Clause 115 - Requirements enforceable by OFCOM against providers of regulated services

Online Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:00 pm ar 15 Rhagfyr 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Llafur, Wallasey 12:00, 15 Rhagfyr 2022

We now come to Government amendments 54 and 55 to clause 115.

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

I do not wish to test the Committee’s patience. I know we need to get the Bill over the line quickly, so I do not wish to delay it by talking over old ground that we covered in the previous Public Bill Committee on clauses that we support. We do support the Government on this clause, but I will make some brief comments because, as we know, clause 115 is important. It lists the enforceable requirements for which failure to comply can trigger enforcement action.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Llafur, Wallasey

Order. I think the hon. Lady is speaking to clause 115. This is Government amendments 54 and 55 to clause 115. I will call you when we get to that place, which will be very soon, so stay alert.

Amendments made: 54, in clause 115, page 98, leave out lines 35 and 36.

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 6 and 7 (removal of clauses 12 and 13).

Amendment 55, in clause 115, page 99, line 19, at end insert—

“Section (Duty not to act against users except in accordance with terms of service)

Acting against users only in accordance with terms of service

Section (Further duties about terms of service)

Terms of service”

—(Paul Scully.)

This amendment ensures that OFCOM are able to use their enforcement powers in Chapter 6 of Part 7 in relation to a breach of any of the new duties imposed by NC3 and NC4.

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

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Llafur, Wallasey

We now come to clause 115 stand part.

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

Thank you, Dame Angela—take 2.

Clause 115 focuses on the enforcement action that may be taken and will be triggered if a platform fails to comply. Given that the enforceable requirements may include, for example, duties to carry out and report on risk assessments and general safety duties, it is a shame that the Government have not seen the merits of going further with these provisions. I point the Minister to the previous Public Bill Committee, where Labour made some sensible suggestions for how to remedy the situation. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have made it abundantly clear that more access to, and availability of, data and information about systems and processes would improve understanding of the online environment.

We cannot and should not rely solely on Ofcom to act as problems arise when they could be spotted earlier by experts somewhere else. We have already heard the Minister outline the immense task that Ofcom has ahead of it to monitor risk assessments and platforms, ensuring that platforms comply and taking action where there is illegal content and a risk to children. It is important that Ofcom has at its disposal all the help it needs.

It would be helpful if there were more transparency about how the enforcement provisions work in practice. We have repeatedly heard that without independent researchers accessing data on relevant harm, platforms will have no real accountability for how they tackle online harm. I hope that the Minister can clarify why, once again, the Government have not seen the merit of encouraging transparency in their approach. It would be extremely valuable and helpful to both the online safety regime and the regulator as a whole, and it would add merit to the clause.

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

We have talked about the fact that Ofcom will have robust enforcement powers. It can direct companies to take specific steps to come into compliance or to remedy failure to comply, as well as issue fines and apply to the courts for business disruption measures. Indeed, Ofcom can institute criminal proceedings against senior managers who are responsible for compliance with an information notice, when they have failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure the company’s compliance with that notice. That criminal offence will commence two months after Royal Assent.

Ofcom will be required to produce enforcement guidelines, as it does in other areas that it regulates, explaining how it proposes to use its enforcement powers. It is important that Ofcom is open and transparent, and that companies and people using the services understand exactly how to comply. Ofcom will provide those guidelines. People will be able to see who are the users of the services. The pre-emptive work will come from the risk assessments that platforms themselves will need to produce.

We will take a phased approach to bringing the duties under the Bill into effect. Ofcom’s initial focus will be on illegal content, so that the most serious harms can be addressed as soon as possible. When those codes of practice and guidelines come into effect, the hon. Member for Pontypridd will see some of the transparency and openness that she is looking for.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 115, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.