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Lords Chamber

Volume 831: debated on Thursday 6 July 2023

House of Lords

Thursday 6 July 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

International Anti-corruption Court


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of proposals for an International Anti-Corruption Court.

My Lords, this Government are fully committed to ensuring that those responsible for the most egregious acts of corruption are held to account. We have considered the idea of an international anti-corruption court, including with 40 international partners in November last year. Together with them, we concluded that now is not the time to endorse a new, bespoke institution of this nature. However, the Government will set out their plans for combating transnational grand corruption in the second UK anti-corruption strategy later this year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is very disappointing. Money laundering represents over 5% of global GDP, or $2 trillion each year, yet there is no effective mechanism to prosecute kleptocrats, corrupt businesspeople, oligarchs or their professional enablers. Canada, the Netherlands, Ecuador, Moldova, Nigeria and the European Parliament have recently called for the establishment of an international anti-corruption court, as have over 300 leaders from over 80 countries, over 45 former Presidents and Prime Ministers and 30 Nobel laureates. A group of leading international jurists and other experts is now drafting a model treaty. Will the Government join with them now to tackle this terrible international scourge?

My Lords, while I appreciate the long-standing commitment and work of the noble Lord, where I disagree with him is that I believe that much has been achieved and is being done. As I said, we have consulted on this issue extensively; we continue to engage with the countries the noble Lord listed that are involved in the development of this concept. At the same time, as he and other noble Lords may be aware, the UK’s international corruption unit is a world-leading capability; it was set up in 2017 alongside the Five Eyes plus others. Much has been achieved: since 2017, the unit has received 247 referrals of grand corruption from over 40 countries and, as a result, has disseminated 146 intelligence reports, identified £1.4 billion-worth assets, and supported the freezing of £623 million-worth of assets and the forfeit and confiscation of £74 million. As I have said, our work continues. In 2022 alone, intelligence collated across these jurisdictions supported the identification of a further £380 million in stolen assets. We are working, and we are working in co-ordination. I appreciate the strong work the noble Lord has done in this area, but, as I have said, an international institution can be set up, as he will know from his own ministerial experience, only with the support of a broad range of partners. The Five Eyes partners are crucial, and we are working very closely with them.

My Lords, in his speech at Chatham House earlier this year, the Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell, pledged that the Government would

“bear down on … the flows of dirty money which … represent money stolen particularly from Africa and African people”.

Can the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to achieve that objective? Would not the establishment of an IACC play a key role in such efforts? The Minister said that world opinion is not in the right place, so could he tell us what he and the Government are doing to lead on this issue to ensure that we get to a point where world opinion is in the right place?

My Lords, this is an ever-evolving challenge, and I fully accept the principle that more needs to be done; we continue to work on that. The noble Lord raised issues about Africa, so I will give examples of the international corruption unit’s success. In March 2021, the first £4.2 million of assets stolen by James Ibori, the former governor of Delta state, were returned to Nigeria. In Malawi, the dual UK-Malawian national Zuneth Sattar is alleged to have defrauded the Malawian Government of billions of kwacha. The ICU has seized 19 properties in the UK, as well as cars, including a Lamborghini and a Bentley, owned by Mr Sattar. Those are two examples; in Angola and Nigeria, the Government and this unit have seen other successes. I assure all noble Lords that we continue to be very seized of these and are working very closely with our key partners. We have seen results since the establishment of the unit in 2017.

My Lords, given that the Government are not in favour of the proposal outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, could the Minister say whether the Government are working via any of the international or intergovernmental organisations to tackle this issue of corruption and money laundering? Does he see that as a useful alternative to a new body such as a new court?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we are. For example, there is a UN instrument of which we have been very supportive; it needs to be further strengthened, and we are working with key partners in the UN context to ensure that. I know of my noble friend’s interest in the Commonwealth; we are also looking at aiding and funding support structures in the Commonwealth. Going back to the previous question, a particular focus on Africa is a key part of our work in this respect.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former member of Transparency International UK’s council, and that my daughter works in this field. I put it to the Minister that a recent survey showed that 70% of those recently polled across the G7 and BRICS countries—whose populations account for the majority of the world—support the establishment of an international anti-corruption court to deal with cases that national Governments and their tribunals either will not or cannot handle. Could not the Minister, whose approach to this is welcome, use this fact to persuade his own officials that this is really worth backing?

My Lords, if I may be clear, the noble Baroness talks of the majority of the world’s population, but obviously the G7 does not include countries such as India. We remain focused on ensuring that we work with Governments to tackle issues of corruption. On the particular point that the noble Baroness raises, I too know of the vital work that institutions such as Transparency International, and the FCDO works very closely with them. Such bodies do inform our decisions but, as I said, we have considered this with other partners, including 40 other countries, and setting up a new international structure at this time is not something that has been supported. It needs that level of broad support. It does not mean it is totally off the table; it means that we continue to work in a co-ordinated fashion on some of the instruments that I have already highlighted. As I am sure the noble Baroness will accept, we are seeing real delivery and real results in terms of the seizure of assets and penalties imposed on those who commit these crimes.

My Lords, I will pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, on how we change world opinion on this subject. The president of ECOSOC recently said this accounts for 5% of global GDP—as my noble friend said—and that has a huge impact on sustainable development goals. We will not be achieving them because of this level of corruption. What assessment have the Government made of working within the UN to raise the profile of this issue? In particular, have they considered steps to promote a UN Convention against Corruption as a means of tackling this issue, so that we win world opinion?

My Lords, as I said in response to my noble friend, the UNCAC is one such instrument. In terms of its effectiveness, that is something that needs to be bolstered further; it needs to be adapted and reflective of some of the challenges that we are all aware of—the use of technology, for example, that feeds some of these crimes. I assure the noble Lord that we are working through all the existing structures. He is right: we need to ensure that those that have a transnational approach, particularly the UN structures, are further bolstered. There are, I think, further meetings planned for later this year. As the Minister responsible for this area in the FCDO, I am working not just with key partners within the Five Eyes, as I have illustrated, but also further afield, including in areas such as the Gulf.

My Lords, in proceedings on the economic crime Bill, the Minister’s noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom kindly agreed to the principle of the all-party amendment to that Bill on what to do about sanctioned assets—a point the noble Lord, Lord Hain, was raising. The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, agreed to bring forward secondary legislation before the end of this calendar year. Given what the Minister has said about the importance of departments working with one another, can he give us an assurance that the FCDO will be co-operating regularly with the Home Office to bring forward that secondary legislation? Will he look again at the parliamentary oversight of things such as the Magnitsky sanctions, so we can understand the rather opaque way in which some of those are decided?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point about Magnitsky sanctions, I am very proud of the fact that we have strengthened our work in that respect. Later today, we will also be discussing, through a Statement, some of the additional steps we have taken using those very levers. The important thing about the sanctions that the United Kingdom deploys is that there is legal oversight. There is a real robustness for those institutions, organisations and individuals that may feel that they have been unjustifiably sanctioned, and that is a strength of the UK law. On the noble Lord’s earlier point, the noble Lord to whom he referred is not only a noble friend but also a dear friend, and I assure the noble Lord that there is full co-operation across all government departments.

Gross Domestic Product: Wales and the UK


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what are their latest figures for the gross domestic product per head of population for (1) Wales, and (2) the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the latest Office for National Statistics data show that in 2021 gross domestic product—GDP—per head, at current prices, was £25,665 for Wales and £33,745 for the UK. The UK Government have made significant interventions aimed at boosting GDP in Wales and across the UK, including the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, the £2.6 billion UK shared prosperity fund and delivering on investment zones and freeports.

My Lords, do these figures not speak volumes? They underline the failure of successive Governments to close the gap between Wales and England. With the relevant economic levers being shared between Whitehall and Senedd Cymru, is it not essential that the two co-operate on these economic matters? Does the Minister appreciate how much this is undermined by the refusal of the Chief Secretary of the Treasury to attend the Senedd’s finance committee? Is she aware that her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, told that committee in Cardiff last week that a duty should be placed on the Chief Secretary to attend such committees when required? He said that

“if it needs putting on a statutory basis … that needs to happen”.

Does she agree?

My Lords, perhaps I can provide a little reassurance to the noble Lord. Yes, the gap between GDP per head in Wales and the rest of the UK is too large, but Wales has had the highest growth in GDP per head since 2010 of all regions and nations across the UK, increasing by 15.7% compared with 6.9% across the UK. He talked about the Welsh Government and the UK Government working together. That is something that we have done successfully on city and growth deals across Wales that were developed jointly by the UK Government and the Welsh Government. This included £500 million for the Cardiff capital region and over £100 million in north Wales and Swansea. On his point about the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he works hard and closely with the devolved Administrations—I know that is something he is very committed to—but I will take the noble Lord’s specific point away.

May I invite the Minister to examine all the relevant indices of poverty and deprivation? She will find that Wales is mostly at the bottom, with 75% of the average, whereas the Government in levelling up concentrates simply on north-south. Should not the Government by contrast look also at the east-west divide?

I reassure the noble Lord that levelling up is not viewed through the prism that he says it is. When it comes to the looking at the needs in Wales and the funding to be matched to them, that is what we do through the Welsh fiscal framework. In the 2021 spending review, the largest annual block grant in real terms was assigned to Wales since the devolution Acts were passed.

My Lords, for around 20 years, west Wales and the valleys qualified for EU Objective 1 funding, precisely because our GDP was among the lowest in the EU. With the figures for Wales published in May showing a decrease of 2.1% in GDP over the longer term in Wales, compared with the figures for the rest of the UK showing an increase of 2%, are we in Wales, in the Minister’s opinion, facing a short-term blip, or are we heading for a gradual return to our pre-Objective 1 status, as a result of the loss of EU funding?

The statistics that the noble Baroness refers to are more experimental than the ones that I used in my Answer, but they are being refined all the time and they can be subject to greater volatility due to the smaller size that they represent. However, the Government are delivering on their commitment to replace European funding in Wales. As I set out in my earlier Answer, that is just one of the UK Government’s investments in Wales that recognise its great potential to grow even further.

My Lords, talking of figures speaking volumes, the Minister will be aware that last month the annual fraud indicator for the United Kingdom, which of course includes Scotland and Wales as well as England and Northern Ireland, assessed it at £219 billion. Are those fraudulent transactions, the muling of that money and the transfer of it from shell company to shell company, and the export of it in crypto assets, counted as economic activity and therefore aggregated into GDP? When the money comes back into the country to buy houses and land, works of art and other things, is it counted as inward investment?

The classification of these matters is for the ONS, and I shall get the ONS to write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, the Government’s approach to levelling-up funding has forced local authorities throughout the UK to compete in a process that lacks any published criteria. In the second round of allocations earlier this year, local communities across each of the four nations of the UK, including Wrexham, Moray, Bolsover and Belfast, each had bids rejected without any public explanation. Ahead of the third round of levelling-up funding, will the Minister work with ministerial colleagues, the devolved Governments and local authorities to improve the transparency of the bidding process so that cities, towns and villages across the UK can have access to funding that is both fair and seen to be fair?

Just to reassure the noble Lord with regard to Wales, in the first two rounds of the levelling-up fund, £330 million has been invested so far. That exceeds the commitment that 5% of those funds would be invested in Wales, but we always seek to improve our processes around those issues, and I shall happily commit to working with colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up to make sure that we build on the success that we have had so far with this fund.

My Lords, will the Minister take forward with much more vigour the idea of Celtic Sea offshore wind, which can only really be built in places such as Port Talbot, where there is deep water and lots of land? That might help redress some of the economic disasters that other noble Lords have spoken about.

My Lords, the UK has an excellent track record in delivering offshore wind, and I am sure that that will continue. As I have said, we are investing across Wales, and that includes two freeports in Wales—the Celtic Freeport and the Anglesey Freeport, which will both be backed by policy and planning permissions, as well as up to £26 million in funding in each area.

My Lords, as long as there is a situation in government where most of the money spent is on emergency situations and coping with poverty and very little is spent on prevention of poverty and skilling people away from poverty, we will continue arguing about GDP and whether it is high or low in Wales or England. We do not spend money on dismantling poverty—we spend it on making the poor as comfortable as possible.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of investing in prevention. That is why we have invested in our education system, and we have seen our educational outputs improve under this Government. It is why we are investing in prevention in our NHS. We also need to capture the importance of other aspects that contribute to our country when we look at these matters. That is why we are looking at incorporating measures when it comes to well-being, for example, and not just looking at the narrow measures of GDP.

My Lords, if the positive economic figures that the Minister cited for Wales are correct, is that because we have a Welsh Labour Government?

It is hard to tell from the other side whether there is a success story or not when it comes to Wales. I think that the best success comes when the UK and Welsh Governments work together in the interests of the people of Wales, and the record that we can see is testament to that.

My Lords, can I ask a question where I think, for once, the noble Baroness, who is an excellent Minister, might be able to give me a positive answer? The Advocate-General for Scotland has agreed, at my request, to instruct his officials to investigate ultra vires expenditure by the Scottish Government. That is a great step forward. Can the Minister give an assurance that her officials in the Treasury will work co-operatively with the Advocate-General’s officials?



Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Zimbabwe regarding the detention of opposition Deputy Chairperson and Member of Parliament Job Sikhala, who has been incarcerated for over a year in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison and denied bail on 15 occasions.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is concerned by the ongoing detention of government critics in Zimbabwe, including Job Sikhala MP. The Minister of State for Development and Africa raised these concerns, and the case of Job Sikhala specifically, with Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, when they met in the margins of His Majesty the King’s Coronation last month.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I welcome to the Public Gallery Steven Van Zandt and Jerry Dammers, musicians and songwriters who have done so much to campaign for freedom and justice in southern Africa. Does the Minister agree that today freedom and justice are under vicious assault in Zimbabwe? Will he and his ministerial colleagues work with SADC Ministers and the Commonwealth to make it clear to ZANU-PF that there can be no return to normal relations until Job Sikhala and all political detainees are released, political violence stops, and genuinely free and fair elections take place?

My Lords, first, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s insights and expertise on all issues to do with Zimbabwe. He knows the country very well, and I appreciate his tabling of the Question. With regard to the specific issue of human rights and the importance of progressing on human rights before the elections on 23 August, I assure the noble Lord that we are engaging with all key partners. As he is aware, Zimbabwe is very keen to progress its membership of the Commonwealth, and human rights are a pertinent part of that assessment. I know that we are working very closely with the secretariat in that respect. Ultimately, if Zimbabwe rejoins the Commonwealth, it will be a matter for all members of the Commonwealth, so it needs a cross-Commonwealth approach.

I assure the noble Lord also that we are fully seized with the different abuses of human rights, which regrettably and tragically continue to happen. Even this morning, I have heard of further arrests in that respect. The information is still coming through, but I am aware of further arrests that have been made. We have called for full transparency and the release of those being held in an arbitrary fashion and, indeed, when cases are being pressed, that those court cases are held in a transparent form.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply about Job Sikhala but it is not just Job Sikhala who has been arrested: six students have been arrested for doing nothing more than protesting against politicians being arrested. Emmanuel Chitima, Comfort Mpofu, Lionel Madamombe, Benjamin Watadza, Darlington Chigwena and Gamuchirai Chaburumunda may have exotic names but they are not being kept in exotic conditions. They are in prison for protesting, perfectly legally and freely. We must wake up to the fact that Emmerson Mnangagwa is actually more of the same after the evil Mugabe.

My Lords, my noble friend raises a number of cases and I assure him that we are fully aware of them. We remain deeply concerned by the failure to address the allegations of abduction and abuse of opposition members. There are also the cases of Joana Mamombe—which he has raised—Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova. I assure noble Lords that we have raised our concerns with the Government and have publicly called for full investigation into these allegations. If Zimbabwe wishes to be counted among those countries that are recognised for progression not just bilaterally but, importantly, within multilateral organisations, it is vital that it stands up and ensures transparency of justice systems. It must also ensure that those who are taken and arrested are done so on transparent charges and that if they are not held on any substantial charges, they are released. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of protest are key parts of any progressive democracy.

My Lords, many of us warned for many years that Mnangagwa would be worse than Mugabe, particularly because of his years of repression and what happened in Matabeleland. He is clearly not going to change and, sadly, things such as an invitation to the Coronation do not help—they help him in Zimbabwe. Does the Minister accept that it is very unlikely that there will be genuinely free and fair elections in Zimbabwe in August? We saw just last night a very well-respected human rights lawyer, Obey Shava, being beaten almost to death by ZANU-PF thugs. Is it not time for us to stop pandering to Mnangagwa and to condemn what is happening right throughout the country loudly and clearly to the international world?

My Lords, I also welcome the noble Baroness’s deep insights and expertise on Zimbabwe. I am aware of the case this morning—as I sat down, I got an update on the alleged attack on the lawyer. I am in the process of getting further information on that attack and will update the House and the noble Baroness accordingly. I agree with her that the actions we have seen from the President of Zimbabwe and his Government, particularly on areas of legislative change which they are also bringing into force, are of deep and alarming concern because they mean the suppression of civil society within Zimbabwe. As I said, these are key tenets of any democratic reform and an open and vibrant civil society is a key part of that. I assure noble Lords that we want to work very constructively on this agenda. There is a lot of expertise in your Lordships’ House and we want to leverage that to ensure that we can continue to make the case pertinently and forcefully and, one hopes, ensure progression on the ground.

My Lords, on that final point, the Minister knows that I have stressed the importance of civil society. When states fail their citizens, it is civil society that stands up for human rights. I have urged the Minister to support civil society in the broadest terms, including trade unionists who have been under attack in Zimbabwe. What are the Government and the FCDO doing to contact global trade union institutions so that it is not just our voice but voices throughout the world that condemn this action and can promote a free and fair election? Will the Minister assure me that he will contact international trade union institutions?

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance and as he will have extensive contacts in this respect, particularly with a focus on Zimbabwe, I would welcome his insights into the key components, organisations and individuals. I assure the noble Lord that we have engaged directly with the Government of Zimbabwe, particularly on the PVO amendment Bill and the so-called patriotic amendments. That Bill would extend state control over civil society organisations, the whole point of which is to challenge Governments. We are making that point very forcefully to the Zimbabwean Government directly.

My Lords, ahead of the general election in Zimbabwe on 23 August this year, what assurances have His Majesty’s Government been given on international election observers for this election and an updated election register?

My Lords, ultimately, of course, it will be for the people of Zimbabwe to choose their Government in August. My right honourable friend the Minister for Development and Africa reiterated these points in the meeting he had with the President of Zimbabwe on 5 May. There has been some progress; for example, the announcement by Zimbabwe that invitations have now gone out to observer missions for the elections. It is important that international and domestic observer missions, including those of SADC, the EU and the AU, are able to independently observe the 2023 elections. We are also talking to the Commonwealth about its role within the context of the elections. We are also aware of a petition submitted to Ministers calling for Zimbabweans in the diaspora to be granted the right to vote in the elections to ensure greater engagement and direct involvement of Zimbabweans across the world. I will continue to update the House but I assure all noble Lords that the onus is very much on the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure that all citizens can vote. The UK continues to press that point to them.

My Lords, the Minister referred to Zimbabwe’s desire to re-enter the Commonwealth. Further to the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, and my noble friend regarding political detention, will the Government outline in clear terms in advance of the elections the criteria we would set for the UK Government to consider what the human rights record should be, especially for political prisoners?

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the criteria for readmission to the Commonwealth are not just for the UK Government to set; it is for all Commonwealth countries. There are 56 in total and the decision on whether Zimbabwe rejoins the Commonwealth is for all Commonwealth members. I assure the noble Lord that the UK will support readmission if Zimbabwe meets the admission requirements, which are very focused on human rights, and complies with the values and principles set out in the Commonwealth charter.

Hong Kong: Bounties for Exiled Pro-democracy Activists


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what action, if any, they have taken in response to the issuing of arrest warrants, including offers of bounties, by police in Hong Kong for eight self-exiled pro-democracy activists.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare a non-financial interest as the patron of Hong Kong Watch.

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said, we will not tolerate any attempts by the Chinese authorities to intimidate individuals in the United Kingdom. Let me be absolutely clear: Hong Kong’s national security law has no jurisdiction here. As the noble Lord will be aware, we suspended our extradition agreement with Hong Kong indefinitely in 2020. We continue to call on Beijing and Hong Kong to end the targeting of those who stand up for freedom and democracy.

My Lords, as always, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. But with bounties of 1 million Hong Kong dollars now on the heads of eight exiled Hong Kongers, 1,200 pro-democracy activists and advocates incarcerated in Hong Kong, including the British citizen Jimmy Lai, and seven parliamentarians—two from your Lordships’ House—sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party, how can the Minister justify the Government’s decision to send a Trade Minister from your Lordships’ House recently to Hong Kong to deepen business ties? How does he respond to the calls last night from his noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, calling on the remaining British judges to withdraw from the Hong Kong courts rather than giving them the thin veneer of respectability?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, he will be aware that we have been very critical of the fact that the justice systems in Hong Kong are not as per the agreement signed with the United Kingdom Government when we ceased our control of Hong Kong. Many individual judges have made key decisions and we hope that those who are still operating in Hong Kong will continue to consider their own status and professional standing in light of decisions they make for the future.

On his first point, of course we recognise the issue of those who have been sanctioned: that is why my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary recently met those British parliamentarians who have been sanctioned, and those meetings will continue. We are also aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, has highlighted the recent warrants issued to people within the United Kingdom. That is why it is important to emphasise the suspension of that extradition treaty.

On the third element, the Trade Minister’s visit, of course we have relations with China; we continue to have diplomatic relations. I have said before from the Dispatch Box that we have many disagreements with China; I am the Human Rights Minister. We have campaigned and led the charge, for example, on statements on Xinjiang, which I am very grateful for the noble Lord’s input into, but equally we recognise that there are key global issues where China has a role to play and where engagement is important. When we have engagement on the trade side, my noble friend Lord Johnson also raised the important issue of human rights directly and publicly during his visit.

My Lords, I think it probably is time for the remaining British judges to withdraw from Hong Kong—I think that is in the Minister’s mind as well. Although the British never offered full democracy to Hong Kong, at least we did not go around hunting distinguished pro-democracy campaigners, putting bounties on their heads and trying to arrest them in the middle of the night. Will he nudge his colleagues to remind their Chinese counterparts again that if China ever wants to be treated seriously as a civilised nation, it has to behave in a much more civilised and less thuggish way?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. It is important that, if China wishes to sustain and strengthen the position of Hong Kong on the global stage, it not only adheres to what it was a signatory to but recognises that there are important elements in recognising the vibrancy of any financial centre. I spent 20 years in the financial services sector and dealt extensively with areas in China and Hong Kong. One of the points we need to emphasise as a Government is that the vibrancy of a financial centre is protected through the transparency of justice systems and the very transparent application of laws. The national security law in China is set up to intimidate, prosecute and arrest and detain innocent individuals, Jimmy Lai being just one example. I assure my noble friend that we will continue to make that case forcefully, directly and bilaterally, to the Chinese Administration as well as to those in authority in Hong Kong.

My Lords, as your Lordships know, along with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I have been sanctioned by the Chinese, and it is not just me but my whole family. The long arm of China is something we have to be very conscious of. It is now described by lawyers internationally as transnational suppression. Many nations are now doing this: their reach goes beyond their own borders when they oppress their citizens. We have seen it with Russia and Iran and we are seeing it with China. What concerns young Hong Kongers who live in this country is that they might not be able to travel. They are fearful that, in transit, they will be arrested by less hospitable, less human rights-concerned nations and transported back to either Hong Kong or China to be prosecuted.

The threat to the safety of those who have had these bounties placed on their heads is very serious and real. We have to remember that a police station was set up in Glasgow where arrests could be made and intimidation applied to people who have settled in this country because of their fears. I ask the Minister, who I know is very sensitive to all this, what the Government are doing in their conversations with China and with the leaders in Hong Kong. Why are more of them not put on targeted Magnitsky sanctions lists? I want to hear what the Government do when they meet Chinese officials.

My Lords, I know these things directly from our conversations and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her valuable insights. Equally, I know the great challenges imposed on many colleagues, both in this House and in the other place. Indeed, there are members of His Majesty’s Government who are now Ministers and are subject to the sanctions she listed. On the issue of future Magnitsky sanctions, I am proud of our record across the piece. We continue to look at all our levers to ensure that those who commit egregious abuses of human rights are held to account.

On the specific transnational issues, my right honourable friend the Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, who has himself experienced the impact of sanctions, has been directing the Defending Democracy Taskforce to review our UK approach to transnational repression, specifically with China and Hong Kong. Let me be very clear: there are three major things we ask consistently. We call on Beijing to remove the national security law; that has to happen. We consider China to be in an ongoing state of non-compliance with the Sino-British joint declaration, which is why we suspended our extradition agreement. We continue to work with other partners, including agencies such as Interpol, to ensure that there are no abuses of these international agencies as well.

My Lords, what specific steps will the Government take to work with our international partners to protect those eight individuals?

My Lords, we do work with our international partners, but we also ensure that particularly those under UK jurisdiction are fully protected. Individuals who may be at heightened risk are provided full support, including protective security guidance and other measures where necessary. I will not go into the specific details, but I assure my noble friend that we work with key partners to ensure that these protections are afforded not just in the United Kingdom but, as has been indicated by two noble Lords with their own concerns and those of their families, when they travel internationally.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answers, but does he not agree that this case is yet further evidence for the revisionist tendencies of the Chinese Government when it comes to human rights? This tendency will only intensify as China tries to use its economic and political muscle to mute its critics, so does it not underscore the importance of His Majesty’s Government working tirelessly to revive the spirit of universality that originally inspired the human rights project in upholding core rights and freedoms?

My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate. China is a member of many international organisations, including as a P5 member of the United Nations. It continues to subscribe to many of the key charters of these organisations, including the UN, and what he has related is very much part of its alignment with them. We need to keep making the case. The economic dependence of many countries across the world is very clear. That economic dependency extends not just to a five-year or 10-year period but is often across a generation, and we need to ensure that there are alternatives. It is not enough just to say that we are standing up for the principles against the sometimes disabling effect of some of the quite eye-watering deals that are done; we need to ensure that we work with key partners to offer co-ordinated alternative responses for long-term infrastructure and development in key parts of the world.

Ukraine: Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government (1) what assessment they have made of recent developments at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and (2) what contingency plans are being made in the event of the power plant being damaged.

My Lords, we remain gravely concerned about the implications of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine for nuclear safety, security and safeguards. We take President Zelensky’s concern about possible Russian threats to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is currently under illegal Russian control, extremely seriously. We are in regular contact with Director-General Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency and with the highest levels of the Government of Ukraine regarding the situation at the nuclear power plant. Working with our international partners, we continue to call for Russia to grant the IAEA full access to the nuclear plant, as called for by Director-General Grossi on 5 July. It is vital that IAEA staff have full access to the nuclear plant in order to monitor the safety and security of the site. Let me assure the right reverend Prelate that the Government also have well-developed and tested contingency plans to cover a range of eventualities.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Obviously, anything we can do to work with our international partners to put pressure on Russia to allow the IAEA access to the site, as it has requested, is now of utmost importance. I hope that the Minister will do all he can in talks with our international partners to put that pressure on Russia. Can he give any more information about our own domestic contingency plans, in the event of a nuclear disaster of some sort taking place on the site?

My Lords, first, as the right reverend Prelate may be aware, much of the site has been scaled down, in terms of its direct energy provision. There is currently only one operating generator on the site, and even that has been scaled down sufficiently and specifically for this purpose. Of course, the risk remains very high, but we have been assured by the IAEA that there is no immediate threat. I caveat that by saying that Director-General Grossi’s requirements and requests for full access to the site are important, and we are working through those with international partners, including countries with key influence over Russia, because that is vital in order to reassure people not only in Ukraine, but across the wider area and region.

My Lords, I very much welcome the Minister’s response; obviously, it is key to get proper access for full inspections. The United Kingdom now assumes the presidency of the Security Council—I know the Minister will be going to New York shortly. What are the opportunities to raise this question directly with counterparts at the Security Council? This is a danger with no limitation in terms of country boundaries; it could spread throughout the world and cause untold damage. It is essential that we take action at the Security Council.

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we are doing just that. It will be of no surprise to your Lordships’ House that this is one of the key priorities, if not the number one priority, regarding Ukraine as a whole. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has engaged quite directly; for example, he met Director-General Grossi during the Ukraine Recovery Conference to ensure that the exact requirements are fully understood. The noble Lord raises a valid point about our presidency of the UN Security Council and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary himself will be presiding over the session on Ukraine.

Unfettered access is key, particularly when we think about events that have damaging effects reaching far beyond the illegal war that Russia continues to wage. We have already seen, following the destruction of the dam, the damage caused by floating mines and the damage to agricultural land by pollutants. The effects of this war will be long lasting. I assure the noble Lord that we will engage on all these key elements during our presidency of the UN Security Council.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that, since Russia illegally seized control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, its behaviour has not been consistent with even the rather feeble international protocols that deal with nuclear plants in zones of conflict? Does he agree, therefore, that we should be thinking of strengthening those international protocols? If there are to be more nuclear power stations around the world—which is something that many of us would support—some of them will end up in conflict zones and stronger protocols will be needed to safeguard them. Can the Minister also give the thanks of this House to the director-general of the IAEA for the work that he has been doing to keep things more or less under control?

I assure the noble Lord that, on his second point, we will relay that to the director-general. On his first point, the missile attack on 9 March, which cut off the power supply to the Zaporizhzhia plant, has meant that contingency plans have been put in place, such as back-up generators. There are also now IAEA monitoring missions at all Ukrainian nuclear power plants across the country, and the United Kingdom is providing technical support to help the IAEA to fill, or backfill, any positions to keep all its priorities on track.

My Lords, the concern that the IAEA has raised, in the very careful statement referred to by the Minister, brings the need for urgent talks through the review committee mechanisms of all the nuclear powers. At the end of this month there is due to be a preparatory committee meeting in Vienna, leading to the 2026 review committee of the NPT of all the nuclear powers. Does the Minister agree that there is a case for bringing forward that review conference quite urgently? The use of nuclear weapons, as well as the Government’s approach on domestic energy production by nuclear powers, is now an urgent matter, given the concerns. Bringing forward the conference would allow some of the discussions, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, suggested, to take place.

My Lords, I note what the noble Lord has said about the NPT, which I will certainly take back to the department. The noble Lord will be acutely aware that one party to the NPT happens to be a country called Russia. Let us not forget that, when the invasion started in February last year, Mr Putin himself had signed the NPT just before on 4 January, yet his rhetoric—thankfully not his actions—has since followed a very different trajectory. While I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of co-operation, we must keep the NPT at the forefront of our minds; Russia is a signatory, but it is not just about signing documents, it is also about abiding by them.

My Lords, we all remember Chernobyl. Is there not a case, following something that my noble friend said a few moments ago, to call in Commonwealth countries and discuss with countries such as South Africa and India—which for reasons entirely beyond me are giving succour and support to Russia—that this could indeed be an international disaster beyond limit? If this wretched plant erupts in the way that Chernobyl did, who knows when the end will come.

My Lords, first, on the plant itself, I reiterate my earlier point: from the indications in the IAEA’s assessment reports, there is no imminent threat or challenge. That is why it is important that the IAEA is given full and unfettered access to make a comprehensive assessment. The nuclear plant has been much dialled down in terms of its capacity and energy production.

My noble friend talks about other key international partners. It is important to reflect that, in votes this year at the United Nations, which I have been involved with indirectly, we have seen a consistent level of 140-plus countries voting. With 193 countries in the UN, that is a very positive voting result for Ukraine’s position. On the countries mentioned by my noble friend, I note that, while they have long-standing relationships with Russia—the likes of India have historically had a strong military reliance on Russia—their abstentions should be put in context. They have not supported Russia’s position but have sought to abstain. Of course, we are aware of some of the meetings and diplomacy being undertaken currently by Russia, and I assure my noble friend that, in the context of bigger countries such as South Africa and India, we make a very strong case that the war on Ukraine cannot be underestimated; it is an illegal war on a sovereign territory, which is now being occupied by Russia, a P5 member of the United Nations.

That is compounded by the issue we are now talking about—the nuclear power plant. The direct results are not just an energy crisis in Europe, but a global food security crisis. We have seen the environmental damage caused by the pollutants that are now affecting the Dnipro river; the Black Sea grain initiative is also being impeded and the economies of countries in Europe and North Africa in particular are being directly challenged. The reality of this war is not limited to two countries or to a continent; it is a global challenge and we need to address it collectively.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the first priority must be ending this war and safeguarding that nuclear plant in Ukraine? Does he recall that, following the Chernobyl disaster, a radioactive cloud was blown over the UK and deposited radioactive fallout on to the Welsh hills? That led to sheep being held back from the food chain for many months, undermining agriculture. Could he therefore give an assurance that, in looking at these implications, he will consult the farming unions to see what steps could be held in reserve in case this happens again?

My Lords, of course I will listen to the wise counsel of the noble Lord, and I will take that back. However, in preparing both for this Private Notice Question and our general approach to support for Ukraine, I am reassured that the wider implications are very much understood. I assure the noble Lord, as I have said repeatedly on a raft of different issues, that on any challenge in foreign policy we never forget our own back yard. The first priority of any Government is the security of their citizens, and we take that very seriously. I will follow up on the noble Lord’s point.

My Lords, in respect of the plant itself, it is important that the IAEA gets in to find out whether there are explosive devices on top of two of the reactors, why they would be put there and what likely damage they would do if they exploded. It is suggested that they are there for it to appear as though the Ukrainians have bombed the plant themselves. The most important thing here is not to get confused between perceived dangers and real dangers. This plant is of a particular design. My understanding is that the most dangerous nuclear fission that could come from it will have been depleted because it has not been working for months—I think it is iodine-113, though this is not from my expertise but from my reading. We need an authoritative explanation of the risks, from a nuclear engineer of repute, telling us what the potential consequences would be of further damage to this plant—not speculation by people from their recollections of previous incidents. This is a distinctive plant that was created in a particular way. My understanding is that we can be reassured that, while it would not be a good thing to happen and there would be significant local consequences, this is not a repeat of Chernobyl.

The noble Lord is well-informed by his reading, and his is very much an accurate assessment. This particular plant is much more modern and state-of-the-art. The fact is that most of its activities and energy generations have been turned down—indeed, most of the reactors are now not operational. Even without inspections, that assessment can be made. However, I add the necessary caveat that all of us, including Russia, will get reassurance when the IAEA can get access and, as the noble Lord said, there is an expert opinion on the table that we all recognise. This war will continue but it is in Russia’s interests, not just Ukraine’s and everyone else’s, to allow access. Russia itself has been a signatory to ensuring that this kind of access and assessments of facilities are done regularly, accurately and comprehensively.

My Lords, I refer to my interest as chair of the National Preparedness Commission. I am not sure that the Minister answered the supplementary question from the right reverend Prelate, which was very much about what is actually being done in this country in the event of this happening and it being on the more severe end of concerns. First, could he specifically tell us what guidance has been provided to local resilience forums as to what they should be doing and preparing for? Secondly, what contingency arrangements have the Government put in place for communications with the general public to deal with any panic, concerns or legitimate fears that there might be?

On the second point, the noble Lord himself will know that there is comprehensive contingency planning by any Government. This is the case with successive Governments—we will seek to mitigate against all eventualities, all risks and all concerns, and we will seek to prepare for them. On the issue of communication and more access to information and information that can be shared, I will take back what the noble Lord has suggested. I have been assured that, from a cross-government perspective, all the key agencies that need to be involved are fully involved. I cannot stress enough, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said in a previous question, that this plant, compared to those of previous nuclear incidents such as Chernobyl, is very different. However, I have been very careful to caveat that, because only when we get a full comprehensive assessment can we make a full overall assessment. Mitigations, assessments and contingency planning are very much in place. If there is further information to be shared, I will share it.

Online Safety Bill

Report (1st Day)

Relevant documents: 28th and 38th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee and 15th Report from the Constitution Committee. Scottish and Welsh legislative consent granted.

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—


(1) This Act provides for a new regulatory framework which has the general purpose of making the use of internet services regulated by this Act safer for individuals in the United Kingdom.(2) To achieve that purpose, this Act (among other things)—(a) imposes duties which, in broad terms, require providers of services regulated by this Act to identify, mitigate and manage the risks of harm (including risks which particularly affect individuals with a certain characteristic) from—(i) illegal content and activity, and(ii) content and activity that is harmful to children, and(b) confers new functions and powers on the regulator, OFCOM.(3) Duties imposed on providers by this Act seek to secure (among other things) that services regulated by this Act are—(a) safe by design, and(b) designed and operated in such a way that—(i) a higher standard of protection is provided for children than for adults,(ii) users’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy are protected, and(iii) transparency and accountability are provided in relation to those services.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides for a new introductory Clause.

My Lords, I am pleased that we are on Report, and I thank all noble Lords who took part in Committee and those with whom I have had the pleasure of discussing issues arising since then, particularly for their constructive and collaborative nature, which we have seen throughout the passage of Bill.

In Committee, I heard the strength of feeling and the desire for an introductory clause. It was felt that this would help make the Bill less complex to navigate and make it less easy for providers to use this complexity to try to evade their duties under it. I have listened closely to these concerns and thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and others for their work on this proposal. I am particularly grateful for their collaborative approach to ensuring the new clause has the desired effect without causing legal uncertainty. In that spirit, I am pleased to introduce government Amendment 1. I am grateful too to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who have signed their names to it. That is a very good start to our amendments here on Report.

Amendment 1 inserts an introductory clause at the start of the Bill, providing an overarching statement about the main objectives of the new regulatory framework. The proposed new clause describes the main broad objectives of the duties that the Bill imposes on providers of regulated services and that the Bill confers new functions and powers on Ofcom.

The clause makes clear that regulated services must identify, mitigate and manage risks that particularly affect people with a certain characteristic. This recognises that people with certain characteristics, or more than one such characteristic, are disproportionately affected by online harms and that providers must account for and protect them from this. The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, raised the example of Jewish women, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent. Sadly, they have first-hand experience of the extra levels of abuse and harm that some groups of people can face when they have more than one protected characteristic. It could just as easily be disabled women or queer people of colour. The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, has tabled several amendments highlighting this problem, which I will address further in response to the contribution I know she will make to this debate.

Subsection 3 of the proposed new clause outlines the main outcomes that the duties in the Bill seek to secure. It is a fundamental principle of the legislation that the design of services can contribute to the risk of users experiencing harm online. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for continuing to raise this issue. I am pleased to confirm that this amendment will state clearly that a main outcome of the legislation is that services must be safe by design. For example, providers must choose and design their functionalities so as to limit the risk of harm to users. I know this is an issue to which we will return later on Report, but I hope this provides reassurance about the Government’s intent and the effect of the Bill’s framework.

Services must also be designed and operated in a way which ensures that a higher standard of protection is provided for children than for adults, that users’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy are protected and that transparency and accountability are enhanced. It should be noted that we have worked to ensure that this clause provides clarity to those affected by the Bill without adversely affecting the interpretation or effect of the substantive provisions of the rest of the Bill. As we debated in Committee, this is of the utmost importance, to ensure that this clause does not create legal uncertainty or risk with the interpretation of the rest of the Bill’s provisions.

I hope that your Lordships will welcome this amendment and I beg to move.

Amendment 2 (to Amendment 1)

Moved by

2: Before Clause 1, in subsection (2)(a), after “characteristic” insert “, or a combination of characteristics”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment to the Minister’s introductory Clause makes it clear that some internet users experience a higher level of harm than others, as a result of having multiple characteristics.

My Lords, I would like to start on a positive note by thanking the Minister for responding to the clear signals that were expressed across the House that a new introductory clause, which is before us in government Amendment 1, would enhance the Bill and set it on its way to be in the best shape that can be achieved by noble Lords working together. I am glad to acknowledge the contribution of my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, who has worked to get this in the right place—as the Minister acknowledged. He has been supported in his endeavours by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. It is a great step forward, which I hope shows how we all mean to go on.

This new clause gives a real lift to what was essentially a straightforward summary of various parts of the Bill. I sense that noble Lords shared my disappointment that what was in place originally did not harness what the Bill seeks to do. To have left it unamended would have been a missed opportunity and it is in the spirit, if not the exact recommendation, of the Joint Committee, that the government amendment has come forward. So I am glad to welcome this new introductory clause that sets out the purpose, duties and powers—among other things—that will be invested in the Act. This new clause sets out what it will really mean to people and organisations and I hope that this can be a template for other Bills that come before the House.

Following through on this theme of clarity, I am glad to speak to the amendments in my name—Amendment 2, which has also been signed by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and Amendments 54 and 173. They all have the same intent of responding to the indisputable evidence that having more than one protected characteristic greatly increases the level of harm experienced online. Amendment 2 seeks to amend the new and very welcome introductory clause further, by making that clear up front.

I am grateful to the Minister for his willingness to engage on this subject. I know that he accepts the premise of the point that I have been pressing. As he mentioned, and to give just one example, Jewish women find themselves at the intersection of both anti-Semitic and misogynistic abuse. It is as though online abusers multiply the vitriol by at least the number of protected characteristics, such that it feels that the abuse knows no bounds, manifesting in far too many examples of Jewish women in the public eye on the receiving end of death, rape and other serious threats.

In our discussions, the Minister referred me to Section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1978, which says that when interpreting statute,

“words in the singular include the plural and words in the plural include the singular”.

This was as much an education for the Minister as it was for me and, judging by the response, for other noble Lords. However, the key point is that this is not just about semantics. Those looking to the Online Safety Bill for protection will not be cross-referencing to a section of a 1978 Act.

I hope that the Minister will be forthcoming with agreement to make the necessary changes in order that we can get to the place which we all want to get to. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 1, to which I was happy to add my name alongside that of the Minister. I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for tabling the original amendment, and my noble and learned friend Lord Neuberger for providing his very helpful opinion on the matter.

I am especially pleased to see that ensuring that services are safe by design and offer a higher standard of protection for children is foundational to the Bill. I want to say a little word about the specificity, as I support the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, in trying to get to the core issue here. Those of your Lordships who travel to Westminster by Tube may have seen TikTok posters saying that

“we’re committed to the safety of teens on TikTok. That’s why we provide an age appropriate experience for teens under 16. Accounts are set to private by default, and their videos don’t appear in public feeds or search results. Direct messaging is also disabled”.

It might appear to the casual reader that TikTok has suddenly decided unilaterally to be more responsible, but each of those things is a direct response to the age-appropriate design code passed in this House in 2018. So regulation does work and, on this first day on Report, I want to say that I am very grateful to the Government for the amendments that they have tabled, and “Please do continue to listen to these very detailed matters”.

With that, I welcome the amendment. Can the Minister confirm that having safety by design in this clause means that all subsequent provisions must be interpreted through that lens and will inform all the decisions of Report and those of Ofcom, and the Secretary of State’s approach to setting and enforcing standards?

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend the Minister for tabling Amendment 1, to which I add my support.

Very briefly, I want to highlight one word in it, to add to what the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has just said. The word is “activity”. It is extremely important that in Clause 1 we are setting out that the purpose is to

“require providers of services regulated by this Act to identify, mitigate and manage”

not just illegal or harmful content but “activity”.

I very much hope that, as we go through the few days on Report, we will come back to this and make sure that in the detailed amendments that have been tabled we genuinely live up to the objective set out in this new clause.

My Lords, I too support the Minister’s Amendment 1. I remember vividly, at the end of Second Reading, the commitments that we heard from both Front-Benchers to work together on this Bill to produce something that was collaborative, not contested. I and my friends on these Benches have been very touched by how that has worked out in practice and grateful for the way in which we have collaborated across the whole House. My plea is that we can use this way of working on other Bills in the future. This has been exemplary and I am very grateful that we have reached this point.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for the meeting that he arranged with me and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, on Monday of this week.

Although we are on Report, I will start with just one preliminary remark of a general character. The more closely one looks at this Bill, the clearer it is that it is the instrument of greatest censorship that we have introduced since the liberalisation of the 1960s. This is the measure with the greatest capacity for reintroducing censorship. It is also the greatest assault on privacy. These principles will inform a number of amendments that will be brought forward on Report.

Turning now to the new clause—I have no particular objection to there being an introductory clause—it is notable that it has been agreed by the Front Benches and by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, but that it has not been discussed with those noble Lords who have spoken consistently and attended regularly in Committee to speak up in the interests of free speech and privacy. I simply note that as a fact. There has been no discussion about it with those who have made those arguments.

Now, it is true that the new clause does refer to both free speech and privacy, but it sounds to me very much as though these are written almost as add-ons and afterthoughts. We will be testing, as Report stage continues, through a number of amendments, whether that is in fact the case or whether that commitment to free speech and privacy is actually being articulated and vindicated in the Bill.

My Lords, needless to say, I disagree with what the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has just been saying precisely because I believe that the new clause that the Minister has put forward, which I have signed and has support across the House, expresses the purpose of the Bill in the way that the original Joint Committee wanted. I pay tribute to the Minister, who I know has worked extremely hard, in co-operation with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, to whom I also pay tribute for getting to grips with a purpose clause. The noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Harding, have put their finger on it: this is more about activity and design than it is about content, and that is the reason I fundamentally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. I do not believe that will be the impact of the Bill; I believe that this is about systemic issues to do with social media, which we are tackling.

I say this slightly tongue-in-cheek, but if the Minister had followed the collective wisdom of the Joint Committee originally, perhaps we would not have worked at such breakneck speed to get everything done for Report stage. I believe that the Bill team and the Minister have worked extremely hard in a very few days to get to where we are on many amendments that we will be talking about in the coming days.

I also want to show my support for the noble Baroness, Lady Merron. I do not believe it is just a matter of the Interpretation Act; I believe this is a fundamental issue and I thank her for raising it, because it was not something that was immediately obvious. The fact is that a combination of characteristics is a particular risk in itself; it is not just about having several different characteristics. I hope the Minister reflects on this and can give a positive response. That will set us off on a very good course for the first day of Report.

My Lords, this has indeed set us on a good course, and I am grateful to noble Lords for their questions and contributions. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Moylan, with whom I had the opportunity to discuss a number of issues relating to freedom of expression on Monday. We had tabled this amendment, and I apologise if I had not flagged it and sought his views on it explicitly, though I was grateful to him and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, for their time in discussing the issues of freedom of expression more broadly.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Harding and to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for their tireless work over many months on this Bill and for highlighting the importance of “content” and “activity”. Both terms have been in the Bill since its introduction, for instance in Clauses 5(2) and (3), but my noble friend Lady Harding is right to highlight it in the way that she did. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, asked about the provisions on safety by design. The statement in the new clause reflects the requirements throughout the Bill to address content and activity and ensure that services are safe by design.

On the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, which draw further attention to people who have multiple characteristics and suffer disproportionately because of it, let me start by saying again that the Government recognise that this is, sadly, the experience for many people online, and that people with multiple characteristics are often at increased risk of harm. The Bill already accounts for this, and the current drafting captures people with multiple characteristics because of Section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1978. As she says, this was a new one to me—other noble Lords may be more familiar with this legacy of the Callaghan Government—but it does mean that, when interpreting statute, words in the singular include the plural and words in the plural include the singular.

If we simply amended the references that the noble Baroness highlights in her amendments, we would risk some uncertainty about what those provisions cover. I sympathise with the concern which lies behind her amendments, and I am grateful for her time in discussing this matter in detail. I agree that it would be helpful to make it clearer that the Bill is designed to protect people with multiple characteristics. This clause is being inserted to give clarity, so we should seek to do that throughout.

We have therefore agreed to add a provision in Clause 211—the Bill’s interpretation clause—to make clear that all the various references throughout the Bill to people with a certain characteristic include people with a combination of characteristics. This amendment was tabled yesterday and will be moved at a later day on Report, so your Lordships’ House will have an opportunity to look at and vote on that. I hope that that provision clarifies the intention of the wording used in the Bill and puts the issue beyond doubt. I hope that the noble Baroness will be satisfied, and I am grateful to all noble Lords for their support on this first amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. It is a very practical response and certainly one that I accept as a way forward. I am sure that the whole House is glad to hear of his acknowledgement of the true impact that having more than one protected characteristic can have, and of his commitment to wanting the Bill to do the job it is there to do. With that, I am pleased to withdraw the amendment in my name.

Amendment 2 (to Amendment 1) withdrawn.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 162: False communications offence

Amendment 2A

Moved by

2A: Clause 162, page 141, line 32, after “psychological” insert “, financial”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment, along with the other amendment to Clause 162 in the name of Baroness Buscombe, would widen the scope of the offence to include financial harm and harm to the subject of the false message arising from its communication to third parties.

My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 2A, 2B and 5A, which are in my name but perhaps more importantly in the names of my noble friends Lady Buscombe and Lord Leicester. I want to make it quite clear that this is not a contentious debate, in the sense that I had a very useful meeting with my noble friend the Minister on Monday 3 July, in which we set out to each other our respective concerns about the content of the Bill and how it does not protect the people that my noble friends and I seek to protect. My noble friend the Minister explained the practical difficulties faced in trying to introduce these provisions into this Bill. I think we probably agreed to differ. I hope I do not misinterpret what he told me the other day, but, essentially, I think the Government’s view is that an amendment along the lines that we propose might sit more suitably within the digital markets Bill. I am not entirely sure about that, but I am not going to have a fight about it this afternoon.

I will make some short points. Having listened to the debate on the Government’s Amendment 1, I suggest that our proposal that “financial” should be included in the types of damage referred to in Clause 162(1)(c)—that a person commits an offence if

“at the time of sending it, the person intended the message, or the information in it, to cause non-trivial psychological”,

we would then add in “financial”,

“or physical harm to a likely audience”—

fits in very well with Amendment 1 and the point raised by my noble friend Lady Harding on proposed new subsection (2), which says:

“To achieve that purpose, this Act (among other things) … imposes duties which, in broad terms, require providers of services … to … mitigate and manage the risks of harm … from … illegal content and activity”.

At our meeting the other day and in Committee, we talked about making it a criminal act to post damaging material about, for example, a business, such as one that sells meat, which becomes the victim of a vegan pile-on. It could be a local bed and breakfast, an Airbnb, a restaurant or pub that is owned by people who, for example, enjoy sports that others disapprove of—to take an easy and obvious example, hunting. In so far as hunting is still a permitted and legal activity, there are none the less people who vehemently disapprove of it, and they take their disapproval to the extent that they pile on abusive, damaging and false accusations on the internet, to the financial damage, quite apart from the mental upset, of those who run those businesses. We are talking not about large corporations but about individuals who own pubs, restaurants, small shops or whatever it might be, whose livelihoods and psychological well-being could well be affected by this.

We think it would be a good idea not only if this sort of activity were criminalised but if the providers and operators of the websites and so on took on the moral responsibility for what those who use their sites are doing. That duty, which I would say goes beyond morality—it is a social, moral and legal duty—translates across to the Government. It is the duty of the Government to protect small business people running perfectly legitimate businesses from this sort of mob activity—in the jargon, pile-ons. I therefore urge the Government, although I accept their concerns about the difficulty of using this particular Bill, to think imaginatively and positively about how they can protect the victims and potential victims of the activity I refer to.

Nothing that we propose would affect the legitimate rights to freedom of expression or privacy set out in Amendment 1. The law as it stands—I refer to the Defamation Act 2013, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the common law—allows for restriction of people’s “right” to tell damaging lies. We do not need to get too prissy about protecting the rights of liars who wish to go around damaging other people’s businesses.

That, in essence, is the long and the short of it. I look forward to the Government coming forward in short order with some positive proposals about what they want to do, and how they propose to do it, to protect this group of people who have had their lives and their businesses damaged and who will continue to be at risk until Parliament does something about it. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 5B in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones. I am reminded that this is a new stage of the Bill, so I should declare my interests. I have no current financial interests in the tech sector, but until 2019 I worked for one of the large technology companies that will be regulated, doing the kind of censorship job that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, is concerned about. We clearly did not do it very well or we would not be here today replacing people like me with Ofcom.

Amendment 5B concerns an issue that we raised in Committee: the offence of encouragement of self-harm. That new offence was broadly welcomed, including on these Benches. We believe that there is scope, in some circumstances, to seek criminal prosecution of individuals who, online or otherwise, maliciously seek to encourage other people to harm themselves. The concern we raised in Committee, which we come back to today, is that we want the offence to be used in a way that we would all agree is sensible. We do not want people who are trying to help individuals at risk of self-harm to become concerned about and afraid of it, and to feel that they need to limit activities that would otherwise be positive and helpful.

In Committee we suggested that one way to do this would be to have a filter where the Director of Public Prosecutions looked at potential prosecutions under the new offence. We take a different approach with the amendment, which would in some senses be more effective, which is to explicitly list in the Bill the three categories of activity that would not render an individual liable to prosecution.

The first is people who provide an educational resource. We should be clear that some educational resources that are intended to help people recognise self-harm and turn away from it can contain quite explicit material. Those people are concerned that they might, in publishing that material with good intent, accidentally fall foul of the offence.

The second category is those who provide support—individuals providing peer support networks, such as an online forum where people discuss their experience of self-harm and seek to turn away from it. They should not be inadvertently caught up in the offence.

The third category is people posting information about their own experience of self-harm. Again, that could be people sharing quite graphic material about what they have been doing to themselves. I hope that there would be general agreement that we would not interpret, for example, a distressed teenager sharing material about their own self-harm, with the intent of seeking advice and support from others, as in some way encouraging or assisting others to commit self-harm themselves.

There is a genuine effort here to try to find a way through so that we can provide assurances to others. If the Minister cannot accept the amendment as it is, I hope he will reaffirm that the categories of people that I described are not the target of the offence and that he will be able to offer some kind of assurance as to how they can feel confident that they would not fall foul of prosecution.

Additionally, some of these groups feel with some conviction that their voices have not been as prominent in the debate as those of other organisations. The work they do is quite sensitive, and they are often quite small organisations. Between Report and the Bill becoming law, I hope that those who will be responsible for doing the detailed work around guidance on prosecutions will meet with those people on the front line—again, specificity is all—and that those who are trying to work out how to make this legislation work will meet with the people doing that work, running those fora and engaging with the young people who seek help around self-harm to look in detail at what they are doing. That would be extraordinarily helpful.

Those are my two asks. Ideally, the Government would accept the amendment that we have tabled, but if not I hope that they can give the assurance that the three groups I listed are not the target and that they will commit to having relevant officials meet with individuals working on the front line, so that we can make sure that we do not end up prosecuting individuals without intending to.

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group. However, what I have to say on my own amendments will take up enough time without straying on to the territory of others. I ask noble colleagues to please accept my support as read. I thank the Minister for meeting me and giving context and explanation regarding all the amendments standing in my name. I also welcome the government amendments on intimate image abuse in another group and on digitally altered images, which impinge directly on the cyberflashing amendments.

It is clear that the Government’s heart is in the right place, even if their acceptance of a consent-based law is not. I also thank the Law Commission for meeting me and explaining the thinking behind and practicalities of how the new law in relation to cyberflashing will work, and how the existing court system can help, such as juries deciding whether or not they believe the defendant. Last but definitely not least, I acknowledge the help that I have received from Professor Clare McGlynn, and Morgane Taylor from Bumble—both immensely knowledgeable and practical people who have inspired, informed and helped throughout.

I start with Amendments 5C and 7A in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I understand that the Government are following the advice of the Law Commission in refusing to accept consent-based defence, but I point out gently that this is something that the Government choose, and sometimes choose not, to do. Although the Law Commission consulted widely, that consultation did not show support for its proposals from victims and victims’ organisations. I am still of the view that a consent-based requirement would have prevented many unsolicited images being received by women and girls. I still worry that young girls may be socialised and sexualised by their peers who say that they are sending these images for a laugh. These girls do not have the maturity to say that they do not find it funny, but pretend it is okay while cringing with humiliation inside. Consent-based legislation would afford them the best protection and educate young girls and men that not only are women and girls frequently not interested in seeing a picture of a man’s willy, but girls think differently from boys about this. Who knew?

I also believe that a consent-based law would provide the most suitable foundation for education and prevention initiatives. However, I have listened to the Minister and the Law Commission. I have been told that, if it got to court, the complainant would not be humiliated all over again by having to give evidence in court and admit the distress and humiliation they felt. But according to the Minister, like the new intimate image amendment tabled by the Government themselves, it is up to the Crown Prosecution Service to follow it up and, after making their statement of complaint, my understanding is that the complainant does not have to take part further—more of that later. However, given the current success rate of only 4% of even charging alleged perpetrators in intimate image abuse cases, I worry that not only will victims continue to be reluctant to come forward but the chances of prosecution will be so slim that it will not act as a deterrent. We know from experience of sharing sexual images without consent, that the motivation thresholds have limited police investigations and prosecutions due to the evidential challenges. That is what the Law Commission has recommended as regards the introduction of a consent-based image offence.

The only thing that would give me hope is a major education or re-education campaign in schools and society. Will the Minister confirm that such an education and publicity campaign will happen? Will there be a budget allocated to carry it out? I should like it on the record that the Government will produce the campaign within six months of the passing of the Act. Similarly, the Minister has assured me that he will monitor carefully the success of the implemented Act. Please will he make those assurances in his reply to this group and give some kind of timescale?

I come to the recklessness amendment, Amendment 6, which is new. It was originally drafted by Professor McGlynn and Maria Miller at the Commons stage to give a kind of compromise on a recklessness standard, but it has not yet been considered by either House. The specific wording follows recent laws on upskirting and down-blousing in Northern Ireland in the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. The wording has been tested, reviewed and approved by the justice ministry and the Northern Ireland Assembly. In the Bill, there are two ways in which to prove the cyberflashing offence; first, if it is proved that the defendant either intended to cause distress; or, secondly, if the defendant was motivated by sexual gratification and was reckless in causing distress. My amendment adds a third option. The defence will be made out if the defendant was

“reckless as to whether B will be caused alarm, distress or humiliation”

and that the victim was so harmed. This third option will cover a wider range of cases, meaning that there would be more opportunities for prosecuting this harmful practice and therefore affording greater protection for women and girls.

Recklessness means showing that a defendant was aware of a risk of causing harm but went on to take that risk anyway. There are two arms to the recklessness amendment. First, a defendant is reckless as to causing distress, alarm or humiliation and, secondly, the victim is alarmed, humiliated, et cetera. The first arm, the recklessness, is easier to prove than direct intention. The perpetrator can intend to have a laugh with his friends or send an image for a dare but is reckless as to causing distress. That means that he recognised there was a risk of causing distress but carried on anyway. In many situations, recklessness may be relatively easy to prove, as you would say that, of course, most people would know that sending images of this kind would be likely to cause distress and so on, unless you knew that the recipient would be receptive to it because you checked before sending. I am not going to talk any more about consent-based matters. I am done there. I have made my point. What many men do not get, though, is that girls—particularly girls—and women do not want to receive these images. This is why I have been arguing for a you-know-what consent-based law. The second arm states that the victim is alarmed, humiliated, et cetera. This means that the victim would need to make a statement to that effect. It is included here and in the Northern Ireland draft to raise that threshold just a little. It should not be too high a threshold to meet.

The recklessness amendment is a good compromise, especially when faith in the criminal justice system is at an all-time low among women. Otherwise, women will report cyberflashing and find that they fail at the first hurdle because of the need to prove that the person who sent the image intended to cause direct harm.

In my meeting with the Minister, he gave an example of why a consent-based offence would not work. He used an image of a complainant having to give evidence in a court. That went a long way to swinging it for me but I have taken advice on this and, as I now understand it, the complainant would need only to give a statement, which would of course be crucial to any prosecution. This means that the prosecution would not go ahead unless the complainant supported it, which is fair enough; I had visions of a victim trembling in the dock when facing her abuser. I would be most grateful if the Minister could clarify this because, as I understand it, the court issue made the difference between having a consent-based offence and the Government’s proposal. It has been known on rare occasion for me to get muddled up but I would appreciate clarification on which version is correct.

I appreciate that the Minister and the Law Commission have not had time to consider this recklessness amendment fully so I certainly do not intend to press it to a vote today. The best outcome would be the Government and the Law Commission looking at this and the Government bringing forward their own amendment before Third Reading. I am ever hopeful and thank noble Lords for their patience.

My Lords, Amendments 3 to 5 to Clause 164 are in my name. They relate to a matter that I raised in Committee: threats of a more indirect nature. As I explained at that time, I chaired an inquiry in Scotland into misogyny and the manifestations of deeply unpleasant behaviour that women experience, some of it in the public arena and some of it online.

Based on that experience, I came to realise that many women who are parliamentarians, are in local authorities, head up NGOs or are journalists and, for some reason, annoy or irritate certain users of social media in any way receive horrible threats. We know about those from the ugly nature of the threats that Diane Abbott and many women parliamentarians have received. Sometimes, the person making the threat does not directly say, “I’m going to rape you”—although sometimes they do: Joanna Cherry, a Scottish Member of Parliament here in Westminster, received a direct threat of rape and the person who threatened was convicted under the Communications Act. Very often, threats of rape, death or disfigurement sound like, “You think you’re so pretty. We can fix that. Somebody should fix that”. It is the indirect nature of the threat that provides comfort to the person making it. They imagine that they cannot be prosecuted because they are not saying that they will do it; they are saying, “Somebody should rape you. Somebody should just eliminate you. Somebody should take that smile off your face; a bit of acid could do it”. That is how many of the threats presented by witnesses to the inquiry—we saw them on their phones and computers—were made; they were of an indirect nature.

One woman in my own chambers is acting for Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong publisher who is currently in custody awaiting trial under the national security law. She has received death threats, threats against her children and threats of rape. I do not imagine that we can inhibit what is done by people under the auspices of the Chinese Government with this legislation; all I can say is that these sorts of threats are experienced by many women and are not always of a direct nature so the law often does not encapsulate them. I am seeking to introduce some way in which we could, through careful drafting, cover the possibilities.

Take someone such as Andrew Tate: he is a good example of someone with a massive following who clearly puts out to boys and young men horrible ideas about how women should be treated, much of which involve detriments to women. As has been described by others in this House, a pile-on happens in relation to this. Women do not just receive a message saying, “Somebody should rape you”; they receive thousands of messages from the followers of the contributor and communicator.

I have had the benefit of meeting the ministerial team. I am grateful to the Minister and his team, including the lawyers who advise him. We sought a way of dealing with this issue. I particularly wanted to include specific mention of “rape, disfigurement or other” in terms of threats because, in the language of statutes, they are sometimes missed by young junior prosecutors or young policemen. When they see messaging and women come forward with complaints, they do not automatically think that the threat is covered because of the rather oblique nature of statutory language. I wanted it really spelled out, with rape and disfigurement specifically included in my amendment. However, I am persuaded that this issue was in the minds of those who drafted this Bill.

I am pleased that it has been recognised that this specific issue is of a different nature when it is applied to women and girls. It is happening in schools and universities. Young women put their heads above the parapet—they express a view about feminism or describe the fact that they are a lesbian—then, suddenly, they receive a whole range of horrible insults, abuse and threats on social media. I am mindful of the contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, in Committee. She was concerned, in essence, about people being rather wet about this and how this measure would inhibit free speech; really, it was about protecting rather gentle feelings. However, that is not what this is about. It is about threats of serious behaviour and serious conduct towards women. The indirect nature of it is not something that should put us off attempting to have law to deal with it.

As I said, I have had an opportunity to meet the ministerial team. We came to the conclusion that we might be able to insert something covering the fact that the carrying out of the threat could be done by persons other than the person who is sending the message. That is the important thing: women receiving these messages saying, “Somebody should rape you”, know that the message is carefully drafted in that way by the Andrew Tates of this world because they imagine that the police cannot then do anything about it, but they also know that these people have followers who may well decide to carry out the suggestion. It is really important that we find a way to deal with this.

As a result of our discussions, I hope that the House will see that this issue is something that we must deal with in this Bill because the opportunity will not come again. This is happening day in, day out to girls and women. If we are going to send a message about what is unacceptable, it is important that the law declares what is unacceptable. These threats are serious, as is the way in which women then have to change their lives. They stop staying out late. They worry about being in places where they might be subjected to some of these threats. They start limiting their behaviour.

Just earlier this morning, someone told me that his niece was a member of a football team’s fan club and had been elected to the board. She suddenly received a whole range of threats from men who felt that no woman should be in that position. She received a pile-on of a horrible kind, and said to her uncle that she wanted to step down and did not want to be on the board if she was going to receive that kind of messaging.

Women start changing the opportunities in their lives and stop doing things that they might want to do: they stop deciding to be Members of Parliament or to stand for election in any capacity, or, if they are lawyers, to take cases that will be inflammatory. They start inhibiting and limiting their own potential because of this kind of threat coming from men who resent the idea that women should be aspiring to hold positions and be equal to men. Some of it is of a very unpleasant and nasty nature, and law has its place in sending out clear messages of what is acceptable and unacceptable. It is then up to us—in schools, other educational settings and everywhere else—to spread the word among our young men and young women about what is acceptable and what they must not accept, and about the right way to behave decently towards other human beings.

My Lords, first, I welcome the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Allan, and his motivation, because I am concerned that, throughout the Bill, the wrong targets are being caught up. I was grateful to hear his recognition that people who talk about their problems with self-harm could end up being targeted, which nobody would ever intend. These things need to be taken seriously.

In that sense, I was slightly concerned about the motivation of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, in the “reckless” amendment. The argument was that the recklessness standard is easier to prove. I am always worried about things that make it easier to prosecute someone, rather than there being a just reason for that prosecution. As we know, those involved in sending these images are often immature and very foolish young men. I am concerned about lowering the threshold at which we criminalise them—potentially destroying their lives, by the way, because if you have a criminal record it is not good—even though I in no way tolerate what they are doing and it is obviously important that we take that on.

There is a danger that this law will become a mechanism through which people try to resolve a whole range of social problems—which brings me on to responding to the speech just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I continue to be concerned about the question of trying to criminalise indirect threats. The point about somebody who sends a direct threat is that we can at least see the connection between that direct threat and the possibility of action. It is the same sort of thing that we have historically considered in relation to incitement. I understand that, where your physical being is threatened by words, physically a practical thing can happen, and that is to be taken very seriously. The problem I have is with the indirect threat from somebody who says, for example, “That smile should be taken of your face. It can be arranged”, or other indirect but incredibly unpleasant comments. There is clearly no link between that and a specific action. It might use violent language but it is indirect: “It could be arranged”, or “I wish it would happen”.

Anyone on social media—I am sure your Lordships all are—will know that I follow very carefully what people from different political parties say about each other. I do not know if you have ever followed the kind of things that are said about the Government and their Ministers, but the threats are not indirect and are often named. In that instance, it is nothing to do with women, but it is pretty violent and vile. By the way, I have also followed what is said about the Opposition Benches, and that can be pretty violent and vile, including language that implies that they wish those people were the subject of quite intense violence—without going into detail. That happens, and I do not approve of it—obviously. I also do not think that pile-ons are pleasant to be on the receiving end of, and I understand how they happen. However, if we criminalise pile-ons on social media, we are openly imposing censorship.

What is worse in my mind is that we are allowing the conflation of words and actions, where what people say or think is the same as acting on it, as the criminal law would see it. We have seen a very dangerous trend recently, which is particularly popular in the endless arguments and disputes over identity politics, where people will say that speech is violence. This has happened to a number of gender-critical feminists, in this instance women, who have gone in good faith to speak at universities, having been invited. They have been told that their speech was indistinguishable from violence and that it made students at the university feel under threat and unsafe and that it was the equivalent of being attacked. But guess what? Once you remove that distinction, the response to that speech can be to use violence, because you cannot tell the difference between them. That has happened around a number of university actions, where speakers and their supporters were physically assaulted by people who said that they were using self-defence against speech that was violent. I get nervous that this is a slippery slope, and we certainly should not go anywhere near it in legislation.

Finally, I agree that we should tackle the culture of people piling on and using this kind of language, but it is a cultural and social question. What we require is moral leadership and courage in the face of it—calling it out, arguing against it and so on. It is wrong to use the law to send messages; it is an abdication of moral leadership and a cop-out, let alone dangerous in what is criminalised. I urge your Lordships to reject those amendments.

My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendments 5C and 7A in this group. I welcome the Government’s moves to criminalise cyberflashing. It is something that many have campaigned for in both Houses and outside for many years. I will not repeat the issues so nobly introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and I say yet again that I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, is watching, frustrated that she is still not able to take part in these proceedings.

It is worth making the point that, if actions are deemed to be serious enough to require criminalisation and for people potentially to be prosecuted for them, I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to say in his remarks that this whole area of the law will be kept under review. There is no doubt that women and girls’ faith in the criminal justice system, both law enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service, is already very low. If we trumpet the fact that this offence has been introduced, and then there are no prosecutions because the hurdles have not been reached, that is even worse than not introducing the offence in the first place. So I hope very much that this will be kept under review, and no doubt there will be opportunities to return to it in the future.

I do not want to get into the broader debate that we have just heard, because we could be here for a very long time, but I would just say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Fox, that we will debate this in future days on Report and there will be specific protection and mention of women and girls on the face of the Bill—assuming, of course, that Amendment 152 is approved by this House. The guidance might not use the words that have been talked about, but the point is that that is the place to have the debate—led by the regulator with appropriate public consultation—about the gendered nature of abuse that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, has so eloquently set out. I hope that will also be a big step forward in these matters.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister about how this area of law will be kept under review.

My Lords, I understand that, as this is a new stage of the Bill, I have to declare my interests: I am the chair of 5Rights Foundation, a charity that works around technology and children; I am a fellow at the computer science department at Oxford University; I run the Digital Futures Commission, in conjunction with the 5Rights Foundation and the London School of Economics; I am a commissioner on the Broadband Commission; I am an adviser for the AI ethics institute; and I am involved in Born in Bradford and the Lancet commission, and I work with a broad number of civil society organisations.

My comments will be rather shorter. I want to make a detailed comment about Amendment 5B, which I strongly support and which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Allan. It refers to,

“a genuine medical, scientific or educational purpose, … the purposes of peer support”

I would urge him to put “genuine peer support”. That is very important because there is a lot of dog whistling that goes on in this area. So if the noble Lord—

My working assumption would be that that would be contestable. If somebody claimed the peer support defence and it was not genuine, that would lead to them becoming liable. So I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. It is a very helpful suggestion.

I also want to support the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. The level of abuse to women online and the gendered nature of it has been minimised; the perpetrators have clearly felt immune to the consequences of law enforcement. What worries me a little in this discussion is the idea or conflation that anything said to a woman is an act of violence. I believe that the noble Baroness was being very specific about the sorts of language that could be caught under her suggestions. I understand from what she said that she has been having conversations with the Minister. I very much hope that something is done in this area, and that it is explored more fully, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, in the guidance. However, I just want to make the point that online abuse is also gamified: people make arrangements to abuse people in groups in particular ways that are not direct. If they threaten violence, that is quite different to a pile-in saying that you are a marvellous human being.

My Lords, I too must declare my interests on the register—I think that is the quickest way of doing it to save time. We still have time, and I very much hope that the Minister will listen to this debate and consider it. Although we are considering clauses that, by and large, come at the end of the Bill, there is still time procedurally—if the Minister so decides—to come forward with an amendment later on Report or at Third Reading.

We have heard some very convincing arguments today. My noble friend explained that the Minister did not like the DPP solution. I have looked back again at the Law Commission report, and I cannot for the life of me see the distinction between what was proposed for the offence in its report and what is proposed by the Government. There is a cigarette paper, if we are still allowed to use that analogy, between them, but the DPP is recommended—perhaps not on a personal basis, although I do not know quite what distinction is made there by the Law Commission, but certainly the Minister clearly did not like that. My noble friend has come back with some specifics, and I very much hope that the Minister will put on the record that, in those circumstances, there would not be a prosecution. As we heard in Committee, 130 different organisations had strong concerns, and I hope that the Minister will respond to those concerns.

As regards my other noble friend’s amendment, again creatively she has come back with a proposal for including reckless behaviour. The big problem here is that many people believe that, unless you include “reckless” or “consent”, the “for a laugh” defence operates. As the Minister knows, quite expert advice has been had on this subject. I hope the Minister continues his discussions. I very much support my noble friend in this respect. I hope he will respond to her in respect of timing and monitoring—the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, mentioned the need for the issue to be kept under review—even if at the end of the day he does not respond positively with an amendment.

Everybody believes that we need a change of culture—even the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, clearly recognises that—but the big difference is whether or not we believe that these particular amendments should be made. We very much welcome what the Law Commission proposed and what the Government have put into effect, but the question at the end of day is whether we truly are making illegal online what is illegal offline. That has always been the Government’s test. We must be mindful of that in trying to equate online behaviour with offline behaviour. I do not believe that we are there yet, however much moral leadership we are exhorted to display. I very much take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, about the violence against women and girls amendment that the Government are coming forward with. I hope that will have a cultural change impact as well.

As regards the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, I very much take the point she made, both at Committee and on Report. She was very specific, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, said, and was very clear about the impact, which as men we severely underestimate if we do not listen to what she said. I was slightly surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, really underestimates the impact of that kind of abuse—particularly that kind of indirect abuse.

I was interested in what the Minister had to say in Committee:

“In relation to the noble Baroness’s Amendment 268, the intentional encouragement or assistance of a criminal offence is already captured under Sections 44 to 46 of the Serious Crime Act 2007”.—[Official Report, 22/6/23; col. 424.]

Is that still the Government's position? Has that been explained to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, who I would have thought was pretty expert in the 2007 Act? If she does not agree with the Minister, that is a matter of some concern.

Finally, I agree that we need to consider the points raised at the outset by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and I very much hope that the Government will keep that under review.

My Lords, this has been an interesting debate that in a curious way moves us from the debate on the first group, which was about the high level of aspiration for this Bill, for the work of those involved in it and indeed for Parliament as a whole, down to some of the nitty-gritty points that emerge from some of the Bill’s proposals. I am very much looking forward to the Minister’s response.

In a sense, where the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, ends, I want to start. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, did a good job of introducing the points made previously by his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in relation to those unfortunate exercises of public comment on businesses, and indeed individuals, that have no reason to receive them. There does not seem to be a satisfactory sanction for that. In a sense he was drawn by the overarching nature of Clause 1, but I think we have established between us that Clause 1 does not have legal effect in the way that he would like, so we would probably need to move further forward. The Government probably need to pick up his points in relation to some of the issues that are raised further down, because they are in fact not dissimilar and could be dealt with.

The key issue is the one that my noble friend Lady Kennedy ended on, in the sense that the law online and the law offline, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, seem to be at variance about what you can and cannot do in relation to threats issued, whether or not they are general, to a group or groups in society. This is a complex area that needs further thought of the nature that has been suggested, and may well refer back to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan. There is something here that we are not tackling correctly. I look forward to the Government’s response. We would support movement in that area should that agreement be made.

Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, whom I am tempted to call my noble friend because he is a friend, has just moved out of his seat—I do not need to give him a namecheck any more—but he and I went to a meeting yesterday, I think, although I have lost track of time. It was called by Luke Pollard MP and related to the incel movement or, as the meeting concluded, what we should call the alleged incel movement, because by giving it a name we somehow give it a position. I wanted to make that point because a lot of what we are talking about here is in the same territory. It was an informal research-focused meeting to hear all the latest research being done on the group of activities going under the name of the alleged incel movement.

I mention that because it plays into a lot of the discussion here. The way in which those who organise it do so—the name Andrew Tate has already been mentioned—was drawn into the debate in a much broader context by that research, particularly because representatives from the Home Office made the interesting point that the process by which the young men who are involved in this type of activity are groomed to join groups and are told that by doing so they are establishing a position that has been denied to them by society in general, and allegedly by women in particular, is very similar to the methods used by those who are cultivating terrorism activity. That may seem to be a big stretch but it was convincing, and the argument and debate around that certainly said to me that there are things operating within the world of social media, with its ability to reach out to those who often feel alone, even if they are not, and who feel ignored, and to reach them in a way that causes them to overreact in the way they deal with the issues they face.

That point was picked up by others, including my noble friend Lady Kennedy and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, in relation to the way in which the internet itself is in some way gendered against women. I do not in any sense want to apportion blame anywhere for that; it is a much more complex issue than single words can possibly address, but it needs to be addressed. As was said in the meeting and has been said today, there are cultural, educational and holistic aspects here. We really do not tackle the symptoms or the effects of it, but we should also look at what causes people to act in the way they have because of, or through the agency of, the internet.

Having said that, I support the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Allan, and I look forward to the Government’s response to them. Amendment 5B raises the issue that it will be detrimental to society if people stop posting and commenting on things because they fear that they will be prosecuted—or not even prosecuted but attacked. The messages that they want to share will be lost as a result, and that is a danger that we do not want to encourage. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, made powerful points about the way in which the offence of cyberflashing is going to be dealt with, and the differences between that and the intimate image abuse that we are coming on to in the next group. It may well be that this is the right way forward, and indeed we support the Government in the way that they are going, but it is important to recognise her point that we need a test of whether it is working. The Government may well review the impact of the Bill in the normal way of things, but this aspect needs particular attention; we need to know whether there are prosecutions and convictions and whether people understand the implication of the change in practice. We need publicity, as has been said, otherwise it will not be effective in any case. These issues, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and picked up by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, are important. We will have other opportunities to discuss them, but at this stage we should at least get a response to that.

If it is true that in Northern Ireland there is now a different standard for the way in which cyberflashing offences are to be undertaken—taking into account the points made very well by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and the worry about encouraging more offences for which crimes may not necessarily be appropriate at this stage, particularly the one about recklessness—do the Government not have a slight problem here? In the first case, do we really accept that we want differences between the various regions and nations of our country in these important issues? We support devolution but we also need to have a sense of what the United Kingdom as a whole stands for in its relationship with these types of criminal offence, if they are criminal. If that happens, do we need a better understanding of why one part of the country has moved in a particular way, and is that something that we are missing in picking up action that is perhaps necessary in other areas? As my noble friend Lady Kennedy has also said, some of the work she has been doing in Scotland is ahead of the work that we have been doing in this part of the United Kingdom, and we need to pick up the lessons from that as well.

As I said at the beginning, this is an interesting range of amendments. They are not as similar as the grouping might suggest, but they point in a direction that needs government attention, and I very much look forward to the Minister’s comments on them.

I am grateful to my noble friends Lady Buscombe and Lord Leicester and my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier for the amendments that they have tabled, with which we began this helpful debate, as well as for their time earlier this week to discuss them. We had a good debate on this topic in Committee and I had a good discussion with my noble friend Lady Buscombe and my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier on Monday. I will explain why the Government cannot accept the amendments that they have brought forward today.

I understand my noble friends’ concerns about the impact that fake reviews can have on businesses, but the Bill and the criminal offences it contains are not the right place to address this issue. The amendments would broaden the scope of the offences and likely result in overcriminalisation, which I know my noble friends would not want to see.

I reassure my noble friends that, as we have discussed, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will address these issues by including a power to take stronger action against fake and misleading reviews. Schedule 18 to that Bill sets out a power for the Secretary of State to that effect. While that Bill does not place duties on private individuals acting in a personal capacity, the proposals are likely to require traders hosting reviews to take reasonable and proportionate steps to ensure that they represent a genuine consumer experience.

The Government will also consult on what is reasonable and proportionate for businesses to do to ensure that reviews are genuine and do not unduly harm businesses or the people who own them. My noble friends’ Amendment 5A would represent a significant expansion of the communications offences in the Bill. It would criminalise a wide range of conduct other than sending messages. Criminalising conduct which is merely capable of encouraging someone else to send a message would represent a significant risk to freedom of expression and is beyond the scope of the offence we have drafted. While I remain sympathetic to my noble friends about the malignant behaviour they have highlighted and the impact on the people who own the businesses affected, I continue to agree to disagree with my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier about whether this is a matter for this Bill. I continue to point him and my noble friends in the direction of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which my noble friend Lord Camrose will take through; he has heard the points my noble friends have raised today and in earlier stages of the Online Safety Bill.

Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, seeks to amend the definition of the offence in Clause 164(1) to add the threats of “rape” and “disfigurement” to the existing description, which includes “a threat of death”. Her Amendment 5 is consequential. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her time yesterday to discuss her amendments. The Government agree that threats of rape and disfigurement are truly abhorrent—she set out some harrowing examples—and should be captured in criminal law, which is why the offence, as drafted, already covers these threats. Rape is included in the definition of “serious harm”. As I discussed with the noble Baroness yesterday, disfigurement would also be captured under the definition of “serious harm”, as it would constitute grievous bodily harm.

I know that the noble Baroness has come across some very distressing examples of threats to disfigure in her work on tackling misogyny, including the review she mentioned that she chaired for the Scottish Government, but if disfigurement were specified separately in this offence, it could introduce ambiguity about the ambit of serious harm. Grievous bodily harm is an established and well-understood legal concept; singling out disfigurement could lead to uncertainty in the law about other harms which amount to grievous bodily harm.

The noble Baroness’s Amendment 4 seeks to clarify that a person who sends a threatening message would meet the threshold of this offence, even if the threat were carried out by “another individual”. The offence, as drafted, does not require the threat to be carried out by a particular person, but following the helpful discussions with the noble Baroness yesterday, I am happy to acknowledge the need for greater clarity here. While her amendment would make it clearer that the offence will capture scenarios where the recipient feared that the threat would be carried out by the sender or a different individual, it could restrict this to specific or identifiable individuals. This would apply only where there was an intention, and not where a sender is reckless as to causing the recipient to fear the threat being carried out. As the noble Baroness knows, while we cannot accept the amendment as she has drafted it, we are happy to commit to bringing forward a government amendment at Third Reading to clarify that the offence is committed whether or not the threat would be carried out by the person who sent the message. I am very grateful to her for pressing this issue.

Amendment 5B, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Allan of Hallam and Lord Clement-Jones, seeks to ensure that the new serious self-harm offence does not lead to the prosecution of people sharing content to support people at risk of self-harm. I fully understand the concern which has prompted their amendment, and I reassure them that the offence has been developed with the aim of ensuring that it does not criminalise the sorts of people that they mentioned. The Law Commission addressed this issue and was confident that the inclusion of the two key elements it recommended—an intention to encourage or assist another person to harm themselves, and a threshold of harm consistent with grievous bodily harm—will constrain the offence to only the most culpable offending.

We expect these tight parameters and the usual prosecutorial discretion to provide sufficient safeguards against inappropriate prosecutions. The defence of necessity may also serve to ensure that actions undertaken in extraordinary circumstances to mitigate more serious harm should not be criminal. The offence of encouraging or assisting suicide has not led to the prosecution of vulnerable people who talk about suicidal feelings online or those who offer them support, and there is no reason to suppose that this offence will criminalise those whom this amendment seeks to protect. However, the noble Lords raise an important issue and I assure them that we will keep the operation of the offence under review. The Government have committed to expanding it to cover all ways of encouraging or assisting self-harm so there will be an opportunity to revisit it in due course.

I appreciate the Minister’s response. Could he also respond to my suggestion that it would be helpful for some of the people working on the front line to meet officials to go through their concerns in more detail?

I am very happy to make that commitment. It would be useful to have their continued engagement, as we have had throughout the drafting of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, has tabled a number of amendments related to the new offence of cyberflashing. I will start with her Amendment 6. We believe that this amendment reduces the threshold of the new offence to too great an extent. It could, for example, criminalise a person sending a picture of naked performance art to a group of people, where one person might be alarmed by the image but the sender sends it anyway because he or she believes that it would be well received. That may be incorrect, unwise and insensitive, but we do not think it should carry the risk of being convicted of a serious sexual offence.

Crucially, the noble Baroness’s amendment requires that the harm against the victim be proven in court. Not only does this add an extra step for the prosecution to prove in order for the perpetrator to be convicted, it creates an undue burden on the victim, who would be cross-examined about his or her—usually her—experience of harm. For example, she might have to explain why she felt humiliated; this in itself could be retraumatising and humiliating for the victim. By contrast, Clause 170 as drafted means that the prosecution has only to prove and focus on the perpetrator’s intent.

I am very grateful for the Minister’s comments. This is the crux of my confusion: I am not entirely sure why it is necessary for the victim to appear in court. In intimate image abuse, is it not the case that the victim does not have to make an appearance in court? What is the difference between intimate image abuse and cyberflashing abuse? I do not get why one attracts a physical court appearance and the other does not. They seem to be different sides of the same coin to me.

If a defendant said that he—usually he—had sent an image believing that the consent of the recipient was implied, the person making the complaint would be cross-examined on whether or not she had indeed given that consent. If an offence predicated on proof of non-consent or proof of harm were made out, the victim could be called to give evidence and be cross-examined in court. The defence would be likely to lead evidence challenging the victim’s characteristics and credibility. We do not want that to be a concern for victims; we do not want that to be a barrier to victims coming forward and reporting abuse for fear of having their sexual history or intentions cross-examined.

It is—and I shall explain more in that group why we take that approach. But the offence of cyberflashing matches the existing offence of flashing, which is not a consent-based offence. If somebody flashes at someone in public, it does not matter whether the person who sees that flashing has consented to it—it is the intent of the flasher that is the focus of the court. That is why the Law Commission and we have brought the cyberflashing offence forward in the same way, whereas the sharing of intimate images without somebody’s consent relies on the consent to sharing. But I shall say a bit more when we get to that group, if the noble Lord will allow.

I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, is going to come in, and he knows a great deal more about this than I do. But we are getting into the territory where we talk about whether or not somebody needs to appear in court in order to show consent. That was all that I was trying to point out, in a way—that, if the Minister accepted the amendment on behalf of my noble friend, and then the complainant had to appear in court, why is that not the case with intimate abuse?

Perhaps I can respond to the point about intimate abuse when we come on to the next group—that might be helpful.

If the defendant said that they had sent an image because they thought that consent had been obtained, the person whose consent was under question would find themselves cross-examined on it in a way that we do not want to see. We do not want that to be a barrier to people reporting this, in the same way that it is not for people who report flashing on the streets.

My Lords, I do not want to interfere in private grief, but the courts have powers to protect witnesses, particularly in cases where they are vulnerable or will suffer acute distress, by placing screens in the way and controlling the sorts of cross-examinations that go on. I accept the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, but I think that my noble friend the Minister will be advised that there are protective measures in place already for the courts to look after people of the sort that she is worried about.

There are indeed but, as my noble and learned friend’s interjection makes clear, those are still means for people to be cross-examined and give their account in court, even with those mitigations and protections. That is really the crux of the issue here.

We have already debated the risk that the approach that the noble Baroness sets out in her Amendments 5C and 7A criminalises sending messages, and people whom we would not deem to be criminal. I want to reassure her and your Lordships’ House that the intent-based offence, as drafted at Clause 170, provides the comprehensive protections for victims that we all want to see, including situations where the perpetrator claims it was “just for a joke”. The offence is committed if a perpetrator intended to cause humiliation, and that captures many supposed “joke” motives, as the perverted form of humour in this instance is often derived from the victim’s humiliation, alarm or distress.

Indeed, it was following consultation with victims’ groups and others that the Law Commission added humiliation as a form of intent to the offence to address those very concerns. Any assertions made by a defendant in this regard would not be taken at face value but would be considered and tested by the police and courts in the usual way, alongside the evidence. The Crown Prosecution Service and others are practised in prosecuting intent, and juries and magistrates may infer intention from the context of the behaviour and its foreseeable consequences.

The addition of defences, as the noble Baroness suggests in her Amendment 7A, is unfortunately still not sufficient to ensure that we are not overcriminalising here. Even with the proposed defences, sending a picture of genitalia without consent for medical reasons would still risk being considered a criminal Act and potentially compel a medical professional to justify that he or she has an adequate defence.

On the various protections already within that original amendment, if it went to court, why would the person who had sent the image get prosecuted if he or she had a good reason for having sent it?

It is about the burden on the medical professionals and the question of whether it comes to court when the police investigate it and the prosecution make out. We do not want to see that sort of behaviour being overly criminalised or the risk of prosecution hanging over people for reasons where it is not needed. We want to make sure that the offence is focused on the behaviour that we all want to tackle here.

The Law Commission has looked at this extensively—and I am glad the noble Baroness has had the opportunity to speak to it directly—and brought forward these proposals, which mirror the offence of flashing that already exists in criminal law. We think that is the right way of doing it and not risking the overcriminalisation of those whom noble Lords would not want to capture.

Contrary to some concerns that have been expressed, the onus is never on the victim to marshal evidence or prove the intent of the perpetrator. It is for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service when investigating the alleged offence or prosecuting the case in court. That is why we and the Law Commission consulted the police and the CPS extensively in bringing the offence forward.

By contrast, as I say, the consent-based approach is more likely to put onerous pressure on the victim by focusing the case on his or her behaviour and sexual history instead of the behaviour of the perpetrator. I know and can tell from the interjections that noble Lords still have some concerns or questions about this offence as drafted. I reassure them, as my noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes urged, that we will be actively monitoring and reviewing the implementation of this offence, along with the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, to ensure that it is working effectively and bringing perpetrators to justice.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, also raised the importance of public engagement and education in this regard. As she may know, the Government have a long-term campaign to tackle violence against women and girls. The Enough campaign covers a range of online and offline forms of abuse, including cyberflashing. The campaign includes engaging with the public to deepen understanding of this offence. It focuses on educating young people about healthy relationships, on targeting perpetrators and on ensuring that victims of violence against women and girls can access support. Future phases of the Enough campaign will continue to highlight the abusive nature and unacceptability of these behaviours, and methods for people safely to challenge them.

In addition, in our tackling violence against women and girls strategy the Government have committed to invest £3 million better to understand what works to prevent violence against women and girls, to invest in high-quality, evidence-informed prevention projects, including in schools, aiming to educate and inform children and young people about violence against women and girls, healthy relationships and the consequences of abuse.

With that commitment to keep this under review—to ensure that it is working in the way that the Law Commission and the Government hope and expect it to—and with that explanation of the way we will be encouraging the public to know about the protections that are there through the law and more broadly, I hope noble Lords will be reassured and will not press their amendments.

Before the Minister sits down, I express my gratitude that he has indicated that my amendment would have some serious impact. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for saying that there should be some learning among men in the House and in wider society about what puts real fear in the hearts of women and how it affects how women conduct their lives. I thank those who said that some change is necessary.

We have to remember that this clause covers a threatening communications offence. I know that something is going to be said about the particular vulnerability of women and girls—the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, mentioned it, and I am grateful for that—but this offence is not specific to one gender. It is a general offence that someone commits if a message they send conveys a threat of death or serious harm.

I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that we are not talking about a slight—saying to a woman that she is ugly or something. This is not about insults but about serious threats. The business about it being reckless as to whether or not it is going to be carried out is vital. Clause 164(1)(c)(i) says an offence is committed if it is intended that an individual encountering the message would fear that the threat would be carried out. I would like to see added the words, “whether or not by the person sending the message”.

Just think of this in the Irish context of years gone by. If someone sent a message saying, “You should be kneecapped”, it is very clear that we would be talking about something that would put someone in terror and fear. It is a serious fear, so I am glad that this is supported by the Minister, and I hope we will progress it to the next stage.

My Lords, without wishing to disrupt the very good nature of this debate, I remind the House that the Companion advises against speaking more than once on Report, except for specific questions or points of elucidation.

None the less, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her clarification and expansion of this point. I am glad that she is satisfied with the approach we have set out.

The issue the noble Baroness has highlighted will protect all victims against people trying to evade the law, and I am grateful to her. We will bring forward an amendment at Third Reading.

My Lords, I will be incredibly brief because everything that needs to be said has been said at least twice. I am grateful to those who have taken the trouble to listen to what I had to say, and I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 2A withdrawn.

Amendment 2B not moved.

Clause 164: Threatening communications offence

Amendments 3 to 5 not moved.

Clause 165: Interpretation of sections 162 to 164

Amendment 5A not moved.

Clause 167: Offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm

Amendment 5B not moved.

Clause 170: Sending etc photograph or film of genitals

Amendments 5C and 6 not moved.

Amendment 7

Moved by

7: Clause 170, page 149, line 25, after “made” insert “or altered”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides that “photograph” and “film” in the new offence of sending a photograph or film of genitals (and, by extension the new offences of sharing an intimate photograph or film) includes an image which has been altered and which appears to be a photograph or film.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue some of the themes we touched on in the last group and the debate we have had throughout the passage of the Bill on the importance of tackling intimate image abuse. I shall introduce the government amendments in this group that will make a real difference to victims of this abhorrent behaviour.

Before starting, I take the opportunity again to thank the Law Commission for the work it has done in its review of the criminal law relating to the non-consensual taking, making and sharing of intimate images. I also thank my right honourable friend Dame Maria Miller, who has long campaigned for and championed the victims of online abuse. Her sterling efforts have contributed greatly to the Government’s approach and to the formulation of policy in this sensitive area, as well as to the reform of criminal law.

As we announced last November, we intend to bring forward a more expansive package of measures based on the Law Commission’s recommendations as soon as parliamentary time allows, but the Government agree with the need to take swift action. That is why we are bringing forward these amendments now, to deliver on the recommendations which fall within the scope of the Bill, thereby ensuring justice for victims sooner.

These amendments repeal the offence of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress and replace it with four new sexual offences in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The first is a base offence of sharing an intimate photograph or film without consent or reasonable belief in consent. This recognises that the sharing of such images, whatever the intent of the perpetrator, should be considered a criminal violation of the victim’s bodily autonomy.

The amendments create two more serious offences of sharing an intimate photograph or film without consent with intent to cause alarm, distress or humiliation, or for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification. Offenders committing the latter offence may also be subject to notification requirements, commonly referred to as being on the sex-offenders register. The amendments create an offence of threatening to share an intimate image. These new sharing offences are based on the Law Commission’s recommended approach to the idea of intimate photographs or films to include images which show or appear to show a person nude or partially nude, or which depict sexual or toileting activity. This will protect more victims than the current Section 33 offence, which protects only images of a private and sexual nature.

Finally, these clauses will, for the first time, make it a criminal offence to share a manufactured or so-called deepfake image of another person without his or her consent. This form of intimate image abuse is becoming more prevalent, and we want to send a clear message that it will not be tolerated.

By virtue of placing these offences in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, we are extending to these offences also the current special measures, so that victims can benefit from them in court, and from anonymity provisions, which are so important when something so intimate has been shared without consent. This is only the first stage in our reform of the law in this area. We are committed to introducing additional changes, giving effect to further recommendations of the Law Commission’s report which are beyond the scope of the Bill, when parliamentary time allows.

I hope that noble Lords from across your Lordships’ House will agree that these amendments represent an important step forward in tackling intimate image abuse and protecting victims. I commend them to the House, and I beg to move.

My Lords, I welcome these new offences. From my professional experience, I know that what came to be known as “sextortion” created some of the most distressing cases you could experience, where an individual would obtain intimate images, often by deception, and then use them to make threats. This is where a social network is particularly challenging; it enables people to access a network of all the family and friends of an individual whose photo they now hold and to threaten to distribute it to their nearest and dearest. This affects men and women; many of the victims were men who were honey-potted into sharing intimate images and in the worst cases it led to suicide. It was not uncommon that people would feel that there was no way out; the threat was so severe that they would take their own lives. It is extremely welcome that we are doing something about it, and making it more obvious to anyone who is thinking about committing this kind of offence that they run the risk of criminal prosecution.

I have a few specific questions. The first is on the definitions in proposed new Section 66D, inserted by government Amendment 8, where the Government are trying to define what “intimate” or “nudity” represents. This takes me back again to my professional experience of going through slide decks and trying to decide what was on the right or wrong side of a nudity policy line. I will not go into the detail of everything it said, not least because I keep noticing younger people in the audience here, but I will leave you with the thought that you ended up looking at images that involved typically fishnets, in the case of women, and socks, in the case of men—I will leave the rest to your Lordships’ imaginations to determine at what point someone has gone from being clothed to nude. I can see in this amendment that the courts are going to have to deal with the same issues.

The serious point is that, where there is alignment between platform policies, definitions and what we do not want to be distributed, that is extremely helpful, because it then means that if someone does try to put an intimate image out across one of the major platforms, the platform does not have to ask whether there was consent. They can just say that it is in breach of their policy and take it down. It actually has quite a beneficial effect on slowing transmission.

The other point that comes out of that is that some of these questions of intimacy are quite culturally subjective. In some cultures, even a swimsuit photo could be used to cause humiliation and distress. I know this is extremely difficult; we do not want to be overly censorious but, at the same time, we do not want to leave people exposed to threats, and if you come from a culture where a swimsuit photo would be a threat, the definitions may not work for you. So I hope that, as we go through this, there will be a continued dialogue between experts in the platforms who have to deal with these questions and people working on the criminal offence side. To the extent that we can achieve it, there should be alignment and the message should go out that if you are thinking of distributing an image like this, you run the risk of being censored by the platforms but also of running into a criminal prosecution. That is on the mechanics of making it work.

I have two questions on the specifics of implementation. I am sure the Minister is going to confirm this, but will our definitions of photographs and films stretch to novel settings such as virtual reality? This is where somebody takes an image of an individual and creates a virtual reality avatar. Our expectation is that that is still within the definition of a photograph and will not escape the threat of prosecution. I hope he can confirm that.

Secondly, on the cross-jurisdictional questions that regularly come up, from experience, many of these sextortion cases occur cross-border. There are rings in particular countries that are well known, and law enforcement will be able to share information on those. It is well known where these rings are. If this offence is going to be effective, we have to make sure there is that cross-border co-operation between law enforcement agencies in each country. Otherwise, the problem we have today, which is that people feel they can do this with impunity, continues. If there is that cross-border co-operation, some of the regimes within which some of the perpetrators live will not treat them as nicely as we would if those convictions happen. Having created this offence, let us make sure it is effective, whether or not the perpetrator is in the United Kingdom. I hope that on those points the Minister can give some additional assurances.

I also welcome these amendments and want to pay tribute to Maria Miller in the other place for her work on this issue. It has been extraordinary. I too was going to raise the issue of the definition of “photograph”, so perhaps the Minister could say or, even better, put it in the Bill. It does extend to those other contexts.

My main point is about children. We do not want to criminalise children, but this is pervasive among under-18s. I do want to make the distinction between those under-18s who intentionally harm another under-18 and have to be responsible for what they have done in the meaning of the law as the Minister set it out, and those who are under the incredible pressure—I do not mean coercion, because that is another out-clause—of oversharing that is inherent in the design of many of these services. That is an issue I am sure we are going to come back to later today. I would love to hear the Minister say something about the Government’s intention from the Dispatch Box: that it is preventive first and there is a balance between education and punishment for under-18s who find themselves unavoidably in this situation.

Very briefly, before I speak to these amendments, I want to welcome them. Having spoken to and introduced some of the threats of sharing intimate images under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, I think it is really welcome that everything has been brought together in one place. Again, I pay tribute to the work of Dame Maria Miller and many others outside who have raised these as issues. I also want to pay tribute to the Ministry of Justice Minister Edward Argar, who has also worked with my noble friend the Minister on this.

I have one specific question. The Minister did mention this in his remarks, but could he be absolutely clear that these amendments do not mention specifically the lifetime anonymity of claimants and the special measures in relation to giving evidence that apply to witnesses. That came up in the last group of amendments as well. Because they are not actually in this drafting, it would be helpful if he could put on record the relationship with the provisions in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. I know that would be appreciated by campaigners.

My Lords, I have very little to add to the wise words that we have heard from my noble friend and from the noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Morgan. We should thank all those who have got us to this place, including the Law Commission. It was a separate report. In that context, I would be very interested to hear a little more from the Minister about the programme of further offences that he mentioned. The communication offences that we have talked about so far are either the intimate images offences, which there was a separate report on, or other communications offences, which are also being dealt with as part of the Bill. I am not clear what other offences are in the programme.

Finally, the Minister himself raised the question of deepfakes. I have rustled through the amendments to see exactly how they are caught. The question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, is more or less the same but put a different way. How are these deepfakes caught in the wording that is now being included in the Bill? This is becoming a big issue and we must be absolutely certain that it is captured.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this suite of government amendments. From these Benches we welcome them. From the nature of the debate, this seems to be very much a work in progress. I wish the Minister well as he and the Justice Minister continue to pick their way through a route to get us to where we need to be. I too thank the Law Commission, Dame Maria Miller MP and so many other campaigners who, as noble Lords have said, have got us to this important point.

However, as I am sure is recognised, with the best of intentions, the government amendments still leave some areas that are as yet unresolved, particularly on sharing images with others: matters such as revenge porn and sending unwanted pictures on dating apps. There are areas still to be explored. The Minister and the Justice Minister said in a letter that, when parliamentary time allows, there will be a broader package of offences being brought forward. I realise that the Minister cannot be precise, but I would appreciate some sense of urgency or otherwise in terms of parliamentary time and when that might be.

We are only just starting to understand the impact of, for example, artificial intelligence, which we are about to come on to. That will be relevant in this regard too. We all understand that this is a bit of a moveable feast. The test will be whether this works. Can the Minister say a bit more about how this suite of measures will be kept under review and, in so doing, will the Government be looking at keeping an eye on the number of charges that are brought? How will this be reported to the House?

In line with this, will there be some consideration of the points that were raised in the previous group? I refer particularly to the issues raised in the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, especially where there may not be the intent, or the means, to obtain sexual gratification. They might be about “having a bit of a laugh”, as the noble Baroness said—which might be funny to some but really not funny to others.

In welcoming this, I hope that the Minister will indicate that this is just one step along the way and when we will see further steps.

I am happy to respond clearly to that. As my right honourable friend Edward Argar MP and I said in our letter, this is just the first step towards implementing the changes which the Law Commission has recommended and which we agree are needed. We will implement a broader package of offences, covering, for instance, the taking of intimate images without consent, which were also part of the Law Commission’s report. The parameters of this Bill limit what we can do now. As I said in my opening remarks, we want to bring those forward now so that we can provide protections for victims in all the ways that the Bill gives us scope to do. We will bring forward further provisions when parliamentary time allows. The noble Baroness will understand that I cannot pre-empt when that is, although if we make good progress on the Bill, parliamentary time may allow for it sooner.

The noble Baroness also asked about our review. We will certainly take into account the number of prosecutions and charges that are brought. That is always part of our consideration of criminal law, but I am happy to reassure her that this will be the case here. These are new offences, and we want to make sure that they are leading to prosecutions to deter people from doing it.

The noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam, asked whether images will include those shared on virtual reality platforms and in other novel ways. As he knows, the Bill is written in a technologically neutral way to try to be future-proof and capture those technologies which have not yet been invented. I mentioned deepfakes in my opening remarks, which we can envisage. An image will be included on whatever platform it is shared, if it appears to be a photograph or film—that is to say, if it is photo-real. I hope that reassures him.

If the Minister has time, can he actually direct us to that, because it is important that we are clear that it really is captured?

In the amendments, if I can, I will. In the meantime, I reassure my noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes that, as I said in opening, placing these offences in the Sexual Offences Act means that we are also extending the current special measures provisions to these offences, as we heard in our debate on the last group, so that victims can benefit from those in court. The same applies to anonymity provisions, which are so important when something so intimate has been shared without someone’s consent.

I promised in the previous group to outline the difference in the consent basis between this offence and the cyberflashing offence. Both are abhorrent behaviours which need to be addressed in criminal law. Although the levels of harm and distress may be the same in each case, the Law Commission recommended different approaches to take into account the different actions of the perpetrator in each offence. Sharing an intimate image of somebody without their consent is, in and of itself, wrongful, and a violation of their bodily privacy and sexual autonomy. Sending a genital image without the consent of the recipient is not, in and of itself, wrongful; for instance, the example I gave in the previous debate about an artistic performance, or a photograph which depicts a naked protester. If that was sent without the consent of the recipient, it is not always or necessarily harmful. This is an issue which the Law Commission looked at in some detail.

The criminal law must take the culpability of the perpetrator into account. I reassure noble Lords that both we and the Law Commission have looked at these offences considerably, working with the police and prosecutors in doing so. We are confident that the Bill provides the comprehensive protection for victims that we all want to see, including in situations where a perpetrator may claim that it was just a joke.

The terms “photograph” and “film” are defined in proposed new Section 66D(5). That refers to the definition in new Section 66A, which refers to an image which is made or altered in any way

“which appears to be a photograph or film”.

That is where the point I make about photo-reality is captured.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, is right to highlight that this is a matter not just for the criminal law. As we discussed on the previous group, it is also a matter for public education, so that young people and users of any age are aware of the legal boundaries and legal issues at stake here. That is why we have the public education campaigns to which I alluded in the previous group.

I believe I misspoke when I asked my question. I referred to under-18s. Of course, if they are under 18 then it is child sexual abuse. I meant someone under the age of 18 with an adult image. I put that there for the record.

If the noble Baroness misspoke, I understood what she intended. I knew what she was getting at.

With that, I hope noble Lords will be content not to press their amendments and that they will support the government amendments.

Amendment 7 agreed.

Amendment 7A not moved.

Amendment 8

Moved by

8: After Clause 170, insert the following new Clause—

“Sharing or threatening to share intimate photograph or film

In the Sexual Offences Act 2003, after section 66A (inserted by section 170), insert—“66B Sharing or threatening to share intimate photograph or film(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—(a) A intentionally shares a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, another person (B) in an intimate state,(b) B does not consent to the sharing of the photograph or film, and(c) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.(2) A person (A) commits an offence if—(a) A intentionally shares a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, another person (B) in an intimate state,(b) A does so with the intention of causing B alarm, distress or humiliation, and(c) B does not consent to the sharing of the photograph or film.(3) A person (A) commits an offence if—(a) A intentionally shares a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, another person (B) in an intimate state, (b) A does so for the purpose of A or another person obtaining sexual gratification,(c) B does not consent to the sharing of the photograph or film, and(d) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.(4) A person (A) commits an offence if—(a) A threatens to share a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, another person (B) in an intimate state, and(b) A does so—(i) with the intention that B or another person who knows B will fear that the threat will be carried out, or(ii) being reckless as to whether B or another person who knows B will fear that the threat will be carried out.(5) Subsections (1) to (4) are subject to section 66C (exemptions).(6) For the purposes of subsections (1) to (3) and section 66C(3)(b)—(a) “consent” to the sharing of a photograph or film includes general consent covering the particular act of sharing as well as specific consent to the particular act of sharing, and(b) whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents.(7) Where a person is charged with an offence under subsection (4), it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove—(a) that the photograph or film mentioned in the threat exists, or(b) if it does exist, that it is in fact a photograph or film which shows or appears to show a person in an intimate state.(8) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to prove that the person had a reasonable excuse for sharing the photograph or film.(9) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the maximum term for summary offences or a fine (or both).(10) A person who commits an offence under subsection (2), (3) or (4) is liable—(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the general limit in a magistrates’ court or a fine (or both);(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.(11) In subsection (9) “the maximum term for summary offences” means—(a) if the offence is committed before the time when section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force, six months;(b) if the offence is committed after that time, 51 weeks.(12) If on the trial of a person charged with an offence under subsection (2) or (3) a magistrates’ court or jury finds the person not guilty of the offence charged, the magistrates’ court or jury may find the person guilty of an offence under subsection (1).(13) The Crown Court has the same powers and duties in relation to a person who is by virtue of subsection (12) convicted before it of an offence under subsection (1) as a magistrates’ court would have on convicting the person of the offence. 66C Sharing or threatening to share intimate photograph or film: exemptions(1) A person (A) who shares a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, another person (B) in an intimate state does not commit an offence under section 66B(1), (2) or (3) if—(a) the photograph or film was taken in a place to which the public or a section of the public had or were permitted to have access (whether on payment or otherwise),(b) B had no reasonable expectation of privacy from the photograph or film being taken, and(c) B was, or A reasonably believes that B was, in the intimate state voluntarily.(2) For the purposes of subsection (1)(b), whether a person had a reasonable expectation of privacy from a photograph or film being taken is to be determined by reference to the circumstances that the person sharing the photograph or film reasonably believes to have existed at the time the photograph or film was taken.(3) A person (A) who shares a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, another person (B) in an intimate state does not commit an offence under section 66B(1), (2) or (3) if—(a) the photograph or film had, or A reasonably believes that the photograph or film had, been previously publicly shared, and(b) B had, or A reasonably believes that B had, consented to the previous sharing.(4) A person (A) who shares a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, another person (B) in an intimate state does not commit an offence under section 66B(1) if—(a) B is a person under 16,(b) B lacks, or A reasonably believes that B lacks, capacity to consent to the sharing of the photograph or film, and(c) the photograph or film is shared—(i) with a healthcare professional acting in that capacity, or(ii) otherwise in connection with the care or treatment of B by a healthcare professional.(5) A person who shares a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, a child in an intimate state does not commit an offence under section 66B(1) if the photograph or film is of a kind ordinarily shared between family and friends.(6) A person who threatens to share a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, another person in an intimate state does not commit an offence under section 66B(4) if, by reason of this section, the person would not commit an offence under section 66B(1), (2) or (3) by sharing the photograph or film in the circumstances conveyed by the threat.66D Sharing or threatening to share intimate photograph or film: interpretation(1) This section applies for the purposes of sections 66B and 66C.(2) A person “shares” something if the person, by any means, gives or shows it to another person or makes it available to another person.(3) But a provider of an internet service by means of which a photograph or film is shared is not to be regarded as a person who shares it.(4) “Photograph” and “film” have the same meaning as in section 66A (see subsections (3) to (5) of that section). (5) Except where a photograph or film falls within subsection (8), a photograph or film “shows, or appears to show, another person in an intimate state” if it shows or appears to show—(a) the person participating or engaging in an act which a reasonable person would consider to be a sexual act,(b) the person doing a thing which a reasonable person would consider to be sexual,(c) all or part of the person’s exposed genitals, buttocks or breasts,(d) the person in an act of urination or defecation, or(e) the person carrying out an act of personal care associated with the person’s urination, defecation or genital or anal discharge.(6) For the purposes of subsection (5)(c) the reference to all or part of a person’s “exposed” genitals, buttocks or breasts includes—(a) a reference to all or part of the person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts visible through wet or otherwise transparent clothing,(b) the case where all or part of the person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts would be exposed but for the fact that they are covered only with underwear, and(c) the case where all or part of the person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts would be exposed but for the fact that they are obscured, provided that the area obscured is similar to or smaller than an area that would typically be covered by underwear worn to cover a person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts (as the case may be).(7) In subsection (6)(c) “obscured” means obscured by any means, other than by clothing that a person is wearing, including, in particular, by an object, by part of a person’s body or by digital alteration.(8) A photograph or film falls within this subsection if (so far as it shows or appears to show a person in an intimate state) it shows or appears to show something, other than breastfeeding, that is of a kind ordinarily seen in public.(9) For the purposes of subsection (8) “breastfeeding” includes the rearranging of clothing in the course of preparing to breastfeed or having just finished breastfeeding.””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides for new offences of sharing or threatening to share intimate photographs or films.

Amendment 8 agreed.

Amendment 9

Moved by

9: After Clause 171, insert the following new Clause—

“Repeals in connection with offences under section (Sharing or threatening to share intimate photograph or film)

Sections 33 to 35 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (disclosing or threatening to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress) are repealed.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the new Clause creating offences of sharing or threatening to share intimate photographs or films.

Amendment 9 agreed.

Clause 172: Consequential amendments

Amendments 10 and 11

Moved by

10: Clause 172, page 150, line 15, leave out “section 170” and insert “sections 170 and (Sharing or threatening to share intimate photograph or film)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides that Part 3 of Schedule 14 also makes consequential amendments on the new Clause creating offences of sharing and threatening to share intimate photographs or films.

11: Clause 172, page 150, line 15, at end insert—

“(4) Part 4 of Schedule 14 contains amendments consequential on section (Repeals in connection with offences under section (Sharing or threatening to share intimate photograph or film)).”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment introduces a new Part of Schedule 14 which makes consequential amendments on the new Clause in my name repealing sections 33 to 35 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.

Amendments 10 and 11 agreed.

Schedule 14: Amendments consequential on offences in Part 10 of this Act

Amendments 12 to 26

Moved by

12: Schedule 14, page 240, line 24, after first “the” insert “first”

Member’s explanatory statement

This is a technical amendment ensuring that the amendments made under Schedule 14 to Schedule 1 to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 are inserted in the correct place in that Act.

13: Schedule 14, page 240, line 25, after “66A” insert “, 66B”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a reference to the new offences of sharing and threatening to share an intimate photograph or film to Schedule 1 to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (offences to which certain provisions of that Act apply).

14: Schedule 14, page 240, line 25, at end insert—

“13A_ In section 65A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (“qualifying offences” for the purposes of Part 5 of that Act), in subsection (2)(p) after “61 to” insert “66A, 66B(2) and (3),”.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a reference to certain of the new offences of sharing an intimate photograph or film to section 65A(2) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (meaning of “qualifying offence” for the purposes of Part 5 of that Act).

15: Schedule 14, page 240, line 25, at end insert—

“13A_ In section 6 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 (interpretation), after subsection (2A) insert—“(2B) For the purposes of this Act, where it is alleged or there is an accusation that an offence under section 66B(4) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (threatening to share intimate photograph or film) has been committed, the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed is to be regarded as— (a) the person to whom the threat mentioned in that subsection is alleged to have been made, and(b) (if different) the person shown, or who appears to be shown, in an intimate state in the photograph or film that is the subject of the threat.””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment has the effect of applying the provisions of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 to the person shown or who appears to be shown in an intimate photograph or film where a threat to share the photograph or film is made to a person other than that person.

16: Schedule 14, page 240, line 27, at end insert—

“(1A) In section 78 (meaning of “sexual”), after “15A” insert “, 66B to 66D ”.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides that the existing definition of “sexual” in section 78 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 does not apply to the new offences of sharing and threatening to share an intimate photograph or film (on account of a separate definition applying to those offences).

17: Schedule 14, page 240, line 29, after “66A” insert “, 66B(2) and (3)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a reference to certain of the new offences of sharing an intimate photograph or film to section 136A(3A) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (offences specified as child sex offences for the purposes of Part 2A of that Act when committed against a person under 18).

18: Schedule 14, page 241, line 4, at end insert—

“33B_ An offence under section 66B(3) of this Act (sharing intimate photograph or film for purpose of obtaining sexual gratification) if—(a) where the offender was under 18, the offender is or has been sentenced in respect of the offence to imprisonment for a term of at least 12 months;(b) in any other case—(i) the victim was under 18, or(ii) the offender, in respect of the offence or finding, is or has been—(a) sentenced to a term of imprisonment,(b) detained in a hospital, or(c) made the subject of a community sentence of at least 12 months.””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a reference to the new offence of sharing an intimate photograph or film for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification to Schedule 3 to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (offences to which certain provisions of that Act apply).

19: Schedule 14, page 241, line 10, at end insert—

“149B_ An offence under section 66B(2) or (3) of that Act (sharing intimate photograph or film with intent to cause alarm, distress or humiliation or for purpose of obtaining sexual gratification).””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a reference to certain of the new offences of sharing an intimate photograph or film to Schedule 15 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (specified sexual offences for the purposes of section 325 of that Act).

20: Schedule 14, page 241, line 12, after “66A” insert “, 66B(2) or (3)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a reference to certain of the new offences of sharing an intimate photograph or film to Schedule 34A to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (child sex offences for the purposes of section 327A of that Act).

21: Schedule 14, page 241, line 12, at end insert “, and

(b) after “exposure” insert “, sending etc photograph or film of genitals, sharing intimate photograph or film with intent to cause alarm, distress or humiliation or for purpose of obtaining sexual gratification”.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the other amendment to Schedule 34A to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 made in my name.

22: Schedule 14, page 241, line 17, after “66A” insert “, 66B(2) and (3)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a reference to certain of the new offences of sharing an intimate photograph or film to section 116 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (conduct constituting offence amounting to “child sexual exploitation” when committed against a person under 18 for the purposes of that section).

23: Schedule 14, page 241, line 17, at end insert “, and

(b) after “exposure” insert “, sending etc photograph or film of genitals, sharing intimate photograph or film with intent to cause alarm, distress or humiliation or for purpose of obtaining sexual gratification”.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the other amendment to section 116 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 made in my name.

24: Schedule 14, page 241, line 22, at end insert—

“section 66B(2) (sharing intimate photograph or film with intent to cause alarm, distress or humiliation)section 66B(3) (sharing intimate photograph or film for purpose of obtaining sexual gratification)”.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a reference to certain of the new offences of sharing an intimate photograph or film to paragraph 33 of Schedule 4 to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (offences to which the defence in section 45 does not apply).

25: Schedule 14, page 241, line 27, at end insert—

“(axb) section 66B(2) (sharing intimate photograph or film with intent to cause alarm, distress or humiliation);(axc) section 66B(3) (sharing intimate photograph or film for purpose of obtaining sexual gratification);”.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a reference to certain of the new offences of sharing an intimate photograph or film to Part 2 of Schedule 18 to the Sentencing Act 2020 (specified sexual offences for the purposes of section 306 of that Act).

26: Schedule 14, page 241, line 32, at end insert—


20_(1) The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 is amended as follows.(2) In section 96 (extent), in subsection (6), omit paragraphs (c) and (g).(3) Omit Schedule 8 (disclosing or threatening to disclose private sexual photographs or films: providers of information society services).Domestic Abuse Act 2021

21_(1) The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is amended as follows. (2) Omit section 69 (threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress) and the italic heading before it.(3) In section 85 (power to make consequential provision), in subsection (1)(b), omit “69,”.(4) In section 86 (power to make transitional or saving provision), in subsection (1)(b), omit “69,”.Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021

22_ In Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021 (“excluded offences” for the purposes of section 6 of that Act), omit paragraph 11.Criminal Justice (Electronic Commerce) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2021 (S.I. 2021/835)

23_ In the Criminal Justice (Electronic Commerce) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2021, omit regulation 8 (amendment of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015).”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment inserts a new Part into Schedule 14 consequential on the new Clause in my name repealing sections 33 to 35 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.

Amendments 12 to 26 agreed.

Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 2.48 pm.

Violence in the West Bank

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 4 July.

“The accelerating cycle of violence in the West Bank risks another round of bloodshed and the Government are doing everything possible to urge the de-escalation of the situation. The latest operation by the Israel Defense Forces in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on Monday is the latest episode in a conflict that has become more worrying as the year has progressed. While the UK firmly supports Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens against terrorism, we urge the Israel Defense Forces to demonstrate restraint, adhere to the principles of international humanitarian law and prioritise the protection of civilians.

While the security situation today remains fragile, the UK welcomed Israeli and Palestinian engagement at meetings in Aqaba on 26 February and Sharm el-Sheikh on 19 March. We are clear-eyed that those meetings have not been a silver bullet, but they are an open, meaningful channel of communication between senior Israelis and Palestinians. At times of strife, this is important in assisting de-escalation and reducing violence. We have consistently engaged with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to urge them to de-escalate tensions and to support efforts towards renewed negotiations.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, on 26 June—when they discussed the security situation in the West Bank—having spoken to the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, on 16 June. I can confirm that the Minister for the Middle East, Lord Ahmad, will be discussing the evolving situation with the Israeli ambassador later today, further to discussions in recent days. He also spoke to the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, on 5 May. Our ambassadors in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem speak regularly to both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to urge de-escalation and to make clear our expectation that all sides avoid unilateral steps that move the parties further away from dialogue.

Finally, I draw the House’s attention to the statement that the Foreign Secretary made jointly with his Canadian and Australian counterparts last Friday. The UK opposes Israel’s announced proposal to expand settlements across the West Bank, and we ask Israel to halt and reverse its policy of supporting settlement expansion. Settlements are not the only obstacle to peace, but they are an important one, and our concerns about these recent steps are clear. The lives lost in this wider conflict are tragic. There is an urgent need for all parties to avoid further escalation in the West Bank and Gaza, now and in the days ahead.”

My Lords, we must all be concerned about the events in the camp in Jenin. Last Whitsun, I visited the West Bank, touring refugee camps and following a trail set by my noble friend—I mean, the noble Lord the Minister—who, I believe, did the same trip a couple of weeks before me. I witnessed at first hand the conditions in some of the camps and the closeness of the communities. I also witnessed settler violence against Palestinian villagers. The situation was pretty dire. I recognise that Israel has the right to defend itself against militant groups, but that right must be exercised proportionately and in line with international law.

In the other place, when this Question was considered, my honourable friend Wayne David asked a straightforward question for which he did not get an answer. I therefore repeat it this afternoon: what of substance are the Minister and the Government doing to bring this immediate conflict to an end and to lay the foundations of a two-state solution, which we all seek?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. He almost called me his noble friend. Perhaps that is a reflection of the time we are spending together on various aspects of the House’s business today. I share his concern, and we have all been again shocked by the cycle of violence that continues to occur across the West Bank in particular but also in Gaza. I share the same sentiments and principles that the noble Lord has articulated in relation to Israel’s security concerns; however, as it seeks to address those particular concerns, it should do so by respecting and minimising civilian casualties, demonstrating restraint and adherence to principles of international humanitarian law, and ensuring that civilians are protected.

On the steps that the United Kingdom is taking, as the Minister responsible for the Middle East, I can assure the noble Lord that, first and foremost, we are engaging directly with both sides. Over the past 48 hours or so I have spoken to the Israeli representative to the United Kingdom at length and to the Israeli chargé d’affaires. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to Foreign Minister Cohen of Israel as well as the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammad Shtayyeh, again emphasising: first, the importance of de-escalation; secondly, the importance of ensuring a minimisation of any further violence that may take place; and, thirdly, the need to ensure, particularly on the Israeli side, now the Jenin operation has ended, that full access is given to allow full medical attention for those injured during the crisis. Tragically, people have died on both sides. There has also been a further attack in Tel Aviv with a car ramming. It shows the challenge that we all face regarding the ever-growing circle of violence. I agree with the noble Lord and assure him of my best offices in addressing the issue of the immediate cessation of violence. It should be the foundation for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

My Lords, I, too, have visited the Occupied Territories in the West Bank in recent times and echo the concerns already raised. I pay particular tribute to the NGOs and voluntary organisations within the Occupied Territories that are giving support in the current circumstances. I am particularly concerned, again, about settler violence and increasing attacks, and the incitement from the extreme Government of Israel for settlers to erode and take away the rights of the resident population there. I am concerned to hear from Medical Aid for Palestinians that medical aid is proving inaccessible for many civilians under the violent conditions within the West Bank and that they are prevented from having access to medical support. I should like to hear the Government say something about that. The UK Government now have the presidency of the UN Security Council. Will they take a leadership role to ensure the protection of human rights for the Palestinian people in the illegally Occupied Territories of the West Bank?

My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s first point, I have directly met some of the NGOs, including Medical Aid for Palestinians, in my office in the last 48 hours and we discussed specific measures. Engagement with NGOs is a key part of my priorities. We will be convening a session tomorrow on this issue at the UN Security Council. It is a closed session but will be followed later in our presidency with a more extensive debate on the Middle East peace process. I share all the relevant concerns expressed by the noble Baroness about the need for negotiation and for peace to prevail.

Will my noble friend say to his counterparts in the Israeli Government that those of us who are strong supporters of the state of Israel are none the less deeply concerned by the building of settlements outside the internationally recognised frontiers of Israel, by the absence of any obvious movement on a peace settlement or agreement with the Palestinians, and by the propensity to use massive force? Does he agree that this is not a stable situation?

I totally agree with my noble friend. For the record, again, the United Kingdom’s position on the settlements is clear: they are an impediment to peace. As my noble friend illustrated, those settlements are of course illegal under international law.

My Lords, Israel was forced to act because the Palestinian Authority lost control of Jenin and Islamic jihadists and Hamas terrorists then used the city to mount a wave of terror attacks on families and children in Israel. In this operation, the IDF destroyed explosives labs, seized hundreds of guns and bombs and arrested 120 terrorists. It did all that in a densely populated area while ensuring that there were no civilian casualties at all—not one. Does the Minister agree that this was a justified, proportionate, successful operation to tackle terrorism?

My Lords, as I have already indicated, as both a friend and a partner to Israel, the UK—indeed, I myself—reiterated those exact points to the chargé during our conversation, as did my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. However, as we see the cycle of violence occur yet again, is it equally important that the core issue is addressed, because there can be no peace for any Israeli or Palestinian until we see a final settlement on this long-standing issue.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that trying to allocate blame in the circumstances of the events of the past few days is probably not very worth while? Surely it is becoming clearer that the total absence of any discussion of ways to dial down the escalation, which is being provoked by extremists on both sides, is part of the problem. What do we in the Security Council plan to do to see whether some discussion—direct or indirect—of the way ahead could now take place, perhaps adding a small element of chance that the escalation will not continue into a new intifada?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the role that the UK has to play. We are convening appropriate meetings. Ultimately, I agree that what we need—indeed, the only way to stop this cycle of violence—is de-escalation now and a pathway to peace.

My Lords, I refer the House to my entry in the register of interests. There is a clear pattern of behaviour, which—whether it is drones targeting Ukrainian citizens, the support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Jenin, or Iran via the IRGC—continues to destabilise across the globe. I welcome the Statement on Iran today, but my noble friend knows it is not enough for me: the IRGC must be proscribed as a terrorist organisation.

Earlier today, my noble friend said at the Dispatch Box—and repeated just now—that every Government’s first duty is to defend their people. Does he therefore agree that we must stand shoulder to shoulder with our friend and ally Israel in removing Iranian-backed arms and explosives before they are used to murder innocent Israeli citizens?

My Lords, we will be discussing the Statement when it is repeated later, but I can say once again that we have been very clear in our statements on Israel’s destabilising influence in the wider region. I reiterate on the record that the first responsibility of any responsible Government is the security of their citizens. As I said, while we appreciate, respect and have defended Israel’s right to self-defence, what is equally needed—as I am sure my noble friend agrees—is security, stabilisation and, ultimately, a pathway of sustainable peace for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Sitting suspended.

Online Safety Bill

Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Schedule 1: Exempt user-to-user and search services

Amendment 27

Moved by

27: Schedule 1, page 185, line 11, leave out from “provider” to end of line 13 and insert “, including where the publication of the content is effected or controlled by means of—

(a) software or an automated tool or algorithm applied by the provider or by a person acting on behalf of the provider, or(b) an automated tool or algorithm made available on the service by the provider or by a person acting on behalf of the provider.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is about what counts as “provider content” for the purposes of the exemption in paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 of the Bill (which provides that limited functionality services are exempt). Words are added to expressly cover the case where an automated tool or algorithm is made available on the service by a provider, such as a generative AI bot.

My Lords, the Government are committed to protecting children against accessing pornography online. As technology evolves, it is important that the regulatory framework introduced by the Bill keeps pace with emerging risks to children and exposure to pornography in new forms, such as generative artificial intelligence.

Part 5 of the Bill has been designed to be future-proof, and we assess that it would already capture AI-generated pornography. Our Amendments 206 and 209 will put beyond doubt that content is “provider pornographic content” where it is published or displayed on a Part 5 service by means of an automated tool or algorithm, such as a generative AI bot, made available on the service by a provider. Amendments 285 and 293 make clear that the definition of an automated tool includes a bot. Amendment 276 clarifies the definition of a provider of a Part 5 service, to make clear that a person who controls an AI bot that generates pornography can be regarded as the provider of a service.

Overall, our amendments provide important certainty for users, providers and Ofcom on the services and content in scope of the Part 5 duties. This will ensure that the new, robust duties for Part 5 providers to use age verification or age estimation to prevent children accessing provider pornographic content will also extend to AI-generated pornography. I beg to move.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has unfortunately been briefly detained. If you are surprised to see me standing up, it is because I am picking up for her. I start by welcoming these amendments. I am grateful for the reaction to the thought-provoking debate that we had in Committee. I would like to ask a couple of questions just to probe the impact around the edges.

Amendment 27 looks as if it implies that purely content-generating machine-learning or AI bots could be excluded from the scope of the Bill, rather than included, which is the opposite of what we were hoping to achieve. That may be us failing to understand the detail of this large body of different amendments, but I would welcome my noble friend the Minister’s response to make sure that in Amendment 27 we are not excluding harm that could be generated by some form of AI or machine-learning instrument.

Maybe I can give my noble friend the Minister an example of what we are worried about. This is a recent scenario that noble Lords may have seen in the news, of a 15 year-old who asked, “How do I have sex with a 30 year-old?”. The answer was given in forensic detail, with no reference to the fact that it would in fact be statutory rape. Would the regulated service, or the owner of the regulated service that generated that answer, be included or excluded as a result of Amendment 27? That may be my misunderstanding.

This group is on AI-generated pornography. My friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and I are both very concerned that it is not just about pornography, and that we should make sure that AI is included in the Bill. Specifically, many of us with teenage children will now be learning how to navigate the Snap AI bot. Would harm generated by that bot be captured in these amendments, or is it only content that is entirely pornographic? I hope that my noble friend the Minister can clarify both those points, then we will be able to support all these amendments.

My Lords, I rise briefly to welcome the fact that there is a series of amendments here where “bot” is replaced by

“bot or other automated tool”.

I point out that there is often a lot of confusion about what a bot is or is not. It is something that was largely coined in the context of a particular service—Twitter—where we understand that there are Twitter bots: accounts that have been created to pump out lots of tweets. In other contexts, on other services, there is similar behaviour but the mechanism is different. It seems to me that the word “bot” may turn out to be one of those things that was common and popular at the end of the 2010s and in the early 2020s, but in five years we will not be using it at all. It will have served its time, it will have expired and we will be using other language to describe what it is that we want to capture: a human being has created some kind of automated tool that will be very context dependent, depending on the nature of the service, and they are pumping out material. It is very clear that we want to make sure that such behaviour is in scope and that the person cannot hide behind the fact that it was an automated tool, because we are interested in the mens rea of the person sitting behind the tool.

I recognise that the Government have been very wise in making sure that whenever we refer to a bot we are adding that “automated tool” language, which will make the Bill inherently much more future-proof.

My Lords, I just want to elucidate whether the Minister has any kind of brief on my Amendment 152A. I suspect that he does not; it is not even grouped—it is so recent that it is actually not on today’s groupings list. However, just so people know what will be coming down the track, I thought it would be a good idea at this stage to say that it is very much about exactly the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, was asking. It is about the interaction between a provider environment and a user, with the provider environment being an automated bot—or “tool”, as my noble friend may prefer.

It seems to me that we have an issue here. I absolutely understand what the Minister has done, and I very much support Amendment 153, which makes it clear that user-generated content can include bots. But this is not so much about a human user using a bot or instigating a bot; it is much more about a human user encountering content that is generated in an automated way by a provider, and then the user interacting with that in a metaverse-type environment. Clearly, the Government are apprised of that with regard to Part 5, but there could be a problem as regards Part 3. This is an environment that the provider creates, but it is interacted with by a user as if that environment were another user.

I shall not elaborate or make the speech that I was going to make, because that would be unfair to the Minister, who needs to get his own speaking note on this matter. But I give him due warning that I am going to degroup and raise this later.

My Lords, I warmly welcome this group of amendments. I am very grateful to the Government for a number of amendments that they are bringing forward at this stage. I want to support this group of amendments, which are clearly all about navigating forward and future-proofing the Bill in the context of the very rapid development of artificial intelligence and other technologies. In responding to this group of amendments, will the Minister say whether he is now content that the Bill is sufficiently future-proofed, given the hugely rapid development of technology, and whether he believes that Ofcom now has sufficient powers to risk assess for the future and respond, supposing that there were further parallel developments in generative AI such as we have seen over the past year?

My Lords, this is a quick-fire debate on matters where most of us probably cannot even understand the words, let alone the purpose and particularity of the amendments. I want to raise points already raised by others: it seems that the Government’s intention is to ensure that the Bill is future-proofed. Why then are they restricting this group to Part 5 only? It follows that, since Part 5 is about pornography, it has to be about only pornography—but it is rather odd that we are not looking at the wider context under which harm may occur, involving things other than simply pornography. While the Bill may well be currently able to deal with the issues that are raised in Part 3 services, does it not need to be extended to that as well? I shall leave it at that. The other services that we have are probably unlikely to raise the sorts of issues of concern that are raised by this group. None the less, it is a point that we need reassurance on.

My Lords, this has been a short but important debate and I am grateful to noble Lords for their broad support for the amendments here and for their questions. These amendments will ensure that services on which providers control a generative tool, such as a generative AI bot, are in scope of Part 5 of the Bill. This will ensure that children are protected from any AI-generated pornographic content published or displayed by provider-controlled generative bots. These changes will not affect the status of any non-pornographic AI-generated content, or AI-generated content shared by users.

We are making a minor change to definitions in Part 3 to ensure that comments or reviews on content generated by a provider-controlled artificial intelligence source are not regulated as user-generated content. This is consistent with how the Bill treats comments and reviews on other provider content. These amendments do not have any broader impact on the treatment of bots by Part 3 of the Bill’s regime beyond the issue of comments and reviews. The basis on which a bot will be treated as a user, for example, remains unchanged.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for degrouping his Amendment 152A so that I can come back more fully on it in a later group and I am grateful for the way he spoke about it in advance. I am grateful too for my noble friend Lady Harding’s question. These amendments will ensure that providers which control a generative tool on a service, such as a generative AI bot, are in scope of Part 5 of the Bill. A text-only generative AI bot would not be in scope of Part 5. It is important that we focus on areas which pose the greatest risk of harm to children. There is an exemption in Part 5 for text-based provider pornographic content because of the limited risks posed by published pornographic content. This is consistent with the approach of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 and its provisions to protect children from commercial online pornography, which did not include text-based content in scope.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford is right to ask whether we think this is enough. These changes certainly help. The way that the Bill is written in a technology-neutral way will help us to future proof it but, as we have heard throughout the passage of the Bill, we all know that this area of work will need constant examination and scrutiny. That is why the Bill is subject the post-Royal Assent review and scrutiny that it is and why we are grateful for the anticipation noble Lords and Members of Parliament in the other place have already given to ensuring that it delivers on what we want to see. I believe these amendments, which put out of doubt important provisions relating to generative AI, are a helpful addition and I beg to move.

Amendment 27 agreed.

Amendment 28

Moved by

28: Schedule 1, page 185, line 23, at end insert—

“Public information services

5A A user-to-user service is exempt if its primary purpose is the creation of public information resources and it has the following characteristics—(a) user-to-user functions are limited to those necessary for the creation and maintenance of a public information resource,(b) OFCOM has determined that there is minimal risk of users sharing harmful content on the service, and(c) it is non-commercial.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would allow OFCOM to exempt services like Wikipedia from regulation where it deems them to be low risk.

My Lords, as we enter the final stages of consideration of this Bill, it is a good time to focus a little more on what is likely to happen once it becomes law, and my Amendment 28 is very much in that context. We now have a very good idea of what the full set of obligations that in-scope services will have to comply with will look like, even if the detailed guidance is still to come.

With this amendment I want to return to the really important question that I do not believe we answered satisfactorily when we debated it in Committee. That is that there is a material risk that, without further amendment or clarification, Wikipedia and other similar services may feel that they can no longer operate in the United Kingdom.

Wikipedia has already featured prominently in our debates, but there are other major services that might find themselves in a similar position. As I was discussing the definitions in the Bill with my children yesterday—this may seem an unusual dinner conversation with teenagers, but I find mine to be a very useful sounding board—they flagged that OpenStreetMap, to which we all contribute, also seems to be in the scope of how we have defined user-to-user services. I shall start by asking some specific questions so that the Minister has time to find the answers in his briefing or have them magically delivered to him before summing up: I shall ask the questions and then go on to make the argument.

First, is it the Government’s view that Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap fall within the definition of user-to-user services as defined in Clause 2 and the content definition in Clause 211? We need to put all these pieces together to understand the scope. I have chosen these services because each is used by millions of people in the UK and their functionality is very well known, so I trust that the Government had them in mind when they were drafting the legislation, as well as the more obvious services such as Instagram, Facebook et cetera.

Secondly, can the Minister confirm whether any of the existing exemptions in the Bill would apply to Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap such that they would not have to comply with the obligations of a category 1 or 2B user-to-user service?

Thirdly, does the Minister believe that the Bill as drafted allows Ofcom to use its discretion in any other way to exempt Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap, for example through the categorisation regulations in Schedule 11? As a spoiler alert, I expect the answers to be “Yes”, “No” and “Maybe”, but it is really important that we have the definitive government response on the record. My amendment would seek to turn that to “Yes”, “Yes” and therefore the third would be unnecessary because we would have created an exemption.

The reason we need to do this is not in any way to detract from the regulation or undermine its intent but to avoid facing the loss of important services at some future date because of situations we could have avoided. This is not hyperbole or a threat on the part of the services; it is a natural consequence if we impose legal requirements on a responsible organisation that wants to comply with the law but knows it cannot meet them. I know it is not an intended outcome of the Bill that we should drive these services out, but it is certainly one intended outcome that we want other services that cannot meet their duties of care to exit the UK market rather than continue to operate here in defiance of the law and the regulator.

We should remind ourselves that at some point, likely to be towards the end of 2024, letters will start to arrive on the virtual doormats of all the services we have defined as being in scope—these 25,000 services—and their senior management will have a choice. I fully expect that the Metas, the Googles and all such providers will say, “Fine, we will comply. Ofcom has told us what we need to do, and we will do it”. There will be another bunch of services that will say, “Ofcom, who are they? I don’t care”, and the letter will go in the bin. We have a whole series of measures in the Bill by which we will start to make life difficult for them: we will disrupt their businesses and seek to prosecute them and we will shut them out of the market.

However, there is a third category, which is the one I am worried about in this amendment, who will say, “We want to comply, we are responsible, but as senior managers of this organisation”, or as directors of a non-profit foundation, “we cannot accept the risk of non-compliance and we do not have the resources to comply. There is no way that we can build an appeals mechanism, user reporter functions and all these things we never thought we would need to have”. If you are Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap, you do not need to have that infrastructure, yet as I read the Bill, if they are in scope and there is no exemption, then they are going to be required to build all that additional infrastructure.

The Bill already recognises that there are certain classes of services where it would be inappropriate to apply this new regulatory regime, and it describes these in Schedule 1, which I am seeking to amend. My amendment just seeks to add a further class of exempted service and it does this quite carefully so that we would exclude only services that I believe most of us in this House would agree should not be in scope. There are three tests that would be applied.

The first is a limited functionality test—we already have something similar in Schedule 1—so that the user-to-user functions are only those that relate to the production of what I would call a public information resource. In other words, users engage with one another to debate a Wikipedia entry or a particular entry on a map on OpenStreetMap. So, there is limited user-to-user functionality all about this public interest resource. They are not user-to-user services in the classic sense of social media; they are a particular kind of collective endeavour. These are much closer to newspaper publishers, which we have explicitly excluded from the Bill. It is much more like a newspaper; it just happens to be created by users collectively, out of good will, rather than by paid professional journalists. They are very close to that definition, but if you read Schedule 1, I do not think the definition of “provider content” in paragraph 4(2) includes at the moment these collective-user endeavours, so they do not currently have the exemption.

I have also proposed that Ofcom would carry out a harm test to avoid the situation where someone argues that their services are a public information resource, while in practice using it to distribute harmful material. That would be a rare case, but noble Lords can conceive of it happening. Ofcom would have the ability to say that it recognises that Wikipedia does not carry harmful content in any meaningful way, but it would also have the right not to grant the exemption to service B that says it is a new Wikipedia but carries harmful content.

Thirdly, I have suggested that this is limited to non-commercial services. There is an argument for saying any public information resource should benefit, and that may be more in line with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, where it is defined in terms of being encyclopaedic or the nature of the service. I recognise that I have put in “non-commercial” as belt and braces because there is a rationale for saying that, while we do not really want an encyclopaedic resource to be in the 2B service if it has got user-to-user functions, if it is commercial, we could reasonably expect it to find some way to comply. It is different when it is entirely non-commercial and volunteer-led, not least because the Wikimedia Foundation, for example, would struggle to justify spending the money that it has collected from donors on compliance costs with the UK regime, whereas a commercial company could increase its resources from commercial customers to do that.

I hope this is a helpful start to a debate in which we will also consider Amendment 29, which has similar goals. I will close by asking the Minister some additional questions. I have asked him some very specific ones to which I hope he can provide answers, but first I ask: does he acknowledges the genuine risk that services like Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap could find themselves in a position where they have obligations under the Bill that they simply cannot comply with? It is not that they are unwilling, but there is no way for them to do all this structurally.

Secondly, I hope the Minister would agree that it is not in the public interest for Ofcom to spend significant time and effort on the oversight of services like these; rather, it should spend its time and effort on services, such as social media services, that we believe to be creating harms and are the central focus of the Bill.

Thirdly, will the Minister accept that there is something very uncomfortable about a government regulator interfering with the running of a neutral public resource like Wikipedia, when there is so much benefit from it and little or no demonstrative harm? It is much closer to the model that exists for a newspaper. We have debated endlessly in this House—and I am sure we will come back to it—that there is, rightly, considerable reluctance to have regulators going too far and creating this relationship with neutral public information goods. Wikipedia falls into that category, as does OpenStreetMap and others, and there would be fundamental in principle challenges around that.

I hope the Government will agree that we should be taking steps to make sure we are not inadvertently creating a situation where, in one or two years’ time, Ofcom will come back to us saying that it wrote to Wikipedia, because the law told it to do so, and told Wikipedia all the things that it had to do; Wikipedia took it to its senior management and then came back saying that it is shutting shop in the UK. Because it is sensible, Ofcom would come back and say that it did not want that and ask to change the law to give it the power to grant an exemption. If such things deserve an exemption, let us make it clear they should have it now, rather than lead ourselves down this path where we end up effectively creating churn and uncertainty around what is an extraordinarily valuable public resource. I beg to move.

My Lords, Amendments 29 and 30 stand in my name. I fully appreciated, as I prepared my thoughts ahead of this short speech, that a large part of what I was going to say might be rendered redundant by the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam. I have not had a discussion with him about this group at all, but it is clear that his amendment is rather different from mine. Although it addresses the same problem, we are coming at it slightly differently. I actually support his amendment, and if the Government were to adopt it I think the situation would be greatly improved. I do prefer my own, and I think he put his finger on why to some extent: mine is a little broader. His relates specifically to public information, whereas mine relates more to what can be described as the public good. So mine can be broader than information services, and I have not limited it to non-commercial operations, although I fully appreciate that quite a lot of the services we are discussing are, in practice, non-commercial. As I say, if his amendment were to pass, I would be relatively satisfied, but I have a moderate preference for my own.

Wikipedia has been mentioned frequently, and the Government cannot say that they have not had notice of this problem, because it was frequently mentioned in Committee. The fact that the Government have not come forward with any suggestions or amendments to address this at all—I can summarise what I think is their response in a moment—is truly remarkable. There has been an open letter signed recently drawing attention to this problem, which includes not only OpenStreetMap, which the noble Lord referred to, but the Heritage Alliance; INSPIRE, which is a physics research platform operated by CERN; the Wellcome Sanger Institute; the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland; and Liberty. They are all concerned about how they are going to operate. They will be caught. Curiously, the Taliban will not be caught, because the Taliban will benefit from the exemption that exists in paragraph 9(1)(c) of Schedule 1 for a “foreign sovereign power”. So the Taliban will not be in Ofcom’s scope at all, but all these organisations doing perfectly decent work are going to be chased down by our regulator.

The Minister has said from the Dispatch Box that he does not think that Wikipedia would be in scope. But when pressed on this, both at the Dispatch Box and in private conversation—for which I am grateful—he said that that was his opinion but it was going to be decided by Ofcom; his assurance at the Dispatch Box, in other words, carries no weight, because the decision is to be made by Ofcom. When I say that we can still pass these amendments, he says we cannot tell Ofcom what to do because it is independent. But the entire Bill is telling Ofcom what to do, and of course Parliament can tell it that services of this character are not in scope. The Bill specifies what services are and are not in scope. So I think it is pretty much a nonsense answer.

Although these organisations, in many cases, are non-profits, that does not mean they are not businesses, and businesses have to plan, invest and think about what they are going to do next. They are hanging there, waiting and absolutely uncertain until Ofcom make a regulatory decision of an existential character, because we in Parliament cannot possibly take a stance on it and the Government cannot have a view. I know that businesses are constantly subject to the possibility of regulatory change in the future, but I do not know of any regulatory changes that, in the normal course of events, threaten the entire business model. They might threaten how it is you plan to make a particular product or what insulation you might have to put in a house you are building; they do not put you entirely out of business, which is what this threatens to do. So I think there is a very strong argument indeed for an amendment that takes these services out of scope, not only because it is a nonsense not to but because it really does threaten investment, planning, jobs and the things that go with that.

My Amendments 29 and 30 should be taken together. Amendment 29 creates an exemption, the terms of which are stated very plainly so I do not need to read them out. Amendment 30 creates what is being referred to as a “rescue clause”; in other words, it says that Ofcom has the discretion to withdraw the exemption if it sees that it is in the public good to do so. If any of these services were to start going rogue and behaving in a way that was contrary to the public interest, or objectionable in terms of how the Bill operates and is intended to operate, Ofcom would be able to intervene and say, “That exemption no longer applies; if you get the exemption under Amendment 29, we can take it away under Amendment 30”. This is not unprecedented. This rescue clause has been almost cut and pasted from the Gambling Act. This process of creating an exemption which can be withdrawn is not unprecedented and has great merit. This is why I recommend Amendments 29 and 30 while not wanting to be exclusive to Amendment 28.

This is not going away. Germany exempts non-profit organisations. France has recently passed laws with similar scope to ours and has exempted those entities which operate in the public interest. There is nothing strange about doing what I and the noble Lord, Lord Allan, want to do. This will not go away, because the consequences could be very severe. It is not a question of whether Wikipedia will close. Wikipedia in the English language will probably survive all of this. It has a lot of people supporting it and a lot of volunteers working for it. However, what of many of the minor languages? Wait until the Government find out whether Welsh Wikipedia, the largest Welsh-language website in the world, will survive and the consequences. What will the Government say when they start getting letters? “Oh, it’s nothing to do with us, we have no answer for that, it’s all a matter for Ofcom”. This is a completely unsustainable position. It is indefensible for us in Parliament to let it pass and it is completely unsustainable for the Government. Some action must be taken.

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 281 to 281B. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Harding and Lady Kidron, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for adding their names to them. I will deal first with Amendments 281 and 281B, then move to 281A.

On Amendments 281 and 281B, the Minister will recall that in Committee we had a discussion around how functionality is defined in the Bill and that a great deal of the child risk assessments and safety duties must have regard to functionality, as defined in Clause 208. However, as it is currently written, this clause appears to separate out functionalities of user-to-user services and search services. These two amendments are designed to adjust that slightly, to future-proof the Bill.

Why is this necessary? First, it reflects that it is likely that in the future, many of the functionalities that we currently see on user-to-user services will become present on search services and possibly vice versa. Therefore, we need to try to take account of how the world is likely to move. Secondly, this is already happening, and it poses a risk to children. Some research done by the 5Rights Foundation has found that “predictive search”, counted in the Bill as a search service functionality, is present on social media websites, leading one child user using a search bar to be presented in nanoseconds with prompts associated with eating disorders. In Committee, the Minister noted that the functionalities listed in this clause are non-exhaustive. At the very least, it would be helpful to clarify this in the Bill language.

Amendment 281A would add specific functionalities which we know are addictive or harmful to children and put them in the Bill. We have a great deal of research and evidence which demonstrates how persuasive certain design strategies are with children. These are features which are solely designed to keep users on the platform, at any cost, as much as possible and for as long as possible. The more that children are on the platform, the more harm they are likely to suffer. Given that the purpose of this Bill is for services to be safe by design, as set out usefully in Amendment 1, please can we make sure that where we know—and we do know—that risk exists, we are doing our utmost to tackle it?

The features that are listed in this amendment are known as “dark patterns”—and they are known as “dark patterns” for a very good reason. They have persuasive and pervasive design features which are deliberately baked into the design of the digital services and products, to capture and hold, in this case, children’s attention, and to create habitual, even compulsive behaviours. The damage this does to children is proven and palpable. For example, one of the features mentioned is infinite scroll, which is now ubiquitous on most major social media platforms. The inventor of infinite scroll, a certain Aza Raskin, who probably thought it was a brilliant idea at the time, has said publicly that he now deeply regrets ever introducing it, because of the effect it is having on children.

One of the young people who spoke to the researchers at 5Rights said of the struggle they have daily with the infinite scroll feature:

“Scrolling forever gives me a sick feeling in my stomach. I’m so aware of how little control I have and the feeling of needing to be online is overwhelming and consuming”.

Features designed to keep users—adults, maybe fine, but children not fine—online at any cost are taking a real toll. Managing public and frequent interactions online, which the features encourage, creates the most enormous pressures for young people, and with that comes anxiety, low self-esteem and mental health challenges. This is only increasing, and unless we are very specific about these, they are going to continue.

We have the evidence. We know what poses harm and risk to children. Please can we make sure that this is reflected accurately in the Bill?

My Lords, I rise briefly to support many of the amendments in this group. I will start with Amendments 281, 281A and 281B in the name of my noble friend Lord Russell, to which I have added my name. The noble Lord set out the case very well. I will not reiterate what he said, but it is simply the case that the features and functionalities of regulated companies should not be separated by search and user-to-user but should apply across any regulated company that has that feature. There is no need to worry about a company that does not have one of the features on the list, but it is a much more dangerous thing to have an absent feature than it is to have a single list and hold companies responsible for their features.

Only this morning, Meta released Thread as its challenger to Twitter. In the last month, Snapchat added generative AI to its offering. Instagram now does video, and TikTok does shopping. All these companies are moving into a place where they would like to be the one that does everything. That is their commercial endgame, and that is where the Bill should set its sights.

Separating out functionality and, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said, failing to add what we already know, puts the Bill in danger of looking very old before the ink is dry. I believe it unnecessarily curtails Ofcom in being able to approach the companies for what they are doing, rather than for what the Bill thought they might be doing at this point. So, if the Minister is not in a position to agree to the amendment, I urge him at least to take it away and have a look at it, because it is a technical rather than an ideological matter. It would be wonderful to fix it.

I support the other amendments in the group: Amendments 28 and 29, and the very interesting Amendment 30. We come back to a very similar issue, which is about design. The thing about Wikipedia is that it does not stand at the doorway and grab your attention, and it does not follow you for six months after you visit it. It does not have that algorithmic push. So, although I freely admit that there are some unsavoury things on Wikipedia, it does not push them at you or at young people. That is a really interesting thing for us to hold in mind when we talk about the next group of amendments on harm.

I am bound to say that, although the noble Lord, Lord Allan, might prefer his amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, might prefer his, I prefer Amendment 245 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, which says that all services should be judged according to risk. This would stop this endless game of taking things out and putting things in, in case they behave badly, or taking things out for companies that we recognise now although we do not know what the companies of the future will be. We all have to remember that, even when we had the pre-legislative committee, we were not talking about large language models and when we started this Bill we were not talking about TikTok. Making laws for individual services is not a grand idea, but saying that it is not the size but the risk that should determine the category of a regulated service, and therefore its duties, seems a comprehensive way of getting to the same place.

My Lords, there is a danger of unanimity breaking out. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and I are not always on the same page as others, but this is just straightforward. I hope the Government listen to the fact that, even though we might be coming at this in different ways, there is concern on all sides.

I also note that this is a shift from what happened in Committee, when I tabled an amendment to try to pose the same dilemmas by talking about the size of organisations. Many a noble Lord said that size did not matter and that that did not work—but it was trying to get at the same thing. I do feel rather guilty that, to move the core philosophy forward, I have dumped the small and micro start-ups and SMEs that I also wanted to protect from overregulation—that is what has happened in this amendment—but now it seems an absolute no-brainer that we should find a way to exempt public interest organisations. This is where I would go slightly further. We should have a general exemption for public interest organisations, but with the ability for Ofcom to come down hard if they look as though they have moved from being low risk to being a threat.

As the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, noted, public interest exemptions happen throughout the world. Although I do not want to waste time reading things out, it is important to look at the wording of Amendment 29. As it says, we are talking about:

“historical, academic, artistic, educational, encyclopaedic, journalistic, or statistical content”.

We are talking about the kind of online communities that benefit the public interest. We are talking about charities, user-curated scientific publications and encyclopaedias. They is surely not what this Bill was designed to thwart. However, there is a serious danger that, if we put on them the number of regulatory demands in the Bill, they will not survive. That is not what the Government intend but it is what will happen.

Dealing with the Bill’s complexity will take much time and money for organisations that do not have it. I run a small free-speech organisation called the Academy of Ideas and declare my interest in it. I am also on the board of the Free Speech Union. When you have to spend so much time on regulatory issues it costs money and you will go under. That is important. This could waste Ofcom’s time. The noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam, has explained that. It would prevent Ofcom concentrating on the nasty bits that we want it to. It would be wasting its time trying to deal with what is likely to happen.

I should mention a couple of other things. It is important to note that there is sometimes controversy over the definition of a public interest organisation. It is not beyond our ken to sort it out. I Googled it—it is still allowed—and came up with a Wikipedia page that still exists. That is always good. If one looks, the term “public interest” is used across a range of laws. The Government know what kind of organisations they are talking about. The term has not just been made up for the purpose of an exemption.

It is also worth noting that no one is talking about public interest projects and organisations not being regulated at all but this is about an exemption from this regulation. They still have to deal with UK defamation, data protection, charity, counterterrorism and pornography laws, and the common law. Those organisations’ missions and founding articles will require that they do some good in the world. That is what they are all about. The Government should take this matter seriously.

Finally, on the rescue clauses, it is important to note—there is a reference to the Gambling Act—the Bill states that if there is problem, Ofcom should intervene. That was taken from what happens under the Gambling Act, which allows UK authorities to strip one or more gambling businesses of their licensing exemptions when they step out of line. No one is trying to say do not look at those exemptions at all but they obviously should not be in the scope of the Bill. I hope that when we get to the next stage, the Government will, on this matter at least, accept the amendment.

My Lords, I also speak in support of Amendments to 281, 281A and 281B, to which I have added my name, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Russell. He and, as ever, the noble Baroness Kidron, have spoken eloquently, I am not going to spend much time on these amendments but I wanted to emphasise Amendment 281A.

In the old world of direct marketing—I am old enough to remember that when I was a marketing director it was about sending magazines, leaflets and letters—one spent all of one’s time working out how to build loyalty: how to get people to engage longer as a result of one’s marketing communication. In the modern digital world, that dwell time has been transformed into a whole behavioural science of its own. It has developed a whole set of tools. Today, we have been using the word “activity” at the beginning of the Bill in the new Clause 1 but also “features” and “functionality”. The reason why Amendment 281A is important is that there is a danger that the Bill keeps returning to being just about content. Even in Clause 208 on functionality, almost every item in subsection (2) mentions content, whereas Amendment 281A tries to spell out the elements of addiction-driving functionality that we know exist today.

I am certain that brilliant people will invent some more but we know that these ones exist today. I really think that we need to put them in the Bill to help everyone understand what we mean because we have spent days on this Bill—some of us have spent years, if not decades, on this issue—yet we still keep getting trapped in going straight back to content. That is another reason why I think it is so important that we get some of these functionalities in the Bill. I very much hope that, if he cannot accept the amendment today, my noble friend the Minister will go back, reflect and work out how we could capture these specific functionalities before it is too late.

I speak briefly on Amendments 28 to 30. There is unanimity of desire here to make sure that organisations such as Wikipedia and Streetmap are not captured. Personally, I am very taken—as I often am—by the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. We need to focus on risk rather than using individual examples, however admirable they are today. If Wikipedia chose to put on some form of auto-scroll, the risk of that service would go up; I am not suggesting that Wikipedia is going to do so today but, in the digital world, we should not assume that, just because organisations are charities or devoted to the public good, they cannot inadvertently cause harm. We do not make that assumption in the physical world either. Charities that put on physical events have to do physical risk assessments. I absolutely think that we should hold all organisations to that same standard. However, viewed through the prism of risk, Wikipedia—brilliant as it is—does not have a risk for child safety and therefore should not be captured by the Bill.