Clause 21 - Record-keeping and review duties

Online Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 13 December 2022.

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Amendments made: 32, in clause 21, page 23, line 5, leave out “, 10 or 12” and insert “or 10”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 6 (removal of clause 12).

Amendment 33, in clause 21, page 23, line 45, leave out paragraph (c).

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 7 (removal of clause 13).

Amendment 34, in clause 21, page 24, line 6, leave out “section” and insert “sections”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 35.

Amendment 35, in clause 21, page 24, line 6, at end insert—

“, (Duty not to act against users except in accordance with terms of service) and (Further duties about terms of service) (duties about terms of service).”—(Paul Scully.)

This amendment ensures that providers have a duty to review compliance with the duties set out in NC3 and NC4 regularly, and after making any significant change to the design or operation of the service.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister (Tech, Gambling and the Digital Economy)

Given that there are few changes to this clause from when the Bill was amended in the previous Public Bill Committee, I will be brief. We in the Opposition are clear that record-keeping and review duties on in-scope services make up an important function of the regulatory regime and sit at the very heart of the Online Safety Bill. We must push platforms to transparently report all harms identified and the action taken in response, in line with regulation.

The requirements to keep records of the action taken in response to harm will be vital in supporting the regulator in making effective decisions about regulatory breaches and on whether the company responses are sufficient. They will also be vital to understanding the success of the regime once it is in place. We see the clause as central to preventing concerns over the under-reporting of harms to evade regulation.

We already know that under-reporting exists. We only have to turn to the testimony of many whistleblowers—colleagues will be aware of those who have bravely shared their concerns over the lack of transparency in this space—to know that we are often not presented with the full picture on the scale of the harm.

Labour has not sought to amend the clause, but one again I must reiterate a point that we have pushed on numerous occasions—namely, the importance of requiring in-scope services to publish their risk assessments. The Government have refused on a number of occasions to understand the significance of the level of transparency, but it could bring great benefits, as it would allow researchers and civil society to track harms and hold services to account. Again, I push the Minister and urge him to stress that the risk assessments are published.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:15, 13 December 2022

Specifically on the issue that was just raised, there were two written ministerial statements on the Online Safety Bill. The first specifically said that an amendment would

“require the largest platforms to publish summaries of their risk assessments for illegal content and material that is harmful to children, to allow users and empower parents to clearly understand the risks presented by these services and the approach platforms are taking to children’s safety”.—[Official Report, 29 November 2022; Vol. 723, c. 31WS.]

Unless I have completely missed an amendment that has been tabled for this Committee, my impression is that that amendment will be tabled in the Lords and that details will be made available about how exactly the publishing will work and which platforms will be required to publish.

I would appreciate it if the Minister could provide more clarity about what that might look like, and about which platforms might have to publish their assessments. I appreciate that that will be scrutinised in the Lords but, to be fair, this is the second time that the Bill has been in Committee in the Commons. It would be helpful if we could be a bit more sighted on what exactly the Government intend to do—meaning more than the handful of lines in a written ministerial statement—because then we would know whether the proposal is adequate, or whether we would have to ask further questions in order to draw it out and ensure that it is published in a certain form. The more information the Minister can provide, the better.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I think we all agree that written records are hugely important. They are important as evidence in cases where Ofcom is considering enforcement action, and a company’s compliance review should be done regularly, especially before they make changes to their service.

The Bill does not intend to place excessive burdens on small and low-risk businesses. As such, clause 21 provides Ofcom with the power to exempt certain types of service from the record-keeping and review duties. However, the details of any exemptions must be published.

To half-answer the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, the measures will be brought to the Lords, but I will endeavour to keep her up to date as best we can so that we can continue the conversation. We have served together on several Bill Committees, including on technical Bills that required us to spend several days in Committee—although they did not come back for re-committal—so I will endeavour to keep her and, indeed, the hon. Member for Pontypridd, up to date with developments.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 21, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.