Boris Johnson accused of U-turn on Christmas pledge for internet safety laws
The legislation is expected to force tech firms like Facebook and Google, to maintain a duty of care to users
Boris Johnson has faced claims of performing a U-turn on his pledge for new internet safety laws to make progress before Christmas.
The Prime Minister had said the Online Safety Bill would be considered at second reading – the first time it is debated and voted upon – in the House of Commons ahead of the festive celebration.
But MPs heard a parliamentary committee examining the proposed legislation is not expected to report back until December, with Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg failing to guarantee second reading would take place pre-Christmas.
The legislation is expected to force the biggest technology firms, such as Facebook and Google, to abide by a duty of care to users, overseen by Ofcom as the new regulator for the sector.
Mr Johnson also insisted the Bill will impose “criminal sanctions with tough sentences” on those responsible for allowing “foul content” on their platforms.
For Labour, shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said: “The Prime Minister appeared to confirm first that the Online Safety Bill would have completed all stages by Christmas, then it was just going to be second reading, and now it seems No 10 have rowed back even further to a vague commitment that the Bill will be presented at some point during this session. That’s not even before Christmas.
“Could the Leader of the House please help us out here, what is the timetabling for this Bill because the Prime Minister doesn’t seem to know.”
Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “The Online Safety Bill will complete its draft scrutiny in December.
“This is really important because the draft Bill is already available, it is there for all and sundry to see, to look at, to consider, and the committee will come up with its wise views before Christmas and then we will be able to look at that and ensure there is not just a good Bill, but a brilliant Bill, the best Bill, an ideal Bill that will come out of that.
“That is a very important part of scrutiny.”
Labour MP Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Upon Tyne Central) added: “Can we have a debate on planning and the Prime Minister so that he will not again announce the date of a critical piece of legislation – the Online Safety Bill – then U-turn on that date within a couple of hours?
“The many people suffering online hate will not thank him for not having a plan, and could the Leader of the House confirm whether the Prime Minister’s commitment to criminal sanctions will outlast his commitment to bring legislation before this House before Christmas?”
Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “It is having detailed scrutiny as a draft Bill. This is really important because this is a complex piece of legislation.
“We have to deal with the online harms issues, we also have to protect freedom of speech, we need to hold the online service companies to account for what they publish, and that report will come forward in December.
“We know that is the plan of the joint committee, to have its report issued then.
“That will be the basis for legislation. It is following the proper, suitable plan. This is the parliamentary process.
“I think the Government’s planning is exactly as you’d expect it to be.”