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Culture Secretary rejects claims changes to Online Safety Bill have weakened it – UK Politics Live | Policy


Key events

China’s ambassador to the UK, Zheng Zeguang, has been summoned to the Foreign Office to be told of the government’s anger over the arrest and assault of a BBC journalist covering the protest in Shanghai, according to the Evening Standard’s Nicholas Cecil reports.

Michelle Donelan, the Culture Secretary, is accused by leading online safety campaign Ian Russell of watering down the Online Safety Bill. (See 9:26.) But big brother watch, a libertarian group that campaigns for free speech, says Donelen did not change the bill enough. In a statement on the changes, Mark Johnson, its chief legal and policy officer, said:

The government’s relaunch of plans to give state backing to terms and conditions for social media companies in the Online Safety Bill is totally retrograde, sidesteps months of expert scrutiny and is a major threat to free speech in the UK…

The government has promised a revised online safety bill that would protect freedom of expression. We welcome the Secretary of State’s willingness to make changes to the legislation, but the warming of a wasteful policy that merges the censorship powers of the state and Silicon Valley isn’t good for freedoms either. civilians or for online security.

Harper offers RMT ‘better information sharing’ in response to calls for clarity on who can negotiate ending railway strike

Thursday of last week Mark Harper, the transport secretary, held what both sides described as a positive meeting with Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT. They were talking about the railroad strikes and then Lynch told reporters his union was unclear about who had the authority to negotiate a pay deal. Individual rail companies and the Rail Delivery Group (which represents them) were both saying they could not engage in collective bargaining, he said.

Lynch said Harper offered to send her a letter detailing who exactly had the authority to negotiate a settlement.

Harper has now released the text of his letter to Lynch. It’s short and doesn’t answer Lynch’s questions at all, but Harper promises a new meeting, as well as “better sharing of information.” He says:

My role is to facilitate and support – not to negotiate. Negotiations will continue between unions and employers, but I see scope for agreement.

Let me explain how I think we can help support this. Better sharing of information between the Minister of Railways, trade unions and those conducting negotiations on behalf of employers can speed up this process. We will soon convene a new meeting to advance, in good faith from all parties, settlement discussions and progress in this dispute.

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan rejects claims that changes to the online safety bill have weakened it

Hello. The Rishi Sunak cabinet may be filled with faces from the David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss administrations, but that’s not all continuity and in some ways Sunak is revising the policies pursued by his predecessors. We have an example today, with changes to the Online Safety Bill.

The bill, which took years to plan and was published by Nadine Dorries when she was culture secretary, would extend significant new controls over social media companies. This goes further than what has been attempted in most other Western democracies. The bill completed almost all of its stages in the Commons in the spring, but was shelved as Johnson had to resign, fearing it would restrict free speech too much and knowing that a new Prime minister might prefer a different approach.

He does, and this morning Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, announced significant changes. Here is the summary of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports. And here is my colleague Dan Milmo‘s overnight story.

The original bill placed heavy emphasis on a category of content deemed “legal but harmful” (posts about suicide, for example). The bill didn’t ban such content, but it did impose strict restrictions on how social media companies should handle it (full details are in a briefing here), and it led to claims that it would amount to a de facto ban, because social media companies would choose not to take any chances and remove the content anyway.

The “legal but harmful” provisions have now been scrapped and replaced with plans to achieve a similar effect while looking less like censorship. Ian Russellwho has been campaigning for tougher controls since her daughter Molly took her own life after viewing large amounts of suicide and depression-related content on social media, said she was happy the government was finally bringing the bill back in parliament.

But he said removing the “legal but harmful” clauses meant the bill was watered down. He told the Today show:

There are two emotions this morning and one is some relief, not just from me but from many parents who unfortunately find themselves in similar circumstances, that this is finally moving forward.

There has been a growing sense of frustration among this community of bereaved parents and families that not enough is being done, so that’s the good news.

But, as always with these things, the devil will be in the details and so it’s very difficult to understand that something that was important as recently as July when the bill would have had a third reading in the Commons – and has been included in the bill, this legal but harmful content – it’s very hard to understand why it suddenly can’t be there anymore…

I don’t see how you can consider deleting an entire article as anything other than dilution.

But Donelan claims that the bill has been made “stronger”. And, interviewed this morning, she said the protections for children in the bill were not watered down. She told the Today show:

Let’s be absolutely clear. So you mentioned youth and children – nothing is watered down or taken away when it comes to children. We are adding supplements, so there are no changes for children.

And she posted it on Twitter.

The Online Safety Bill is back and I’ve made some changes.

It now includes stronger protections to keep children safe and new obligations to support free speech and empower users. pic.twitter.com/jpcc9obIEG

— Michelle Donelan MP (@michelledonelan) November 29, 2022

I promised to make some common sense adjustments and I did.

It is a stronger and better bill. It focuses where it needs to be: on child protection and on eradicating online illegality.

Now is the time to pass it.

— Michelle Donelan MP (@michelledonelan) November 29, 2022

Here is the program for the day.

Morning: Rishi Sunak chairs the cabinet.

10 a.m.: Martin Lewis, consumer champion and founder of the MoneySavingExpert website, testifies before the Commons Culture Committee at 10 a.m. about misinformation.

11:30 a.m.: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

3 p.m.: Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, gives evidence to the Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

Afternoon: Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, gives a speech to deputies and her peers in parliament.

I try to monitor comments below the line (BTL) but it’s impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, include “Andrew” somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I try to answer questions, and if they’re of general interest, I’ll post the question and answer above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to get my attention quickly, it’s probably best to use Twitter. I’m on it @AndrewSparrow.

You can also email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com



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