All 47 Parliamentary debates on 5th Dec 2022

Mon 5th Dec 2022
Mon 5th Dec 2022
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Mon 5th Dec 2022
Healthy Homes Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Order of Commitment discharged
Mon 5th Dec 2022

House of Commons

Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Monday 5 December 2022
The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
New Member
The following Member made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law:
Samantha Dixon, for City of Chester.

Oral Answers to Questions

Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
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1. What assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of real-term reductions in local housing allowance rates on levels of poverty.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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2. What assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of real-term reductions in local housing allowance rates on levels of poverty.

Nia Griffith Portrait Dame Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
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5. What assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of real-term reductions in local housing allowance rates on levels of poverty.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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6. What assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of real-term reductions in local housing allowance rates on levels of poverty.

Dan Carden Portrait Dan Carden (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)
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13. What assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of real-term reductions in local housing allowance rates on levels of poverty.

Mel Stride Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mel Stride)
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First, on behalf of the whole House, may I welcome the hon. Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) to this House, and wish her every happiness and a productive time in the House?

The Government have maintained the uplift they provided in the local housing allowance in 2020, at a cost of almost £1 billion, targeting the 30th percentile of rents. Those who need assistance with housing costs also have recourse to the discretionary housing payments administered by local authorities.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones
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I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about my new colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon), but that is as far as I can go.

The local housing allowance is a lifeline for tenants to access the private rented sector. The Government have accepted the need to uprate most benefits in line with inflation, so why have they chosen to freeze the local housing allowance, which will have a disproportionate impact on constituents in my constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney? Will he commit to reviewing that situation urgently?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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As the hon. Gentleman will know, annually I review all benefits, including LHA—indeed, around this time next year, I will do precisely that. It has to be borne in mind that we are currently spending almost £30 billion a year on housing allowance and that figure is expected to increase to around £50 billion by 2050, so there are cost considerations.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan
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The ongoing impact of the freeze on LHA is that more people are effectively being priced out of the private rental sector, with more and more housing becoming unaffordable. Research by Crisis showed that just 4% of three-bedroom homes advertised in Manchester were affordable on LHA rates. Tenants are forced to use increasingly larger proportions of their income on rent, at the height of a cost of living crisis. Will the Minister commit to annually raising the local housing allowance in line with inflation?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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As I have just indicated, I will review that in just under a year. There are of course the discretionary housing payments, which are administered by local authorities for those who feel that they need additional support, and I also point the hon. Gentleman in the direction of the significant cost of living payments that we are providing at the moment to support those in most need.

Nia Griffith Portrait Dame Nia Griffith
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As my hon. Friends have said, the very least the Government must do is to raise the local housing allowance to keep pace with the real rate of rent inflation. The Department has also cut the funding of last resort, namely, that given to the Welsh Government to provide discretionary housing payments—a cut of 18% last year and a whopping 27% this financial year. Will the Secretary of State now commit to reversing that latest cut, so that local councils in Wales can at least offer some help to those in most dire need and avoid further evictions?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I would just say to the hon Lady that there is the household support fund as well, which she did not mention. That is there to provide support in the circumstances that she described, along with the discretionary housing payments that I set out and the fact that, in 2020, we did indeed raise LHA to be in line with the 30th percentile of local rents.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins
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The reality is that a family in one of the cheapest three-bedroom homes in Luton have faced a shortfall of about £2,300 over the last year, and that gap increased by £650 from five months earlier. That proves that the growing gap between housing benefit and the cost of the cheapest private rents is forcing people into poverty. When the Secretary of State chose to freeze local housing allowance for another year, did he consider how that might make more and more families across the country homeless?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I did of course very carefully consider the points that the hon. Lady has made, just as I very carefully considered the extent to which there should be an uprating of benefits more generally; they went up by 10.1%—the level of the consumer prices index at that time. I also considered very carefully what the uplift in pensions should be and, again, that was 10.1%, the level of CPI. For pensioners, we also stood by the triple lock.

Dan Carden Portrait Dan Carden
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In Liverpool, the shortfall between housing benefit and the cheapest rents has now risen to £1,360 over a year. Outside London, private sector rents are rising across the country at an average of 11.8%, yet no one from the Conservative party seems to recognise that rent increases also cause inflation. Conservative Members are frequently eager to call for pay restraint and for benefits to be held down but never for landlords to heed the same advice. My constituents now face homelessness. Does the Secretary of State recognise that high housing costs and completely inadequate housing benefit lie at the root of the cost of living crisis and that the choice for the Government should be between capping rents and raising support?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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The hon. Gentleman rightly raises inflation, which we are all having to contend with at the moment. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor came before the House at the time of the autumn statement and set out a clear plan as to how to bring inflation down. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that it will be half its current level in a year’s time. A large amount of support has been put forward, with the £650 cost of living payment this year to those low-income households that he describes, covering some 8 million people up and down the country.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Karen Buck Portrait Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)
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May I also warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) to her place?

Fifty-nine per cent. of private renters on universal credit—844,000 households—have rents above the maximum level that local housing allowance will cover. That means that they have to make up the difference, which, as we have heard, is often substantial, either by reducing spending on other necessities such as food and heating, or by getting into arrears, risking homelessness. With homelessness already rising, local authorities predicting how much more they will have to spend and the Government only today announcing an extra £50 million having to be spent on the homelessness prevention grant, does the Secretary of State accept that what the Government are saving through the freeze on housing allowance is merely popping up in additional spending elsewhere and that it is time to get a grip?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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As I set out, the amount being spent on housing and housing support is almost £30 billion a year. That has grown strongly over the last decade or so and is on a trajectory to reach £50 billion by 2050. The Government are therefore putting huge support into that area. In addition to LHA, there are, as I have said, discretionary housing payments. When it comes to the homeless, we have brought forward a £2 billion package to help to resolve those issues.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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3. Whether his Department is taking steps to support parents in receipt of universal credit with the financial transition when a full-time caring role changes following the death of a child with a life-limiting condition.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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The answer is yes. We want universal credit to provide support to claimants even where they have suffered bereavement of a child. Where a bereavement happens, we seek to ensure that the child element, disabled child element, childcare, carer element and housing element with the run-on provisions will all continue, notwithstanding the loss.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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I am not entirely certain whether the Minister just announced a change in what the Government are doing, but may I press him on the issue affecting my constituents? The loss of these benefits places a heavy financial strain on parents who are already suffering from overwhelming grief. One of my constituents knows this. I have asked the Minister and his predecessor on several occasions for a meeting to see how to mitigate that. If he has just announced a change, I would be happy if he could explain what has now changed. Will he please meet me to explain what the changes are?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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The hon. Lady may not know, but I lost twin boys and fully understand the difficulties her constituent faces in terms of bereavement. It is clearly the case that there are the run-on provisions, but I would happy to sit down with her to explain the run-on provisions and the extent to which there is ongoing support for the bereaved.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Karl MᶜCartney is obviously not here. Can the Secretary of State answer as though he is present?

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)
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4. What steps his Department is taking to support people on low incomes with the cost of living.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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17. What steps his Department is taking to help support people with the cost of living.

Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe (Hyndburn) (Con)
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20. What steps his Department is taking to support people on low incomes with the cost of living.

Mel Stride Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mel Stride)
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In 2022-23, the Government provided £37 billion in cost of living support. We also uprated benefits, pensions and the benefit cap, as I described in previous answers.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I welcome the steps my right hon. Friend has taken to support Carshalton and Wallington residents. Will he join me in welcoming the work of Wallington Jobcentre Plus in putting on advice events with local charities, especially in St Helier and Roundshaw? Will he commit the Department for Work and Pensions to supporting me when I put on my cost of living advice fair, which I hope to host very soon?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I thank my hon. Friend very much for his question and put on record my support and thanks to Wallington Jobcentre for its extraordinary work, which I know is encouraged by him. I will certainly look at what the Department can do to support his job fair.

Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe
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I praise the Secretary of State for his work to help those on benefits get the support they need this winter, but does he agree that with inflation running high, a symptom of Putin’s barbaric war in Ukraine, we need to ensure we get support to households on low and middle incomes, too? Will he work with me to ensure we protect constituents such as mine in Hyndburn and Haslingden?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. She is perhaps referring to those who are not necessarily on benefits but are still struggling. I would point to the £400 payment, which has gone out through fuel bills; the increase in the personal allowance over the years, taking many of the lowest paid out of tax; the recent increase in the national living wage to historically high levels; and the energy price guarantee, which has been rolled out to support those struggling with their energy bills.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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Given the cost of living crisis, or emergency, we are living in, it is deeply worrying that the Government have still chosen not to uprate local housing allowance, despite there being no change since 2016. Even those on the lowest income will face challenges in relation to being on housing benefit and universal credit. Could the Secretary of State say how much additional resource is being given to local authorities to pay for additional housing costs via the discretionary housing payment? Can he set out the Government’s rationale, because I do not believe he has answered why they are still freezing local housing allowance?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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On the discretionary housing payments, I believe the figure is about £1.5 billion over the last few years, but I will get—[Interruption.] There was a recent announcement about further moneys which are included in the figure I have just provided to the hon. Lady. I will look to get a more precise answer, but it is of the order of £1.5 billion.

Paulette Hamilton Portrait Mrs Paulette Hamilton (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)
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Research shows that nine in 10 disabled people are worried about their energy bills this winter. People with disabilities have been one of the hardest-hit groups during the cost of living crisis, yet many are being denied crucial support. One of my constituents is a disabled single mother who is currently undergoing chemotherapy. She told me that the mobility element of her personal independence payment has recently been removed and that without it she is really struggling. With many disabled people worrying about rising costs and unable to afford basic essentials, do Ministers really think they have done enough to support them through this cost of living crisis?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I am very sorry to hear the details of the hon. Lady’s constituent; if she writes to me, I will be happy to look into the matters that she raised. More generally, it is only fair to say that the Government have done an extraordinary amount to support those who are disabled, not least into work, beating all the targets that we set to get 1 million more disabled people into employment. As for the cost of living payments, along with various other payments, there was a £150 payment to 6 million disabled people up and down the country.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
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This Christmas, the £66 energy voucher will be the difference between heating and eating for many of my constituents, but many on prepayment meters are still waiting for their vouchers. Ministers have been warned countless times about the gap in payments, so what are the Government doing to ensure that those on prepayment meters do not miss out?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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The vouchers that are administered by the energy companies come under the remit of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, rather than the DWP. None the less, that is a concern right across Government. We have been liaising with BEIS, and I am satisfied that the Secretary of State there is totally aware of the situation and has been in close contact with the companies to see that things improve. My understanding is that very much a minority of the payments are affected, but for everybody who is affected, that is clearly a serious matter.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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I am glad that the Secretary of State has expressed concern for my hon. Friends’ constituents. He is keen to explain just how much money the Government are spending, but let us look at what the results of 12 years of Conservative Government mean for the money in people’s pockets, especially those on low incomes. We have double-digit inflation and 2.5 million working-age adults out of work, and more than 2 million emergency food parcels were handed out in this country last year. Could that be the reason that the public in Chester looked at the Government’s record and gave the Tories their worst result in that seat since 1832?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I am rather surprised that the hon. Lady raises unemployment, in particular. Under Labour, we saw unemployment rise by nearly half a million; female unemployment go up by a quarter; youth unemployment rise by 44%; the number of households with no one working in them double; and 1.4 million people spending most of their last decade on out-of-work benefits. That is not a record to be proud of.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
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A recent report for the Aberlour children’s charity found that the DWP deducts an average of £80 a month from Scottish families on universal credit to cover debts such as advance payments caused by the five-week wait. Does the Secretary of State think that it is acceptable that 56% of our constituents claiming universal credit have been left with such tiny sums of money that they have been forced to go without food or to eat just one meal a day? Will he consider replacing the advance payment loans with a non-repayable grant?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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On deductions from universal credit, the hon. Lady will know that, during the pandemic, when things were extremely difficult, we paused that entire process. As a matter of principle, it is important that, when claimants are in debt, arrangements are made such that they can work their way through that and come out of debt. That often means deductions—I say “often” because it does not always mean that, and our debt management team are always very aware of the circumstances of those with whom they are dealing. We also reduced the maximum amount that can be deducted—first, from 40% to 30%, and now to 25%—so I am satisfied that the balance is broadly correct, but wherever there are individual instances where somebody feels that they are not being treated appropriately, they always have recourse to appeal.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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7. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of reducing the universal credit taper rate on the levels of people’s incomes.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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11. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of reducing the universal credit taper rate on the levels of people’s incomes.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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We reduced the earnings taper to 55% last December and we increased the work allowance by £500 a year. As a consequence, 1.7 million households will benefit from these measures, which mean that they keep, on average, around an extra £1,000 a year. That encourages in-work progression as claimants are clearly better off in work.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey
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The claimant rate in Rugby is just 2.8%, and I hear regularly from employers about the workforce challenges that they face. The low rate in Rugby has arisen in part because of the cut to the taper rate that the Minister referred to, which was extremely welcome to working people on universal credit. Will he set out what further steps his Department can take to encourage claimants—those who can—to increase their income by taking on more and better-paid work?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend will be aware that Rugby jobcentre is doing a fantastic job locally; I look forward to visiting in 2023. Since April 2022, we have been rolling out the new in-work progression offer, which will support approximately 2.1 million working universal credit claimants to progress into higher-paid work. They will also be supported by progression champions, of whom we have 37 across the country, including in Mercia.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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Universal credit was always intended to ensure that work pays. Reducing the taper rate is a critical part of that, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is not the only critical element? To keep unemployment as low as it is today or lower, things like increasing access to work coaches are equally important.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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A huge amount is being done to increase the time that individual claimants spend with work coaches. More intensive support is being provided. The additional earnings threshold, which my hon. Friend will be fully aware of, is also being rolled out across the country to ensure that we see claimants in better-paid jobs on a longer-term basis.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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9. What assessment his Department has made of the potential effect of the cost of childcare on incentives for people to transfer from universal credit into work.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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The Government are providing generous, tailored support for parents through universal credit, the free childcare entitlement and skills support to help parents to get into work and to progress. Eligible claimants can receive financial support for up-front childcare costs as well as support for ongoing costs.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
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Sandra in the Northwich part of my constituency—like many people up and down the United Kingdom, predominantly women—faces a significant barrier as a result of increased childcare costs. The childcare element of universal credit has been frozen since 2016. When does the Minister intend to do the right thing and unfreeze that element of universal credit?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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Universal credit-eligible claimants can claim up to 85% of their registered childcare costs each month, regardless of the number of hours they work; I would compare that favourably with 70% in tax credits. What I would say to employers who may be overlooking single parents is that they are not understanding the wide range of childcare challenges. I am a single mum—I get it. Looking at job design and flexibility is equally important.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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10. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the adequacy of levels of benefit payments to support people with disabilities with the cost of energy.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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19. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the adequacy of levels of benefit payments to support people with disabilities with the cost of energy.

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Tom Pursglove)
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Ministers across Government, of course, discuss policy proposals. The Government are spending £37 billion this year to support people on low incomes and disabled people with rising costs of living and energy prices. On top of that support, which includes cost of living payments, we have committed to a further £26 billion in cost of living support in 2023-24.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist
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Earlier this year, 300,000 disabled people were taken out of eligibility for the warm home discount scheme, causing them huge worry. What does the Minister say to those 300,000 worried disabled people, who lost £150 because of his Government’s decision to remove them from the warm home discount scheme?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I am happy to raise with Ministers across Government the hon. Lady’s point about eligibility for the scheme, but I would make the argument that this Government have put in place a comprehensive package of support that is worth £37 billion this year and £26 billion next year. It is comprehensive support, meeting a number of needs. Of course, there is also discretionary help to meet particular needs where they exist in particular households.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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We should not forget that since 2010, £34 billion of social security support has been taken away from working-age people, including disabled people. Back in April, the Equality and Human Rights Commission identified requiring the Department for Work and Pensions to enter into a section 23 agreement as one of its areas of focus. Eight months on, that agreement has still not been presented. At the Work and Pensions Committee last week, I asked the Secretary of State when it would be agreed. I would like some confirmation—here, today—of when exactly that will happen.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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The position is exactly as the Secretary of State described it to the Select Committee last week. We, as Ministers, continue to engage constructively on that section 23 issue, and will provide further updates whenever we are able to do so.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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Many disabled people are having to make unimaginable sacrifices to keep life-saving equipment running in the face of huge energy bills. For instance, Carolynne Hunter’s 12-year-old daughter Freya requires oxygen for chronic breathing problems, and the bills that she had to pay to keep her daughter alive rose to £17,000. Thankfully, Kate Winslet stepped in and donated the full amount after being “absolutely destroyed” by the family’s story, but disabled people should not have to rely on celebrities to swoop in and save the day. When will the Government finally ensure that all disabled people are receiving the support they so desperately need?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I thank the shadow Minister for raising the issue of Carolynne’s situation. I am, of course, under no illusions about how challenging many people are finding the current circumstances and climate. We are providing the package of support that I have already described—which is the right thing to do—in addition to the discretionary help that is there to address particularly pressing needs in individual cases. As the hon. Lady will know, the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement that as part of ongoing future work we would be considering, for instance, social tariffs, and I also want to look into what more we can do in the longer term to help families deal with continuing significant costs.

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) (LD)
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14. If he will take steps to compensate women born on or after 6 April 1950 affected by changes to the state pension age.

Laura Trott Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Laura Trott)
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State pension age equalisation and subsequent increases have been the policy of successive Governments. The phasing in of state pension age increases was agreed to by the hon. Lady’s party in 2011 and 2014.

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan
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Last July the pensions ombudsman concluded that the Government had been too slow to inform many women that they would be affected by the rising state pension age. Along with the cost of living crisis, this means that many of the WASPI women—Women Against State Pension Inequality—are struggling to get by, and it is one of the concerns most frequently raised in my weekly surgeries. I wonder whether the Secretary of State will commit himself to an interim payment for the women affected by the change in pension age while they wait for the release of the ombudsman’s final report.

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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As the hon. Lady knows, the investigation is ongoing, so it would not be appropriate to take any further steps at this stage.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
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15. What steps his Department is taking to reduce benefit fraud.

Mel Stride Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mel Stride)
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Dealing with fraud is, of course, a key mission for the Department. We have recently announced two tranches of additional investment totalling £900 million to prevent more than £1 billion-worth of fraud by 2024-25.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford
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At difficult economic times like this it is particularly important for us to protect taxpayers’ money, so I welcome the Government’s further investment to tackle fraud, but what efforts are they making to address organised crime in the benefits system?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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My right hon. Friend has raised an extremely important matter. Unfortunately, fraud does not happen just at the level of the individual, but involves organised crime as well. Since July 2019, the Department has secured the removal of 1,500 social media accounts, many of which were related to organised crime, and since May 2020 it has suspended 170,000 claims.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con)
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16. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of processing times for personal independence payments.

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Tom Pursglove)
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We are committed to ensuring that people can access financial support through PIP in a timely manner. By prioritising new claims, increasing resources and using different assessment channels, we reduced the average new claim process from 26 weeks in August 2021 to 18 weeks in October 2022.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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Capacity is key to assessment. What progress is being made to extend the severe conditions criteria in the PIP system, learning the lessons of the changes we have made to the special rules for the terminally ill, which would potentially allow us to remove 300,000 unnecessary assessments from the system, benefiting claimants and the taxpayer?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I am hugely grateful to my hon. Friend, who is of course a distinguished former Minister for disabled people and whose views on these matters I listen to incredibly carefully. We announced in “Shaping future support: the health and disability green paper” that we will test a new severe disability group, so that those with severe and lifelong conditions can benefit from a simplified process to access PIP, employment and support allowance and universal credit without needing to go through a face-to-face assessment or frequent reassessments. We will consider the test results, once they are complete, to influence thinking on the next stages of this work.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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18. What steps his Department is taking to support pensioners with increases in the cost of living.

David Evennett Portrait Sir David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con)
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22. What steps his Department is taking to support pensioners with increases in the cost of living.

Laura Trott Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Laura Trott)
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All pensioner households are in the process of receiving an extra £300 to help them cover the rising cost of energy this winter. For those in receipt of pension credit, the second cost of living payment of £324 was issued in November.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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Rural pensioners face additional challenges to the cost of living crisis, and I have recently heard from constituents in the villages of Forton and Winmarleigh who are still waiting for information from the Government on the payment of the alternative fuel payment scheme, as they are off grid. Additionally, the removal of the Bay Plus Megarider bus ticket has increased the price of bus tickets, which may not directly affect those pensioners, but where they are supporting adult children and school-age children in their households, it is impacting on their family budgets. What steps are the Government taking to support pensioners who live in rural parts?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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I recognise a lot of the challenges that the hon. Lady mentions, and this is why we are giving pensioners £850, and people on pension credit £1,500, to get through this winter.

David Evennett Portrait Sir David Evennett
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I welcome my hon. Friend to her position and I would like to thank her for the answer she has just given us. I wish her well in her job. The Government’s £300 boost to the winter fuel payment will give pensioners vital support this winter, and I know it is much appreciated by my constituents. However, will she join me in encouraging pensioners on low incomes to look into whether they are eligible for pension credit and to submit an application for this additional support as soon as possible?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He is, as always, absolutely right. I know that he visited Age UK recently and raised these issues. It is vital that any pensioners receiving less than £182.60 a week look into whether they are eligible for pension credit, and if they are, they should try to claim it before 18 December, because the cost of living payment of £324 can be backdated.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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Pensioners who have worked hard and saved all their lives face an unprecedented cost of living crisis. Meanwhile, the Government dithered and delayed, but after considerable pressure from the Opposition side of the House, they eventually agreed to increase the state pension to offer some help with fuel bills. However, these delays have left pensioners angry, confused and, as we heard earlier, frustrated. Can the Minister please tell the House how many pensioners will be left freezing and cold with no heating on this winter?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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I am grateful to the hon. Member for highlighting the record rise in state pension brought forward by this Government. We are, as ever, on the side of pensioners as we go through this winter, and I would point out that the state pension has doubled from the level we were left by Labour in 2010.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
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21. What progress his Department has made on increasing the number of people with disabilities in work.

Gareth Bacon Portrait Gareth Bacon (Orpington) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

24. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department's policies in helping people into work.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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I have visited around 50 jobcentres, and this is an opportunity for me to thank the many disability employment advisers who do a fantastic job ensuring that we get disabled people into work. That figure is up 2 million since 2013, with nearly 5 million disabled people in work at the moment.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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One of the great accomplishments of the Down Syndrome Act 2022, brought in by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), was to affirm the great potential of people with Down’s syndrome if they just have the right support. So can my hon. Friend outline what steps the Department is taking to support those with Down’s syndrome into work, to ensure that everyone who wants to work has the opportunity to do so?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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My hon. Friend is right that this is a landmark piece of legislation, and I praise him for raising it today. I pay similar tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox).

A range of Government initiatives are supporting those with Down’s syndrome to start, stay and succeed in work, including through increased work coach support. Disability employment advisers across the country have been tasked with tackling this precise problem, to enable people with Down’s syndrome to progress in work.

Gareth Bacon Portrait Gareth Bacon
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Twenty-one per cent. of those aged between 16 and 64 are currently not in work or seeking work, at a time when the British Chambers of Commerce estimates there are 1.2 million unfilled jobs in the economy. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that those who are not in full-time education, and who might be a bit shy about coming back into the workplace, take steps to do so?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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There is far too much for me to outline at the Dispatch Box, but I will write to my hon. Friend. I will also visit him in Orpington to set out in more detail the various things we are doing to tackle the vacancy list on many levels. He will be aware that the labour market has recovered strongly since 2020, with payroll employment up on pre-pandemic levels, but we accept there is more to do.

Gary Sambrook Portrait Gary Sambrook (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Mel Stride Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mel Stride)
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Since my last appearance at Question Time, there has been the benefits uprating we have been discussing this afternoon. I am very pleased to have had a 10.1% increase across the board, including for pensions as we stood by the triple lock.

I also had the great pleasure of appearing before the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, which was particularly looking at the issue of economic inactivity. I urge all Members to read the transcript of those exchanges. I thank the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) for giving me almost two and a half hours of the Committee’s attention.

Gary Sambrook Portrait Gary Sambrook
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I was kindly asked in April to open the new jobcentre in Kings Norton, which has since enabled 973 people to get back into work. Will the Secretary of State set out how we can help jobcentres such as those in Kings Norton and Longbridge in my constituency do even more to get even more people into work? Will he visit Kings Norton so we can both thank the jobcentre’s fantastic teams that have got so many people back into work?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The talented and hard-working people at Kings Norton jobcentre do an extraordinary job, and I know he has personally done a great deal to encourage them. This is why overall unemployment is as low as it is. I will certainly consider his request for a ministerial visit.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Jonathan Ashworth Portrait Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Secretary of State will know that employment is lower than before the pandemic, that 2.5 million people are out of work for reasons of sickness—a record high—and that half a million young people are not in education, employment or training. There is a £1 billion underspend on Restart and other schemes, so why not use that money to help the economically inactive get back to work?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we look at our budgets on an ongoing basis. Where we have an underspend, such as on the Restart scheme, it is largely because the Government have been so successful in lowering the level of unemployment. Compared with 2010, youth unemployment is down by almost 60%. It is 29,000 down on the last quarter, and 77,000 down on the year.

Jonathan Ashworth Portrait Jonathan Ashworth
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The Secretary of State will have seen the Office for Budget Responsibility’s projection that we are likely to spend more than £8 billion extra on health and disability benefits. We are getting sicker as a society, yet only one in 10 unemployed disabled people or older people are getting any employment support. Does he think that is acceptable? How will he fix it?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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On assisting the disabled into employment, this Government have an excellent record through Disability Confident. Our work coaches do a huge amount of work to ensure that those with disabilities are in work. The right hon. Gentleman will know the Department is currently undertaking a large amount of work on economic inactivity. I heard his recent comments, which were very interesting, and my door is always open to conversations about working together.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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T2. Research by Macmillan shows that 83% of people with a cancer diagnosis experience a financial impact from that, with the average figure being £891 a month on top of their usual expenditure, which sometimes means they cannot afford to get to their medical appointments. What more can be done to ensure that those with a cancer diagnosis get rapid access to everything to which they are entitled?

Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Tom Pursglove)
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this point. The experience he describes illustrates the troubling and worrying times for families when a diagnosis of cancer comes through. We are committed to ensuring that people can access financial support, through the personal independence payment and other benefits for which they are eligible, in a timely manner. We are seeing a gradual improvement on PIP claims, with the latest statistics showing that the average end-to-end journey has steadily reduced from 26 weeks in August 2021 to 18 weeks at the end of July 2022. However, I am not complacent on this; digitisation clearly plays an important part and we are going to go further.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We come to the SNP spokesperson.

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
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Recent figures from the Department for Work and Pensions, acquired from an answer to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), show that the Department took £2.3 million from claimants in Scotland, at an average of £250 per sanctioned household. Sanctions against young people in Scotland have almost doubled since 2019, undermining the significant investment the Scottish Government are making in tackling child poverty. Does the Secretary of State stand by the practice of sanctioning the most vulnerable and leaving them hungry?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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As we focused on in our earlier exchange, the most important thing is that there is a proportionate response to those who are in debt, for whatever reason. It is appropriate that we help people out of debt, and reductions—or deductions—are part of that process. As I explained to the hon. Lady, the maximum that can be taken from the universal credit standard payment is now 25%—it used to be 40%. We are very careful to assess every case on its individual merits, to take into account the circumstances of those impacted.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker  (North Norfolk) (Con)
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T3.   One of my constituents has motor neurone disease. She became disabled after she reached pensionable age and the only support she can now claim is attendance allowance, which, as we know, has no additional mobility element of payment. Others who have the same condition but are under pensionable age can claim and receive the mobility addition. Does my right hon. Friend agree that people on benefits who end up with these health issues should be able to claim for their disability based on a disability and not their age?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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Nearly 1.5 million pensioners are receiving attendance allowance, at a cost of about £5.5 billion this year. It is normal for social security schemes to contain different provisions for people at different stages of their lives, which reflect varying priorities and circumstances. People who become disabled or develop mobility needs after reaching state pension age will have had no disadvantage on grounds of their disability during their working lives. I understand that that position is long standing, having been in place since the 1970s, under successive Governments.

Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
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T5.   Unemployment in my constituency is still significantly higher than it was before the pandemic and it is twice the national average. Ministers keep saying that times are tough and that we need to make difficult decisions. Will the Minister commit to raising payments in line with inflation to prevent misery for thousands in Ealing, Southall? Will he work with his colleagues to help the economy, not hinder it?

Guy Opperman Portrait The Minister for Employment (Guy Opperman)
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I am slightly puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s question. Clearly, we did raise a significant proportion of benefits in line with inflation at the autumn statement. He will also be aware of the taper that was reduced to 55%, and the work on increased work allowances, additional earnings thresholds and the in-work progression—I could go on. All of those things are designed to assist and progress people in work.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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T4. My right hon. Friend will be aware that my private Member’s Bill on supported housing exempt accommodation is making its way through Parliament. He will also have seen the Inside Housing exposé that demonstrates that more than £1 billion is going out in housing benefit to providers. Many of them are providing an important service for vulnerable people, but a large number of rogue landlords are ripping off the system. Will he undertake a review to make sure that people who are claiming this benefit are properly assessed and provided with the support they need?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I recognise the extraordinary work that my hon. Friend has done over many years to campaign for those in social housing, private housing and also, indeed, those who are homeless. I fully support his Bill. It is absolutely right that we clamp down on these rogue landlords. I think I recall him saying in this House how he had examples of those who were supposed to be supporting people living in their accommodation simply knocking on the door, calling up the stairs to say, “Are you alright?” and then leaving. That is completely and utterly unacceptable. I look forward to the progress of his Bill.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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T7. My constituent, Mr Hudson, has raised with me that the DWP has not been paying any of his national insurance contributions for his state pension for the past three-and-a-half years, and that the Department has been unable to advise him on when he will receive the update to his records, because he is in receipt of class 3 benefit contributions. Will the Secretary of State or his Ministers explain when this will be undertaken, so that my constituent can get the much-needed contributions re-established, enabling him to claim his state pension when the time comes?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising Mr Hudson’s situation. If he would care to write to me, or have Mr Hudson write to me, I will be very happy to make sure that it is thoroughly looked into.

David Evennett Portrait Sir David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con)
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Can my right hon. Friend give the House an update on the new disability action plan that the Government are preparing at the moment?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for asking about that. It is right that we work across Government to identify priority areas where we can deliver meaningful change and progress for disabled people to improve their lives. That is what that action plan will do. We will be drawing up ideas, consulting on them, and then getting on delivering them. I look forward to hearing his views as we take that work forward.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
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T8. My constituent, Brandon, was medically discharged from the armed forces in 2020 after serving six years. He sustained a number of physical injuries and mental health consequences, but the DWP is failing to adhere to the armed forces covenant and to recognise the Ministry of Defence’s medical assessment for universal credit purposes, or to recognise the assessment of Combat Stress for personal independence payment purposes. Will the Minister consider his case and take the appropriate action to address those deficits?

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter and it is a concern. There are 11 armed forces leaders and 50 champions across the DWP. I would be very happy to look at this particular case, if he were able to raise it directly with me.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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We were grateful for the answers that the Secretary of State gave at the Work and Pensions Committee meeting last week, and we are looking forward to him returning on 11 January. He has been pressed this afternoon, repeatedly and rightly, about local housing allowance, and I have heard his answers to those questions. Next year will be the fourth year that the local housing allowance has been frozen at its current level, during a period when rents have risen sharply. Does he recognise that the case for rebasing local housing allowance, so that it reflects actual local rents, is becoming a very pressing one?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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Once again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to appear before his Committee last week. He raises again the LHA. In 2020, it was, of course, raised to be in line with the local 30th percentile of rents at a cost of approaching £1 billion. He is absolutely right that, clearly, the higher the rate of inflation, and house rental inflation in particular, the more pressure that is put on that particular allowance. All I can undertake to do is to look at this matter very closely the next time I review these particular benefits, which will be in about a year’s time.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I raised 11-year-old Harry Sanders’s disability living allowance appeal at the last DWP questions, but despite a letter from the Minister, for which I am grateful, his parents are still waiting for a tribunal date. Will the Minister look again at Harry’s case, understand why the long wait is causing such anxiety and work with me to resolve this matter as soon as possible?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue so constructively. He is right to say that I responded to his earlier question in a letter last week. This matter is sitting with the HM Courts and Tribunals Service, which of course relates to the work of the Ministry of Justice and is independent as part of the judiciary. I will take his point away and flag it with Justice Ministers so that they can see whether there is anything that they can do to raise it.

Nia Griffith Portrait Dame Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State mentioned the reduction to 25% of the deductions to universal credit to claw back overpayments or advances, but deducting 25% of money that barely covers the essentials is far too much. A report by Lloyds Bank Foundation says that even at 25% the deductions are pushing people into other debt and leaving them without enough to live on. The Secretary of State will also know that the Work and Pensions Committee has recommended pausing debt recovery during the cost of living crisis. Will the Secretary of State now pause that debt collection and, when it resumes, resume it at a lower level?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady will know that the level of 25% she refers to has been decreasing through time; it was 40% not that long ago, then 30% and now it is 25%. It was paused altogether during the pandemic, and the experience then was that debt started to increase among claimants, in many cases in a way that was not helpful to the claimant. It is an important principle that, where people are in debt, we work with them to make sure we get them out of debt through time, but I accept that we need to do that with great care, hence the various elements of the process that I described earlier.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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What measures are the Government taking to speed up repayments to the 200,000 pensioners who have yet to be compensated for the historical underpayments in the state pension?

Laura Trott Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Laura Trott)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have hired more than 1,000 people to look at that. It was a mistake and we are working as hard as we can to rectify it as quickly as possible.

Saqib Bhatti Portrait Saqib Bhatti (Meriden) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

A number of constituents have written to me about the build-up of childcare vouchers that they were not able to use over the pandemic. It has been suggested to me that we could reduce restrictions on getting a refund and allow parents to take advantage of that during the cost of living crisis. Is there something the Minister can suggest we should do about that?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue. This is the first I have heard of it and I would be keen to meet him and hear more about it.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
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Many Barnsley pensioners would be better off if they were on pension credit. Why will the Government not automatically enrol all pensioners on pension credit to help to lift them out of poverty?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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Pension credit is a complicated system that also involves people’s savings, so it is not possible with the information the Government have to award it automatically. That said, we are looking at what we can do, working with local authorities and others, to try to speed up delivery of the payments.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. As there are no more questions, we are going to have to suspend the House for three minutes.

15:27
Sitting suspended.
15:34
On resuming—
Online Safety Bill (Programme (No. 3))
Ordered,
That the Order of 12 July 2022 (Online Safety Bill: Programme (No.2)) be varied as follows:
(1) In paragraph (2), the words “and Third Reading” shall be omitted.
(2) In paragraph (3), in the second column of the Table, for “6.00pm” substitute “9.00pm”.
(3) Paragraph (4) of the Order shall be omitted.
(4) No order shall be made for Third Reading of the Bill until the motion in the name of Secretary Michelle Donelan relating to Online Safety Bill: Programme (No.4) has been disposed of.—(Jo Churchill.)
[2nd Allocated Day]
[Relevant documents: Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, Session 2021-22: Draft Online Safety Bill, HC 609, and the Government Response, CP 640; First Report of the Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport Committee, Amending the Online Safety Bill, HC 271; Second Report of the Petitions Committee, Session 2021-22, Tackling Online Abuse, HC 766, and the Government response, HC 1224; Letter from the Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy to the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights relating to the Online Safety Bill, dated 16 June 2022; Letter from the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport relating to the Online Safety Bill, dated 19 May 2022; e-petition 272087, Hold online trolls accountable for their online abuse via their IP address; e-petition 332315, Ban anonymous accounts on social media; e-petition 575833, Make verified ID a requirement for opening a social media account; e-petition 582423, Repeal Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 and expunge all convictions e-petition 601932, Do not restrict our right to freedom of expression online.]
Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before I call the Minister to open the debate, I have something to say about the scope of today’s debate. This is day 2 of debate on consideration of the Bill as amended in the Public Bill Committee. We are debating today only the new clauses, amendments and new schedules listed on the selection paper that I have issued today.

Members may be aware that the Government have tabled a programme motion that would recommit certain clauses and schedules to a Public Bill Committee. There will be an opportunity to debate that motion following proceedings on consideration. The Government have also published a draft list of proposed amendments to the Bill that they intend to bring forward during the recommittal process. These amendments are not in scope for today. There will be an opportunity to debate, at a future Report stage, the recommitted clauses and schedules, as amended on recommittal in the Public Bill Committee.

Most of today’s amendments and new clauses do not relate to the clauses and schedules that are being recommitted. These amendments and new clauses have been highlighted on the selection paper. Today will be the final chance for the Commons to consider them: there will be no opportunity for them to be tabled and considered again at any point during the remaining Commons stages.

New Clause 11

Notices to deal with terrorism content or CSEA content (or both)

“(1) If OFCOM consider that it is necessary and proportionate to do so, they may give a notice described in subsection (2), (3) or (4) relating to a regulated user-to-user service or a regulated search service to the provider of the service.

(2) A notice under subsection (1) that relates to a regulated user-to-user service is a notice requiring the provider of the service—

(a) to do any or all of the following—

(i) use accredited technology to identify terrorism content communicated publicly by means of the service and to swiftly take down that content;

(ii) use accredited technology to prevent individuals from encountering terrorism content communicated publicly by means of the service;

(iii) use accredited technology to identify CSEA content, whether communicated publicly or privately by means of the service, and to swiftly take down that content;

(iv) use accredited technology to prevent individuals from encountering CSEA content, whether communicated publicly or privately, by means of the service; or

(b) to use the provider’s best endeavours to develop or source technology for use on or in relation to the service or part of the service, which—

(i) achieves the purpose mentioned in paragraph (a)(iii) or (iv), and

(ii) meets the standards published by the Secretary of State (see section 106(10)).

(3) A notice under subsection (1) that relates to a regulated search service is a notice requiring the provider of the service—

(a) to do either or both of the following—

(i) use accredited technology to identify search content of the service that is terrorism content and to swiftly take measures designed to secure, so far as possible, that search content of the service no longer includes terrorism content identified by the technology;

(ii) use accredited technology to identify search content of the service that is CSEA content and to swiftly take measures designed to secure, so far as possible, that search content of the service no longer includes CSEA content identified by the technology; or

(b) to use the provider’s best endeavours to develop or source technology for use on or in relation to the service which—

(i) achieves the purpose mentioned in paragraph (a)(ii), and

(ii) meets the standards published by the Secretary of State (see section 106(10)).

(4) A notice under subsection (1) that relates to a combined service is a notice requiring the provider of the service—

(a) to do any or all of the things described in subsection (2)(a) in relation to the user-to-user part of the service, or to use best endeavours to develop or source technology as described in subsection (2)(b) for use on or in relation to that part of the service;

(b) to do either or both of the things described in subsection (3)(a) in relation to the search engine of the service, or to use best endeavours to develop or source technology as described in subsection (3)(b) for use on or in relation to the search engine of the service;

(c) to do any or all of the things described in subsection (2)(a) in relation to the user-to-user part of the service and either or both of the things described in subsection (3)(a) in relation to the search engine of the service; or

(d) to use best endeavours to develop or source—

(i) technology as described in subsection (2)(b) for use on or in relation to the user-to-user part of the service, and

(ii) technology as described in subsection (3)(b) for use on or in relation to the search engine of the service.

(5) For the purposes of subsections (2) and (3), a requirement to use accredited technology may be complied with by the use of the technology alone or by means of the technology together with the use of human moderators.

(6) See—

(a) section (Warning notices), which requires OFCOM to give a warning notice before giving a notice under subsection (1), and

(b) section 105 for provision about matters which OFCOM must consider before giving a notice under subsection (1).

(7) A notice under subsection (1) relating to terrorism content present on a service must identify the content, or parts of the service that include content, that OFCOM consider is communicated publicly on that service (see section 188).

(8) For the meaning of “accredited” technology, see section 106(9) and (10).”—(Julia Lopez.)

This clause replaces existing clause 104. The main changes are: for user-to-user services, a notice may require the use of accredited technology to prevent individuals from encountering terrorism or CSEA content; for user-to-user and search services, a notice may require a provider to use best endeavours to develop or source technology to deal with CSEA content.

Brought up, and read the First time.

15:33
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 12—Warning notices.

Government new clause 20—OFCOM’s reports about news publisher content and journalistic content.

Government new clause 40—Amendment of Enterprise Act 2002.

Government new clause 42—Former providers of regulated services.

Government new clause 43—Amendments of Part 4B of the Communications Act.

Government new clause 44—Repeal of Part 4B of the Communications Act: transitional provision etc.

Government new clause 51—Publication by providers of details of enforcement action.

Government new clause 52—Exemptions from offence under section 152.

Government new clause 53—Offences of sending or showing flashing images electronically: England and Wales and Northern Ireland (No.2).

New clause 1—Provisional re-categorisation of a Part 3 service

“(1) This section applies in relation to OFCOM’s duty to maintain the register of categories of regulated user-to-user services and regulated search services under section 83.

(2) If OFCOM—

(a) consider that a Part 3 service not included in a particular part of the register is likely to meet the threshold conditions relevant to that part, and

(b) reasonably consider that urgent application of duties relevant to that part is necessary to avoid or mitigate significant harm,

New clause 16—Communication offence for encouraging or assisting self-harm

“(1) In the Suicide Act 1961, after section 3 insert—

“3A Communication offence for encouraging or assisting self-harm

(1) A person (“D”) commits an offence if—

(a) D sends a message,

(b) the message encourages or could be used to assist another person (“P”) to inflict serious physical harm upon themselves, and

(c) D’s act was intended to encourage or assist the infliction of serious physical harm.

(2) The person referred to in subsection (1)(b) need not be a specific person (or class of persons) known to, or identified by, D.

(3) D may commit an offence under this section whether or not any person causes serious physical harm to themselves, or attempts to do so.

(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or a fine, or both;

(b) on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or a fine, or both.

(5) “Serious physical harm” means serious injury amounting to grievous bodily harm within the meaning of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

(6) No proceedings shall be instituted for an offence under this section except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

(7) If D arranges for a person (“D2”) to do an Act and D2 does that Act, D is also to be treated as having done that Act for the purposes of subsection (1).

(8) In proceedings for an offence to which this section applies, it shall be a defence for D to prove that—

(a) P had expressed intention to inflict serious physical harm upon themselves prior to them receiving the message from D; and

(b) P’s intention to inflict serious physical harm upon themselves was not initiated by D; and

(c) the message was wholly motivated by compassion towards D or to promote the interests of P’s health or wellbeing.””

This new clause would create a new communication offence for sending a message encouraging or assisting another person to self-harm.

New clause 17—Liability of directors for compliance failure

“(1) This section applies where OFCOM considers that there are reasonable grounds for believing that a provider of a regulated service has failed, or is failing, to comply with any enforceable requirement (see section 112) that applies in relation to the service.

(2) If OFCOM considers that the failure results from any—

(a) action,

(b) direction,

(c) neglect, or

(d) with the consent

This new clause would enable Ofcom to exercise its enforcement powers under Chapter 6, Part 7 of the Bill against individual directors, managers and other officers at a regulated service provider where it considers the provider has failed, or is failing, to comply with any enforceable requirement.

New clause 23—Financial support for victims support services

“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for penalties paid under Chapter 6 to be used for funding for victims support services.

(2) Those regulations must—

(a) specify criteria setting out which victim support services are eligible for financial support under this provision;

(b) set out a means by which the amount of funding available should be determined;

(c) make provision for the funding to be reviewed and allocated on a three year basis.

(3) Regulations under this section—

(a) shall be made by statutory instrument, and

(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”

New clause 28—Establishment of Advocacy Body

“(1) There is to be a body corporate (“the Advocacy Body”) to represent interests of child users of regulated services.

(2) A “child user”—

(a) means any person aged 17 years or under who uses or is likely to use regulated internet services; and

(b) includes both any existing child user and any future child user.

(3) The work of the Advocacy Body may include—

(a) representing the interests of child users;

(b) the protection and promotion of these interests;

(c) any other matter connected with those interests.

(4) The “interests of child users” means the interests of children in relation to the discharge by any regulated company of its duties under this Act, including—

(a) safety duties about illegal content, in particular CSEA content;

(b) safety duties protecting children;

(c) “enforceable requirements” relating to children.

(5) The Advocacy Body must have particular regard to the interests of child users that display one or more protected characteristics within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.

(6) The Advocacy Body will be defined as a statutory consultee for OFCOM’s regulatory decisions which impact upon the interests of children.

(7) The Advocacy Body must assess emerging threats to child users of regulated services and must bring information regarding these threats to OFCOM.

(8) The Advocacy Body may undertake research on their own account.

(9) The Secretary of State must either appoint an organisation known to represent children to be designated the functions under this Act, or create an organisation to carry out the designated functions.

(10) The budget of the Advocacy Body will be subject to annual approval by the board of OFCOM.

(11) The Secretary of State must give directions to OFCOM as to how it should recover the costs relating to the expenses of the Advocacy Body, or the Secretary of State in relation to the establishment of the Advocacy Body, through the provisions to require a provider of a regulated service to pay a fee (as set out in section 71).”

New clause 29—Duty to promote media literacy: regulated user-to-user services and search services

“(1) In addition to the duty on OFCOM to promote media literacy under section 11 of the Communications Act 2003, OFCOM must take such steps as they consider appropriate to improve the media literacy of the public in relation to regulated user-to-user services and search services.

(2) This section applies only in relation to OFCOM’s duty to regulate—

(a) user-to-user services, and

(b) search services.

(3) OFCOM’s performance of its duty in subsection (1) must include pursuit of the following objectives—

(a) to reach audiences who are less engaged with, and harder to reach through, traditional media literacy initiatives;

(b) to address gaps in the availability and accessibility of media literacy provisions targeted at vulnerable users;

(c) to build the resilience of the public to disinformation and misinformation by using media literacy as a tool to reduce the harm from that misinformation and disinformation;

(d) to promote greater availability and effectiveness of media literacy initiatives and other measures, including by—

(i) carrying out, commissioning or encouraging educational initiatives designed to improve the media literacy of the public;

(ii) seeking to ensure, through the exercise of OFCOM’s online safety functions, that providers of regulated services take appropriate measures to improve users’ media literacy;

(iii) seeking to improve the evaluation of the effectiveness of the initiatives and measures mentioned in sub paras (2)(d)(i) and (ii) (including by increasing the availability and adequacy of data to make those evaluations);

(e) to promote better coordination within the media literacy sector.

(4) OFCOM may prepare such guidance about the matters referred to in subsection (2) as it considers appropriate.

(5) Where OFCOM prepares guidance under subsection (4) it must—

(a) publish the guidance (and any revised or replacement guidance); and

(b) keep the guidance under review.

(6) OFCOM must co-operate with the Secretary of State in the exercise and performance of their duty under this section.”

This new clause places an additional duty on Ofcom to promote media literacy of the public in relation to regulated user-to-user services and search services.

New clause 30—Media literacy strategy

“(1) OFCOM must prepare a strategy which sets out how they intend to undertake their duty to promote media literacy in relation to regulated user-to-user services and regulated search services under section (Duty to promote media literacy: regulated user-to-user services and search services).

(2) The strategy must—

(a) set out the steps OFCOM propose to take to achieve the pursuit of the objectives set out in section (Duty to promote media literacy: regulated user-to-user services and search services),

(b) set out the organisations, or types of organisations, that OFCOM propose to work with in undertaking the duty;

(c) explain why OFCOM considers that the steps it proposes to take will be effective;

(d) explain how OFCOM will assess the extent of the progress that is being made under the strategy.

(3) In preparing the strategy OFCOM must have regard to the need to allocate adequate resources for implementing the strategy.

(4) OFCOM must publish the strategy within the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force.

(5) Before publishing the strategy (or publishing a revised strategy), OFCOM must consult—

(a) persons with experience in or knowledge of the formulation, implementation and evaluation of policies and programmes intended to improve media literacy;

(b) the advisory committee on disinformation and misinformation, and

(c) any other person that OFCOM consider appropriate.

(6) If OFCOM have not revised the strategy within the period of 3 years beginning with the day on which the strategy was last published, they must either—

(a) revise the strategy, or

(b) publish an explanation of why they have decided not to revise it.

(7) If OFCOM decides to revise the strategy they must—

(a) consult in accordance with subsection (3), and

(b) publish the revised strategy.”

This new clause places an additional duty on Ofcom to promote media literacy of the public in relation to regulated user-to-user services and search services.

New clause 31—Research conducted by regulated services

“(1) OFCOM may, at any time it considers appropriate, produce a report into how regulated services commission, collate, publish and make use of research.

(2) For the purposes of the report, OFCOM may require services to submit to OFCOM—

(a) a specific piece of research held by the service, or

(b) all research the service holds on a topic specified by OFCOM.”

New clause 34—Factual Accuracy

“(1) The purpose of this section is to reduce the risk of harm to users of regulated services caused by disinformation or misinformation.

(2) Any Regulated Service must provide an index of the historic factual accuracy of material published by each user who has—

(a) produced user-generated content,

(b) news publisher content, or

(c) comments and reviews on provider contact

(3) The index under subsection (1) must—

(a) satisfy minimum quality criteria to be set by OFCOM, and

(b) be displayed in a way which allows any user easily to reach an informed view of the likely factual accuracy of the content at the same time as they encounter it.”

New clause 35—Duty of balance

“(1) The purpose of this section is to reduce the risk of harm to users of regulated services caused by disinformation or misinformation.

(2) Any Regulated Service which selects or prioritises particular—

(a) user-generated content,

(b) news publisher content, or

(c) comments and reviews on provider content

New clause 36—Identification of information incidents by OFCOM

“(1) OFCOM must maintain arrangements for identifying and understanding patterns in the presence and dissemination of harmful misinformation and disinformation on regulated services.

(2) Arrangements for the purposes of subsection (1) must in particular include arrangements for—

(a) identifying, and assessing the severity of, actual or potential information incidents; and

(b) consulting with persons with expertise in the identification, prevention and handling of disinformation and misinformation online (for the purposes of subsection (2)(a)).

(3) Where an actual or potential information incident is identified, OFCOM must as soon as reasonably practicable—

(a) set out any steps that OFCOM plans to take under its online safety functions in relation to that situation; and

(b) publish such recommendations or other information that OFCOM considers appropriate.

(4) Information under subsection (3) may be published in such a manner as appears to OFCOM to be appropriate for bringing it to the attention of the persons who, in OFCOM’s opinion, should be made aware of it.

(5) OFCOM must prepare and issue guidance about how it will exercise its functions under this section and, in particular—

(a) the matters it will take into account in determining whether an information incident has arisen;

(b) the matters it will take into account in determining the severity of an incident; and

(c) the types of responses that OFCOM thinks are likely to be appropriate when responding to an information incident.

(6) For the purposes of this section—

“harmful misinformation or disinformation” means misinformation or disinformation which, taking into account the manner and extent of its dissemination, may have a material adverse effect on users of regulated services or other members of the public;

“information incident” means a situation where it appears to OFCOM that there is a serious or systemic dissemination of harmful misinformation or disinformation relating to a particular event or situation.”

This new clause would insert a new clause into the Bill to give Ofcom a proactive role in identifying and responding to the sorts of information incidents that can occur in moments of crisis.

New clause 37—Duty to promote media literacy: regulated user-to-user services and search services

“(1) In addition to the duty on OFCOM to promote media literacy under section 11 of the Communications Act 2003, OFCOM must take such steps as they consider appropriate to improve the media literacy of the public in relation to regulated user-to-user services and search services.

(2) This section applies only in relation to OFCOM’s duty to regulate—

(a) user-to-user services, and

(b) search services.

(3) OFCOM’s performance of its duty in subsection (1) must include pursuit of the following objectives—

(a) to encourage the development and use of technologies and systems in relation to user-to-user services and search services which help to improve the media literacy of members of the public, including in particular technologies and systems which—

(i) indicate the nature of content on a service (for example, show where it is an advertisement);

(ii) indicate the reliability and accuracy of the content; and

(iii) facilitate control over what content is received;

(b) to build the resilience of the public to disinformation and misinformation by using media literacy as a tool to reduce the harm from that misinformation and disinformation;

(c) to promote greater availability and effectiveness of media literacy initiatives and other measures, including by carrying out, commissioning or encouraging educational initiatives designed to improve the media literacy of the public.

(4) OFCOM must prepare guidance about—

(a) the matters referred to in subsection (3) as it considers appropriate; and

(b) minimum standards that media literacy initiatives must meet.

(5) Where OFCOM prepares guidance under subsection (4) it must—

(a) publish the guidance (and any revised or replacement guidance); and

(b) keep the guidance under review.

(6) Every report under paragraph 12 of the Schedule to the Office of Communications Act 2002 (OFCOM’s annual report) for a financial year must contain a summary of the steps that OFCOM have taken under subsection (1) in that year.”

This new clause places an additional duty on Ofcom to promote media literacy of the public in relation to regulated user-to-user services and search services.

New clause 45—Sharing etc intimate photographs or film without consent

“(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a) A intentionally shares an intimate photograph or film of another person (B) with B or with a third person (C); and

(b) A does so—

(i) without B’s consent, and

(ii) without reasonably believing that B consents.

(2) References to a third person (C) in this section are to be read as referring to—

(a) an individual;

(b) a group of individuals;

(c) a section of the public; or

(d) the public at large.

(3) A person (A) does not commit an offence under this section if A shares a photograph or film of another person (B) with B or a third person (C) if—

(a) the photograph or film only shows activity that would be ordinarily seen on public street, except for a photograph or film of breastfeeding;

(b) the photograph or film was taken in public, where the person depicted was voluntarily nude, partially nude or engaging in a sexual act or toileting in public;

(c) A reasonably believed that the photograph or film, taken in public, showed a person depicted who was voluntarily nude, partially nude or engaging in a sexual act or toileting in public;

(d) the photograph or film has been previously shared with consent in public;

(e) A reasonably believed that the photograph or film had been previously shared with consent in public;

(f) the photograph or film shows a young child and is of a kind ordinarily shared by family and friends;

(g) the photograph or film is of a child shared for that child’s medical care or treatment, where there is parental consent.

(4) A person (A) does not commit an offence under this section if A shares information about where to access a photograph or film where this photograph or film has already been made available to A.

(5) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that they—

(a) reasonably believed that the sharing was necessary for the purposes of preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting crime;

(b) reasonably believed that the sharing was necessary for the purposes of legal or regulatory proceedings;

(c) reasonably believed that the sharing was necessary for the administration of justice;

(d) reasonably believed that the sharing was necessary for a genuine medical, scientific or educational purpose; and

(e) reasonably believed that the sharing was in the public interest.

(6) An “intimate photograph or film” is a photograph or film that is sexual, shows a person nude or partially nude, or shows a person toileting, of a kind which is not ordinarily seen on a public street, which includes—

(a) any photograph or film that shows something a reasonable person would consider to be sexual because of its nature;

(b) any photograph or film that shows something which, taken as a whole, is such that a reasonable person would consider it to be sexual;

(c) any photograph or film that shows a person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts, whether exposed, covered with underwear or anything being worn as underwear, or where a person is similarly or more exposed than if they were wearing only underwear;

(d) any photograph or film that shows toileting, meaning a photograph or film of someone in the act of defecation and urination, or images of personal care associated with genital or anal discharge, defecation and urination.

(7) References to sharing such a photograph or film with another person include—

(a) sending it to another person by any means, electronically or otherwise;

(b) showing it to another person;

(c) placing it for another person to find; or

(d) sharing it on or uploading it to a user-to-user service, including websites or online public forums.

(8) “Photograph” includes the negative as well as the positive version.

(9) “Film” means a moving image.

(10) References to a photograph or film include—

(a) an image, whether made by computer graphics or in any other way, which appears to be a photograph or film,

(b) an image which has been altered through computer graphics,

(c) a copy of a photograph, film or image, and

(d) data stored by any means which is capable of conversion into a photograph, film or image.

(11) Sections 74 to 76 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 apply when determining consent in relation to offences in this section.

(12) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine (or both).”

This new clause creates the offence of sharing an intimate image without consent, providing the necessary exclusions such as for children’s medical care or images taken in public places, and establishing the penalty as triable by magistrates only with maximum imprisonment of 6 months.

New clause 46—Sharing etc intimate photographs or film with intent to cause alarm, distress or humiliation

“(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a) A intentionally shares an intimate photograph or film of another person (B) with B or with a third person (C); and

(b) A does so—

(i) without B’s consent, and

(ii) without reasonably believing that B consents; and

(c) A intends that the subject of the photograph or film will be caused alarm, distress or humiliation by the sharing of the photograph or film.

(2) References to a third person (C) in this section are to be read as referring to—

(a) an individual;

(b) a group of individuals;

(c) a section of the public; or

(d) the public at large.

(3) An “intimate photograph or film” is a photograph or film that is sexual, shows a person nude or partially nude, or shows a person toileting, of a kind which is not ordinarily seen on a public street, which includes—

(a) any photograph or film that shows something a reasonable person would consider to be sexual because of its nature;

(b) any photograph or film that shows something which, taken as a whole, is such that a reasonable person would consider it to be sexual;

(c) any photograph or film that shows a person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts, whether exposed, covered with underwear or anything being worn as underwear, or where a person is similarly or more exposed than if they were wearing only underwear;

(d) any photograph or film that shows toileting, meaning a photograph or film of someone in the act of defecation and urination, or images of personal care associated with genital or anal discharge, defecation and urination.

(4) References to sharing such a photograph or film with another person include—

(a) sending it to another person by any means, electronically or otherwise;

(b) showing it to another person;

(c) placing it for another person to find; or

(d) sharing it on or uploading it to a user-to-user service, including websites or online public forums.

(5) “Photograph” includes the negative as well as the positive version.

(6) “Film” means a moving image.

(7) References to a photograph or film include—

(a) an image, whether made by computer graphics or in any other way, which appears to be a photograph or film,

(b) an image which has been altered through computer graphics,

(c) a copy of a photograph, film or image, and

(d) data stored by any means which is capable of conversion into a photograph, film or image.

(8) Sections 74 to 76 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 apply when determining consent in relation to offences in this section.

(9) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine (or both);

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years.”

This new clause creates a more serious offence where there is the intent to cause alarm etc. by sharing an image, with the appropriately more serious penalty of 12 months through a magistrates’ court or up to three years in a Crown Court.

New clause 47—Sharing etc intimate photographs or film without consent for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification

“(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a) A intentionally shares an intimate photograph or film of another person (B) with B or with a third person (C); and

(b) A does so—

(i) without B’s consent, and

(ii) without reasonably believing that B consents; and

(c) A shared the photograph or film for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification (whether for the sender or recipient).

(2) References to a third person (C) in this section are to be read as referring to—

(a) an individual;

(b) a group of individuals;

(c) a section of the public; or

(d) the public at large.

(3) An “intimate photograph or film” is a photograph or film that is sexual, shows a person nude or partially nude, or shows a person toileting, of a kind which is not ordinarily seen on a public street, which includes—

(a) any photograph or film that shows something a reasonable person would consider to be sexual because of its nature;

(b) any photograph or film that shows something which, taken as a whole, is such that a reasonable person would consider it to be sexual;

(c) any photograph or film that shows a person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts, whether exposed, covered with underwear or anything being worn as underwear, or where a person is similarly or more exposed than if they were wearing only underwear;

(d) any photograph or film that shows toileting, meaning a photograph or film of someone in the act of defecation and urination, or images of personal care associated with genital or anal discharge, defecation and urination.

(4) References to sharing such a photograph or film with another person include—

(a) sending it to another person by any means, electronically or otherwise;

(b) showing it to another person;

(c) placing it for another person to find; or

(d) sharing it on or uploading it to a user-to-user service, including websites or online public forums.

(5) “Photograph” includes the negative as well as the positive version.

(6) “Film” means a moving image.

(7) References to a photograph or film include—

(a) an image, whether made by computer graphics or in any other way, which appears to be a photograph or film,

(b) an image which has been altered through computer graphics,

(c) a copy of a photograph, film or image, and

(d) data stored by any means which is capable of conversion into a photograph, film or image.

(8) Sections 74 to 76 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 apply when determining consent in relation to offences in this section.

(9) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine (or both);

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years.”

This new clause creates a more serious offence where there is the intent to cause alarm etc. by sharing an image, with the appropriately more serious penalty of 12 months through a magistrates’ court or up to three years in a Crown Court.

New clause 48—Threatening to share etc intimate photographs or film

“(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a) A threatens to share an intimate photograph or film of another person (B) with B or a third person (C); and

(i) A intends B to fear that the threat will be carried out; or A is reckless as to whether B will fear that the threat will be carried out.

(2) “Threatening to share” should be read to include threatening to share an intimate photograph or film that does not exist and other circumstances where it is impossible for A to carry out the threat.

(3) References to a third person (C) in this section are to be read as referring to—

(a) an individual;

(b) a group of individuals;

(c) a section of the public; or

(d) the public at large.

(4) An “intimate photograph or film” is a photograph or film that is sexual, shows a person nude or partially nude, or shows a person toileting, of a kind which is not ordinarily seen on a public street, which includes—

(a) any photograph or film that shows something a reasonable person would consider to be sexual because of its nature;

(b) any photograph or film that shows something which, taken as a whole, is such that a reasonable person would consider it to be sexual;

(c) any photograph or film that shows a person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts, whether exposed, covered with underwear or anything being worn as underwear, or where a person is similarly or more exposed than if they were wearing only underwear;

(d) any photograph or film that shows toileting, meaning a photograph or film of someone in the act of defecation and urination, or images of personal care associated with genital or anal discharge, defecation and urination.

(5) References to sharing, or threatening to share, such a photograph or film with another person include—

(a) sending, or threatening to send, it to another person by any means, electronically or otherwise;

(b) showing, or threatening to show, it to another person;

(c) placing, or threatening to place, it for another person to find; or

(d) sharing, or threatening to share, it on or uploading it to a user-to-user service, including websites or online public forums.

(6) “Photograph” includes the negative as well as the positive version.

(7) “Film” means a moving image.

(8) References to a photograph or film include—

(a) an image, whether made by computer graphics or in any other way, which appears to be a photograph or film,

(b) an image which has been altered through computer graphics,

(c) a copy of a photograph, film or image, and

(d) data stored by any means which is capable of conversion into a photograph, film or image.

(9) Sections 74 to 76 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 apply when determining consent in relation to offences in this section.

(10) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine (or both);

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years.”

This new clause creates another more serious offence of threatening to share an intimate image, regardless of whether such an image actually exists, and where the sender intends to cause fear, or is reckless to whether they would cause fear, punishable by 12 months through a magistrates’ court or up to three years in a Crown Court.

New clause 49—Special measures in criminal proceedings for offences involving the sharing of intimate images

“(1) Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (giving of evidence or information for purposes of criminal proceedings: special measures directions in case of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 17 (witnesses eligible for assistance on grounds of fear or distress about testifying), in subsection (4A) after paragraph (b) insert “(c) ‘an offence under sections [Sharing etc intimate photographs or film without consent; Sharing etc intimate photographs or film with intent to cause alarm, distress or humiliation; Sharing etc intimate photographs or film without consent for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification; Threatening to share etc intimate photographs or film] of the Online Safety Act 2023’”.”

This new clause inserts intimate image abuse into legislation that qualifies victims for special measures when testifying in court (such as partitions to hide them from view, video testifying etc.) which is already prescribed by law.

New clause 50—Anonymity for victims of offences involving the sharing of intimate images

“(1) Section 2 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 (Offences to which this Act applies) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection 1 after paragraph (db) insert—

(dc) ‘an offence under sections [Sharing etc intimate photographs or film without consent; Sharing etc intimate photographs or film with intent to cause alarm, distress or humiliation; Sharing etc intimate photographs or film without consent for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification; Threatening to share etc intimate photographs or film] of the Online Safety Act 2023’”.”

Similar to NC49, this new clause allows victims of intimate image abuse the same availability for anonymity as other sexual offences to protect their identities and give them the confidence to testify against their abuser without fear of repercussions.

New clause 54—Report on the effect of Virtual Private Networks on OFCOM’s ability to enforce requirements

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish a report on the effect of the use of Virtual Private Networks on OFCOM’s ability to enforce requirements under section 112.

(2) The report must be laid before Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act.”

New clause 55—Offence of sending communication facilitating modern slavery and illegal immigration

‘(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a) (A) intentionally shares with a person (B) or with a third person (C) a photograph or film which is reasonably considered to be, or to be intended to be, facilitating or promoting any activities which do, or could reasonably be expected to, give rise to an offence under—

(i) sections 1 (Slavery, servitude and forced labour), 2 (Human trafficking) or 4 (Committing offence with intent to commit an offence under section 2) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015; or

(ii) sections 24 (Illegal Entry and Similar Offences) or 25 (Assisting unlawful immigration etc) of the Immigration Act 1971; and

(a) (A) does so knowing, or when they reasonably ought to have known, that the activities being depicted are unlawful.

(2) References to a third person (C) in this section are to be read as referring to—

(a) an individual;

(b) a group of individuals;

(c) a section of the public; or

(d) the public at large.

(3) A person (A) does not commit an offence under this section if—

(a) the sharing is undertaken by or on behalf of a journalist or for journalistic purposes;

(b) the sharing is by a refugee organisation registered in the UK and which falls within the scope of sub-section (3) or section 25A of the Immigration Act 1971;

(c) the sharing is by or on behalf of a duly elected Member of Parliament or other elected representative in the UK.

(4) It is a defence for a person charged under this section to provide that they—

(a) reasonably believed that the sharing was necessary for the purposes of preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting crime and

(b) reasonably believed that the sharing was necessary for the purposes of legal or regulatory proceedings.

(5) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the maximum term for summary offences or a fine (or both).”

This new clause would create a new criminal offence of intentionally sharing a photograph or film that facilitates or promotes modern slavery or illegal immigration.

Government amendments 234 and 102 to 117.

Amendment 195, in clause 104, page 87, line 10, leave out subsection 1 and insert—

“(1) If OFCOM consider that it is necessary and proportionate to do so, they may—

(a) give a notice described in subsection (2), (3) or (4) relating to a regulated user to user service or a regulated search service to the provider of the service;

(b) give a notice described in subsection (2), (3) or (4) to a provider or providers of Part 3 services taking into account risk profiles produced by OFCOM under section 84.”

Amendment 152, page 87, line 18, leave out ‘whether’.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 153.

Amendment 153, page 87, line 19, leave out ‘or privately’.

This amendment removes the ability to monitor encrypted communications.

Government amendment 118.

Amendment 204, in clause 105, page 89, line 17, at end insert—

“(ia) the level of risk of the use of the specified technology accessing, retaining or disclosing the identity or provenance of any confidential journalistic source or confidential journalistic material.”

This amendment would require Ofcom to consider the risk of the use of accredited technology by a Part 3 service accessing, retaining or disclosing the identity or provenance of journalistic sources or confidential journalistic material, when deciding whether to give a notice under Clause 104(1) of the Bill.

Government amendments 119 to 130, 132 to 134, 212, 213, 135 and 214.

Amendment 23, in clause 130, page 114, line 3, leave out paragraph (a).

Government amendment 175.

Amendment 160, in clause 141, page 121, line 9, leave out subsection (2).

This amendment removes the bar of conditionality that must be met for super complaints that relate to a single regulated service.

Amendment 24, page 121, line 16, leave out “The Secretary of State” and insert “OFCOM”.

Amendment 25, page 121, line 21, leave out from “(3),” to end of line 24 and insert “OFCOM must consult—

“(a) The Secretary of State, and

“(b) such other persons as OFCOM considers appropriate.”

This amendment would provide that regulations under clause 141 are to be made by OFCOM rather than by the Secretary of State.

Amendment 189, in clause 142, page 121, line 45, leave out from “including” to end of line 46 and insert

“90 day maximum time limits in relation to the determination and notification to the complainant of—”.

This requires the Secretary of State’s guidance to require Ofcom to determine whether a complaint is eligible for the super-complaints procedure within 90 days.

Amendment 26, in clause 146, page 123, line 33, leave out

“give OFCOM a direction requiring”

and insert “may make representations to”.

Amendment 27, page 123, line 36, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

“(2) OFCOM must have due regard to any representations made by the Secretary of State under subsection (1).”

Amendment 28, page 123, line 38, leave out from “committee” to end of line 39 and insert

“established under this section is to consist of the following members—”.

Amendment 29, page 124, line ], leave out from “committee” to “publish” in line 2 and insert

“established under this section must”.

Amendment 30, page 124, line 4, leave out subsection (5).

Amendment 32, page 124, line 4, leave out clause 148.

Government amendments 176, 239, 138, 240, 215, 241, 242, 217, 218, 243, 219, 244, 245, 220, 221, 140, 246, 222 to 224, 247, 225, 248, 226 and 227.

Amendment 194, in clause 157, page 131, line 16, leave out from beginning to end of line 17 and insert—

“(a) B has not consented for A to send or give the photograph or film to B, and”.

Government amendments 249 to 252, 228, 229 and 235 to 237.

Government new schedule 2—Amendments of Part 4B of the Communications Act.

Government new schedule 3—Video-sharing platform services: transitional provision etc.

Government amendment 238

Amendment 35, schedule 11, page 198, line 5, leave out “The Secretary of State” and insert “OFCOM”.

This amendment would give the power to make regulations under Schedule 11 to OFCOM.

Amendment 2, page 198, line 9, leave out “functionalities” and insert “characteristics”.

Amendment 1, page 198, line 9, at end insert—

“(1A) In this schedule, “characteristics” of a service include its functionalities, user base, business model, governance and other systems and processes.”

Amendment 159, page 198, line 9, at end insert—

“(1A) Regulations made under sub-paragraph (1) must provide for any regulated user-to-user service which OFCOM assesses as posing a very high risk of harm to be included within Category 1, regardless of the number of users.”

This amendment allows Ofcom to impose Category 1 duties on user-to-user services which pose a very high risk of harm.

Amendment 36, page 198, line 10, leave out “The Secretary of State” and insert “OFCOM”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 35.

Amendment 37, page 198, line 16, leave out “The Secretary of State” and insert “OFCOM”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 35.

Amendment 3, page 198, line 2, leave out “functionalities” and insert “characteristics”.

Amendment 9, page 198, line 28, leave out “and” and insert “or”.

Amendment 4, page 198, line 29, leave out “functionality” and insert “characteristic”.

Amendment 38, page 198, line 32, leave out “the Secretary of State” and insert “OFCOM”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 35.

Amendment 5, page 198, line 34, leave out “functionalities” and insert “characteristics”.

Amendment 39, page 198, line 37, leave out “the Secretary of State” and insert “OFCOM”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 35.

Amendment 40, page 198, line 41, leave out “the Secretary of State” and insert “OFCOM”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 35.

Amendment 6, page 198, line 4, leave out “functionalities” and insert “characteristics”.

Amendment 7, page 199, line 11, leave out “functionalities” and insert “characteristics”.

Amendment 8, page 199, line 28, leave out “functionalities” and insert “characteristics”.

Amendment 41, page 199, line 3, leave out subparagraphs (5) to (11).

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 35.

Government amendments 230, 253 to 261 and 233.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was about to speak to the programme motion, Mr Speaker, but you have outlined exactly what I was going to say, so thank you for that—I am glad to get the process right.

I am delighted to bring the Online Safety Bill back to the House for the continuation of Report stage. I start by expressing my gratitude to colleagues across the House for their contributions to the Bill through pre-legislative scrutiny and before the summer recess, and for their engagement with me since I took office as the Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy.

The concept at the heart of this legislation is simple: tech companies, like those in every other sector, must take responsibility for the consequences of their business decisions. As they continue to offer users the latest innovations, they must consider the safety of their users as well as profit. They must treat their users fairly and ensure that the internet remains a place for free expression and robust debate. As Members will be aware, the majority of the Bill was discussed on Report before the summer recess. Our focus today is on the provisions that relate to the regulator’s power and the criminal law reforms. I will take this opportunity also to briefly set out the further changes that the Government recently committed to making later in the Bill’s passage.

Let me take the Government amendments in turn. The Government’s top priority for this legislation has always been the protection of children. We recognise that the particularly abhorrent and pernicious nature of online child sexual exploitation and abuse—CSEA—demands the most robust response possible. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have heard evidence of the appalling harm that CSEA causes. Repeatedly, we heard calls for strong incentives for companies to do everything they can to innovate and make safety technologies their priority, to ensure that there is no place for offenders to hide online. The Bill already includes a specific power to tackle CSEA, which allows Ofcom, subject to safeguards, to require tech companies to use accredited technology to identify and remove illegal CSEA content in public and private communications. However, we have seen in recent years how the online world has evolved to allow offenders to reach their victims and one another in new ways.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am listening to my hon. Friend with great interest on this aspect of child sexual abuse and exploitation, which is a heinous crime. Will he go on to speak about how the Ofcom role will interact with law enforcement, in particular the National Crime Agency, when dealing with these awful crimes?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is important that we tackle this in a number of ways. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and I spoke earlier, and I will come to some of what he will outline. It is important that Ofcom recognises the technologies that are available and—with the Children’s Commissioner as one of the statutory consultees—liaises with the social media platforms, and the agencies, to ensure that there are codes of practice that work, and that we get this absolutely right. It is about enforcing the terms and conditions of the companies and being able to produce the evidence and track the exchanges, as I will outline later, for the agency to use for enforcement.

With the rapid developments in technology, on occasions there will be no existing accredited technology available that will satisfactorily mitigate the risks. Similarly, tech companies might be able to better design solutions that integrate more easily with their services than those that are already accredited. The new regulatory framework must incentivise tech companies to ensure that their safety measures keep pace with the evolving threat, and that they design their services to be safe from the outset. It is for these reasons that the Government have tabled the amendments that we are discussing.

New clauses 11 and 12 establish options for Ofcom when deploying its powers under notices to deal with terrorism content and CSEA content. These notices will empower Ofcom to require companies to use accredited technology to identify and remove illegal terrorism and CSEA content or to prevent users from encountering that content or, crucially, to use their best endeavours to develop or to source technology to tackle CSEA. That strikes the right balance of supporting the adoption of new technology, while ensuring that it does not come at the expense of children’s physical safety.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Terrorism is often linked to non-violent extremism, which feeds into violent extremism and terrorism. How does the Bill define extremism? Previous Governments failed to define it, although it is often linked to terrorism.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This Bill links with other legislation, and obviously the agencies. We do not seek to redefine extremism where those definitions already exist. As we expand on the changes that we are making, we will first ensure that anything that is already illegal goes off the table. Anything that is against the terms and conditions of those platforms that are hosting that content must not be seen. I will come to the safety net and user protection later.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, hate speech has ballooned on the platform and the number of staff members at Twitter identifying images of child sexual abuse and exploitation has halved. How can the Minister be sure that the social media companies are able to mark their own homework in the way that he suggests?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Because if those companies do not, they will get a fine of up to £18 million or 10% of their global turnover, whichever is higher. As we are finding with Twitter, there is also a commercial impetus, because advertisers are fleeing that platform as they see the uncertainty being caused by those changes. A lot of things are moving here to ensure that safety is paramount; it is not just for the Government to act in this area. All we are doing is making sure that those companies enforce their own terms and conditions.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This point is important: we are speaking about terrorism and counter-terrorism and the state’s role in preventing terrorist activity. For clarity, will the Minister update the House later on the work that takes place between his Department and the platforms and, importantly, between the Home Office and the security services. In particular, some specialist work takes place with the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which looks at online terrorist and extremist content. That work can ensure that crimes are prevented and that the right kinds of interventions take place.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend talks with experience from her time at the Home Office. She is absolutely right that the Bill sets a framework to adhere to the terms and conditions of the platforms. It also sets out the ability for the services to look at things such as terrorism and CSEA, which I have been talking about—for example, through the evidence of photos being exchanged. The Bill is not re-examining and re-prosecuting the interaction between all the agencies, however, because that is apparent for all to see.

New clauses 11 and 12 bring those powers in line with the wider safety duties by making it clear that the tools may seek to proactively prevent CSEA content from appearing on a service, rather than focusing only on identification and removal after the fact. That will ensure the best possible protection for children, including on services that offer livestreaming.

The safeguards around those powers remain as strong as before to protect user privacy. Any tools that are developed will be accredited using a rigorous assessment process to ensure that they are highly accurate before the company is asked to use them. That will avoid any unnecessary intrusions into user privacy by minimising the risk that the tools identify false positives.

Crucially, the powers do not represent a ban on or seek to undermine any specific type of technology or design, such as end-to-end encryption. They align with the UK Government’s view that online privacy and cyber-security must be protected, but that technological changes should not be implemented in a way that diminishes public safety.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Minister expand on the notion of “accredited technology”? The definition in the Bill is pretty scant as to where it will emerge from. Is he essentially saying that he is relying on the same industry that has thus far presided over the problem to produce the technology that will police it for us? Within that equation, which seems a little self-defeating, is it the case that if the technology does not emerge for one reason or another—commercial or otherwise—the Government will step in and devise, fund or otherwise create the technology required to be implemented?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend. It is the technology sector that develops technology—it is a simple, circular definition—not the Government. We are looking to make sure that it has that technology in place, but if we prescribed it in the Bill, it would undoubtedly be out of date within months, never mind years. That is why it is better for us to have a rounded approach, working with the technology sector, to ensure that it is robust enough.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I may not have been clear in my original intervention: my concern is that the legislation relies on the same sector that has thus far failed to regulate itself and failed to invent the technology that is required, even though it is probably perfectly capable of doing so, to produce the technology that we will then accredit to be used. My worry is that the sector, for one reason or another—the same reason that it has not moved with alacrity already to deal with these problems in the 15 years or so that it has existed—may not move at the speed that the Minister or the rest of us require to produce the technology for accreditation. What happens if it does not?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clearly, the Government can choose to step in. We are setting up a framework to ensure that we get the right balance and are not being prescriptive. I take issue with the idea that a lot of this stuff has not been invented, because there is some pretty robust work on age assurance and verification, and other measures to identify harmful and illegal material, although my right hon. Friend is right that it is not being used as robustly as it could be. That is exactly what we are addressing in the Bill.

15:44
David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My intervention is on the same point as that raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), but from the opposite direction, in effect. What if it turns out that, as many security specialists and British leaders in security believe—not just the companies, but professors of security at Cambridge and that sort of thing—it is not possible to implement such measures without weakening encryption? What will the Minister’s Bill do then?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Bill is very specific with regard to encryption; this provision will cover solely CSEA and terrorism. It is important that we do not encroach on privacy.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my hon. Friend to his position. Under the Bill, is it not the case that if a company refuses to use existing technologies, that will be a failure of the regulatory duties placed on that company? Companies will be required to demonstrate which technology they will use and will have to use one that is available. On encrypted messaging, is it not the case that companies already gather large amounts of information about websites that people visit before and after they send a message that could be hugely valuable to law enforcement?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only is it incumbent on companies to use that technology should it exist; if they hamper Ofcom’s inquiries by not sharing information about what they are doing, what they find and which technologies they are not using, that will be a criminal liability under the Bill.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To take that one step further, is it correct that Ofcom would set minimum standards for operators? For example, the Content Authenticity Initiative does not need primary legislation, but is an industry open-standard, open-source format. That is an example of modern technology that all companies could sign up to use, and Ofcom would therefore determine what needs to be done in primary legislation.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can I be helpful? We did say that our discussions should be within scope, but the Minister is tempting everybody to intervene out of scope. From his own point of view, I would have thought that it would be easier to keep within scope.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker; I will just respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans). There is a minimum standard in so far as the operators have to adhere to the terms of the Bill. Our aim is to exclude illegal content and ensure that children are as safe as possible within the remit of the Bill.

The changes will ensure a flexible approach so that companies can use their expertise to develop or source the most effective solution for their service, rather than us being prescriptive. That, in turn, supports the continued growth of our digital economy while keeping our citizens safe online.

Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend may know that there are third-party technology companies—developers of this accredited technology, as he calls it—that do not have access to all the data that might be necessary to develop technology to block the kind of content we are discussing. They need to be given the right to access that data from the larger platforms. Will Ofcom be able to instruct large platforms that have users’ data to make it available to third-party developers of technology that can help to block such content?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Ofcom will be working with the platforms over the next few months—in the lead-up to the commencement of the Bill and afterwards—to ensure that the provisions are operational, so that we get them up and running as soon as practicably possible. My right hon. Friend is right to raise the point.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In Northern Ireland we face the specific issue of the glorification of terrorism. Glorifying terrorism encourages terrorism. Is it possible that the Bill will stop that type of glorification, and therefore stop the terrorism that comes off the back of it?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will try to cover the hon. Member’s comments a little bit later, if I may, when I talk about some of the changes coming up later in the process.

Moving away from CSEA, I am pleased to say that new clause 53 fulfils a commitment given by my predecessor in Committee to bring forward reforms to address epilepsy trolling. It creates the two specific offences of sending and showing flashing images to an individual with epilepsy with the intention of causing them harm. Those offences will apply in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, providing people with epilepsy with specific protection from this appalling abuse. I would like to place on record our thanks to the Epilepsy Society for working with the Ministry of Justice to develop the new clause.

The offence of sending flashing images captures situations in which an individual sends a communication in a scatter-gun manner—for example, by sharing a flashing image on social media—and the more targeted sending of flashing images to a person who the sender knows or suspects is a person with epilepsy. It can be committed by a person who forwards or shares such an electronic communication as well as by the person sending it. The separate offence of showing flashing images will apply if a person shows flashing images to someone they know or suspect to have epilepsy by means of an electronic communications device—for example, on a mobile phone or a TV screen.

The Government have listened to parliamentarians and stakeholders about the impact and consequences of this reprehensible behaviour, and my thanks go to my hon. Friends the Members for Watford (Dean Russell), for Stourbridge (Suzanne Webb), for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) and for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) for their work and campaigning. [Interruption.] Indeed, and the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater), who I am sure will be speaking on this later.

New clause 53 creates offences that are legally robust and enforceable so that those seeking to cause harm to people with epilepsy will face appropriate criminal sanctions. I hope that will reassure the House that the deeply pernicious activity of epilepsy trolling will be punishable by law.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is thanking lots of hon. Members, but should not the biggest thanks go, first, to the Government for the inclusion of this amendment; and secondly, to Zach Eagling, the inspirational now 11-year-old who was the victim of a series of trolling incidents when flashing images were pushed his way after a charity walk? We have a huge amount to thank Zach Eagling for, and of course the amazing Epilepsy Society too.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A number of Members across the House have been pushing for Zach’s law, and I am really delighted that Zach’s family can see in Hansard that that campaigning has really made a direct change to the law.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell (Watford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just want to echo the previous points. This has been a hard-fought decision, and I am so proud that the Government have done this, but may I echo the thanks to Zach for being a true hero? We talk about David and Goliath, the giant—the beast—who was taken down, but Zach has beaten the tech giants, and I think this is an incredible success.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely echo my hon. Friend’s remarks, and I again thank him for his work.

We are also taking steps to strengthen Ofcom’s enforcement powers, which is why we are giving Ofcom a discretionary power to require non-compliant services to publish or notify their users of enforcement action that it has taken against the service. Ofcom will be able to use this power to direct a service to publish details or notify its UK users about enforcement notices it receives from Ofcom. I thank the Antisemitism Policy Trust for bringing this proposal to our attention and for its helpful engagement on the issue. This new power will promote transparency by increasing awareness among users about breaches of the duty in the Bill. It will help users make much more informed decisions about the services they use, and act as an additional deterrent factor for service providers.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is fantastic to have the data released. Does the Minister have any idea how many of these notifications are likely to be put out there when the Bill comes in? Has any work been done on that? Clearly, having thousands of these come out would be very difficult for the public to understand, but half a dozen over a year might be very useful to understand which companies are struggling.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think this is why Ofcom has discretion, so that it can determine that. The most egregious examples are the ones people can learn from, and it is about doing this in proportion. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that if we are swamped with small notifications, this will be hidden in plain sight. That would not be useful, particularly for parents, to best understand what is going on. It is all about making more informed decisions.

The House will be aware that we recently announced our intention to make a number of other changes to the Bill. We are making those changes because we believe it is vital that people can continue to express themselves freely and engage in pluralistic debate online. That is why the Bill will be amended to strengthen its provisions relating to children and to ensure that the Bill’s protections for adults strike the right balance with its protections for free speech.

Margaret Hodge Portrait Dame Margaret Hodge (Barking) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is alluding, I assume, to the legal but harmful provision, but what does he think about this as an example? People are clever; they do not use illegal language. They will not say, “I want to kill all Jews”, but they may well—and do—say, “I want to harm all globalists.” What is the Minister’s view of that?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Lady and I have had a detailed chat about some of the abuse that she and many others have been suffering, and there were some particularly egregious examples. This Bill is not, and never will be, a silver bullet. This has to be worked through, with the Government acting with media platforms and social media platforms, and parents also have a role. This will evolve, but we first need to get back to the fundamental point that social media platforms are not geared up to enforce their own terms and conditions. That is ridiculous, a quarter of a century after the world wide web kicked in, and when social media platforms have been around for the best part of 20 years. We are shutting the stable door afterwards, and trying to come up with legislation two decades later.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I am really bothered. I am trying to help the Minister, because although broadening discussion of the Bill is helpful, it is also allowing Members to come in with remarks that are out of scope. If we are going to go out of scope, we could be here a long time. I am trying to support the Minister by keeping him in scope.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker; I will try to keep my remarks very much in scope.

The harmful communications offence in clause 151 was a reform to communication offences proposed in the Bill. Since the Bill has been made public, parliamentarians and stakeholders have expressed concern that the threshold that would trigger prosecution for the offence of causing serious distress could bring robust but legitimate conversation into the illegal space. In the light of that concern, we have decided not to take forward the harmful communications offence for now. That will give the Government an opportunity to consider further how the criminal law can best protect individuals from harmful communications, and ensure that protections for free speech are robust.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is about the protection of young people, and we are all here for the same reason, including the Minister. We welcome the changes that he is putting forward, but the Royal College of Psychiatrists has expressed a real concern about the mental health of children, and particularly about how screen time affects them. NHS Digital has referred to one in eight 11 to 16-year-olds being bullied. I am not sure whether we see in the Bill an opportunity to protect them, so perhaps the Minister can tell me the right way to do that.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman talks about the wider use of screens and screen time, and that is why Ofcom’s media literacy programme, and DCMS’s media literacy strategy—

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is because we have a detailed strategy that tackles many of these issues. Again, none of this is perfect, and as I have said, the Government are working in tandem with the platforms, and with parents and education bodies, to make sure we get that bit right. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that as a big issue.

I talked about harmful communications, recognising that we could leave a potential gap in the criminal law. The Government have also decided not to repeal existing communications offences in the Malicious Communications Act 1988, or those under section 127(1) of the Communications Act 2003. That will ensure that victims of domestic abuse or other extremely harmful communications will still be robustly protected by the criminal law. Along with planned changes to the harmful communications offence, we are making a number of additional changes to the Bill—that will come later, Mr Speaker, and I will not tread too much into that, as it includes the removal of the adult safety duties, often referred to as the legal but harmful provision. The amended Bill offers adults a triple shield of protection that requires platforms to remove illegal content and material that violates their terms and conditions, and gives adults user controls to help them avoid seeing certain types of content.

The Bill’s key objective, above everything else, is the safety of children online, and we will be making a number of changes to strengthen the Bill’s existing protections for children. We will make sure that we expect platforms to use age assurance technology when identifying the age of their users, and we will also require platforms with minimum age restrictions to explain in their terms of service what measures they have in place to prevent access to those below their minimum age, and enforce those measures consistently. We are planning to name the Children’s Commissioner as a statutory consultee for Ofcom in its development of the codes of practice, ensuring that children’s views and needs are represented.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is the Children’s Commissioner for England, specifically because they have particular reserved duties for the whole of the UK. None the less, Ofcom must also have regard to a wider range of voices, which can easily include the other Children’s Commissioners.

16:00
Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On age reassurance, does the Minister not see a weakness? Lots of children and young people are far more sophisticated than many of us in the Chamber and will easily find a workaround, as they do now. The onus is being put on the children, so the Bill is not increasing regulation or the safety of those children.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said, the social media platforms will have to put in place robust age assurance and age verification for material in an accredited form that is acceptable to Ofcom, which will look at that.

Tackling violence against women and girls is a key priority for the Government. It is unacceptable that women and girls suffer disproportionately from abuse online, and it is right that we go further to address that through the Bill. That is why we will name the commissioner for victims and witnesses and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner as statutory consultees for the code of practice and list “coercive or controlling behaviour” as a priority offence. That offence disproportionately affects women and girls, and that measure will mean that companies will have to take proactive measures to tackle such content.

Finally, we are making a number of criminal law reforms, and I thank the Law Commission for the great deal of important work that it has done to assess the law in these areas.

Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I strongly welcome some of the ways in which the Bill has been strengthened to protect women and girls, particularly by criminalising cyber-flashing, for example. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that our laws keep pace with the changes in how technology is being used? Will he therefore assure me that the Government will look to introduce measures along the lines set out in new clauses 45 to 50, standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller), who is leading fantastic work in this area, so that we can build on the Government’s record in outlawing revenge porn and threats to share it?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend, and indeed I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) for the amazing work that she has done in this area. We will table an amendment to the Bill to criminalise more behaviour relating to intimate image abuse, so more perpetrators will face prosecution and potentially time in jail. My hon. Friend has worked tirelessly in this area, and we have had a number of conversations. I thank her for that. I look forward to more conversations to ensure that we get the amendment absolutely right and that it does exactly what we all want.

The changes we are making will include criminalising the non-consensual sharing of manufactured intimate images, which, as we have heard, are more commonly known as deepfakes. In the longer term, the Government will also take forward several of the Law Commission’s recommendations to ensure that the legislation is coherent and takes account of advancements in technology.

We will also use the Bill to bring forward a further communication offence to make the encouragement of self-harm illegal. We have listened to parliamentarians and stakeholders concerned about such behaviour and will use the Bill to criminalise that activity, providing users with protections from that harmful content. I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden on his work in this area and his advocacy for such a change.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols
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Intimate image abuse has been raised with me a number of times by younger constituents, who are particularly vulnerable to such abuse. Within the scope of what we are discussing, I am concerned that we have seen only one successful conviction for revenge porn, so if the Government base their intimate image work on the existing legislative framework for revenge porn, it will do nothing and protect no one, and will instead be a waste of everyone’s time and further let down victims who are already let down by the system.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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We will actually base that work on the independent Law Commission’s recommendations, and have been working with it on that basis.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
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On images that promote self-harm, does the Minister agree that images that promote or glamourise eating disorders should be treated just as seriously as any other content promoting self-harm?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I thank my right hon. Friend, who spoke incredibly powerfully at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions, and on a number of other occasions, about her particular experience. That is always incredibly difficult. Absolutely that area will be tackled, especially for children, but it is really important—as we will see from further changes in the Bill—that, with the removal of the legal but harmful protections, there are other protections for adults.

Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid
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I think last year over 6,000 people died from suicide in the UK. Much of that, sadly, was encouraged by online content, as we saw from the recent coroner’s report into the tragic death of Molly Russell. On new clause 16, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), will the Minister confirm that the Government agree with the objectives of new clause 16 and will table an amendment to this Bill—to no other parliamentary vehicle, but specifically to this Bill—to introduce such a criminal offence? Will the Government amendment he referred to be published before year end?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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On self-harm, I do not think there is any doubt that we are absolutely aligned. On suicide, I have some concerns about how new clause 16 is drafted—it amends the Suicide Act 1961, which is not the right place to introduce measures on self-harm—but I will work to ensure we get this measure absolutely right as the Bill goes through the other place.

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will give way first to one of my predecessors.

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage
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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is almost being given stereo questions from across the House, but I think they might be slightly different. I am very grateful to him for setting out his commitment to tackling suicide and self-harm content, and for his commitment to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) on eating disorder content. My concern is that there is a really opaque place in the online world between what is legal and illegal, which potentially could have been tackled by the legal but harmful restrictions. Can he set out a little more clearly—not necessarily now, but as we move forward—how we really are going to begin to tackle the opaque world between legal and illegal content?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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If my hon. Friend will bear with me—I need to make some progress—I think that will be teased out today and in Committee, should the Bill be recommitted, as we amend the clauses relating directly to what she is talking about, and then as the Bill goes through the other place.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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Will the Minister give way?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will give way a final time before I finish.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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I am grateful to the Minister, who has taken a number of interventions. I fully agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage). This is a grey area and has consistently been so—many Members have given their views on that in previous stages of the Bill. Will the Minister come back in the later stages on tackling violence against women and girls, and show how the Bill will incorporate key aspects of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, and tie up with the criminal justice system and the work of the forthcoming victims Bill? We cannot look at these issues in isolation—I see that the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) is also on the Front Bench. Rather, they all have to be put together in a golden thread of protecting victims, making sure that people do not become victims, and ensuring that we go after the perpetrators—we must not forget that at all. The Minister will not be able to answer that now, but I would ask him to please do so in the latter stages.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I talked about the fact that the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner will be statutory consultees, because it is really important that their voice is heard in the implementation of the Bill. We are also bringing in coercive control as one of the areas. That is so important when it comes to domestic abuse. Domestic abuse does not start with a slap, a hit, a punch; it starts with emotional abuse—manipulation, coercion and so on. That is why coercive abuse is an important point not just for domestic abuse, but for bullying, harassment and the wider concerns that the Bill seeks to tackle.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will give way and then finish up.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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I am one of three Scottish Members present, and the Scottish context concerns me. If time permits me in my contribution later, I will touch on a particularly harrowing case. The school involved has been approached but has done nothing. Education is devolved, so the Minister may want to think about that. It would be too bad if the Bill failed in its good intentions because of a lack of communication in relation to a function delivered by the Scottish Government. Can I take it that there will be the closest possible co-operation with the Scottish Government because of their educational responsibilities?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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There simply has to be. These are global companies and we want to make the Bill work for the whole of the UK. This is not an England-only Bill, so the changes must happen for every user, whether they are in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales or England.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will make a bit of progress, because I am testing Mr Speaker’s patience.

We are making a number of technical amendments to ensure that the new communications offences are targeted and effective. New clause 52 seeks to narrow the exemptions for broadcast and wireless telegraphy licence holders and providers of on-demand programme services, so that the licence holder is exempt only to the extent that communication is within the course of a licensed activity. A separate group of technical amendments ensure that the definition of sending false and threatening communications will capture all circumstances—that is far wider than we have at the moment.

We propose a number of consequential amendments to relevant existing legislation to ensure that new offences operate consistently with the existing criminal law. We are also making a number of wider technical changes to strengthen the enforcement provisions and ensure consistency with other regulatory frameworks. New clause 42 ensures that Ofcom has the power to issue an enforcement notice to a former service provider, guarding against service providers simply shutting down their business and reappearing in a slightly different guise to avoid regulatory sanction. A package of Government amendments will set out how the existing video-sharing platform regime will be repealed and the transitional provisions that will apply to those providers as they transition to the online safety framework.

Finally, new clause 40 will enable the CMA to share information with Ofcom for the purpose of facilitating Ofcom’s online safety functions. That will help to ensure effective co-operation between Ofcom and the CMA.

Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. In the past 40 minutes or so, he has demonstrated the complexity of the changes that are being proposed for the Bill, and he has done a very good job in setting that out. However, will he join me and many other right hon. and hon. Members who feel strongly that a Standing Committee should look at the Bill’s implementation, because of the complexities that he has so clearly demonstrated? I know that is a matter for the House rather than our consideration of the Bill, but I hope that other right hon. and hon. Members will join me in looking for ways to put that right. We need to be able to scrutinise the measures on an ongoing basis.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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Indeed, there will be, and are, review points in the Bill. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will raise that on other occasions as well.

I want to ensure that there is plenty of time for Members to debate the Bill at this important stage, and I have spoken for long enough. I appreciate the constructive and collaborative approach that colleagues have taken throughout the Bill’s passage.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will give way a final time.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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I am grateful to the Minister. Does he support Baroness Kidron’s amendment asking for swift, humane access to data where there is a suspicion that online information may have contributed to a child’s suicide? That has not happened in previous instances; does he support that important amendment?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I am glad that I gave way so that the hon. Lady could raise that point. Baroness Kidron and her organisation have raised that issue with me directly, and they have gathered media support. We will look at that as the Bill goes through this place and the Lords, because we need to see what the powers are at the moment and why they are not working.

Now is the time to take this legislation forward to ensure that it can deliver the safe and transparent online environment that children and adults so clearly deserve.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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It is an absolute pleasure to be back in the Chamber to respond on behalf of the Opposition to this incredibly important piece of legislation on its long overdue second day on Report. It certainly has not been an easy ride so far: I am sure that Bill Committee colleagues across the House agree that unpicking and making sense of this unnecessarily complicated Bill has been anything but straightforward.

We should all be incredibly grateful and are all indebted to the many individuals, charities, organisations and families who have worked so hard to bring online safety to the forefront for us all. Today is a particularly important day, as we are joined in the Public Gallery by a number of families who have lost children in connection with online harms. They include Lorin LaFave, Ian Russell, Andy and Judy Thomas, Amanda and Stuart Stephens and Ruth Moss. I sincerely hope that this debate will do justice to their incredible hard work and commitment in the most exceptionally difficult of circumstances.

16:14
We must acknowledge that the situation has been made even harder by the huge changes that we have seen in the Government since the Bill was first introduced. Since its First Reading, it has been the responsibility of three different Ministers and two Secretaries of State. Remarkably, it has seen three Prime Ministers in post, too. We can all agree that legislation that will effectively keep people safe online urgently needs to be on the statute book: that is why Labour has worked hard and will continue to work hard to get the Bill over the line, despite the best efforts of this Government to kick the can down the road.
The Government have made a genuine mess of this important legislation. Before us today are a huge number of new amendments tabled by the Government to their own Bill. We now know that the Government also plan to recommit parts of their own Bill—to send them back into Committee, where the Minister will attempt to make significant changes that are likely to damage even further the Bill’s ability to properly capture online harm.
We need to be moving forwards, not backwards. With that in mind, I am keen to speak to a number of very important new clauses this afternoon. I will first address new clause 17, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), who has been an incredibly passionate and vocal champion for internet regulation for many years.
As colleagues will be aware, the new clause will fix the frustrating gaps in Ofcom’s enforcement powers. As the Bill stands, it gives Ofcom the power to fine big tech companies only 10% of their turnover for compliance failures. It does not take a genius to recognise that that can be a drop in the ocean for some of the global multimillionaires and billionaires whose companies are often at the centre of the debate around online harm. That is why the new clause, which will mean individual directors, managers or other officers finally being held responsible for their compliance failures, is so important. When it comes to responsibilities over online safety, it is clear that the Bill needs to go further if the bosses in silicon valley are truly to sit up, take notice and make positive and meaningful changes.
Jeremy Wright Portrait Sir Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth and Southam) (Con)
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I am afraid I cannot agree with the hon. Lady that the fines would be a drop in the ocean. These are very substantial amounts of money. In relation to individual director liability, I completely understand where the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) is coming from, and I support a great deal of what she says. However, there are difficulties with the amendment. Does the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) accept that it would be very odd to end up in a position in which the only individual director liability attached to information offences, meaning that, as long as an individual director was completely honest with Ofcom about their wrongdoing, they would attract no individual liability?

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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It may be a drop in the ocean to the likes of Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg—these multibillionaires who are taking over social media and using it as their personal plaything. They are not going to listen to fines; the only way they are going to listen, sit up and take notice is if criminal liability puts their neck on the line and makes them answer for some of the huge failures of which they are aware.

The right hon. and learned Member mentions that he shares the sentiment of the amendment but feels it could be wrong. We have an opportunity here to put things right and put responsibility where it belongs: with the tech companies, the platforms and the managers responsible. In a similar way to what happens in the financial sector or in health and safety regulation, it is vital that people be held responsible for issues on their platforms. We feel that criminal liability will make that happen.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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May I intervene on a point of fact? The hon. Lady says that fines are a drop in the ocean. The turnover of Google is $69 billion; 10% of that is just shy of $7 billion. That is not a drop in the ocean, even to Elon Musk.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are looking at putting people on the line. It needs to be something that people actually care about. Money does not matter to these people, as we have seen with the likes of Google, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg; what matters to them is actually being held to account. Money may matter to Government Members, but it will be criminal liability that causes people to sit up, listen and take responsibility.

While I am not generally in the habit of predicting the Minister’s response or indeed his motives—although my job would be a hell of a lot easier if I did—I am confident that he will try to peddle the line that it was the Government who introduced director liability for compliance failures in an earlier draft of the Bill. Let me be crystal clear in making this point, because it is important. The Bill, in its current form, makes individuals at the top of companies personally liable only when a platform fails to supply information to Ofcom, which misses the point entirely. Directors must be held personally liable when safety duties are breached. That really is quite simple, and I am confident that it would be effective in tackling harm online much more widely.

We also support new clause 28, which seeks to establish an advocacy body to represent the interests of children online. It is intended to deal with a glaring omission from the Bill, which means that children who experience online sexual abuse will receive fewer statutory user advocacy protections than users of a post office or even passengers on a bus. The Minister must know that that is wrong and, given his Government’s so-called commitment to protecting children, I hope he will carefully consider a new clause which is supported by Members on both sides of the House as well as the brilliant National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. In rejecting new clause 28, the Government would be denying vulnerable children a strong, authoritative voice to represent them directly, so I am keen to hear the Minister’s justification for doing so, if that is indeed his plan.

Members will have noted the bundle of amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) relating to Labour’s concerns about the unnecessary powers to overrule Ofcom that the Bill, as currently drafted, gives the Secretary of State of the day. During Committee evidence sessions, we heard from Will Perrin of the Carnegie UK Trust, who, as Members will know, is an incredibly knowledgeable voice when it comes to internet regulation. He expressed concern about the fact that, in comparison with other regulatory frameworks such as those in place for advertising, the Bill

“goes a little too far in introducing a range of powers for the Secretary of State to interfere with Ofcom’s day-to-day doing of its business.”––[Official Report, Online Safety Public Bill Committee, 26 May 2022; c. 117.]

Labour shares that concern. Ofcom must be truly independent if it is to be an effective regulator. Surely we have to trust it to undertake logical processes, rooted in evidence, to arrive at decisions once this regime is finally up and running. It is therefore hard to understand how the Government can justify direct interference, and I hope that the Minister will seriously consider amendments 23 to 30, 32, and 35 to 41.

Before I address Labour’s main concerns about the Government’s proposed changes to the Bill, I want to record our support for new clauses 29 and 30, which seek to bring media literacy duties back into the scope of the Bill. As we all know, media literacy is the first line of defence when it comes to protecting ourselves against false information online. Prevention is always better than cure. Whether it is a question of viral conspiracy theories or Russian disinformation, Labour fears that the Government’s approach to internet regulation will create a two-tier internet, leaving some more vulnerable than others.

However, I am sorry to say that the gaps in this Bill do not stop there. I was pleased to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) had tabled new clause 54, which asks the Government to formally consider the impact that the use of virtual private networks will have on Ofcom’s ability to enforce its powers. This touches on the issue of future-proofing, which Labour has raised repeatedly in debates on the Bill. As we have heard from a number of Members, the tech industry is evolving rapidly, with concepts such as the metaverse changing the way in which we will all interact with the internet in the future. When the Bill was first introduced, TikTok was not even a platform. I hope the Minister can reassure us that the Bill will be flexible enough to deal with those challenges head-on; after all, we have waited far too long.

That brings me to what Labour considers to be an incredible overturn by the Government relating to amendment 239, which seeks to remove the new offence of harmful communications from the Bill entirely. As Members will know, the communications offence was designed by the Law Commission with the intention of introducing a criminal threshold for the most dangerous online harms. Indeed, in Committee it was welcome to hear the then Minister—the present Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp)—being so positive about the Government’s consultation with the commission. In relation to clause 151, which concerns the communications offences, he even said:

“The Law Commission is the expert in this kind of thing…and it is right that, by and large, we follow its expert advice in framing these offences, unless there is a very good reason not to. That is what we have done—we have followed the Law Commission’s advice, as we would be expected to do.” ––[Official Report, Online Safety Public Bill Committee, 21 June 2022; c. 558.]

Less than six months down the line, we are seeing yet another U-turn from this Government, who are doing precisely the opposite of what was promised.

Removing these communications offences from the Bill will have real-life consequences. It will mean that harmful online trends such as hoax bomb threats, abusive social media pile-ons and fake news such as encouraging people to drink bleach to cure covid will be allowed to spread online without any consequence.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Lab)
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No Jewish person should have to log online and see Hitler worship, but what we have seen in recent weeks from Kanye West has been nothing short of disgusting, from him saying “I love Hitler” to inciting online pile-ons against Jewish people, and this is magnified by the sheer number of his followers, with Jews actually being attacked on the streets in the US. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s decision to drop the “legal but harmful” measures from the Bill will allow this deeply offensive and troubling behaviour to continue?

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that important and powerful intervention. Let us be clear: everything that Kanye West said online is completely abhorrent and has no place in our society. It is not for any of us to glorify Hitler and his comments or praise him for the work he did; that is absolutely abhorrent and it should never be online. Sadly, however, that is exactly the type of legal but harmful content that will now be allowed to proliferate online because of the Government’s swathes of changes to the Bill, meaning that that would be allowed to be seen by everybody. Kanye West has 30 million followers online. His followers will be able to look at, share, research and glorify that content without any consequence to that content being freely available online.

Margaret Hodge Portrait Dame Margaret Hodge
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to that point, it is not just that some of the content will be deeply offensive to the Jewish community; it could also harm wider society. Some further examples of postings that would be considered legal but harmful are likening vaccination efforts to Nazi death camps and alleging that NHS nurses should stand trial for genocide. Does my hon. Friend not agree that the changes the Government are now proposing will lead to enormous and very damaging impacts right through society?

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am keen to bring this back into scope before Mr Speaker chastises us any further, but she is right to say that this will have a direct real-world impact. This is what happens when we focus on content rather than directly on the platforms and the algorithms on the platforms proliferating this content. That is where the focus needs to be. It is the algorithms that share and amplify this content to these many followers time and again that need to be tackled, rather than the content itself. That is what we have been pleading with the Government to concentrate on, but here we are in this mess.

We are pleased that the Government have taken on board Labour’s policy to criminalise certain behaviours—including the encouragement of self-harm, sharing people’s intimate images without their consent, and controlling or coercive behaviours—but we believe that the communications offences more widely should remain in order to tackle dangerous online harms at their root. We have worked consistently to get this Bill over the line and we have reached out to do so. It has been subject to far too many delays and it is on the Government’s hands that we are again facing substantial delays, when internet regulation has never been more sorely needed. I know that the Minister knows that, and I sincerely hope he will take our concerns seriously. I reach out to him again across the Dispatch Box, and look forward to working with him and challenging him further where required as the Bill progresses. I look forward to getting the Bill on to the statute book.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Julian Knight Portrait Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), to his place. To say that he has been given a hospital pass in terms of this legislation is a slight understatement. It is very difficult to understand, and the ability he has shown at the Dispatch Box in grasping many of the major issues is to his credit. He really is a safe pair of hands and I thank him for that.

Looking at the list of amendments, I think it is a bit of a hotchpotch, yet we are going to deal only with certain amendments today and others are not in scope. That shows exactly where we are with this legislation. We have been in this stasis now for five years. I remember that we were dealing with the issue when I joined the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and it is almost three years since the general election when we said we would bring forward this world-leading legislation. We have to admit that is a failure of the political class in all respects, but we have to understand the problem and the realities facing my hon. Friend, other Ministers and the people from different Departments involved in drafting this legislation.

We are dealing with companies that are more powerful than the oil barons and railway barons of the 19th century. These companies are more important than many states. The total value of Alphabet, for instance, is more than the total GDP of the Netherlands, and that is probably a low estimate of Alphabet’s global reach and power. These companies are, in many respects, almost new nation states in their power and reach, and they have been brought about by individuals having an idea in their garage. They still have that culture of having power without the consequences that flow from it.

16:30
These companies have created wonderful things that enhance our lives in many respects through better communication and increased human knowledge, which we can barely begin to imagine, but they have done it with a skater boy approach—the idea that they are beyond the law. They had that enshrined in law in the United States, where they have effectively become nothing more than a megaphone or a noticeboard, and they have always relied on that. They are based or domiciled, in the main, in the United States, which is where they draw their legal power. They will always be in that position of power.
We talk about 10% fines and even business interruption to ensure these companies have skin in the game, but we have to realise these businesses are so gigantic and of such importance that they could simply ignore what we do in this place. Will we really block a major social media platform? The only time something like that has been done was when a major social media platform blocked a country, if I remember rightly. We have to understand where we are coming from in that respect.
This loose cannon, Elon Musk, is an enormously wealthy man, and he is quite strange, isn’t he? He is intrinsically imbued with the power of silicon valley and those new techno-masters of the universe. We are dealing with those realities, and this Bill is very imperfect.
David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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My hon. Friend is giving a fascinating disquisition on this industry, but is not the implication that, in effect, these companies are modern buccaneer states and we need to do much more to legislate? I am normally a deregulator, but we need more than one Bill to do what we seek to do today.

Julian Knight Portrait Julian Knight
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is correct. We spoke privately before this debate, and he said this is almost five Bills in one. There will be a patchwork of legislation, and there is a time limit. This is a carry-over Bill, and we have to get it on the statute book.

This Bill is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and I take the Opposition’s genuine concerns about legal but harmful material. The shadow Minister mentioned the tragic case of Molly Russell. I heard her father being interviewed on the “Today” programme, and he spoke about how at least three quarters of the content he had seen that had prompted that young person to take her life had been legal but harmful. We have to stand up, think and try our best to ensure there is a safer space for young people. This Bill does part of that work, but only part. The work will be done in the execution of the Bill, through the wording on age verification and age assurance.

Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given the complexities of the Bill, and given the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s other responsibilities, will my hon. Friend join me in saying there should be a special Committee, potentially of both Houses, to keep this area under constant review? That review, as he says, is so badly needed.

Julian Knight Portrait Julian Knight
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question, which I have previously addressed. The problem is the precedent it would set. Any special Committee set up by a Bill would be appointed by the Whips, so we might as well forget about the Select Committee system. This is not a huge concern for the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, because the advent of any such special Committee would probably be beyond the next general election, and I am not thinking to that timeframe. I am concerned about the integrity of Parliament. The problem is that if we do that in this Bill, the next Government will come along and do it with another Bill and then another Bill. Before we know it, we will have a Select Committee system that is Whips-appointed and narrow in definition, and that cuts across something we all vote for.

There are means by which we can have legislative scrutiny—that is the point I am making in my speech. I would very much welcome a Committee being set up after a year, temporarily, to carry out post-legislative scrutiny. My Committee has a Sub-Committee on disinformation and fake news, which could also look at this Bill going forward. So I do not accept my right hon. Friend’s point, but I appreciate completely the concerns about our needing proper scrutiny in this area. We must also not forget that any changes to Ofcom’s parameters can be put in a statutory instrument, which can by prayed against by the Opposition and thus we would have the scrutiny of the whole House in debate, which is preferable to having a Whips-appointed Committee.

I have gone into quite a bit of my speech there, so I am grateful for that intervention in many respects. I am not going to touch on every aspect of this issue, but I urge right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to think about the fact that although this is far from perfect legislation and it is a shame that we have not found a way to work through the legal but harmful material issue, we have to understand the parameters we are working in, in the real world, with these companies. We need to see that there is a patchwork of legislation, and the biggest way in which we can effectively let the social media companies know they have skin in the game in society—a liberal society that created them—is through competition legislation, across other countries and other jurisdictions. I am talking about our friends in the European Union and in the United States. We are working together closely now to come up with a suite of competition legislation. That is how we will be able to cover off some of this going forward. I will be supporting this Bill tonight and I urge everyone to do so, because, frankly, after five years I have had enough.