Online Harms Reduction Regulator (Report) Bill Introduced in House of Lords

January 15, 2020

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Lord McNally’s Private Bill ‘Online Harms Reduction Regulator (Report) Bill’ has been published (14 January 2020) at its First Reading.

This is a very short ‘paving Bill’ which requires OFCOM and the Government to take steps to prepare for forthcoming legislation on online harms. It aims to support the Government in its deliberation as thinking moves on from the White Paper.

The Bill has several objectives –

  • Enable Parliament to get on with debating this topic which will give the Government a sense of where the House’s interests and concerns lie.
  • Providing a first draft for debate of structural issues that define the regime, such as: the duty of care itself, the types of companies covered (which aims to exclude already-regulated media) and the harms to be reduced.
  • Putting OFCOM front and centre in preparing for a new regime by making them begin preparatory work and report to Parliament on it. OFCOM is the only body capable of providing draft codes of practice and essential details of a regulatory regime that parliament will want to see alongside the government’s proposals.
  • Requiring the Secretary of State to bring forward a draft Bill based on OFCOM’s work.

The Government had not advanced policy thinking on this urgent topic since its White Paper in April last year. The December Queen’s Speech dropped a promise of a draft Bill for consultation made in the October Queen’s speech. Ministers are now only suggesting a response to the White Paper consultation ‘in the coming months’ despite manifesto commitments to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

Debate on the McNally Bill in the House will not happen until the Second Reading, the date of which has not yet been fixed. It is possible that Select Committees (when composed) might examine the Bill prior to that.

Carnegie UK Trust supported Lord McNally in his private bill, based on our work developing the ‘statutory duty of care, enforced by a regulator’ approach.  CUKT has published a wide range of research on online harms reduction including a longer draft Bill on how to implement and online harms regime. The McNally Bill conforms to rules about what is permitted in Private Bills and so is slightly different to that earlier work.