Amendment 12BA

Part of Online Safety Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 25 April 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat 9:15, 25 April 2023

My Lords, I add my support for all the amendments in this group. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, for bringing the need for the consistent regulation of pornographic content to your Lordships’ attention. Last week, I spoke about my concerns about pornography; I will not repeat them here. I said then that the Bill does not go far enough on pornography, partly because of the inconsistent regulation regimes between Part 3 services and Part 5 ones.

In February, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation made a series of recommendations on the regulation of pornography. Its first recommendation was this:

“Make the regulation of pornography consistent across different online platforms, and between the online and offline spheres”.

It went on to say:

“The reforms currently contained in the Online Safety Bill not only fail to remedy this, they introduce further inconsistencies in how different online platforms hosting pornography are regulated”.

This is our opportunity to get it right but we are falling short. The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, go to the heart of the issue by ensuring that the duties that currently apply to Part 5 services will also apply to Part 3 services.

Debates about how these duties should be amended or implemented will be dealt with later on in our deliberations; I look forward to coming back to them in detail then. Today, the question is whether we are willing to have inconsistent regulation of pornographic content across the services that come into the scope of the Bill. I am quite sure that, if we asked the public in an opinion poll whether this was the outcome they expected from the Bill, they would say no.

An academic paper published in 2021 reported on the online viewing of 16 and 17 year-olds. It said that pornography was much more frequently viewed on social media, showing that the importance of the regulation of such sites remains. The impact of pornography is no different whether it is seen on a social media or pornography site with user-to-user facilities that fall within Part 3 or on a site that has only provider content that would fall within Part 5. There should not be an either/or approach to different services providing the same content, which is why I think that Amendment 125A is critical. If all pornographic content is covered by Part 5, what does and does not constitute user-generated material ceases to be our concern. Amendment 125A highlights this issue; I too look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

There is no logic to having different regulatory approaches in the same Bill. They need to be the same and come into effect at the same time. That is the simple premise of these amendments; I fully support them.