Debates between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 19th Jul 2023
Wed 12th Jul 2023
Thu 6th Jul 2023
Online Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage: Part 1 & Report stage: Minutes of Proceedings
Thu 22nd Jun 2023
Online Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1
Tue 16th May 2023
Online Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1
Thu 11th May 2023
Thu 27th Apr 2023
Online Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1
Tue 25th Apr 2023
Online Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1
Tue 22nd Nov 2022
Wed 29th Jun 2022
Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Tue 21st Jun 2022
Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Mon 20th Jun 2022
Tue 26th Oct 2021
Tue 19th Oct 2021
Thu 15th Jul 2021
Tue 13th Jul 2021
Telecommunications (Security) Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, we welcome the government amendments in this group to bring child sexual exploitation and abuse failures into the scope of the senior manager liability and enforcement regime but consider that they do not go far enough. On the government amendments, I have a question for the Minister about whether, through Clause 122, it would be possible to require a company that was subject to action to do some media literacy as part of its harm reduction; in other words, would it be possible for Ofcom to use its media literacy powers as part of the enforcement process? I offer that as a helpful suggestion.

We share the concerns expressed previously by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, about the scope of the senior manager liability regime, which does not cover all the child safety duties in the Bill. We consider that Amendment 268, in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson, would provide greater flexibility, giving the possibility of expanding the list of duties covered in the future. I have a couple of brief questions to add to my first question. Will the Minister comment on how the operation of the senior manager liability regime will be kept under review? This has, of course, been something of a contentious issue in the other place, so could the Minister perhaps tell your Lordships’ House how confident he is that the current position is supported there? I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I did not quite finish writing down the noble Baroness’s questions. I will do my best to answer them, but I may need to follow up in writing because she asked a number at the end, which is perfectly reasonable. On her question about whether confirmation decision steps could include media literacy, yes, that is a good idea; they could.

Amendment 268, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, seeks to enable the Secretary of State, through regulation, to add to the list of duties which are linked to the confirmation decision offence. We are very concerned at the prospect of allowing an unconstrained expansion of the confirmation decision offence. In particular, as I have already set out, we would be concerned about expansion of those related to search services. There is also concern about unconstrained additions of any other duties related to user-to-user services as well.

We have chosen specific duties which will tackle effectively key issues related to child safety online and tackling child abuse while ensuring that the confirmation decision offence remains targeted. Non-compliance with a requirement imposed by a confirmation decision in relation to such duties warrants the prospect of criminal enforcement on top of Ofcom’s extensive civil enforcement powers. Making excessive changes to the offence risks shifting the regime towards a more punitive and disproportionate enforcement model, which would represent a significant change to the framework as a whole. Furthermore, expansion of the confirmation decision offence could lead to services taking an excessively cautious approach to content moderation to avoid the prospect of criminal liability. We are also concerned that such excessive expansion could significantly increase the burden on Ofcom.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Weir of Ballyholme, and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for the way they set out their Amendment 268C. We are concerned about this proposal because it is important that Ofcom can respond to issues on a case-by-case basis: it may not always be appropriate or proportionate to use a specific enforcement power in response to a suspected breach. Interim service restriction orders are some of the strongest enforcement powers in the Bill and will have a significant impact on the service in question. Their use may be disproportionate in cases where there is only a minor breach, or where a service is taking steps to deal with a breach following a provisional notice of contravention.

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, as we have heard, the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, made a very clear case in support of these amendments, tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and supported by noble Lords from across the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, gave wise counsel to the Minister, as did the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that it is worth stepping back and seeing where we are in order to ensure that the Bill is in the right place. I urge the Minister to find the time and the energy that I know he has—he certainly has the energy and I am sure he will match it with the time—to speak to noble Lords over the coming Recess to agree a way to incorporate systems and functionality into the Bill, for all the reasons we have heard.

On Monday, my noble friend Lord Knight spoke of the need for a review about loot boxes and video games. When we checked Hansard, we saw the Minister had promised that such a review would be offered in the coming months. In an unusual turn of events, the Minister exceeded the timescale. We did not have to hear the words “shortly”, “in the summer” or “spring” or anything like that, because it was announced the very next day that the department would keep legislative options under review.

I make that point simply to thank the Minister for the immediate response to my noble friend Lord Knight. But, if we are to have such a review, does this not point very much to the fact that functionality and systems should be included in the Bill? The Minister has a very nice hook to hang this on and I hope that he will do so.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, this is not just a content Bill. The Government have always been clear that the way in which a service is designed and operated, including its features and functionalities, can have a significant impact on the risk of harm to a user. That is why the Bill already explicitly requires providers to ensure their services are safe by design and to address the risks that arise from features and functionalities.

The Government have recognised the concerns which noble Lords have voiced throughout our scrutiny of the Bill, and those which predated the scrutiny of it. We have tabled a number of amendments to make it even more explicit that these elements are covered by the Bill. We have tabled the new introductory Clause 1, which makes it clear that duties on providers are aimed at ensuring that services are safe by design. It also highlights that obligations on services extend to the design and operation of the service. These obligations ensure that the consideration of risks associated with the business model of a service is a fundamental aspect of the Bill.

My noble friend Baroness Harding of Winscombe worried that we had made the Bill worse by adding this. The new clause was a collaborative one, which we have inserted while the Bill has been before your Lordships’ House. Let me reassure her and other noble Lords as we conclude Report that we have not made it worse by so doing. The Bill will require services to take a safety by design approach to the design and operation of their services. We have always been clear that this will be crucial to compliance with the legislation. The new introductory Clause 1 makes this explicit as an overarching objective of the Bill. The introductory clause does not introduce any new concepts; it is an accurate summary of the key provisions and objectives of the Bill and, to that end, the framework and introductory statement are entirely compatible.

We also tabled amendments—which we debated last Monday—to Clause 209. These make it clear that functionalities contribute to the risk of harm to users, and that combinations of functionality may cumulatively drive up the level of risk. Amendment 281BA would amend the meaning of “functionality” within the Bill, so that it includes any system or process which affects users. This presents a number of concerns. First, such a broad interpretation would mean that any service in scope of the Bill would need to consider the risk of any feature or functionality, including ones that are positive for users’ online experience. That could include, for example, processes designed for optimising the interface depending on the user’s device and language settings. The amendment would increase the burden on service providers under the existing illegal content and child safety duties and would dilute their focus on genuinely risky functionality and design.

Second, by duplicating the reference to systems, processes and algorithms elsewhere in the Bill, it implies that the existing references in the Bill to the design of a service or to algorithms must be intended to capture matters not covered by the proposed new definition of “functionality”. This would suggest that references to systems and processes, and algorithms, mentioned elsewhere in the Bill, cover only systems, processes or algorithms which do not have an impact on users. That risks undermining the effectiveness of the existing duties and the protections for users, including children.

Amendment 268A introduces a further interpretation of features and functionality in the general interpretation clause. This duplicates the overarching interpretation of functionality in Clause 208 and, in so doing, introduces legal and regulatory uncertainty, which in turn risks weakening the existing duties. I hope that sets out for my noble friend Lady Harding and others our legal concerns here.

Amendment 281FA seeks to add to the interpretation of harm in Clause 209 by clarifying the scenarios in which harm may arise, specifically from services, systems and processes. This has a number of concerning effects. First, it states that harm can arise solely from a system and process, but a design choice does not in isolation harm a user. For example, the decision to use algorithms, or even the algorithm itself, is not what causes harm to a user—it is the fact that harmful content may be pushed to a user, or content pushed in such a manner that is harmful, for example repeatedly and in volume. That is already addressed comprehensively in the Bill, including in the child safety risk assessment duties.

Secondly, noble Lords should be aware that the drafting of the amendment has the effect of saying that harm can arise from proposed new paragraphs (a) (b) and (c)—

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, first, I have to say that, having read Hansard from last Thursday, I feel I should have drawn attention to my interests in the register that relate to the Jewish community. I apologise for not doing so at the time and am pleased to now put this on the record.

I will be brief, as noble Lords have already raised a number of very pertinent points, to which I know the Minister will want to respond. In this group of amendments, there is a very welcome focus on transparency, accountability and the role of Parliament, all of which are absolutely crucial to the success of the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister for his introduction and explanation of the impact of the proposed changes to the role of the Secretary of State and Ofcom, whose codes of practice will be, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said, vitally important to the Bill. We very much welcome the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, which identify the requirements of the Secretary of State. We also welcome the government amendments, which along with the amendments by the noble Baroness, have been signed by my noble friend Lord Stevenson.

The amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, raise interesting points about the requirement to use the affirmative procedure, among other points. I look forward to the Minister’s response to that and other amendments. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister his thoughts on arrangements for post-legislative scrutiny. It would also be helpful to deliberations to understand whether there have been discussions on this between the usual channels.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, this is indeed an apposite day to be discussing ongoing ping-pong. I am very happy to speak enthusiastically and more slowly about my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston’s Amendments 139 and 140. We are happy to support those, subject to some tidying up at Third Reading. We agree with the points that she has made and are keen to bring something forward which would mean broadly that a statement would be laid before Parliament when the power to direct had been used. My noble friend Lady Harding characterised them as the infinite ping-pong question and the secretive ping-pong question; I hope that deals with the secretive ping-pong point.

My noble friend Lady Stowell’s other amendments focus on the infinite ping-pong question, and the power to direct Ofcom to modify a code. Her Amendments 139, 140, 144 and 145 seek to address those concerns: that the Secretary of State could enter into a private form of ping-pong with Ofcom, making an unlimited number of directions on a code to prevent it from ever coming before Parliament. Let me first be clear that we do not foresee that happening. As the amendments I have spoken to today show, the power can be used only when specific exceptional reasons apply. In that sense, we agree with the intent of the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Stowell. However, we cannot accept them as drafted because they rely on concepts— such as the “objective” of a direction—which are not consistent with the procedure for making a direction set out in the Bill.

The amendments I have brought forward mean that private ping-pong between the Secretary of State and Ofcom on a code is very unlikely to happen. Let me set out for my noble friend and other noble Lords why that is. The Secretary of State would need exceptional reasons for making any direction, and the Bill then requires that the code be laid before Parliament as soon as is reasonably practicable once the Secretary of State is satisfied that no further modifications to the draft are required. That does not leave room for the power to be used inappropriately. A code could be delayed in this way and in the way that noble Lords have set out only if the Secretary of State could show that there remained exceptional reasons once a code had been modified. This test, which is a very high bar, would need to be met each time. Under the amendments in my name, Parliament would also be made aware straightaway each time a direction was made, and when the modified code came before Parliament, it would now come under greater scrutiny using the affirmative procedure.

I certainly agree with the points that the noble Lord, Lord Allan, and others made that any directions should be made in as transparent a way as possible, which is why we have tabled these amendments. There may be some circumstances where the Secretary of State has access to information—for example, from the security services—the disclosure of which would have an adverse effect on national security. In our amendments, we have sought to retain the existing provisions in the Bill to make sure that we strike the right balance between transparency and protecting national security.

As the noble Lord mentioned, the Freedom of Information Act provides an additional route to transparency while also containing existing safeguards in relation to national security and other important areas. He asked me to think of an example of something that would be exceptional but not require that level of secrecy. By dropping economic policy and burden to business, I would point him to an example in those areas, but a concrete example evades me this afternoon. Those are the areas to which I would turn his attention.

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, this very positive government amendment acknowledges that there is not equality when it comes to online abuse. We know that women are 27 times more likely than men to be harassed online, that two-thirds of women who report abuse to internet companies do not feel heard, and three out of four women change their behaviour after receiving online abuse.

Like others, I am very glad to have added my name to support this amendment. I thank the Minister for bringing it before your Lordships’ House and for his introduction. It will place a requirement on Ofcom to produce and publish guidance for providers of Part 3 services in order to make online spaces safer for women and girls. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has said, while this is not a code of practice—and I will be interested in the distinction between the code of practice that was being called for and what we are expecting now—it would be helpful perhaps to know when we might expect to see it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, just asked, what kind of timescale is applicable?

This is very much a significant step for women and girls, who deserve and seek specific protections because of the disproportionate amount of abuse received. It is crucial that the guidance take a holistic approach which focuses on prevention and tech accountability, and that it is as robust as possible. Can the Minister say whether he will be looking to the model of the Violence against Women and Girls Code of Practice, which has been jointly developed by a number of groups and individuals including Glitch, the NSPCC, 5Rights and Refuge? It is important that this be got right, that we see it as soon as possible and that all the benefits can be felt and seen.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am very grateful to everyone for the support they have expressed for this amendment both in the debate now and by adding their names to it. As I said, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Morgan, with whom we have worked closely on it. I am also grateful for her recognition that men and boys also face harm online, as she rightly points out. As we discussed in Committee, this Bill seeks to address harms for all users but we recognise that women and girls disproportionately face harm online. As we have discussed with the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, women and girls with other characteristics such as women of colour, disabled women, Jewish women and many others face further disproportionate harm and abuse. I hope that Amendment 152 demonstrates our commitment to giving them the protection they need, making it easy and clear for platforms to implement protections for them across all the wide-ranging duties they have.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, asked why it was guidance and not a code of practice. Ofcom’s codes of practice will set out how companies can comply with the duties and will cover how companies should tackle the systemic risks facing women and girls online. Stipulating that Ofcom must produce specific codes for multiple different issues could, as we discussed in Committee, create duplication between the codes, causing confusion for companies and for Ofcom.

As Ofcom said in its letter to your Lordships ahead of Report, it has already started the preparatory work on the draft illegal content and child sexual abuse and exploitation codes. If it were required to create a separate code relating to violence against women and girls, this preparatory work would need to be revised, so there would be the unintended—and, I think, across the House, undesired—consequence of slowing down the implementation of these vital protections. I am grateful for the recognition that we and Ofcom have had on that point.

Instead, government Amendment 152 will consolidate all the relevant measures across codes of practice, such as on illegal content, child safety and user empowerment, in one place, assisting platforms to reduce the risk of harm that women and girls disproportionately face.

On timing, at present Ofcom expects that this guidance will be published in phase 3 of the implementation of the Bill, which was set out in Ofcom’s implementation plan of 15 June. This is when the duties in Part 4 of the Bill, relating to terms of service and so on, will be implemented. The guidance covers the duties in Part 4, so for guidance to be comprehensive and have the most impact in protecting women and girls, it is appropriate for it to be published during phase 3 of the Bill’s implementation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, mentioned the rights of trans people and the rights of people to express their views. As she knows, gender reassignment and religious or philosophical belief are both protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Sometimes those are in tension, but they are both protected in the law.

With gratitude to all the noble Lords who have expressed their support for it, I commend the amendment to the House.

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, this has indeed set us on a good course, and I am grateful to noble Lords for their questions and contributions. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Moylan, with whom I had the opportunity to discuss a number of issues relating to freedom of expression on Monday. We had tabled this amendment, and I apologise if I had not flagged it and sought his views on it explicitly, though I was grateful to him and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, for their time in discussing the issues of freedom of expression more broadly.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Harding and to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for their tireless work over many months on this Bill and for highlighting the importance of “content” and “activity”. Both terms have been in the Bill since its introduction, for instance in Clauses 5(2) and (3), but my noble friend Lady Harding is right to highlight it in the way that she did. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, asked about the provisions on safety by design. The statement in the new clause reflects the requirements throughout the Bill to address content and activity and ensure that services are safe by design.

On the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, which draw further attention to people who have multiple characteristics and suffer disproportionately because of it, let me start by saying again that the Government recognise that this is, sadly, the experience for many people online, and that people with multiple characteristics are often at increased risk of harm. The Bill already accounts for this, and the current drafting captures people with multiple characteristics because of Section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1978. As she says, this was a new one to me—other noble Lords may be more familiar with this legacy of the Callaghan Government—but it does mean that, when interpreting statute, words in the singular include the plural and words in the plural include the singular.

If we simply amended the references that the noble Baroness highlights in her amendments, we would risk some uncertainty about what those provisions cover. I sympathise with the concern which lies behind her amendments, and I am grateful for her time in discussing this matter in detail. I agree that it would be helpful to make it clearer that the Bill is designed to protect people with multiple characteristics. This clause is being inserted to give clarity, so we should seek to do that throughout.

We have therefore agreed to add a provision in Clause 211—the Bill’s interpretation clause—to make clear that all the various references throughout the Bill to people with a certain characteristic include people with a combination of characteristics. This amendment was tabled yesterday and will be moved at a later day on Report, so your Lordships’ House will have an opportunity to look at and vote on that. I hope that that provision clarifies the intention of the wording used in the Bill and puts the issue beyond doubt. I hope that the noble Baroness will be satisfied, and I am grateful to all noble Lords for their support on this first amendment.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. It is a very practical response and certainly one that I accept as a way forward. I am sure that the whole House is glad to hear of his acknowledgement of the true impact that having more than one protected characteristic can have, and of his commitment to wanting the Bill to do the job it is there to do. With that, I am pleased to withdraw the amendment in my name.

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this suite of government amendments. From these Benches we welcome them. From the nature of the debate, this seems to be very much a work in progress. I wish the Minister well as he and the Justice Minister continue to pick their way through a route to get us to where we need to be. I too thank the Law Commission, Dame Maria Miller MP and so many other campaigners who, as noble Lords have said, have got us to this important point.

However, as I am sure is recognised, with the best of intentions, the government amendments still leave some areas that are as yet unresolved, particularly on sharing images with others: matters such as revenge porn and sending unwanted pictures on dating apps. There are areas still to be explored. The Minister and the Justice Minister said in a letter that, when parliamentary time allows, there will be a broader package of offences being brought forward. I realise that the Minister cannot be precise, but I would appreciate some sense of urgency or otherwise in terms of parliamentary time and when that might be.

We are only just starting to understand the impact of, for example, artificial intelligence, which we are about to come on to. That will be relevant in this regard too. We all understand that this is a bit of a moveable feast. The test will be whether this works. Can the Minister say a bit more about how this suite of measures will be kept under review and, in so doing, will the Government be looking at keeping an eye on the number of charges that are brought? How will this be reported to the House?

In line with this, will there be some consideration of the points that were raised in the previous group? I refer particularly to the issues raised in the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, especially where there may not be the intent, or the means, to obtain sexual gratification. They might be about “having a bit of a laugh”, as the noble Baroness said—which might be funny to some but really not funny to others.

In welcoming this, I hope that the Minister will indicate that this is just one step along the way and when we will see further steps.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am happy to respond clearly to that. As my right honourable friend Edward Argar MP and I said in our letter, this is just the first step towards implementing the changes which the Law Commission has recommended and which we agree are needed. We will implement a broader package of offences, covering, for instance, the taking of intimate images without consent, which were also part of the Law Commission’s report. The parameters of this Bill limit what we can do now. As I said in my opening remarks, we want to bring those forward now so that we can provide protections for victims in all the ways that the Bill gives us scope to do. We will bring forward further provisions when parliamentary time allows. The noble Baroness will understand that I cannot pre-empt when that is, although if we make good progress on the Bill, parliamentary time may allow for it sooner.

The noble Baroness also asked about our review. We will certainly take into account the number of prosecutions and charges that are brought. That is always part of our consideration of criminal law, but I am happy to reassure her that this will be the case here. These are new offences, and we want to make sure that they are leading to prosecutions to deter people from doing it.

The noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam, asked whether images will include those shared on virtual reality platforms and in other novel ways. As he knows, the Bill is written in a technologically neutral way to try to be future-proof and capture those technologies which have not yet been invented. I mentioned deepfakes in my opening remarks, which we can envisage. An image will be included on whatever platform it is shared, if it appears to be a photograph or film—that is to say, if it is photo-real. I hope that reassures him.

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Bethell, Lord Curry and Lord Allan for introducing their amendments, to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for her direct question, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for her equally direct question. I am sure they will be of great assistance to the Minister when he replies. I will highlight the words of the noble Lord, Lord Allan, who said “We are looking for services to succeed”. I think that is right, but what is success? It includes compliance and enforcement, and that is what this group refers to.

The amendments introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, seek to strengthen what is already in the Bill about Ofcom’s Chapter 6 powers of enforcement, otherwise known as business disruption powers, and they focus on what happens in the event of a breach; they seek to be more prescriptive than what we already have. I am sure the Minister will remember that the same issue came up in the Digital Economy Bill, around the suggestion that the Government should take specific powers. There, the Government argued they had assurances from credit card companies that, if and when action was required, they would co-operate. In light of that previous discussion, it will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say.

In respect of the amendments introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, on the need to toughen up requirements on Ofcom to act, I am sure the Minister will say that these powers are not required and that the Bill already makes provision for Ofcom blocking services which are failing in their duties. I echo the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about being overly prescriptive and not allowing Ofcom to do its job. The truth is that Ofcom may need discretion but it also needs teeth, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about whether he feels, in the light of the debate today and other conversations, that there is sufficient toughness in the Bill and that Ofcom will be able to do the job it is required to do. There is an issue of the balance of discretion versus requirement, and I know he will refer to this. I will also be interested to hear from the Minister about the view of Ofcom with respect to what is in the Bill, and whether it feels that it has sufficient powers.

I will raise a final point about the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry. I think they ask a valid question about the level of discretion that Ofcom will have. I ask the Minister this: if, a few years down the line, we find that Ofcom has not used the powers suitably, despite clear failures, what would the Government seek to do? With that, I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, where necessary, the regulator will be able to apply to the courts for business disruption measures. These are court orders which will require third-party ancillary services and access facilities to withdraw their services from, or impede users’ access to, non-compliant regulated services. These are strong, flexible powers which will ensure that Ofcom can take robust action to protect users. At the same time, we have ensured that due process is followed. An application for a court order will have to specify the non-compliant provider, the grounds and evidence on which the application is based and the steps that third parties must take to withdraw services or block users’ access. Courts will consider whether business disruption measures are an appropriate way of preventing harm to users and, if an order is granted, ensure it is proportionate to the risk of harm. The court will also consider the interests of all relevant parties, which may include factors such as contractual terms, technical feasibility and the costs of the measures. These powers will ensure that services can be held to account for failure to comply with their duties under the Bill, while ensuring that Ofcom’s approach to enforcement is proportionate and upholds due process.

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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It is up to Ofcom to decide how to set the codes out. What I am saying is that the codes deal with specific categories of threat or problem—illegal content, child safety content, child sexual abuse and exploitation—rather than with specific audiences who are affected by these sorts of problems. There is a circularity here in some of the criticism that we are not reflecting the fact that there are compound harms to people affected in more than one way and then saying that we should have a separate code dealing with one particular group of people because of one particular characteristic. We are trying to deal with categories of harm that we know disproportionately affect women and girls but which of course could affect others, as the noble Baroness rightly noted. Amendment 304—

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for giving way. There is a bit of a problem that I would like to raise. I think the Minister is saying that there should not be a code of practice in respect of violence against women and girls. That sounds to me like there will be no code of practice in this one particular area, which seems rather harsh. It also does not tackle the issue on which I thought we were all agreed, even if we do not agree the way forward: namely, that women and girls are disproportionately affected. If it is indeed the case that the Minister feels that way, how does he suggest this is dealt with?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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There are no codes designed for Jewish people, Muslim people or people of colour, even though we know that they are disproportionately affected by some of these harms as well. The approach taken is to tackle the problems, which we know disproportionately affect all of those groups of people and many more, by focusing on the harms rather than the recipients of the harm.

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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While I am happy to elaborate on the work of the counter-disinformation unit in the way I just have, the Government cannot share operational details about its work, as that would give malign actors insight into the scope and scale of our capabilities. As my noble friend notes, this is not in the public interest. Moreover, reporting representations made to platforms by the unit would also be unnecessary as this would overlook both the existing processes that govern engagements with external parties and the new protections that are introduced through the Bill.

In the first intervention, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, gave a number of examples, some of which are debatable, contestable facts. Companies may well choose to keep them on their platforms within their terms of service. We have also seen deliberate misinformation and disinformation during the pandemic, including from foreign actors promoting more harmful disinformation. It is right that we take action against this.

I hope that I have given noble Lords some reassurance on the points raised about the amendments in this group. I invite them not to press the amendments.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords across the Committee for their consideration and for their contributions in this important area. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, both said, this was an area of struggle for the Joint Committee. The debate today shows exactly why that is so, but it is a struggle worth having.

The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, talked about there being a gap in the Bill as it stands. The amendments include the introduction of risk assessments and transparency and, fundamentally, explaining things in a way that people can actually understand. These are all tried and tested methods and can serve only to improve the Bill.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response and consideration of the amendments. I want to take us back to the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. She explained it beautifully—partly in response to the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. This is about tackling a system of amplification of misinformation and disinformation that moves the most marginal of views into the mainstream. It deals with restricting the damage that, as I said earlier, can produce the most dire circumstances. Amplification is the consideration that these amendments seek to tackle.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his comments, as well as for his amendments. I am sure the noble Lord has reflected that some of the previous amendments he brought before the House somewhat put the proverbial cat among the Committee pigeons. On this occasion, I think the noble Lord has nicely aligned the cats and the pigeons. He has managed to rally us all—with the exception of the Minister—behind these amendments.

BBC: Appointment and Resignation of Chair

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Tuesday 2nd May 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, the BBC is a world-class broadcaster and cultural institution which produces some of the very best television and radio in the world. We understand and respect Richard Sharp’s decision to stand down. His Majesty’s Government and the BBC board both want to see stability for the corporation. We want to ensure an orderly transition and will launch a process to identify and appoint a new permanent chairman.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, last week’s report found Richard Sharp to be wrong in not declaring his close links with Boris Johnson when applying for the job of BBC chair. The facts have been clear for some time, so while we welcome the report, this matter could and should have been resolved much earlier. Does the Minister accept that this sorry episode has caused damage both to the BBC’s reputation and to confidence in the public appointments process? With Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promising integrity at every level of his Government, why was it left to Mr Sharp to resign rather than him being dismissed weeks ago?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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It is right that an independent process was commissioned and allowed the time to run. Mr Sharp himself has said that he regrets the impact this has had on the corporation he has faithfully served. Mr Heppinstall’s report says:

“Overall, DCMS officials conducted a good and thorough process”.


There are some helpful lessons for all in his investigation, which we will look at and take forward as appropriate.

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome this debate, which revisits some of the areas discussed in earlier debates about the scope of the Bill, as many noble Lords said. It allows your Lordships’ House to consider what has to be the primary driver for assessment. In my view and as others said, it ought to be about risk, which has to be the absolute driver in all this. As the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, said, businesses do not remain static: they start at a certain size and then change. Of course, we hope that many of the businesses we are talking about will grow, so this is about preparation for growth and the reality of doing businesses.

As we discussed, there certainly are cases where search providers may, by their very nature, be almost immune from presenting users with content that could be considered either harmful or illegal under this legislative framework. The new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan—I am grateful to him for allowing us to explore these matters—and its various consequential amendments, would limit the duty to prevent access to illegal content to core category 2A search providers, rather than all search providers, as is currently the case under Clause 23(3).

The argument that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, put forward is that the illegal content duty is unduly wide, placing a disproportionate and otherwise unacceptable burden on smaller and/or supposedly safer search providers. He clearly said he was not saying that small was safe—that is now completely understood—but he also said that absolute safety is not achievable. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, said, that is indeed so. If this legislation is too complex and creates the wrong provisions, we will clearly be a long way away from our ambition, which here has to be to have in place the best legislative framework, one that everyone can work with and that provides the maximum opportunity for safety and what we all seek to achieve.

Of course, the flip side of the argument about an unacceptable burden on smaller, or on supposedly safer, search providers may be that they would in fact have very little work to do to comply with the illegal content duty, at least in the short term. But the duty would act as an important safeguard, should the provider’s usual systems prove ineffective with the passage of time. Again, that point was emphasised in this and the previous debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Harding.

We look forward to the Minister’s response to find out which view he and his department subscribe to or, indeed, whether they have another view they can bring to your Lordships’ House. But, on the face of it, the current arrangements do not appear unacceptably onerous.

Amendment 157 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, and introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, deals with search by a different approach by inserting requirements about search services’ publicly available statements into Clause 65. In the debate, the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Weir, raised very important, realistic examples of where search engines can take us, including to material that encourages racism directed at Jews and other groups and encourages hatred of various groups, including Jews. The amendment talks about issues such as the changing of algorithms or the hiding of content and the need to ensure that the terms of providers’ publicly available statements are applied as consistently.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister in response to Amendment 157 as the tech certainly moves us beyond questions of scope and towards discussion of the conduct of platforms when harm is identified.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, I must first apologise for my slightly dishevelled appearance as I managed to spill coffee down my shirt on my way to the Chamber. I apologise for that—as the fumes from the dried coffee suffuse the air around me. It will certainly keep me caffeinated for the day ahead.

Search services play a critical role in users’ online experience, allowing them easily to find and access a broad range of information online. Their gateway function, as we have discussed previously, means that they also play an important role in keeping users safe online because they have significant influence over the content people encounter. The Bill therefore imposes stringent requirements on search services to tackle the risks from illegal content and to protect children.

Amendments 13, 15, 66 to 69 and 73 tabled by my noble friend Lord Moylan seek to narrow the scope of the Bill so that its safety search duties apply only to the largest search services—categorised in the Bill as category 2A services—rather than to all search services. Narrowing the scope in this way would have an adverse impact on the safety of people using search services, including children. Search services, including combined services, below the category 2A threshold would no longer have a duty to minimise the risk of users encountering illegal content or children encountering harmful content in or via search results. This would increase the likelihood of users, including children, accessing illegal content and children accessing harmful content through these services.

The Bill already takes a targeted approach and the duties on search services will be proportionate to the risk of harm and the capacity of companies. This means that services which are smaller and lower-risk will have a lighter regulatory burden than those which are larger and higher-risk. All search services will be required to conduct regular illegal content risk assessments and, where relevant, children’s risk assessments, and then implement proportionate mitigations to protect users, including children. Ofcom will set out in its codes of practice specific steps search services can take to ensure compliance and must ensure that these are proportionate to the size and capacity of the service.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and my noble friend Lady Harding of Winscombe asked how search services should conduct their risk assessments. Regulated search services will have a duty to conduct regular illegal content risk assessments, and where a service is likely to be accessed by children it will have a duty to conduct regular children’s risk assessments, as I say. They will be required to assess the level and nature of the risk of individuals encountering illegal content on their service, to implement proportionate mitigations to protect people from illegal content, and to monitor them for effectiveness. Services likely to be accessed by children will also be required to assess the nature and level of risk of their service specifically for children to identify and implement proportionate mitigations to keep children safe, and to monitor them for effectiveness as well.

Companies will also need to assess how the design and operation of the service may increase or reduce the risks identified and Ofcom will have a duty to issue guidance to assist providers in carrying out their risk assessments. That will ensure that providers have, for instance, sufficient clarity about what an appropriate risk assessment looks like for their type of service.

The noble Lord, Lord Allan, and others asked about definitions and I congratulate noble Lords on avoiding the obvious

“To be, or not to be”


pun in the debate we have just had. The noble Lord, Lord Allan, is right in the definition he set out. On the rationale for it, it is simply that we have designated as category 1 the largest and riskiest services and as category 2 the smaller and less risky ones, splitting them between 2A, search services, and 2B, user-to-user services. We think that is a clear framework. The definitions are set out a bit more in the Explanatory Notes but that is the rationale.

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, it has certainly been an interesting debate, and I am grateful to noble Lords on all sides of the Committee for their contributions and considerations. I particularly thank the noble Lords who tabled the amendments which have shaped the debate today.

In general, on these Benches, we believe that the Bill offers a proportionate approach to tackling online harms. We feel that granting some of the exemptions proposed in this group would be unintentionally counterproductive and would raise some unforeseen difficulties. The key here—and it has been raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Harding and Lady Kidron, and, just now, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who talked about the wider considerations of the Joint Committee and factors that should be taken into account—is that we endorse a risk-based approach. In this debate, it is very important that we take ourselves back to that, because that is the key.

My view is that using other factors, such as funding sources or volunteer engagement in moderation, cuts right across this risk-based approach. To refer to Amendment 4, it is absolutely the case that platforms with fewer than 1 million UK monthly users have scope to create considerable harm. Indeed, noble Lords will have seen that later amendments call for certain small platforms to be categorised on the basis of the risk—and that is the important word—that they engender, rather than the size of the platform, which, unfortunately, is something of a crude measure. The point that I want to make to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, is that it is not about the size of the businesses and how they are categorised but what they actually do. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, rightly said that small is not safe, for all the reasons that were explained, including by the noble Baroness, Lady Harding.

Amendment 9 would exempt small and medium-sized enterprises and certain other organisations from most of the Bill’s provisions. I am in no doubt about the well-meaning nature of this amendment, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. Indeed, there may well be an issue about how start-ups and entrepreneur unicorns cope with the regulatory framework. We should attend to that, and I am sure that the Minister will have something to say about it. But I also expect that the Minister will outline why this would actually be unhelpful in combating many of the issues that this Bill is fundamentally designed to deal with if we were to go down the road of these exclusions.

In particular, granting exemptions simply on the basis of a service’s size could lead to a situation where user numbers are capped or perhaps even where platforms are deliberately broken up to avoid regulation. This would have an effect that none of us in this Chamber would want to see because it would embed harmful content and behaviour rather than helping to reduce them.

Referring back to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, in his reflection. I, too, have not experienced the two sides of the Chamber that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, described. I feel that the Chamber has always been united on the matter of child safety and in understanding the ramifications for business. It is the case that good legislation must always seek a balance, but, to go back to the point about excluding small and medium-sized enterprises, to call them a major part of the British economy is a bit of an understatement when they account for 99.9% of the business population. In respect of the exclusion of community-based services, including Wikipedia—and we will return to this in the next group—there is nothing for platforms to fear if they have appropriate systems in place. Indeed, there are many gains to be had for community-based services such as Wikipedia from being inside the system. I look forward to the further debate that we will have on that.

I turn to Amendment 9A in the name of my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth, who is unable to participate in this section of the debate. It probes how the Bill’s measures would apply to specialised search services. Metasearch engines such as Skyscanner have expressed concern that the legislation might impose unnecessary burdens on services that pose little risk of hosting the illegal content targeted by the Bill. Perhaps the Minister, in his response, could confirm whether or not such search engines are in scope. That would perhaps be helpful to our deliberations today.

While we on these Benches are not generally supportive of exemptions, the reality is that there are a number of online search services that return content that would not ordinarily be considered harmful. Sites such as Skyscanner and Expedia, as we all know, allow people to search for and book flights and other travel services such as car hire. Obviously, as long as appropriate due diligence is carried out on partners and travel agents, the scope for users to encounter illegal or harmful material appears to be minimal and returns us to the point of having a risk-based approach. We are not necessarily advocating for a carve-out from the Bill, but it would perhaps be helpful to our deliberations if the Minister could outline how such platforms will be expected to interact with the Ofcom-run online safety regime.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am sympathetic to arguments that we must avoid imposing disproportionate burdens on regulated services, but I cannot accept the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and others. Doing so would greatly reduce the strong protections that the Bill offers to internet users, particularly to children. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, that that has long been the shared focus across your Lordships’ House as we seek to strike the right balance through the Bill. I hope to reassure noble Lords about the justification for the existing balance and scope, and the safeguards built in to prevent undue burdens to business.

I will start with the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley—Amendments 4, 6 to 8, 12, 288 and 305—which would significantly narrow the definition of services in scope of regulation. The current scope of the Bill reflects evidence of where harm is manifested online. There is clear evidence that smaller services can pose a significant risk of harm from illegal content, as well as to children, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, rightly echoed. Moreover, harmful content and activity often range across a number of services. While illegal content or activity may originate on larger platforms, offenders often seek to move to smaller platforms with less effective systems for tackling criminal activity in order to circumvent those protections. Exempting smaller services from regulation would likely accelerate that process, resulting in illegal content being displaced on to smaller services, putting users at risk.

These amendments would create significant new loopholes in regulation. Rather than relying on platforms and search services to identify and manage risk proactively, they would require Ofcom to monitor smaller harmful services, which would further annoy my noble friend Lord Moylan. Let me reassure the noble Baroness, however, that the Bill has been designed to avoid disproportionate or unnecessary burdens on smaller services. All duties on services are proportionate to the risk of harm and the capacity of companies. This means that small, low-risk services will have minimal duties imposed on them. Ofcom’s guidance and codes of practice will set out how they can comply with their duties, in a way that I hope is even clearer than the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, but certainly allowing for companies to have a conversation and ask for areas of clarification, if that is still needed. They will ensure that low-risk services do not have to undertake unnecessary measures if they do not pose a risk of harm to their users.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this group, and we certainly welcome this tranche of government amendments. We know that there are more to come both in Committee and as we proceed to Report, and we look forward to seeing them.

The amendments in this group, as other noble Lords have said, amount to a very sensible series of changes to services’ risk-assessment duties. This perhaps begs the question of why they were not included in earlier drafts of the Bill, but we are glad to see them now.

There is, of course, the issue of precisely where some of the information will appear, as well as the wider status of terms of service. I am sure those issues will be discussed in later debates. It is certainly welcome that the department is introducing stronger requirements around the information that must be made available to users; it will all help to make this a stronger and more practical Bill.

We all know that users need to be able to make informed decisions, and it will not be possible if they are required to view multiple statements and various documents. It seems that the requirements for information to be provided to Ofcom go to the very heart of the Bill, and I suggest that the proposed system will work best if there is trust and transparency between the regulator and those who are regulated. I am sure that there will be further debate on the scope of risk assessments, particularly on issues that were dropped from previous iterations of the Bill, and certainly this is a reasonable starting point today.

I will try to be as swift as possible as I raise a few key issues. One is about avoiding warnings that are at such a high level of generality that they get put on to everything. Perhaps the Minister could indicate how Ofcom will ensure that the summaries are useful and accessible to the reader. The test, of course, should be that a summary is suitable and sufficient for a prospective user to form an assessment of the likely risk they would encounter when using the service, taking into account any special vulnerabilities that they might have. That needs to be the test; perhaps the Minister could confirm that.

Is the terms of service section the correct place to put a summary of the illegal content risk assessment? Research suggests, unsurprisingly, that only 3% of people read terms before signing up—although I recall that, in an earlier debate, the Minister confessed that he had read all the terms and conditions of his mobile phone contract, so he may be one of the 3%. It is without doubt that any individual should be supported in their ability to make choices, and the duty should perhaps instead be to display a summary of the risks with due prominence, to ensure that anyone who is considering signing up to a service is really able to read it.

I also ask the Minister to confirm that, despite the changes to Clause 19 in Amendment 16B, the duty to keep records of risk assessments will continue to apply to all companies, but with an enhanced responsibility for category 1 companies.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am grateful to noble Lords for their questions on this, and particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for their chorus of welcome. Where we are able to make changes, we will of course bring them forward, and I am glad to be able to bring forward this tranche now.

As the noble Lord, Lord Allan, said, ensuring the transparency of services’ risk assessments will further ensure that the framework of the Bill delivers its core objectives relating to effective risk management and increased accountability regarding regulated services. As we have discussed, it is imperative that these providers take a thorough approach to identifying risks, including emerging risks. The Government believe that it is of the utmost importance that the public are able effectively to scrutinise the risk assessments of the largest in-scope services, so that users can be empowered to make informed decisions about whether and how to use their services.

On the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about why it is just category 1 and category 2A services, we estimate that there will be around 25,000 UK service providers in scope of the Bill’s illegal and child safety duties. Requiring all these companies to publish full risk assessments and proactively to send them to Ofcom could undermine the Bill’s risk-based and proportionate approach, as we have discussed in previous groups on the burdens to business. A large number of these companies are likely to be low risk and it is unlikely that many people will seek out their risk assessments, so requiring all companies to publish them would be an excessive regulatory burden.

There would also be an expectation that Ofcom would proactively monitor a whole range of services, even ones that posed a minimal risk to users. That in turn could distract Ofcom from taking a risk-based approach in its regulation by overwhelming it with paperwork from thousands of low-risk services. If Ofcom wants to see records of the risk assessments of providers that are not category 1 or category 2A services, it has extensive information-gathering powers that it can use to require a provider to send it such records.

The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, was right to say that I read the terms of my broadband supply—I plead guilty to the nerdiness of doing that—but I have not read all the terms and conditions of every application and social medium I have downloaded, and I agree that many people do skim through them. They say the most commonly told lie on the planet at the moment is “I agree to the terms and conditions”, and the noble Baroness is right to point to the need for these to be intelligible, easily accessible and transparent—which of course we want to see.

In answer to her other question, the record-keeping duty will apply to all companies, but the requirement to publish is only for category 1 and category 2A companies.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, asked me about Amendment 27A. If she will permit me, I will write to her with the best and fullest answer to that question.

I am grateful to noble Lords for their questions on this group of amendments.

Young Female Racing Drivers

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Tuesday 18th April 2023

(12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I certainly do, and I know that Extreme E was important to Jamie Chadwick’s career progression before the W Series. I had the pleasure of taking part in the Lords versus Commons full-bore rifle match alongside my noble friend Lady Sugg, which is another sport in which men and women compete alongside each other on equal terms. In some settings, that is of course possible and to be encouraged.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, as the Minister referred to, while the “Drive to Survive” series has been hugely successful, females in motorsport found that women spoke only for some six minutes and seven seconds of the six and a half hours of the series. They did that as fans or as workers providing food or applying make-up to drivers, which reflected that women are, to make an understatement, very much in the background of the industry. What discussions has the department had with key motorsport stakeholders about addressing the presence of women across the industry? Could the Department for Education perhaps be prevailed upon to do more to ensure that relevant apprenticeships and vocational courses are signposted to everyone, irrespective of their gender?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I certainly agree with the noble Baroness: we want to hear more from the women who are involved at the highest levels in motorsport, inspiring women such as Susie Wolff, and to remind people of the trailblazing women who have paved the way, such as Lella Lombardi and Desiré Wilson—who has a grandstand name after her at Brands Hatch. Officials at the department have spoken to Formula 1 about the creation of the F1 Academy. As I say, we warmly welcome that as a way of inspiring more people, and are working on the cross-government sports strategy, which, of course, involves liaising with the Department for Education to make sure that in schools we are enabling people to get involved, try new sports and go as far as their talent and ambitions take them.

William Hill: Breaches of Player Protection

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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We respect the independence of the Gambling Commission. As I have already quoted, its chief executive Andrew Rhodes said that in this case it found widespread and alarming failings. The Government are certainly not minimising its findings in this case. Separately, we are looking at the statutory framework under which it operates to make sure that our gambling laws are fit for an age in which people carry a super-casino on their smartphone in their pocket. It is right that we look at those laws again. We have been doing so, speaking to the industry and campaigners, and have been mindful of reports such as that of your Lordships’ committee.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I heard the Minister say that the White Paper would be published in a few weeks. Every time your Lordships’ House has asked about the date, we have found it shelved repeatedly, leaving ever more people being sucked in without appropriate protections being in place. After a decade of broken promises and giving in to vested interests when things get tough, does the Minister accept that many people have been left unnecessarily exposed by the Government’s failure to act? And when the White Paper is published, will it have real teeth or will it be severely watered down, as is widely predicted?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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It is the most significant examination of gambling law since the 2005 Act was brought into force, and a lot has changed in the intervening years. We have received over 16,000 responses to our call for evidence, and we are looking at these carefully. There is a new Secretary of State and a new Minister responsible, who obviously want to make sure they give it the attention it deserves. We want to get the balance right between protecting people’s freedom and giving protections that people need. In the meantime, we have been taking action, including banning gambling on credit cards, new rules to make online slot games safer by design, and changing advertising to make sure that content cannot be of strong appeal to children, so we are acting as well as looking at the law in a sensible way.

Rugby: 200th Anniversary

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Wednesday 15th March 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As a former comprehensive school boy, I must stand up for schools of all sorts, including the independent and private sector. Of course, there were not as many state schools in 1823 at which to innovate in quite the same way, but through our support for schools opening up their sporting facilities, whatever sector they are in, we are keen to make sure that they continue to inspire people to take part in sport.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, we are entering a new era for women’s rugby, with many opportunities to grow the game. How will the Government use forthcoming events, including the 2025 women’s Rugby World Cup, which the Minister referred to earlier, to advance the participation of women and girls not just in rugby and other sports but in general fitness and health improvement?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Happily, we have seen in recent years the successes of women’s professional sports teams inspiring women and girls of all ages to be more active and take up sport. We are determined to get more women and girls playing sport and want to see women in leadership positions across it, whether that is in playing or coaching, on the medical and support side or at board level.

Broadband: Price

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Thursday 2nd February 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, earlier this week your Lordships’ House discussed the Government’s efforts to ensure that eligible households are aware of social tariffs for broadband, which the Minister referred to. I asked the Minister whether the Government would contact benefit claimants directly, given that their data is available to the Government, and in response the Minister cited a more general information campaign of adverts and leaflets. I ask the Minister today whether consideration has been given to contacting claimants directly so that households know that these special tariffs are ones for which they are eligible?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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We are advertising the support which is available generally. The social tariffs are available to people who are in receipt of universal credit and other means-tested benefits, but there is help for anyone who may be struggling to pay their bills, thanks to the commitments we secured from the industry last July. That is why we are advertising all of the help generally, through the Help for Households campaign, but of course that is being monitored for its success in getting the message out, and all ideas are welcome.

Broadband: Social Tariffs

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Tuesday 31st January 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I will discuss that with colleagues in other departments who are responsible for that particular aspect.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as the Minister himself acknowledged, automatic verification of eligibility for cheaper broadband and mobile tariffs is just one side of the story, as only 136,000 households are signed up, with potentially millions not receiving the help they could benefit from. What assessment has been made of the low-income groups who are missing out? Can the Minister commit to a targeted rather than a general campaign to increase take-up—for example, contacting claimants directly? After all, the Government are aware of who they are.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Department for Work and Pensions is working with operators to ensure that the digital verification system is consistent with that. Earlier this month, Sky became the first national provider to go live on that system, with others following in the coming weeks and months. The noble Baroness is right: this and our broader work to help households is part of a large communications campaign that is indeed targeted at the households we think will benefit from it. For example, there are adverts on cash- points, the sides of buses and pub TV screens, and leaflets have been disseminated to 150 supermarkets and to food banks and hospitals around the country to ensure that the message gets to those who will benefit from it.

Football: Abuse and Violence

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Monday 12th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I most certainly would. My noble friend makes an important point about good behaviour, which we see across a number of sporting forms.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, those who officiate at football matches, at every level, have a thankless task in making real-time decisions in the blink of an eye, mostly without the assistance of VAR. They undoubtedly deserve our respect and admiration for their commitment to fair play. What consideration has been given to using the forthcoming Online Safety Bill to tackle threats to match officials that are made on social media?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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We have already had discussions in connection with the Online Safety Bill to make sure we tackle the completely unacceptable form of abuse we see against football players and others in leading positions in sport, following their performances. The Bill is designed to ensure that everybody has a safe and enjoyable experience online, and I look forward to debating it with noble Lords when it reaches your Lordships’ House.

Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) (Terms of Agreement) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Thursday 24th November 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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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, I am pleased to introduce the statutory instrument laid before your Lordships’ House on 19 October. The Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) (Terms of Agreement) Regulations are part of the implementing regulations for the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021.

Providing greater access to fast, reliable and secure connections is a priority for His Majesty’s Government. The economic, social and cultural benefits of improving digital connectivity are already self-evident, and improving our digital infrastructure to deliver gigabit-capable connections will enable a profound change in what digital connectivity can contribute to our daily lives.

However, these benefits can be realised to their fullest extent only if they reach every home. For this reason, last year the Government passed the 2021 Act, which will support people living in blocks of flats and apartments, also known as multiple dwelling units, to access broadband services. The aim of the Act is to encourage landlords to respond to requests for access issued by network operators. I should clarify here that the individual who will be the person required to grant rights under the Act could be a landlord but could also be a property management company, depending on the arrangements a particular building has. This person is referred to as the required grantor in the Act, but I shall refer to landlords in the interests of brevity and clarity.

These rights, sought by operators, are essential for delivering connectivity. This is because, while a tenant in a flat may be able to provide permission for the operator to install equipment in his or her own flat, operators may be unable to deploy their services without first obtaining permission to install their equipment in areas which are not part of the target premises. Examples of such areas are shared corridors or riser cupboards, which are often a necessary part of the route to connecting the target premises. Permission to install equipment in these areas could come from either the landlord or a court.

Data provided by a number of operators suggests that around 40% of their requests for access receive no response. When an operator finds itself in this situation, our understanding is that the operator opts to bypass the property in order to maintain momentum for their wider deployment. The result of that operator’s understandable commercial decision is that the residents in the property concerned are left with little choice but to accept that they will miss out on superior connections, such as the installation of fibre where there currently is only a copper line, or perhaps even miss out on a connection altogether. The Government consider this to be unacceptable.

The 2021 Act addresses this issue by amending the electronic communications code—which I will refer to as “the code”—to create a new streamlined route through the courts: the Part 4A process. Operators can use the Part 4A process to access blocks of flats and apartments if a service has been requested by a tenant but a landlord is repeatedly unresponsive to requests for access. This legislation will thus prevent a situation where a leaseholder is unable to receive a service due simply to the silence of a landlord.

However, government policy in this area also works to keep a proportionate balance between the public benefits and the rights of individual landlords. This consideration is particularly important in the Act, where an operator may gain rights to access a property without the express permission, or potentially even the knowledge, of the landlord. The Act has been designed such that the terms and conditions applied to Part 4A code rights will ensure that this balance between the public benefit of network rollout and private property rights is maintained.

These terms and conditions are contained in two statutory instruments. One is the terms of agreement instrument we are debating today. The other is the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) (Conditions and Time Limits) Regulations 2022—the conditions and time limits instrument—which was laid in Parliament on the same day as this, but is subject to the negative procedure.

The latter instrument specifies conditions to be satisfied before an operator can give a final notice to the landlord. These regulations are designed to make sure that the operator has made sufficient attempts to identify and contact the landlord before making an application to the court to have an agreement imposed. They also give a time limit within which the operator must apply to court for a Part 4A order and an expiry period for the code rights themselves. This is to ensure that the rights gained through this process are balanced in order to facilitate the provision of new connections without encroaching excessively on property rights.

The instrument we are debating today has been informed through detailed consultation with interested parties, including organisations representing landlords and operators, and contains the exact terms to which any code rights imposed under the Part 4A process will be subject.

All rights conferred under the code, whether under Part 4A or another part of the code—for example, rights to access land or install equipment—are subject to the terms contained in the agreement granting those rights. These could, for example, be particular requirements to give notice before entering the land in question. The precise terms to be applied to a code agreement have never previously been set through legislation.

The terms specified in this instrument include the notice requirements an operator must satisfy before entering the building, entry times for the operator, a requirement for the operator to indemnify the landlord for up to £5 million and requirements for labelling the equipment, among other details.

By prescribing the exact terms of a Part 4A agreement, this instrument represents a novel approach in telecoms infrastructure policy. This new approach has been taken for two reasons.

First, the circumstances in which the Part 4A process can be used are very specific. Part 4A can be used only where the operator needs to access land connected to the premises to which it wishes to deliver a service, and where both the target premises and connected land are in common ownership. Further, this process currently applies to multiple dwelling units only. The limited situations in which the Part 4A process can be used mean that, whereas in most cases legislation cannot effectively pre-empt the terms which a particular situation warrants, in this case the scope is so narrow that it can.

Secondly, fixing the terms of a Part 4A agreement makes the process for courts to deal with applications for code rights less complex, allowing decisions on whether to grant rights under the Part 4A process to be much faster. Given that the Part 4A process is designed to provide a quicker route to gaining code rights in order to avoid an operator having to bypass the building altogether, this is crucial. It also has the benefit of allowing courts to make more efficient use of resources. By allowing these cases to be dealt with swiftly, the court will have more time to devote to more complex cases.

Before concluding, I should note that these regulations apply to Scotland, England and Wales but not Northern Ireland. This is due to an issue stemming from the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive between 2017 and 2019, which caused the jurisdiction of code court cases in Northern Ireland courts to fall out of step with the rest of the United Kingdom. Work is under way to resolve this issue through separate regulations, to follow next year. These regulations and the Act that they help to implement represent an innovative approach to enabling digital infrastructure, which has been carefully designed to deliver improved connectivity for tenants while protecting private property rights. This instrument was debated and approved by a Delegated Legislation Committee in another place yesterday; I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ reflections on it today. I beg to move.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his thorough introduction to this very practical statutory instrument. It is certainly one that we welcome. It has been subject to consultation and the measures in it seem proportionate.

However, I wish to raise with the Minister the matter of timeliness and process because I believe that, once again, it raises questions about the Government’s prioritisation of business. We can reflect that the enabling legislation was introduced in the Commons in January 2020 and, having been through the Lords, achieved Royal Assent in March 2021. The consultation on the new regime about which we are speaking today ran between June and August 2021, and the government response took until the end of June 2022. Now we find ourselves waiting almost until December for the SI to be laid and debated. I know that the Minister listened carefully to the concerns voiced more recently during the passage of the PSTI Bill about the speed of progress on rollout so, as this is a very helpful regulation to take us forward and speed things up, it begs the question—perhaps the Minister could give some comment in his response—as to why this is taken so long. Does he feel that this is the right way to deal with business?

Turning to the specifics of the regulations, I absolutely agree with the Minister—we have all come to this view—that broadband is an essential utility because it gives us access to nearly every part of society, whether that is shopping, schooling, public services or banking. We need a reliable, fast and affordable connection. Residents who live in multiple-dwelling units, such as blocks of flats or converted townhouses, need broadband just as much as everyone else. Certainly, it is interesting that Openreach warned that, without these much-needed reforms, it would be unable to connect up to 1.5 million apartments, which would undoubtedly risk the creation of a major digital divide. So I welcome the measures that are being introduced to help operators connect people living in apartments where landowners are repeatedly unresponsive. The measures we are considering today will help to resolve some of the most extreme cases but, if we want to meet the scale of the challenge of connecting everyone in a multiple-dwelling unit, further support and reform will of course be needed. I believe that the statutory instrument before us strikes a reasonable balance between operators and landowners and helps to connect people in flats who might otherwise be left behind.

The SI gives a reassurance to landowners that operators have to adhere to certain standards while carrying out the work, which will be a positive move to improve trust in the industry across the board.

I am sure the Minister will acknowledge that operators have raised some concerns that some of the terms are unnecessarily onerous. I will take a moment to refer to those, such as the need to send notice by recorded delivery when all previous attempts to make contact have been ignored or rejected, when many contact addresses for grantors are simply overseas PO boxes. Others have said that they will find it hard to line up permissions. Will the department review whether the use of Part 4A orders is working as intended, and will it record how many are successfully issued and followed through? In other words, will there be a review to see whether we need to make further changes down the line?

My second point is on wider considerations. This piece of delegated legislation deals only with an important but small part of the problem with connections in flats. I want to raise the fact that operators are often forced to move build teams on when they are installing full fibre in a particular area when they get to multiple-dwelling units, which means that those flats are left behind. It could be simply too difficult or costly for operators to come to an agreement with the required grantors in the timeframe during which they are, in a practical sense, in the area. Although it is true that operators can theoretically go back and connect those flats at a later date, that is way less efficient than doing it when they are already there.

The point is that if a build team moves on because the required permissions are not in place, those living in the block will potentially be left without the proper connection for some years until that matter can be resolved. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister how this statutory instrument will resolve the problem of the balance of getting permissions and having teams on the ground.

It would also be helpful if the Minister could comment on the continual revision of broadband rollout targets. Many times in the Chamber he will have heard concerns about constant revision of targets. To prevent this happening again, it is our view that there must be consideration of the broader concerns of those implementing the rollout and an attempt to balance those with the needs of landowners and other interested parties. Can he offer some comment, and indeed reassurance, that targets will not be further watered down?

In conclusion, this SI is a step in the right direction but further reforms will no doubt be necessary to ensure that tenants in flats do not unintentionally become a digitally excluded group. I believe we are all in agreement that broadband is an essential, not a luxury, but it is something that noble Lords will continue to keep an eye on, as I am sure the Minister will.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her scrutiny. It may have been a short debate, but she certainly did not let up on her scrutiny of this statutory instrument, and quite rightly so. I take her points about timeliness—we all want to see faster connectivity delivered as soon as possible—but, as I said in my opening remarks, this is an innovative area of law, which has implications for property rights. The 2021 Act introduced a process in which it will be possible for work to be undertaken on private property without the explicit consent, or potentially even knowledge, of the landlord. It is also important to remember that the Act prescribes the exact terms of an agreement in legislation. As I say, that approach has not previously been taken in telecommunications infrastructure policy.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I am sure the Minister has picked up on the mood of your Lordships’ House today, as I know he will have done in previous debates. I am grateful to him for outlining the Government’s approach on infrastructure rollout and the concerns regarding a review. However, like other noble Lords who have spoken today, I feel that the department is still missing the point. It is appreciated that the Minister acknowledged the sentiments behind the original amendment. In common with other noble Lords, I am also grateful for the time that he and his officials have given to the discussion and consideration of the points that have been raised.

However, the original amendment before this House, which we are looking at again today, was intended to help the Government—something I emphasised in the meeting with the Minister—not least because it is an attempt to bring together balance, fairness and efficiency and to take a rather different approach from the one we have seen thus far, which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has just referred to, of a trajectory of continually watering down ambitions because the regime is simply not delivering at the required pace. It would be better to tackle the root problems to find a way forward than moving the goalposts, which is what has been happening so far.

The creation of new stakeholder bodies could prove to be a positive step, but we need to acknowledge that this is not the first time we have seen such an initiative. DCMS already runs a number of working groups, and the discussions within them have rarely led to any significant breakthroughs. It would be of interest to hear why the working groups in this setting will be any different. While wishing the national connectivity alliance well in its efforts, establishing new groups or structures will be of little use if they become—as other noble Lords have said—talking shops, or, very significantly, if underlying regulation becomes ineffective.

We welcome both sides of the rent debate getting around the table, but it is important to say that our concerns about rollout go beyond issues around the valuation of land. In any event, as the Minister has said, Parliament will not have a full role in the upcoming discussions. As the noble Earl, Lord Devon, has indicated, we could do with some more detail about the reference the Minister made to the way in which Parliament will be referred to in the deliberation. I would also appreciate the level of detail that has been requested.

These problems are not going away—if anything, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, particularly given the increased volume of tribunal cases and the Government’s refusal to make their new arbitration process mandatory. It seems that the Government hide behind existing processes, claiming that an independent review would unnecessarily duplicate Ofcom’s role, but the fact remains that the current system is not working, and that is what we have to address. The disputes and regulatory ambiguity mean that we are not delivering the upgrades that millions across our country so badly need.

I am sure we all agree that better connectivity is crucial to future economic growth—which is supposed to be the Government’s priority—but with every delay to our rollout and every problem that is being faced, we are losing ground to international partners. Yes, the Bill will deliver progress in some areas, which is why we will not delay its passage any further, but without concerted efforts, we are likely to simply rerun these very same debates again and again in the years to come. There was a window of constructive opportunity here, and I put on record my great disappointment that the Government have not recognised this.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for the points they raised in the debate today. I will try to respond to the questions that they have asked. I understand your Lordships’ desire to ensure that the Government are held accountable, as we should be, for the legislation that we enact, and that we are taking appropriate steps to monitor its impact. I would certainly not disagree with that sentiment.

I will start with the comments on the valuation regime, raised particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell. This, of course, has been debated at length throughout the passage of the Bill, both in your Lordships’ House and in another place. I am grateful to the noble Lord and others for their time to discuss this in more detail, but we are now reaching the point where we are at risk of repeating ourselves. There are no new points to be added at length. I ask noble Lords to bear in mind that the valuation regime was introduced through the Digital Economy Act 2017. In the intervening period, the public interest in access to digital services has only increased—a fact underlined, of course, by our reliance on those services during the Covid-19 pandemic. The case for a framework which encourages investment has, therefore, never been stronger, and we think the statutory valuation regime is an important part of that framework.

My noble friend Lord Northbrook and others mentioned our scepticism about the CEBR report. This is not to denigrate the CEBR itself, and I will not expand on the points contained in the note that he and other noble Lords have seen, to which he referred. I underline, however, that it was commissioned by the campaign group Protect and Connect, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, acknowledged, and there are certain campaigning groups that have been, throughout the passage of this Bill, seeking to influence the debate, which have vested interests in the matter. They are perfectly at liberty to make their points in the way that they wish, but it should be borne in mind that the organisation funding this campaign stands to make significant financial gains if the changes to the 2017 valuation framework are reversed.

I hope I can give greater reassurance to my noble friend Lord Northbrook on the point he raised about transitional measures. The Government are considering the implementation strategy for this Bill very carefully, including possible transitional provisions. I reassure noble Lords that the implementation of the Bill will be discussed with all interested parties, including those representing the interests of landowners. The Government are committed to ensuring that the Bill is brought into force not only in a timely manner but in a sympathetic and responsible way, taking into account the range of impacts that different approaches may have on different groups.

The noble Earls, Lord Lytton and Lord Devon, the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, and others flagged the evidence base on which the Government’s conclusions are based. The Government’s position is based on a wide range of information. That includes data on coverage and connectivity, which is collated by Ofcom and which demonstrates that substantial progress has been made since 2017. I repeat my apology to the noble Earl for the delay in sending him the data during our debates on this Bill, partly because of the interruption in service on my part. It is true that we have taken into account data provided by the industry on the number of agreements completed since 2017, but these are data that can be supplied only by the industry. If the valuation framework had stalled the market or slowed down deployment, it would not be in the sector’s interests to try to maintain that framework.

A number of noble Lords talked about the reduction in rent, which we have seen since the 2017 reforms. It sounds as though we might not come to an agreement on the precise figure, but rent is only one element of the financial package that operators may offer to landowners. Within the legislative framework, separate sums can be offered as compensation to cover potential loss and damage; other variations might occur in practice within the market. For example, as part of the financial package, operators might choose to offer an early completion incentive payment. I am concerned that some of the case studies that have been drawn to noble Lords’ attention may ignore the overall package offered to landowners or fail to acknowledge that figures presented might have been an opening offer, when ultimately very different terms might have been agreed once proper negotiations have taken place. The amount of rent received will, in practice, often depend on the much wider circumstances in which financial offers are made and final terms are agreed.

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Monday 7th November 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The inquest into the heartbreaking death of Molly Russell highlights the importance of holding technology companies to account to keep their users, particularly children, safe online. That is why we are bringing forward the Online Safety Bill, why the strongest protections in the Bill are for children and why I look forward to debating it in your Lordships’ House.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the Minister back to the Front Bench. His former boss, Theresa May, launched the online harms agenda, which we on these Benches supported. Yet, three Prime Ministers later, we are still waiting for this crucial legislation to reach your Lordships’ House. Other noble Lords have noted that the Bill must be completed in this Session, as it has already been carried over. If repeated delays mean that the Bill’s passage conflicts with plans for winding up this Session, will the Government extend the Session to get the protections on to the statute book or simply drop the Bill?

Gambling White Paper

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Wednesday 20th July 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Government’s response makes clear that the purchase of loot boxes should be unavailable to all children and young people unless they are enabled by a parent or guardian, and all players should have access to and be aware of spending controls and transparent information to support their gaming. That is the right approach to address this issue.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, as noble Lords have already pressed home, each delay to the long-awaited gambling White Paper potentially puts people at greater risk of falling into problem gambling, with all the human and societal costs that it brings. Does the Minister recognise that, in addition to the delayed review of gambling, the online safety agenda has stalled again, broadband targets are constantly watered down, and creatives are still waiting for support initiatives to come on stream? Why does DCMS struggle so much with delivery?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is being a little unfair, particularly on broadband. Our rollout of gigabit-enabled broadband continues apace, bringing connectivity to many more households across the country. The department is still hard at work on all six Bills that we have this Session. I enjoyed speaking to her this morning about the Online Safety Bill and look forward to debating that and other measures in your Lordships’ House.

Clearview AI Inc

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Tuesday 5th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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CCTV can help people to feel safe on the streets and can help in the prosecution of crimes committed against people. We support the police using new technologies to keep the public safe, and we are simplifying the oversight of biometric and overt surveillance technologies such as CCTV cameras. The ICO will continue to provide independent oversight and regulation of all biometrics and surveillance camera use, including by the police.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, as is so often the case, companies such as Clearview AI operate across the world and may attract the attention of multiple regulators. Given that these bodies may exchange information, can the Minister confirm whether a firm’s bad behaviour in another jurisdiction will provide grounds for investigation by the ICO? Also, what weight, if any, does the ICO give to events elsewhere when determining sanctions such as fines?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right: global co-operation is needed on this. Our new Information Commissioner, who was previously commissioner in New Zealand, has recently been to Brussels to discuss how best the ICO can co-operate with international partners to tackle threats to privacy such as this, so he is indeed engaged globally, as noble Lords would hope.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I was very pleased to put my name to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Harding. As she says, this is simple, limited in scope and extremely practical. It is a clarification of and an improvement to this aspect of the Bill, which works for all parties. I hope the Minister will agree, even if what we end up with is not the exact wording that we start with today.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, explained, poles, like ducts, are regulated under Ofcom’s PIA mechanism, so extending this provision to pre-2017 poles on private land would allow all operators to speed up their rollout equally. That is the essence of what we are talking about in the Bill: extending provision and allowing fair access. This amendment will greatly assist us, not least because if the reforms in the Bill do not work properly we will see more streets being dug up, which is never popular, and in this case might perhaps require the installation of new poles—again, something we could do without.

I hope that when the Bill is amended we will drastically contain the time, cost and disruption caused by the rollout. Although people want to see the rollout, the practical effects in communities create unwelcome disruption. This amendment is needed to confirm that sharing pre-2017 poles on private land needs to be included in the Bill. It will speed up the deliver of rollout and it is welcomed by all across the industry.

I shall briefly refer to the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. I do not want at this stage to dwell on the amendments we did not have the benefit of discussing properly, but perhaps the noble Lord can look forward to Amendment 48, which we have tabled. It takes a different tack from the noble Lord’s amendments and puts the onus on government and the industry to find a way forward. I hope that when we get to that amendment the Minister will be open to detailed, cross-party discussion before Report on how we resolve the issue that we were not able to attend to earlier in the debate. I support this amendment and hope the Minister will feel similarly.

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, I think the whole House is grateful to its former Leader, my noble friend Lady Stowell, for moving Amendment 18 and keeping us on the right procedural track. Amendment 18, spoken to by my noble friends Lady Harding of Winscombe and Lord Vaizey of Didcot, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, who signed it, concerns rights to upgrade and share telegraph poles.

Clauses 59 and 60 will help to optimise use of the UK’s extensive duct networks through greater upgrading and sharing, but ducts and cables under land do not represent our entire digital network, as noble Lords have reminded us today. Telecommunications lines flown over land play a substantial role too. These lines are dependent on the telegraph poles that support them. Over 1 million such poles are installed across the UK, as noble Lords have noted, providing coverage and connectivity to entire communities, particularly in rural parts of England such as Herefordshire, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, will know, and urban areas of Scotland.

Since the Bill’s introduction, the Government have been called on to introduce measures to facilitate the upgrading and sharing of poles. We understand that there are substantial public benefits in coverage, connectivity and consumer choice, so we welcome the attention that this amendment has drawn to the significance of poles and lines in network delivery, but as I anticipated at Second Reading, we have concerns as to whether the amendment would deliver material change.

I take on board fully my noble friend Lady Harding of Winscombe’s point about the constructive spirit in which the amendments are brought forward and agree that we must look beyond the drafting of this specific amendment, but as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, says, this is a legally complex matter. For example, it is not clear whether this amendment would permit pole sharing or allow operators to carry out works beyond those needed for a line to be flown. That might exclude upgrade works that would allow a pole to be used for fibre rather than copper lines.

It is important to note that paragraph 74, to which this amendment refers, deals with land adjacent to or in the vicinity of that on which poles are situated. We need to think about works that might involve the land on which that pole is placed. The Government are looking closely at ways to optimise the use of telegraph poles, but we must ensure that if changes are made in this area, they not only deliver public benefits but include sufficient protections for individuals with poles situated on their land. We will continue to look closely at this issue, but I am not able to accept this amendment today. I repeat the assurance I made at Second Reading that we are actively looking at this issue, and we will continue to consider it ahead of Report.

In response to some general points about requests from the industry, we certainly agree that operators should be able to obtain the rights they need to install and maintain the apparatus needed for robust network coverage throughout the UK. The department undertakes regular engagement with the industry and, if we receive compelling evidence that the Bill can be improved, we are happy to consider whether there is a good case for going further. When doing so, however, the Government will always consider the effect that any potential changes could have on landowners.

My noble friend Lord Vaizey inventively asked why telegraph poles were less contentious than multiple dwelling units, the subject of the amendments lost to today’s debate. We must also bear in mind that a good regulatory framework encourages competition and investment, which are both crucial in delivering consumer choice and supporting deployment to hard-to-reach areas. Measures beneficial to one operator may not always encourage the market competition needed to deliver better outcomes for customers. Indeed, it is important to stress that there is no consensus from the industry on this issue. In fact, many operators have opposed the proposal on the grounds that it would create an unfair advantage for operators that already have equipment inside buildings, and so could potentially have anti-competitive effects.

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, the debate on this group raises a number of interesting points, but they are all on the same theme. They are about what happens should disputes arise. No one wants to be in dispute, but when one arises, it is crucial that everybody knows what the rules are and that the resolution creates an environment and practice which means that the same issues do not continually arise. The contributions from noble Lords today have talked a lot about fairness, respect and calling to heel those who need to be called to heel for fairness and respect to occur. It is about getting the balance of rights and responsibilities between the parties right. I hope the Minister will consider the valid points raised by this group.

In particular, it would be helpful to hear how the Minister feels about the present situation, where the operator must only consider the use of the dispute resolution system—and even then, only if it deems it is reasonably practicable to do so. Has that been satisfactory, because this set of amendments clearly suggests not? I was particularly struck by the words of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who spoke about such resolution being easily avoidable. That does not give us confidence. I therefore hope that the Minister will reflect on the spirit and intent and, perhaps, come to us with some practical measures to improve the current situation.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I shall first address points made by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, as well as my noble friends Lord Northbrook and Lady McIntosh, about some of the case studies. I certainly agree entirely with the noble Earl, who speaks from personal experience and makes the point that some of the lobby groups which have been vocal on the Bill are painting a very different picture to those directly involved, and with whom we have had extensive discussion. Your Lordships’ House benefits from having people such as the noble Earl and my noble friends who can speak from personal experience.

In particular, at Second Reading, the noble Earl showed how he speaks not just as a landowner and the litigator but as a consumer who shares the objective of wanting better connectivity. I am very happy to make absolutely clear that I understand that his point and those of other noble Lords are made in that spirit. I hope he can see that, for my part, we have been willing to listen and continue to be receptive to hearing contrary points; it is just that, in our discussions with the industry, we have had a clear picture painted.

The noble Earl asked a general but important question: why should site providers bother, given the other ways they could use their land? Without wishing to reopen the debate on valuation, we believe that the 2017 provisions created the right balance between the public need for digital communications and landowners’ rights. The code makes separate provision for landowners to recover compensation for loss or damages and, taken together, we think the provisions on consideration and compensation mean that landowners can still receive a fair payment for allowing their land to be used.

The new pricing regime is more closely aligned to those for other utilities, such as water, electricity and gas. We do not think it is less attractive than other comparable uses. As I said on a previous group in relation to a point raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, landowners should still receive their payments—which, among other things, take into account any alternative uses that the land may have and any loss or damage that may be incurred.

Turning to the amendments in this group, the purpose of Clause 68, as probed by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, is to encourage more collaborative discussions between landowners and operators and to ensure that litigation is only used as a last resort. We know that code negotiations can be difficult—my noble friend Lord Northbrook referred to that from his experience—and that, in some cases, landowners have felt pressured to accept any terms offered to avoid the risk of being taken to court. To address this, Clause 68 encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution to minimise the risk of landowners feeling pressured and to facilitate co-operative discussions.

At Second Reading, my noble friend Lady McIntosh suggested that alternative dispute resolution is optional for operators. I hope I can give her and other noble Lords some assurance on this matter, given the requirements for parties to consider use of ADR and for the courts to consider unreasonable refusal to engage in ADR when awarding costs.

ADR not being mandatory is a deliberate feature of this policy. That choice was made for two reasons. First, ADR may not be suitable in certain cases. For example, where a disagreement is based on differing interpretations of the law, this may have to be determined by a court. Mandatory ADR would add cost and time to this process without any benefit. Secondly, where ADR is appropriate, mandatory ADR would compel some parties to participate in a process they do not want to be involved in, making them less inclined to actively engage. This would increase the risk of failure, and the parties would then have to go to court anyway—only adding further time and costs for landowners. The clear majority of groups—including the Country Land and Business Association—opposed compulsory ADR when we consulted them.

I turn to Amendment 39, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. This amendment would require evidence of a breach of Ofcom’s code of practice to be taken into account in ADR judgments. It should be noted that not all forms of ADR have judgments. Mediation is one such alternative. Furthermore, the Ofcom code of practice gives guidance on best practice; it does not set out specific requirements to be adhered to. As such, using the code of practice to underpin or effect decisions made in alternative dispute resolution risks creating further disagreements and disputes, rather than resolving them.

Finally, and most crucially, the amendment would undermine the open and collaborative approach on which successful ADR relies by forcing operators to enter any ADR process on a defensive footing. The outcome would be simply to blunt the effectiveness of alternative dispute resolutions and add to the administrative and cost burden for all parties. It is on this basis that I invite noble Lords not to press their amendments.

I turn to the Ofcom code of practice. We know that, in some cases, landowners are reluctant to enter into code agreements because they are concerned about how the operator or their contractors will behave when they carry out their works. Clause 69 addresses this issue by requiring guidance to be prepared by Ofcom, following consultation, regarding operators’ handling of complaints about their conduct. This guidance will be added to Ofcom’s code of practice. To complement this, the Government also intend to bring forward secondary legislation—in consultation with Ofcom and others where appropriate—to make regulations to achieve three things: first, to create a requirement on operators to have a complaints procedure in place to handle complaints relating to their conduct; secondly, to set out minimum standards which this process must meet; and, thirdly, to oblige operators to have regard for the Ofcom code of practice when handling complaints.

Amendment 40, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Fox and Lord Blunkett, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, would make adherence to Ofcom’s code of practice obligatory and make breaches of that code punishable by a fine of £1 million. As I mentioned in relation to Amendment 39, the Ofcom code of practice is intended to set out guidance. Deciding whether a particular course of action is a breach would be very subjective. The code of practice applies to both operators and landowners, and this amendment does the same. While some operators may have the resources to sustain such fines, very few landowners would.

We all want network rollout to proceed as quickly as possible. However, making compliance with the Ofcom code of practice mandatory and failure to do so subject to a heavy fine means that operators and landowners would be disincentivised from seeking to reach agreements at all. For those who might proceed, one can imagine them doing so as slowly and gingerly as possible to avoid the risk of breaching a code of practice that was never designed to be used in such a way.

Amendment 41, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and Amendment 42, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, set certain requirements regarding complaints handling, such as time limits for responding and compensation payable. As I noted earlier, Clause 69 will require Ofcom to amend its code of practice to include guidance on complaints handling. The Government also intend to make regulations to set out minimum standards for operators’ complaints processes. Both of these could feasibly include elements similar to those proposed in the amendments, and both will be developed through consultation. The Government firmly believe that this is the best way to encourage all parts of the sector to welcome and comply with the new procedure.

Also related to the code of practice is Amendment 42A, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. Currently, for a private organisation to seek and exercise rights under the Electronic Communications Code, it must be the subject of a direction from Ofcom that the code applies to it. The first part of the noble Earl’s Amendment 42A would require Ofcom to reconsider each operator’s status as an operator for these purposes every five years, taking into consideration, among other things, complaints made against it for breaches of the code of practice. His amendment would make an operator’s rights to install, maintain and upgrade infrastructure potentially subject to adherence to a code of practice which, as I described just now, would serve only to disincentivise operators from extending their networks swiftly.

The second part of his amendment concerns obligations for operators to report to Ofcom about complaints that they receive, and for Ofcom to publish an annual summary of these reports. These are also the sorts of matters that will be considered when the Government make their regulations to set minimum standards for operators’ codes of practice, and when Ofcom amends its own code of practice.

Amendment 44, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, concerns building safety. The importance of building safety is self-evident, and the Government are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that it is maintained at all times. None the less, the amendment is unnecessary since the code already contains ample protections to ensure that building safety is maintained. Paragraph 23(5) of the code requires that when a court imposes an agreement under part 4, that agreement must include terms for ensuring that the least possible loss and damage is caused in exercise of the rights. Such terms will provide significant building safety protections.

Paragraph 99 of the code makes it clear that the code does not authorise the contravention of laws passed before the code came into force. This means that legislation that was in place before the code came into force, including that on building safety, would not be superseded by measures in the code. Regulation 10 of the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003 requires that if an operator receives a report that its apparatus is in a dangerous state, it shall investigate and, if necessary, make the apparatus safe. Therefore, together these provisions already provide robust protections to ensure that building safety is maintained.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, rightly mentioned Dame Judith Hackitt’s report, which places great importance on the clarity and simplicity of systems to ensure building safety. The Government believe that this amendment would add further unnecessary complexity to the robust protections that already exist in this area. Therefore, Amendment 44 is not needed.

Suicide: Online Products

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Monday 27th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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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.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
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.

--- Later in debate ---
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.

Media Literacy

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Monday 20th June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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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?

Gambling: Loot Boxes

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Thursday 19th May 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

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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.

English Football: Independent Regulator

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Monday 25th April 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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This regulator is solely for football.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, at the end of March it was reported that DCMS had hired a New York consultancy firm, Oliver Wyman, to design the future independent regulator of English football. The department confirmed that but did not offer any further comment at the time. Can the Minister update your Lordships’ House on this contract today? Can he provide further information about, for example, the length of the contract, the terms of reference and its estimated value?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I cannot give the noble Baroness all these details, not least because my honourable friend the Sport Minister is setting out further detail in another place. I shall be glad to write to the noble Baroness to follow up on all these points.

Loneliness Strategy

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Wednesday 23rd March 2022

(2 years ago)

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of their loneliness strategy.

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, the launch of the loneliness strategy in 2018 marked a lasting shift in the Government’s approach to tackling loneliness. Since 2018, the Government and their partners have invested almost £50 million in tackling loneliness, including in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have reached millions of people through awareness-raising campaigns and have developed a network of more than 150 organisations to join us in this work. Our latest annual report provides further detail on its impact.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Loneliness remains endemic, with the Office for National Statistics reporting that the long-term disabled, widowed homeowners, unmarried middle-agers and young renters are those who are most likely to experience social isolation. While the strategy suggests that it is a government priority, I note that loneliness is no longer featured as a ministerial responsibility on the department’s website. Does the Minister agree that it is more important than ever to keep focused on tackling and preventing loneliness as we emerge from the pandemic? Will the strategy be reviewed, so that no one is left behind as the world continues to open?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As the noble Baroness said, the pandemic has thrown into relief the importance of tackling loneliness. We were aware of it before the pandemic, and the pandemic made it more urgent. My honourable friend Nigel Huddleston, the Minister responsible, sees himself very much as the lead Minister, but not the only Minister, for it, because this is a cross-government effort. That is the reason for the cross-government strategy, and work has been done in all departments. Of course, we continue to evaluate the work to see how we can do it better.

COVID-19 Vaccinations: International Athletes

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 years ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I will write to the noble Baroness about the food options for those attending the Games. Of course, it will be up to people to choose what they wish to eat and to do so in a healthy and nutritious manner.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, the pandemic is not over until it is over everywhere. In order truly to tackle it, people across the world need access to vaccines, including in African and Caribbean nations, which have been deprived of vaccines and of the ability to manufacture their own vaccines because of intellectual property protections. If proposals for a vaccine waiver are put to World Trade Organization members in the coming weeks or months, can the Minister indicate which way the UK Government will vote?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, the UK is one of the largest donors to the COVAX advance market commitment, which supports access to Covid-19 vaccinations for up to 92 low- and middle-income countries. This is a very effective mechanism and our £548 million commitment has helped COVAX deliver more than £1 billion vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. We have also donated more than 33 million vaccines. We need a truly global effort because no one country and no one pharmaceutical company would be able to do this alone.

Broadcasting White Paper

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Monday 14th March 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As well as availing themselves of the opportunities which the new media and new technology allow, we recognise that many people still rely on analogue radio services. That is why we have said that it would be wrong to switch those off before 2030, at the earliest. Both the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and DCMS are working with the BBC to maintain the very important work that the World Service is currently doing in Ukraine.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, in the same way that the online safety Bill has been drafted to have a degree of flexibility as the internet develops, will the Minister look at making prominence regulations technology neutral in the same way? To avoid duplication of regulation for TV, radio and online, has an assessment been made of the potential for a one-stop shop for prominence rules?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The review which I mentioned was commissioned by the Government as part of the wider look at the broadcasting sphere. We are conducting that strategic review of public service broadcasting and will set out our response to it in due course. I cannot anticipate what it will say but I can assure the noble Baroness that we are looking at all these issues in the round. As I say, this is an area where the technology is moving rapidly, so it is right to review it carefully.

Public Health: Media Advertising

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Monday 28th February 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, the advertising on television is a matter in the Bill before your Lordships’ House, which introduces a 9 pm watershed for advertising of less healthy food and drink products on TV and on-demand programme services which are under the jurisdiction of the UK and regulated by Ofcom. On advertising in other media, the Government intend to review how online advertising is regulated through the online advertising programme, as I say, but they are happening in different timeframes.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, while many adverts for tobacco products are banned in the UK and the EU, such restrictions do not apply in the same way to products containing nicotine. Can the Minister comment on why the McLaren Formula 1 team cars are able to carry the logo of the British American Tobacco Velo product range at the British Grand Prix when similar products cannot be promoted in other host countries, including Austria and France? Does the Minister feel that this is appropriate?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The advertising and promotion of tobacco products was banned through the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002. As the noble Baroness rightly alludes to, products and technology have moved on a lot in the intervening 20 years. An independent review into tobacco control, led by Javed Khan, is currently under way. This will help us ensure that future policies will be effective in meeting the Government’s smoke-free ambition.

Children: Online Protection

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Thursday 10th February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the new Information Commissioner about the importance of protecting children online.

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, the Government are committed to protecting children online and are in regular contact with the Information Commissioner, whom we welcome to his post. The forthcoming online safety Bill will provide children with world-leading protections from harmful content and activity online, and the Information Commissioner will continue to enforce the safeguards for children’s privacy in the children’s code.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that Answer and welcome the recent announcement that the draft online safety Bill will better protect young people from online pornography. Regrettably, the Government have dragged their feet on this, meaning that more young people have been exposed to extreme content than was necessary. A new regime will take several years to come on stream. What consideration is the Minister giving to interim measures to better protect children, including, but not limited to, instructing the Information Commissioner to apply the age-appropriate design code to hosts of adult content?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s support for the newer measures the Government announced this week. Of course, we will be responding in full to the work of the Joint Committee and the DCMS Select Committee in the other place. We have looked at the draft online safety Bill to respond to the further recommendations and suggestions they have made. However, we have not been inactive in the meantime. In June last year, for example, we published safety by design guidance and a one-stop shop on child online safety, which provided guidance on steps platforms can take to design safer services and protect children. Last July, we published our Online Media Literacy Strategy, which supports the empowerment of users. So we are taking steps, as well as introducing the Bill, which will be coming soon.

Gambling Act 2005

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Wednesday 9th February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Government have always been clear that they will look at the case for alternative funding mechanisms if there is a funding gap. All options remain on the table, including a statutory levy such as the right reverend Prelate suggests. The Department for Health and Social Care is working to improve care and treatment pathways to support the 15 clinics that were committed to in the NHS long-term plan. NHS England has also worked with GambleAware to design effective treatment.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the campaign by GambleAware, which highlights that up to 1 million women are at risk of harm through gambling, while stigma and shame prevents two in five women experiencing such harm seeking help. What help is being given to spot the early warning signs of harmful gambling, focusing on women aged 25 to 55 who gamble online? Can the Minister confirm that the review and the ensuing White Paper will consider and refer to the impact of gambling on women, as well as those who are close to them?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes an important point. We have seen already, through the evidence gathered by Public Health England, the way that there are differential impacts on certain groups of people, whether by geography, sex or age. We want to improve the evidence base in the research so that we can ensure our policies are based on good and concrete evidence. That is part of the review of the Act that we are undertaking.

Online Sexual Harassment of Children

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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That is one reason why the online safety Bill will take the approach of setting out in secondary legislation the sorts of harms that can affect children and other vulnerable people—and indeed all internet users—so that we can keep on top of emerging threats and make sure that our legislation does so as well.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, even a single conversation with a child about their online safety could reduce their risk of seeing sexual content or being persuaded to share indecent images. I agree with the Minister that the guide for parents from the Children’s Commissioner is extremely helpful, but what further steps will the Government take to encourage and equip not just parents but grandparents and other relatives to talk to their children about online dangers? Will the Government throw their weight behind a sustained public information campaign to encourage this?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right that it is not just for parents but all responsible adults in society to play a part. The Government are doing that through the Online Media Literacy Strategy, which we published in July last year, and I have mentioned the changes that have been made to the curriculum. We are consulting on how to strengthen that further for the version that will be published in September this year, so we are keeping it under review.

Authors, Booksellers and Libraries: Economic Recovery

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Monday 10th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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That is a matter for my colleagues at BEIS, but I will certainly take the noble Viscount’s point forward.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, while independent booksellers are indeed showing signs of a hopeful comeback, as the Minister said, it is important to acknowledge that there are closures as well as openings of new shops which are still up against the might of online delivery services and chain shops. What consideration are the Government giving to reducing barriers for small, independent bookshops which are, after all, livening up our high streets and making book buying and reading more appealing? Will the Minister discuss business rates or small tax incentives with his Treasury colleagues to allow independent booksellers to survive and be able to support their local communities?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right. Despite the encouraging news, challenges remain for independent booksellers as we emerge from the pandemic. That is why the Government have put in place one of the world’s most comprehensive economic responses worth £400 billion to protect jobs, businesses and public services throughout the pandemic. We have provided support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, business rates relief for eligible high street retailers, grants for small businesses and government-backed loans. We have also protected commercial tenants from eviction and debt enforcement because of non-payment of rent until March 2022.

Covid-19: Entertainment and Arts Venues

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Tuesday 14th December 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott has been away for a few days, so I will certainly pick that up with her office to make sure that the noble Lord gets the answer to his first question. I also have a meeting with counterparts in the DWP to take up this issue in response to a question we had in a debate recently with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and others. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, knows, we continue to work bilaterally on touring. We provide information on GOV.UK to make sure that the sector has clarity about the rules, and we are making progress with many other countries in ensuring that they match the welcoming access we provide to musicians who want to come to the UK.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, many venues which took out government-backed Covid loans early in the pandemic are either now starting to repay the loans or are coming up to being asked to repay them. With the continuation of the pandemic, are the Government looking at whether those repayments can be deferred? Given the contribution that live entertainment and the arts make to our well-being and that of our communities, what work is being done across government, including with the Treasury and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, to recognise that so that this time, if needed, support measures can hit the ground running?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, the money continues to be disbursed. So far, we have helped more than 5,000 organisations around the country and the money continues to go out. As we set out in the accompanying fund guidance documents, the Government will keep the delivery of the funding under active review and will consider how best to adapt it in line with the needs of the sector. We continue to work with other departments to make sure that our response is appropriate.

Gambling: Children and Young People

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Monday 6th December 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, it is of course right to shield children from adverts promoting gambling but, as we have heard in this House on a number of occasions, that requires the age stated by the individual for access to be accurate in the first place. As social media companies themselves acknowledge that the systems and safeguards may not work as well as they should, can the Minister confirm that the minimum standards required will be incorporated into the upcoming online harms Bill? Will Ofcom be responsible for ensuring that these standards will protect children?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am conscious that the online safety Bill is in pre-legislative scrutiny in your Lordships’ House, and a Joint Committee of both Houses will be looking at this important area, as will the Gambling Act review.

Charities and Civil Society: Ministerial Responsibility

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Tuesday 23rd November 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is of course a former Health Minister, and the new Health Secretary is a former Culture Minister, so the insights that each have gained in their respective departments will, I know, be brought to their work. My honourable friend the Minister works with a range of groups—charities themselves but also sector representatives— including through round table meetings.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, the voluntary and community sector deservedly gained a high profile during the pandemic, particularly as so many people responded to the call to volunteer at a time of national need. What assessment has the Minister made of the effectiveness of government machinery in harnessing that activity to support the sector? With all due respect to existing ministerial efforts and responsibilities, does he feel that there is a case to be made for a full-time Minister who will work across Whitehall and beyond to ensure focus on this?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point to the fantastic work that volunteers did during the pandemic. The Government stood by them with support, including an unprecedented £750 million package specifically for charities, social enterprises and the voluntary sector, and my honourable friend, with his responsibilities, is the champion for the sector in government.

Telecommunications (Security) Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
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, I thank noble Lords from all sides of the House who have contributed to our debates during the passage of this Bill so far. Although that journey is not complete, their work has certainly helped us to interrogate the Bill and improve it. In particular, I would like to use this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lady Barran, who so expertly guided the Bill up to Committee; I was pleased to hear the tributes and thanks to her on Report a few days ago.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, have helpfully challenged the Government’s approach from the Opposition Front Bench. I thank them for the constructive way they have done so and for their diligent approach, along with the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, who have also applied keen-eyed scrutiny throughout the Bill’s passage so far. Although we have not always agreed on the fine detail, it is clear that we all share the same ambition: to keep our telecoms networks secure.

I also thank my noble friends on these Benches, particularly my noble friends Lady Morgan of Coates, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, Lord Holmes of Richmond, Lord Young of Cookham, Lady Stroud, Lord Balfe and Lord Naseby for their contributions. The scrutiny that has been applied has already resulted in legislation that will allow the UK to protect our telecoms networks for years to come. It would be remiss of me not to extend my thanks also to parliamentary counsel for their usual brilliance in drafting the Bill, and to the House authorities for ensuring that the parliamentary stages could take place so seamlessly, including during the challenging circumstances of recent months.

I close by thanking the officials within my department, most of whom have been working on this Bill for well over a year now. Their knowledge, organisation and patience has allowed me, and I hope all noble Lords, to understand and scrutinise with relative ease what is a technical but very important Bill. It is a large Bill team and I make no apology for listing their names; it illustrates the breadth of work that has gone into what is quite a technical Bill. I thank Kathryn Roe, John Peart, Byron Grant, Thea Macdonald, Euan Onslow, Alex Walford, Malcolm Campbell, Dan Tor, Rosemary Buckland, Chris Frampton, Charlotte Carew, Will Jones, Yohance Drayton, and our lawyers, Sean Murray, Martha Hartridge, Simon Gomes, Luke Emmons, Richard Lancaster, May Wong, Harriet Preedy, Julia Clayson, Sean Wilson and Matthew Smith. All of them have supported the passage of this Bill excellently.

As my predecessor said at Second Reading:

“The Bill will … protect our telecoms networks even as technologies grow and evolve, shielding our critical national infrastructure both now and for the future.”—[Official Report, 29/6/21; col. 707.]


I am encouraged that your Lordships’ House agrees that the Bill will achieve this, and I beg to move.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been my first Bill since I joined your Lordships’ House a little over six months ago. Some would say that I was thrown in at the deep end but in my view, I was simply given the opportunity to swim in rather warm and pleasant parliamentary waters. It has been fascinating and enjoyable and I am very glad that my first Bill has been such an important one for the security of the nation.

The Minister has of course been a constant throughout consideration of this Bill, and we saw his worth recognised as he was promoted from the important role of Whip to the Minister tasked with bringing the Bill home. I thank him for the courteous and professional manner in which he has conducted himself throughout, and I also express my thanks to the former Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran. From these Benches, we also express our gratitude to the Bill team, the clerks, the staff of the House—indeed, all those who have worked front of house as well as behind the scenes to make this Bill possible.

Throughout, it has been my pleasure to work with my noble friend Lord Coaker, who has brought his valuable experience and knowledge to proceedings. We have been blessed to have the highly professional support of Dan Harris, our excellent adviser who has guided and advised us throughout, to whom we express our thanks. Her Majesty’s Opposition strongly believe that our nation’s security is above party politics, and I thank all noble Peers who have worked cross party on this Bill.

New technologies have long transformed how we work, live and, of course, travel. Our experiences during the pandemic have upped the ante on the degree to which we rely on telecommunications networks. At the same time, it has reinforced how intertwined these networks are with issues of national security, including the top priority of any Government: to protect its citizens from risk. This Bill is a necessary step to protect us.

I am very glad to welcome the Government’s acceptance of our arguments that codes of practice, to be issued by the Secretary of State to telecoms providers, must first come before Parliament. However, the Bill raised key questions and concerns, especially given the absence of an effective plan to diversify the supply chain and in respect of our telecom security depending on strengthening our international bonds, in particular through the Five Eyes, involving the UK, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his work on that issue.

I hope that the other place will give sympathetic consideration to the changes we have made on both those matters, and that the Minister will recognise that the amendments passed by your Lordships’ House make serious and important improvements to the Bill and have widespread support across the Chamber. My concluding wish for this Bill is that the Government will reflect and feel able to support these improvements to the Bill and the security they provide.

Gambling Commission: Data

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Wednesday 20th October 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I certainly agree with the noble Viscount that the data is crucial to understanding the causes of harm and what we might be able to do to tackle it. That is why the Gambling Commission is taking forward work on the national repository of operator data. It is also working closely with credit reference agencies and others to understand what role financial data can play in preventing gambling harm.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, the Gambling Commission regularly publishes statistics and research on the regulated gambling sector, helping to form the basis of its responses to challenges such as problem or under-age gambling. It is acknowledged that the pandemic has changed not only the industry but the way in which the information is submitted, collated and reported. Is the Minister concerned that some of the figures relating to the impact of gambling may have been understated in recent releases? When do the Government expect normal service to be resumed?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point to the impact of the pandemic which, in this area as in so many others, will have definitely had an impact. A lot has changed in the 15 years since the Gambling Act, which is why we are reviewing it in the way that we are. The commission is setting out the next steps that it will take to make sure that operators are submitting high-quality and accurate data to inform that review.

Telecommunications (Security) Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, as we start Report, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, to his new ministerial role. I am sure we all look forward to working with him.

I remind the House that national security must be the first duty of any Government, which is why we welcome the intention behind the Bill. As we have said repeatedly throughout the passage of the Bill, we believe that there are a number of issues with the Bill that need to be addressed, including parliamentary oversight of the new powers, which this group focuses on. As Comms Council UK said, the Bill represents an

“unprecedented shift of power from Parliament to the Minister in relation to how telecoms networks operate”

and that

“the Minister will be able to unilaterally make decisions that impact the technical operation and direction of technology companies, with little or no oversight or accountability.”

With reference to Amendment 1, I shall not repeat the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox. Suffice it to say that we on these Benches appreciate and wish to stress the importance of parliamentary scrutiny, which we have stressed throughout the passage of the Bill.

I thank the Minister for tabling Amendments 3, 4 and 5. They are very similar to our Front-Bench amendments in Committee and reflect a key recommendation from the Delegated Powers Committee. I thank the former Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, for her work on these amendments. As noble Lords will remember, the Delegated Powers Committee called the powers in Clause 3 unacceptable and called for the negative procedure for the new telecoms security codes of practice. This important change from the Government ensures adequate parliamentary scrutiny, which is a welcome step forward.

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, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, for the amendment standing in their names, and I thank the noble Baroness for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box in my new role.

The question underlying this group is whether the new telecoms security framework will have proper scrutiny. Noble Lords have proposed ways to strengthen that scrutiny throughout the passage of the Bill and your Lordships’ Constitution Committee and Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee have made their own recommendations, and I thank those committees for their work.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, invited the Government to make a trade-off, a choice, in his words, between

“a loose definition of ‘security compromise’”

and

“a very tight way of agreeing the codes of practice.”—[Official Report, 13/7/21; col. GC 487.]

With that in mind, I turn first to Amendments 3, 4 and 5 in my name—although I should stress, as the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, kindly did, that they also represent the work of my predecessor, my noble friend Lady Barran. We both listened to the arguments put forward in Committee and these amendments represent her views as well as mine.

We have carefully considered the concerns raised and, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, invited us to do, we have proposed how to make that trade-off. The government amendments we have brought forward today affect Clause 3. It provides the Secretary of State with the power to issue and revise codes of practice. The code of practice is a fundamental building block of the new telecoms security framework as it will contain specific information on how telecoms providers can meet their legal duties under any regulations made by the Secretary of State.

In its report on the Bill, the DPRRC noted the centrality of codes of practice to the new telecoms security framework. The committee drew attention to the statutory effects of codes of practice and their role in Ofcom’s regulatory oversight, and because of those factors, the committee recommended that the negative procedure should be applied to the issuing of codes of practice. The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, tabled amendments in Committee to implement that recommendation. We are happy to do that. Our amendments today require the Government to lay a draft of any code of practice before Parliament for 40 days. Your Lordships’ House and the other place will then have that period of time to scrutinise a code of practice before it is issued.

We think that these changes strike the balance that noble Lords have called for today and in previous stages. I hope these government amendments demonstrate that we have listened and are committed to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny across all aspects of the framework.

Amendment 1, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, would apply the affirmative procedure to regulations made under new Section 105B in Clause 1. It would require the regulations to be laid in Parliament in draft and subject to a debate and vote in both Houses.

I share the noble Lords’ desire, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, to ensure that Parliament has a full and effective scrutiny role in this Bill, but I fear we disagree on the best way to achieve it. The only powers in the Bill that are subject to the affirmative procedure are delegated, or Henry VIII, powers that enable the amendment of penalty amounts set out in primary legislation. The Bill currently provides for the negative procedure to be used when laying the statutory instrument containing the regulations.

In the context of these new powers, the use of the negative procedure is appropriate for three reasons. First, Parliament will have had to approve the clauses in the Bill that determine the scope of regulations—Clauses 1 and 2—and the regulations will not amend primary legislation. Secondly, evolving technology and threat landscapes mean that the technical detail in regulations will need to be updated in a timely fashion to protect our networks. Thirdly and finally, as I noted in Committee, the negative procedure is the standard procedure for instruments under Section 402 of the Communications Act. The negative procedure delivers the right balance between a nimble parliamentary procedure and putting appropriate and proportionate measures in place effectively and efficiently to secure our networks.

The two noble Lords will also be aware that the changes they propose in their amendment are not ones that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee made. I accept that they are keen to explore avenues for scrutiny of this framework, but that committee made its recommendation for increasing the scrutiny of this regime, and the Government have brought forward our amendments to accept it. For these reasons, we are not able to accept the noble Lords’ Amendment 1. I hope that they will be content with what we have proposed in our amendment, and may be minded to withdraw theirs.

In conclusion, the Government were asked to make a trade-off. Through the passage of this Bill, we have been invited to provide greater opportunities for Parliament to scrutinise this regime. We have listened to those concerns and we have brought forward an answer. We feel that our amendments maintain our flexibility to adapt to an ever-changing technology environment and give your Lordships’ House and the other place a greater say in its operation, so I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for tabling Amendments 2 and 7 again on Report. I will not take up much time discussing them, not least because the Labour Front Bench tabled similar amendments in Committee better to understand what advice the Secretary of State will receive and where it will come from when making regulations under Clause 2. As the noble Lord said, we must ensure that the Secretary of State receives advice from the best experts, not just those who support the Government.

As the former Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, focused only on the incompatibility of a similar board set up by the Investigatory Powers Act, can the Minister today simply answer this question: without such a board, where will the Secretary of State receive advice, and from whom?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his welcome, and both him and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for retabling these amendments. We share the noble Lords’ ambition in this area. We also want to ensure that the telecoms security framework is informed by world-leading expertise, and that all those affected by the framework have appropriate mechanisms to shape it. The noble Lords’ amendments seek to establish a technical advisory board to advise the Secretary of State on matters of telecoms security. They also state that the Secretary of State should give due consideration to this new board’s advice, and that of a judicial commissioner, before making regulations or codes of practice.

I agree with the noble Lords on the importance of the Secretary of State having access to expert advice in the exercising of these new powers. I hope I can reassure them that she can already call upon sufficient advice through existing structures, and that I can demonstrate why, as we have explained previously, these amendments are not necessary, while giving the greater detail that the noble Lord asked for.

It is worth emphasising the level of expertise that DCMS itself retains, both on the telecoms sector and on security policy. DCMS is the lead Government department for the telecoms sector and has telecoms experts embedded in it. The department has established security and resilience teams with suitably cleared individuals, including people with substantial experience in national security. More widely, the department has established procedures through which it can draw upon further expertise across government and industry. Inside government, for example, the National Cyber Security Centre undertakes regular risk assessments of current and emerging threats, and those assessments are used to inform government policy. Regulations and the code of practice made through this Bill will be informed by the NCSC’s assessments. The Government also have fora in which they discuss emerging threats and new technological developments with the industry. The NCSC’s information exchange is one example. This is a trusted community of security professionals from across the telecoms sector who come together on a quarterly basis to discuss and share information on security issues and concerns.

The noble Lord’s amendment also calls for the new board and the judicial commissioner to be consulted before the establishment of new regulations and codes of practice. We share the noble Lord’s view on the importance of consultation. That is why the Bill is clear that any code of practice must be consulted on before it is introduced. However, we still differ in our opinions on who should be consulted. The consultation requirement in the Bill will enable those directly affected by the code of practice, as well as those with an interest in it, to comment and raise concerns without the need for a technical advisory board to be established. Of course, if your Lordships’ House supports the government amendments today, the code of practice itself will be subject to scrutiny both in your Lordships’ House and in another place. Furthermore, we published an illustrative draft of the regulations in January for the purpose of early engagement with the industry, and the feedback it has provided has been invaluable in our development of the policy. We continue to engage regularly and closely with public telecoms providers and trade bodies, ensuring that any concerns are effectively communicated to us. I remind noble Lords that the Secretary of State can make these regulations and measures in a code of practice only where she actively considers that the measures are appropriate and proportionate under the wording of new subsections 105D(2) and 105D(4).

To conclude, I thank the noble Lords for bringing their amendment back. As I have said, I share their ambition to create a robust, well-informed and evidence-led framework for telecoms security. We believe that we already undertake extensive engagement with the affected groups and bodies. The Bill sets out consultation requirements but even if it did not, the Government have strong relationships with those in the sector and would continue to seek their input. That is where the advice referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, would come from, as well as from across government, the NCSC and others I have mentioned. For the reasons I have set out, we are not able to accept this amendment and I hope the noble Lord will therefore withdraw it.

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, for tabling this amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his remarks. It certainly is key that Ofcom is able to do the job that it has been entrusted to do. On the matter of providers, I would say that their primary duty has to be to ensure that the networks are secure. We should expect no less from them. I will be very interested to hear how the Minister responds to the points that have been made in respect of this amendment.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, for tabling this amendment to Clause 13. I know the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in particular, has taken a keen interest in this area, not just in this Bill but in previous ones as well. I am grateful for the way that he set out the debate again today.

Clause 13 makes provision to ensure that the Competition Appeal Tribunal applies ordinary judicial review principles to appeals against certain security decisions made by Ofcom. Under such principles, those decisions can be successfully challenged only where they are unlawful, irrational or procedurally unfair. In setting the standard of appeal in this legislation, we must find a balance between giving telecoms providers a way to challenge Ofcom’s decisions should they be unfair and ensuring that the regulatory regime is effective and efficient.

Ofcom, as an experienced telecoms regulator, believes that changing the standard of appeal to judicial review principles for certain security decisions has the potential to make the regulatory process quicker and more efficient. The Government agree. We want to avoid either Ofcom or telecoms providers spending months in court.

It was never the intention of Parliament to set the standard of appeal, as it is now, to

“duly take into account the merits of the case”,

as this was dictated by EU law. In 2017 the Government changed the standard of appeal for reviewing decisions by Ofcom from a full merits approach to ordinary judicial review principles via Section 87 of the Digital Economy Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, will well remember.

However, as EU law continued to apply, the Competition Appeal Tribunal subsequently decided that it had to apply a modified approach to

“duly take into account the merits of the case”.

In essence, this has prevented the provision in the Digital Economy Act, which had been approved by Parliament, taking effect. That rather unhappy outcome would continue to be the case for certain security decisions under the Bill should this clause not stand.

To be clear, Clause 13 applies the judicial review standard only to decisions such as those relating to the issuing of an assessment notice, which should be routine and quickly handled rather than being continuously delayed. It is not being applied to decisions about penalties such as those under Section 105T. Public telecoms providers will still be able to appeal those decisions as they do now, and the tribunal will

“duly take into account the merits of the case”.

Ultimately, we want public telecoms providers to spend their time addressing the security of the network. We do not want them to attempt indefinitely to delay an Ofcom decision by bringing cases against the regulator that do not stack up. We are not breaking new ground by changing to this standard of appeal. Judicial review principles are the normal standard by which most decisions of government and public bodies are legally reviewed.

Parliament has already decided that the standard of appeal for similar decisions under the Network and Information Systems Regulations 2018 should be ordinary judicial review principles. That is consistent with our policy approach in this Bill. Therefore, the Government feel that Clause 13 should stand part of this Bill as it will contribute to the efficiency of the regime and ensure that regulatory decisions are not unduly delayed. It will also ensure legislative consistency. I hope that reassures the noble Lord and that he will be content to withdraw his objection to this clause.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Fox, for tabling and signing this amendment relating to telecoms diversification. I hope that, during my remarks, I can convince them and other noble Lords that the Bill is not the right place for this amendment for two reasons: first, diversification extends well beyond the security focus of the Bill; and, secondly, legislating for a reporting requirement would be limiting and inflexible as our diversification work evolves. I will also outline the progress made against the diversification strategy, in both government policy and industry outcomes, to seek to reassure noble Lords that progress is being made in this important area.

The Bill will create one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world. It will protect our networks even as technologies evolve, future-proofing our critical national infrastructure. Throughout the passage of the Bill, there has been a great deal of debate about how diversification can help to support more secure and resilient telecoms infrastructure. While our work on diversification is intended to support our security and resilience ambitions, not all diversification is necessarily relevant to security and resilience.

The telecoms diversification work that the Government are undertaking moves the market forward by broadening the supplier base in many ways which fall beyond pure security measures; these include boosting quality, innovation, competition and choice within our critical networks. It is for this reason that we have consistently argued that it would be limiting for our 5G diversification strategy to appear on the face of this Bill. Legislating for a reporting element within the Bill, by the same token, would also be restrictive.

Furthermore, as the market and technology evolve, our desired outcomes and areas of focus will evolve too. For example, in the short term, a successful outcome could be a third major vendor in the mobile market. However, once open radio access networks are ready for deployment at scale in urban areas, our measure of success might be the level of interoperability within our networks.

At the moment, we are focusing efforts on diversifying the radio access network, which is where the most critical security and resilience risks are found. In future, a focus on other elements of telecoms infrastructure, including fixed networks, will be necessary to ensure all risks to the ways in which we communicate are tackled. Committing to reporting on specific criteria would limit us to reporting against the risks as we find them today; it would not afford us the flexibility that diversification requires.

While the Government cannot accept this amendment, I hope to reassure noble Lords that our work on diversification progresses—and at pace. The Government’s plans to diversify the market were set out in the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy, which was published in November last year. We also established a diversification taskforce, chaired by my noble friend Lord Livingston of Parkhead, who of course has a wealth of experience in this field having served as the chief executive for BT Group. The taskforce’s role is to provide expert advice to the Government on this important agenda.

The taskforce set out its recommendations in the spring and many of its members have agreed to continue providing expertise as part of the Telecoms Supply Chain Diversification Advisory Council, which had its first meeting last month. Work is already underway to implement many of the taskforce’s recommendations and good progress has been made on the priorities set out in the strategy. For example, research and development was highlighted as a key area of focus, in order to promote open interface technologies that will establish flexibility in the market and allow a range of new, smaller suppliers to compete in a diverse marketplace.

That is why DCMS was delighted to announce the launch of the future radio access network competition on 2 July. Through this competition, up to £30 million will be invested in open RAN R&D projects across the UK to address barriers to high-performance open deployments. This competition is part of a wider programme of government initiatives to foster an open, disaggregated network ecosystem in the UK. This includes the Smart Radio Access Network Open Network Interoperability Centre—or SONIC Labs—a facility for testing interoperability and integration of open networking solutions, which opened in June. A number of leading telecoms suppliers are already working together through this facility.

The Government also continue to work with mobile operators, suppliers and users on a number of other important enablers for diversification, for example by developing a road map for the long-term use and provision of legacy network services, expected to be announced later this year. Alongside this, the Government have led efforts to engage with some of our closest international partners, through both multilateral and bilateral mechanisms, to build international consensus on this important issue. Through the UK’s G7 presidency, the Government made the first step in discussing the importance of secure and diverse supply chains among like-minded partners, and the foundational role that telecommunications infrastructure such as 5G plays in underpinning wider digital and technology infrastructure.

We have also seen movement in the market towards diversification objectives. The industry has taken steps to adopt open radio access networks, such as the European memorandum of understanding, co-signed by Telefónica and Vodafone. Furthermore, organisations such as Airspan, Mavenir, NEC and Vodafone have now announced UK-based open radio access network facilities. This demonstrates that the industry is working alongside the Government here in the UK to drive forward the change needed in the sector. That was further evidenced in Vodafone’s commitment to deploy 2,500 open radio access network sites using equipment provided by leading suppliers, including Samsung and NEC. This is the largest deployment of its kind anywhere in Europe and an important first step in delivering the goal of more open networks.

These commitments show a genuine and significant change in the diversification of our mobile networks. I hope they also demonstrate why placing strict legislative reporting requirements on this area of work would be premature. We are at a point of rapid exploration and experimentation in this work, and I hope that noble Lords would not want to inhibit that work before it has had time to mature.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, asked about the committee report. It will not fall to me to respond to that report, as I perhaps would have done in my previous role as a Whip covering the Foreign Office, among other departments. We will, of course, reply to it in full in due course. He also asked about Newport Wafer Fab. As I am sure noble Lords will appreciate, I am not able to comment on the detail of commercial transactions or of any national security assessments on a particular case. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and, as part of this, the Prime Minister has asked the National Security Adviser to review this case. Separately, work is under way to review the wider semiconductor landscape in the United Kingdom. The National Security Adviser’s review is ongoing, drawing on expertise from across government as necessary. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will not hesitate to take further action if needed. The Government are, of course, committed to the semiconductor sector and the vital role it plays in the UK’s economy.

For the reasons that I have set out, therefore, I am not able to accept this amendment. I hope noble Lords have been reassured by what I said, and that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I am, of course, disappointed that the Minister cannot see that this amendment seeks to strengthen the Bill. It gives the Government an opportunity to showcase all the things of which the Minister has apprised the House. It is important to look at this proposed new clause. It would require the Secretary of State to report on the impact of the diversification strategy, something of which the Government are proud, and it allows for a parliamentary debate, something I would have hoped the Government would welcome, but this is clearly not the case.

As the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Alton, have indicated, the absence so far of an effective plan to diversify the supply chain is what makes us concerned about security in this country. The Bill is the opportunity to put that right. Therefore, I feel it is only right and proper, in the interests of the security of the country, that we press this matter to a vote and test the opinion of the House.

UK Fashion Industry

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Wednesday 13th October 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I will certainly follow up with HMRC the point that the noble Baroness raises. I should add that tax-free shopping is still available in store when goods are posted to overseas addresses. People can still avail themselves of that.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his place and wish him all the very best. While the fashion and textile industry is a leading contributor to our economy, an engine room for jobs and a standard-bearer for British style and reputation, one could be forgiven for thinking it has been overlooked. Following the warning issued by ASOS and others about the impact of supply chain issues, how would the Minister ensure urgent support to the industry to overcome HGV driver and skilled worker shortages? Looking to the future, what plans are there for a major skills boost, so that we can see more and better clothing made for sale both here and abroad?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The sector certainly has not been forgotten. We continue to work very closely with the fashion industry to understand the challenges it faces and to identify new opportunities to develop it. It is a world-leading sector, of which we are very proud. I mentioned the working group which includes the chief executive of the British Fashion Council; that is just one of many ways we have engaged with the sector. My noble friend Lord Frost chaired the Brexit business task force on fashion and textiles in May, we have two trade advisory groups from DIT, and we have hosted a number of online seminars. We continue to engage with the industry, and I look forward to working with the noble Baroness and others as we do so.

Telecommunications (Security) Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, for tabling this amendment. I do not have too much to add to this brief and interesting debate, but I take the opportunity to thank the Constitution Committee for its report on the Bill.

At Second Reading the Minister said:

“Oversight of the Investigatory Powers Act regime by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner is considered appropriate because of the potential intrusion into the private lives of individuals as a result of the use of covert powers. The national security powers in this Bill are very different from those in the Investigatory Powers Act”.—[Official Report, 29/6/21; col. 747.]


However, she did not say why it would be wrong for the commissioner’s remit to change. This is the one point I put to the Minister, and it would be helpful to have a response.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, for tabling this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, says, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is a victim of the speedy progress we have made in this Committee.

Like them, I recognise the importance of proper oversight and scrutiny in the use of the Bill’s powers. The amendment they tabled aims to give the Investigatory Powers Commissioner oversight of the Secretary of State’s power to issue designated vendor directions. The Bill already contains effective mechanisms for oversight of the Secretary of State’s use of those powers to give a designated vendor direction or designation notice. It requires the Secretary of State to lay copies of designation notices and designated vendor directions before Parliament. That will provide Parliament with the opportunity to scrutinise their use.

As the Committee has heard, on very rare occasions the Secretary of State may choose not to lay a designation notice or direction before Parliament because to do so would be contrary to the interests of national security. Where this is the case, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will be able to view such directions and notices, so there will be oversight there.

On the legal point that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, raised, designated vendor directions and designation notices are subject to ordinary judicial review principles. The Secretary of State will issue designation notices and designated vendor directions only where they are necessary in the interests of national security and the requirements in the directions are proportionate.

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 provides a frame- work for use by the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and other public authorities to obtain communications and communications data. The role of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner is independently to oversee the use of these powers, ensuring that they are used in accordance with the law and in the public interest. The regime set out in the Investigatory Powers Act is not directly comparable with the new powers and framework set out by this Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, noted. The reason for that is that oversight of activity by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, as authorised by the Investigatory Powers Act, is considered appropriate because these powers often involve balancing important questions regarding the right to privacy.

The national security powers in this Bill are very different from those in the Investigatory Powers Act. They focus on protecting public telecommunications networks and services from the threats posed by high-risk vendors. That is different from questions about individual citizens, their communications and their communications data. That is why we respectfully disagree with the suggestion by the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House and feel that it would not be appropriate for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to have an oversight role in respect of this Bill.

Briefly, that is why the Government disagree with this amendment and hope that the noble Lords, Lord Fox, will be content to withdraw it.

Telecommunications (Security) Bill

Debate between Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Baroness Merron
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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First, if I may, I will take back the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about new Section 105H under Clause 3; I will write to him to, I hope, alleviate any concerns and confusion. There are certain legal effects set out; I will write to him to clarify the point about legal enforceability.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his appreciation. Part of the confusion here may be that two technical advisory boards are mentioned in these groups of amendments. As I think he noted, the one set up under RIPA has a different function, but we are certainly not being dismissive of the points that have been raised. Indeed, as I said, we have spoken to the industry and received helpful feedback from telecoms providers on the illustrative draft measures that were published in January. We will also be glad to look at the information that he mentioned—the views that have come his way—to make sure that these are reconciled; if he is happy to share them, we will look at them and come back him.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. In view of the pandemic restrictions on the numbers that might sing in a choir inside, it is dangerous now to say that we are singing from the same hymn sheet—as the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, will recall from her time at the Dispatch Box. I do not know whether we would count as amateur or professional, so perhaps I could venture in that direction, but there is a sense among noble Lords of wanting to strengthen the Bill by ensuring that the Secretary of State has the best technical advice.

I thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, for his response. However, I take from it that a technical advisory board is not required. I share the confusion that was referred to earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. On the one hand, in the previous set of amendments, we were advised that this is so technical that it is not appropriate for a particular aspect of parliamentary scrutiny, yet suddenly, it seems, it is not quite as technical but we need further advice. I am reminded of the words of the then Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, who we will recall commenting in a debate over Brexit that we have “had enough of experts”; I suspect the Minister will have picked up from the amendments today that we feel we have not had enough of experts. I hope he will reflect on the fact that these amendments seek to assist the Secretary of State, and to assist this Bill to do the job it is here to do to very best effect. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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I thank the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, for these amendments. As before, it is a pleasure to follow their contributions and that of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll.

On the codes of practice and Amendment 10, I understand the importance of not wanting to put undue burdens on businesses. We should make particular reference to the exceptionally difficult and testing times that businesses and the economy have had to suffer over the past year due to the pandemic. Obviously, a balance needs to be considered. We have to ensure that if the codes are going to be used, they are the most effective way of implementing security measures. How will the Government consider the impact of codes on businesses? For example, will there be specific consultation about undue costs in respect of businesses?

The concerns that we have heard in this debate give a further nod to concerns about lack of parliamentary oversight, which is missing from the codes. I again say gently to the Minister that by giving parliamentarians the opportunity to provide scrutiny there might also be the ability to review the impact on businesses.

Amendments 16, 17 and 21 would ensure that Ofcom’s new powers in the Bill were subject to requirements in Sections 3 and 6 of the Communications Act 2003. Section 3 focuses on the general duties of Ofcom, while Section 6 focuses on reviewing regulatory burdens. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister whether the Bill has been deliberately drafted for the new powers to fall out of scope of those sections in the Communications Act and, if so, why.

What review process will be faced in respect of Ofcom’s new powers? It is very important that, when new powers are given, there is an opportunity to review, reflect and amend, and to keep a close eye on whether those new powers are doing the job intended.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, for these amendments, and all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. The amendments focus on the need for the regulations and code of practice to be proportionate, and to ensure that the duties of Ofcom are carried out in a transparent and similarly proportionate way.

I turn first to Amendment 10, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox. This amendment to Clause 3 seeks to ensure that codes of practice are necessary and proportionate to what they are intended to achieve, and do not place an undue burden on telecoms providers. The Bill already includes provisions in Clauses 1 and 2 to ensure that security duties placed on public telecoms providers in the primary legislation and specific security measures set out in regulations must be considered to be appropriate and proportionate by the Secretary of State. The code of practice will provide the technical guidance on the steps that public telecoms providers should take to meet their security duties. I certainly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, about the extra—and indeed extraordinary—work that providers have done over recent months to keep us all in contact during the pandemic.

To help ensure that technical guidance in the code of practice is appropriate and proportionate, Clause 3 requires the Secretary of State to publish a draft version of the code of practice before it is issued, and to consult on its contents. This public consultation will take place after the Bill has attained Royal Assent; it will enable the voices of telecoms providers of all sizes—as noble Lords rightly pointed out—the wider sector, Ofcom, and any other affected groups to be heard and taken into account before the code of practice is finalised. Subsequent versions of the code of practice, which will be revised as technology evolves and new threats emerge, will also be subject to the same process of consultation before being issued.

An impact assessment is also being conducted for proposed secondary legislation to be laid as part of the new framework, which will take into account the initial cost assessments from providers to ensure that the framework is balanced and proportionate. The precise make-up and design of each provider’s network remains a commercial decision. The Bill makes it clear that providers are responsible for the security of their own networks and services; providers also remain responsible for deciding how they recover their costs. As such, we expect the costs of ensuring adequate security to be met by individual providers.

I turn to Amendments 16, 17 and 21, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. These seek to apply Sections 3 and 6 of the Communications Act 2003 to Ofcom’s duties and powers under Clauses 5, 6 and 19 of this Bill. Section 3 of the Communications Act sets out Ofcom’s general duties; these include a duty on Ofcom to have regard to the need for transparency, accountability and proportionality when carrying out its functions. Section 6 of the Communications Act requires Ofcom to review the burden of its regulation on telecoms providers. These are all principles that we think are essential to the functioning of the new security regime created by this Bill. I am glad to repeat the reassurance given by my noble friend in her letter, which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, mentioned, that Ofcom is already bound by its general duties in Sections 3 and 6 of the Communications Act when carrying out its security function under new Section 105M, and when using any of its powers in this Bill. This will include Ofcom’s power to carry out an assessment of public telecoms providers’ compliance with their security duties under Clause 6 of this Bill, and powers for Ofcom to give inspection notices under Clause 19. As my noble friend said in her letter, if Ofcom fails to carry out its security functions in line with these duties, it could be subject to legal challenge.

The provisions in the Bill already ensure that the regulations, code of practice and duties of Ofcom are proportionate. Therefore, we do not think that these amendments are necessary, and we hope that noble Lords will be happy not to press them.