Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:50 am on 27th January 2022.

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Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 11:50 am, 27th January 2022

I thank Julian Knight and the other members of the Committee for their hard work in delivering this important report. Having previously been a member of the Committee, I am all too well aware of the challenges to online safety, particularly in the context of defining or contextualising what constitutes a “harm”. The Labour party has long called for tougher penalties for tech companies which fail to comply with their responsibilities to users; a change in culture is clearly urgently required for those companies, which have been left unaccountable for far too long.

The report has also highlighted a number of issues, or omissions, in the Government’s current draft bill, and I am keen to hear the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts on those. First, the report recommends that providers should have designated compliance officers to ensure good governance. This is not the first time that that recommendation has been made, but the proposal has been discounted until now. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have been too slow in pushing social media companies to act?

Secondly, the Secretary of State, in her evidence to the Joint Committee assessing the draft online safety bill, referred to legal advice that she had received, including advice on a foundational duty of care. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is vital for the Government to publish that legal advice ahead of the response to the DCMS Committee’s report, so that their reply can be understood in the context of the advice that they have received? I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree—especially given events that have unfolded in relation to other matters this week—that it is simply not acceptable for the Government to conceal important advice from the public domain.