Committee (10th Day)
Relevant document: 28th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 91: Power to require information
198: Clause 91, page 82, line 14, at end insert—
“(o) the purpose of obtaining information relevant to the death of a child (as defined in section (Duties of OFCOM in certain cases where a child has died)(3)).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on Baroness Kidron’s amendment after Clause 117 which would add a new Clause imposing express duties on OFCOM in certain cases where a child has died.
My Lords, first, I want to recognise the bravery of the families of Olly, Breck, Molly, Frankie and Sophie in campaigning for the amendments we are about to discuss. I also pay tribute to Mia, Archie, Isaac, Maia and Aime, whose families I met this morning on their way to the House. It is a great privilege to stand alongside them and witness their courage and dignity in the face of unimaginable grief. On behalf of myself, my co-signatories—the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan—and the huge number of Peers and MPs who have supported these amendments, I thank them for their work and the selflessness they have shown in their determination to ensure that other families do not suffer as they have.
This group includes Amendments 198, 199, 215 and 216, which, together, would create a pathway for coroners and, by extension, families to get access to information relevant to the death of a child from technology services. The amendments would put an end to the inhumane situation whereby coroners and families in crisis are forced to battle faceless corporations to determine whether a child’s engagement with a digital service contributed to their death. Bereaved families have a right to know what happened to their children, and coroners have a duty to ensure that lessons are learned and that those who have failed in their responsibilities are held accountable.
Since the Minister is going to be the bearer of good news this afternoon, I will take the time to make arguments for the amendments as they stand. I simply say that, while parents have been fighting for access to information, those same companies have continued to suggest friends, material and behaviours that drive children into places and spaces in which they are undermined, radicalised into despair and come to harm. In no other circumstance would it be acceptable to withhold relevant information from a court procedure. It is both immoral and a failure of justice if coroners cannot access and review all relevant evidence. For the families, it adds pain to heartbreak as they are unable to come to terms with what has happened because there is still so much that they do not know.
I am grateful to the Government for agreeing to bring forward on Report amendments that will go a very long way towards closing the loopholes that allow companies to refuse coroners’ demands and ignore parents’ entreaties. The Government’s approach is somewhat different from that in front of us, but it covers the same ground. These amendments are the result of the considerable efforts of Ministers and officials from DSIT and the Ministry of Justice, with the invaluable support of the right honourable Sajid Javid MP. I wish to note on the record the leadership of the Secretary of State, who is currently on leave, and the Minister here, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson.
The Government’s amendments will create an express power for Ofcom to require information from services about a deceased child user’s online activity following the receipt of a Schedule 5 request from a coroner. This will vastly increase the reach and power of that coroner. Information that Ofcom can request from regulated companies under the Online Safety Bill is extremely wide and includes detailed data on what is recommended; the amount of time the child spent on the service when they accessed it; their user journey; what content they liked, shared, rewatched, paused and reported; and whether other users raised red flags about the child’s safety or well-being before their death.
Information notices prompted by a Schedule 5 request from a coroner will be backed by Ofcom’s full enforcement powers and will apply to all regulated companies. If a service fails to comply, it may be subject to enforcement action, including senior management liability and fines of up to £18 million or 10% of global turnover—vastly different from the maximum fine of £1,000 under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Moreover, these amendments will give coroners access to Ofcom’s expertise and understanding of how online services work and of online services’ safety duties to children. Also, there will be provisions empowering Ofcom to share information freely to assist coroners in their inquiries. Companies must provide a dedicated means of communication to manage requests for information from bereaved parents and provide written responses to those requests. I look forward to the Minister setting out that these will be operated by a team of experts and backed up by Ofcom in ensuring that the communication is adequate, timely and not obstructive. Importantly, if the communication is not adequate, bereaved families will be able to notify Ofcom.
There are a small number of outstanding questions. We remain concerned that only larger companies will be required to set out their policies on disclosure. Sadly, children are often coerced and nudged into smaller sites that have less robust safety mechanisms. Small is not safe. A further issue is to ensure that a coroner is able, via a Schedule 5 notice given to Ofcom, to compel senior management to appear at an inquest. This is a crucial ask of the legal community, who battled and failed to get companies to attend inquests, notably Wattpad at the Frankie Thomas inquest and Snap Inc at Molly Russell’s inquest. Can the Minister undertake to close these gaps before Report?
A number of matters sit outside the scope of the Online Safety Bill. I am particularly grateful to the Secretary of State for committing in writing to further work beyond the Bill to ensure that the UK’s approach is comprehensive and watertight. The Government will be exploring ways in which the Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill can support and complement these provisions, including the potential for a code that requires data preservation if a parent or enforcement officer contacts a helpline or if there is constructive knowledge, such as when a death has been widely reported, even before a Schedule 5 notice has been delivered.
The Government are engaging with the Chief Coroner to provide training in order to ensure that coroners have the knowledge they need to carry out inquests where children’s engagement with online services is a possible factor in their death. I am concerned about the funding of this element of the Government’s plans and urge the Minister to indicate whether this could be part of Ofcom’s literacy duties and therefore benefit from the levy. Possibly most importantly, the Secretary of State has undertaken to approach the US Government to ensure that coroners can review private messages that fall outside the scope of this Bill in cases where a child’s death is being investigated. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allan, for his support in articulating the issue, and accept the invitation to work alongside the department to achieve this.
There are only two further things to say. First, delivery is in the drafting, and I hope that when he responds, the Minister will assure the House that we will see the proposed amendments well before Report so that we can ensure that this works as we have all agreed. Secondly, the Government are now looking very carefully at other amendments which deal with prevention of harm in one way or another. I share the gratitude of Bereaved Parents for Online Safety for the work that has gone into this set of amendments. However, we want to see safety by design; a comprehensive list of harms to children in the Bill, including harms caused or amplified by the design of service; principles for age assurance which ensure that the systems put in place by regulated services are measurable, secure and fit for purpose; and a proper complaints service, so that children have somewhere to turn when things go wrong. What we have been promised is a radical change of status for the coroner and for the bereaved families. What we want is fewer dead children. I beg to move.
My Lords, some of the issues that we have been dealing with in this Bill are more abstract or generic harms, but here we are responding to a specific need of families in the UK who are facing the most awful of circumstances.
I want to recognise the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for her direct support for many of those families, and for her persistent efforts to use policy and the tools we have available to us here to improve the situation for families who, sadly, will face similar tragedies in future. I appreciate the time that she has spent with me in the spirit of finding workable solutions. It is an alliance that might seem improbable, given our respective responsibilities, which have sometimes placed us in publicly adversarial roles. However, one of the strengths of this Committee process is that it has allowed us to focus on what is important and to find that we have more in common than separates us. Nothing could be more important than the issue we are dealing with now.
I am pleased that it looks like we will be able to use this Bill to make some significant improvements in this area to address the challenges faced by those families, some of whom are here today, challenges which add to their already heart-wrenching distress. The first challenge these families face is to find someone at an online service who is willing and able to answer their questions about their loved one’s use of that platform. This question about contacts at online platforms is not limited to these cases but comes up in other areas.
As noble Lords will know, I used to work for Facebook, where I was often contacted by all sorts of Governments asking me to find people in companies, often smaller companies, concerning very serious issues such as terrorism. Even when they were dealing with the distribution of terrorist content, they would find it very challenging. There is a generic problem around getting hold of people at platforms. A real strength of the Online Safety Bill is that it will necessarily require Ofcom to develop contacts at all online services that offer user-to-user and search services to people in the UK. The Government estimate that 25,000 entities are involved. We are talking about Ofcom building a comprehensive database of pretty much any service that matters to people in the UK.
Primarily, these contacts will be safety focused, as their main responsibility will be to provide Ofcom with evidence that the service is meeting its duties of care under the Bill, so again, they will have the right people in the right companies on their database in future. Importantly, Ofcom will have a team of several hundred people, paid for by a levy on these regulated services, to manage the contacts at the right level. We can expect that, certainly for the larger services, there may be a team of several people at Ofcom dedicated to working with them, whereas for the smaller services it may be a pooled arrangement whereby one Ofcom staff member deals with a group. However, in all cases there will be someone at the regulator with a responsibility for liaising with those companies. We do not expect Ofcom to use those contacts to resolve questions raised by individuals in the UK as a matter of course, but it makes sense to make this channel available where there is a relatively small number of highly impactful cases such as we are dealing with here.
Having established contact, which we hope will happen in a more orderly way in future with the support from Ofcom, the second challenge lies in the decision about what information a service is willing and able to disclose to assist an inquiry. The frustration that services are unwilling, or declare themselves unable, to disclose the information required has been very widely publicised. We see a potential answer in this Bill, in that it grants Ofcom these new powers to order services to disclose a wide range of information under the clauses listed in Chapter 4. It seems entirely sensible to use these new powers for these specific purposes. Services will understand that they have to respond to information requests. As the noble Baroness pointed out, this will not be discretionary: they will be under serious sanction if they refuse, without good reason, to respond to an information request. It seems to me that this will make the decision quite straightforward for many services and, if they seek legal advice, as is often the case, this will come back to say that they do not have a choice and must disclose.
One way to think about the overall effect of the Bill is that it is replacing discretionary decision-making by online services with a body of instructions from the British state, via our regulator, Ofcom, on how we expect decisions to be made in relation to safety. When platforms have received requests from bereaved families to date, they have been exercising their own discretion, weighing up their views on the potential benefits and harms of certain forms of disclosure. I have been involved in those: a platform weighs up the decision; it is not carried out by any third party. With the information notice process that we expect to be coming forward, the decision about what should be disclosed in which circumstances moves from the platforms to coroners and Ofcom acting on behalf of the British state and affected families. Frankly, if I still worked for an online service, I would welcome this shift of responsibility for these decisions. I hope that we will see the new process—which, as I understand, will be introduced in later amendments—work smoothly, with good co-operation from regulated services.
There are still two provisos to that, which are worth noting at this stage. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has already touched on these, but we should put them on record because they will need to be answered as we get into the debate on the government amendments.
First, we need to ensure that any process for data disclosure has the right checks and balances in place to ensure that it is not used inappropriately. I am certainly very confident in Ofcom’s propriety as a regulator and in the overall legal framework that we have in the Bill and in the Human Rights Act that underpins that, which creates an overall framework for issues such as people’s privacy rights. Everything has to work within that framework. But we should keep stressing the safeguards in place, because these mean that services can feel very safe about complying with orders under the Bill and that it will not involve breaching other rights that they have to users. This is a broader question: there are orders that come from other Governments, shall we say, for disclosure of data that certainly would be problematic. If we are going to order companies to disclose data, we need to make absolutely clear that all of those safeguards are in place for them to feel confident to do so.
Secondly, it must also address any actual or perceived conflicts of law. The noble Baroness touched on this. I particularly note that we have the Data Protection Act and that it is very clear in data protection law that you should not be holding personal data without good reason, so platforms have policies in place that they believe that they are instructed to follow by the Information Commissioner’s Office, for example to delete data from accounts that are no longer in use. We need to think about a process for data preservation in particular circumstances. That already works well in law enforcement: for example, there is a well-established process when somebody is accused of a crime to request data preservation of information relevant to that crime. We need to think about how that principle may apply here and ensure that it is in place. I do not think that the companies are being awkward in this case: they are being told by the data protection regulator to do one thing, and if we are now going to tell them to make an exception, we need to give them a legal basis on which to do that.
There is also the point of potential conflicts with law in other regimes, especially companies outside the UK. The noble Baroness mentioned the Stored Communications Act, which is quite significant for US companies, but there are similar measures in place in other countries—we cannot put companies in a position where they have to choose whose law to break. It should not be beyond our wit to work with a friendly Government such as that of the United States to say, “We all understand that we are trying to help bereaved families here, and we have pieces of law in place; how do we make those work together so that they do not create frustration, which none of us wants them to do and is not what they are intended for?”
I repeat my offer to help if there is anything I can do to try to unblock some of this, work on the detail and make sure that this is effective. This is an area where we could make significant progress and certainly move on from a situation that has frustrated everybody and been unacceptable to date.
My Lords, I am very pleased to support the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, with these amendments. I also welcome the fact that we have, I hope, reached the final day of this stage of the Bill, which means that it is getting closer to becoming an Act of Parliament. The amendments to these clauses are a very good example of why the Bill needs to become an Act sooner rather than later.
As we heard during our earlier debates, social media platforms have for far too long avoided taking responsibility for the countless harms that children face on their services. We have, of course, heard about Molly Russell’s tragic death and heard from the coroner’s inquest report that it was on Instagram that Molly viewed some of the most disturbing posts. Despite this, at the inquest Meta’s head of health and well-being policy shied away from taking blame and claimed that the posts which the coroner said contributed to Molly’s death
“in a more than minimal way”
were, in Meta’s words, “safe”. Molly’s family and others have to go through the unthinkable when they lose their child in such a manner. Their lives can be made so much harder when they attempt to access their child’s social media accounts and activities only to be denied by the platforms.
The noble Baroness’s various amendments are not only sensible but absolutely the right thing to do. In many ways, it is a great tragedy that we have had to wait for this piece of primary legislation for these companies to start being compelled and told. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Allan, very rationally said—companies should very much welcome these amendments—but it is a great shame that often they have not behaved better in these circumstances previously.
There is perhaps no point going into the details, because we want to hear from the Minister about what the Government will propose. I welcome the fact that the Government have engaged early-ish on these amendments and on these matters.
The amendments would force platforms to comply with coroners in investigations into the death of a child, have a named senior manager in relation to inquests and allow easier access to a child’s social media account for bereaved families. We will have to see what the Government’s amendments do to reflect that. One of the areas that the noble Baroness said had perhaps not been buttoned down is the responsibility for a named senior manager in relation to an inquest. This is requiring that:
“If Ofcom has issued a notice to a service provider they must name a senior manager responsible for providing material on behalf of the service and to inform that individual of the consequences for not complying”.
The noble Lord, Lord Allan, set out very clearly why having a named contact in these companies is important. Bereaved families find it difficult, if not impossible, to make contact with tech companies: they get lost in the automated systems and, if they are able to access a human being, they are told that the company cannot or will not give that information. We know that different coroners have had widely differing experiences getting information from the social media platforms, some refusing altogether and others obfuscating. Only a couple of companies have co-operated fully, and in only one or two instances. Creating a single point of contact, who understands the law—which, as we have just heard, is not necessarily always straightforward, particularly if it involves different jurisdictions—understands what is technically feasible and has the authority and powers afforded to the regulator will ensure a swifter, more equitable and less distressing process.
I have really set this out because we will obviously hear what the Minister will set out, but if it does not reflect having a named senior manager, then I hope very much that we are able to discuss that between this and the next stage.
Social media platforms have a responsibility to keep their users safe. When they fail, they should be obligated to co-operate with families and investigations, rather than seeking to evade them. Seeing what their child was viewing online before their death will not bring that child back, but it will help families on their journey towards understanding what their young person was going through, and towards seeking justice. Likewise, ensuring that platforms comply with inquests will help to ease the considerable strain on bereaved families. I urge noble Lords to support these amendments or to listen to what the Government say. Hopefully, we can come up with a combined effort to put an end to the agony that these families have been through.
My Lords, I strongly support this group of amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and other noble Lords. I, too, acknowledge the campaign group Bereaved Families for Online Safety, which has worked so closely with the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, 5Rights and the NSPCC to bring these essential changes forward.
Where a child has died, sadly, and social media is thought to have played a part, families and coroners have faced years of stonewalling, often never managing to access data or information relevant to that death; this adds greatly to their grief and delays the finding of some kind of closure. We must never again see a family treated as Molly Russell’s family was treated, when it took five years of campaigning to get partial sight of material that the coroner found so distressing that he concluded that it contributed to her death in a more than minimal way; nor can it be acceptable for a company to refuse to co-operate, as in the case of Frankie Thomas, where Wattpad failed to provide the material requested by the coroner on the grounds that it is not based within the UK’s jurisdiction. With the threat of a fine of only £1,000 to face, companies feel little need to comply. These amendments would mean that tech companies now had to comply with Ofcom’s information notices or face a fine of up to 10% of their global revenue.
Coroners’ powers must be strengthened by giving Ofcom the duty and power to require relevant information from companies in cases where there is reason to suspect that a regulated service provider may hold information relevant to a child’s death. Companies may not want to face up to the role they have played in the death of a child by their irresponsible recommending and pushing of violent, sexual, depressive and pro-suicide material through algorithmic design, but they need to be made to answer when requested by a coroner on behalf of a bereaved family.
Amendment 215 requires a named senior manager, a concept that I am thankful is already enshrined in the Bill, to receive and respond to an information notice from Ofcom to ensure that a child’s information, including their interactions and behaviour and the actions of the regulated service provider, is preserved and made available. This could make a profound difference to how families will be treated by these platforms in future. Too often in the past, they have been evasive and unco-operative, adding greatly to the inconsolable grief of such bereaved parents. As Molly Russell's father Ian said:
“Having lived through Molly’s extended inquest, we think it is important that in future, after the death of a child, authorities’ access to data becomes … a matter of course”
“A more compassionate, efficient and speedy process”.
I was going to ask the Government to accept these amendments but, having listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, I am looking forward to their proposals. We must ensure that a more humane route for families and coroners to access data relating to the death of a child is at last available in law.
My Lords, I support the amendments standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and other noble Lords. I have listened to noble Lords, so I am not going to repeat what has been said. I pay my respects to the family because as someone who is still going through the criminal justice system, I absolutely feel the anguish of these families.
While we are talking about a digital platform, we are also talking about human lives, and that is what we have to remain focused on. I am not a techno, and all these words in the digital world sound like a lot of Japanese to me. I am not ignorant about what noble Lords are saying, but it has made me realise that, while we have gone forward, for a lot of people and families it still feels like wading through jelly.
I want to speak about how the families will feel and how they will connect through all of these gateways to get what they should quite rightly have about their loved ones’ lives and about what has been said about them online. Surely the platforms should have a duty of care, then perhaps we would not be here discussing these amendments. Noble Lords have spoken about the technical aspects of these amendments. By that, we mean data and the role of the coroner. As a former victims’ commissioner, I had many discussions with the Chief Coroner about other victims who have suffered loss as well. I think that people do not understand how victims’ families feel in the courtroom because you feel alone, and I imagine there are more legal aspects from these mega companies than these families can afford.
I hope that when the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box it is good, but there are lots of other things. We need to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s to make sure that families feel that their voices are heard and that they get legal advice and information not just from the coroner but get copies of everything without extra charge.
I want to talk about a humane route for grieving parents and guardians to access data to understand more about the circumstances in which their children died. There is now, horribly, a number of cases, which we have pointed out, where these platforms have left parents in automated loops. They have described it as feeling like contacting a lost property department. Services have refused to engage with inquiries and have refused to appear at inquests. This leaves parents dealing with an already unimaginable situation with nowhere to turn, having to put the pieces together themselves. I am still going through that, and noble Lords cannot imagine the sheer frustration of looking at a blank wall, banging your head against a wall and thinking you have a support system in place but actually it just closes the door in your face.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has already highlighted the tragedies and issues of these families. In the hours after Olly Stephens was murdered, his parents, Amanda and Stuart Stephens, had to trawl through social media sites to get evidence. This is about their son. We are not talking about data protection; this is about human life. For the Bill to navigate and push forward to support these families, it has to have that humanity, that humane level, to go through and help them. It is all right setting it up to have digital companies comply with Ofcom and the coroner, but there still may be a huge gap to help these families navigate, understand, get the evidence, have copies and feel that we are talking about their loved ones. They are not actually having a voice to understand what emotions they are going through. As my noble friend Lady Morgan has just said, it took Molly Russell’s family five years, and then they were drowned in 36,000 pages of almost impenetrable data just 12 days before the original inquest. That caused a further five months’ delay. That is not acceptable. This is a further trauma for families.
The parents of Frankie Thomas, who took her life in 2018 aged 15, described their desperation in the aftermath of her death. Her mother Judy said she felt like she was in the wilderness contacting somebody at Instagram. I use social media, and I see many people’s sheer frustration at having no response from social media platforms. I agree we should have a single point of contact—a SPOT, as they are known in this world—to help these families, but I would like that single point of contact to go even further. I want that for all victims of crime, but I also do not want it to hinder people if that person has gone on holiday or is off sick and nobody shares that information. We need to ensure that they have a lot of people trained on this who can pick it up. We have a system where the server is not looked at but blocks the families. What is the point of having a single point of contact if that person cannot give other members of staff access to that data to help families?
Grieving families must be given a humane route, facilitated by Ofcom, to access that information from all the platforms where their children have died. We cannot go back after all these experiences and all the energy that the families have put into campaigning for something that should quite rightly be there: information about their loved one. We should not have to have discussions in this place to get that information for families. It is inhumane and shameful and they should not have to go through it any more.
I look forward to listening to the Minister. I pay honour to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for the work she has done. I am glad that she has had conversations because I am still waiting for the Minister to answer my letters. These families should not be here fighting for justice for their loved ones. We should be trying to make their life a bit better, to give them a healthier lifestyle and to understand. I hope the Minister will come up with something good because if there are further gaps, we need to challenge him once again to ensure that we do not fail the families who are listening to us today.
My Lords, following on from the excellent points that the noble Baroness has made, I want to pursue the same direction. In this group of amendments we are essentially trying to reduce the incidence of tragedies such as those that the families there in the Gallery have experienced and trying to ensure that no one—that is probably unrealistic, but at least far fewer people—will have the same experience.
I particularly want to focus the Minister and the Bill team on trying to think through how to ensure that, as and when something tragic happens, what happens to the families faced with that—the experience that they have and the help that I hope in future they will be able to receive—will make it a less traumatic, lonely and baffling experience than it clearly has been to date.
At the heart of this, we are talking about communication; about the relationship between Ofcom and the platforms; probably about the relationships between platforms and other platforms, in sharing knowledge; about the relationship between Ofcom and government; about the relationship between Ofcom and regulators in other jurisdictions; and about the relationship between our Government and other Governments, including, most importantly, the Government in the US, where so many of these platforms are based. There is a network of communication that has to work. By its very nature, trying to capture something as all-encompassing as that in primary legislation will in some ways be out of date before it even hits the statute book. It is therefore incredibly important that there is a dynamic information-sharing and analytics process to understand what is going on in the online world, and what the experience is of individuals who are interacting with that world.
That brings me neatly back to an amendment that we have previously discussed, which I suspect the noble Viscount sitting on the Front Bench will remember in painful detail. When we were talking about the possibility of having an independent ombudsman to go to, what we heard from all around the House was, “Where do we go? If we have gone to the platforms and through the normal channels but are getting nowhere, where do we go? Are we on our own?”. The answer that we felt we were getting a few weeks ago was, “That’s it, you’ve got to lump it”. That is simply not acceptable.
I ask the Minister and the Bill team to ensure that there is recognition of the dynamic nature of what we are dealing with. We cannot capture it in primary legislation. I hope we cannot capture it in secondary instruments either; speaking as a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, we have quite enough of them as it is so we do not want any more, thank you very much. However, it is incredibly important that the Government think about a dynamic form of having up-to-date information so that they and all the other parties in this area know what is going on.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments. I pay tribute to the families who I see are watching us as we debate this important group. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Newlove, who has just given one of the most powerful speeches in the full 10 days of Committee.
The real sadness is that we are debating what happens when things go horribly wrong. I thank my noble friend the Minister and the Secretary of State, who is currently on leave, for the very collaborative way in which I know they have approached trying to find the right package—we are all waiting for him to stand up and speak to show us this. Very often, Governments do not want to give concessions early in the process of a Bill going through because they worry that those of us campaigning for concessions will then ask for more. In this case, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, has just pointed to, all we are asking for in this Bill is to remember that a concession granted here helps only when things have gone horribly wrong.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, said, what we really want is a safer internet, where fewer children die. I reiterate the comments that she made at the end of her speech: as we have gone through Committee, we have all learned how interconnected the Bill is. It is fantastic that we will be able to put changes into it that will enable bereaved families not to have to follow the path that the Russells and all the other bereaved families campaigning for this had to follow—but that will not be enough. We also need to ensure that we put in place the safety-by-design amendments that we have been discussing. I argue that one of the most important is the one that the noble Lord, Lord Russell, has just referenced: when you already know that your child is in trouble but you cannot get help, unfortunately no one wants then to be able to say, “It’s okay. Bereaved families have what they need”. We need to do more than that.
My Lords, this has been a very moving debate for a very important cause. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for introducing it in the way that she did, along with those who have spoken in the debate.
The good news is that this is very much a cross-party and cross-Bench debate. It clearly appears to be a concern that the Government share, and I appreciate that. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, that it is not a weakness for the Government to concede here but very much the logic of where we have now got to. Compared with what is in the Joint Committee report on the draft Bill, what seems to be proposed—and I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say—goes further than what we were proposing, so it may be that we have reached another milestone. However, we wait to hear the detail.
Like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the bereaved parents. We heard from parents during our consideration of the draft Online Safety Bill and we have heard further since then, particularly as a result of the two notable inquests into the deaths of Frankie Thomas and Molly Russell, which highlighted the difficulties that families and coroners face. Both families talked about the additional toll on their mental health as they battle for information, and the impossibility of finding closure in the absence of answers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said in her very moving speech that a humane process must be established for bereaved families and coroners to access data pertinent to the death of a child. That is what we have been seeking, and I pay tribute to the relentless way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has pursued this issue on behalf of us all, supported by 5Rights and the NSPCC. We must have a transparent process in which bereaved families and coroners can access information from regulated services in cases where social media may have played a part in the death of a child.
My noble friend Lord Allan—who I am delighted is so plugged in to what could be the practical way of solving some of these issues—expertly described how Ofcom’s powers could and should be used and harnessed for this purpose. That very much goes with the grain of the Bill.
I shall repeat a phrase that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, used: the current situation is immoral and a failure of justice. We absolutely need to keep that in mind as we keep ourselves motivated to find the solution as soon as we possibly can. I look forward to good news from the Minister about the use of information notices for the purpose that has been heralded by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, but of course the devil is in the detail. We will obviously want to see the detail of the amendment well before Report.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, asked a number of additional questions about data preservation, and a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, talked about the question of help, perhaps with a dedicated helpline for bereaved families. Then there is a question about the obligations of senior management in appearing at inquests. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said, we continually need to understand the experience of parents in these circumstances, so the data arising from an independent complaints system is extremely important.
If that was not enough on the architecture of the Online Safety Bill, the noble Baroness also mentioned things that reside outside it, such as data inheritance, given that the data protection and digital information Bill is coming down the track. It is good that the noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, is sitting on the Front Bench because he will no doubt be dealing with that data protection Bill. We will of course table amendments to that at the time.
There have also been questions about the training for coroners and about approaching the US Government, which is an even larger dimension than anything I have mentioned so far. I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say and hope that we will have achieved the goal that so many families want us to achieve.
My Lords, I am all that is left between us and hearing from the Minister with his good news, so I will constrain my comments accordingly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, begin by paying tribute to the parents of Olly, Breck, Molly, Frankie and Sophie. I very much join her in doing that; to continually have to come to this place and share their trauma and experience comes at a great emotional cost. We are all very grateful to them for doing it and for continuing to inform and motivate us in trying to do the right thing. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Healy and in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for amplifying that voice and talking about the lost opportunity, to an extent, of our failure to find a way of imposing a general duty of care on the platforms, as was the original intention when the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, was the Secretary of State.
I also pay a big tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. She has done the whole House, the country and the world a huge service in her campaigning around this and in her influence on Governments—not just this one—on these issues. We would not be here without her tireless efforts, and it is important that we acknowledge that.
We need to ensure that coroners can access the information they need to do their job, and to have proper sanctions available to them when they are frustrated in being able to do it. This issue is not without complication, and I very much welcome the Government’s engagement in trying to find a way through it. I too look forward to the good news that has been trailed; I hope that the Minister will be able to live up to his billing. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, I would love to see him embrace, at the appropriate time, the “safety by design” amendments and some others that could complete this picture. I also look forward to his answers on issues such as data preservation, which the noble Lord, Lord Allan, covered among the many other things in his typically fine speech.
I very much agree that we should have a helpline and do more about that. Some years ago, when my brother-in-law sadly died in his 30s, it fell to me to try to sort out his social media accounts. I was perplexed that the only way I could do it was by fax to these technology companies in California. That was very odd, so to have proper support for bereaved families going through their own grief at that moment seems highly appropriate.
As we have discussed in the debates on the Bill, a digital footprint is an asset that is exploited by these companies. But it is an asset that should be regarded as part of one’s estate that can be bequeathed to one’s family; then some of these issues would perhaps be lessened. On that basis, and in welcoming a really strong and moving debate, I look forward to the Minister’s comments.
My Lords, this has been a strong and moving debate, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for bringing forward these amendments and for the way she began it. I also echo the thanks that the noble Baroness and others have given to the families of Breck Bednar, Sophie Parkinson, Molly Russell, Olly Stephens, Frankie Thomas and all the young people whose names she rightly held in remembrance at the beginning of this debate. There are too many others who find themselves in the same position. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, is right to pay tribute to their tirelessness in campaigning, given the emotional toll that we know it has on them. I know that they have followed the sometimes arcane processes of legislation and, as my noble friend Lady Morgan said, we all look forward to the Bill becoming an Act of Parliament so that it can make a difference to families who we wish to spare from the heartache they have had.
Every death is sorrowful, but the death of a child is especially heartbreaking. The Government take the issues of access to information relating to a deceased child very seriously. We have undertaken extensive work across government and beyond to understand the problems that parents, and coroners who are required to investigate such deaths, have faced in the past in order to bring forward appropriate solutions. I am pleased to say that, as a result of that work, and thanks to the tireless campaigning of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and our discussions with those who, very sadly, have first-hand experience of these problems, we will bring forward a package of measures on Report to address the issues that parents and coroners have faced. Our amendments have been devised in close consultation with the noble Baroness and bereaved families. I hope the measures will rise to the expectations they rightly have and that they will receive their support.
The package of amendments will ensure that coroners have access to the expertise and information they need to conduct their investigations, including information held by technology companies, regardless of size, and overseas services such as Wattpad, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Healy of Primrose Hill, in her contribution. This includes information about how a child interacted with specific content online as well as the role of wider systems and processes, such as algorithms, in promoting it. The amendments we bring forward will also help to ensure that the process for accessing data is more straightforward and humane. The largest companies must ensure that they are transparent with parents about their options for accessing data and respond swiftly to their requests. We must ensure that companies cannot stonewall parents who have lost a child and that those parents are treated with the humanity and compassion they deserve.
I take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, rightly makes: small does not mean safe. All platforms will be required to comply with Ofcom’s requests for information about a deceased child’s online activity. That will be backed by Ofcom’s existing enforcement powers, so that where a company refuses to provide information without a valid excuse it may be subject to enforcement action, including sanctions on senior managers. Ofcom will also be able to produce reports for coroners following a Schedule 5 request on matters relevant to an investigation or inquest. This could include information about a company’s systems and processes, including how algorithms have promoted specific content to a child. This too applies to platforms of any size and will ensure that coroners are provided with information and expertise to assist them in understanding social media.
Where this Bill cannot solve an issue, we are exploring alternative avenues for improving outcomes as well. For example, the Chief Coroner has committed to consider issuing non-legislative guidance and training for coroners about social media, with the offer of consultation with experts.
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. On the coroners’ training and national guidelines, the Chief Coroner has no powers across the nation over all the coroners. How is he or she going to check that the coroners are keeping up with their training and are absolutely on the ball? The Chief Coroner has no powers across the country and everything happens in London; we are talking about outside London. How can we know that no other family has to suffer, considering that we have this legislation?
My noble friend rightly pulled me up for not responding to her letter as speedily as we have been dealing with the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. We have had some useful meetings with Ministers at the Ministry of Justice, which the noble Baroness has attended. I would be very happy to provide some detail on this to my noble friend—I am conscious of her experience as Victims’ Commissioner—either in writing or to organise a briefing if she would welcome that.
The noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam, rightly raised data protection. Where Ofcom and companies are required to respond to coroners’ requests for information, they are already required to comply with personal data protection legislation, which protects the privacy of other users. This may include the redaction of information that would identify other users. We are also exploring whether guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office could support technology companies to understand how data protection law applies in such cases.
The noble Lord mentioned the challenges of potential conflicts of law around the world. Where there is a conflict of laws—for example, due to data protection laws in other jurisdictions—Ofcom will need to consider the best way forward on a case-by-case basis. For example, it may request alternative information which could be disclosed, and which would provide insight into a particular issue. We will seek to engage our American counterparts to understand any potential and unintended barriers created by the US Stored Communications Act. I can reassure the noble Lord that these matters are in our mind.
We are also aware of the importance of data preservation to both coroners and bereaved parents. The Government agree with the principle of ensuring that these are preserved. We will be working towards solving this in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. In addition, we will explore whether there are further options to improve outcomes for parents in that Bill as well. I want to assure noble Lords and the families watching this debate closely that we will do all we can to deliver the necessary changes to give coroners and parents the information that they seek and to ensure a more straightforward and humane process in the future.
I turn in detail to the amendments the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, brought forward. First, Amendments 215 and 216 include new requirements on Ofcom, seeking to ensure that coroners and parents can obtain data from social media companies after the death of a child. Amendment 215 would give Ofcom the ability to impose senior management liability on an individual in cases where a coroner has issued a notice requiring evidence to be provided in an inquest into the death of a child. Amendment 216 would put Ofcom’s powers at the disposal of a coroner or close relatives of a deceased child so that Ofcom would be obliged to require information from platforms or other persons about the social media activity of a deceased child. It also requires service providers to provide a point of contact. Amendments 198 and 199 are consequential to this.
As I said, we agree with the intent of the noble Baroness’s amendments and we will deal with it in the package that we will bring forward before Report. Our changes to the Bill will seek to ensure that Ofcom has the powers it needs to support coroners and their equivalents in Scotland, so that they have access to the information they need to conduct investigations into a child’s death where social media may have played a part.
We also agree on the importance of greater transparency and accountability from companies and clearer communication with parents. We have had a useful debate about whether it is best to have a single named person or a group of people. As my noble friend Lady Newlove rightly pointed out, with staff turnover and people taking leave, it may be that a team of people is more appropriate. But what is essential is that there is human and humane contact for people to engage with companies. We will introduce further measures that require greater clarity from services and create new lines of communication with parents.
We are separately exploring further solutions which can be brought forward in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which will ensure that the myriad issues bereaved parents face in the context of their child’s death are addressed in line with the proposals that the noble Baroness has brought forward.
Noble Lords rightly asked when they may see the proposals. We will bring forward further details ahead of Report, but I am very happy to commit to sharing the draft clauses with the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, in the first instance. It would be very helpful to us all, the Government included, for her to cast her expert eye over them. I hope that she will welcome this and I am very grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to the debate.
I do indeed welcome it. I do not feel I can do justice to all the speakers; I think I will cry, as I did when the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, was speaking. I shall not do that, but I will thank all noble Lords from the bottom of my heart and will speak to just a couple of technical matters.
First, I accept the help of the noble Lord, Lord Allan, on the progress of the data protection negotiations with the US Government. That will be very helpful. I want to put on the record that there has been a lot of discussion about the privacy of other users and ensuring that it is central, particularly because other young people are in these interactions and we have to protect them, too. That is very much in our mind.
I welcome and thank the Minister. He said a couple of things, including that he hoped that what he will bring forward will rise to the expectation—so do I. The expectation is set high, and I hope that the Government rise to it. In relation to that, I note that a number of noble Lords carefully planted their expectations in Hansard. I will be giving the noble Lord a highlighter so that he can find them. I note that it was a particular skill of the ex-Secretary of State for DCMS, for laying down the things she expected to see.
I understood “exploring” and “in our mind”; the Government have certain things in their mind. I understand the context of that because we are talking about other Bills and things that are yet to come. I want to make a statement—I do not know whether it is a promise or a threat; I rather suspect it is both. I will not rest until this entire ecosystem is sorted. This is not about winning an amendment or a concession. This is about putting it right for families and, indeed, for coroners, who are not doing a good job under the current regime.
Finally, I echo those who have pointed out the other amendments that we are seeking on safety by design, age assurance and having the harms in the Bill. I believe I speak for Bereaved Parents for Online Safety; that is what they wish to see come from their pain. It has been the privilege of my life to deal with these parents and these families and I thank the Committee for its support. With my conditions set out, I wish to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 198 withdrawn.
Clause 91 agreed.
Clause 92: Information notices
Amendment 199 not moved.
Clause 92 agreed.
Clause 93 agreed.
Clause 94: Reports by skilled persons
Amendment 200 not moved.
Clause 94 agreed.
Clauses 95 to 97 agreed.
200A: After Clause 97, insert the following new Clause—
“Amendment of Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001
(1) The Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 is amended as follows.(2) In section 57(1) (retention of seized items), after paragraph (t) insert—“(u) paragraph 8 of Schedule 12 to the Online Safety Act 2023.”(3) In section 65 (meaning of “legal privilege”)—(a) after subsection (8B) insert—“(8C) An item which is, or is comprised in, property which has been seized in exercise or purported exercise of the power of seizure conferred by paragraph 7(f), (j) or (k) of Schedule 12 to the Online Safety Act 2023 is to be taken for the purposes of this Part to be an item subject to legal privilege if, and only if, the seizure of that item was in contravention of paragraph 17(3) of that Schedule (privileged information or documents).”;(b) in subsection (9)—(i) at the end of paragraph (d) omit “or”;(ii) at the end of paragraph (e) insert “or”;(iii) before the closing words insert—“(g) paragraph 7(f), (j) or (k) of Schedule 12 to the Online Safety Act 2023.”(4) In Part 1 of Schedule 1 (powers of seizure to which section 50 of the Act applies), after paragraph 73U insert—“Online Safety Act 202373V Each of the powers of seizure conferred by paragraph 7(f), (j) and (k) of Schedule 12 to the Online Safety Act 2023.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment has the effect of providing that section 50 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (additional powers of seizure from premises) applies to the powers of seizure under paragraph 7(f), (j) and (k) of Schedule 12 to the Bill; and makes related amendments to that Act.
Amendment 200A agreed.
Schedule 12 agreed.
Clauses 98 to 103 agreed.
Amendment 201 not moved.
Clauses 104 to 109 agreed.
Clause 110: Notices to deal with terrorism content or CSEA content (or both)
Amendments 202 to 205 not moved.
205A: Clause 110, page 95, line 11, leave out “relating to terrorism content present on a service” and insert “that relates to a user-to-user service (or to the user-to-user part of a combined service) and requires the use of technology in relation to terrorism content”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes it clear that the requirement in clause 110(7) regarding which content is communicated publicly is relevant to user-to-user services and may apply in both the cases mentioned in clause 110(2)(a)(i) and (ii).
Amendment 205A agreed.
Amendment 206 not moved.
Clause 110, as amended, agreed.
Amendments 207 and 208 not moved.
Clause 111 agreed.
Clause 112: Matters relevant to a decision to give a notice under section 110(1)
Amendments 209 and 210 not moved.
Clause 112 agreed.
Amendment 210A not moved.
Clause 113 agreed.
Clause 114: Review and further notice under section 110(1)
Amendment 211 not moved.
Clause 114 agreed.
Clause 115: OFCOM’s guidance about functions under this Chapter
Amendments 212 and 213 not moved.
Clause 115 agreed.
Amendment 214 not moved.
Clauses 116 and 117 agreed.
Amendments 215 and 216 not moved.
Clause 118: Provisional notice of contravention
Amendments 216A to 216C not moved.
Clause 118 agreed.
217: After Clause 118, insert the following new Clause—
“Notice by OFCOM to payment-services providers and ancillary services
(1) Where OFCOM have issued a provisional notice of contravention to a regulated service, which specifies the person has failed, or is failing, to comply with a duty or requirement in section 72 (duties about regulated provider pornographic content), it must give notice of that fact to any payment-services provider or ancillary service.(2) A notice under subsection (1) must—(a) identify the regulated service in such manner as OFCOM considers appropriate,(b) state whether the provisional notice of contravention relates to a duty under subsection (2) or (3) of section 72, or duties under both,(c) give OFCOM’s reasons for their opinion that the regulated service has failed, or is failing, to comply with it, and(d) provide such further particulars as OFCOM consider appropriate.(3) When OFCOM give notice under this section, OFCOM must inform the regulated service, by notice, that they have done so.(4) In this section—“ancillary service” has the same meaning as in section 131(11);“payment-services provider” means a person who appears to OFCOM to provide services, in the course of a business, which enable funds to be transferred in connection with the payment by any person for access to pornographic content made available on the internet by the regulated service;“pornographic content” has the meaning given by section 70(2);“provisional notice of contravention” has the same meaning as in section 118(1).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause requires OFCOM to notify payment-service providers and ancillary services of a regulated service which is found to have breached duties relating to pornographic content.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 217 in my name. I express my deep gratitude to the noble Baronesses, Lady Benjamin and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, for adding their names in support. I will also address other amendments in this group that bring about business-disruption measures that enforce compliance with the important measures on pornography and harm that we have scrutinised already and will debate—briefly, I expect—at the end of today.
Amendment 217 is modest, but I believe it could make a big difference. It seeks to use the commercial interests of the pornography sites to change their behaviours by ensuring that their important supply chains are informed of breaches in regulations when they have happened. We know that this works because we have seen it work already. It has been widely reported that, at the start of December 2020, Pornhub, the famous porn site, said in its search bar that it was hosting 13.5 million clips. Then, on 14 December, that figure was dramatically reduced overnight to 5 million. What had happened was that Pornhub had removed two-thirds of the videos because of a decision by its payment companies, Visa and Mastercard, on 10 December, that they would withdraw payment services from Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek.
That very important decision followed high-profile press reports, including in the New York Times, that Pornhub hosted vile videos of child abuse, rape and revenge pornography, and videos of people who had not consented to being recorded. These were illegal recordings—Mastercard said that its own investigation confirmed that the site was hosting illegal content. So, quite simply, the scrutiny of the nature of much of Pornhub’s content became too much for those payment companies. To protect themselves and to avoid being tarred by association, Visa and Mastercard had to act, which in turn meant that Pornhub had to act. This is the commercial reality of how the internet will be policed, whether we like it or not. It may well be that commercial interests can drive changes in behaviour much more quickly than blunt regulatory action. At the end of the day, I am interested just in measures that protect children, however they work—and this amendment facilitates effective action.
Payment and ancillary service providers can act in ways that Governments cannot easily do. The Bill could not require such actions as its duties extend only to the platforms themselves and the regulator, not ancillary services essential to the business model; but it can facilitate such interventions by making breaches of regulation transparent to the world. To enable this, the amendment would require Ofcom to notify financial and ancillary services of any breaches of regulations—no ifs or buts, no exemptions and no hiding the bad results. This notification is part and parcel of the process of issuing a provisional notice of contravention in any case, much like when Ofcom gives a notice under Section 110(1). The regulations say that
“OFCOM must carry out a review of the provider’s compliance with the notice”.
This discretion is at the point of choosing to give the notice. All that the process then entails is directed.
There is a significant limitation to this version of the amendment: it applies only to pornography providers covered by Part 5. That is deliberate. Of course, I would like to see it apply to all services with any pornographic content, which I hope will be included in changes that we will see in primary priority content. I will take a moment to flag to the Minister that amendments to this amendment may be needed if there are perhaps—I speak hopefully here—government amendments to the Bill that tweak the Part 3 and Part 5 distinctions before Report. Amendment 217 places no duties on providers of payment or ancillary services themselves; it simply gives them a right to be informed. It is about transparency and awareness, which are fundamental tenets of the Bill. For that reason, I very much hope that the Minister will commit to embracing this simple and proportionate measure.
This transparency measure becomes more pertinent and relevant when we look at other measures in this group, particularly those that introduce service-restriction measures. As other noble Lords will explain in more detail, I hope, these will allow Ofcom to require the supply chain of companies that support the internet industry—they are often reputable players that can be reached by our UK courts—to cut off essential support services to those who make transgressions. These might include services like hosting and search and, as I mentioned, payment companies like Mastercard and Visa. Without revenue from UK customers, there is little point in any service trying to find ways around access blocks.
Amendments 218D, 218F, 218J and 218L in this group seek to address the scale and speed of this action. We really should not apply any discount factor to the cost side of the business case based on the chances of being targeted for enforcement. We need to know that there is 100% compliance. These amendments put what the Government have already said on a legal footing. Ofcom should be able to make multiple applications simultaneously—and I note that my noble friend Lord Grade is here; he has spoken very movingly about the challenge faced by Ofcom in trying to create behaviour change in the internet.
To anticipate my noble friend the Minister, I note that in the Committee in the other place the then Minister Chris Philp said that
“procedures under the existing civil procedure rules already allow so-called multi-party claims to be made”.—[Official Report, Commons, Online Safety Bill Committee, 21/6/2022; col. 501.]
I make it clear that the provisions under the existing Civil Procedure Rules relating to so-called multi-party claims are designed for something other than what we consider today. There may be hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of interventions needed to get the sites that need to be sanctioned back within the law. That number of defendants or respondents would be unprecedented under such an administrative procedure, and would be another reason for legal challenge to the whole process.
We must also consider the practicalities of going to court before taking action. I support the case for judicial oversight before draconian measures are taken based on subjective decisions about how harmful a site is or how well it is protecting children from any other broader harms. That seems a very reasonable approach—but for something as clear-cut as child access to pornography, where the decisions are black and white, there needs to be no delay to action. We do not need to waste the court’s time protecting pornographers before every enforcement action. With these powers, Ofcom can avoid lengthy battles with well-funded, high-profile sites, leading to it losing its well-founded reputation for effectiveness. Noble Lords should note that, earlier this month, France’s Digital Minister, Jean-Noël Barrot, announced new legislation to give its regulator, Arcom, the ability to block adult sites without going to court. That speaks very fulsomely of its experience in this area.
By way of conclusion, we know that the Government believe that the access and service restriction orders are a last resort, because they amount to, in effect, unplugging a website from the internet so that people in the United Kingdom cannot access them and so that supporting services such as payment services do not help them. These are very severe interventions, but it is precisely these dramatic measures that will be needed to bring pornographic sites back within the realms of reasonable behaviour of the kind that we expect in the real world.
If a provider outside the UK ignores letters and fines, these measures may well be the only possibility. Many pornography providers probably have absolutely no intention of even trying to comply with the kinds of regulations that are envisaged in the Bill. They are probably not based in the UK, are never going to pay a fine and are probably incorporated in some obscure offshore jurisdiction. Ofcom will need to use these powers in such circumstances, and on a bulk scale. We should not put that enforcement activity at risk of the legal stalling games that these sites will undoubtedly play. For that reason, I ask the Minister to commit to these changes by government amendment before Report next month.
My Lords, I want to speak to Amendment 218JA in this group, in my name, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, has added her name. This is really trying to understand what the Government’s intentions are in respect of access restriction orders.
Just to take a step back, in the Online Safety Bill regime we are creating, in effect, a licensing regime for in-scope services and saying that, if you want to operate in the United Kingdom and you are covered by the Bill—whether that is the pornography services that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, referred to or a user-to-user or search service—here are the conditions to which you must adhere. That includes paying a fee to Ofcom for your supervision, and then following the many thousands of pages of guidance that I suspect we will end up producing and issuing to those companies. So what we are exploring here is what happens if a particular organisation does not decide to take up the offer of a licence.
Again, to go back to the previous debate, success for the Bill would be that it has a sufficient deterrent effect that the problems that we are seeking to fix are addressed. I do not think we are looking to block services or for them to fail—we are looking for them to succeed, so stage one is that Ofcom asks them nicely. It says, “You want to operate in the UK, here is what you need to do—it’s a reasonable set of requests we are making”, and the services say, “Fine”. If not, they choose to self-limit—and it is quite trivial for any online service to say, “I’m going to check incoming traffic, and if this person looks like they are coming from the UK, I’m not going to serve them”. That is self-limiting, which is an option that would be preferable if a service chose not to accept the licence condition. But let us assume that it has accepted the licence condition, and Ofcom is going to be monitoring it on a routine basis—and if Ofcom thinks it is not meeting its requirements, whether that is to produce a risk assessment or to fulfil its duty of care, Ofcom will then instruct it to do something. If it fails to follow that instruction, we are in the territory of the amendments that we are considering here: either it has refused to accept the licence conditions and to self-limit, or it has accepted them but has failed to do what we expect it to do. It has signed up and thought that it is not serious, and it is not doing the things that we expect it to do.
At that point, Ofcom has to consider what it can do. The first stage is quite right, in the group of clauses that we are looking at—Ofcom can bring in these business disruption measures. As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, rightly pointed out, in many instances that will be effective. Any commercial service—not just pornography services, but an online service that depends on advertising—that is told that it can no longer take credit card payments from UK businesses to advertise on the service, will, one hopes, come into line and say, “That’s the end of my business in the UK—I may as well cut myself off”. But if it wants to operate, it will come into line, because that way it gets its payment services restored. But there will be others for which that is insufficient—perhaps that is not their business model—and they will carry on regardless. At that point, we may want to consider the access restrictions.
In a free society, none of us should take pleasure in the idea that we are going to instruct the internet services or block them. That is not our first instinct, but something that is rather potentially a necessary evil. At some point, there may be services that are so harmful and so oblivious to the regime that we put in place that we need to block them. Here we are trying to explore what would happen in those circumstances. The first kind of block is one that we are used to doing, and we do it today for copyright-infringing sites and a small number of other sites that break the law. We instruct service providers such as BT and TalkTalk to implement a network-level block. There are ways you can do that—various technical ways that we do not need to go into in this debate—whereby we can seek to make it so that an ordinary UK user, when they type in www.whatever, will not get to the website. But increasingly people are using technology that will work around that. Browsers, for example, may create traffic between your web browser and the online service such that TalkTalk or BT or the access provider has no visibility as to where you are going and no capability of blocking it. BT has rightly raised that. There will be different views about where we should go with this, but the question is absolutely legitimate as to what the Government’s intentions are, which is what we want to try to tease out with this amendment.
Again, we should be really candid. Somebody who is determined to bypass all the access controls will do so. There is no world in which we can say that we can guarantee that somebody with a UK internet connection can never get to a particular website. What we are seeking to do is to make violating services unavailable for most of the people most of the time. We would be unhappy if it was only some of the people some of the time, but it is not going to be all of the people all of the time. So the question is: what constitutes a sufficient access restriction to either bring them to heel or to ensure that, over the longer term, the harm is not propagated, because these services are generally not made available? It would be really helpful if the Minister was able to tease that out.
Certainly, in my view, there are services such as TOR—the Onion Router—where there is no entity that you can ask to block stuff, so if someone was using that, there is nothing that you can reasonably do. At the other end of the spectrum, there are services such as BT and TalkTalk, where it is relatively straightforward to say to them that they should block. Then there are people in between, such as browser owners that are putting in place these encrypted tunnels for very good reasons, for privacy, but which can also add value-added stuff—helping to manage bandwidth better, and so on. Is it the Government’s intention that they are going to be served with access restriction orders? That is a valid question. We might have different views about what is the right solution, but it is really important for the sector that it understands and is able to prepare if that is the Government’s intention. So we need to tease that out; that is the area in which we are looking for answers from the Government.
The second piece is to think about the long term. If our prediction—or our hope and expectation—is that most companies will come into line, that is fine; the internet will carry on as it does today but in a safer way. However, if we have misjudged the mood, and a significant numbers of services just stick their thumb up at Ofcom and say, “We are not going to play—block us if you dare”, that potentially has significant consequences for the internet as it will operate in the United Kingdom. It would be helpful to understand from the Minister whether the Government have any projections or predictions as to which way we are going to go. Are we talking about the vast majority of the internet continuing as it is today within the new regime, with the odd player that will be outside that, or is it the Government’s expectation that there may need to be blocking of significant numbers of services, essentially for the foreseeable future?
Other countries such as France and Germany have been dealing with this recently, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, is probably aware of. They have sought to restrict access to pornography services, and there have been all sorts of consequent knock-on effects and challenges at a technical level. It would be helpful to understand whether our expectation is that we will see the same in the United Kingdom or that something else is going to happen. If the Government do not have that information today, or if they have not made those projections, it would be helpful to know their thinking on where that might happen. Who will be able to inform us as to what that the future landscape is likely to look like as it evolves, and as Ofcom gains these powers and starts to instruct companies that they must obtain licences, and then seeks to take enforcement action against those that choose not to play the game?
My Lords, I support Amendment 217 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and very much support the comments that he has made. I will speak to Amendments 218C, 218E, 218H and 218K in my name within this group. I also support the intent of the other amendments in this group tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell.
I appreciate the process helpfully outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Allan. However, when looking at Ofcom’s implementation of existing provisions on video-sharing platforms, the overwhelming impression is of a very drawn-out process, with Ofcom failing to hold providers to account. Despite being told by Ofcom that a simple tick-box declaration by the user confirming that they are over 18 is not sufficient age verification, some providers are still using only that system. Concerningly, Ofcom has not taken decisive action.
When children are at severe risk, it is not appropriate to wait. Why, for example, should we allow porn sites to continue to host 10 million child sexual abuse videos while Ofcom simply reports that it is continuing to partner with these platforms to get a road map of action together? As has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, Visa and Mastercard did not think it was appropriate to wait in such circumstances—they just acted.
Similarly, when systems are not in place to protect children from accessing pornography, we cannot just sit by and allow all the egregious associated harms to continue. Just as in Formula 1, when a red flag is raised and the cars must stop and go into the pits until the dangerous debris is cleared, sometimes it is too dangerous to allow platforms to operate until the problems are fixed. It seems to me that platforms would act very swiftly to put effective systems and processes in place if they could not operate in the interim.
The Bill already contains this emergency handbrake; the question is when it should be used. My answer is that it should be used when the evidence of severe harm presents itself, and not only when the regulator has a moment of self-doubt that its “road maps”, which it is normally so optimistic about, will eventually fix the problem. Ofcom should not be allowed to sit on the evidence hoping, with a wing and a prayer, that things will fix themselves in the end.
Amendment 218C, 218E, 218H and 218K assert that Ofcom must—rather than may—apply to the court for an interim access restriction order should the conditions be met to do so. This is important, because it is only when we have a tough regulator that platforms will act.
When I moved previous amendments to the Bill, I mentioned my experience as chair, for six years, of the Better Regulation Executive. During that time, I learned that regulators that had a reputation for acting quickly and decisively, and for being tough, had a much more compliant base as a consequence. A compliant base in turn eases the regulatory burden, as regulators are not constantly having to bring forward provisional notices of contravention and expend resources trying to extract information from companies—and so Ofcom’s first option in the most serious situations would be to apply the brake immediately. This would have the potential to act as a powerful deterrent. If providers know that the regulator will pursue criminal action on those that breach service conditions, they are more likely to comply and make sure that there is no harmful material in the first place. If we settle for vague enforcement mechanisms, they will undoubtedly be open to abuse. Indeed, appropriate sanctions are impactful only if they are enforced decisively.
We have made immense progress in the development of this Bill in ensuring that children will be protected from pornographic and inappropriate content. We now have the responsibility to ensure that those who fail to comply with these measures face proportionate consequences. As regulator and sole enforcer of the Bill, Ofcom must be empowered to protect users online. In the spirit of willingness to respond positively, which the Minister has demonstrated already this afternoon, I hope that he will also do so with these amendments.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 218JA, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Allan. My name is attached to it online but has not made it on to the printed version. He introduced it so ably and comprehensively that I will not say much more, but I will be more direct with my noble friend the Minister.
This amendment would remove Clause 133(11). The noble Lord, Lord Allan, mentioned that BT has raised with us—I am sure that others have too—that the subsection gives examples of access facilities, such as ISPs and application stores. However, as the noble Lord said, there are other ways that services could use operating systems, browsers and VPNs to evade these access restriction orders. While it is convention for me to say that I would support this amendment should it be moved at a later stage, this is one of those issues that my noble friend the Minister could take off the table this afternoon—he has had letters about it to which there have not necessarily been replies—just by saying that subsection (11) does not give the whole picture, that there are other services and that it is misleading to give just these examples. Will he clarify at the Dispatch Box and on the record, for the benefit of everyone using the Bill now and in future, what broader services are caught? We could then take the issue off the table on this 10th day of Committee.
My Lords, I will be even more direct than the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and seek some confirmation. I understood from our various briefings in Committee that, where content is illegal, it is illegal anywhere in the digital world—it is not restricted simply to user to user, search and Part 5. Can the Minister say whether I have understood that correctly? If I have, will he confirm that Ofcom will be able to use its disruption powers on a service out of scope, as it were, such as a blog or a game with no user-to-user aspect, if it were found to be persistently hosting illegal content?
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, though one of two halves, if not three.
The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, introduced his amendment in a very measured way. My noble friend Lady Benjamin really regrets that she cannot be here, but she strongly supports it. I will quote her without taking her speech entirely on board, as we have been admonished for that previously. She would have said that
“credit card companies have claimed ignorance using the excuse of how could they be expected to know they are supporting porn if they were not responsible for maintaining porn websites … This is simply not acceptable”.
Noble Lords must forgive me—I could not possibly have delivered that in the way that my noble friend would have done. However, I very much took on board what the noble Lord said about how this makes breaches transparent to the credit card companies. It is a right to be informed, not an enforcement power. The noble Lord described it as a simple and proportionate measure, which I think is fair. I would very much like to hear from the Minister why, given the importance of credit card companies in the provision of pornographic content, this is not acceptable to the Government.
The second part of this group is all about effective enforcement, which the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, spoke to as well. This is quite technical; it is really important that these issues have been raised, in particular by the noble Lord. The question is whether Ofcom has the appropriate enforcement powers. I was very taken by the phrase
“pre-empt a possible legal challenge”,
as it is quite helpful to get your retaliation in first. Underlying all this is that we need to know what advice the Minister and Ofcom are getting about the enforcement powers and so on.
I am slightly more sceptical about the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Curry. I am all in favour of the need for speed in enforcement, particularly having argued for it in competition cases, where getting ex-ante powers is always a good idea—the faster one can move, the better. However, restricting the discretion of Ofcom in those circumstances seems to me a bit over the top. Many of us have expressed our confidence in Ofcom as we have gone through the Bill. We may come back to this in future; none of us thinks the Bill will necessarily be the perfect instrument, and it may prove that we do not have a sufficiently muscular regulator. I entirely respect the noble Lord’s track record and experience in regulation, but Ofcom has so far given us confidence that it will be a muscular regulator.
I turn now to the third part of the group. I was interested in the context in which my noble friend placed enforcement; it is really important and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan. It is interesting what questions have been asked about the full extent of the Government’s ambitions in this respect: are VPNs going to be subject to these kinds of notices? I would hope so; if VPNs are really the gateway to some of the unacceptable harms that we are trying to prevent, we should know about that. We should be very cognisant of the kind of possible culture being adopted by some of the social media and regulated services, and we should tailor our response accordingly. I will be interested to hear what the Government have to say on that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Bethell, Lord Curry and Lord Allan for introducing their amendments, to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for her direct question, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for her equally direct question. I am sure they will be of great assistance to the Minister when he replies. I will highlight the words of the noble Lord, Lord Allan, who said “We are looking for services to succeed”. I think that is right, but what is success? It includes compliance and enforcement, and that is what this group refers to.
The amendments introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, seek to strengthen what is already in the Bill about Ofcom’s Chapter 6 powers of enforcement, otherwise known as business disruption powers, and they focus on what happens in the event of a breach; they seek to be more prescriptive than what we already have. I am sure the Minister will remember that the same issue came up in the Digital Economy Bill, around the suggestion that the Government should take specific powers. There, the Government argued they had assurances from credit card companies that, if and when action was required, they would co-operate. In light of that previous discussion, it will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say.
In respect of the amendments introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, on the need to toughen up requirements on Ofcom to act, I am sure the Minister will say that these powers are not required and that the Bill already makes provision for Ofcom blocking services which are failing in their duties. I echo the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about being overly prescriptive and not allowing Ofcom to do its job. The truth is that Ofcom may need discretion but it also needs teeth, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about whether he feels, in the light of the debate today and other conversations, that there is sufficient toughness in the Bill and that Ofcom will be able to do the job it is required to do. There is an issue of the balance of discretion versus requirement, and I know he will refer to this. I will also be interested to hear from the Minister about the view of Ofcom with respect to what is in the Bill, and whether it feels that it has sufficient powers.
I will raise a final point about the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry. I think they ask a valid question about the level of discretion that Ofcom will have. I ask the Minister this: if, a few years down the line, we find that Ofcom has not used the powers suitably, despite clear failures, what would the Government seek to do? With that, I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
My Lords, where necessary, the regulator will be able to apply to the courts for business disruption measures. These are court orders which will require third-party ancillary services and access facilities to withdraw their services from, or impede users’ access to, non-compliant regulated services. These are strong, flexible powers which will ensure that Ofcom can take robust action to protect users. At the same time, we have ensured that due process is followed. An application for a court order will have to specify the non-compliant provider, the grounds and evidence on which the application is based and the steps that third parties must take to withdraw services or block users’ access. Courts will consider whether business disruption measures are an appropriate way of preventing harm to users and, if an order is granted, ensure it is proportionate to the risk of harm. The court will also consider the interests of all relevant parties, which may include factors such as contractual terms, technical feasibility and the costs of the measures. These powers will ensure that services can be held to account for failure to comply with their duties under the Bill, while ensuring that Ofcom’s approach to enforcement is proportionate and upholds due process.
The proposed new clause in my noble friend Lord Bethell’s Amendment 217 appears to draw on provisions made in Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 for the age-verification regulator to notify payment service and ancillary service providers of non-compliant services. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is right to point to the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin; she is unavoidably absent today because of the Windrush Day commemorations, and I know she would have made her points in a similar but perhaps different style from her noble friend.
I am pleased to reassure her and my noble friend Lord Bethell that the enforcement powers in the Bill are stronger than those in the Digital Economy Act. Ofcom will be able to apply to the courts to require ancillary services and access facilities to withdraw their services from, or block users’ access to, non-compliant regulated services, rather than rely on the voluntary action of third parties as under the Digital Economy Act. Furthermore, Ofcom can publish the details of enforcement action and must publish details related to confirmation decisions and penalty notices. Ofcom can also require that the provider publish details of its enforcement action, or otherwise notify users of that action, or both. This will provide greater transparency to third parties and users about whether a service has been found to be non-compliant. Ofcom cannot require providers to publish provisional notices of contravention. The provider has the right to make representations to Ofcom before it issues a confirmation decision.
The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, mandate that Ofcom must seek business disruption court orders in specific circumstances of non-compliance or breach. I want to reassure your Lordships that we have provided Ofcom with a robust range of enforcement powers to use against companies that fail to fulfil their duties, including in the circumstances described in the noble Lord’s amendments. Ofcom will be able to use those powers and sanctions according to what it deems to be the most effective way forward in each case, including issuing enforcement decisions that direct companies to take specific steps to come into compliance or remedy a breach, issuing fines of up to £18 million or 10% of global qualifying revenue—whichever is higher—and applying to the courts for business disruption measures. Ofcom will determine the most effective, proportionate and fair intervention on a case-by-case basis.
The circumstances in which business disruption measures can be sought are set out in Clauses 131 to 135—for example, where a regulated provider has failed to comply with any enforceable requirement, that failure is continuing and the provider has not complied with Ofcom’s confirmation decision, or where the risk of harm warrants an application. This provides both services and the regulator with clarity about when these measures could be used. The Government are confident that Ofcom will apply to the courts for business disruption measures where necessary and proportionate, but it is important that it remains for the independent regulator to determine when to use these powers.
Introducing mandatory requirements would undermine Ofcom’s independence and discretion to manage enforcement on a case-by-case basis. This would also frustrate Ofcom’s ability to regulate in a proportionate way and could make its enforcement processes unnecessarily punitive or inflexible. It could also overwhelm the courts if Ofcom is strictly forced to apply for business disruption measures where any grounds apply, even where the breach may be minor. Instead, Ofcom will act proportionately in performing its regulatory functions, targeting action where it is needed and adjusting timeframes as necessary. I am mindful that on the final day in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, continues to be in his place, following the Committee’s deliberations very closely on behalf of the regulator.
I am reminded by my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath, particularly relating to the gambling sector, that some of these issues may run across various regulators that are all seeking business disruption. He reminded me that if you type into a search engine, which would be regulated and subject to business disruption measures here, “Casinos not regulated by GAMSTOP”, you will get a bunch of people who are evading GAMSTOP’s regulation. Noble Lords can imagine similar for financial services—something that I know the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, is also very interested in. It may not be for answer now, but I would be interested to understand what thinking the Government have on how all the different business disruption regimes—financial, gambling, Ofcom-regulated search services, et cetera—will all mesh together. They could all come before the courts under slightly different legal regimes.
When I saw the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, in their places, I wondered whether they were intending to raise these points. I will certainly take on board what the noble Lord says and, if there is further information I can furnish your Lordships with, I certainly will.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, asked whether the powers can be used on out-of-scope services. “No” is the direct answer to her direct question. The powers can be used only in relation to regulated services, but if sites not regulated by the Bill are publishing illegal content, existing law enforcement powers—such as those frequently deployed in cases of copyright infringement—can be used. I could set out a bit more in writing if that would be helpful.
My noble friend Lord Bethell’s amendments seek to set out in the Bill that Ofcom will be able to make a single application to the courts for an order enabling business disruption measures that apply against multiple platforms and operators. I must repeat, as he anticipated, the point made by my right honourable friend Chris Philp that the civil procedure rules allow for a multi-party claim to be made. These rules permit any number of claimants or defendants and any number of claims to be covered by one claim form. The overriding objective of the civil procedure rules is that cases are dealt with justly and proportionately. I want to reassure my noble friend that the Government are confident that the civil procedure rules will provide the necessary flexibility to ensure that services can be blocked or restricted.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam, seeks to clarify what services might be subject to access restriction orders by removing the two examples provided in the Bill: internet access services and application stores. I would like to reassure him that these are simply indicative examples, highlighting two kinds of service on which access restriction requirements may be imposed. It is not an exhaustive list. Orders could be imposed on any services that meet the definition—that is, a person who provides a facility that is able to withdraw, adapt or manipulate it in such a way as to impede access to the regulated service in question. This provides Ofcom with the flexibility to identify where business disruption measures should be targeted, and it future-proofs the Bill by ensuring that the power remains functional and effective as technologies develop.
As the noble Lord highlighted, these are significant powers that can require that services be blocked in the UK. Clearly, limiting access to services in this way substantially affects the business interests of the service in question and the interests of the relevant third-party service, and it could affect users’ freedom of expression. It is therefore essential that appropriate safeguards are included and that due process is followed. That is why Ofcom will be required to seek a court order to be able to use these powers, ensuring that the courts have proper oversight.
To ensure that due process is upheld, an application by the regulator for a court order will have to specify the non-compliant provider, the grounds of the order and the steps that Ofcom considers should be imposed on the third parties in order to withdraw services and block users’ access. These requirements will ensure that the need to act quickly to tackle harm is appropriately balanced against upholding fundamental rights.
It might be useful to say a little about how blocking works—
I thank the noble Lord.
The term “blocking” is used to describe measures that will significantly impede or restrict access to non-compliant services—for example, internet service providers blocking websites or app stores blocking certain applications. These measures will be used only in exceptional circumstances, where the service has committed serious failures in meeting its duties and where no other action would reasonably prevent online harm to users in the UK.
My noble friend Lord Bethell’s Amendments 218F and 218L seek to ensure that Ofcom can request that an interim service or access restriction order endures for a period of six months in cases where a service hosts pornographic content. I reassure him that the court will already be able to make an order which can last up to six months. Indeed, the court’s interim order can have effect until either the date on which the court makes a service or access restriction order, or an expiry date specified by the court in the order. It is important that sanctions be determined on a case-by-case basis, which is why no limitations are set for these measures in the Bill.
As my noble friend knows, in the Bill there are clear duties on providers to ensure that children are not able to access pornography, which Ofcom will have a robust set of powers to enforce. It is important, however, that Ofcom’s powers and its approach to enforcement apply equally and consistently across the range of harms in scope of the Bill, rather than singling out one form of content in particular.
I hope that that is useful to noble Lords, along with the commitment to write on the further points which were raised. With that, I urge my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, to be honest, this debate has been an incredible relief to me. Here we have been taking a step away from some of the high-level conversations we had about what we mean by the internet and safety, looking at the far horizon, and instead looking at the moment when the Bill has real traction to try to change behaviours and improve the environment of the internet. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his fulsome reply on a number of the issues.
The reason why it is so important is the two big areas where enforcement and compliance are going to be really tricky. First, there is Ofcom’s new relationship with the really big behemoths of the internet. It has a long tradition of partnership with big companies such as ITV, the radio sector—with the licensed authorities. However, of course it has licences, and it can pull them. I have worked for some of those companies, and it is quite a thing to go to see your regulator when you know that it can pull your licence. Obviously, that is within legal reason, but at the end of the day it owns your licence, and that is different to having a conversation where it does not.
The second class is the Wild West: the people living in open breach of regular societal norms who care not for the intentions of either the regulator, the Government or even mainstream society. Bringing those people back into reasonable behaviour will be a hell of a thing. My noble friend Lord Grade spoke, reasonably but with a degree of trepidation, about the challenge faced by Ofcom there. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for addressing those points.
Ofcom will step up to having a place next to the FCA and the MHRA. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, spoke about some of the qualities needed of one of the big three regulators. Having had some ministerial oversight of the MHRA, I can tell your Lordships that it has absolutely no hesitation about tackling big pharmaceutical companies and is very quick, decisive and clear. It wields a big stick—or, to use the phrase of the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, big teeth—in order to conduct that. That is why I ask the Minister just to keep in mind some of the recommendations embedded in these amendments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, mentioned illegal content, and I appreciate the candour of the Minister’s reply. However, business disruption measures offer an opportunity to address the challenge of illegal content, which is something that I know the Secretary of State has spoken about very interestingly, in terms of perhaps commissioning some kind of review. If such a thing were to happen, I ask that business disruption measures and some way of employing them might be brought into that.
We should look again at enforcement and compliance. I appreciate the Minister saying that it is important to let the regulator make some of these decisions, but the noble Lord, Lord Allan, was right: the regulator needs to know what the Government’s intentions are. I feel that we have opened the book on this, but there is still a lot more to be said about where the Government see the impact of regulation and compliance ending up. In all the battles in other jurisdictions—France, Germany, the EU, Canada, Louisiana and Utah—it all comes down to enforcement and compliance. We need to know more of what the Government hope to achieve in that area. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 217 withdrawn.
Clause 119: Requirements enforceable by OFCOM against providers of regulated services
Amendments 217A and 218 not moved.
Clause 119 agreed.
Clause 120: Confirmation decisions
Amendments 218ZZA to 218ZB not moved.
Clause 120 agreed.
Clauses 121 and 122 agreed.
Clause 123: Confirmation decisions: children’s access assessments
Amendment 218ZC not moved.
Clause 123 agreed.
Clause 124 agreed.
Clause 125: Confirmation decisions: penalties
Amendment 218ZD not moved.
Clause 125 agreed.
218A: After Clause 125, insert the following new Clause—
“Confirmation decisions: offence
(1) A person to whom a confirmation decision is given commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, the person fails to comply with a requirement imposed by the decision which—(a) is of a kind described in section 121(1), and(b) relates (whether or not exclusively) to a children’s online safety duty.(2) A “children’s online safety duty” means a duty set out in—(a) section 11(3)(a),(b) section 11(3)(b),(c) section 72(2), or(d) section 72(3).(3) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable—(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the general limit in a magistrates’ court or a fine (or both);(b) on summary conviction in Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both);(c) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both);(d) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or a fine (or both).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment creates a new offence of failure to comply with requirements of a confirmation decision that relate to specified duties to protect children’s online safety.
Amendment 218A agreed.
Amendment 218B not moved.
Clause 126: Penalty for failure to comply with confirmation decision
Amendments 218BA and 218BB not moved.
Clause 126 agreed.
Clauses 127 and 128 agreed.
Clause 129: Information to be included in notices under sections 127 and 128
Amendment 218BC not moved.
Clause 129 agreed.
Clause 130 agreed.
Schedule 13 agreed.
Clause 131: Service restriction orders
Amendments 218C and 218D not moved.
Clause 131 agreed.
Clause 132: Interim service restriction orders
Amendments 218E to 218G not moved.
Clause 132 agreed.
Clause 133: Access restriction orders
Amendments 218H to 218JA not moved.
Clause 133 agreed.
Clause 134: Interim access restriction orders
Amendments 218K to 218M not moved.
Clause 134 agreed.
Clause 135 agreed.
Amendment 219 not moved.
Clauses 136 and 137 agreed.
Amendment 220 not moved.
Clause 138: OFCOM’s guidance about enforcement action
Amendments 220A to 220C not moved.
Clause 138 agreed.
Amendments 220D and 220E not moved.
Clause 139: Advisory committee on disinformation and misinformation
Amendments 221 to 224 not moved.
Clause 139 agreed.
Amendment 225 not moved.
Clause 140 agreed.
Clause 141: Research about users’ experiences of regulated services
Amendment 225A not moved.
Clause 141 agreed.
Clause 142 agreed.
Amendment 226 not moved.
Clause 143 agreed.
Clause 144: OFCOM’s reports about news publisher content and journalistic content
Amendment 227 not moved.
Clause 144 agreed.
Clause 145: OFCOM’s transparency reports
Amendment 228 not moved.
Clause 145 agreed.
Amendment 229 not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 3.04 pm.