Much of OFCOM’s research required in the first year of operation is generic and a first run could be started now in mid-2021 rather than waiting until mid-2022. We would urge the Secretary of State to write to OFCOM now to ask it to prepare to receive powers under future Online Safety legislation. This would be similar to the duty on proto-OFCOM established under the original Office of Communications paving act, which had a duty to prepare to receive functions under the Communications Act a few years later. This would then allow OFCOM to show some of its working as parliamentary scrutiny progresses. There is a convention that government can only begin preparatory work for legislation after Second Reading of the relevant Bill. However, OFCOM has broad powers to undertake research, has already undertaken much research on matters relevant to the draft Bill and should not be so constrained.
It is possible that by performing some research now OFCOM could remove the need for some delegated powers which complicate the Bill. We are undertaking an analysis of where that might work. Carnegie UK Trust supported Lord McNally’s Online Harms Reduction Regulator (Report) Bill, which suggested a similar approach.