Campaigners have slammed the government’s decision to delay the remaining stages of the Online Safety Bill amid turbulence at Number 10.
The government confirmed that while the bill was on the cusp of parliamentary discussion, it would now be paused until the autumn because of “the parliamentary timetable.”
Pioneered by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, the bill aims at preventing the spread of illegal content, and protects users from legal but harmful material online. Ofcom would play a key role as regulator, holding Big Tech to account under the proposed framework.
Shadow culture minister Alex Davies-Jones pushed back against the postponement, stating that it was “an absolutely devastating blow and another example of the Tories prioritising their own ideals over people’s safety online”.
Oliver Wyman’s Co-Head of Public Sector Lisa Quest told City A.M. that online safety needed to stay on the political agenda, regardless of the timing and changes in party leadership.
“In the current climate, it is vital they are taking the right steps to protect consumers online and to ensure sustained business model synergies with legislative evolution in the European Market”, she explained: something that feels particularly pertinent as the EU pushes forward with the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act.
Mental health charity Samaritans also came out to urge the Tories to prioritise the bill moving forward.
By contrast, Victoria Hewson, Head of Regulatory Affairs at think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, said that the delay provided an “ideal opportunity” to reconsider the “highly contentious legislation”.
Weighing in on the matter, Hewson said:“The Bill not only raises serious free speech issues but has also become complex and unmanageable. The latest amendments have made this situation even worse”. She said it should either be abandoned entirely or stripped back to what is absolutely necessary to protect the most vulnerable.
Wannabe Prime Minister Kemi Badenoch said the bill was “in no fit state to become law, and tweeted on Wednesday: “We should not be legislating for hurt feelings”. Dorries pushed back against these claims
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who is backing Liz Truss to be the next leader, replied to a tweet from Badenoch stating: “Which part of the Bill legislates for hurt feelings, Kemi?”
A DCMS spokesperson said: “The Online Safety Bill will continue its journey through the House of Commons in the Autumn as a result of the parliamentary timetable.”