Government will bring back Online Safety Bill in autumn, says minister

·3-min read

The Government will press ahead with the Online Safety Bill, despite delaying the proposed legislation’s progress through Parliament until a new prime minister is in place in the autumn.

Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse said the Government had made a manifesto commitment to act on the issue.

But he acknowledged the Bill could face amendment amid concerns among some Tory MPs at the impact on free speech, while some campaigners want more to be done to protect children from the threat of online sexual abuse.

“That manifesto commitment needs to be fulfilled. Whoever is our new glorious leader, they will have to bear that in mind as they contemplate the legislation in the autumn,” Mr Malthouse told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.

“I don’t think there is a single person in either the Commons or the Lords who wants to do anything other than strengthen the protection for children online.

“As normal with legislation, it will be adjusted by amendments with the Government in the driving seat so we can satisfy that manifesto commitment.

“I haven’t heard anybody yet in the leadership or elsewhere say they want to scrap the Bill entirely although obviously, as there always is with legislation, (there will be) debates about nuance and complexity.”

It comes after Downing Street confirmed the Bill would be delayed because of limited parliamentary time before the summer recess.

The delay had sparked a row among MPs and campaigners over what should happen with the Bill.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said the delay would mean “families continue to pay the price for the failure and inaction of tech firms”.

In contrast, former MP Ruth Smeeth, now chief executive of the free speech campaign group Index On Censorship, said the delay was “great news” and meant the “fundamentally broken Bill” could be given a “rethink” by a new prime minister.

That view has been supported by Tory leadership candidate Kemi Badenoch, who said if elected leader she would “ensure the Bill doesn’t overreach” and that the Government “shouldn’t be legislating for hurt feelings”.

But this view has received pushback from within the Conservative Party.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who is spearheading the Bill and backing Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to be the next leader of the Tories, replied to Ms Badenoch: “Which part of the Bill legislates for hurt feelings, Kemi?”

Tech minister Damian Collins – who is backing Penny Mordaunt as the next Tory leader – said Ms Badenoch was “completely wrong” on the issue.

“Tell me where in this Bill there is any provision that requires the removal of legal speech. Instead, for the first time, we can set safety standards online based on our laws. Why would you want to stop that?” he asked.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting