Draft Online Safety Bill Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:55 pm on 13th January 2022.

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Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee) 2:55 pm, 13th January 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the Report of the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill, HC 609.

I would like to start by thanking the members and Clerks of our Joint Committee, who put in a tremendous effort to deliver its report. In 11 sitting weeks, we received more than 200 submissions of written evidence, took oral evidence from 50 witnesses and held four further roundtable meetings with outside experts, as well as Members of both Houses. I am delighted to see my Joint Committee colleagues Lord Gilbert and Baroness Kidron in the Gallery. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Chris Philp, and the Secretary of State for the open and collaborative way in which they worked with the Committee throughout the process and our deliberations. I also thank Ofcom, which provided a lot of constructive guidance and advice to the Committee as we prepared the report.

This feels like a moment that has been a long time coming. There has been huge interest on both sides of the House in the Online Safety Bill ever since the publication of the first White Paper in April 2019, and then there were two Government responses, the publication of the draft Bill and a process of pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee. I feel that the process has been worth while: in producing a unanimous report, I think the Committee has reflected the wide range of opinions that we received and put forward some strong ideas that will improve the Bill, which I hope will get a Second Reading later in the Session. I believe that it has been a process worth undertaking, and many other Lords and Commons Committees have been looking at the same time at the important issues around online safety and the central role that online services play in our lives.

The big tech companies have had plenty of notice that this is coming. During that period, have we seen a marked improvement? Have we seen the introduction of effective self-regulation? Have the companies set a challenge to Parliament, saying “You don’t really need to pass this legislation, because we are doing all we can already”? No. If anything, the problems have got worse. Last year, we saw an armed insurrection in Washington DC in which a mob stormed the Capitol building, fuelled by messages of hate and confrontation that circulated substantially online. Last summer, members of the England football team were subject to vile racist abuse at the end of the final—the football authorities had warned the companies that that could happen, but they did not prepare for it or act adequately at the time.

As Rio Ferdinand said in evidence to the Joint Committee, people should not have to put up with this. People cannot just put their device down—it is a tool that they use for work and to stay in communication with their family and friends—so they cannot walk away from the abuse. If someone is abused in a room, they can leave the room, but they cannot walk away from a device that may be the first thing that they see in the morning and one of the last things that they see at night.

We have seen an increase in the incidence of child abuse online. The Internet Watch Foundation has produced a report today that shows that yet again there are record levels of abusive material related to children, posing a real child safety risk. It said the same in its report last year, and the issues are getting worse. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen the rise of anti-vaccine conspiracies.