Amendment 12BA

Part of Online Safety Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 25 April 2023.

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Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Conservative 9:00, 25 April 2023

My Lords, it is a tremendous honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne, who put the case extremely well; I agree with every word he just said. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, for bringing forward this issue, which she has done extremely well. I thank Christian Action Research and Education, which has been fundamental in thinking through some of these issues and has written an extremely good brief on the subject. There is indeed an urgent need for consistent regulation of pornographic content wherever it occurs online, whether it is in Section 3, Section 4, Section 5 or wherever. That is why, with the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I have tabled amendments to address age verification on pornography and harms in the round.

Our amendments, which we will get to on Thursday and on later days in Committee, are different from those raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and others, but it is worth noting that many of the principles are the same. In particular, all pornographic content should be subject to the same duties, in the interests of consistency and transparency, wherever it is. Porn is porn, regardless of where it occurs online, and it carries the same risk of harm, particularly to children, whether it is accessed on social media or on a dedicated porn site.

We know from the Children’s Commissioner’s research that, for instance, Twitter was absolutely the online platform where young people were most likely to have seen pornography. Not Pornhub or one of the big tubes—on Twitter. We also know that children will consistently watch porn on dedicated porn sites. So why do we have inconsistent regulation of pornographic content in the Bill? This is the question I address to my noble friend the Minister. We can and we will get to the debate on how we will do this—indeed, I welcome further discussion with the Minister on how, and encourage him to have conversations across the House on this.

For today, we must look at why we have inconsistent regulation for pornographic content and what that means. As currently drafted, Part 3 services and Part 5 services are not subject to the same duties, as the noble Baroness rightly pointed out. Part 3 services, which include the biggest and most popular pornographic websites, such as Pornhub and Xvideos, as well as sites that host pornographic content, such as Twitter, will not be subject to regulation, including age verification, until secondary legislation is introduced, thereby delaying regulation of the biggest porn sites until at the very least 2025, if not 2026. This will create a massively unlevel playing field which, as others have said, will disincentivise compliance across the board, as well as leaving children with unfettered access to pornography on both social media sites and other user-to-user sites such as Pornhub.

Meanwhile, whichever commercially produced pornography websites are left in Part 5 will, as has already been suggested, simply change their functionality to become user-to-user and avoid regulation for another three years. I have a way in which this can be prevented and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, has her way, but for today I stand with her in asking why the Government think this lack of consistency and fragmentation in the regulation of an industry that destroys childhoods and has implications that reverberate across society are to be accepted.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. It is clear to me that there is a consensus across the Committee and at every stage of the Bill that pornography should be regulated in a way that is consistent, clear and implemented as quickly as possible following Royal Assent—I have suggested within six months. Therefore, I would welcome discussions with the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the Minister and others to ensure that this can be achieved.