Clause 55 - Review

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

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendment made: 56, in clause 155, page 133, line 27, after “Chapter 1” insert “or 2A”.—(Paul Scully.)

Clause 155 is about a review by the Secretary of State of the regulatory framework established by this Bill. This amendment inserts a reference to Chapter 2A, which is the new Chapter expected to be formed by NC3 to NC6.

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

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I am glad that there is a review function in the Bill. I have been a member of a lot of Bill Committees and Delegated Legislation Committees that have considered legislation that has no review function and that says, “This will be looked at in the normal course of departmental reviews.” We know that not all Departments always do such reviews. In fact, some Departments do under 50% of the reviews that they are supposed to do, and whether reviews take place is not checked. We therefore we do not find out whether a piece of legislation has had the intended effect. I am sure some will have done, but some definitely will not.

If the Government do not internally review whether a Bill or piece of delegated legislation has had the effect it was supposed to have, they cannot say whether it has been a success and cannot make informed decisions about future legislation, so having a review function in this Bill is really good. However, that function is insufficient as it is not enough for the Secretary of State to do the review and we will not see enough outputs from Ofcom.

The Bill has dominated the lives of a significant number of parliamentarians for the past year—longer, in some cases—because it is so important and because it has required so much scrutiny, thinking and information gathering to get to this stage. That work will not go away once the Bill is enacted. Things will not change or move at once, and parts of the legislation will not work as effectively as they could, as is the case for any legislation, whether moved by my Government or somebody else’s. In every piece of legislation there will be things that do not pan out as intended, but a review by the Secretary of State and information from Ofcom about how things are working do not seem to be enough.

Committee members, including those on the Government Benches, have suggested having a committee to undertake the review or adding that function to the responsibilities of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. We know that the DCMS Committee is busy and will be looking into a significant number of wide-ranging topics, so it would be difficult for it to keep a watching brief on the Online Safety Bill.

The previous Minister said that there will be some sort of reviewing mechanism, but I would like further commitment from the Government that the Bill will be kept under review and that the review process as set out will not be the only type of review that happens as things move and change and the internet develops. Many people talk about more widespread use of virtual reality, for example, but there could be other things that we have not even heard of yet. After the legislation is implemented, it will be years before every part of the Bill is in action and every requirement in the legislation is working. By the time we get to 2027-28—or whenever every part of the legislation is working—things could have changed again and be drastically different to today. Indeed, the legislation may not be fit for purpose when it first starts to work, so will the Minister provide more information about what the review process will look like on an ongoing basis? The Government say this is world-leading legislation, but how we will ensure that that is the case and that it makes a difference to the safety and experience of both children and adults online?

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

I am glad that we are all in agreement on the need for a review. It is important that we have a comprehensive and timely review of the regulatory regime and how it is built into legislation. It is important that we understand that the legislation has the impact that we intend.

The legislation clearly sets out what the review must consider, how Ofcom is carrying out its role and if the legislation is effective in dealing with child protection, which as the hon. Lady rightly says is its core purpose. We have struck the balance of specifying two to five years after the regime comes into force, because it provides a degree of flexibility to future Ministers to judge when it should happen. None the less, I take the hon. Lady’s point that technology is developing. That is why this is a front-footed first move in this legislation, when other countries are looking at what we are doing; because of that less prescriptive approach to technologies, the legislation can be flexible and adapt to emerging new technologies. Inevitably, this will not be the last word. Some of the things in the Digital Economy Act 2017, for example, are already out of date, as is some of the other legislation that was put in place in the early 2000s. We will inevitably come back to this, but I think we have the right balance at the moment in terms of the timing.

I do not think we need to bed in whom we consult, but wider consultation will none the less be necessary to ascertain the effectiveness of the legislation.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

I am following carefully what the Minister says, but I would say briefly that a lot of the debate we have had at all stages of the Bill has rested on how we believe Ofcom will use the powers it has been given, and we need to make sure that it does that. We need to ensure that it is effective and that it has the resources it needs. Kirsty Blackman makes an important point that it may not be enough to rely on a Select Committee of the Lords or the Commons having the time to do that in the detail we would want. We might need to consider either a post-legislative scrutiny Committee or some other mechanism to ensure that there is the necessary level of oversight.

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The report as is obviously has to be laid before Parliament and will form part of the package of parliamentary scrutiny. But, yes, we will consider how we can utilise the expertise of both Houses in post-legislative scrutiny. We will come back on that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 155, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.