Honour for campaigning MP who pioneered Online Safety Bill

The MP first responsible for the Online Safety Bill has said “online platforms need to make sure that they’re enforcing the law a lot more rigorously than they already are” following the inquest into the death of teenager Molly Russell.

Dame Caroline Dinenage was recognised by the Princess Royal on Tuesday for political and public service, after serving in seven governmental departments under three prime ministers.

The former digital and culture minister, who had held ministerial responsibility for the Online Safety Bill when a first draft was published, spoke about the duty of social media platforms after picking up her honour in Windsor.

Following the landmark ruling at the inquest into Molly’s death, the senior coroner recommended that the Government consider “reviewing the provision of internet platforms to children”, including the possibility of “separate platforms for adults and children”.

Investitures at Windsor Castle
Dame Caroline Dinenage, MP for Gosport, is made a Dame Commander of the British Empire by the Princess Royal (Yui Mok/PA)

The 14-year-old, from Harrow in north-west London, ended her life in November 2017 after viewing suicide and self-harm content online, prompting her family to campaign for better internet safety.

The MP for Gosport, now sitting on the backbenches, told the PA news agency: “I met Molly Russell’s dad a few times during the time I was, nearly two years, as digital minister and the story is just so horribly tragic, but it’s so sadly not unique.

“We hear so often of, sometimes it’s just young pupils stumbling over very, very unsuitable content online, but in other cases, it’s a lot more serious as it was in Molly’s case.

“The internet can be a wonderful place, but we also need to make sure that it’s got the right protections in place for children in particular, but also for other vulnerable people and certainly the online platforms need to make sure that they’re enforcing the law a lot more rigorously than they already are.”

Investitures at Windsor Castle
Fred Dinenage stands with his daughter Dame Caroline Dinenage, MP (Andrew Matthews/PA)

She described her damehood as “probably more of an award for endurance” after serving in six different departments in six and a half years, but said: “You don’t run to be a member of parliament in order to get recognised for it.”

She added: “It’s really nice that the hard work and effort is recognised because I did care very passionately about everything that I did, and it is flattering to have someone recognise that.”