Amendment 10

Part of Online Safety Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 25 April 2023.

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Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 6:45, 25 April 2023

My Lords, I have to start with a slightly unprofessional confession. I accepted the Bill team’s suggestion on how my amendments might be grouped after I had grouped them rather differently. The result is that I am not entirely clear why some of these groupings are quite as they are. As my noble friend the Minister said, my original idea of having Amendments 9, 10 and 11 together would perhaps have been better, as it would have allowed him to give a single response on Wikipedia. Amendments 10 and 11 in this group relate to Wikipedia and services like it.

I am, I hope, going to cause the Committee some relief as I do not intend to repeat remarks made in the previous group. The extent to which my noble friend wishes to amplify his comments in response to the previous group is entirely a matter for him, since he said he was reserving matter that he would like to bring forward but did not when commenting on the previous group. If I do not speak further on Amendments 10 and 11, it is not because I am not interested in what my noble friend the Minister might have to say on the topic of Wikipedia.

To keep this fairly brief, I turn to Amendment 26 on age verification. I think we have all agreed in the Chamber that we are united in wanting to see children kept safe. On page 10 of the Bill, in Clause 11(3), it states that there will be a duty to

“prevent children of any age from encountering” this content—“prevent” them “encountering” is extremely strong. We do not prevent children encountering the possibility of buying cigarettes or encountering the possibility of being injured crossing the road, but we are to prevent children from these encounters. It is strongly urged in the clause—it is given as an example—that age verification will be required for that purpose.

Of course, age verification works only if it applies to everybody: one does not ask just the children to prove their age; one has to ask everybody online. Unlike when I go to the bar in a pub, my grey hair cannot be seen online. So this provision will almost certainly have to extend to the entire population. In Clause 11(3)(b), we have an obligation to protect. Clearly, the Government intend a difference between “prevent” and “protect”, or they would not have used two different verbs, so can my noble friend the Minister explain what is meant by the distinction between “prevent” and “protect”?

My amendment would remove Clause 11(3) completely. But it is, in essence, a probing amendment and what I want to hear from the Government, apart from how they interpret the difference between “prevent” and “protect”, is how they expect this duty to be carried out without having astonishingly annoying and deterring features built into every user-to-user platform and website, so that every time one goes on Wikipedia—in addition to dealing with the GDPR, accepting cookies and all the other nonsense we have to go through quite pointlessly—we then have to provide age verification of some sort.

What mechanism that might be, I do not know. I am sure that there are many mechanisms available for age verification. I do not wish to get into a technical discussion about what particular techniques might be used—I accept that there will be a range and that they will respond and adapt in the light of demand and technological advance—but I would like to know what my noble friend the Minister expects and how wide he thinks the obligation will be. Will it be on the entire population, as I suspect? Focusing on that amendment—and leaving the others to my noble friend the Minister to respond to as he sees fit—and raising those questions, I think that the Committee would like to know how the Government imagine that this provision will work. I beg to move.