Freedom of Expression (Communications and Digital Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:15 pm ar 27 Hydref 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Davies of Brixton Lord Davies of Brixton Llafur 4:15, 27 Hydref 2022

My Lords, like previous speakers I thank the committee for its excellent report. As someone said, it makes good reading and is a clear exposition of the issues. The obvious question is, where are we with the Online Safety Bill, which was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech but has since disappeared from sight? We were told it would be “as soon as possible” and clearly, the emphasis is on “possible” rather than “soon”. Much of the discussion, rightly, has been on the issues set out in the report, with a focus on protection of children, which I feel strongly about. I think back to my childhood and that of my children, who grew up in a pre-internet age, and I fear for my grandchildren, faced with the issues they now see on the internet. Legislation in that area is crucial.

However, I want to expand the discussion to reflect the expansion of the scope of the Online Safety Bill, because various other priority offences have been added to it, including fraud and financial crime. This is an important aspect of online safety: clearly, protection against financial crime should be a crucial part of the Bill, and I am glad the Government have accepted that. It is not clear to me exactly how it is going to work, because there is a particular problem. They have defined it as “fraud and financial crime”, but a lot of the harm that happens on the internet might not, strictly speaking, be found to be fraud or other another form of financial crime. People can be harmed financially through reading material on the internet which, unless there is prosecution through the courts, might not be counted as criminal. I hope the Minister will say something about how such things will be defined.

The issue of a duty of care has been mentioned, and a duty of care to protect people against financial harm would be an essential pillar of the Bill. In the phrase that is used, there should be safety by design, so that people are not misled into reading material that will cause them suffering.