House of Commons
Tuesday 12 July 2022
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
My hon. Friend will be aware that photonics is one of the seven technology families highlighted in the innovation strategy with the absolute intention of showing and developing its domestic potential and the exports possibilities.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response, but he will know that photonics is completely undervalued across the United Kingdom and that south Devon is home to a large contingent of the photonics sector. With that in mind, can I invite him or presumably his successor, if I am allowed to say that, to the iMAPS—International Microelectronics Assembly and Packaging Society—conference on 18 October to safeguard and flag up the photonics sector?
As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on photonics and quantum, I am well aware of the huge success of the UK photonics sector, but its future depends on a thriving semiconductor industry based here in the UK. The UK has that capability, but we need the semiconductor strategy. Could the Secretary of State update the House on when we can expect to see that strategy?
By a curious anomaly, the semiconductor strategy is fully owned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, so that question could be directed to it, but I am grateful that the hon. Member has acknowledged the booming sector here in the UK.
Energy Price Cap: Living Standards
We talk in Cabinet about the cost of living and the price cap all the time. The hon. Member will know that decisions on the level of the price cap are for Ofgem, but it is something we are constantly talking about in Cabinet.
MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis has asked a great question over social media:
“The energy price cap’s predicted to rise 64% in Oct taking a typical bill to £3,244/yr; & rise again in Jan to £500/yr more than when May’s help package was announced. What’ll u do to avoid this & when?”
How would the Secretary of State answer that question?
The hon. Member will know that the various parts are moving in the Government, but I am sure there will be the customary statement or Budget in November from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am sure there will be some interesting measures there to deal with that particular question.
I am afraid the Secretary of State just does not get it. As we now know, by the end of the year fuel bills are going to increase by an amount greater than the financial support that has been put in place by his Government. One third of someone’s state pension is going to be required just to pay their electricity and gas bills, so I have a simple question, which I will repeat again: what are they going to do about it?
So nothing new, but let us face the reality as outlined by the abrdn Financial Fairness Trust just in the last couple of days: one in six households in the UK are now in “serious financial difficulties”—a number higher than throughout the entire pandemic—while inflation is sky-high, energy bills are sky-high, fuel bills are sky-high, clothing bills are sky-high, food bills are sky-high, wages are stagnating and we have the lowest growth in the entire G20, bar Russia. Britain is broken, isn’t it?
I am not going to take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman about economic management when his core policy is to separate from the UK, which will have a devastating economic impact on people in Scotland. I am not going to take any lessons from him, thank you very much.
Oil and Gas Sector
The North sea transition deal sets out how the Government are working in partnership with the offshore oil and gas industry to achieve a managed energy transition that leaves nobody behind.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but 66% of my constituents live off the gas grid and rely on heating oil deliveries to heat their home—obviously not in these temperatures today—and I am extremely worried about oil deliveries in the winter. Has my right hon. Friend got his eye on these constituents, who comprise a huge part of rural Britain?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Wales is the part of the UK with the highest percentage of those off the gas grid, and I know that her rural part of Wales is therefore likely to be among the areas most affected by the rise in the price of heating oil. We have made sure that those off the gas grid but on the electricity grid will benefit from the £400 energy bill rebate. We have also put £1.1 billion into the home upgrade grant to provide energy efficiency and clean heating upgrades to support lower-income households living off the main gas grid. Obviously, we are continuing to monitor the situation extremely closely, particularly for the most vulnerable, most rural constituents such as my hon. Friend’s.
The UK already has the lowest tax take anywhere in the world from an offshore oil and gas regime, so it is perverse that the Government’s new investment allowance will essentially incentivise yet more oil and gas exploration at a time when we know that we absolutely need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Given that the Secretary of State himself has said that it will take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes from fracking, will he undertake to speak to his Treasury colleagues and make sure that fracking at the very least is excluded from this perverse investment allowance?
I must say I find the Green party’s attitude to these issues bizarre: it seems to be resolutely against any oil and gas extraction in this country, which could only mean it would be in favour of imports, and those imports would be higher priced, more volatile, likely to be from more dangerous parts of the world, and come with higher embedded emissions. The embedded emissions of liquified natural gas are about 2.5 times higher than the emissions from the gas we get from the UK continental shelf. The hon. Lady describes herself as a Green party politician, but I find her approach distinctly ungreen compared to that of this Conservative Government.
Research and Development Spending
We are providing the fastest ever sustained uplift in R&D funding, reaching £20 billion per annum by 2024-25. If association to Horizon Europe is not possible in good time to make the most of that programme, we will take forward a bold and ambitious package of UK alternatives.
This country has been world-leading in its covid-19 vaccination programme and so much more in our pharmaceutical industries as well as the health sector. Can the Minister say a little more about what specific research and development investment will go into pharmaceuticals and the health sector? I would particularly like to mention cancer services and Electa oncology in my constituency which is expanding.
My hon. Friend has always been a passionate advocate and defender of business in the Crawley constituency, specifically R&D projects and innovation, and I am glad he mentioned Alector and others, as they are important companies in his constituency. We continue to support investment in R&D through a vibrant research and innovation system that attracts private sector investment and drives up productivity across the UK, including in Crawley.
We are on the cusp of a green energy revolution with hydrogen, modular nuclear and now fusion in the mix. What steps is the Department taking to ensure British innovation is in the vanguard of that revolution, thus ensuring our long-term energy security?
My hon. Friend is always on the front foot on low-carbon energy and innovation in Heywood and Middleton. He will know that the Government’s flagship £1 billion net zero innovation portfolio is making those important investments in hydrogen, advanced nuclear technologies and so on. On fusion, we are investing £700 million in research facilities and programmes over the next three years. My hon. Friend will also know that the energy security Bill we published last week includes launch pads for both hydrogen and nuclear fusion.
That was the very first mention of hydrogen this morning. Does the Minister agree that there is such potential in hydrogen energy? We can already buy heavy goods vehicles and trucks that are hydrogen driven, and a network of hydrogen filling stations is being opened at the moment across our country. If he does agree, why does he not put more research money into hydrogen for every kind of energy use?
We are 14 minutes into Question Time; I do not think that is too bad for the first mention of hydrogen. I realise that on the periodic table, it is No. 1—right at the top left—but that does not mean that it always has to be the first thing mentioned at Question Time.
The amount of money and resources going into hydrogen remains extremely strong. It is a really important part of the net zero innovation portfolio. Just over the past few months, I have been to the Whitelee wind farm just south of Glasgow to see the new hydrogen production facility there. That facility is going to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman wants us to do: provide hydrogen for vehicles, particularly buses. The whole of the Glasgow bus fleet and, indeed, the whole of the Glasgow dustcart fleet will be fuelled by hydrogen from that wind farm.
We need to increase investment in R&D; we also need to think carefully about where we spend it. In South Yorkshire we have some outstanding translational research institutions—the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre—in two outstanding universities. I know that the Secretary of State is supportive, but will the Minister pledge to work carefully with the Mayor and partners in our region so that we can unlock the huge potential in South Yorkshire?
The answer is yes. We always welcome Mayors with a constructive attitude to working with the Government. If I am not mistaken, I have a meeting with the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues next week. A delegation is coming to see me, led by—I think—the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield). It might be a different part of Sheffield; the Chair of the Select Committee on Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), is the Member I am thinking of.
Despite being critical to our world-beating research and a Conservative manifesto commitment, Britain’s participation in the world’s biggest science funding programme, Horizon Europe, is in peril. Before resigning, the then science Minister, the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), took to Twitter to lobby the new Chancellor for funding for his plan B, but the Chancellor was busy trying to get the Prime Minister he had just accepted a job from to leave his job. Now, although the former science Minister has asked for his job back, the still in place, though disgraced, Prime Minister is too busy nobbling those going for his job to fill the science job. It is total chaos. Science deserves better, doesn’t it?
I thought that was a rather convoluted question, if you do not mind my saying so, Mr Speaker.
We in the UK Government are absolutely committed to getting a good deal for UK science, whether through association with Horizon Europe or through our plan B Horizon plan, which is also a fully funded approach to making sure that UK science does not lose out. Perhaps the hon. Lady might welcome the big boost in R&D spending in this country, with the most sustained uplift, from £15 billion today to £20 billion in two years’ time—a 33% increase in just two years.
Fuel Market: Review
On 11 June, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary asked the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct an urgent review of the market for petrol and diesel. The CMA published its response on 8 July and has opened a market study into the fuel market, as my right hon. Friend requested.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I know he has been working with the CMA on this issue, and I have read with interest its report on the discrepancy between the price of crude oil and wholesale prices. However, prices at the pumps in West Berkshire are still very high. My constituency is a rural one where people are completely reliant on their cars, so could my right hon. Friend provide an update as to when my constituents can expect to see better value at the petrol pumps?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and other colleagues for leading the campaign and for pointing out some of the discrepancies in the market. I am delighted that the CMA is now carrying out a study. It found that rural fuel prices were consistently higher than those in urban areas, which is definitely worth a further market probe, so I urge her as a campaign leader and other colleagues to submit views and evidence to the CMA as it carries out its market study. One thing that was clear is that in the view of the CMA the duty cut put forward by the Government earlier this year was passed on to retailers.
The CMA would be greatly helped in the energy and fuel market, and especially in the production of hydrogen, by fairness in the TNUoS—Transmission Network Use of System—charges for transmission costs in the electricity networks. When will Scottish renewables producers stop paying £7.36 per MWh for transmission, when producers in independent EU countries pay about 46p per MWh—a difference of 16 times affecting the production of hydrogen, an important fuel?
It is good to be back on hydrogen again. The hon. Gentleman will reflect, I am sure, on the answers I gave earlier on the success of hydrogen, particularly in Scotland. I will say two things in answer to his question on transmission charges. First, as he knows, transmission charges are a matter for Ofgem. Secondly, Scottish consumers benefit from transmission charges compared to consumers in the rest of the United Kingdom. He may wish to reflect on all the pros and cons of the policy he appears to be proposing.
Energy Price Rises
The Government recognise the impact that increasing energy prices are having on households, which is why we are providing £37 billion in support for consumers this year alone. The Government are in regular contact with business groups and suppliers to explore ways to protect businesses.
Citizens Advice Luton has seen a 119% increase in local people saying they cannot afford their energy bills after April’s price increase, even after cutting back on other essential spending. I heard the Secretary of State say that the issue is talked about constantly in Cabinet, but does the Minister recognise that the energy price cap increase later this year will push even more families into poverty and hardship?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady in her analysis of the underlying issue: the big rise in global energy prices over the past 12 months. That is exactly why we are taking the action we are taking: £37 billion-worth of support for consumers and bill payers over the course of this year. That is a massive amount of Government support going into ensuring that people get the support they need to be able to pay those bills in the coming months.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for outlining those measures. I sense it will be a very bleak winter; the energy price cap will play a role, but it would help if it were augmented by a social tariff. Will he advise on whether there have been any discussions in Government about the introduction of such a tariff?
I thank my hon. Friend for that thoughtful question. Obviously, all these things are under review, but I remind him that we replaced the social tariff with other support schemes for bill payers under the coalition. That remains our position, but we—both the Department and the Treasury, and indeed, the whole Government—study these positions and issues very closely indeed.
It is very clear that the rising price of heating people’s homes will be devastating and go well beyond anything the Government have done to help households so far. For people living off-mains who are reliant on heating oil, for example—19,000 households in Cumbria alone—there is no cap whatever. They have seen their prices more than double over the past 12 months. What will the Minister do to ensure people in rural communities like mine are not hit even harder than the majority?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we reflected on this issue in an earlier question. The Government are providing support for those who are off the gas grid. For example, those who pay an electricity bill will qualify for the £400 reduction this year. We have also put £1.1 billion into the home upgrade grant, on top of the £2.5 billion already deployed, to make sure vulnerable households, which could well include some of his constituents, are able to profit from the energy measures being put forward by the Government. His question on the price cap is a reasonable question to put. The information I have directly from the trade body UKIFDA—the UK and Ireland Fuel Distributors Association—is that a price cap would be extremely difficult for its members, the people in the retail market for heating oil, because it becomes very difficult for a small business to hedge. However, it is something I discuss with MPs, the industry and the trade body regularly to see what more can be done, and the situation is under constant review.
One thing we can do to bring energy prices down is have an absolutely massive expansion of renewable offshore energy, whether that is tidal or wind. Last week, I met National Grid, which will use Penwortham on the Ribble estuary coast as the point to onshore a lot of the electricity that helps to get our fuel bills down. Does the Minister welcome the fact that National Grid has seen the opportunity of Penwortham, and does he agree that we just need to make sure that the environment and the natural Ribble estuary are protected as the cables and the energy come forward?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question and her constant very good and strong engagement on behalf of her Ribble valley constituents. Renewable energy is, of course, part of the solution. That is why we announced the allocation round for the latest auction of renewable energy last week. It was the most successful ever, with 10.8 GW of renewable energy coming to this country through the contracts for difference mechanism. It has been a huge success, and I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest.
The Minister knows that, at present, all retail electricity supplies—whether they derive from more expensive gas or cheaper renewables—are charged as though they had all come from gas. He also knows how to decouple prices coming into the retail market, so that domestic and business customers can enjoy considerable reductions in their energy bills by getting the direct benefit of renewable prices. Why is he not legislating to do so?
The shadow Minister raises an interesting and good point about how the UK electricity market is structured. That is one reason why we have launched the REMA—review of electricity market arrangements—process and why we are taking action in the Energy Bill on aspects of the domestic energy system that will yield real gains for consumers, such as the onshore distribution and transmission network, so that there will be more competition in the network. There will be other measures in the Bill, which I very much hope that he and the other Opposition Front Benchers will support in due course.
Low-carbon technologies are fundamental to meeting our net zero target and securing our energy supply. The Government have set out their ambition to invest up to £22 billion in research and development by 2026-27. Our £1 billion net zero innovation portfolio is accelerating the commercialisation of innovative low-carbon technologies, systems and processes in the power, buildings and industrial sectors.
I thank the Minister for her answer and welcome her to her place. May I bring to her attention the excellent bid from Uniper for carbon capture and storage technology to be built into its new energy from waste plant at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, which sits in the heart of the east midlands freeport? Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK’s first inland CCS facility, creating a carbon-negative and fully sustainable waste treatment solution, is worthy of investment through phase 2 of the carbon capture, utilisation and storage fund?
I commend my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] Sorry, I commend my hon. Friend—it is only a matter of time—for working incredibly hard not only in Rushcliffe, but to promote the freeport for the whole of the east midlands. She is doing an incredible job. We are committed to deploying CCUS, including from energy from waste plants. We will announce the projects to proceed to the next stage of the track 1 CCUS process in due course.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llefarydd. I welcome the Minister to her place.
The lack of grid capacity in Wales is a chronic problem, stalling both onshore and offshore low-carbon developments. National Grid’s pathway to 2030 proposes a new connection between north and south Wales. Will the Minister commit to working with the Welsh Government to set a precondition for any development of sufficient capacity to ensure that local, small-scale energy projects can access the grid at low cost?
I welcome the Minister to her post. We all agree that supporting investment in new low-carbon technologies is an important part of reaching net zero—well, most of us do. In the past week, one of the candidates for Prime Minister has said that
“we need to suspend the all-consuming desire to achieve net zero by 2050.”
Another claims that it was
“wrong of us to set a target”
for net zero. The frontrunner spent two years at the Treasury blocking additional climate spend. It is all well and good for the Minister to talk about the need for investment, but how can we, and more importantly the investors out there, have any confidence that it will continue?
Satellites and Space Exports
I will, Mr Speaker.
We have funded a range of industry projects to establish vertical launch services from Scotland and support horizontal launch from Cornwall, with the UK’s first launch on track for later this year. We are supporting the growth of UK space exports through targeted campaigns matching UK companies with new large customers globally; through our new Export Academy, which upskills first-time exporters; and through establishing new and innovative international partnerships.
I congratulate the Minister on her appointment, and on taking this question on an exciting growth sector for UK tech. Although our satellite capabilities are well known, the ability to launch satellites is something new indeed. There is considerable demand for satellites from countries in south-east Asia that wish to take advantage of the ability to map and plan their agriculture better and to research and better protect against severe weather issues, as well as getting valuable marine and fishing information. Can my hon. Friend confirm how we will know how much capacity is available for our partners in south-east Asia and elsewhere abroad? When will it be available?
It is indeed an exciting opportunity. Delivering our planned launches from Cornwall and Scotland will allow the UK to establish itself as a leader in the growing global launch market. It will ensure that the UK is attractive to companies around the world that seek to launch satellites that meet our regulatory standards. UK Space Agency-led international partnership programmes in 2018 explored how UK satellite technology could be used in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam; I am pleased to say that a number of opportunities were identified.
Rare Earth Metals
We are absolutely focused on critical minerals. I am delighted to say that we will publish a critical minerals strategy, which I personally commissioned and have a personal interest in as Secretary of State.
China has been hoovering up rare earth metals around the world, and obviously other parts of the world have far worse environmental standards for extraction than the UK, but rare earth metals are vital to Nissan in Sunderland, where many of my constituents work, and to Britishvolt, which is just up the road. I thank the Department for the extra money that has been provided recently, with £1 million for Northern Lithium and Weardale Lithium in my constituency to look at this, but what more can the Government do to really help deliver the UK production of vital rare earth metals?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on that necessity. The Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre was launched only last week and is looking at precisely the question that he raises. In respect of Nissan and Britishvolt, he will know that we landed those investments only last year. We are looking very closely at how we can secure the supply chain here in the UK.
Rare earth minerals are essential to our economy, not least in low-carbon sectors and in defence. The Japanese Government developed their rare minerals plan as long ago as 2010, in response to a blockade by China. I know the UK Government say that they will publish a critical materials strategy in the autumn, but if other countries have been building resilience since 2010, what confidence can we have that this Government will develop an effective strategy for our economy and our national security when, as the Secretary of State has just admitted, they have only just woken up to the scale of the risks that we face?
I think the hon. Gentleman does the Government a disservice. Obviously Japan was focused on security of supply, given its immediate exposure to China. Where we have come in is in bringing together, for instance, the United States and Canada: officials in Canada whom I speak to are looking at our critical minerals strategy with great interest, and we are very much leading the way in the Five Eyes.
Community-owned Energy Projects
We encourage community energy groups to work closely with local authorities to support the development of projects through UK-wide growth funding.
The Minister knows that community-owned local energy projects will be critical to delivering net zero and national security, and are often best delivered by co-operatives. However, he should also know that the minimum tariff paid by the big suppliers to the small suppliers is often too low to make many smaller suppliers viable. Will he look into that minimum tariff, and also work with the Co-operative party to support and fund the launch of new locally owned community energy projects?
I should be happy to have a look at those tariffs, but I do not think that this would prevent us from supporting community energy projects as a Government. We have a very good track record in that regard, through previous funds and through, for example, the towns fund, run by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which has just awarded more than £23.6 million to Glastonbury Town Council. The projects involved include the Glastonbury clean energy project, whose purpose is investment in renewable energy generation and low-carbon transport infrastructure. There is a great deal going on in this space, but I am happy to look at the tariff question in particular.
Online Products: Safety
As the hon. Lady should know, a consultation, which includes proposals to take further steps to address unsafe products sold online, is being finalised, and the consultation paper will be published later this year.
Unsuspecting and cash-strapped consumers are being peddled recalled white goods, unsafe devices claiming to save energy, and dangerous toys. Online marketplaces are a hotbed for unsafe products, as has been evidenced time and again by investigations carried out by Electrical Safety First and other organisations. What steps are the Government are taking to address the safety risks that consumers face when shopping on these platforms?
As the hon. Lady will know, the Office for Product Safety and Standards leads a national programme of regulatory action to look at precisely those risks. In 2021, for example, 12,500 products were removed from supply as a direct result of OPSS intervention.
My late constituent Bethany Shipsey was tragically killed after consuming just a small amount of the lethal explosive precursor dinitrophenol—DNP—which is sometimes wrongly marketed as a slimming or bodybuilding product. May I ask my right hon. Friend for a meeting to discuss this tragedy, and how we can take steps to crack down on the overseas suppliers who are selling this deadly substance into the UK online?
Energy Price Cap: Living Standards
We have talked about energy prices. We have an energy price cap, and we have it because it protects consumers from being exposed to the wild gyration of prices—and that is what it has been doing.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, whatever that was.
More than a fifth of my constituents already live in fuel poverty, despite the best efforts of the Scottish Government and local agencies investing heavily in energy efficiency measures. The £400 announced by the previous Chancellor is totally inadequate given that we hear the price cap is to rise by a further £500. What action will the Secretary of State, and what is left of his Government, be taking to change the energy market fundamentally in order to ensure that no one in this country is left to choose between heating and eating?
I made the point about the price cap because wholesale gas prices have gone up 20 times and the price cap is protecting vulnerable people who are eligible for it, just as some in the House have remarked that people relying on off-gas grid heating are not protected by it. In relation to the substance of the hon. Gentleman’s question, we are looking at energy market reform to decouple the marginal cost—the cost that people pay—from the actual cost of generation, which is much more based on renewables.
Climate Change Progress Report
As required by the Climate Change Act 2008, the Government will respond later this year to the committee’s report and will provide an annual update on the delivery progress of the net zero strategy.
I thank the Minister for that answer. However, less than a year on from COP26, it is scary watching the Government rolling back climate policies. The Climate Change Committee has said:
“Tangible progress is lagging the policy ambition”.
Examples include cutting support for electric vehicles, a levy incentivising only oil exploration and prime ministerial contenders planning to suspend green levies. Why is the Secretary of State’s party determined to inflict damage on our common home, this planet, at this critical time?
Can I just correct the hon. Gentleman on one thing? The Climate Change Committee’s report was actually full of praise for the Government on electric vehicles and on what we are doing on electricity decarbonisation. On his wider point, this Government have a fantastic record of action on climate, thanks to the COP26 President, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma). At the start of the year, 30% of global GDP was signed up to net zero targets. That is now 90%, and the UK is leading the way with our own net zero strategy, published just before COP last year.
UK Nuclear Power
My hon. Friend will have noticed that we are fully committed to the nuclear power industry and, unlike the Opposition, we are looking to develop nuclear power because it is an essential component of decarbonised, stable, firm power.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reassurance. I have long spoken up for modular nuclear technology, not only for the baseload it can supply to our energy production but for the jobs and prosperity it can provide for the city of Derby and the north of England. Does he agree that while we wait for this modular nuclear technology to come online, it is also important that we invest in fracking, because short-term energy security has never been more important than it is currently?
Energy Price Rises
The Government recognise the impact that increasing energy prices are having on households. That is why we are providing £15 billion in additional support to the £22 billion we announced previously. The Government are in regular contact with business groups and suppliers to explore ways to protect businesses.
The finance director of Thessco, a successful Sheffield alloy manufacturer, has told me that the company’s electricity bill has increased by more than 300% and its gas bill by more than 400%. It does not qualify for help under the energy intensive industries compensation scheme simply because its raw materials are precious metals. The previous Industry Minister acknowledged this in a letter to me but hoped that, despite not helping, the scheme did
“demonstrate an intent to try to help”.
Extraordinary. Does the Minister agree that small and medium-sized enterprises such as Thessco do not need demonstrations of intent and that they need practical support to avoid being crushed by rising energy bills?
The Government absolutely recognise the challenge being faced by businesses and consumers in relation to the rise in global energy prices. It may be that the business in question qualifies for other things, such as the energy intensive industries exemption scheme, and I will have a look at that, but what is certain is that it will qualify for the business rates relief—totalling £7 billion over the next five years—and the annual investment allowance, which increases from £200,000 to £1 million over the course of this year, as well as some of the other really important measures the Government have put in place to support businesses at this difficult time.
Business Supply Chains
We continue to monitor supply chain pressures, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to ensure business resilience. The Government engage regularly with UK businesses and industry to understand the impact of this and other global events on our supply chains.
Whether it is shortages in medicines, shortages in building materials or empty spaces on supermarket shelves, my constituents are still finding stock shortages everywhere. Retailers say this is the worst supply chain crisis they can remember, with no sign of the problem easing soon. What is the Minister doing now to help businesses through this and to mitigate the impact of spiralling inflation?
Of course, these are global issues, but the Government have taken decisive action to ease pressures on supply chains, such as by managing peak demand at the end of last year, including by expanding and streamlining testing for heavy goods vehicle drivers to enable an extra 50,000 tests per year. So things are being done.
My Department remains relentlessly focused on energy security for the winter, and I have met many business groups, business people and energy suppliers over the last few days. Only last week, to protect our people from costly bills, we published the Energy Bill, and I am pleased that last week’s fourth round of the contracts for difference scheme was the most successful ever. It secured almost 11 GW across a range of clean technologies, including offshore wind, onshore wind, solar and, for the first time ever, floating offshore wind and tidal stream. This will help to boost our energy security for many years to come.
In thanking my right hon. Friend for that answer, may I say that his answer to my earlier question will have been of little comfort to more than 100,000 households living in park homes? The Government are apparently still working on how to deal with this issue, but meanwhile those households fear they will miss out while those with second homes benefit more than twice, so can he guarantee that each of those households will get £400 in cash, as an energy bill rebate, whether it be in the form of a voucher, a direct payment or whatever? They need to know now that they will get the £400.
My hon. Friend has very successfully asked the same question twice, which is fair enough, and I will give him the same answer. We have had the consultation, and we will come up with a response that ensures his constituents get a fair deal on this issue.
In the last 12 years, this country has had a referendum on its membership of the European Union, a referendum on the continued existence of the UK and four general elections, and now we are about to have our fourth Prime Minister. In that time, business investment in the UK has fallen to the lowest level in the G7. Does the Secretary of State accept that one reason for that is the lack of political stability under the Conservative party?
I will take no lessons in political stability from the hon. Gentleman, who stood on a platform to elect a neo-Marxist as Prime Minister of this country. That would have been a catastrophic disaster for business investment and, indeed, for our economic prospects.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to be the next Chancellor, he will have to do better than that.
Let us look at an area where he should have taken a lesson from us. Earlier in the year, we said it would be a mistake for this Government to increase national insurance. With inflation and energy bills rising for businesses, we said it was wrong for the Government to add to that burden in a way no other major economy was doing. It seems that Conservative contenders are now lining up to disown the tax rise they voted for just a few months ago. Does he agree with his colleagues that the Government got this badly wrong?
My hon. Friend will appreciate that when he first came into the House we did not have any auctions and then for about six years we had an auction every other year. It was very much my intention as Secretary of State to introduce an annual auction, and I am pleased to say we have done so. It has given much more security and visibility to the supply chain, which was one reason why I introduced it.
I have raised this issue continually. I have been in Scotland six times in this role in the past nine months and I have raised the issue repeatedly with the SNP—with Scottish Government Ministers and in this House. They have an incredible disregard for Scotland’s incredible nuclear past. The workers at Torness have taken great pride in providing reliable, zero-carbon energy since 1988, and it is scandalous that the SNP and its representatives here in Westminster want to end Scotland’s brilliant nuclear tradition, which we know has really served the whole of the UK, particularly my hon. Friend’s constituents.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have been to Coventry many times to discuss this issue and that we have landed gigafactories in Sunderland. There were none when I became Secretary of State and we now have two, and we are working all the time to land more of them here in the UK.
My hon. Friend is a consistent champion for his York constituents, and I assure him that we remain committed to delivering on the fastest sustained uplift in research and development funding, reaching £20 billion per annum in just two years’ time, from £15 billion today. That is a huge uplift, and of course we are going to make sure that all parts of the UK benefit from it. I am sure that part of that will be in and around York.
That is absolute nonsense. My answer to the hon. Gentleman’s specific question was that pumped storage hydro was something that was particular in Scotland—it was something that happened in Scotland. But as for this general remark about us not supporting Scottish energy, the SNP is the party that has turned its back on Scottish nuclear, which employs huge numbers of people. The SNP has completely abandoned nuclear, it does not care about the jobs, and it does not care about industry in its own country.
I had looked forward to being in the box, but as they say, them’s the breaks. I take the opportunity to thank the Secretary of State, my private office and the team in the Department for their support in the past year. Does the Secretary of State agree that whoever wins this fabulous festival of talent, it is essential that we put science, technology and innovation at the very heart of our economy—perhaps even with a Cabinet Minister for it?
I think it is absolutely essential. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree when I say that he was an excellent Science Minister, and I am delighted to see him take an interest in our affairs from where he is seated. I look forward to his ongoing contribution to our science and technology agenda in the course of this Parliament.
That is exactly what we are doing. We have committed £6.6 billion over the course of this Parliament. The local authority delivery scheme, £787 million; the home upgrade grants, £950 million; the social housing decarbonisation fund, over £800 million. These are real, big pieces of taxpayers’ money going into energy efficiency, and it is coming at a good time, when people need it most.
The Government’s energy security strategy acknowledges that onshore wind is one of the cheapest forms of renewable power but, shockingly, proposes no wholesale changes to planning regulations for onshore wind in England. But we in Wales stand ready to help. What funding will the Minister provide for further research and development into producing greater efficiency in grid transmission, and will the Minister now commit to significant investment in the national grid in Wales?
The hon. Lady will have studied the evidence that I gave to the Welsh Affairs Committee a couple of months ago on the national grid in Wales. When it comes to ensuring that we are equipped in renewable energy, we have just announced the results of last week’s contract for difference auction. I remind her that when she was a supporter of the last Labour Government, only 7% of our electricity was generated from renewables. It is now 43%.
The east has offshore wind and nuclear to give the nation. London wants its power. Why should Bury St Edmunds, and the broader Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, have 50-metre pylons tearing across its countryside? Up north, we have routed it under the sea. We in the east want a fair consultation. My right hon. Friend has listened to us; please listen to us again to get to the right answer.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is right that I have met East Anglia MPs to discuss this matter—it has been impressed on me across more than 20 constituencies—and I am sure that I will have further engagements with her. I continue to work with National Grid as part of its processes to ensure that her constituents get the best possible deal.
The Competition and Markets Authority recently concluded that a lack of competition in key parts of the economy was leading to higher mark-ups from already profitable firms. In short, inflation was being caused in part because Ministers were not doing enough to ensure effective competition across those key bits of the economy. What is the Secretary of State doing about that?
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), the fact is that National Grid is committing to 800 miles of undersea cabling to protect countryside in Scotland and the north of England from new pylons, but to only 80 miles off East Anglia, even though we produce so much offshore wind. Why are our constituents not going to get a fairer share?
My hon. Friend and I have met to discuss this issue at least three times, and he continues to be a champion for his constituents. I know he is doing a lot of constituency meetings on this. I will continue to engage and make sure that National Grid also engages with him constantly.
I am pleased to announce that we have, in the first instance, committed to Horizon, but we also have a plan B—an alternative that will ensure that all the money we have put into Horizon is retained in the UK. That is exactly what I am discussing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I strongly endorse the remarks made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) and for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), but may I raise a separate issue with the Secretary of State: the deep concern felt across the creative industries about the proposal in the consultation about relaxing the copyright exception for artificial intelligence? I spoke to the Minister’s predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who was sympathetic and said he would look into it. May I ask that the new Minister also looks into it and makes sure that we protect one of our most important industries?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He knows that I am in constant talks with officials in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for that Department to make sure that we have a reasonable response to this danger, which he very ably highlights.
I am grateful to the Minister for meeting me to discuss the mineworkers’ pension scheme. I know, after speaking to him last week, that it has been referred to the Treasury for a decision. Given that that decision needs to be made before the House rises next week, may I urge him to chase it up, please?
I am happy to have further conversations with Treasury Ministers. As the hon. Lady knows, the Government’s position on the core issue remains unchanged, but I will ensure that the specific, additional issue she has raised is put again to Her Majesty’s Treasury.
Thank you for giving me a second chance, Mr Speaker. May I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Energy Minister on last week’s first ever ringfenced marine energy renewables auction? This is a landmark moment for the UK in generating our own domestic green energy from some of the world’s fiercest tides. When will my right hon. Friend be able to announce another ringfenced pot for marine energy?
During my time as the Energy Minister, my hon. Friend lobbied hard and consistently on this subject, and I am pleased to say that through my successors as Energy Minister and with me as Secretary of State, we have finally delivered. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work to secure that.
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with local authorities and other Departments about what seems to be a threat to the future of community swimming pools from rising energy bills? Swim UK, the Royal Life Saving Society and other organisations have said that, potentially, hundreds of pools face closure.
I am happy to examine this issue as a former employee of a swimming pool. In 1985, I worked for six months at a German swimming pool, Sommerbad Kreuzberg, which I am happy to read into Hansard for all the staff who still work there. The hon. Gentleman knows that we have provided support for businesses at this difficult time through grants, business rates relief and other reliefs, and we will continue to engage with those facing challenges in relation to energy bills.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful for your advice on how to get a satisfactory response from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions concerning new data from her Department, published last week, which shows that 140 deaths of vulnerable claimants have been investigated since 2019—and these are only the deaths that we know about. It is a scandal that the bereaved families are not made aware of or involved in these investigations, and that we are denied data on the true scale of the deaths. Can you suggest why the Secretary of State is refusing to hold a public inquiry, and what I can do to hold her to account and get one?
The hon. Lady has been here long enough to know that I am not responsible for the actions of the Secretary of State. I know, too, that she has put her comments on record, and I hope that those on the Government Front Bench have taken them on board. I am sure that she will also pursue the other avenues that are available to her.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In recent weeks, I have tabled numerous written parliamentary questions on a range of topics, including, the minimum wage for seafarers, a statutory code on fire and rehire, ethnicity pay gap reporting, umbrella companies, and the now vanished employment Bill only for Ministers to tell me that the Bills, drafts, consultations and responses that they have long promised will be published in “due course”. Yet in “due course” never arrives and it appears to be nothing more than a phrase that Ministers use to kick plans into the long grass. May I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on what actions are open to me to ensure that the Government provide a proper response on when publications will be made available, or do I assume that this Government will only care about fighting to protect and uphold the rights of working people in “due course”?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me notice of his point of order. As he knows, I am not responsible for ministerial answers, but he has put his views on record, and I trust that they will be conveyed to the Ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Members, from whichever party and on whichever side of the House they sit, should rightly have their questions answered as early as possible. There is no excuse. We have been through the excuse of covid. We may have a bit of a crisis in Government, but Members should have their letters and questions answered. I do not care from which side of the House they come, this is about respect to this House and respect to the elected Members. I am sure that some of the Ministers who may now be on the Back Benches will also want their questions answered in the future, so, please, take this on board. Do not disrespect the Members of this House. Keep me informed of what goes on.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker, and I think you will be particularly interested in this one. You will know, because I informed you and others in the House, that, over the past few days, I have been wearing a very sophisticated air quality monitor. I have to say that the quality of the air in this Chamber is very polluted—well above World Health Organisation standards—but in other parts of the House, where our staff are working, it is twice as bad. It is a seriously polluted atmosphere that we are asking our employees on this estate to work in. We have the summer recess coming up, so may I ask you, Mr Speaker, to see whether something can be done—both in the short term and then in the longer term—to protect the people who work in this Parliament?
I know that the hon. Member has been here longer than anybody I can think of in the Chamber at the moment. He knows the best avenues available to him, and I know that he will already be penning his letter to Sir Charles Walker and the Administration Committee, and I am sure that they will seriously take on board his findings.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At Department for Work and Pensions questions yesterday, the Secretary of State challenged the figures that I used about child poverty, asking that I advise where I got them from. That struck me as rather odd, because I got those statistics from her own Department. Today, we hear from the North East Child Poverty Commission that the north-east has overtaken London in terms of having the highest rate of child poverty in the UK, at 38%, up from 37% the previous year—that is 11 children in a classroom of 30.
In 2020-21, the north-east continues to see a longer-term trend, with the region experiencing by far the steepest increases in child poverty in the UK in recent years. One third of the north-east’s parliamentary constituencies now have a child poverty rate of 40% or above.
I wonder whether you, Mr Speaker, have heard from the Secretary of State about whether she has since managed to read her own statistics, and if she plans a statement on the worsening of child poverty in my region?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not responsible for the Minister’s answers, nor would I wish to be. I thank him for letting me know that he was going to ask the question. I have had no notice of any statement coming forward on the subject he mentions but, as I say, he has certainly put it on record and I know that people will be listening on the Government side. I am sure that, in future, those points can be corrected if the hon. Gentleman is right. He has put forward the stats and he has put forward his case. I am sure they will be checked and the House will ensure that we have the right record of statistics going forward.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We now have a caretaker Government who have given themselves a self-denying ordinance not to do anything controversial or change policy in any way. Today we have before us, with Report just coming up, an extraordinarily controversial piece of legislation that really should wait for the new, appropriate Government to deal with it in the future. Is there any mechanism whereby this House can delay the Report stage before us today until later in the year, when it can be dealt with properly?
The right hon. Gentleman is another Member who has been here a very long time and knows I am not responsible for the business of the House. I am sure he will take the matter up in different ways and through different avenues. As we all know, he does not give up quite so easily, even though he knows I have not got the power.
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision regarding pets with microchips; and for connected purposes.
This is the third time I have stood up to present this Bill—make of that what you will, Mr Speaker—but we keep going. I also stand here because of an important member of my family: not my wife Joanne or my two sons, who are in the Public Gallery today, but my black Labrador Bertie, who at the moment is happily in doggy day care in Bury. He is a much-loved member of my family. This is a Bill for pet owners and pet lovers who value their pet cats and dogs as members of their family.
My Pets (Microchips) Bill aims to bring into law two campaigns that are due to the efforts of others—Tuk’s law and Gizmo’s law. Gizmo’s law is a campaign that emanates from my own Bury North constituency, hence the reason I am proud to stand here. I pay tribute to Helena Abrahams, Wendy Andrew and the whole team at Gizmo’s Legacy, who have done an incredible job. Tuk’s law is a four-year campaign by Sue Williams and Dawn Ashley. It has been an honour to work with Sue and Dawn over a number of years on this matter, with the great assistance of Dominic Dyer.
What is my Bill about? Tuk’s law is a campaign to create a new law that would mean that veterinary surgeons would be legally required to scan for rescue back-up contact details on microchips and confirm that the owner of the animal is actually the person presenting the animal, prior to euthanasia, if the animal can be treated. The campaign highlights an issue that I was horrified by when I first became aware of it. We have a pandemic in this country of healthy dogs being taken to vets and put down or euthanised without any reference to their ownership or having their microchip scanned.
What is rescue back-up? It is registration on a microchip. Rescue organisations and breeders register their details on the original database as a secondary contact as part of the adoption contract or bill of sale. In times of vulnerability, the secondary contact is there to prevent the animal being unnecessarily euthanised and to alert the veterinarian that an alternate is in place. Tuk’s law calls for two things: first, to establish legal ownership, and secondly, for a legal requirement on the veterinary surgeon to scan for a rescue back-up.
As we speak today, there is no legal requirement for vets to do that, but there should not be unfair criticism of the veterinary profession. During the time I have been presenting these Bills to the House, a voluntary code of conduct has been entered into by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. I am extremely grateful for the step it has taken, but the problem remains. Euthanasia remains solely at the discretion of a veterinarian and is not a legal requirement. Animals can still be subjected to unsubstantiated accusations of health or behaviour issues and there is no obligation to seek verification or alternative options to euthanasia. With rising veterinarian and insurance costs, economic euthanasia is likely to rise in the near future, and the rescues’ and breeders’ commitment to the safety of their animals’ long-term needs has to be acknowledged and should be acted on in all circumstances.
The rescue back-up provision allows time for comprehensive assessments, healthcare checks and rehoming support, and guarantees that any life-ending decision is based on the animal’s best interests, with all facts and alternative options known. For any dog owner in this place, the idea that our animal, as a healthy animal, could be taken and euthanised without our consent, for whatever reason, and without a second option being sought, is something that legislation needs to remedy. This campaign is backed by of thousands of people throughout the country.
As I said, Gizmo’s law is a proud Bury North campaign. Gizmo’s law is about the other end of the life spectrum. It is about cats that are sadly deceased. All too often in hon. Members’ constituencies and boroughs throughout this country, if a cat is sadly involved in an accident or dies by whatever means, if the local authority is called in, the step that is generally taken is to put that animal, without reference to the owner and without microchipping it, into landfill. That is not acceptable. Cats are part of our families—part of who we are. I know you would completely agree with that, Mr Speaker.
Gizmo’s law is a fully funded campaign where each local authority in the country will be provided with a scanner and legally required to bag the cat that has been killed in tragic circumstances, to record where it was found, and to scan the microchip and search the six databases that are open to cats that have been microchipped. That would allow cat owners to be reunited with their much-loved pet. If an animal is part of your family, it does not matter which stage of its life it is at—you want to know what has happened to it.
That requirement is not greatly bureaucratic or time-consuming. It is cost-neutral. It is simply asking local authorities to scan a microchip and to contact owners. There truly cannot be anything unreasonable about that. Sadly, however, I have numerous examples of councils throughout the country that simply ignore this, and the cat is thrown into landfill with the owner knowing nothing more about it.
This is about the Berties; it is about all the cats; it is about everyone who views animals as having as much right as any other member of the family. This is a passionate campaign. I have the honour to stand here but I go back to Helena, Wendy, Sue and Dawn—to all those people who every single day are going out loving, protecting and caring for their animals.
This is hopefully a matter that the Government can take further. If the Minister were given an opportunity, he would talk about the consultation on the issue that closed in May. The Government are taking positive steps in respect of looking at the issue of microchipping. I am incredibly grateful for the work of Ministers throughout the period I have been trying to persuade them of the merits of this legislation. It is part of a conversation that will hopefully bring Tuk’s law and Gizmo’s law into statute.
Can I just say that Attlee is fully supportive of what you are trying to do?
Question put and agreed to.
That James Daly, Mark Eastwood, Jim Shannon, Saqib Bhatti, Sir Gavin Williamson, Anthony Mangnall, Mark Logan, Aaron Bell, Jake Berry, Damien Moore, Nickie Aiken and Paul Bristow present the Bill.
James Daly accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 October, and to be printed (Bill 139).
Online Safety Bill: Programme (No. 2)
That the Order of 19 April 2022 in the last Session of Parliament (Online Safety Bill: Programme) be varied as follows:
(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.
(2) Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be taken in two days in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.
(3) Proceedings on Consideration—
(a) shall be taken on each of those days in the order shown in the first column of the following Table, and
(b) shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings First day New clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 1, Part 2 and Chapters 1 to 4, 6 and 7 of Part 3 (except amendments relating to the repeal of Part 4B of the Communications Act 2003) 4.30 pm on the first day New clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Chapter 5 of Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, clauses 160 to 162 and Schedule 15, clauses 163 to 171, clauses 176 to 182, and Part 12 (except amendments relating to the repeal of Part 4B of the Communications Act 2003) 7.00 pm on the first day Second day New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the repeal of Part 4B of the Communications Act 2003, and remaining proceedings on Consideration 6.00 pm on the second day
Time for conclusion of proceedings
New clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 1, Part 2 and Chapters 1 to 4, 6 and 7 of Part 3 (except amendments relating to the repeal of Part 4B of the Communications Act 2003)
4.30 pm on the first day
New clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Chapter 5 of Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, clauses 160 to 162 and Schedule 15, clauses 163 to 171, clauses 176 to 182, and Part 12 (except amendments relating to the repeal of Part 4B of the Communications Act 2003)
7.00 pm on the first day
New clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to the repeal of Part 4B of the Communications Act 2003, and remaining proceedings on Consideration
6.00 pm on the second day
(4) Proceedings on Third Reading shall be taken on the second day and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.—(Damian Collins.)
Online Safety Bill
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
[Relevant Documents: Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, Session 2021-22: Draft Online Safety Bill, HC 609, and the Government Response, CP 640; Letter from the Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy to the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights relating to the Online Safety Bill, dated 16 June 2022; Letter from the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport relating to the Online Safety Bill, dated 19 May 2022; First Report of the Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport Committee, Amending the Online Safety Bill, HC 271]
New Clause 19
Duties to protect news publisher content
(1) This section sets out the duties to protect news publisher content which apply in relation to Category 1 services.
(2) Subject to subsections (4), (5) and (8), a duty, in relation to a service, to take the steps set out in subsection (3) before—
(a) taking action in relation to content present on the service that is news publisher content, or
(b) taking action against a user who is a recognised news publisher.
(3) The steps referred to in subsection (2) are—
(a) to give the recognised news publisher in question a notification which—
(i) specifies the action that the provider is considering taking,
(ii) gives reasons for that proposed action by reference to each relevant provision of the terms of service,
(iii) where the proposed action relates to news publisher content that is also journalistic content, explains how the provider took the importance of the free expression of journalistic content into account when deciding on the proposed action, and
(iv) specifies a reasonable period within which the recognised news publisher may make representations,
(b) to consider any representations that are made, and
(c) to notify the recognised news publisher of the decision and the reasons for it (addressing any representations made).
(4) If a provider of a service reasonably considers that the provider would incur criminal or civil liability in relation to news publisher content present on the service if it were not taken down swiftly, the provider may take down that content without having taken the steps set out in subsection (3).
(5) A provider of a service may also take down news publisher content present on the service without having taken the steps set out in subsection (3) if that content amounts to a relevant offence (see section 52 and also subsection (10) of this section).
(6) Subject to subsection (8), if a provider takes action in relation to news publisher content or against a recognised news publisher without having taken the steps set out in subsection (3), a duty to take the steps set out in subsection (7).
(7) The steps referred to in subsection (6) are—
(a) to swiftly notify the recognised news publisher in question of the action taken, giving the provider’s justification for not having first taken the steps set out in subsection (3),
(b) to specify a reasonable period within which the recognised news publisher may request that the action is reversed, and
(c) if a request is made as mentioned in paragraph (b)—
(i) to consider the request and whether the steps set out in subsection (3) should have been taken prior to the action being taken,
(ii) if the provider concludes that those steps should have been taken, to swiftly reverse the action, and
(iii) to notify the recognised news publisher of the decision and the reasons for it (addressing any reasons accompanying the request for reversal of the action).
(8) If a recognised news publisher has been banned from using a service (and the ban is still in force), the provider of the service may take action in relation to news publisher content present on the service which was generated or originally published or broadcast by the recognised news publisher without complying with the duties set out in this section.
(9) For the purposes of subsection (2)(a), a provider is not to be regarded as taking action in relation to news publisher content in the following circumstances—
(a) a provider takes action in relation to content which is not news publisher content, that action affects related news publisher content, the grounds for the action only relate to the content which is not news publisher content, and it is not technically feasible for the action only to relate to the content which is not news publisher content;
(b) a provider takes action against a user, and that action affects news publisher content that has been uploaded to or shared on the service by the user.
(10) Section (Providers’ judgements about the status of content) (providers’ judgements about the status of content) applies in relation to judgements by providers about whether news publisher content amounts to a relevant offence as it applies in relation to judgements about whether content is illegal content.
(11) OFCOM’s guidance under section (Guidance about illegal content judgements) (guidance about illegal content judgements) must include guidance about the matters dealt with in section (Providers’ judgements about the status of content) as that section applies by reason of subsection (10).
(12) Any provision of the terms of service has effect subject to this section.
(13) In this section—
(a) references to “news publisher content” are to content that is news publisher content in relation to the service in question;
(b) references to “taking action” in relation to content are to—
(i) taking down content,
(ii) restricting users’ access to content, or
(iii) taking other action in relation to content (for example, adding warning labels to content);
(c) references to “taking action” against a person are to giving a warning to a person, or suspending or banning a person from using a service, or in any way restricting a person’s ability to use a service.
(14) Taking any step set out in subsection (3) or (7) does not count as “taking action” for the purposes of this section.
section 16 for the meaning of “journalistic content”;
section 49 for the meaning of “news publisher content”;
section 50 for the meaning of “recognised news publisher”.”—(Damian Collins.)
Member’s explanatory statement
This new clause requires providers to notify a recognised news publisher and provide a right to make representations before taking action in relation to news publisher content or against the publisher (except in certain circumstances), and to notify a recognised news publisher after action is taken without that process being followed and provide an opportunity for the publisher to request that the action is reversed.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Secretary of State’s powers to suggest modifications to a code of practice—
“(1) The Secretary of State may on receipt of a code write within one month of that day to OFCOM with reasoned, evidence-based suggestions for modifying the code.
(2) OFCOM shall have due regard to the Secretary of State’s letter and must reply to the Secretary of State within one month of receipt.
(3) The Secretary of State may only write to OFCOM twice under this section for each code.
(4) The Secretary of State and OFCOM shall publish their letters as soon as reasonably possible after transmission, having made any reasonable redactions for public safety and national security.
(5) If the draft of a code of practice contains modifications made following changes arising from correspondence under this section, the affirmative procedure applies.”
New clause 3—Priority illegal content: violence against women and girls—
“(1) For the purposes of this Act, any provision applied to priority illegal content should also be applied to any content which—
(b) encourages, or
(2) ‘Violence against women and girls’ is defined by Article 3 of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (‘the Istanbul Convention’).”
This new clause applies provisions to priority illegal content to content which constitutes, encourages or promotes violence against women and girls.
New clause 4—Duty about content advertising or facilitating prostitution: Category 1 and Category 2B services—
“(1) A provider of a Category 1 or Category 2B service must operate the service so as to—
(a) prevent individuals from encountering content that advertises or facilitates prostitution;
(b) minimise the length of time for which any such content is present;
(c) where the provider is alerted by a person to the presence of such content, or becomes aware of it in any other way, swiftly take down such content.
(2) A provider of a Category 1 or Category 2B service must include clear and accessible provisions in a publicly available statement giving information about any proactive technology used by the service for the purpose of compliance with the duty set out in subsection (1) (including the kind of technology, when it is used, and how it works).
(3) If a person is the provider of more than one Category 1 or Category 2B service, the duties set out in this section apply in relation to each such service.
(4) The duties set out in this section extend only to the design, operation and use of a Category 1 or Category 2B service in the United Kingdom.
(5) For the meaning of ‘Category 1 service’ and ‘Category 2B service’, see section 81 (register of categories of services).
(6) For the meaning of ‘prostitution’, see section 54 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.”
New clause 5—Duty about content advertising or facilitating prostitution: Category 2A services—
“(1) A provider of a Category 2A service must operate that service so as to minimise the risk of individuals encountering content which advertises or facilitates prostitution in or via search results of the service.
(2) A provider of a Category 2A service must include clear and accessible provisions in a publicly available statement giving information about any proactive technology used by the service for the purpose of compliance with the duty set out in subsection (1) (including the kind of technology, when it is used, and how it works).
(3) The reference to encountering content which advertises or facilitates prostitution “in or via search results” of a search service does not include a reference to encountering such content as a result of any subsequent interactions with an internet service other than the search service.
(4) If a person is the provider of more than one Category 2A service, the duties set out in this section apply in relation to each such service.
(5) The duties set out in this section extend only to the design, operation and use of a Category 2A service in the United Kingdom.
(6) For the meaning of ‘Category 2A service’, see section 81 (register of categories of services).
(7) For the meaning of ‘prostitution’, see section 54 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.”
New clause 6—Duty about content advertising or facilitating prostitution: internet services providing pornographic content—
“(1) A provider of an internet service within the scope of section 67 of this Act must operate that service so as to—
(a) prevent individuals from encountering content that advertises or facilitates prostitution;
(b) minimise the length of time for which any such content is present;
(c) where the provider is alerted by a person to the presence of such content, or becomes aware of it in any other way, swiftly take down such content.
(2) A provider of an internet service under this section must include clear and accessible provisions in a publicly available statement giving information about any proactive technology used by the service for the purpose of compliance with the duty set out in subsection (1) (including the kind of technology, when it is used, and how it works).
(3) If a person is the provider of more than one internet service under this section, the duties set out in this section apply in relation to each such service.
(4) For the meaning of ‘prostitution’, see section 54 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.”
New clause 8—Duties about advertisements for cosmetic procedures—
“(1) A provider of a regulated service must operate the service using systems and processes designed to—
(a) prevent individuals from encountering advertisements for cosmetic procedures that do not meet the conditions specified in subsection (3);
(b) minimise the length of time for which any such advertisement is present;
(c) where the provider is alerted by a person to the presence of such an advertisement, or becomes aware of it in any other way, swiftly take it down.
(2) A provider of a regulated service must include clear and accessible provisions in the terms of service giving information about any proactive technology used by the service for the purpose of compliance with the duty set out in subsection (1) (including the kind of technology, when it is used, and how it works).
(3) The conditions under subsection (1)(a) are that the advertisement—
(a) contains a disclaimer as to the health risks of the cosmetic procedure, and
(b) includes a certified service quality indicator.
(4) If a person is the provider or more than one regulated service, the duties set out in this section apply in relation to each such service.
(5) The duties set out in this section extent only to the design, operation and use of a regulated service in the United Kingdom.
(6) For the meaning of ‘regulated service’, see section 3 (‘Regulated service’. ‘Part 3 service’ etc).”
This new clause would place a duty on all internet service providers regulated by the Bill to prevent individuals from encountering adverts for cosmetic procedures that do not contain a disclaimer as to the health risks of the procedure nor include a certified service quality indicator.
New clause 9—Content harmful to adults risk assessment duties: regulated search services—
“(1) This section sets out the duties about risk assessments which apply in relation to all regulated search services.
(2) A duty to carry out a suitable and sufficient priority adults risk assessment at a time set out in, or as provided by Schedule 3.
(3) A duty to take appropriate steps to keep an adults’ risk assessment up to date, including when OFCOM make any significant change to a risk profile that relates to services of the kind in question.
(4) Before making any significant change to any aspect of a service’s design or operation, a duty to carry out a further suitable and sufficient adult risk assessment relating to the impacts of that proposed change.
(5) An ‘adults risk assessment’ of a service of a particular kind means an assessment of the following matters, taking into account the risk profile that relates to services of that kind—
(a) the level of risk of individuals who are users of the service encountering each kind of priority content that is harmful to adults (with each kind separately assessed), taking into account (in particular) risks presented by algorithms used by the service, and the way that the service indexes, organises and presents search results;
(b) the level of risk of functionalities of the service facilitating individuals encountering search content that is harmful to adults, identifying and assessing those functionalities that present higher levels of risk;
(c) the nature, and severity, of the harm that might be suffered by individuals from the matters identified in accordance with paragraphs (a) and (b);
(d) how the design and operation of the service (including the business model, governance, use of proactive technology, measures to promote users’ media literacy and safe use of the service, and other systems and processes) may reduce or increase the risks identified.
(6) In this section, references to risk profiles are to the risk profiles for the time being published under section 84 which relate to the risk of harm to adults presented by priority content that is harmful to adults.
(7) See also—section 20(2) (records of risk assessments), and Schedule 3 (timing of providers’ assessments).”
New clause 10—Safety Duties Protecting Adults: regulated search services—
“(1) This section sets out the duties about protecting adults which apply in relation to all regulated search services.
(2) A duty to summarise in the policies of the search service the findings of the most recent adults’ risk assessment of a service (including as to levels of risk and as to nature, and severity, of potential harm to adults).
(3) A duty to include provisions in the search service policies specifying, in relation to each kind of priority content that is harmful to adults that is to be treated in a way described in subsection (4), which of those kinds of treatment is to be applied.
(4) The duties set out in subsections (2) and (3) apply across all areas of a service, including the way the search engine is operated and used as well as search content of the service, and (among other things) require the provider of a service to take or use measures in the following areas, if it is proportionate to do so—
(a) regulatory compliance and risk management arrangements,
(b) design of functionalities, algorithms and other features relating to the search engine,
(c) functionalities allowing users to control the content they encounter in search results,
(d) content prioritisation and ranking,
(e) user support measures, and
(f) staff policies and practices.
(5) A duty to explain in the terms of service the provider’s response to the risks relating to priority content that is harmful to adults (as identified in the most recent adults’ risk assessment of the service), by reference to—
(a) any provisions of the policies included in compliance with the duty set out in subsection (3), and
(b) any other provisions of the terms of service designed to mitigate or manage those risks.
(6) If provisions are included in the policies in compliance with the duty set out in subsection (3), a duty to ensure that those provisions—
(a) are clear and accessible, and
(b) are applied consistently in relation to content which the provider reasonably considers is priority
(NaN) If the provider of a service becomes aware of any non-designated content that is harmful to adults present on the service, a duty to notify OFCOM of—
(a) the kinds of such content identified, and
(b) the incidence of those kinds of content on the service.
(NaN) A duty to ensure that the provisions of the publicly available statement referred to in subsections (5) and (7) are clear and accessible.
(NaN) In this section—
‘adults’ risk assessment’ has the meaning given by section 12;
‘non-designated content that is harmful to adults’ means content that is harmful to adults other than priority content that is harmful to adults.”
New clause 18—Child user empowerment duties—
“(1) This section sets out the duties to empower child users which apply in relation to Category 1 services.
(2) A duty to include in a service, to the extent that it is proportionate to do so, features which child users may use or apply if they wish to increase their control over harmful content.
(3) The features referred to in subsection (2) are those which, if used or applied by a user, result in the use by the service of systems or processes designed to—
(a) reduce the likelihood of the user encountering priority content that is harmful, or particular kinds of such content, by means of the service, or
(b) alert the user to the harmful nature of priority content that is harmful that the user may encounter by means of the service.
(4) A duty to ensure that all features included in a service in compliance with the duty set out in subsection (2) are made available to all child users.
(5) A duty to include clear and accessible provisions in the terms of service specifying which features are offered in compliance with the duty set out in subsection (2), and how users may take advantage of them.
(6) A duty to include in a service features which child users may use or apply if they wish to filter out non-verified users.
(7) The features referred to in subsection (6) are those which, if used or applied by a user, result in the use by the service of systems or processes designed to—
(a) prevent non-verified users from interacting with content which that user generates, uploads or shares on the service, and
(b) reduce the likelihood of that user encountering content which non-verified users generate, upload or share on the service.
(8) A duty to include in a service features which child users may use or apply if they wish to only encounter content by users they have approved.
(9) A duty to include in a service features which child users may use or apply if they wish to filter out private messages from—
(a) non-verified users, or
(b) adult users, or
(c) any user other than those on a list approved by the child user.
(10) In determining what is proportionate for the purposes of subsection (2), the following factors, in particular, are relevant—
(a) all the findings of the most recent child risk assessment (including as to levels of risk and as to nature, and severity, of potential harm), and
(b) the size and capacity of the provider of a service.
(11) In this section ‘non-verified user’ means a user who has not verified their identity to the provider of a service (see section 57(1)).
(12) In this section references to features include references to functionalities and settings.”
New clause 24—Category 1 services: duty not to discriminate, harass or victimise against service users—
“(1) The following duties apply to all providers of Category 1 services.
(2) A duty not to discriminate, on the grounds of a protected characteristic, against a person wishing to use the service by not providing the service, if the result of not providing the service is to cause harm to that person.
(3) A duty not to discriminate, on the grounds of a protected characteristic, against any user of the service in a way that causes harm to the user—
(a) as to the terms on which the provider provides the service to the user;
(b) by terminating the provision of the service to the user;
(c) by subjecting the user to any other harm.
(4) A duty not to harass, on the grounds of a protected characteristic, a user of the service in a way that causes harm to the user.
(5) A duty not to victimise because of a protected characteristic a person wishing to use the service by not providing the user with the service, if the result of not providing the service is to cause harm to that person.
(6) A duty not to victimise a service user—
(a) as to the terms on which the provider provides the service to the user;
(b) by terminating the provision of the service to the user;
(c) by subjecting the user to any other harm.
(7) In this section—
references to harassing, discriminating or victimising have the same meaning as set out in Part 2 of the Equality Act 2010;
‘protected characteristic’ means a characteristic listed in section 4 of the Equality Act 2010.”
This new clause would place a duty, regulated by Ofcom, on Category 1 service providers not to discriminate, harass or victimise users of their services on the basis of a protected characteristic if doing so would result in them being caused harm. Discrimination, harassment and victimisation, and protected characteristics, have the same meaning as in the Equality Act 2010.
New clause 25—Report on duties that apply to all internet services likely to be accessed by children—
“(1) Within 12 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Secretary of State must commission an independent evaluation of the matters under subsection (2) and must lay the report of the evaluation before Parliament.
(2) The evaluation under subsection (1) must consider whether the following duties should be imposed on all providers of services on the internet that are likely to be accessed by children, other than services regulated by this Act—
(a) duties similar to those imposed on regulated services by sections 10 and 25 of this Act to carry out a children’s risk assessment, and
(b) duties similar to those imposed on regulated services by sections 11 and 26 of this Act to protect children’s online safety.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to commission an independent evaluation on whether all providers of internet services likely to be accessed by children should be subject to child safety duties and must conduct a children’s risk assessment.
New clause 26—Safety by design—
“(1) In exercising their functions under this Act—
(a) The Secretary of State, and
must have due regard to the principles in subsections (2)-(3).
(2) The first principle is that providers of regulated services should design those services to prevent harmful content from being disseminated widely, and that this is preferable in the first instance to both—
(a) removing harmful content after it has already been disseminated widely, and
(b) restricting which users can access the service or part of it on the basis that harmful content is likely to disseminate widely on that service.
(4) The second principle is that providers of regulated services should safeguard freedom of expression and participation, including the freedom of expression and participation of children.”
This new clause requires the Secretary of State and Ofcom to have due regard to the principle that internet services should be safe by design.
New clause 27—Publication of risk assessments—
“Whenever a Category 1 service carries out any risk assessment pursuant to Part 3 of this Act, the service must publish the risk assessment on the service’s website.”
New clause 38—End-to-end encryption—
“Nothing in this Act shall prevent providers of user-to-user services protecting their users’ privacy through end-to-end encryption.”
Government amendment 57.
Amendment 202, in clause 6, page 5, line 11, at end insert—
“(ba) the duty about pornographic content set out in Schedule [Additional duties on pornographic content].”
This amendment ensures that user-to-user services must meet the new duties set out in NS1.
Government amendments 163, 58, 59 and 60.
Amendment 17, in clause 8, page 7, line 14, at end insert—
“(h) how the service may be used in conjunction with other regulated user-to-user services such that it may—
(i) enable users to encounter illegal content on other regulated user-to-user services, and
(ii) constitute part of a pathway to harm to individuals who are users of the service, in particular in relation to CSEA content.”
This amendment would incorporate into the duties a requirement to consider cross-platform risk.
Amendment 15, in clause 8, page 7, line 14, at end insert—
“(5A) The duties set out in this section apply in respect of content which reasonably foreseeably facilitates or aids the discovery or dissemination of CSEA content.”
This amendment extends the illegal content risk assessment duties to cover content which could be foreseen to facilitate or aid the discovery or dissemination of CSEA content.
Government amendments 61 and 62.
Amendment 18, page 7, line 30 [Clause 9], at end insert—
“(none) ‘, including by being directed while on the service towards priority illegal content hosted by a different service;’
This amendment aims to include within companies’ safety duties a duty to consider cross-platform risk.
Amendment 16, in clause 9, page 7, line 35, at end insert—
“(d) minimise the presence of content which reasonably foreseeably facilitates or aids the discovery or dissemination of priority illegal content, including CSEA content.”
This amendment brings measures to minimise content that may facilitate or aid the discovery of priority illegal content within the scope of the duty to maintain proportionate systems and processes.
Amendment 19, in clause 9, page 7, line 35, at end insert—
“(3A) A duty to collaborate with other companies to take reasonable and proportionate measures to prevent the means by which their services can be used in conjunction with other services to facilitate the encountering or dissemination of priority illegal content, including CSEA content.”
This amendment creates a duty to collaborate in cases where there is potential cross-platform risk in relation to priority illegal content and CSEA content.
Government amendments 63 to 67.
Amendment 190, page 10, line 11, in clause 11, at end insert “, and—
(c) mitigate the harm to children caused by habit-forming features of the service by consideration and analysis of how processes (including algorithmic serving of content, the display of other users’ approval of posts and notifications) contribute to development of habit-forming behaviour.”
This amendment requires services to take or use proportionate measures to mitigate the harm to children caused by habit-forming features of a service.
Government amendments 68 and 69.
Amendment 42, page 11, line 16, in clause 11, at end insert—
“(c) the benefits of the service to children’s well-being.”
Amendment 151, page 12, line 43, leave out Clause 13.
This amendment seeks to remove Clause 13 from the Bill.
Government amendment 70.
Amendment 48, page 13, line 5, in clause 13, leave out “is to be treated” and insert
“the provider decides to treat”
This amendment would mean that providers would be free to decide how to treat content that has been designated ‘legal but harmful’ to adults.
Amendment 49, page 13, line 11, in clause 13, at end insert—
‘(ca) taking no action;”
This amendment provides that providers would be free to take no action in response to content referred to in subsection (3).
Government amendments 71 and 72.
Amendment 157, page 14, line 11, in clause 14, leave out subsections (6) and (7).
This amendment is consequential to Amendment 156, which would require all users of Category 1 services to be verified.
Government amendments 73, 164, 74 and 165.
Amendment 10, page 16, line 16, in clause 16, leave out from “or” until the end of line 17.
Government amendments 166 and 167.
Amendment 50, page 20, line 21, in clause 19, at end insert—
“(6A) A duty to include clear provision in the terms of service that the provider will not take down, or restrict access to content generated, uploaded or shared by a user save where it reasonably concludes that—
(a) the provider is required to do so pursuant to the provisions of this Act, or
(b) it is otherwise reasonable and proportionate to do so.”
This amendment sets out a duty for providers to include in terms of service a commitment not to take down or restrict access to content generated, uploaded or shared by a user except in particular circumstances.
Government amendment 168.
Amendment 51, page 20, line 37, in clause 19, at end insert—
“(10) In any claim for breach of contract brought in relation to the provisions referred to in subsection (7), where the breach is established, the court may make such award by way of compensation as it considers appropriate for the removal of, or restriction of access to, the content in question.”
This amendment means that where a claim is made for a breach of the terms of service result from Amendment 50, the court has the power to make compensation as it considers appropriate.
Government amendment 169.
Amendment 47, page 22, line 10, in clause 21, at end insert—
“(ba) the duties about adults’ risk assessment duties in section (Content harmful to adult risk assessment duties: regulated search services),
(bb) the safety duties protecting adults in section (Safety duties protecting adults: regulated search services).”
Government amendments 75 to 82.
Amendment 162, page 31, line 19, in clause 31, leave out “significant”
This amendment removes the requirement for there to be a “significant” number of child users, and replaces it with “a number” of child users.
Government amendments 85 to 87.
Amendment 192, page 36, line 31, in clause 37, at end insert—
“(ha) persons whom OFCOM consider to have expertise in matters relating to the Equality Act 2010,”
This amendment requires Ofcom to consult people with expertise on the Equality Act 2010 about codes of practice.
Amendment 44, page 37, line 25, in clause 39, leave out from beginning to the second “the” in line 26.
This amendment will remove the ability of the Secretary of State to block codes of practice being, as soon as practical, laid before the House for its consideration.
Amendment 45, page 38, line 8, leave out Clause 40.
This amendment will remove the ability of the Secretary of State to block codes of practice being, as soon as practical, laid before the House for its consideration.
Amendment 13, page 38, line 12, in clause 40, leave out paragraph (a).
Amendment 46, page 39, line 30, leave out Clause 41.
This amendment will remove the ability of the Secretary of State to block codes of practice being, as soon as practical, laid before the House for its consideration.
Amendment 14, page 39, line 33, in clause 41, leave out subsection (2).
Amendment 21, page 40, line 29, in clause 43, leave out “may require” and insert “may make representations to”
Amendment 22, page 40, line 33, in clause 43, at end insert—
‘(2A) OFCOM must have due regard to representations by the Secretary of State under subsection (2).”
Government amendments 88 to 89 and 170 to 172.
Amendment 161, page 45, line 23, in clause 49, leave out paragraph (d).
This amendment removes the exemption for one-to-one live aural communications.
Amendment 188, page 45, line 24, in clause 49, leave out paragraph (e).
This amendment removes the exemption for comments and reviews on provider content.
Government amendments 90 and 173.
Amendment 197, page 47, line 12, in clause 50, after “material” insert
“or special interest news material”.
Amendment 11, page 47, line 19, in clause 50, after “has” insert “suitable and sufficient”.
Amendment 198, page 47, line 37, in clause 50, leave out the first “is” and insert
“and special interest news material are”.
Amendment 199, page 48, line 3, in clause 50, at end insert—
““special interest news material” means material consisting of news or information about a particular pastime, hobby, trade, business, industry or profession.”
Amendment 12, page 48, line 7, in clause 50, after “a” insert “suitable and sufficient”.
Government amendments 91 to 94.
Amendment 52, page 49, line 13, in clause 52, leave out paragraph (d).
This amendment limits the list of relevant offences to those specifically specified.
Government amendments 95 to 100.
Amendment 20, page 51, line 3, in clause 54, at end insert—
‘(2A) Priority content designated under subsection (2) must include—
(a) content that contains public health related misinformation or disinformation, and
(b) misinformation or disinformation that is promulgated by a foreign state.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State’s designation of “priority content that is harmful to adults” to include public health-related misinformation or disinformation, and misinformation or disinformation spread by a foreign state.
Amendment 53, page 51, line 47, in clause 55, after “State” insert “reasonably”.
This amendment, together with Amendment 54, would mean that the Secretary of State must reasonably consider the risk of harm to each one of an appreciable number of adults before specifying a description of the content.
Amendment 54, page 52, line 1, in clause 55, after “to” insert “each of”.
This amendment is linked to Amendment 53.
Amendment 55, page 52, line 12, in clause 55, after “OFCOM” insert
“, Parliament and members of the public in a manner the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult Parliament and the public, as well as Ofcom, in a manner the Secretary of State considers appropriate before making regulations about harmful content.
Government amendments 147 to 149.
Amendment 43, page 177, line 23, in schedule 4, after “ages” insert
“, including the benefits of the service to their well-being,”
Amendment 196, page 180, line 9, in schedule 4, at end insert—
Amendment 187, page 186, line 32, in schedule 7, at end insert—
22A An offence under section 2 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.”
This amendment includes Human Trafficking as a priority offence.
Amendment 211, page 187, line 23, in schedule 7, at end insert—
Government new clause 14.
Government new clause 15.
Government amendments 83 to 84.
Amendment 156, page 53, line 7, in clause 57, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—
‘(1) A provider of a Category 1 service must require all adult users of the service to verify their identity in order to access the service.
(2) The verification process—
(a) may be of any kind (and in particular, it need not require documentation to be provided),
(i) be carried out by a third party on behalf of the provider of the Category 1 service,
(ii) ensure that all anonymous users of the Category 1 service cannot be identified by other users, apart from where provided for by section (Duty to ensure anonymity of users).”
This amendment would require all users of Category 1 services to be verified. The verification process would have to be carried out by a third party and to ensure the anonymity of users.
Government amendment 101.
Amendment 193, page 58, line 33, in clause 65, at end insert—
“(ea) persons whom OFCOM consider to have expertise in matters relating to the Equality Act 2010,”
This amendment requires Ofcom to consult people with expertise on the Equality Act 2010 in respect of guidance about transparency reports.
Amendment 203, page 60, line 33, in clause 68, at end insert—
‘(2B) A duty to meet the conditions set out in Schedule [Additional duties on pornographic content].”
This amendment ensures that commercial pornographic websites must meet the new duties set out in NS1.
Government amendments 141, 177 to 184, 142 to 145, 185 to 186 and 146.
New schedule 1—Additional duties on pornographic content
“30 All user-to-user services and an internet service which provides regulated provider pornographic content must meet the following conditions for pornographic content and content that includes sexual photographs and films (“relevant content”).
The conditions are—
(a) the service must not contain any prohibited material,
(b) the service must review all relevant content before publication.
31 In this Schedule—
“photographs and films” has the same meaning as section 34 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (meaning of “disclose” and “photograph or film”)
“prohibited material” has the same meaning as section 368E(3) of the Communications Act 2003 (harmful material).”
The new schedule sets out additional duties for pornographic content which apply to user-to-user services under Part 3 and commercial pornographic websites under Part 5.
Government amendments 150 and 174.
Amendment 191, page 94, line 24, in clause 12, at end insert—
“Section [Category 1 services: duty not to discriminate against, harass or victimise service users] Duty not to discriminate against, harass or victimise
This amendment makes NC24 an enforceable requirement.
Government amendment 131.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am honoured to have been appointed the Minister responsible for the Online Safety Bill. Having worked on these issues for a number of years, I am well aware of the urgency and importance of this legislation, in particular to protect children and tackle criminal activity online—that is why we are discussing this legislation.
Relative to the point of order from my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), I have the greatest respect for him and his standing in this House, but it feels like we have been discussing this Bill for at least five years. We have had a Green Paper and a White Paper. We had a pre-legislative scrutiny process, which I was honoured to be asked to chair. We have had reports from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and from other Select Committees and all-party parliamentary groups of this House. This legislation does not want for scrutiny.
We have also had a highly collaborative and iterative process in the discussion of the Bill. We have had 66 Government acceptances of recommendations made by the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill. We have had Government amendments in Committee. We are discusssing Government amendments today and we have Government commitments to table amendments in the House of Lords. The Bill has received a huge amount of consultation. It is highly important legislation, and the victims of online crime, online fraud, bullying and harassment want to see us get the Bill into the Lords and on the statute book as quickly as possible.
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his position. He will understand that those of us who have followed the Bill in some detail since its inception had some nervousness as to who might be standing at that Dispatch Box today, but we could not be more relieved that it is him. May I pick up on his point about the point of order from our right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis)? Does he agree that an additional point to add to his list is that, unusually, this legislation has a remarkable amount of cross-party consensus behind its principles? That distinguishes it from some of the other legislation that perhaps we should not consider in these two weeks. I accept there is plenty of detail to be examined but, in principle, this Bill has a lot of support in this place.
I completely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. That is why the Bill passed Second Reading without a Division and the Joint Committee produced a unanimous report. I am happy for Members to cast me in the role of poacher turned gamekeeper on the Bill, but looking around the House, there are plenty of gamekeepers turned poachers here today who will ensure we have a lively debate.
Exactly. The concept at the heart of this legislation is simple. Tech companies, like those in every other sector, must take appropriate responsibility for the consequences of their business decisions. As they continue to offer their users the latest innovations that enrich our lives, they must consider safety as well as profit. They must treat their users fairly and ensure that the internet remains a place for robust debate. The Bill has benefited from input and scrutiny from right across the House. I pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), who has worked tirelessly on the Bill, not least through 50 hours of Public Bill Committee, and the Bill is better for his input and work.
We have also listened to the work of other Members of the House, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright), the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden and the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), who have all made important contributions to the discussion of the Bill.
We have also listened to those concerned about freedom of expression online. It is worth pausing on that, as there has been a lot of discussion about whether the Bill is censoring legal speech online and much understandable outrage from those who think it is. I asked the same questions when I chaired the Joint Committee on the Bill. This debate does not reflect the actual text of the Bill itself. The Bill does not require platforms to restrict legal speech—let us be absolutely clear about that. It does not give the Government, Ofcom or tech platforms the power to make something illegal online that is legal offline. In fact, if those concerned about the Bill studied it in detail, they would realise that the Bill protects freedom of speech. In particular, the Bill will temper the huge power over public discourse wielded by the big tech companies behind closed doors in California. They are unaccountable for the decisions they make on censoring free speech on a daily basis. Their decisions about what content is allowed will finally be subject to proper transparency requirements.
My hon. Friend did not have the joy of being on the Bill Committee, as I did with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), who was the Minister at that point. The point that my hon. Friend has just made about free speech is so important for women and girls who are not able to go online because of the violent abuse that they receive, and that has to be taken into account by those who seek to criticise the Bill. We have to make sure that people who currently feel silenced do not feel silenced in future and can participate online in the way that they should be able to do. My hon. Friend is making an excellent point and I welcome him to his position.
My right hon. Friend is entirely right on that point. The structure of the Bill is very simple. There is a legal priority of harms, and things that are illegal offline will be regulated online at the level of the criminal threshold. There are protections for freedom of speech and there is proper transparency about harmful content, which I will come on to address. [Official Report, 21 July 2022, Vol. 718, c. 13MC.]
Does the Minister agree that, in moderating content, category 1 service providers such as Twitter should be bound by the duties under our domestic law not to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of a protected characteristic? Will he take a look at the amendments I have brought forward today on that point, which I had the opportunity of discussing with his predecessor, who I think was sympathetic?
The hon. and learned Lady makes a very important point. The legislation sets regulatory thresholds at the criminal law level based on existing offences in law. Many of the points she made are covered by existing public law offences, particularly in regards to discriminating against people based on their protected characteristics. As she well knows, the internet is a reserved matter, so the legal threshold is set at where UK law stands, but where law may differ in Scotland, the police authorities in Scotland can still take action against individuals in breach of the law.
The difficulty is that Twitter claims it is not covered by the Equality Act 2010. I have seen legal correspondence to that effect. I am not talking about the criminal law here. I am talking about Twitter’s duty not to discriminate against women, for example, or those who hold gender critical beliefs in its moderation of content. That is the purpose of my amendment today—it would ensure that Twitter and other service providers providing a service in the United Kingdom abide by our domestic law. It is not really a reserved or devolved matter.
The hon. and learned Lady is right. There are priority offences where the companies, regardless of their terms of service, have to meet their obligations. If something is illegal offline, it is illegal online as well. There are priority areas where the company must proactively look for that. There are also non-priority areas where the company should take action against anything that is an offence in law and meets the criminal threshold online. The job of the regulator is to hold them to account for that. They also have to be transparent in their terms of service as category 1 companies. If they have clear policies against discrimination, which they on the whole all do, they will have to set out what they would do, and the regulator can hold them to account to make sure they do what they say. The regulator cannot make them take down speech that is legal or below a criminal threshold, but they can hold them to account publicly for the decisions they make.
One of the most important aspects of this Bill with regard to the category 1 companies is transparency. At the moment, the platforms make decisions about curating their content—who to take down, who to suppress, who to leave up—but those are their decisions. There is no external scrutiny of what they do or even whether they do what they say they will do. As a point of basic consumer protection law, if companies say in their terms of service that they will do something, they should be held to account for it. What is put on the label also needs to be in the tin and that is what the Bill will do for the internet.
I now want to talk about journalism and the role of the news media in the online world, which is a very important part of this Bill. The Government are committed to defending the invaluable role of a free media. Online safety legislation must protect the vital role of the press in providing people with reliable and accurate sources of information. Companies must therefore put in place protections for journalistic content. User-to-user services will not have to apply their safety duties in part 3 of the Bill to news publishers’ content shared on their services. News publishers’ content on their own sites will also not be in scope of regulation.
New clause 19 and associated amendments introduce a further requirement on category 1 services to notify a recognised news publisher and offer a right of appeal before removing or moderating its content or taking any action against its account. This new provision will reduce the risk of major online platforms taking over-zealous, arbitrary or accidental moderation decisions against news publisher content, which plays an invaluable role in UK democracy and society.
We recognise that there are cases where platforms must be able to remove content without having to provide an appeal, and the new clause has been drafted to ensure that platforms will not be required to provide an appeal before removing content that would give rise to civil or criminal liability to the service itself, or where it amounts to a relevant offence as defined by the Bill. This means that platforms can take down without an appeal content that would count as illegal content under the Bill.
Moreover, in response to some of the concerns raised, in particular by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam as well as by other Members, about the danger of creating an inadvertent loophole for bad actors, we have committed to further tightening the definition of “recognised news provider” in the House of Lords to ensure that sanctioned entities, such as RT, cannot benefit from these protections.
As the legislation comes into force, the Government are committed to ensuring that protections for journalism and news publisher content effectively safeguard users’ access to such content. We have therefore tabled amendments 167 and 168 to require category 1 companies to assess the impact of their safety duties on how news publisher and journalistic content are treated when hosted on the service. They must then demonstrate the steps they are taking to mitigate any impact.
In addition, a series of amendments, including new clause 20, will require Ofcom to produce a report assessing the impact of the Online Safety Bill on the availability and treatment of news publisher content and journalistic content on category 1 services. This will include consideration of the impact of new clause 19, and Ofcom must do this within two years of the relevant provisions being commenced.
The Bill already excludes comments sections on news publishers’ sites from the Bill’s safety duties. These comments are crucial for enabling reader engagement with the news and encouraging public debate, as well as for the sustainability of the news media. We have tabled a series of amendments to strengthen these protections, reflecting the Government’s commitment to media freedom. The amendments will create a higher bar for removing the protections in place for comments sections on recognised news publishers’ sites by ensuring that these can only be brought into the scope of regulation via primary legislation.
Government amendments 70 and 71 clarify the policy intention of the clause 13 adult safety duties to improve transparency about how providers treat harmful content, rather than incentivise its removal. The changes respond to concerns raised by stakeholders that the drafting did not make it sufficiently clear that providers could choose simply to allow any form of legal content, rather than promote, restrict or remove it, regardless of the harm to users.
This is a really important point that has sometimes been missed in the discussion on the Bill. There are very clear duties relating to illegal harm that companies must proactively identify and mitigate. The transparency requirements for other harmful content are very clear that companies must set out what their policies are. Enforcement action can be taken by the regulator for breach of their policies, but the primary objective is that companies make clear what their policies are. It is not a requirement for companies to remove legal speech if their policies do not allow that.
I welcome the Minister to his position, and it is wonderful to have somebody else who—like the previous Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp)—knows what he is talking about. On this issue, which is pretty key, I think it would work if minimum standards were set on the risk assessments that platforms have to make to judge what is legal but harmful content, but at the moment such minimum standards are not in the Bill. Could the Minister comment on that? Otherwise, there is a danger that platforms will set a risk assessment that allows really vile harmful but legal content to carry on appearing on their platform.
The right hon. Lady makes a very important point. There have to be minimum safety standards, and I think that was also reflected in the report of the Joint Committee, which I chaired. Those minimum legal standards are set where the criminal law is set for these priority legal offences. A company may have higher terms of service—it may operate at a higher level—in which case it will be judged on the operation of its terms of service. However, for priority illegal content, it cannot have a code of practice that is below the legal threshold, and it would be in breach of the provisions if it did. For priority illegal offences, the minimum threshold is set by the law.
I understand that in relation to illegal harmful content, but I am talking about legal but harmful content. I understand that the Joint Committee that the hon. Member chaired recommended that for legal but harmful content, there should be minimum standards against which the platforms would be judged. I may have missed it, but I cannot see that in the Bill.
The Joint Committee’s recommendation was for a restructuring of the Bill, so that rather than having general duty of care responsibilities that were not defined, we defined those responsibilities based on existing areas of law. The core principle behind the Bill is to take things that are illegal offline, and to regulate such things online based on the legal threshold. That is what the Bill does.
In schedule 7, which did not exist in the draft phase, we have written into the Bill a long list of offences in law. I expect that, as this regime is created, the House will insert more regulations and laws into schedule 7 as priority offences in law. Even if an offence in law is not listed in the priority illegal harms schedule, it can still be a non-priority harm, meaning that even if a company does not have to look for evidence of that offence proactively, it still has to act if it is made aware of the offence. I think the law gives us a very wide range of offences, clearly defined against offences in law, where there are clearly understood legal thresholds.
The question is: what is to be done about other content that may be harmful but sits below the threshold? The Government have made it clear that we intend to bring forward amendments that set out clear priorities for companies on the reporting of such harmful content, where we expect the companies to set out what their policies are. That will include setting out clearly their policies on things such as online abuse and harassment, the circulation of real or manufactured intimate images, content promoting self-harm, content promoting eating disorders or legal suicide content—this is content relating to adults—so the companies will have to be transparent on that point.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, and I look forward to supporting him in his role as he previously supported me in mine. I think he made an important point a minute ago about content that is legal but considered to be harmful. It has been widely misreported in the press that this Bill censors or prohibits such content. As the Minister said a moment ago, it does no such thing. There is no requirement on platforms to censor or remove content that is legal, and amendment 71 to clause 13 makes that expressly clear. Does he agree that reports suggesting that the Bill mandates censorship of legal content are completely inaccurate?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and as I said earlier, he is absolutely right. There is no requirement for platforms to take down legal speech, and they cannot be directed to do so. What we have is a transparency requirement to set out their policies, with particular regard to some of the offences I mentioned earlier, and a wide schedule of things that are offences in law that are enforced through the Bill itself. This is a very important distinction to make. I said to him on Second Reading that I thought the general term “legal but harmful” had added a lot of confusion to the way the Bill was perceived, because it created the impression that the removal of legal speech could be required by order of the regulator, and that is not the case.
I congratulate the Minister on his promotion and on his excellent chairmanship of the prelegislative scrutiny Committee, which I also served on. Is he satisfied with the Bill in relation to disinformation? It was concerning that there was only one clause on disinformation, and we know the impact—particularly the democratic impact—that that has on our society at large. Is he satisfied that the Bill will address that?
It was a pleasure to serve alongside the hon. Lady on the Joint Committee. There are clear new offences relating to knowingly false information that will cause harm. As she will know, that was a Law Commission recommendation; it was not in the draft Bill but it is now in the Bill. The Government have also said that as a consequence of the new National Security Bill, which is going through Parliament, we will bring in a new priority offence relating to disinformation spread by hostile foreign states. As she knows, one of the most common areas for organised disinformation has been at state level. As a consequence of the new national security legislation, that will also be reflected in schedule 7 of this Bill, and that is a welcome change.
The Bill requires all services to take robust action to tackle the spread of illegal content and activity. Providers must proactively reduce the risk on their services of illegal activity and the sharing of illegal content, and they must identify and remove illegal content once it appears on their services. That is a proactive responsibility. We have tabled several interrelated amendments to reinforce the principle that companies must take a safety-by-design approach to managing the risk of illegal content and activity on their services. These amendments require platforms to assess the risk of their services being used to commit, or to facilitate the commission of, a priority offence and then to design and operate their services to mitigate that risk. This will ensure that companies put in place preventive measures to mitigate a broad spectrum of factors that enable illegal activity, rather than focusing solely on the removal of illegal content once it appears.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to his position. On harmful content, there are all too many appalling examples of animal abuse on the internet. What are the Government’s thoughts on how we can mitigate such harmful content, which is facilitating wildlife crime? Might similar online protections be provided for animals to the ones that clause 53 sets out for children?
My hon. Friend raises an important point that deserves further consideration as the Bill progresses through its parliamentary stages. There is, of course, still a general presumption that any illegal activity that could also constitute illegal activity online—for example, promoting or sharing content that could incite people to commit violent acts—is within scope of the legislation. There are some priority illegal offences, which are set out in schedule 7, but the non-priority offences also apply if a company is made aware of content that is likely to be in breach of the law. I certainly think this is worth considering in that context.
In addition, the Bill makes it clear that platforms have duties to mitigate the risk of their service facilitating an offence, including where that offence may occur on another site, such as can occur in cross-platform child sexual exploitation and abuse—CSEA—offending, or even offline. This addresses concerns raised by a wide coalition of children’s charities that the Bill did not adequately tackle activities such as breadcrumbing—an issue my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), the Chair of the Select Committee, has raised in the House before—where CSEA offenders post content on one platform that leads to offences taking place on a different platform.
We have also tabled new clause 14 and a related series of amendments in order to provide greater clarity about how in-scope services should determine whether they have duties with regard to content on their services. The new regulatory framework requires service providers to put in place effective and proportionate systems and processes to improve user safety while upholding free expression and privacy online. The systems and processes that companies implement will be tailored to the specific risk profile of the service. However, in many cases the effectiveness of companies’ safety measures will depend on them making reasonable judgments about types of content. Therefore, it is essential to the effective functioning of the framework that there is clarity about how providers should approach these judgments. In particular, such clarity will safeguard against companies over-removing innocuous content if they wrongly assume mental elements are present, or under-removing content if they act only where all elements of an offence are established beyond reasonable doubt. The amendments make clear that companies must consider all reasonably available contextual information when determining whether content is illegal content, a fraudulent advert, content that is harmful to children, or content that is harmful to adults.
I was on the Bill Committee and we discussed lots of things, but new clause 14 was not discussed: we did not have conversations about it, and external organisations have not been consulted on it. Is the Minister not concerned that this is a major change to the Bill and it has not been adequately consulted on?
As I said earlier, in establishing the threshold for priority illegal offences, the current threshold of laws that exist offline should provide good guidance. I would expect that as the codes of practice are developed, we will be able to make clear what those offences are. On the racial hatred that the England footballers received after the European championship football final, people have been prosecuted for what they posted on Twitter and other social media platforms. We know what race hate looks like in that context, we know what the regulatory threshold should look at and we know the sort of content we are trying to regulate. I expect that, in the codes of practice, Ofcom can be very clear with companies about what we expect, where the thresholds are and where we expect them to take enforcement action.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking his new position; we rarely have a new Minister so capable of hitting the ground running. He makes a crucial point about clearness and transparency for both users and the social media providers and other platforms, because it is important that we make sure they are 100% clear about what is expected of them and the penalties for not fulfilling their commitments. Does he agree that opaqueness—a veil of secrecy—has been one of the obstacles, and that a whole raft of content has been taken down for the wrong reasons while other content has been left to proliferate because of the lack of clarity?
That is entirely right, and in closing I say that the Bill does what we have always asked for it to do: it gives absolute clarity that illegal things offline must be illegal online as well, and be regulated online. It establishes clear responsibilities and liabilities for the platforms to do that proactively. It enables a regulator to hold the platforms to account on their ability to tackle those priority illegal harms and provide transparency on other areas of harmful content. At present we simply do not know about the policy decisions that companies choose to make: we have no say in it; it is not transparent; we do not know whether they do it. The Bill will deliver in those important regards. If we are serious about tackling issues such as fraud and abuse online, and other criminal offences, we require a regulatory system to do that and proper legal accountability and liability for the companies. That is what the Bill and the further amendments deliver.
It is an honour to respond on the first group of amendments on behalf of the Opposition.
For those of us who have been working on this Bill for some time now, it has been extremely frustrating to see the Government take such a siloed approach in navigating this complex legislation. I remind colleagues that in Committee Labour tabled a number of hugely important amendments that sought to make the online space safer for us all, but the Government responded by voting against each and every one of them. I certainly hope the new Minister—I very much welcome him to his post—has a more open-minded approach than his predecessor and indeed the Secretary of State; I look forward to what I hope will be a more collaborative approach to getting this legislation right.
With that in mind, it must be said that time and again this Government claim that the legislation is world-leading but that is far from the truth. Instead, once again the Government have proposed hugely significant and contentious amendments only after line-by-line scrutiny in Committee; it is not the first time this has happened in this Parliament, and it is extremely frustrating for those of us who have debated this Bill for more than 50 hours over the past month.
I will begin by touching on Labour’s broader concerns around the Bill. As the Minister will be aware, we believe that the Government have made a fundamental mistake in their approach to categorisation, which undermines the very structure of the Bill. We are not alone in this view and have the backing of many advocacy and campaign groups including the Carnegie UK Trust, Hope Not Hate and the Antisemitism Policy Trust. Categorisation of services based on size rather than risk of harm will mean that the Bill will fail to address some of the most extreme harms on the internet.
We all know that smaller platforms such as 4chan and BitCh