All 1 Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick contributions to the Online Safety Act 2023

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 1st Feb 2023

Online Safety Bill

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Excerpts
Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
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My Lords, it is an honour to follow the intriguing suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, about December—which I will not repeat at this moment. I declare my interest as a former head of public affairs at the BBC who heavily lobbied this House in 1995 and 1996 to bring about the Broadcasting Act which set BBC online on its way. I am proud to say that BBC online remains a beacon of responsible content to show the rest of the world. I am also co-chair of the all-party group on media literacy and patron of Student View, which works in over 100 schools around the country to deliver media literacy.

In the original draft Bill, media literacy was not a central point but an important point of commitment. It has since been removed from the final legislation in front of us. As the Minister said in his introduction, there are multiple provisions in the legislation which cater for enabling adults to make sensible use of their media journey. However, there is very little, other than protections for children, to enable children to make intelligent understanding of their media journey.

According to the National Literacy Trust, in its assessment a few years ago, only 2% of children had the critical thinking skills necessary to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction online, and 90% of teachers say they are in favour of media literacy but feel that they do not have the skills to be able to teach it. They also feel that the vast majority of children they teach who discuss media issues consistently in the classroom do not understand the difference between truth and misinformation.

I want to keep it simple and say two things to the Minister and one to the Opposition. First, to the Minister, given the level of fines which should become apparent as a response to abuse of this legislation, money will be available to empower media literacy programmes inside and outside of schools. There should be no excuse that there is no money; the money in fines should go not just towards Ofcom’s costs but towards improving the capability of the next generation to navigate the media landscape. Will the Minister and the Government consider that?

It is obvious that media literacy is not in this Bill now because the Government argued it was essentially an education matter. In that case, will the Minister commit the Government—as he speaks for the Government —to bringing forward a media literacy education Bill before the next election? If it is not possible and there is to be a Labour Government after the next election, will the Labour Front Bench commit to bringing forward a media literacy education Bill, rather than simply letting this issue drift into the long grass? The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, can answer that directly at the end and make a commitment on behalf of the Labour Front Bench we can all hold him to account on.

There also needs to be substantial support for teaching teachers to understand and navigate a forest that they do not necessarily know how to enter or exit. That should be part of teacher development and support. Can we also consider the costs of misinformation and how it is damaging our social fabric? Can the Minister request of the Treasury that it brings forward cost assessments of the damage of misinformation?