Online Safety Bill at risk of being ditched due to delays, ministers warned

Posted: 21st November 2022

Government urged to push bill through Commons by Christmas to avoid legislation being scrapped

The long-awaited Online Safety Bill risks being scrapped altogether unless ministers move quickly to bring the legislation back in front of MPs, internal government documents have shown.

The Bill promises to usher in sweeping new laws to regulate the internet, making it safer for users with the threat of fines and criminal sanctions, including jail terms, for social media executives.

But the legislation has been hit by a series of delays after Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan promised to tweak a crucial section of it that deals with “legal but harmful” content online, such as posts about suicide or self harm.

It has sparked fears that unless the Bill passes the Commons by Christmas, it will be ditched entirely.

Internal advice from officials within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), seen by i, reveals that ministers have been warned they risk letting the Bill fall entirely, unless they bring it back to the Commons quickly.

The DCMS document states: “You must decide whether to progress with the July 2022 version of the Bill; or whether to propose changes to the legal but harmful regime, which will extend its parliamentary passage timeline.”

And it adds: “If we don’t move quickly there is a real risk that PBL [the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee] will withdraw the bill if they judge it will not pass in time.”

The Bill was already carried over from the last parliamentary session, and under Parliament’s rules any Bill cannot be carried over a second time.

It means the Bill must pass through the Commons and then go through all stages of the House of Lords by April next year. But officials believe the timings are incredibly tight with comparative pieces of legislation, such as the Data Protection Bill, requiring four months to pass through the Lords.

Campaigners and opposition parties believe this means the Bill must be rammed through the Commons before Christmas if it is to have any chance of avoiding being scrapped.

As I revealed last week, the Bill was due to be brought back to the Commons this month but parliamentary business up until Tuesday 22 November shows no time has been dedicated to debate the legislation.

Rishi Sunak also declined to commit to bringing the bill back this month when asked about it in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. Instead, he reassured former digital minister Damian Collins that the Bill will “require platforms to remove and limit the spread of illegal content and activity online”.

Crossbench peer and founder of the 5Rights children’s rights foundation Baroness Beeban Kidron raised concerns about the time left to push the legislation through during a Lords debate this week, warning it needed to be brought to the Commons “before the end of this month, which is the date by which we have been told we need it to ensure correct scrutiny and its passage in this Session”.

The NSPCC warned that a failure to get the Online Safety Bill through Parliament would be “inexcusable for children and families”.

“The need for legislation could not be more urgent with platforms awash with hugely dangerous material, including damaging suicide and self-harm material,” the charity said.

Shadow Digital Secretary Lucy Powell said: “We’ve offered time and again to speed its passage and get it on the statute book yet successive Conservative administrations have failed to deliver. If this doesn’t pass the Commons by Christmas the government will have killed the Bill.”

Baroness Kidron added: “Consecutive prime ministers have promised parents, children and bereaved families like the Russells urgent action to tackle online harms – but once again the government is delaying progress.

“In light of repeatedly unkept promises, it is hard not to question if government are running the clock down deliberately to prevent the passage of the bill this session. If so government will have children’s lives on their conscience and experience parents’ wrath at the ballot box.”

A DCMS spokesman said:  “Protecting children and stamping out illegal activity online is a top priority for the government. The Culture Secretary has promised to bring the Online Safety Bill back to Parliament as soon as possible.”

Source: Online Safety Bill at risk of being ditched due to delays, ministers warned (

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