Amendment 10

Part of Online Safety Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 25 April 2023.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology) 7:00, 25 April 2023

Like others, I had prepared quite extensive notes to respond to what I thought the noble Lord was going to say about his amendments in this group, and I have not been able to find anything left that I can use, so I am going to have to extemporise slightly. I think it is very helpful to have a little non-focused discussion about what we are about to talk about in terms of age, because there is a snare and a delusion in quite a lot of it. I was put in mind of that in the discussions on the Digital Economy Act, which of course precedes the Minister but is certainly still alive in our thinking: in fact, we were talking about it earlier today.

The problem I see is that we have to find a way of squaring two quite different approaches. One is to prevent those who should not be able to see material, because it is illegal for them to see it. The other is to find a way of ensuring that we do not end up with an age-gated internet, which I am grateful to find that we are all, I think, agreed about: that is very good to know.

Age is very tricky, as we have heard, and it is not the only consideration we have to bear in mind in wondering whether people should be able to gain access to areas of the internet which we know will be bad and difficult for them. That leads us, of course, to the question about legal but harmful, now resolved—or is it? We are going to have this debate about age assurance and what it is. What is age verification? How do they differ? How does it matter? Is 18 a fixed and final point at which we are going to say that childhood ends and adulthood begins, and therefore one is open for everything? It is exactly the point made earlier about how to care for those who should not be exposed to material which, although legal for them by a number called age, is not appropriate for them in any of the circumstances which, clinically, we might want to bring to bear.

I do not think we are going to resolve these issues today—I hope not. We are going to talk about them for ever, but at this stage I think we still need a bit of thinking outside a box which says that age is the answer to a lot of the problems we have. I do not think it is, but whether the Bill is going to carry that forward I have my doubts. How we get that to the next stage, I do not know, but I am looking forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on it.