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Online Safety Bill

Volume 832: debated on Tuesday 19 September 2023

Commons Amendments and Reasons

Motion A

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 17 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 17A and 17B in lieu.

17A: Clause 10, page 9, line 30, leave out paragraph (e) and insert—

“(e) the extent to which the design of the service, in particular its functionalities, affects the level of risk of harm that might be suffered by children, identifying and assessing those functionalities that present higher levels of risk, including functionalities—

(i) enabling adults to search for other users of the service (including children), or

(ii) enabling adults to contact other users (including children) by means of the service;”

17B: Clause 10, page 9, line 38, after “used,” insert “including functionalities or other features of the service that affect how much children use the service (for example a feature that enables content to play automatically),”

My Lords, I beg to move Motion A and, with the leave of the House, I shall also speak to Motions B to H.

I am pleased to say that the amendments made in your Lordships’ House to strengthen the Bill’s provisions were accepted in another place. His Majesty’s Government presented a number of amendments in lieu of changes proposed by noble Lords, which are before your Lordships today.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes for her continued engagement on the issue of small but high-risk platforms. The Government were happy to accept her proposed changes to the rules for determining the conditions that establish which services will be designated as category 1 or 2B services. In making the regulations, the Secretary of State will now have the discretion to decide whether to set a threshold based on either the number of users or the functionalities offered, or on both factors. Previously, the threshold had to be based on a combination of both.

It remains the expectation that services will be designated as category 1 services only where it is appropriate to do so, to ensure that the regime remains proportionate. We do not, for example, expect to apply these duties to large companies with very limited functionalities. This change, however, provides greater flexibility to bring smaller services with particular functionalities into scope of category 1 duties, should it be necessary to do so. As a result of this amendment, we have also made a small change to Clause 98—the emerging services list—to ensure that it makes operational sense. Before my noble friend’s amendment, a service would be placed on the emerging services list if it met the functionality condition and 75% of the user number threshold. Under the clause as amended, a service could be designated as category 1 without meeting both a functionality and a user condition. Without this change, Ofcom would, in such an instance, be required to list only services which meet the 75% condition.

We have heard from both Houses about the importance of ensuring that technology platforms are held to account for the impact of their design choices on children’s safety. We agree and the amendments we proposed in another place make it absolutely clear that providers must assess the impact of their design choices on the risk of harm to children, and that they deliver robust protections for children on all areas of their service. I thank in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Clement-Jones, my noble friend Lady Harding of Winscombe and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for their hard work to find an acceptable way forward. I also thank Sir Jeremy Wright MP for his helpful contributions to this endeavour.

Noble Lords will remember that an amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, sought to require the Secretary of State to review certain offences relating to animals and, depending on the outcome of that review, to list these as priority offences. To accelerate protections in this important area, the Government have tabled an amendment in lieu listing Section 4(1) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 as a priority offence. This will mean that users can be protected from animal torture material more swiftly. Officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have worked closely with the RSPCA and are confident that the Section 4 offence, unnecessary suffering of an animal, will capture a broad swathe of illegal activity. Adding this offence to Schedule 7 will also mean that linked inchoate offences, such as encouraging or assisting this behaviour, are captured by the illegal content duties. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this matter, for her discussions on them with my noble friend Lord Camrose and for her support for the amendment we are making in lieu.

To ensure the speedy implementation of the Bill’s regime, we have added Clauses 116 to 118, which relate to the disclosure of information by Ofcom, and Clauses 170 and 171, which relate to super-complaints, to the provisions to be commenced immediately on Royal Assent. These changes will allow Ofcom and the Government to hold the necessary consultations as quickly as possible after Royal Assent. As noble Lords know, the intention of the Bill is to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online, particularly for children. I firmly believe that the Bill before your Lordships today will do that, strengthened by the changes made in this House and by the collaborative approach that has been shown, not just in all quarters of this Chamber but between both Houses of Parliament. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister very warmly for his introduction today. I shall speak in support of Motions A to H inclusive. Yes, I am very glad that we have agreement at this final milestone of the Bill before Royal Assent. I pay tribute to the Minister and his colleagues, to the Secretary of State, to the noble Baronesses, Lady Morgan, Lady Kidron and Lady Merron, who have brought us to this point with their persistence over issues such as functionalities, categorisation and animal cruelty.

This is not the time for rehearsing any reservations about the Bill. The Bill must succeed and implementation must take place swiftly. So, with many thanks to the very many, both inside and outside this House, who have worked so hard on the Bill for such a long period, we on these Benches wish the Bill every possible success. He is in his place, so I can say that it is over to the noble Lord, Lord Grade, and his colleagues at Ofcom, in whom we all have a great deal of confidence.

My Lords, I shall contribute briefly from these Benches because it is important for us all to be aware of just how much people outside have been watching the progress of the Bill. Indeed, today in the Public Gallery we have some bereaved parents who have suffered at the hands of things that have come up on the internet. We have been very privileged, all the way through the Bill, to be able to hear from people who have been victims and who have genuinely wanted to improve things for others and avoid other problems. The collaborative nature with which everyone has approached the Bill has, we hope, achieved those goals for everyone.

We all need to wish the noble Lord, Lord Grade, good luck and all the best as he takes on an incredibly important scrutiny role. I am sure that in years to come we will be looking at post-legislative scrutiny. In the meantime, I shall not name everybody, apart from putting the Minister in prime position; I thank him and everyone for having worked so hard, because I hear from outside that that work is greatly appreciated.

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for his swift and concise introduction, which very carefully covered the ground without raising any issues that we have to respond to directly. I am grateful for that as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, was his usual self. The only thing that I missed, of course, was the quotation that I was sure he was going to give from the pre-legislative scrutiny report on the Bill, which has been his constant prompt. I also think that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, was very right to remind us of those outside the House who we must remember as we reach the end of this stage.

Strangely, although we are at the momentous point of allowing this Bill to go forward for Royal Assent, I find that there is actually very little that needs to be said. In fact, everything has been said by many people over the period; trying to make any additional points would be meretricious persiflage. So I will make two brief points to wind up this debate.

First, is it not odd to reflect on the fact that this historic Parliament, with all our archaic rules and traditions, has the capacity to deal with a Bill that is regulating a technology which most of us have difficulty in comprehending, let alone keeping up with? However, we have done a very good job and, as a result, I echo the words that have already been said; I think the internet will now be a much safer place for children to enjoy and explore, and the public interest will be well served by this Bill, even though we accept that it is likely to only be the first of a number of Bills that will be needed in the years to come.

Secondly, I have been reflecting on the offer I made to the Government at Second Reading, challenging them to work together with the whole House to get the best Bill that we could out of what the Commons had presented to us. That of course could have turned out to be a slightly pointless gesture if nobody had responded positively—but they did. I particularly thank the Minister and the Bill team for rising to the challenge. There were problems initially, but we got there in the end.

More widely, there was, I know, a worry that committing to working together would actually stifle debate and somehow limit our crucial role of scrutiny. But actually I think it had the opposite effect. Some of the debates we had in Committee, from across the House, were of the highest standard, and opened up issues which needed to be resolved. People listened to each other and responded as the debate progressed. The discussion extended to the other place. It is very good to see Sir Jeremy Wright here; he has played a considerable role in resolving the final points.

It will not work for all Bills, but if the politics can be ignored, or at least put aside, it seems to make it easier to get at the issues that need to be debated in the round. In suggesting this approach, I think we may have found a way of getting the best out of our House —something that does not always occur. I hope that lesson can be listened to by all groups and parties.

For myself, participating in this Bill and the pre-legislative scrutiny committee which preceded it has been a terrific experience. Sadly, a lot of people who contributed to our discussions over that period cannot be here today, but I hope they read this speech in Hansard, because I want to end by thanking them, and those here today, for being part of this whole process. We support the amendments before the House today and wish good luck to the noble Lord, Lord Grade.

My Lords, I am very conscious that this is not the end of the road. As noble Lords have rightly pointed out in wishing the Bill well, attention now moves very swiftly to Ofcom, under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, who has participated, albeit silently, in our proceedings before, and to the team of officials who stand ready to implement this swiftly. The Bill benefited from pre-legislative scrutiny. A number of noble Lords who have spoken throughout our deliberations took part in the Joint Committee of both Houses which did that. It will also benefit from post-legislative scrutiny, through the Secretary of State’s review, which will take place between two and five years after Royal Assent. I know that the noble Lords who have worked so hard on this Bill for many years will be watching it closely as it becomes an Act of Parliament, to ensure that it delivers what we all want it to.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, reminded us of the challenge he set us at Second Reading: to minimise the votes in dissent and to deliver this Bill without pushing anything to ping-pong. I think I was not the only one in the Chamber who was sceptical about our ability to do so, but it is thanks to the collaborative approach and the tone that he has set that we have been able to do that. That is a credit to everybody involved.

I am conscious that the noble Lord is just one of many people in both Houses who have followed the Bill very closely since it was first published in draft in May 2021, and indeed since the White Paper was published in April 2019. No shortage of people in both Houses have devoted many hours to considering and improving it, informed of course by the discussions and correspondence they have had with countless people from beyond your Lordships’ House. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is right to draw our attention to those watching, both here and at home, and who have high hopes for the Bill. No shortage of Ministers have played its part in listening to those representations and steering the Bill through Parliament. It is a privilege to be the last one to do so, to have the final word and to say, for one last time, that I beg to move.

Motion A agreed.

Motion B

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 20, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 20A.

20A: Because the Bill already makes sufficient provision requiring providers of user-to-user- services to mitigate the impact of harm to children online.

Motion C

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 22, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 22A.

22A: Because the Bill already makes sufficient provision requiring providers of user-to-user- services to mitigate the impact of harm to children online.

Motion D

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 81 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 81A, 81B and 81C in lieu.

81A: Clause 25, page 26, line 31, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—

“(c) the extent to which the design of the service, in particular its functionalities, affects the level of risk of harm that might be suffered by children, identifying and assessing those functionalities that present higher levels of risk, including a functionality that makes suggestions relating to users’ search requests (predictive search functionality);”

81B: Clause 25, page 26, line 33, at end insert—

“(ca) the different ways in which the service is used, including functionalities or other features of the service that affect how much children use the service, and the impact of such use on the level of risk of harm that might be suffered by children;”

81C: Clause 25, page 26, line 35, leave out “(c)” and insert “(ca)”

Motion E

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 148 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 148A in lieu.

148A: Page 205, line 36, at end insert—

“Animal welfare

32A An offence under section 4(1) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (unnecessary suffering of an animal).”

Motion F

Moved by

182A (as an amendment to Amendment 182): Line 1, leave out ““presented by content”” and insert ““content on””

Motion G

Moved by

349A (as an amendment to Amendment 349): Line 20, at end insert—

“(qa) sections 104 to 106;”

349B (as an amendment to Amendment 349): Line 24, at end insert—

“(ta) sections 150 and 151;”

Motion H

Moved by

391A (as an amendment to Amendment 391): Line 1, after ““and” insert “at least one specified condition about”

391B: Schedule 11, page 78, line 21, at end insert—

“(3A) If the regulations under paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 11 specify that a service meets the Category 1 threshold conditions if any one condition about number of users or functionality is met (as mentioned in paragraph 1(4)(a) of that Schedule)—

(a) subsection (2) applies as if paragraph (b) were omitted, and

(b) subsections (3) and (7) apply as if the reference to the conditions in subsection (2) were to the condition in subsection (2)(a).”

Motions B to H agreed.