The Online Safety Bill has made a comeback on the Government’s legislative programme, with its remaining stages due to be provisionally debated on Monday, December 5.
More than four years in the making, the Online Safety Bill in its current form would require social media and other platforms to protect their users from harmful content, with large fines and the threat of having their site blocked if they were found to breach the new rules, which will be overseen by Ofcom.
The Bill was put on hold during the Tory leadership race in the summer for the new Prime Minister to take on, and then was repeatedly pushed back under Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak.
After Ms Mordaunt made her announcement, Labour questioned whether the Bill will have its third reading on Monday, December 5, or risks running into the end of the session.
Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said: “It (Online Safety Bill) was first mooted a decade ago. It’s been four years since they promised it. In that time, online crime has exploded, child sexual abuse online has become rife, scams proliferated.”
Ms Debbonaire also told MPs the Government might “in a bizarre move” send the Bill back to committee stage “in order to try and remove a crucial section that deals with the legal but harmful content”.
She added: “Now, the Bill was designed to deal with legal but harmful content and self harm and suicide and racist content. So why is the Government trying to take this out now? If the Bill doesn’t come back soon, it risks falling entirely, it will run into the end of the session. The Leader knows there’s no option to carry over in those circumstances. So, will we have third reading on Monday 5? Will it come back to the Commons in time to finish remaining stages before the end of Parliament? Will she guarantee there will be enough time?
“If the party opposite can’t fill their legislative programme effectively, they could make way for one who can. Does she want to swap places?”
Ms Debbonaire also criticised the Government for pulling day two of the remaining stages of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which was scheduled for next Monday, telling the Commons: “The Leader’s business statement is testament to her Prime Minister’s poor judgment and weak leadership.”
She went on: “Pulling Monday’s votes on their flagship Levelling Up Bill marks just the latest stage of the Tories’ long-running psychodrama.
“In one corner, the Prime Minister desperately trying to find at least some manifesto commitments he can still deliver on, and in the other corner, 50 of his own MPs threatening to back an amendment against their government’s own Bill. Complete shambles.
“Government running from their own backbenchers, leaving a levelling-up agenda in tatters, and more importantly, the British people with a broken housing market.”
Responding to Labour, Ms Mordaunt said: “With regard to other legislation – the Levelling Up Bill and the Online Safety Bill – I will be announcing those in the usual way.
“They will still be making progress through the House. I hope members opposite will support these important Bills.”