Suicide: Online Products

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Monday 27th June 2022

(2 days, 17 hours ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Baroness Morgan of Cotes
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to address online retailers’ algorithmic recommendations for products that can be used for the purposes of suicide.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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Her Majesty’s Government recognise the gravity of this issue and are investing in suicide prevention through the NHS long-term plan. The Advertising Standards Authority already regulates adverts containing references to suicide. The Government are considering how to tackle illegal and legal consumer harms associated with the contents, targeting and placement of online advertising through the online advertising programme. The consultation closed on 8 June and will help us determine how to tackle such harms.

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Baroness Morgan of Cotes (Con)
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As my noble friend knows, I am a great supporter of the forthcoming Online Safety Bill but, as we have discussed, it will not regulate all harmful content online. When a particular well-known suicide manual is searched for on Amazon, the site’s algorithmic recommendations then specifically suggest material that can be used, or easily assembled, into a device intended to take one’s own life. If this is not to be regulated as harmful content under the Online Safety Bill, how can this sort of harm be regulated? It is broader than just advertising. Has my noble friend discussed this with Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care?

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes, we have discussed this matter with our colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care and continue to do so. I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue. It is important in the context of the forthcoming Bill, which she knows so well, and through our work on the online advertising programme that is designed to look at the full range of harms that exist in online advertising. The Online Safety Bill will empower users to know what a company’s policies are and how to assert their rights to make sure they can be safe online.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, there is a general welcome for the structure that has been set up by Ofcom and the CMA’s Digital Markets Unit to cover the area raised by the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan. A lot will depend on the remit of the regulators. In a recent Ofcom consultation, there was a push-back by the industry, with regulators having a responsibility not for citizens’ interests but for consumers’ interests. In the words of the great political philosopher Mandy Rice-Davies, they would, wouldn’t they? Will the Government resist this push-back?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The CMA, the FCA, the ICO and Ofcom all play a critical role through the Digital Regulation Co-operation Forum, which has an important role to play in delivering the regulatory landscape that protects users from harm. We will continue to work with that forum to explore the role that it and the regulators can have. Of course, these days almost all citizens are consumers online, but the noble Lord makes an important point. We want to make sure that everybody who uses the internet is safe.

Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I am really grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for raising this important matter. What work is under way to ensure that the Online Safety Bill is being taken seriously by the major platforms on which these systems lie? What are the Government intending to do to ensure that parents are educated in, and made aware of, the danger of these kind of platforms?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The strongest protections in the Online Safety Bill will be for children. The noble Baroness is right that there is an important part for parents and guardians to play in making sure that their children are safe online. We are working through Ofcom and the education system to make sure that children and their guardians are aware of the risks of using the internet and the safeguards available. The Online Safety Bill will make sure that people’s recourse to Ofcom, if the terms and conditions or duties that are placed on companies are not being enforced, is upheld.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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Can my noble friend estimate when the provisions of the Online Safety Bill in relation to suicide, and indeed wider problems with children, are likely to actually come into effect?

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Bill is in another place. It may well finish in Committee this week. I look forward to debating it in your Lordships’ House and seeing it on the statute book as quickly as possible.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the people drawn to these platforms, particularly young people, are on the whole extremely vulnerable? What discussions is his department having, if any, with the Department for Health and Social Care to ensure support for young people who perhaps are drawn to these things but lack the kind of support that would turn them away?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Under the self-regulatory system, the Advertising Standards Authority already advises that marketers must take particular care over adverts which contain references to suicide. There is careful guidance for advertisers in this area but we are discussing this with colleagues at the Department of Health, as I say. Through the long-term plan for the NHS, we are also investing to the tune of many millions to try to prevent as many suicides as we can.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, the Online Safety Bill is an important piece of legislation, but some are querying it in relation to freedom of speech. Can my noble friend say that this will not be used as a reason not to ensure that there is a strong regulatory framework in place, so that those platforms are legislated for and accountable for what they put on those platforms?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My noble friend makes an important point. There are important protections for freedom of expression in the Online Safety Bill. The Bill works by setting out expectations for internet companies to have clear terms and conditions, which users will know of when they sign up to them and which give them recourse to speak to Ofcom if they feel that those terms and conditions are not being upheld. This will empower users, keeping them safe while protecting freedom of expression.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, there are disturbing reports of TikTok users adopting the term “unalive” as a means of promoting suicide content, while others use shorthand hashtags, such as #ED for eating disorders, as a means of getting round censorship. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Online Safety Bill will do anything to tackle this dangerous creativity of social media users? How will social media platforms be directed to take steps to deal with this as part of their duty of care?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Online Safety Bill will protect users by putting in place systems and processes to mitigate risks. We know that algorithms play an important part in how companies operate their services. Companies will need to consider how these could cause harm and take steps to mitigate them, but the noble Baroness makes an important point about how people use social media. We are setting out a list of priority harms, such as those she mentions, to make sure that people—particularly vulnerable and young people—are kept safe online.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend has mentioned various statutory agencies, but is this not a particular category of legal but harmful content? Assisting suicide is a criminal offence, as is potentially conspiring to assist suicide. Will he ensure that all those statutory bodies involved really relate to the boundaries of the criminal law that exists today? These companies should be ensuring that they are not assisting or conspiring to assist suicide.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My noble friend is right: there are existing criminal sanctions here and content which encourages or assists suicide, and therefore breaks the existing law, will be covered as well by the safety duties providing for illegal content under the Online Safety Bill. We want to ensure that the Bill adds to the armoury that we have to prevent as many suicides as we can.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I think the Minister may have misunderstood the question from my noble friend Lady McIntosh about working with the health services in England and Wales, and in Scotland. It is very important that much more is done to train professional people—health visitors, district nurses, social workers and a whole range of others—about the signs indicating that people might be contemplating suicide. It is also very important that something is done about the waiting lists for access—[Interruption.] I thought someone had committed suicide there. But to be serious about the access to counselling and other services in the National Health Service, there are huge waiting lists for psychological and psychiatric counselling in Scotland, and in England and Wales. Can the Minister take this up with his colleagues in all the departments of health?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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If I misunderstood the noble Baroness’s question, I apologise. I will consult the official record and make sure I got it right. The noble Lord is right to reinforce the important role of the National Health Service. The Government are investing an additional £57 million in suicide prevention by 2023 through our NHS long-term plan. That will see investment in every part of the country. In addition, the Department of Health and Social Care provided more than £500,000 to the Local Government Association in the last financial year to bolster the work done by local authorities, which, as he said, play an important role as well.

Earl of Erroll Portrait The Earl of Erroll (CB)
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My Lords, I want to say just a couple of words because, having read this and listened, I think the amendment has a very good point. I like the concept of a duty of care, because if we do not have that, who are we worrying about? In fact, Clause 7, on “Relevant persons”, is all about the manufacturers, importers, distributors, et cetera, with nothing about the customer, the poor person who is going to get hit by it. It is a very good idea to put that in at the beginning, setting down some principles and duties, because the other trouble is that by the time that we have done all these bits and pieces, made the regulations and the provisions, we are always acting after the event. What we need is a bit of proactivity, and we get that in this suggested new clause, because manufacturers, importers and distributors would have to make sure that products met certain minimum requirements. They would need to understand what “emerging security threats” there were; in other words, thinking ahead to the next stage and not just saying, “Oh, well, it complied with those things last year”, by which time the horse has bolted and we are far too late. So, I like it.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and, in his absence, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for their Amendment 1 and for the wholly positive intention with which it has been tabled. I was grateful to have had the opportunity to talk to them about it before Second Reading as well. As the noble Lord set out today, he has argued that customers deserve some high-level principles setting out the security protections they should expect when purchasing consumer-connectable technology. In fact, Amendment 1 goes further, as noble Lords have noted, and would require manufacturers to owe their customers a “duty of care” to protect them. We are not as keen as the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, on that.

The first problem we have with a duty of care is that it could give consumers a false sense of security. If consumers buy well-designed technology products which meet the best standards, it considerably lowers risk, but with cybersecurity there is no such thing as zero risk: the most aggressive and well-resourced hacker will find a way. Somebody may have a quality product, but have they secured their wi-fi router? Do they have some legacy technology on their network? Manufacturers of a single device do not control the whole range of apparatus which constitutes the attack surface so cannot always provide an absolute security warranty, and they cannot always predict the next attack vector.

The second problem we have is that we have learned that the security of devices is best served by standards rather than principles. If one sets standards, one can send a device to a laboratory and assure oneself that those standards have been met. If one sets principles, that does not apply. That is why the Bill is designed to give force to standards. Those standards, developed here in the UK and now adopted by Governments and jurisdictions across the globe as well as by international standards bodies, are widely recognised significantly to lower risk for consumers.

Of course, we believe that the responsibility for the security of connectable products most effectively lies with the manufacturer. We expect manufacturers to take security seriously, to implement measures to develop and maintain an awareness of the security of their products, and to be up front with customers about the security support they can expect. We have tried voluntary compliance, with our code of practice which was published in 2018. We now need mandatory requirements, and that needs specific security requirements that can be independently assessed. The legislation must enable the Government to keep pace with market dynamics and the changing technological landscape—as the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, said, it is important that we move with the times. The flexibility to be able to set different security requirements for manufacturers, for importers and for distributors is key to this.

Amendment 1 in the form drafted would place an equal weight on the duties of each of these three groups to secure products. Compelling the Secretary of State to have regard to this general duty could constrain the Government’s ability to set specific security requirements in the future. Crucially, these principles could restrict the use of powers in this part of the Bill, working against the Government’s ability to bring this regime into force and impeding our ability to keep that regime future-proof. I should also say to noble Lords that industry and consumer groups have not raised the need for general principles such as this. Our efforts to engage and communicate our intentions have been clear, and the requirements we have set out for the relevant persons have been widely understood and are in line with international standards.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked why the Government have chosen these three specific security requirements rather than others. During the consultation in 2019, we explored a number of options including mandating that all consumer-connectable products meet all 13 guide- lines in the code of practice. They are all important, but the majority of respondents supported the option that the top three security requirements represented the most appropriate baseline, by balancing the important requirements that are testable, being applicable across a range of devices and creating the right incentives to improve security in these products. That is why the Government are initially mandating the implementation of security requirements that will make the most fundamental impact on the risks posed by insecure consumer-connectable products for consumers, businesses and the wider economy.

The noble Lord also asked about where products end and apps begin. The powers in Part 1 allow Ministers to set out requirements that include products and software. The proposals in the consultation he mentioned relate to those who operate app stores. So, while I acknowledge the good intentions behind it, I hope I have been able to set out why the Government feel that this amendment—

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I thank the Minister for giving way. That does not answer the question of where an app starts. If I am downloading Nest for my heating system, I am getting it from an app store, so where is the regulation coming? Is it the app that is coming from the app store, or is it the connectable device law that is coming through here? In which case, I think some explicit connectivity between the apps that run the connected devices needs to be written into the Bill.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Perhaps, if the noble Lord is happy, we can explore this. The example he gives, as he knows, includes software and technology. Perhaps we can have a detailed discussion where we can work through some of those examples. I would be very happy to talk to him about them because on the question he poses the line is drawn in a different place depending on the product and its nature.

Earl of Erroll Portrait The Earl of Erroll (CB)
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The Minister talked about standards a moment ago. If we are going to rely on standards, who is writing them? I presume that he is talking about British standards; to write a standard will take a year or two. I hope that the Government are going to fund it. We got no help from them in trying to fund stuff around age verification, even though that was core to the Digital Economy Act. If we are going to elevate it to an international standard, that will take another year or two, so we will not see any action for a long time if we are going to rely on externally written standards. I have chaired two BSI standards so far, and it does not happen just like that.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Some of the standards in this area have been set in the UK and have already been adopted by other jurisdictions, so I hope that we can give the noble Earl some reassurances. While I acknowledge his point about the time it takes for these to be adopted internationally, in some areas the UK is setting the way, and these are being picked up across the globe.

As I said, while I note the good intentions behind Amendment 1, these are the reasons why the Government are unable to support it. However, I am very happy to pick up the questions about apps and products with the noble Lord and others who wish to join that conversation. I hope that, for now, the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, while that was a relatively disappointing response, I am pleased that we can have the discussion about apps. I thank noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. I think he put his finger on it. If we are to keep pace with the speed of change only through a standards regime without making the companies delivering these products in some way responsible—whether through a code of practice or a duty of care, I am not quibbling—there is no way that a standards regime can keep pace with the innovative speed that international crime is running at on cybercrime.

The idea that we can chase this down the road is wholly wrong. I ask the Minister to sit down with the department and perhaps we can come up with a different way of doing it. I am totally agnostic about how we go about it, but some sense that we are not just chasing this needs to be in this Bill, otherwise it is going to be after the fact. That said, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 3 and 5 and in support of the other two amendments in this group. All these amendments refer to Clause 1 and seek to add some specificity to its general nature. The first amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones is Amendment 3. This inserts a new paragraph (c) into Clause 1(1), adding the text

“children where they are not primary users of products but are subjects of product use”.

Why is this necessary? Here I am indebted to a report on cybersecurity, the UK Code of Practice for Consumer IoT Security produced by the PETRAS National Centre of Excellence for IoT Systems Cybersecurity. Noble Lords may be aware of this group; it has a very strong record in this area. It is a consortium of leading UK universities dedicated to understanding the critical issues of the privacy, ethics, trust, reliability, acceptability and security of IoT. I commend this organisation to the small number of noble Lords in this Chamber interested in this area.

This report highlighted, among other things, the importance of children’s connected toys receiving the necessary scrutiny, due to the implications of embedded cameras and microphones, with the aim of ensuring the child’s and the parents’ protection and right to privacy. Such devices include a wide range of everyday artefacts with internet connectivity intended for use by children or in caring for them, such as interactive toys, learning development devices and baby or child monitors.

These connected toys and tools have the potential for misuse and unauthorised contact with vulnerable minors. The British Toy & Hobby Association has responded by offering a range of guidance notes and by interpreting the code of practice, but with SMEs manufacturing most of these devices, there is much more to be done to ensure that those organisations are sufficiently informed and equipped to produce and market toys that are secure.

Security is not straightforward, as the Minister has already pointed out. While these devices offer a range of advantages through their connectivity, they also potentially expose children and their families to risks that have not yet been fully articulated to many of the consumers who are buying these toys.

A real-life example is that the toy giant Mattel launched Hello Barbie. The Minister may be familiar with it—I do not know. This was as far back as 2015. It was a very innovative toy which it launched with a start-up business called ToyTalk. The principle of this toy was that it could converse using internet connectivity with speech recognition, so as well as talking it could listen. Hello Barbie also allowed parents to log in later and eavesdrop on their children’s conversations with their toys. I will leave your Lordships to decide the ethics of that.

But this connectivity raised some concerns, primarily around who could listen in and record these devices and store conversations and behavioural and location data, and for what purpose this data could be used. Toys like these are now prevalent and they raise significant questions about the appropriate support and guidance for the toy manufacturers, which understand an awful lot about conventional safety—they know how to make physically safe toys—but do not have a track record on developing informationally and data-safe toys because they have never been asked to do that before. This is a new venture for them, and it requires a totally new set of skills and standards, as the Minister might say.

As technology evolves hacking is increasing in sophistication, so it is necessary to keep moving forward. The challenge for cybersecurity in remaining ahead of the risks is inevitably a technological one, and the Minister may remember that the Hello Barbie toy, having been launched and lauded for its security, was ultimately found at some point to have serious security issues. Even that toy, from a very large manufacturer, fell foul of the progress of information crime.

Nevertheless, it is clear that today some toy manufacturers are releasing connected toys without adequate safety and security features. This is a competitive and dynamic marketplace—a lot of it is to do with price—and first movers are rewarded. In addition, the skillset and knowledge base, as I have just said, for conventional toy safety is mismatched with these new toys and we need to find a way of addressing that divergence. This is going to require investment and new learning and will not happen unless the toy manufacturers are required to do it.

Secure software development and cybersecurity are novel demands on this sector. However, the fact remains that these toy manufacturers are potentially placing consumer safety and privacy at risk. It does not matter whether this occurs due to the immaturity of the sector, market pressures or the lack of sectoral attention to the problem.

In the view of the Petras report,

“there are no indications that this will be addressed through market forces. Instead, the certainty of legislation to maintain standards would level the playing field and make clear for SMEs where they need to invest to make their toys market ready.”

Thus, more than the technological challenge of staying ahead of hackers, what is salient here are the challenges to the implementation of basic security features in manufacturing such as basic authentication and encryption, without which children’s safety and security is at risk.

This amendment explicitly places child security front and centre in this Bill. In other legislation involving the internet and digital issues, such as the Online Safety Bill, the Government have imposed more onerous duties on those delivering services to children than to adults. This amendment would be entirely consistent with that approach—very much in the spirit of understanding that our children and young people are more vulnerable and therefore need more protection from harms.

I turn next to Amendment 5. The eagle-eyed among your Lordships will spot that it is very similar to Amendment 4, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and set out very elegantly by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. In fact, I would suggest that, largely, its construction is better than ours because they managed to do the same thing in fewer words. I will speak to Amendment 5 but my comments apply to Amendment 4 as well.

Amendment 5 seeks to ensure that:

“Regulations under this section must include provision that all security requirements specified in accordance with this Act are included as essential requirements in statutory conformity assessments and marking procedures under the Radio Equipment Regulations 2017 … and in any other such assessments and procedures applicable to relevant connectable products.”


I am speaking to the spirit of both these amendments. Amendment 5—similar to that of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam—follows on from the advice and help of Which? I thank that organisation, which has really been at the forefront of the consumer issues involved. In essence, the amendment picks up on three of the issues that the Minister tells us will be dealt with in SIs as soon as the Bill becomes an Act, but it takes the rather stronger approach of placing them in the Bill.

Paragraph (a) of proposed new subsection (2A) goes further than the general principle in specifying that passwords are not to be weak. As Which? explains, many smart products push the user to create a password themselves, rather than use a default password. However, they then allow weak and easily guessable passwords to be created, meaning that the risk of compromise stays high.

One of the outcomes of this amendment would be the introduction of a requirement for responsible password policy guidance to be adopted by the industry to ensure that security liability is not simply passed from the device manufacturer to the consumer. The Bill and associated guidance should be amended to clarify that every individual device must have a unique or user-set password that meets effective complexity requirements.

Paragraph (b) of proposed new subsection (2A) seeks to avoid the risk of disclosures going into a black hole or taking many years to fix. The Bill and associated guidance should be amended to make clear what is required of manufacturers, importers and distributors on provision of disclosure policy information, particularly around vulnerabilities. The appointed regulator should also clearly define and distribute a risk assessment framework for vulnerabilities that removes any sense of subjectivity and ensures that the response is effectively mandated.

Paragraphs (c) and (d) of our proposed new subsection concern the length of time a product is supported. The Government should introduce mandatory minimum support periods for smart products and consider whether these periods should reflect how long consumers, on average, continue to use such products. There is a precedent here. New ecodesign and energy labelling requirements came into force in England, Scotland and Wales in 2021. They include a requirement for electronic display items, including televisions, to be provided with firmware and security update support for a minimum of eight years after the last unit of a model has been placed on the market. A consistent approach to support periods for a range of products therefore needs to be considered, and it has already been considered in this other legislation.

Customers need absolute clarity on the support period manufacturers will offer, so that they are able to make more informed purchasing decisions. There must be a clear definition of what the “point of sale” means and how this relates to the definitions of “supply” in Clause 55. Without clearer specifications on what form the transparency requirements will take, there is a risk that this information could be hidden, obfuscated or even mislead. This amendment is designed to probe the Government’s thinking on these very important issues.

Finally, and very briefly, as a signatory to Amendment 2, I give it my full support.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am very grateful to noble Lords for setting out the cases for Amendments 2, 4 and 5. Since January 2020 the Government have been clear on introducing security requirements based on the three guidelines to which I referred in the previous group.

The commitment to set requirements has been made in response to consultations, published strategies and indeed to the Explanatory Notes to this Bill. Our notification to the World Trade Organization also contained reference to some of these documents. We have put manufacturers, trade bodies and industry representatives on notice. Supply chains are long and surprises unwelcome, so the Government have been very clear on whither we are heading.

Amendment 2 would remove any discretion the Secretary of State has to make regulations. I appreciate that the intention behind tabling it is to explore this issue, and I hope I can assure noble Lords that it is not needed. The regulations will be made, and swiftly. Indeed, we have already consulted on them, in 2020, which I hope gives noble Lords some reassurance that we intend to move swiftly in this area.

Amendments 4 and 5 would insert specific security requirements into the Bill. As several noble Lords mentioned at Second Reading, it is important that technology regulation enables the Government to respond to changes in threat and technology, and to the regulatory landscape. That is precisely why the Bill does not contain details of the requirements that the Government have assured industry they will set out.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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Perhaps the Minister should consult whoever drew up the legislation that managed to mandate that televisions should be updated for firmware and software for up to eight years after they have stopped being manufactured. Clearly, those people managed to find consensus among the industry—or decided to ignore consensus—and deliver something. If it can be done for electrical display devices, such as televisions, I do not see why it cannot be done here if there is a will to do it. However, I think the Minister is telling us that there is no will to do it.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Lord referred to mandatory minimum support periods for electronic display items and the Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products and Energy Information Regulations 2021. It is not quite correct to say that those requirements are applicable. They ensure that the last available security update continues to be available for at least eight years after the last unit of a product has been placed on the market but the requirement does not ensure that manufacturers continue to provide new security updates over that period to ensure that the product remains secure in response to changing threats.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I did not say that those requirements are applicable; I implied that they are analogous. Frankly, the fact that there is some mandating of security support after the product has stopped being manufactured is a heck of a lot better than the situation for all the connectable devices we are currently talking about, where there is no requirement at the moment.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I do not think that they are quite analogous. As I say, it is about the requirement to keep the last available updates available to consumers for eight years rather than evolving them. We do not yet consider that there is sufficient evidence to justify minimum security update periods for connectable products, including display equipment—certainly not before the impact of the initial security requirements is known.

It is important to stress that, as consumers learn more, they will expect more. This will drive industry to respond to market pressure. If the market does not respond to this effectively, the Government have been clear that they will consider the case for further action at that point, but we think that consumer expectation will drive the action we want to see in this area.

Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, refers to children. All noble Lords will agree, I am sure, that protecting children from the risks associated with connectable products is vital. I assure noble Lords that the security requirements we will introduce are designed with consideration for the security of all users, including children, alongside businesses and infrastructure. The Bill already gives the Government the flexibility to introduce further measures to protect children, whether they are the users of the products or subject to other people’s use of a product. We therefore do not think that this amendment is necessary as this issue is already covered in the Bill.

The Bill, and forthcoming secondary legislation, will cover products specifically designed to be used by or around children, such as baby monitors and connectable toys; they include Hello Barbie, which I was not familiar with but on which I will certainly brief myself further. However, we recognise that the cyber risks to children are not limited to the connectable products in the scope of this Bill; indeed, a lot of the issues referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, were about the data captured by some of the technology, rather than the security of the products themselves. That is precisely why the Government have implemented a broader strategy to offer more comprehensive protection to children—including through the Online Safety Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, referred.

I hope noble Lords will agree that Amendment 3 is not needed to make a difference to the Bill’s ability to protect children from the risks associated with insecure connectable products—this is already provided for—and will be willing either to withdraw their amendments or not move them.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been a useful and interesting exchange.

In my lordly world, “may” and “must” are sort of interchangeable; they were a useful peg on which to hang our discussion about the statutory instrument nature of this piece of legislation. I am somewhat reassured by what the Minister had to say about that, and acknowledge that some of the regulations were brought forward and consulted on at an earlier stage. However, we on this side of the House—I am sure that I speak for the noble Lord, Lord Fox, as well—want to see increased transparency throughout this process. So much of what is in front of us will be in secondary legislation; it is essential that we, the industry and the sector are properly consulted so that we understand exactly what we are dealing with. I make that plea at the outset.

I was pleased to hear what the Minister said about children as the primary users of particular products. I am glad that we have got beyond the “Peppa Pig” world that the Prime Minister occasionally occupies and are giving this issue proper, serious consideration. It certainly needs to be that way.

I am not entirely convinced by what the Minister said on Amendment 4. I look at our amendment; it is pretty basic, actually. It is hard to argue against setting out a particular prohibition in legislation. The ones that we have picked out for prohibition and restriction are quite important and essential. Of course, the Minister is right that those subjects will change and technology will overtake the words we use. We understand that point but we are trying to secure some basic minimum standards and protections here. Clearly, we will retreat with our amendment and give it some further thought before Report, but we may need some further persuasion on this. That said, I am quite happy to withdraw Amendment 2 and not move Amendment 4.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The feast of amendments in this group aim to implement the recommendations of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. We welcome the committee’s report and are considering its recommendations, as we always do. It will infuriate the noble Lords who have asked detailed questions when I say that, ahead of setting out our response to the committee, I will not be able to cover all the issues they have pressed the Government on today. I am happy to say that we will set out our response in writing ahead of Report. Perhaps once we have done that, and noble Lords have seen the Government’s full thinking in their response to the committee, it might be helpful for us to speak in detail.

The legislation has been designed to protect people, networks and infrastructure from the harms of insecure consumer connectable products, while minimising the unnecessary regulatory burden on businesses. It does so in the context of rapid technological and regulatory change, evolving cybercriminal activities and a growing impact on people in businesses, all of which require us to ensure that the legislation can evolve quickly and effectively. The UK, as I have noted, is leading the world with its approach to regulating connectable products. As other jurisdictions increasingly turn their attention to this important issue, we will use this flexibility to achieve alignment with equivalent regulatory regimes, avoiding unnecessary duplication. These powers, and the others conferred by the Bill to make delegated legislation, are crucial for it to remain effective. We have carefully considered the number, scope and necessity of these powers, and believe we have struck the right balance between the need for that flexibility and the importance of Parliamentary scrutiny, which noble Lords rightly stressed again today.

We welcome the report of your Lordships’ committee and are considering its recommendations. I am afraid I cannot, at this stage, pre-empt our response, which has to be made while considering the recommendations’ impact on the broader framework. We will return to these matters on Report, and I am very happy to have a detailed conversation with the noble Lords about our response after we have responded to the DPRRC.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, focused on Clauses 9 and 11. I am happy to confirm that nothing about how the powers are drawn in Clause 9 is inadvertent; this was our intent. Clause 9 contains four delegated powers; they will be used predominantly to provide administrative detail deemed too technical for primary legislation. For example, they will explain what must be included as a minimum in a statement of compliance, what steps must be taken to determine compliance, where appropriate, and for how long a manufacturer should keep a statement of compliance. They will also provide flexibility to respond swiftly to changes in the market. In addition, the delegated powers in this clause may be used in the future to provide that the statement of compliance is equivalent to certain product markings, or external conformity assessments, such that a manufacturer may be deemed to have provided a statement of compliance where such markings or assessments have been made or completed. This is dependent on regulatory changes to product markings and on the development of the assurance sector for product security.

At this stage, and awaiting our response to your Lordships’ committee, I hope noble Lords will agree that it goes without saying that the Government feel these clauses should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I sort of thank the Minister for his response, which is really no response at all. He did say that it would infuriate me and he is fairly accurate about that.

As correctly noted, I am merely a cipher for the DPRRC, a very serious committee that does not produce these reports lightly. The point it is making, particularly on Clause 27, is front and centre to this Bill. Who is going to enforce it? Who decides who will enforce the Bill, and how will Parliament know if the Secretary of State decides not to tell it, under the current regulations? These are very serious matters and not ones that your Lordships’ House should step back from. I am sure that the Minister will, on reflection, understand that the DPRRC has a very important point to make. The others are important points, particularly around Clause 3, but the Clause 27 piece is absolutely central to the future of this Bill. That said, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 6.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 8 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones. These are two ways of doing the same thing so I support the spirit of Amendment 7, about which we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam.

This amendment adds the following wording to Clause 7:

“Any person who is a provider of an internet service that allows or facilitates the making by consumers of distance contracts with traders or other consumers for the sale or supply of a relevant connectable product is to be regarded as a distributor for the purposes of this Act, if not a manufacturer or an importer of the product.”


This amends the language that defines a distributor in the scope of the Bill. Online marketplaces are a mainstream form of today’s retail. Which? research in 2019 found that more than 90% of the UK population had shopped through an online marketplace within the month it was polling. That has increased during the pandemic. However, its research also consistently highlighted how online marketplaces are flooded with insecure products. It has previously demonstrated issues with the lack of legal responsibility of online marketplaces for the security and safety of products sold through their platforms.

The Government have recognised the problem, in their response to the call for evidence on product safety, that current safety rules were designed to fit supply chains as they operated before the world of internet shopping. In the realm of product safety, the Government have acknowledged that this can result in the peculiar situation where no actor is responsible for ensuring product safety. This has resulted in organisations such as Electrical Safety First repeatedly finding unsafe and non-compliant products listed on online marketplaces. Therefore, the traditional conception of actors in the supply chain is now outdated.

The Bill defines “distributor” as

“any person who … makes the product available in the United Kingdom, and … is not a manufacturer or an importer of the product.”

At present, it seems unlikely that certain online marketplaces, including eBay, Amazon Marketplace and Wish.com, will be included within the scope of that definition of distributors in the Bill. This will leave, without overstating it, a sizeable gap in the regulatory scope of this market.

Given the amount of insecure tech readily available on online marketplaces, it is paramount that these platforms are given obligations in the Bill to ensure the safety and security of the products sold on their sites, regardless of whether the seller is a third party. However, the Clause 7(5) definition of “distributor” in terms of making products available on the market is in line with existing product safety law, so we know that certain marketplaces are not classed as distributors and hence not obligated to take action. Amazon Marketplace, Wish.com and eBay are marketplaces where other people are selling; this is the issue.

This amendment seeks to expand the definition of distributors in Clause 7 to include appropriate online retailers, such as listings platforms and auction sites, including eBay, Amazon Marketplace and AliExpress. I feel sure that the Minister did not intend for the legislation to miss these marketplaces out; rather than risk this loophole going any further, we will work with the Minister and Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition to come up with some wording that absolutely iron-clads the Bill to ensure that these sorts of marketplaces are also included.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am grateful to noble Lords for speaking to their amendments in this group, both of which seek to make online marketplaces a “distributor”. It is vital that all products offered to consumers are secure, including those listed through online marketplaces, and we want to ensure that this is achieved in the most efficient way.

The explanatory statement for Amendment 7 suggests that products listed on online marketplaces might not be protected by the security requirements set out in the Bill. I reassure noble Lords, particularly those who tabled Amendment 7, that the security requirements will need to be met for all new connectable products offered to consumers in the UK, including those offered through online marketplaces. These marketplaces often act as a manufacturer, importer or distributor and, in those cases, they are subject to the same duties and security requirements as those three types of economic actor. If, however, the online marketplace does not fall into one of these three categories, the manufacturers, importers and distributors of those products are all still fully responsible for complying with security requirements.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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This has piqued my interest; how does this exercise relate to the Bill? This process of dealing with the online acquisition of unsafe products would seem to be what the Bill is doing front and centre, so what is that process? How do the two connect?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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They are complementary; the new product security framework sits alongside existing legislation on product safety, which is why we want to conduct a review of the safety framework and publish the consultation. I am certainly happy to write and endeavour to explain.

The noble Lord asked whether products sold through online marketplaces fall into a gap in the Bill. The Bill requires in-scope products offered for sale through online marketplaces to customers in the UK to be as secure as in-scope products sold, for example, in physical stores. We are mindful of the variety of services offered by different online marketplaces. Some act only as advertising platforms, while others facilitate transactions and store and ship products on behalf of the seller. As noble Lords have noted, this changes all the time. This must be carefully considered to ensure that businesses can comply with their legal obligations and that any regulation is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to provide the best protection to consumers.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I am sorry to keep popping up; being a practical person, I will try to give the Minister a scenario and, if he cannot answer straightaway, he can write. I have bought a product through an online auction that turns out to be unsafe; I go back to the auction site, which tells me, “Not my problem. You have to return to the international manufacturer which made this product”, which turns out to be a brick wall and nothing comes back. First, is that online auction site correct in handing me over to the international manufacturer, which turns out to be a dead end? Secondly, if that site is correct, to whom do I go? Do I go to my local council trading officer or to the person who, under Clause 27, has been mysteriously made the enforcer for the Bill? I may or may not know who they are. How do I seek redress, and from whom?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I will try answer the noble Lord’s question, and I am happy to write with further detail. Products sold on online marketplaces are covered by the Bill. All products sold to customers in the UK will have to comply with the security requirements set out under this framework. Where a product is sold on a third-party online marketplace, the seller will be responsible for ensuring that it is compliant. Third-party sellers who sell new products directly to customers on those platforms will also be covered under the “distributor” definition. I will happily write to the noble Lord with further detail ahead of Report but I hope that, for now, that goes some way towards addressing his question.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
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My Lords, I would be grateful if my noble friend included me in his replies and letters. Is he aware of the lamentable performance of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs when it comes to trying to enforce VAT in similar circumstances, and the enormous difficulty it has had with third-party sellers operating out of the Far East in particular? It is extremely difficult, and the volume of VAT lost runs into the billions. This is a large-scale enterprise and it will easily channel a large volume of unsatisfactory products into the UK if we do not take effective action.

I hope that the Government, in their new consultation, which I look forward to learning about, will be taking a robust attitude towards the platforms. For instance, it is entirely unsatisfactory that there should be a way in which unsafe toys can get into the hands of children at Christmas, and for which there is no effective means of prevention or redress. In other jurisdictions, these online marketplaces have proved amenable to a forceful approach by government. I very much hope that we will be joining in with that.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am happy to include my noble friend in the replies and the letter I send. This touches on work which falls under the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the points he raised, of course, fall to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. We will make sure that, having consulted officials there, we provide some details of the work those departments are doing as well.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I am looking forward to the correspondence on this; I fancy that the noble Lord’s civil servants will have a tricky job on their hands. I do not think I quite got a response to what the nature of “being kept under review” really meant, but I await word in the future.

I have been reading the Explanatory Notes, as the Minister will probably be unhappy to hear, and I can see the difficulties. In trying to ensure that the legislation is focused, rightly, on the producers, manufacturers, importers and distributors, it is hard to work round that and not capture people who are simply installers of a product. On the other hand, there are circumstances where installers are primarily responsible for the effectiveness and working of the product, and if it was not for the way they install it, it would not be effective. The terms of the contract are such that it makes that difficult.

I can see the difficulty here, but for now I am happy to withdraw our amendment. In doing so, we are equally supportive of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, because the two are contiguous in their formulation.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, for tabling these amendments, which seek to clarify how the new measures in the Bill will interact with existing consumer legislation. In a practical sense, they are about how comfort can be given to the consumer and redress made available where necessary.

We in your Lordships’ House know that consumers have had to fight hard over many years to secure important statutory protections, including rights of redress when products do not live up to the standards that people rightly expect of them. I say to the Minister that the new measures in the Bill are certainly welcome and will improve certain aspects of the consumer experience, but it is also right to probe how this new regulatory regime interacts with consumer rights and protections enshrined elsewhere.

I feel that Amendment 14 seeks to update the state of play to refer to compliance with security requirements, but that needs to be an area where consumer protection is enshrined in legislation. To me, it goes with the sweep of the Bill, which is to bring us into today’s world and able to cope with the new and constantly evolving situation. Amendment 14A is also interesting, in that it seeks to maintain the right of individual consumers to seek redress in relation to defective connectable products rather than leaving these matters to a particular enforcement body or to collective legal action.

We would appreciate it if the Minister could clarify some of these matters in the Bill itself. If that does not prove possible, this is another area where we would very much like rather more information to be made available by the department so that we can seek to protect the rights and interests of consumers.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for probing through Amendments 14 and 14A as tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox. The amendments seek respectively to amend consumer protection legislation and clarify the relationship between this Bill and consumer protection legislation.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 requires goods and services to be of a satisfactory quality, and the Consumer Protection Act 1987 imposes liability for defective products. Breaches of this Bill that meet the criteria of these Acts already entitle consumers to the protections they provide. This Bill focuses on the supply chain and what it needs to do to protect and enhance the security of products and their users. The security requirements will relate to processes and services, not just to the hardware of a product as the product safety framework does. It is not appropriate to retrofit the security requirements of this Bill’s regime into the existing framework of consumer protection legislation, which was generally designed to ensure that consumers have rights when products are unsafe—although, as I said, I appreciate the probing nature of these amendments.

Some security requirements will require ongoing action from manufacturers after they make a product available. It would be inappropriate to require traders to confirm one-off compliance with such requirements before contracts become binding. I acknowledge that existing consumer rights legislation will not always enable consumers to seek redress for breaches of the security requirements. I reassure noble Lords that this is not a gap. The evolving technological landscape means that the threats to consumers change, and we need flexibility to protect and compensate customers where that is necessary. The Bill, together with existing consumer rights legislation, already offers this.

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Earl of Erroll Portrait The Earl of Erroll (CB)
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The Minister said earlier that the whole point of the Consumer Rights Act was about unsafe goods. I think that he means “unsafe” as referring to physical harm. Actually, a major security breach could render serious physical harm to someone because having all their money removed from their bank account could affect their mental state and result in the breakdown of their marriage, suicide, failure of business, all sorts of things. Therefore, it may have just as damaging physical effects on someone, though not immediately apparent. Although they are different they are equally unsafe, so this has more merit than he is suggesting.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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At the risk of a philosophical debate on the nature of security versus safety, I accept some of the points that the noble Earl makes. There are distinct differences between our approach to product security and existing product safety as set out in consumer legislation, but I will address myself to that philosophical point in the letter, if I may. For now, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw Amendment 14.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I hope that the Minister will take some time to read my speech in Hansard and address the issues that I have raised, because there are some specific points that have not been touched.

A lot of this has come from Which? whom I thank for its help. Which? is an extraordinarily experienced organisation, with some of the country’s most experienced consumer lawyers dealing with the sharp end of customer consumer problems. The fact that it has gone to the trouble of raising these issues should raise a red flag. It is not doing it out of mischief or political intrigue, but because it cares about the future of consumers. For that reason, the department needs to take this seriously.

If the Minister requires a meeting with Which? I am sure that I, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, or the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, will be very happy to broker one. We could then go through some of these consumer issues. This is an organisation dedicated to protecting the needs of consumers. It has gone to the trouble of flagging up this and several other issues. For that reason, for the future of this Bill, it would be very sensible to take Which? seriously.

That said, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 14.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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No, I give credit where it is due. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot, on his amendment because the issues that he raised and the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, in particular, are legitimate ones.

Although this is not the place to amend or change the Computer Misuse Act 1990, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, it certainly is the place to raise concerns. After all, we are talking about product security and safety. It is vital that we have appropriate safeguards in place to prevent and, if need be, punish cyberattacks and other forms of hostile behaviour online.

However, as we seek to make smart devices safer, clearly there is a role for researchers and others to play in identifying and reporting on security flaws. They need to be able to do this within the safe zone of concern, knowing that they are not themselves going to be captured by those who are responsible for cybersecurity. As I understand it, exemptions exist in similar legislation to ensure that academics and other legitimately interested parties can access material relating to topics such as terrorism. The amendment before us today raises the prospect of granting a similar exemption and defence in this particular field.

I am conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, raised the spectre of auras in the form of the noble Lords, Lord Vaizey, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Holmes of Richmond—as well as the intent of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, who is of course very knowledgeable about the business of security and has had both professional and political responsibility in that field. However, I think that, when those auras and his own say that this is an issue of concern, we as the Official Opposition reflect that concern.

I hope that the noble Lord will engage with the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot, and others following Committee on this—I am sure he will—because it is a very important subject. A campaign backed by such an esteemed cross-party group of colleagues in the Committee and in another place cannot be entirely wrong. The Computer Misuse Act 1990 is the framework we have got, but it is right that it is reviewed and that something fresh is brought before us to protect us from cyberattacks in the future.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom for representing the other three signatories to this amendment. I was glad to meet him and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, to discuss this yesterday.

The role of security researchers in identifying and reporting vulnerabilities to manufacturers is vital for enhancing the security of connectable products. The good news is that many manufacturers already embrace this principle, but there are also some products on the market, often repackaged white label goods, where it is not always possible to identify the manufacturer or who has the wherewithal to fix a fault. The Bill will correct that.

As noble Lords have noted, there are legal complexities to navigate when conducting security research. The need to stop, pause and consider the law when doing research is no bad thing. The Government and industry agree that the cybersecurity profession needs to be better organised. We need professional standards to measure the competence and capabilities of security testers, as well as the other 15 cybersecurity specialisms. All of these specialists need to live by a code of professional ethics.

That is why we set up the UK Cyber Security Council last year as the new professional body for the sector. Now armed with a royal charter, the council is building the necessary professional framework and standards for the industry. Good cybersecurity research and security testing will operate in an environment where careful legal and regulatory considerations are built into the operating mode of the profession. We should be encouraging this rather than creating a route to allow people to sidestep these important issues.

As noble Lords have rightly noted, the issues here are complex, and any legislative changes to protect security researchers acting in good faith run the risk of preventing law enforcement agencies and prosecutors being able to take action against criminals and hostile state actors—the goodies and baddies as the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, referred to them. I know my noble friend’s amendment is to draw attention to this important issue. As drafted, it proposes not requiring persons to obtain consent to test systems where they believe that consent would be given. That conflicts with the provisions of the Computer Misuse Act, which requires authorisation to be given by the person entitled to control access. As the products that would be covered by this defence include products in use in people’s homes or offices, we believe that such authorisation is essential. The current provisions in the Computer Misuse Act make it clear that such access is illegal, and we should maintain that clarity to ensure that law enforcement agencies do not have to work with conflicting legislation.

The amendment would also limit the use of such a defence as testers would still be subject to the legal constraints that noble Lords have described when reporting any vulnerability that the Government have not banned through a security requirement. If a new attack vector was identified that was not catered for by the security requirements, the proposed defences would have no effect. The amendment would not protect those testing products outside the scope of this regime, from desktop computers to smart vehicles. If we consider there to be a case for action on this issue, the scope of that action should not be limited to the products that happen to be regulated through this Bill. None the less, the Government are listening to the concerns expressed by the CyberUp Campaign, which have been repeated and extended in this evening’s debate.

The Home Secretary announced a review of the Computer Misuse Act last year. As my noble friend noted, the Act dates back to 1990. I do not want to stress too much its antiquity as I am conscious that he served on the Bill Committee for it in another place. His insight into the debates that went into the Bill at the time and the changes that have taken place are well heard. The evidence which is being submitted to the review is being assessed and considered carefully by the Home Office. It is being actively worked on and the Home Office hopes to provide an update in the summer.

I hope, in that context, that noble Lords will agree that it would be inappropriate for us to pre-empt that work before the review is concluded and this complex issue is properly considered. With that, I hope my noble friend will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom Portrait Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom (Con)
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My Lords, I was six at the time. It has been a useful debate and I thank all those who have taken part. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones, who made it quite plain that we understand the problems in the way of the Government in legislating on this but we are getting impatient. With everything that is going on in the world, out-of-date cybersecurity legislation is becoming more dangerous day by day. That said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, this is of course the first of a number of amendments that deal with Part 2 of the Bill. The amendment refers to telecoms infrastructure. This is far from the only debate that we will have on broad issues around property rights, operators, access to land and so on but, as a general point, it is worth restating our belief that this country needs access to better digital infrastructure. Our concern is that the Government have not been hitting their targets for the rollout of gigabyte-capable broadband. There have also been issues around the rollout of 5G technology. Although we want to see decent infrastructure, we also want to see fairness in the system, and that is what this amendment speaks to. It seeks to ensure a degree of continuity and fairness as new agreements are made to replace existing ones.

The principles cited by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, are reasonable. Again, they are principles that I am absolutely sure we will return to next week, as we have ever-more detailed discussions about rents, dispute resolution and so on.

As has been outlined in this debate, the court is not currently bound to consider the terms of an existing agreement. This feels like a significant oversight. Perhaps the Minister can inform us about what actually happens in practice and what will happen in practice. Both operators and landowners have, or should have, certain rights and responsibilities within this process. I look forward to the Minister’s response to Amendment 17 and to moving some of our own amendments during day two of Committee.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As the noble Baroness says, this begins to anticipate some issues to which I know we will return on the second day of Committee, but it is useful to begin them tonight.

Amendment 17 seeks to insert a new clause after Clause 57 of the Bill. Its purpose is to add an extra element to the test at paragraph 21 of the code, where an operator enters into a new agreement because of the provisions in Clause 57. This is likely to be in circumstances where an operator in occupation of the land on which its apparatus is installed has an existing agreement but wishes to seek an additional code right. The code currently provides that operators in exclusive occupation of land are unable to obtain additional code rights until their existing agreement is about to end or has ended. This is because the code currently provides that only an occupier can grant code rights, and the operator clearly cannot enter into an agreement with itself.

Clause 57 remedies this position and allows an operator to obtain code rights where it is in exclusive occupation of the land. The test at paragraph 21 of the code is often referred to as the public interest test and sets out what a court must consider when deciding whether to impose a code right on a landowner. Paragraph 23 then sets out how the court should determine the remaining terms of the code agreement. Clause 57 simply gives an operator the ability to obtain a new code right or rights that they do not already have. The clause does not allow an operator to force changes to its existing code agreement or to compel the other party to modify any of its terms—for instance, to attempt to reduce the amount of rental payments. Furthermore, the clause does not enable an operator to bring an existing agreement to a premature end in order to take advantage of more favourable terms. Any existing code agreement that the operator has will be expected to continue and operate alongside the agreement relating to the new code right.

Amendment 17 seeks to expand the test at paragraph 21 so that the court also has to consider the terms of any existing agreement and any other method of statutory renewal available. We are, however, of the view that the court can already take such matters into consideration when deciding whether to make an order under paragraph 20 of the code, and again when applying the test at paragraph 23 to determine what terms the code agreement should contain.

This is a topical issue. Clause 57 rectifies an issue in the code that currently prevents operators who are in exclusive occupation of the land being able to obtain new code rights. As I said, three cases have touched on this issue, all of which were heard in the Supreme Court earlier this year, and the Supreme Court is due to hand down its judgment tomorrow.

At present we believe that Clause 57, as drafted, achieves its intended objective, but we recognise that this is a complex and technical area, on which the noble Lord, Lord Fox, valiantly conveyed the expert view of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and it is imperative that any unintended consequences are avoided. We will of course look closely at the Supreme Court’s judgment and carefully consider whether further amendments are needed, engaging with interested parties as required to ensure that the aim of the clause is fully realised.

I too am very conscious that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, with whom we have already had some discussions on this and broader aspects of the Bill, will want to join those discussions, so I am sure he will be following the official record. But I am very happy to meet the noble Lords who have spoken, as well as the noble Earl, to discuss this issue in further detail, particularly once we have seen the judgment. For now, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response, during which he said that the department is of a view. When I was speaking for my part, rather than for the noble Earl, I made it clear that there were quite strong opinions that that view might not be correct. Three cases are to be judged tomorrow, before this Bill is enacted, so although it may have some relevance, it will potentially —and in the views of the people we have spoken to, almost certainly will—end up back in the courts.

We share the objective of the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, that the rollout be accelerated, not inhibited. We also share the view, as expressed in the not very veiled threat in the part of my speech on behalf of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, about what the 1963 rent Act did, which was clog up the system. We do not want to do that—we cannot afford to clog up the rollout. There are strong suspicions that, without giving the legal certainty we need to avoid getting tangled up in the courts, we will be back there again, notwithstanding the judgments of tomorrow. That said, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 17.

Media Literacy

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Monday 20th June 2022

(1 week, 2 days ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their decision not to include media literacy provisions in the Online Safety Bill, whether they intend to impose an updated statutory duty on Ofcom relating to media literacy; and if so, when.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, Ofcom has a statutory duty to promote media literacy under the Communications Act 2003. A clause in the draft Online Safety Bill sought to clarify Ofcom’s responsibilities under this duty. Since then, Ofcom has published a strategy paper outlining its plan to expand its media literacy programme, including going further than that draft clause. It was therefore no longer necessary to include these clarifications in the primary legislation.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, Covid showed the danger of conspiracy theories, while research shows that most internet users want the skills to judge for themselves what is true or false. As the Minister said, Ofcom has indeed published a strategy for promoting media literacy, but this will not be enough. Will the Minister undertake to look at restoring media literacy provisions to the Bill to put them on a statutory footing? Could he also tell your Lordships’ House what is being done to ensure that schools equip our young people with the digital and media literacy skills they need?

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Online Safety Bill includes provisions to strengthen Ofcom’s media literacy functions. Its transparency reporting and information gathering powers will include media literacy, giving Ofcom greater visibility of what the industry is doing. The Secretary of State will have powers to direct Ofcom’s media literacy activity in emergency circumstances—for example, where there is significant threat to public health—and, following a recommendation from the Joint Committee, media literacy is also included in the risk assessment duties. The noble Baroness is right that schools have an important part to play in equipping young people with the skills they need to navigate the internet safely. Citizenship education covers this, as indeed do subjects such as history, English and art, which encourage people to think critically about information that they receive in whatever medium.

Lord Vaizey of Didcot Portrait Lord Vaizey of Didcot (Con)
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My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register of Members’ interests, particularly on Common Sense Media and NewsGuard. I am sure that the Minister will have seen the EU code of practice on disinformation, which was published last week. Does he agree with me that there is much more to this than just media literacy? There has to be a comprehensive strategy that includes the role of platforms, the ability to cut off money from some of the sites which spread disinformation, transparency on political advertising and better research. Will the Minister commit to a much more comprehensive approach to tackling disinformation on the internet than simply media literacy?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Misinformation and disinformation are subjects which are covered in many ways through the Online Safety Bill, which will force companies to tackle harmful misinformation and disinformation, ensuring that they are accountable for dealing with this damaging content on their services. My noble friend is right that we must look at these issues in the round.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religion in the Media. The element of literacy in relation to the media with regard to religion is deplorable, and it needs very seriously to be considered.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am afraid that I am not sure that I fully follow the point that the noble and learned Baroness makes. If she is talking about the importance of respecting freedom of expression and views and protecting debates through the Online Safety Bill, as well as guarding against misinformation and disinformation, there are important protections in the Bill to make sure that we can have free and unbridled debate. However, if I have misunderstood, I will be very happy to speak to her afterwards in more detail.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, I remind the Minister that, as recently as April, his department was making the case for more powers for Ofcom in its Year 2 Online Media Literacy Action Plan, so the Minister’s replies today have been somewhat extraordinary. Given the extent of misinformation and disinformation on social media, is it not absolutely clear that we need more specific powers and duties on Ofcom, in particular to ensure that Ofcom can set minimum standards for media literacy initiatives? Why do not the Government commit to put these in the Bill?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Through the Online Safety Bill, we are giving Ofcom strengthened media literacy functions on transparency reporting, information gathering and the other areas I set out. However, through its strategy announced in December last year, Ofcom has set out its own expanded work programme to discharge its existing duty, which includes pilots, campaigns to promote media literacy, establishing best practice and creating guidance on evaluation, so we are pleased to see that it is using and extending the powers that it has.

Baroness Kidron Portrait Baroness Kidron (CB)
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My Lords, many digital literacy programmes are provided free of charge to schools by private companies with an emphasis that teaches children about user behaviour rather than the risks created by those very same companies. Given the lack of provision in the Bill, perhaps the Minister could say what plans Her Majesty’s Government have to ensure that schools are not simply marketing tech products but offering a holistic digital literacy to children that is independent of those tech companies?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Digital literacy is a key priority in the computing national curriculum in England, which equips people with knowledge, understanding and skills to use the internet creatively and purposefully. Through citizenship education and other subjects, as I mentioned, we are making sure that schoolchildren are equipped with the skills that they need, and of course the companies themselves have a role to play in delivering and funding media literacy education. We welcome the steps that platforms have already taken, but we believe that they can go further to empower and educate their users.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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My Lords, the 2003 media literacy duty on Ofcom that the Minister referred to predates social media and urgently needs updating. Carole Cadwalladr’s work has shown how online misinformation has potentially perverted our democracy. The Ofcom strategy is insufficient. Will the Minister agree to meet me and other members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Media Literacy in advance of the Online Safety Bill being introduced in this House to try to resolve this problem?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I would be very happy to meet the noble Lord and other members ahead of the Online Safety Bill, during which I know we will debate this important area in greater detail. He is right that much has happened since the Communications Act 2003 was passed, but Ofcom’s own strategy published in December last year shows its up-to-date thinking and work in this important and evolving area.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, could my noble friend help those of us who are struggling to understand what exactly media literacy means? Is it about the truthfulness of content or about how to access content, and what on earth can the Government do about that?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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It is about equipping users to decide for themselves what is truthful and giving them the critical skills to look inquisitively at the material that they see online, which often conflicts with other sources, and make their mind up. That was an important skill long before people received information from the internet. It applies just as much to traditional media, such as books and other areas of learning, but is particularly important online.

Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I want to follow on from the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. Given that we are talking about the safety of children and vulnerable people, to what extent will Ofcom’s duty incorporate the broad range of emerging technologies such as the metaverse and Web3, which include virtual reality and facial recognition?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, the strongest protections in the Online Safety Bill are for children. We are making sure that, through that Bill, we are protecting young people from harmful or inappropriate content such as grooming, bullying, pornography and the promotion of self-harm and eating disorders. There are many provisions in the Bill looking at these.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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No, they have had about three goes.

I was a member of the Puttnam committee that gave pre-legislative scrutiny to the 2003 Act. The truth is that Ofcom put on the back burner its responsibilities in this area until it came under pressure by the fact that the new Online Safety Bill was going to increase its responsibilities in this area. I think the Minister’s answers so far have been very complacent given that, since 2003, we have become much more aware of the abuses and dangers inherent in this technology. We must give Ofcom more specific legislative powers in the coming Bill.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I have pointed to some of the provisions in the Online Safety Bill which will strengthen Ofcom’s powers in this area. The Government are taking action as well. Our media literacy programme is supported by £2.5 million of funding in this financial year alone, so the Government are also acting to make sure that we are strengthening civil society groups and others who have a role to play in making sure that people are kept safe and well informed online.

Moved by
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government want the UK to be a science superpower. Two key planks in achieving this are security and digital connectivity. The UK already influences and shapes global cyber standards and we have committed huge investment to counter cyber threats and to meet our digital infrastructure targets. Back in 2016, we invested £1.9 billion to bolster our cybersecurity, setting up the National Cyber Security Centre and investing in economic resilience, innovation and skills. Now we have gone further, with an additional £2.6 billion being invested over the next three years. The National Cyber Security Centre has stopped 2.7 million online scams in the past year alone, and the new National Cyber Force will proactively counter cyber threats that we face.

Our investment in innovation has seen more than 40 tech unicorns—that is, start-up businesses now valued at over $1 billion—grow outside London, with 100 more in the pipeline. We have invested significantly in superfast broadband, bringing it to 97% of premises, and are now driving investment in gigabit broadband, with over 68% of premises now able to access this technology. But we need to keep investing in emerging technologies to secure ourselves against future threats and realise the opportunities of a digital economy. Monthly broadband use has doubled in four years and continues to rise every year. Cyber threats are proliferating and technology is not always secure by design. That is why we have introduced this Bill.

We want to fulfil our commitment to delivering faster digital connectivity and to ensure that, as we grow, our technology is secure. The Bill will facilitate the extension of futureproofed gigabit-capable broadband and 5G networks, and improve the protection of people, networks and infrastructure from the harms caused by insecure consumer-connectable products. I will start with the telecommunications measures, explaining why they are necessary and what their intended effect is. Following this, I will turn to the product security measures and outline why it is important to consider digital infrastructure and cybersecurity in conjunction.

The Government are committed to delivering digital growth by building a stronger, more connected and more secure UK. This is even more vital as we build back from the pandemic. We have seen rapid growth in the availability of gigabit broadband, from less than 11% of homes and businesses at the end of 2019 to more than 68% today, but, to deliver much-needed connectivity, we must have a legal framework which encourages and enables the deployment of digital networks.

To that end, we are making good progress through a package of measures. Last year we passed the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act to address one of the key barriers to the deployment of gigabit-capable broadband in blocks of flats. We have also committed to legislate to mandate gigabit connectivity in new-build homes. These regulations will be laid as soon as parliamentary time allows. We continue to work closely with the Department for Transport to ensure that street works support deployment of broadband while protecting the road network.

We are working with industry to support its investment and have committed £5 billion of public funding to ensure that no part of the United Kingdom is left behind. We aim to reach a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable broadband coverage by 2025 and to get as close to 100% as soon as possible. We have also agreed a £1 billion deal with the industry to deliver the shared rural network, which is already delivering improved 4G coverage across the UK. The operators and the rest of the industry remain confident that their combined coverage is expected to be delivered to 95% by the end of 2025. We also aim for the majority of the population to have 5G coverage by 2027.

To improve connectivity, in 2017 we implemented reforms to the Electronic Communications Code, which regulates installation agreements between landowners and telecommunications operators. Some noble Lords here today will have been involved in the scrutiny of that legislation. The aim was to make it easier and more cost effective for digital networks to be installed, maintained and upgraded. However, there is still more to be done. We need to go further to realise the Government’s ambitions for digital connectivity and levelling up.

The Bill before us will update the Electronic Communications Code, among other pieces of connected legislation, to deliver these ambitions. Specifically, the Bill aims to optimise the use of existing infrastructure. It encourages collaborative relationships between telecommunications operators and site providers. It gives operators the ability to obtain new rights, which will enable them to take advantage of new technologies and pass the benefits on to customers. It builds on previous measures to tackle the issue of unresponsive landowners and ensures that the price paid to host telecoms apparatus is calculated in a consistent way across the country, preventing a digital divide.

Making optimum use of existing cable and fibre networks has a key role to play in upgrading services and increasing competition. The Bill introduces a new automatic right for operators to upgrade or share apparatus installed before the 2017 reforms. This will be subject to specific conditions to ensure that it will not adversely affect landowners. The measures have been considered carefully to deliver significant benefits to the public while ensuring that there will be little impact on landowners.

Furthermore, the Bill rationalises the way in which expired code agreements are renewed. Currently, an operator has to use one of three different statutory renewal routes. The Bill ensures that, whichever route an operator uses, the terms of the renewed agreement will more closely align with the code as it was reformed in 2017. As a result, there will be greater consistency in how agreements are renewed across the UK.

Making better use of existing infrastructure through upgrading and sharing, and a more consistent and efficient renewal process, will not only improve digital services but reduce the need for new installations. This means less disruption from street works and fewer mast installations in both rural and urban settings, which I am sure will be welcomed in all parts of your Lordships’ House.

We are also introducing measures to facilitate greater use of alternative dispute resolution when parties are negotiating the terms of an agreement to install telecommunications apparatus. This is to ensure that disputes are resolved more quickly and cost-effectively, and that litigation is used only where absolutely necessary. We anticipate that this will encourage constructive dialogue between network operators and potential and existing site providers. It will address situations where landowners may feel compelled to accept terms offered by operators by giving them alternative means of resolving disputes without the need for lengthy and costly litigation.

Finally, in situations where landowners are not responsive, we are creating a new court process. This process will provide a quick and inexpensive route for operators to gain time-limited rights to access certain types of land. Again, these measures have been developed to strike the balance between protecting landowners and ensuring that everyone across the UK has access to reliable and quick digital infrastructure.

I turn now to the product security provisions in the Bill, since the demand for faster broadband is driven by the increasing number of devices we are all installing in our homes. Increasingly, we are streaming more programmes on smart televisions and using telephones and tablets for video calling; half of all homes have a smart speaker, smart watches continue to rise in popularity and smart doorbells and cameras are appearing on every street. The average UK household now has nine internet-connected devices, and over 50% of all UK households purchased an additional consumer connectable product during the pandemic.

With this increased ownership and use of consumer connectable products, there comes a heightened risk of cyberattacks. Cybercriminals have taken advantage of consumer vulnerability during the pandemic, and increasingly target consumer connectable products. In the first half of last year alone, we saw 1.5 billion attacks on connectable products—double the figure of the year before. Thousands of people in the UK have been victims of cyberattacks, leaving many with significant losses of money or private data. As we have seen recently, cybercriminals can now use compromised connectable products to attack large infrastructure. In 2016, the Mirai attack disabled internet access across much of the east coast of the United States of America; we still see variants of Mirai-using botnets attacking businesses and infrastructure today. We have made significant progress to develop the UK’s cybersecurity to tackle threats such as these. In 2018, the Government published a code of practice for manufacturers to improve the security of consumer devices. The UK is a world leader in this area, and our code has since been used by Australia and India, among other countries.

Of course, this progress needs to keep up with the ever-evolving cyber landscape—hence the need to legislate now to ensure that our people and networks are better protected. Taken together, the telecoms and product security measures in the Bill work to create a reliable fast broadband network, and to support the growth of more secure consumer connectable products. The Bill will enable the Government to specify mandatory security requirements to ensure that manufacturers, importers and distributors of smart devices work harder to protect consumers from cyber risks. These requirements will be set out in regulations and are supported by experts, industry and our international partners, with whom we continue to work closely to ensure that everyone is well aware of the initial three requirements.

The first is a ban on universal default passwords. Too often, consumer connectable products come with an easy-to-guess password; this makes them vulnerable and risks compromising a user’s privacy and security. The second is that a manufacturer of consumer connectable products must have and maintain an accessible vulnerability policy, obliging them, as a minimum, to receive and respond to reports of security issues in their products. This is important to ensure that manufacturers can be made aware of, and quickly address, any shortcomings in their products, and to foster good practice to protect society as a whole. Finally, manufacturers will be required to be transparent about the minimum length of time for which a product will receive security updates. This should enhance consumers’ awareness, enabling them to consider the security of products before they purchase them and, in so doing, foster market competition towards enhanced security update periods. Where those three security requirements have not been complied with, businesses will not be allowed to make these products available in the UK. We will be able to monitor, investigate and take enforcement action where necessary.

These are the first steps towards a change in the security landscape for consumer connectable products. We have created this Bill to reflect the need for resilient and adaptive measures to protect consumers and our vital infrastructure. Both the product security and telecoms infrastructure measures in the Bill will be of benefit to the public. We have brought the Bill forward to ensure that, as our digital infrastructure evolves and as we become more connected to the internet, we protect consumers from the dangers which come with this. I hope that noble Lords from across your Lordships’ House will support the Bill, and I look forward to discussing it in detail as we scrutinise it.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to what I agree has been a very enjoyable debate this afternoon. I am sure these contributions will form a prelude to some further interesting and enjoyable debates in Committee and later stages of the Bill. I am grateful, too, for the excessively generous compliments from my noble friends behind me, which I am sure are an illustration of the great harmony and mutual affection for which the Conservative Party is, today of all days, renowned.

As my noble friend Lady Harding of Winscombe rightly said, this is a technical but important Bill, and I am pleased that all noble Lords from all parts of your Lordships’ House are in agreement that people from across the country should be able to benefit from faster digital connectivity and the assurance that their technology is secure. The Bill therefore comes at an opportune time, when cyberattacks are on the rise and when digital connectivity is increasingly important for all the reasons that my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger and other noble Lords set out. We have heard examples in today’s debate of the benefits which will accrue to communities, urban and rural, right across the country.

I am conscious that in Committee we will go into greater detail in some of the areas which noble Lords have alluded to, but I want to respond to some of the points which they have raised in today’s debate. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, began in general terms by asking whether we ought to set out a clear explanation in the Bill of what consumers can expect in terms of product security. The fundamental purpose of the Bill, as set out in its first clause, is to embed security requirements to protect and enhance the security of connectable products and their users. That is the measuring stick against which the impact of the Bill and future regulations will be assessed.

As I alluded to in my opening remarks, there are no silver bullets in cybersecurity. Thousands of people in the UK have been victims of cyberattacks, and cybercriminals are using connectable products to attack large infrastructure as well. Our approach to connectable products lies in both the UK and wider international expertise. Our own 2018 code of practice is the foundation of the first international standard for consumer security and there is an international consensus behind this standard. We are also, through the Bill, the first to embed these protections in legislation. At the moment, some security-conscious manufacturers address these threats, but through the Bill we will now make sure that all manufacturers follow best practice in future.

The noble Earl, Lord Devon, rightly spoke of our international standing. The UK has established global leadership in this area. We have worked closely with our international partners and have seen evidence of other countries and organisations embedding the approach that we have taken in their own codes. In my opening remarks I mentioned Australia and India, which have published codes of practice with the same 13 principles which we published in 2018, but Singapore, Germany and Finland among others have made their own domestic interventions which also align with the UK’s code of practice. The European Commission has also published its intention to explore regulation for connected devices through the cyber resilience Act.

On Part 2, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, in general terms asked why we were revisiting and changing the code again. As noble Lords noted, it was substantially reformed in 2017, following the important and substantial work undertaken by my noble friend Lord Vaizey of Didcot when he was the responsible Minister. A key aim of those reforms was to make it cheaper and easier for digital infrastructure to be deployed, maintained and upgraded. The Government recognised that this would mean telecommunications site providers receiving lower payments than had previously been the case. However, those changes were introduced only following an extensive period of consultation and research and were considered necessary to reduce operator costs and to encourage the industry investment required for the UK to get the digital communications infrastructure that it needs.

The Government intended that the 2017 reforms would speed up deployment and reduce operator costs, and indeed the changes have borne fruit. However, since the changes have come into force we have also received feedback about how they have worked in practice and about some of the ongoing challenges which people face. The Bill aims to tackle those problems and to ensure that the aim and the ambition of the 2017 reforms is realised. To give an example, both operators and landowners have pointed to problems regarding negotiations, with operators saying that they take too long and landowners saying that they face too much pressure to accept certain terms. This is one of the areas we will address through the Bill.

A number of noble Lords spoke about the valuation work which came from the 2017 reforms. The new pricing regime is more closely aligned to those for utilities such as water, electricity and gas, and we think that is the correct position. Landowners should still receive fair payments which, among other things, take into account any alternative uses that the land may have and any losses or damages that may be incurred. We think that the measures in the Bill will support greater collaboration between operators and landowners and help agreements to be completed more swiftly.

The prices being paid for rights to install communications apparatus before 2017 were too high and reflected the rapid explosion that was taking place in demand for digital services; it was right that they were addressed. The 2017 reforms were intended to strike a balance between ensuring that individual landowners are not left out of pocket and making network deployment and maintenance more cost-effective.

The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and others asked about reviewing the impact of the reforms made in 2017. We recognised when the 2017 reforms were introduced that the market would need time to adapt and settle, and it would be premature to carry out a full assessment of the 2017 reforms at this time. There is not enough evidence about agreements which were completed after they came into force for a properly robust and comprehensive analysis to be made—not least, of course, because of the impact of the pandemic. However, the evidence and feedback we have received provides a compelling case that the changes we are making in this Bill will ensure that the 2017 reforms have their intended effect. Making these changes now will help to deliver the Government’s 2025 connectivity target of at least 85% of homes and businesses having access to gigabit broadband. That is not to say that we think the 2017 reforms failed. Much progress has been made. We simply think that more can and must be done to maximise their impact.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, asked about impact assessments. The impact assessments which accompanied the 2017 reforms did not state that the Government would undertake a full economic review of the code’s impact on rents, but in that document the Government committed to reviewing the 2017 reforms as a whole by June 2022—this month. The Government have met this commitment through their continuing engagement with interested parties, including holding monthly access to land workshops. This engagement and the issues which have been highlighted through it prompted the 2021 consultation and the measures in the Bill, which we think are needed for the aims of the 2017 reforms to be fully realised.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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That sounds a bit feeble. DCMS has had workshops but has not produced a review. That does not sound like any sort of review.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Lord perhaps thinks we committed to more in 2017 than we did. We have met the commitments we made in 2017 through our engagement with the industry. The points it made have informed the Bill before us. I am sure we will debate—

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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May I suggest that if the passage of the Bill is to be smooth, any information the Minister is able to provide about the impact, past or expected, would be extremely helpful? Otherwise, we are all going to be arguing about suppositions.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Certainly. I pointed out that the time that has elapsed since 2017 has perhaps not given us as much real data as we would have had, were it not for the pandemic, but of course we will be influenced by what have seen as we scrutinise the Bill in Committee and later.

We have heard a range of views on multiple dwelling units. The Government are aware of calls from parts of the industry for greater automatic rights to upgrade existing infrastructure in multiple dwelling units. The Government are not convinced that granting those rights is proportionate, because we must strike the right balance between private property rights and public benefits. There are other ways that operators can arrange to upgrade equipment in multiple dwelling units. They can ask for those rights and if landlords fail to reply, they will be able to use the process created through the Telecoms Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021. If landlords refuse, operators can ask the courts to impose additional rights to upgrade existing equipment if their agreement with the landlord does not already provide them with those rights.

Other measures in the Bill encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution to support more collaborative negotiations. The Government are also considering further changes through regulations to help code disputes be dealt with more quickly. Finally, it is important to stress that there is no consensus from the industry on this issue, just as there was no consensus in our debate today. In fact, many operators have opposed the proposal on the grounds that it would create an unfair advantage for operators who already have equipment inside buildings and could therefore have anti-competitive effects.

My noble friend Lady Harding of Winscombe asked about telegraph poles. It is important that any automatic rights in relation to apparatus on, under or over private land strike a fair balance between any interference with private property rights and any public benefits that can be delivered. We think that the measures in this Bill on rights to upgrade and share apparatus under land achieve that balance. However, we have seen some evidence that further public benefits might be achieved if telecommunications poles sited on private land could be upgraded and shared more easily. Operators already have statutory rights to fly wires between these poles and it is obviously important that the legislative framework supports the effective use of these rights; we are looking into this matter closely.

A number of noble Lords touched on what is and is not in scope of Part 1 of the Bill. The Bill sets out what types of products should be treated as “consumer connectable”. This includes products that can be connected to the internet, such as routers, smart TVs, smart home products and connectable toys. I can tell my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom that toasters are indeed in scope, although the idea of an internet-connected toaster makes me think of Wallace and Gromit. I share his bafflement at why people might want to do it, but they are in scope.

The powers in the Bill will allow the Government to update products that are in scope where changes to the wider regulatory, technological or threat landscape render this appropriate. The Government also intend to remove some products from scope where their inclusion would subject them to double regulation or where that would be disproportionate to the level of security risk. An example of such an exception is automotive vehicles, which I can tell my noble friend Lord Vaizey of Didcot include e-scooters; other examples are medical devices and smart charging points.

My noble friend Lord Arbuthnot talked about the vulnerability disclosure process. Of course, manufacturers will not see every vulnerability in their own products. Increasingly, the people best placed to spot them are everyday users and designated security researchers; but the potential point of failure here is the process for reporting those vulnerabilities to the manufacturer, which is often difficult to navigate. The security requirement will mandate a clear point of contact and the policy for the manufacturer to receive such reports and take meaningful action to address them. That is an important step forward, which, I am pleased to say, has widespread industry and expert support.

The noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Bassam of Brighton, the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and others asked about future-proofing. There is a common notion that Governments are behind the curve when it comes to regulating technology, but not in this case. As well as setting the stage to introduce the regulations to which we have already committed, this Bill establishes a flexible and future-proof regulatory framework so the Government can be agile and proactive in amending and introducing security requirements in step with technological innovation. That is exactly why we have not included the three security requirements on the face of the Bill. By design, the Bill not only addresses the current problem but looks beyond it to ensure that UK consumers can be protected no matter how technologies and threats change and emerge.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond asked about the Computer Misuse Act. Colleagues at the Home Office are currently taking forward work to identify whether the proposals made in response to the review of that Act, which was launched in May last year, will assist in helping to protect the UK from cybercrime, or whether they are addressed under other programmes of work. We will provide an update to your Lordships’ House in due course, but this Bill will enhance protection for consumers and networks from the range of harms associated with cyberattacks. It equips the Government with the necessary powers to set and update security requirements within a fast-growing area of emerging technologies.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again, but I am frightened that he is not going to tell us who the regulator will be, explain why we are covering only three of the many principles covered in legislation in other territories, or provide us with a glimpse of the secondary legislation.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Lord is eager to hear answers to questions to which I may yet turn; on some of them I will write. Work has been done to identify the regulator, but it would not be right to refer to that person at this stage and ahead of Royal Assent. I will write to the noble Lord on the other points he mentioned. I talked just now about our approach, through secondary legislation, to future-proofing and the reasons for not setting out the first three principles in the Bill. We have set out what those standards will be up front.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond spoke about the important issue of digital inclusion and skills. We run programmes to give young people the opportunity to learn digital skills and to improve their cybersecurity. More than 100,000 young people have participated in these programmes. We have expanded that with a new online training platform, Cyber Explorers, which aims to engage 30,000 young people, and DCMS funded the creation of the UK Cyber Security Council to create professional standards and pathways for cybersecurity.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked about Huawei equipment in our infrastructure. The Government have undertaken a consultation with the industry on the designation of Huawei as a high-risk vendor and proposed directions relating to Huawei goods and services. The responses we receive will inform any final post-consultation decision on whether to issue the designation notice and direction. The Government have also undertaken a public consultation on a set of draft electronic communications security measures regulations and a draft code of practice, the outcome of which will be published in due course.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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It was the “in due course” bit that I was interested in. In other words, what is “in due course” in this case—months, weeks, days, years?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am afraid I am not able to elaborate further than “in due course” at this point, but if I am able to before Committee I will come back with more particulars. The final regulations and code of practice will be laid in Parliament later this year using the negative procedure, as required by the Telecommunications (Security) Act.

The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, asked about the knock-on effect of telecoms operators’ reduced rental payments on the funding of community organisations. It is important to note that the funding for such organisations should not be reliant on telecommunications. There are many funding streams, not least from the Government, to support them and their important work. The National Lottery Community Fund is the largest non-government funder of community activity in the UK and one of the largest arm’s-length bodies that DCMS sponsors. Officials at the department work closely with the National Lottery Community Fund to ensure that it continues to support the evolving needs of civil society organisations. Over the last five years, the fund has distributed £3.4 billion.

The noble Baroness talked particularly about sports clubs. The Government very much agree that sports and physical activity are critical for our mental and physical health, which is why we provided an unprecedented £1 billion of financial support to sport and leisure organisations during the pandemic. We will ensure that community groups continue to get the support they need.

I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on the points that he highlighted that I have not addressed today. I would, of course, be very happy to speak to any noble Lords who would like to talk about any of the issues in the Bill in further detail. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral and to the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, as well as the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, for the engagement that we have had in detail already. I would be more than happy to hold further discussions and talk in greater detail between now and Committee.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering offered to furnish me with the details of some of the unused masts in North Yorkshire, and I would be very glad to receive them and take them forward to discuss with officials.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Monday 6th June 2022

(3 weeks, 2 days ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
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That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order: Clauses 1 to 66, Schedule, Clauses 67 to 79, Title.

Motion agreed.

Champions League Final

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Monday 6th June 2022

(3 weeks, 2 days ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question made by my honourable friend the Sports Minister in another place earlier today:

“Mr Speaker, on 28 May, Liverpool Football Club played Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League. The fixture was held at the Stade de France in Paris and, on this occasion, Real Madrid won the match 1-0. In this case, it is not the result that makes the fixture worthy of debate but the spectator experience. The start of the fixture was delayed due to a number of crowd safety issues outside the ground. These issues prevented safe and timely access to the stadium for many thousands of Liverpool supporters. Members from across the House will, like me, have been appalled to hear of the terrifying and potentially dangerous conditions experienced by many Liverpool fans. Many of us will have seen the clips on social media. What should have been a celebration of the pinnacle of European club football will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

I am shocked and concerned by what has come to light. I welcome the fact—the Secretary of State and I requested it—that UEFA has commissioned an independent investigation and issued an apology to all fans who attended the final. The French Minister for Sport has also commissioned a review of the delivery of the event, and I will be discussing this with her later this week. The French Government will also be supporting the UEFA investigation and issuing sanctions against any police officers who misused tear gas, and they have confirmed that they will pursue compensation for fans who had a valid ticket and were unable to enter the stadium. UEFA has confirmed that it will launch a new complaints procedure for fans to present evidence, and Liverpool FC is collating fan experiences, via its website, to contribute to the UEFA investigation. I urge fans to send accounts of their experiences to the club. DCMS will continue to work closely with the relevant authorities and Liverpool FC.

The footage and accounts from Liverpool fans and the media on their entry to the Stade de France on 28 May have been deeply upsetting. Thousands of Liverpool fans travelled to Paris in good time to support their team in one of the biggest matches of the season, and we are hugely disappointed by how they were treated. Fans deserve to know what happened, so it is absolutely right that the relevant authorities are now fully investigating these events. These investigations must establish the facts so that the authorities can learn lessons from the event and ensure that we do not see scenes like this again.”

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, spectator bottlenecks, closed turnstiles, riot police using tear gas on patient fans and thuggish attacks by local gangs indicate that something went seriously wrong in the planning of the Champions League Final and the police operational plan, yet the authorities immediately accused Liverpool Football Club fans.

I have three questions for the Minister. First, what liaison took place between UK and French police before the match, and were co-operation protocols properly followed? Secondly, although I welcome that assurances have been given on the genuine independence of UEFA’s inquiry or investigation, its terms of reference and likely punishments will be key to its work. The appointment of the inquiry chair and the terms of reference will determine the effectiveness of its outcome. Thirdly, what steps will be taken by the Government to help restore the reputation of Liverpool Football Club and of its fans? Many fans caught up in these events were at Hillsborough, where an early blame game saw lies established as fact. I hope that, on this occasion, the truth will quickly out.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I certainly agree with the noble Lord’s final comments: we want to see the truth out and to do so quickly. We want the facts to be established, which is why the Secretary of State and the Sports Minister urged that this independent investigation be swiftly set up and are glad that it has been. We are confident that UEFA is committed to a thorough review.

I will write to the noble Lord on the question of police liaison beforehand, having checked, but I saw that UK police officers were present there, which suggests liaison beforehand, and we will of course want their insights and evidence, as well as that of fans and others, to feed into UEFA’s review. He is absolutely right to mention the Hillsborough tragedy in this regard. Liverpool fans, above all, know all too well the importance of proper security and policing at football matches. That is important for fans across the world, whatever team they support. Something clearly went wrong on 28 May, and we are very glad that UEFA is investigating it so that the facts can be established.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, will the Minister expand on the idea of liaison between the various police forces? Not just the English and French police should be talking to each other; there should be at least a Europe-wide connection, because we do not know when we will next have British fans in a foreign country in a European competition, when something can go wrong again. The more high-pressure the situation and the bigger the competition, the more pressure we have on those structures and the more people will travel. Is Europe-wide communication going on here? How effective are we now at collecting intelligence from home to feed into the process?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Lord makes an important point. In international fixtures, it is important that lessons are learned across jurisdictions so that scenes such as this cannot be repeated. The French Government, who are hosting the Rugby World Cup and the 2024 Olympics in Paris, will want to make sure that they have learned the lessons for those important sporting events. The Home Office will be working with its counterparts, in line with existing protocols of co-operation, to ensure that any appropriate evidence is gathered to contribute to the review, and has undertaken to look at many aspects of the event beyond the policing response.

Lord Birt Portrait Lord Birt (CB)
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My Lords, I am a Liverpool supporter and I attended this shamefully managed event. The inquiry announced by UEFA needs to explore quite a number of things: first, the manifest limitations of the design and management of the Stade de France; secondly, the prior planning and operational response of the French police; and, thirdly, the quality of oversight of UEFA itself. Will the Minister endeavour to ensure that the inquiry has the power, capability and capacity to do all those things?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The inquiry is for UEFA, and I am confident that UEFA is committed to a thorough review. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his first-hand observations, which I am sure will have been heard, but I shall gladly pick that up with him after this to ensure that they can be fed to UEFA so that the lessons can be properly learned.

Lord Moynihan Portrait Lord Moynihan (Con)
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My Lords, pursuant to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is my noble friend confident that adequate preparations have been made to avoid similar events at the England v Germany game tomorrow evening?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes, my honourable friend the Sports Minister has that match very much in mind. We of course hope that the emerging lessons can be learned very swiftly, as well as the detailed lessons which will be learned once the full facts are established and publicised following UEFA’s review.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, undoubtedly the saddest time of my life as a Member of Parliament in Liverpool was visiting the homes of constituents who had loved ones who had died or been injured at Hillsborough, including the family of a child. That was compounded by the collective character assassination which immediately occurred in the media, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and also by the lies that were told by people in authority. Given that French Ministers immediately tried to put blame on the Liverpool fans, I wonder whether the inquiry by UEFA will look into how the authorities responded in the immediate aftermath of these events, when spectators had tear gas and pepper sprayed into their faces.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Lord speaks very powerfully about the lessons of the Hillsborough tragedy, which we were still learning during my time as an adviser at the Home Office many years later—so I am very aware of the long-standing impact that such events have on the families and friends of those caught up in them. It is important that the facts are established before any blame is apportioned. That is why we are glad to see this investigation being set up and hope that it will be able to do that swiftly.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab)
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My Lords, there have been a number of references to Hillsborough in the Chamber this evening. I think that I am the only Member of your Lordships’ House who was present at Hillsborough in 1989 and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, the most shameful aspect of it was the cover-up and the lying that took place after it. Can the Government look again at the report by our former colleague James Jones, the retired Bishop of Liverpool, who addressed many of these issues and came forward with some solutions, a number of which have not been adopted?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Well, I am full of admiration for Bishop James Jones and his review. It was ongoing when I was working at the Home Office. I will take the points raised by the noble Lord back to my department.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, as an avid football fan and the only woman who has asked a question about football—although I am a Manchester United supporter rather than a Liverpool supporter; do not kill me now—and as somebody who lives in the Liverpool area and knows a lot of family members of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, I am a little concerned about the rhetoric of “lessons learned”. If you have not learned anything about Hillsborough now, from what we saw on the television, I am very concerned. I have spoken to a victim’s family and friends, who are very traumatised and will not discuss what happened at that event. Is this just a tick box for everybody else but not actually for the fans who have suffered?

Also, the French police allowed local people to go into the fan zone and blocked a lot of fans who had tickets and were there to enjoy a family scene with their young people and to watch the football that they are so passionate about. Can the Minister please stop saying “lessons learned”? It is an insult to the families who have had to fight for over 25 years to get a result which was not the result we thought that we would get in the first place.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As ever, my noble friend, as a former Victims’ Commissioner, speaks powerfully on behalf of victims and survivors. Whatever phrases are used, it is important that they are translated into action so that people can see meaningful change and can see that lessons are being learned, even if that phrase understandably rankles with some people. It is also important that lessons are learned and shared across the world, which is why we are glad that UEFA is doing this investigation. We hope that it establishes the facts swiftly and thoroughly.

AI in the UK (Liaison Committee Report)

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Wednesday 25th May 2022

(1 month ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and all noble Lords who have spoken in today’s debate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that all the considerations we have heard have been hugely insightful and of very high quality.

The Government want to make sure that artificial intelligence delivers for people and businesses across the UK. We have taken important early steps to ensure we harness its enormous benefits, but agree that there is still a huge amount more to do to keep up with the pace of development. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said in his opening remarks, this is in many ways a moving target. The Government provided a formal response to the report of your Lordships’ committee in February 2021, but today’s debate has been a valuable opportunity to take stock of its conclusions and reflect on the progress made since then.

Since the Government responded to the committee’s 2020 report, we have published the National AI Strategy. The strategy, which I think it is fair to say has been well received, had three key objectives that will drive the Government’s activity over the next 10 years. First, we will invest and plan for the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem to continue our leadership as a science and AI superpower; secondly, we will support the transition to an AI-enabled economy, capturing the benefits of innovation in the UK, and ensuring that AI benefits all sectors and parts of the country; and, thirdly, we will ensure the UK gets the national and international governance of AI technologies right to encourage innovation and investment, and to protect the public and the values that we hold dear.

We will provide an update on our work to implement our cross-government strategy through the forthcoming AI action plan but, for now, I turn to some of the other key themes covered in today’s debate. As noble Lords have noted, we need to ensure the public have trust and confidence in AI systems. Indeed, improving trust in AI was a key theme in the National AI Strategy. Trust in AI requires trust in the data which underpin these technologies. The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has engaged widely to understand public attitudes to data and the drivers of trust in data use, publishing an attitudes tracker earlier this year. The centre’s early work on public attitudes showed how people tend to focus on negative experiences relating to data use rather than positive ones. I am glad to say that we have had a much more optimistic outlook in this evening’s debate.

The National Data Strategy sets out what steps we will take to rebalance this perception from the public, from one where we only see risks to one where we also see the opportunities of data use. It sets out our vision to harness the power of responsible data use to drive growth and improve services, including by AI-driven services. It describes how we will make data usable, accessible and available across the economy, while protecting people’s data rights and businesses’ intellectual property.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond talked about anonymisation. Privacy-enhancing technologies such as this were noted in the National Data Strategy and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which leads the Government’s work to enable trustworthy innovation, is helping to take that forward in a number of ways. This year the centre will continue to ensure trustworthy innovation through a world-first AI assurance road map and will collaborate with the Government of the United States of America on a prize challenge to accelerate the development of a new breed of privacy-enhancing technologies, which enable data use in ways that preserve privacy.

Our approach includes supporting a thriving ecosystem of data intermediaries, including data trusts, which have been mentioned, to enable responsible data-sharing. We are already seeing data trusts being set up; for example, pilots on health data and data for communities are being established by the Data Trusts Initiative, hosted by the University of Cambridge, and further pilots are being led by the Open Data Institute. Just as we must shift the debate on data, we must also improve the public understanding and awareness of AI; this will be critical to driving its adoption throughout the economy. The Office for Artificial Intelligence and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation are taking the lead here, undertaking work across government to share best practice on how to communicate issues regarding AI clearly.

Key to promoting public trust in AI is having in place a clear, proportionate governance framework that addresses the unique challenges and opportunities of AI, which brings me to another of the key themes of this evening’s debate: ethics and regulation. The UK has a world-leading regulatory regime and a history of innovation-friendly approaches to regulation. We are committed to making sure that new and emerging technologies are regulated in a way that instils public confidence in them while supporting further innovation. We need to make sure that our regulatory approach keeps pace with new developments in this fast-moving field. That is why, later this year, the Government will publish a White Paper on AI governance, exploring how to govern AI technologies in an innovation-friendly way to deliver the opportunities that AI promises while taking a proportionate approach to risk so that we can protect the public.

We want to make sure that our approach is tailored to context and proportionate to the actual impact on individuals and groups in particular contexts. As noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, have rightly set out, those contexts can be many and varied. But we also want to make sure our approach is coherent so that we can reduce unnecessary complexity or confusion for businesses and the public. We are considering whether there is a need for a set of cross-cutting principles which guide how we approach common issues relating to AI, such as safety, and looking at how to make sure that there are effective mechanisms in place to ensure co-ordination across the regulatory landscape.

The UK has already taken important steps forward with the formation of the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and others have noted, but we need to consider whether further measures are needed. Finally, the cross-border nature of the international market means that we will continue to collaborate with key partners on the global stage to shape approaches to AI governance and facilitate co-operation on key issues.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, both referred to the data reform Bill and the issues it covers. DCMS has consulted on and put together an ambitious package of reforms to create a new pro-growth regime for data which is trusted by people and businesses. This is a pragmatic approach which allows data-driven businesses to use data responsibly while keeping personal information safe and secure. We will publish our response to that later this spring.

My noble friend also mentioned the impact of AI on jobs and skills. He is right that the debate has moved on in an encouraging and more optimistic way and that we need to address the growing skills gap in AI and data science and keep developing, attracting and training the best and brightest talent in this area. Since the AI sector deal in 2018, the Government have been making concerted efforts to improve the skills pipeline. There has been an increased focus on reskilling and upskilling, so that we can ensure that, where there is a level of displacement, there is redeployment rather than unemployment.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, noted with pleasure, the Government worked through the Office for AI and the Office for Students to fund 2,500 postgraduate conversion courses in AI for students from near and non-STEM backgrounds. That includes 1,000 scholarships for people from underrepresented backgrounds, and these courses are available at universities across the country. Last autumn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that this programme would be bolstered by 2,000 more scholarships, so that many more people across the country can benefit from them. In the Spring Statement, 1,000 more PhD places were announced to complement those already available at 16 centres for doctoral training across the country. We want to build a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone. That means ensuring that as many people as possible can reap the benefits of new technologies. That is why the Government have taken steps to increase the skills pipeline, including introducing more flexible training routes into digital roles.

The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, was right to focus on how the UK contributes to international dialogue on AI. The UK is playing a leading role in international discussions on ethics and regulation, including our work at the Council of Europe, UNESCO and the OECD. We should not forget that the UK was one of the founding members of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, the first multilateral forum looking specifically at this important area.

We will continue to work with international partners to support the development of the rules on use of AI. We have also taken practical steps to take some of these high-level principles and implement them when delivering public services. In 2020, we worked with the World Economic Forum to develop guidelines for responsible procurement of AI based on these values which have since been put into operation through the Crown Commercial Service’s AI marketplace. This service has been renewed and the Crown Commercial Service is exploring expanding the options available to government buyers. On an international level, this work resulted in a policy tool called “AI procurement in a box”, a framework for like-minded countries to adapt for their own purposes.

I am mindful that Second Reading of the Procurement Bill is taking place in the Chamber as we speak, competing with this debate. That Bill will replace the current process-driven EU regime for public procurement by creating a simpler and more flexible commercial system, but international collaboration and dialogue will continue to be a key part of our work in this area in the years to come.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, spoke very powerfully about the use of AI in defence. The Government will publish a defence AI strategy this summer, alongside a policy ensuring the ambitious, safe and responsible use of AI in defence, which will include ethical principles based on extensive policy work together with the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. The policy will include an updated statement of our position on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, there is no international agreement on the definition of such weapons systems, but the UK continues to contribute actively at the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, working closely with our international partners, seeking to build norms around their use and positive obligations to demonstrate how degrees of autonomy in weapons systems can be used in accordance with international humanitarian law. The defence AI centre will have a key role in delivering technical standards, including where these can support our implementation of ethical principles. The centre achieved initial operating capability last month and will continue to expand throughout this year, having already established joint military, government and industry multidisciplinary teams. The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has, over the past year, been working with the Ministry of Defence to develop ethical principles for the use of AI in defence—as, I should say, it has with the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles in the important context of self-driving vehicles.

The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, asked about the application of AI in the important sphere of the environment. Over the past two years, the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence’s data governance working group has brought together experts from across the world to advance international co-operation and collaboration in areas such as this. The UK’s Office for Artificial Intelligence provided more than £1 million to support two research projects on data trusts and data justice in collaboration with partner institutions including the Alan Turing Institute, the Open Data Institute and the Data Trusts Initiative at Cambridge University. These projects explored using data trusts to support action to protect our climate, as well as expanding understanding of data governance to include considerations of equity and justice.

The insights that have been raised in today’s debate and in the reports which tonight’s debate has concerned will continue to shape the Government’s thinking as we take forward our strategy on AI. As noble Lords have noted, by most measures the UK is a leader in AI, behind only the United States and China. We are home to one-third of Europe’s AI companies and twice as many as any other European nation. We are also third in the world for AI investment—again, behind the US and China—attracting twice as much venture capital as France and Germany combined, but we are not complacent. We are determined to keep building on our strengths, maintaining and building on this global position. This evening’s debate has provided many rich insights on the further steps we must take to make sure that the UK remains an AI and science superpower. I am very grateful to noble Lords, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for instigating it.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, first I thank noble Lords for having taken part in this debate. We certainly do not lack ambition around the table, so to speak. I think everybody saw the opportunities and the positives, but also saw the risks and challenges. I liked the use by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, of the word “grappling”. I think we have grappled quite well today with some of the issues and I think the Minister, given what is quite a tricky cross-departmental need to pull everything together, made a very elegant fist of responding to the debate. Of course, inevitably, we want stronger meat in response on almost every occasion.

I am not going to do another wind-up speech, so to speak, but I think it was a very useful opportunity, prompted by the right reverend Prelate, to reflect on humanity. We cannot talk about artificial intelligence without talking about human intelligence. That is the extraordinary thing: the more you talk about what artificial intelligence can do, the more you have to talk about human endeavour and what humans can do. In that context, I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Bilimoria, on their versatility. They both took part in the earlier debate, and it is very interesting to see the commonality between some of the issues raised in the previous debate on digital exclusion —human beings being excluded from opportunity— which arise also in the case of AI. I was very interested to see how, back to back, they managed to deal with all that.

The Minister said a number of things, but I think the trust and confidence aspect is vital. The proof of the pudding will be in the data reform Bill. I may differ slightly on that from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, who thinks it is a pretty good thing, by the sound of it, but we do not know what it is going to contain. All I will say is that, when Professor Goldacre appeared before the Science and Technology Committee, I think it was a lesson for us all. He is the chap who has just written the definitive report on data use in the health area for the Department of Health, and he deliberately opted out, last year, of the GP request for consent to share data, and he is the leading data scientist in health. He was not convinced of the fact that his data would be safe. We can talk about trusted research environments and all that, but public trust in data use, whether it is in health or anything else, needs engagement by government and needs far more work.

The thing that frightens a lot of us is that we can see all the opportunities but if we do not get it right, and if we do not get permission to use the technology, we cannot deploy it in the way we conceived, whether it is for the sustainable development goals or for other forms of public benefit in the public service. Provided we get the compliance mechanisms right we can see the opportunities, but we have to get that public trust on board, not least in the area of lethal autonomous weapons. I think the perception of what the Government are doing in that area is very different from what the Ministry of Defence may think it is doing, particularly if they are developing some splendid principles of which we will all approve, when it is all about what is actually happening on the ground.

I will say no further. I am sure we will have further debates on this and I hope that the Minister has enjoyed having to brief himself for this debate, because it is very much part of the department’s responsibilities.

Gambling: Loot Boxes

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Thursday 19th May 2022

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Government’s response to the call for evidence on loot boxes is being developed alongside our review of the Gambling Act. We received over 30,000 responses to our call for evidence and will publish the Government’s response in the coming months. It will consider a range of issues, including in relation to gambling. The gambling White Paper will be published in the coming weeks.

Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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I thank the Minister for that reply. He will be aware that, two years ago, the Government responded to a DCMS Committee report saying that the Gambling Act review would have

“a particular focus on tackling issues around loot boxes.”

The link between loot boxes and problem gambling has now been verified by many empirical studies. Given that 60,000 children are considered to be problem gamblers, will the Minister confirm that the much-delayed White Paper will make specific proposals, going beyond the steps recently taken by the games industry, to protect young people from the harm caused by loot boxes and other gambling-like products?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I cannot anticipate the much-anticipated White Paper, but we have certainly looked at the potential for harm to children and other vulnerable people through gambling. We looked at the issue of loot boxes separately because it is a technical and distinct area. We are very glad to have had 30,000 responses to our call for evidence. These have been considered alongside 50 submissions from academics and businesses and an independent evidence assessment of academic literature. So, we are looking at this in the detail that it deserves.

Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB)
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My Lords, bearing in mind that loot boxes may be a first step in children developing a gambling addiction in later life, how can the Government justify an 18-month delay before responding to the consultation, which was completed in November 2020?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, as I outlined, this is a technical area and we have had a lot of submissions to look at, including academic literature on this changing and emerging area. But this has not stopped us taking action in the meantime: we have banned gambling on credit cards, tightened restrictions on VIP schemes and updated the gambling advertising codes to ban adverts that have a strong appeal to children—for example, those featuring sportsmen such as Premiership footballers.

Lord Suri Portrait Lord Suri (Con)
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My Lords, loot boxes are a form of online gambling. There is no harm in regulating them, but we have to remember that underage persons are certainly not allowed to participate in gambling. In Kenya, I was a trader in books and stationery and was a leading importer of gambling newspapers and magazines from the UK. Many sensible persons would approach me and say that I should tell my fellow traders that they should not sell these gambling newspapers to children, as a token of good service to society.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that the UK is one of the safest places in the world to be online, and that includes gaming and gambling. The Information Commissioner’s Office has published the children’s code, which sets out how online services which are likely to be accessed by children should protect them online.

Lord Browne of Belmont Portrait Lord Browne of Belmont (DUP)
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My Lords, there are two main ways of controlling the use of loot boxes—banning or regulation—so what assessment have the Government made of the effectiveness of Belgium’s ban on the use of loot boxes and the Chinese approach of reducing the number of loot boxes that can be opened on a daily basis?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As part of our review, we are of course looking at examples from around the world to see what other jurisdictions have done and will set out our responses in due course.

Baroness Fookes Portrait Baroness Fookes (Con)
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My Lords, as I do not gamble, can somebody please tell me what a loot box is and how it works?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My noble friend asks a good question and one which I had to ask in preparing for this. In brief, a loot box is a prize which can be won in an online game. It could be a superpower for your character, or it could be a new player for your virtual football team. They take many forms, but they are prizes which have no monetary value; their worth is to be played in the game.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, following on from that, periodically there are news stories about children racking up bills on their parents’ credit cards to try to win these in-game upgrades. Although Microsoft and Sony have taken steps to make it harder for this to happen via their online stores, there is certainly a case for exploring additional statutory safeguards, so will the Minister look at including provisions in the Online Safety Bill to cover the marketing of and the processes attached to the purchase of loot boxes?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right that parental controls are an important tool for parents and guardians to supervise and manage how their children interact with video games. The industry has taken some action to develop parental controls, and some companies have also committed to disclose information on the relative probability of obtaining virtual items. Gaming platforms will be in the scope of the regulatory framework of the Online Safety Bill if they host user-generated content or facilitate online interaction.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, I recently spoke to a member of the gaming industry, who described loot boxes as a thoroughly nasty, money-making scheme based on the dopamine hit of playing and levelling up in a game. You pay for them. Surely that alone should be enough to justify their being banned.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, that is why we are looking at the issue of loot boxes to see what action should be taken. As I have said, some games companies and platforms have taken steps in the meantime to improve protections for their consumers since we published the call for evidence. We will set out our response in due course.

The Politics of Polling (Liaison Committee Report)

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Thursday 19th May 2022

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to respond to this debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. We are indeed pleased to see him hale and hearty and back in your Lordships’ House. He has devoted admirable time and effort to an issue which, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, plays an important role in the functioning of our democracy, even as headlines about the failures of pollsters in recent electoral events have begun to fade in the memory somewhat.

The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, brings a wealth of experience to this debate as an advisor in government, a former member of the advisory committee of a pollster and, as he mentioned in his opening speech, a journalist wrestling with competing priorities in the reporting of polls for the Sunday Times and other organs. Unlike him, I never place bets on electoral events, partly out of superstition and partly because I do not think I could deal with the additional emotional turbulence that would ensue.

I begin by reiterating the Government’s position that we continue to support the independent self-regulation of polling by the British Polling Council. As such, I will, as noble Lords anticipated, tread lightly in offering any opinion on the nature of the changes that it and the Market Research Society have made in response to the 2018 recommendations of your Lordships’ Political Polling and Digital Media Committee. Similarly, I do not intend to opine in detail on the progress which those organisations have made, in partnership with Impress and the National Council for the Training of Journalists, in providing resources for journalists on the accurate reporting of opinion polls. The Government are committed to a free and independent press and do not intervene in what the press can and cannot publish.

Instead, I will limit myself to some broader observations about the operation of political opinion polls in our democracy and on the impact of the work of the 2018 committee on this issue. With regard to recent failures in political polling in the United Kingdom, a measure of uncertainty in the prediction of elections and referenda is perhaps welcome. The noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Rennard, mentioned the infamous failure of pollsters in the United States of America to anticipate Harry Truman’s victory over Thomas Dewey in 1948. In response to that, the American essayist EB White wrote:

“The total collapse of the public opinion polls shows that this country is in good health. A country that developed an airtight system of finding out in advance what was in people’s minds would be uninhabitable.”


I think we can agree with that wisdom.

However, as my noble friend Lord Hayward said, the polling industry’s prosperity is built on trust. Inaccurate, poor-quality or dishonest polling undermines public trust in the organisations which produce polls. I shall refrain from mentioning how the inaccurate reporting of polls in LibDem Focus leaflets has clouded my judgment about that organisation and the private companies that do them. While this may make the financial and reputational repercussions an effective deterrent to poor practice, I recognise also the key democratic role that polls play in informing the debate leading up to elections and referenda and thus the heightened importance of accuracy.

On that basis, the Political Polling and Digital Media Committee’s inquiry in 2018 was timely. The Liaison Committee’s follow-up report demonstrates that it was also constructive. It is a testament to the forensic attention that your Lordships’ committee paid to this subject that, in learning from mistakes made since 2015, the polling industry has since adopted many of the committee’s recommendations, and I commend the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and the other members of your Lordships’ committee for their part in that. 

I turn briefly to some of the recommendations directed at government in the committee’s 2018 report. Although the follow up report does not revisit those recommendations, it may be instructive to summarise some of the Government’s more recent work here. The committee recommended that the Government act to help ensure that people of all ages have the critical digital literacy skills to enable them to assess and analyse the information that they read online. In July last year, the Government published the Online Media Literacy Strategy, setting out our vision for improving the national media literacy landscape. We have since delivered a range of initiatives designed to tackle the challenges laid out in the strategy. We recently published our second-year action plan, announcing a significant increase in resources to continue increasing the inclusivity and impact of media literacy providers.

The committee also supported calls for online campaigning material to be required to include an imprint stating who has published it, as is and has long been the case for printed material. Following Royal Assent last month, the Elections Act delivered this recommendation by introducing a new digital imprint regime. This will go much further than the print imprint regime, increasing transparency and empowering voters to make informed decisions about the material that they see online. It will be one of the most comprehensive digital imprint regimes operating in the world today, applying all year round across the United Kingdom, regardless of whence in the world content is promoted.

More broadly, the committee raised concerns about the problems posed to democracy by the rise of digital and social media, and recommended that the UK Government engage with others to discuss international approaches to tackling some of these problems. In July last year, the Government published our plan for digital regulation, which sets out our overall vision for governing digital technologies to drive prosperity, while minimising harms to the economy, security and society. One of its key pillars is promoting a flourishing democratic society, and we are taking action to support this through the measures that I described earlier: the Online Safety Bill, which will have strong protections for content of democratic importance and journalistic content; our data protection regime, which will protect people’s data rights and build trust; and a broad range of measures to support the freedom and sustainability of the press. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, said, the Bills that we will debate in this Session touch on all of these areas and more.

Through the plan, the Government committed to building in international considerations from the very start of the policy-making process and ensuring that we engage constructively on digital regulation issues on the international stage. Last year, for example, at President Biden’s multiparty Summit for Democracy, the UK committed to sharing best practice with like-minded partners on approaches to countering disinformation, both bilaterally and multilaterally. The UK will build on its international and domestic work programmes throughout the summit’s “year of action” to promote our vision for UK democracy: a system that is modern, secure, inclusive, transparent and fair.

As noble Lords noted, political polling plays a crucial role in shaping the narrative of election campaigns. I certainly do remember the example of the 2017 general election. I was a candidate in the 2010 general election, at the height of “Cleggmania”, after the debates that the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, reminded us of. I was standing in Newcastle upon Tyne North, a part of the country that has a very high number of postal votes because of the old postal vote experiments conducted by the Labour Government in 2004. It was very striking to me as a candidate, knocking up on polling day, to see how people had cast their votes because of the televised debates and the reporting of the opinion polls. Even two weeks later, they may in some cases have begun to change their minds—alas, not in my direction in many of the cases.

All of us have an interest in the fair and robust design, execution and reporting of polls which take place, particularly during electoral events, so we should all be reassured by the recent advances made by the industry as highlighted in this report. This is particularly the case when these advances are considered alongside the action which the Government are taking to protect and enhance the broader environment within which political polling operates, and to make our democracy more resilient.

With renewed thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and to all noble Lords who have spoken in today’s debate, we are grateful for his work in this important area.