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OFCOM (Duty regarding Prevention of Serious Self-harm and Suicide) Bill [HL]

Volume 830: debated on Friday 16 June 2023

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, I thank the Samaritans most sincerely for all the work they have done with me for a very long time on this Bill and its background. I also thank those parents and families who have shared the overwhelming distress and tragedy of discovering that their child, brother or sister had been goaded and pushed into suicide by exposure to repeated messages, coming particularly through the internet and often completely unknown to the family. That was the motivation behind this Bill.

I am also extremely grateful to the Government, officials from Ofcom and the noble Lord, Lord Grade, in particular, for the work they are doing to make sure that this scourge that happens to our young people is adequately tackled. We are in a strange position because the Online Safety Bill is in Committee here at the moment and we are about to debate a government amendment which I hope will help address this problem.

I also commend Ofcom on the way it is already developing robust risk assessment and risk management processes because it has recognised just how harmful some of this activity is. I also thank all Members of this House for the support they have given me at all times when we have discussed this Bill and for the recognition across the House, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, of the importance of tackling this major problem in our society. I beg to move.

My Lords, I give my warmest congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, on the progress of this very important Bill. I associate myself and my colleagues on these Benches with the thanks and appreciation extended to Ofcom for its involvement, to the Samaritans for their work not just on this Bill but day in, day out and of course to the bereaved families for their bravery and dignity in speaking out on this Bill and on so many other occasions, which I hope has really supported improvements for the future. I also thank the Minister and officials in his department and am grateful to noble Lords across the House, as ever, for their concern and consideration of this matter.

In seeing this Bill pass, I believe we honour those who have taken their own lives. I hope we give some small comfort and hope to the friends, families and communities who suffer the pain of tragedy and bereavement, having lost their loved ones. As we heard at Second Reading, the internet can be invaluable and positive in providing a space to speak openly and seek support but, regrettably, it can also mean content that encourages self-harm and suicide. At its worst, it is configured to bombard those who are at risk. We should reflect that the coroner ruled that the content that the late Molly Russell had viewed related to depression, self-harm and suicide and that it contributed to her death in more than just a minimal way.

As the noble Baroness said, the passage of this Bill coincides with the long-awaited Online Safety Bill; we will debate government amendments on this issue next Thursday as part of the group on communications offences. As the Minister would expect, we will seek a number of clarifications and, if necessary, any improvements. For today, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, on her determination and work and wish this Bill all the very best as it continues on its path.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for tabling this Private Member’s Bill. Her knowledge and experience of these issues is highly regarded, rightly, on all sides of the House. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this important debate so far. Like the noble Baroness, I call out the Samaritans for their ongoing brilliant work in this area.

As my noble friend Lord Parkinson set out at Second Reading and in Online Safety Bill Committee debates, the Government recognise the devastating impact of suicide and self-harm content, which has affected countless lives and families. We remain committed to addressing this material and giving vulnerable users the protection they deserve. While my department is leading this work, it is part of a cross-government approach which will go a long way to protecting people from suicide and self-harm content online.

I do not wish to repeat recent discussions, but I can assure the noble Baroness that the Online Safety Bill has been carefully designed to ensure that users are better protected from this content, with the strongest protections reserved for children. On top of this, we have tabled an amendment to the Bill to introduce a new self-harm offence, as has been mentioned, which noble Lords will have an opportunity to debate next week in Committee. Further, the powers granted to Ofcom via the legislation will protect users and negate the need for the noble Baroness’s Private Member’s Bill. Ofcom has the expertise to regulate and enforce the Bill’s provisions and implement its own research findings.

I thank the noble Baroness again for bringing her Bill to the House and facilitating this important debate, but I hope noble Lords are reassured of the Government’s extensive work in these areas and I hope that the noble Baroness will appreciate that, for the reasons set out, the Government cannot support this Private Member’s Bill.

My Lords, I am most grateful for the very generous words of the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and for her understanding of the background to this. I am also grateful to the Government for the discussions we have had and recognise what has been said. We have more to debate. However, I emphasise that prevention of suicide and self-harm is essential and involves many different government departments and people across the whole of society. At the moment, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.