in the middle of all of this are very concerned about the way Clause 23 is worded. They feel that they will be caught in the middle of legal battles, and it may well be that whatever we decide, these matters will end up in court anyway. Given that, the more legal clarity and specification we can put in the Bill, the better, because that will help everyone to understand their rights. Some noble Lords have also queried the appeals process, but it is important to spell out not only what that process should be, but that it should be independent. Again, our amendments seek to achieve that.
I know that the noble Lord has said that he wants to come back to this when the more detailed response to the Delegated Powers Committee’s report has been produced. I hope that our amendments have been helpful and that they may provide a working copy from which he can put his ideas together. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 11th and 13th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
54B: Clause 15, page 18, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) the overarching duty of care of internet service providers and ancillary service providers and their responsibility to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure the safety of a child or young person involved in any activity or interaction for which that service provider is responsible.”
It is important that we work with organisations that have a proven record in their field and the right attributes to carry out the role effectively. This is why we are pleased to be working with the BBFC, which has expertise in making editorial judgments over pornographic content. We also believe it is right that Parliament should have the opportunity to scrutinise this important appointment, and Clauses 17 and 18 enable that to happen. The noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Jones, my noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, all asked whether we should outline in the Bill who any additional regulators, if they are necessary, should be. We have said consistently that this could be a job for more than one regulator because it is a big task. The feedback from our public consultation and from our engagement with key stakeholders suggests that this is a task that could be dealt with by two regulators.
We propose that the BBFC should carry out the initial monitoring, assessing and notification work, and we are carefully considering alongside this the option for an enforcement regulator. But we understand that Parliament should be able to take a view on this. We continue to consider the appropriate timing for introducing civil sanctions for non-compliant providers, and for deciding who the regulator will be. This is a new system and this approach provides the appropriate level of flexibility and the right levers to ensure that the providers of pornographic material will be incentivised to comply. We have listened to the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and other noble Lords on this. Again, the DPRRC has made a recommendation on this, which we are considering, and to which we will respond ahead of Report.
Amendment 55B adds the requirement:
“The age-verification regulator must make an annual report to the Secretary of State … in particular on the effectiveness of … the provisions in Part 3 of reducing the number of children under 18 accessing pornographic material online … The Secretary of State must lay a copy of any report made under this section before each House of Parliament”.
The regulator will of course be expected to report on the impact of age verification measures but we do not think that it is right to prescribe this in the Bill. The importance of getting this measure right means that the Government remain open-minded and wish to retain flexibility as to how best to respond to changing circumstances, without placing additional burdens on the regulator. Any new scheme must be given time to fine-tune the changes required to establish the most effective system.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, asked about ancillary service providers, in connection with social media. I confirm, as she asked me to do, that it remains our view that under this legislation an internet site can be classified by the regulator as an ancillary service provider where it is enabling or facilitating the making available of pornographic or prohibited material, as I said at Second Reading. That means that such sites can be notified of pornographers to whom they provide a service. There is a range of potential ancillary service providers and the differing actions they could take are often technology-dependent. The regulator is consulting with the industry and we expect it to publish guidance on the circumstances in which it will notify ancillary service providers.
We think there is a fundamental difference between a pornography website that produces dangerous material, which can be closed down, and an ancillary service provider, which can make it available. The method of notification is what we are expecting to use and we are reluctant to move further than that at the moment. We will see how it works. We do not want to get to the situation where we have to close down the whole of Twitter—which would make us one of two countries in the world that has done that.
On the basis of those explanations, I would be grateful if the noble Baroness felt able to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 54B withdrawn.
54C: Clause 15, page 18, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State shall by regulations made by statutory instrument lay guidance for the purposes of subsection (3) before both Houses of Parliament.”
As I have already said, like many others, we have received representations from the internet service providers about the scale of the demands on them in Part 3. They are, after all, the innocent parties in this process. They are, in effect, caught in the middle between the regulator and the offending pornographic site. Understandably, they have requested that any decision to block a site should be legally watertight and implemented as a measure of last resort. We agree with that. If the Bill is to be successful, the threat of a site being blocked should be enough to deliver the desired change. This is why this amendment is important. It would bring legal certainty into the process for the ISPs which would help them avoid separate legal challenge. It also positions blocking more clearly as an ultimate sanction which would be adopted in extreme cases. We therefore support Amendment 66.
As I have made clear, these are all procedural amendments that spell out the detail that the Delegated Powers Committee said was lacking. We had hoped that the Government would have tabled their own amendments to achieve a similar outcome, but in the absence of that positive government response I hope that noble Lords will feel able to support our amendments. I beg to move.
Amendment 54C withdrawn.
Clause 15 agreed.
Clause 16 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 2.57 pm.