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Online Harms Legislation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:32 am on 13th February 2020.

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Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 10:32 am, 13th February 2020

I welcome the tone of the hon. Lady on this. These are hugely important issues that affect real people. We call them online harms, but they are profoundly real for the people affected. She is right that legislation is overdue; Parliament should have acted many years ago to address the issue. But the reality is that the duty of care that, in her opinion, social media companies have to their users will be put into law by this Parliament. That is progress, and I think we should welcome it.

We will bring forward the legislation in this Session. We will produce the full consultation response by the spring. We will be going as fast as possible. The hon. Lady wants us to go faster. I welcome the tone that she has struck, but I know that she would not want us to rush and then introduce half-formed legislation that would not work. If we committed to pre-legislative scrutiny, we would be introducing the legislation in the next Session, and that is too long a delay.

I will try to answer some of the many entirely legitimate questions that the hon. Lady asked. She is right that the NSPCC and Facebook have welcomed this. The industry is ready and ripe for regulation, and we should work together to deliver it. Like the Chair of the Select Committee, she asked what additional resources and enforcement powers Ofcom would have. We will ensure that Ofcom has the resources and the enforcement powers that it says are going to be the most effective. I hope that will be a transparent and open conversation.

The hon. Lady mentioned the internet of things, which is an important area. Harms that derive from being online are not limited to social media; they now extend to the doorbells she mentioned and a whole host of other things. She will know that this Government have already committed, through what we call “secure by design”, to legislate on that. I look forward to our bringing that forward by whatever vehicle as soon as we possibly can. That is why we have talked about it already.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the digital services regulation. Of course, we work in consultation with countries around the world. This is a global industry. Britain is taking the lead; it is right that an open and liberal democracy takes the lead on these difficult decisions. We will do this as fast as we possibly can. We will not be delayed by the activities of other countries, but we will work with them.