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Online Safety Bill will return next month, government confirms

Online Safety
24 November 2022
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CARE has urged the government to slim down its Online Safety Bill to win wide support from MPs when it returns to parliament next month.

This afternoon, Commons leader Penny Mordaunt MP confirmed that the embattled proposals will be brought forward again in December.

Critics had suggested the bill would be dropped given concerns about an impact on free expression and dwindling parliamentary time.

However, child safety campaigners have stressed the need for reform given disturbing online content devastating lives.

The government has not yet confirmed the exact changes that will be made to its draft Online Safety Bill.

CARE, which has spearheaded the campaign for children to be protected from pornography, suggests a more targeted approach.

Tim Cairns, an internet safety expert at CARE, comments:

“The major area of contention with the bill has always been the regulation of speech. The government's plans require that speech, even speech which breaks no laws, should be regulated if it is deemed to be harmful. These sweeping provisions would give unprecedented power over public discourse to the owners and operators of large social media platforms. That’s hardly befitting of a democratic society.

"What is and is not deemed to be permissible speech in the UK is not a matter for Silicon Valley. And concerns about companies curbing ‘harmful speech’ is potentially going to kill the Bill – to the detriment of vulnerable groups who stand to be protected. Millions of children could lose vital protection online, and victims of sexual exploitation and abuse would also be let down.

"In order to rescue its legislation and command broad support when the bill returns to parliament next month, the Government needs to move quickly to remove the controversial speech provisions from its bill, pledge to deal with them in separate legislation, and move forward with upon which agreement already exists. Pragmatism is called for, for the wider good.”

Mr Cairns adds:

“In multiple surveys the will of the British population is clear. People want online pornography to be regulated. Not just the public. Parliament, in Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, legislated for action on explicit content. The Government chose not to implement that legislation, rather they gave a promise that a more comprehensive piece of legislation would be brought forward later.

“Having removed the speech elements of the Bill, the Government should then set out to define what pornography is. Whilst the Bill proposes that children are protected through age verification, the Bill fails to set out what exactly children are to be protected from and what content requires age verification. This approach is out of step with other legislation.

"Offline pornography and what can be shown by video-on-demand services, such as Netflix, is already defined in law. A similar definition could be incorporated into the Bill to ensure that offline and online pornography is held to the same standard. This is only right – children and others who are protected from specific content offline and on television should be safeguarded elsewhere too.

"The Government’s consideration of how to regulate pornography should not solely be focused on children. Clear evidence, as highlighted in awful cases like that of Sarah Everard, confirms that adults viewing pornographic content is a contributing factor in increased violence against women and girls. Such content is freely available on the internet, despite being outlawed elsewhere.”

He concludes:

“Fixing the Bill need not be difficult, but it needs to be done quickly. Parliament stands at a watershed moment. If the Bill falls, generations to come will look back and wonder why we allowed children free access to the most extreme pornographic content imaginable. This isn’t about prudishness as some claim. It’s about protecting vulnerable human beings from something that hurts them.

"Failing to act is not an option, the Government needs to regulate pornography and move the Bill through Parliament fast. We stand ready to assist them in this endeavour, as do others.”

ENDS

CARE provides analysis of social policy from a Christian perspective. For more information or to request an interview, contact Jamie Gillies | jamie.gillies@care.org.uk

Notes for Editors

Polling commissioned by CARE found broad public concern about the link between pornography consumption and sexual violence against women and girls.

The Savanta ComRes poll of 2,000 people found 6 in 10 UK adults agree with the statement: “I am concerned that pornography is inspiring sexual violence against women and girls.” Only 1 in 10 disagreed.

7 in 10 adults also agreed that: “The government should stop websites publishing extreme pornography that portrays violence or non-consensual sex”, with less than 1 in 10 respondents disagreeing.

Female respondents were more concerned that porn is motivating sexual violence (7 in 10) than males (5 in 10). However, both sexes strongly agreed on the need for tougher curbs on porn sites (8 in 10 and 7 in 10 respectively).

Majority back mandatory age checks

An earlier poll of UK adults found that 8 in 10 people support mandatory age checks on porn sites, to prevent access by children. The same proportion stated that the age limit should be 18 years.

Evidence of porn’s harms

CARE points to a growing body of evidence from front line workers helping victims of sexual crime, educationalists and members of the judiciary about the link between consumption of extreme pornography and sexual crime.

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