Clause 203 - Interpretation: general

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

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 12:15, 15 Rhagfyr 2022

I beg to move amendment 105, in clause 203, page 167, line 8, after “including” insert “but not limited to”.

This amendment makes clear that the definition provided for content is not exhaustive.

I am delighted that we have a new Minister, because I can make exactly the same speech as I made previously in Committee—don’t worry, I won’t—and he will not know.

I still have concerns about the definition of “content”. I appreciate that the Government have tried to include a number of things in the definition. It currently states:

“‘content’ means anything communicated by means of an internet service, whether publicly or privately, including written material or messages, oral communications, photographs, videos, visual images, music and data of any description”.

That is pretty wide-ranging, but I do not think it takes everything into account. I know that it uses the word “including”; it does not say “only limited to” or anything like that. If there is to be a list of stuff, it should be exhaustive. That is my idea of how the Bill should be.

I have suggested in amendment 105 that we add “not limited to” after “including” in order to be absolutely clear that the content that we are talking about includes anything. It may or may not be on this list. Something that is missing from the list is VR technology. If someone is using VR or immersive technology and is a character on the screen, they can see what the character is doing and move their body around as that character, and whatever they do is user-generated content. It is not explicitly included in the Bill, even though there is a list of things. I do not even know how that would be written down in any way that would make sense.

I have suggested adding “not limited to” to make it absolutely clear that this is not an exhaustive list of the things that could be considered to be user-generated content or content for the purposes of the Bill. It could be absolutely anything that is user-generated. If the Minister is able to make it absolutely clear that this is not an exhaustive list and that “content” could be anything that is user-generated, I will not press the amendment to a vote. I would be happy enough with that commitment.

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

Indeed I can give that commitment. This is an indicative list, not an exhaustive list, for the reasons that the hon. Lady set out. Earlier, we discussed the fact that technology moves on, and she has come up with an interesting example. It is important to note that adding unnecessary words in legislation could lead to unforeseen outcomes when it is interpreted by courts, which is why we have taken this approach, but we think it does achieve the same thing.

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

On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 58, in clause 203, page 167, leave out lines 26 to 31. —(Paul Scully.)

This amendment removes the definition of the “maximum summary term for either-way offences”, as that term has been replaced by references to the general limit in a magistrates’ court.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 12:30, 15 Rhagfyr 2022

I would like to ask the Minister why this amendment has been tabled. I am not entirely clear. Could he give us some explanation of the intention behind the amendment? I am pretty sure it will be fine but, if he could just let us know what it is for, that would be helpful.

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

I am happy to do so. Clause 203 sets out the interpretation of the terms used throughout the Bill. Amendment 58 removes a definition that is no longer required because the term is no longer in the Bill. It is as simple as that. The definition of relevant crime penalties under the Bill now uses a definition that has been updated in the light of changes to sentencing power in magistrates courts set out in the Judicial Review And Courts Act 2022. The new definition of

“general limit in a magistrates court” is now included in the Interpretation Act 1978, so no definition is required in this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment 58 accordingly agreed to.

Amendment made: 59, in clause 203, page 168, line 48, at end insert—

“and references to restrictions on access to a service or to content are to be read accordingly.” —(Paul Scully.)

NC2 states what is meant by restricting users’ access to content, and this amendment makes it clear that the propositions in clause 203 about access read across to references about restricting access.

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

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

Once again, I will abuse the privilege of having a different Minister at the Dispatch Box and mention the fact that, in the definitions, “oral communications” is mentioned in line 9 that we already mentioned in terms of the definition of “content”. It is “oral communications” in this part of the Bill but “aural communications” in an earlier part of the Bill. I am still baffled as to why there is a difference. Perhaps we should have both included in both of these sections or perhaps there should be some level of consistency throughout the Bill.

The “aural communications” section that I mentioned earlier in clause 50 is the one of the parts that I am particularly concerned about because it could create a loophole. That is a different spelling of the word. I asked this last time. I am not convinced that the answer I got gave me any more clarity than I had previously. I would be keen to understand why there is a difference, if the difference is intentional and what the difference therefore is between “oral” and “aural” communications in terms of the Bill. My understanding is that oral communications are ones that are said and aural communications are ones that are heard. But, for the purposes of the Bill, those two things are really the same, unless user-generated content in which there is user-generated oral communication that no one can possibly hear is included. That surely does not fit into the definitions, because user-generated content is only considered if it is user-to-user—something that other people can see. Surely, oral communication would also be aural communication. In pretty much every instance that the Bill could possibly apply to, both definitions would mean the same thing. I understand the Minister may not have the answer to this at his fingertips, and I would be happy to hear from him later if that would suit him better.

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

The clause provides legal certainty about the meaning of those terms as used in the Bill: things such as “content”, “encounter”, “taking down” and “terms of service”. That is what the clause is intended to do. It is intentional and is for the reasons the hon. Lady said. Oral means speech and speech only. Aural is speech and other sounds, which is what can be heard on voice calls. That includes music as well. One is speech. The other is the whole gamut.

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

I am intrigued, because the hon. Member for Aberdeen North makes an interesting point. It is not one I have heard made before. Does the Minister think there is a distinction between oral and aural, where oral is live speech and aural is pre-recorded material that might be played back? Are those two are considered distinct?

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

My knowledge is being tested, so I will write to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North and make that available to the Committee. Coming back to the point she made about oral and aural on Tuesday about another clause on the exclusions, as I said, we have a narrow exemption to ensure that traditional phone calls are not subject to regulation. But that does mean that if a service such as Fortnite, which she spoke about previously, enables adults and children to have one-to-one oral calls, companies will still need to address the surrounding functionality around how that happens, because to enable that might cause harm—for example if an adult can contact an unknown child. That is still captured within the Bill.

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

Platforms will have to address, for example, the ways in which users can communicate with people who are not on their friends list. Things like that and other ways in which communication can be set up will have to be looked at in the risk assessment. With Discord, for instance, where two people can speak to each other, Discord will have to look at the way those people got into contact with each other and the risks associated with that, rather than the conversation itself, even though the conversation might be the only bit that involves illegality.

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

It is the functionalities around it that enable the voice conversation to happen.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 203, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.