Online Safety Update

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport written statement – made on 17th January 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I have engaged extensively with Members of this House recently regarding a number of amendments which have been tabled for Report stage of the Online Safety Bill, which will take place today. These constructive discussions have reached a positive conclusion which enhances the Bill’s ability to keep children safe online, and tackle illegal activity.

Senior management liability

We have carefully reviewed New Clause 2, which sought to make senior managers criminally liable for breaches of the Bill’s child safety duties. I am sympathetic to the aims of the amendment. We have already demonstrated our commitment elsewhere in the Bill to strengthening the protections for children in the Online Safety Bill by bringing forward a series of amendments to achieve this at previous stages of passage. In addition, the Bill already includes provisions to make senior managers liable for failing to prevent a provider committing an offence (failure to comply with information notices).

We are committed to ensuring that children are safe online, so will work with the Honourable Members for Penistone and Stockbridge, Stone and others to table an effective amendment in the Lords. This amendment will deliver our shared aims of holding people accountable for their actions in a way which is effective and targeted towards child safety, whilst ensuring the UK remains an attractive place for technology companies to invest and grow.

We need to take the time to get this right. We intend to base our amendment on the Irish Online Safety and Media Regulation Act (2022) which introduces individual criminal liability for failure to comply with a notice to end contravention.

In line with that approach, the final government amendment at the end of ping pong between the Lords and the Commons will be carefully designed to capture instances where senior managers, or those purporting to act in that capacity, have consented or connived in ignoring enforceable requirements, risking serious harm to children. The criminal penalties, including imprisonment and fines, will be commensurate with similar offences. While this amendment will not affect those who have acted in good faith to comply in a proportionate way, it gives the Act additional teeth to deliver change and ensure that people are held to account if they fail to properly protect children.

Illegal immigration

We have also engaged extensively with the Honourable Member for Dover, and the right Honourable Member for South Holland and the Deepings, to discuss their amendment which seeks to tackle illegal immigration through the Online Safety Bill. As the Prime Minister has said, stopping these crossings is one of this government's top priorities. The use of highly dangerous methods to enter this country, including unseaworthy or small and overcrowded boats and refrigerated lorries presents a huge challenge for us all. The situation needs to be resolved, and we will not hesitate to take action, wherever that can have the most effect - including through this Bill, as Organised Crime Groups are increasingly using social media to facilitate migrant crossings.

Following constructive discussions with the Honourable Members for Dover, South Holland and the Deepings, and Maidenhead, I can now confirm that, in order to better tackle illegal immigration encouraged by organised gangs, the government will also add Section 2 of the Modern Slavery Act to the list of priority offences. Section 2 makes it an offence to arrange or facilitate the travel of another person, including through recruitment, with a view to their exploitation.

We will also add Section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971 to the priority offences list in Schedule 7. Although the offences in Section 24 cannot be carried out online, paragraph 33 of the Schedule states that priority illegal content includes the inchoate offences relating to the offences that are listed. Therefore aiding, abetting, counselling, conspiring etc those offences by posting videos of people crossing the channel which show that activity in a positive light could be an offence that is committed online and therefore falls within what is priority illegal content. The result of this amendment would therefore be that platforms would have to proactively remove that content.

We will table this government amendment in the House of Lords.

Conversion therapy

We recognise the strength of feeling on the issue of harmful conversion practices and remain committed to protecting people from these practices and making sure they can live their lives free from the threat of harm or abuse.

We have had constructive engagement with the Honourable Member for Rutland and Melton on her amendment which seeks to prevent children from seeing harmful online content on conversion practices.

It is right that this issue is tackled through a dedicated and tailored legislative approach, which is why we are announcing today that the Government will publish a draft Bill which will set out a proposed approach to ban conversion practices, this will apply to England and Wales. The Bill will protect everyone, including those targeted on the basis of their sexuality, or being transgender.

The Government will publish the draft Bill shortly and will ask for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee in this parliamentary session.

This is a complex area, and pre-legislative scrutiny exists to help ensure that any Bill introduced to parliament does not cause unintended consequences. It will also ensure that the Bill benefits from stakeholder expertise and input from parliamentarians.

The legislation must not, through a lack of clarity, harm the growing number of children and young adults experiencing gender related distress, through inadvertently criminalising or chilling legitimate conversations parents or clinicians may have with their children.