Amendment 124

Part of Online Safety Bill - Committee (8th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 23 May 2023.

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Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour 10:15, 23 May 2023

My Lords, I regret that my noble friend Lord Lipsey is unable to be here. I wish him and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, well. I also regret that my noble friend Lord Stevenson is not here to wind up this debate and introduce his Amendment 127. Our inability to future-proof these proceedings means that, rather than talking to the next group, I am talking to this one.

I want to make four principal points. First, the principle of press freedom, as discussed by the noble Lords, Lord Black and Lord Faulks, in particular, is an important one. We do not think that this is the right Bill to reopen those issues. We look forward to the media Bill as the opportunity to discuss these things more fully across the House.

Secondly, I have some concerns about the news publisher exemption. In essence, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, set out, as long as you have a standards code, a complaints process, a UK address and a team of contributors, the exemption applies. That feels a bit loose to me, and it opens up the regime to some abuse. I hear what the noble Baronesses, Lady Gohir and Lady Grey-Thompson, said about how we already see pretty dodgy outfits allowing racist and abusive content to proliferate. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on whether the bar we have at the moment is too low and whether there is some reflection to be done on that.

The third point is on my noble friend Lord Stevenson’s Amendment 127, which essentially says that we should set a threshold around whether complaints are dealt with in a timely manner. In laying that amendment, my noble friend essentially wanted to probe. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, is here, so this is a good chance to have him listen to me say that we think that complaints should be dealt with more swiftly and that the organisation that he chairs could do better at dealing with that.

My fourth comment is about comments, particularly after listening to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about some of the hateful comment that is hidden away inside the comments that news publishers carry. I was very much struck by what she said in respect of some of the systems of virality that are now being adopted by those platforms. There, I think Amendment 227 is tempting. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said, and I think I agree that this is better addressed by Parliament.

For me, that just reinforces the need for this Bill, more than any other that I have ever worked on in this place, to have post-legislative scrutiny by Parliament so that we, as a Parliament, can review whether the regime we are setting up is running appropriately. It is such a novel regime, in particular around regulating algorithms and artificial intelligence. It would be an opportunity to see whether, in this case, the systems of virality were creating an amplification of harm away from the editorial function that the news publishers are able to exercise over the comments.

On that basis, and given the hour, I am happy to listen with care to the wise words of the Minister.