465.We welcome the Government creating this Joint Committee and subjecting the draft Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny. As we and our witnesses have reiterated time and again, online safety is one of the most complex and most fundamental policy issues of our age. We hope that even those who do not agree with our conclusions will accept that the Bill will be the better for these issues being aired in the collaborative environment of a Joint Select Committee, prior to consideration on the floors of both Houses.
466.The major online services have become central to many of our lives, but as their power has grown, there has been no meaningful increase in their public accountability. The harmful user experiences which have emerged on many platforms have been allowed to run unchallenged and unchecked for too long. Now is the time to see platforms held to account for harms which arise from the decisions they make about their systems and processes, the operation of their services, and their corporate governance structures. These decisions are not neutral, nor are they immutable. Online services can and should be accountable to the Regulator, and thus ultimately to the public, about the impact of the decisions that they make. Our hope is that this Bill will make this kind of meaningful accountability possible, and in turn that more accountability will lead to better systems and processes, better operation of services, better corporate governance structures at the major platforms, and a better experience for users who can make informed decisions about the services that they use. A safer internet is possible, and this Bill is a major step towards achieving it.
467.Our inquiry into the draft Bill combined internal expertise from Members of the Committee, many of whom have been part of previous public policy and parliamentary efforts in this space across many years, with contributions from expert witnesses from a wide range of sectors. We heard from over 50 witnesses across 11 meetings, held four roundtables, and received over 200 pieces of written evidence. The result was a wide-ranging, robust, at times challenging debate and discussion, during which we sought to establish what the Bill meant in practice for platforms and, most crucially, for the people who use them. We came away from those discussions certain that people’s rights must be protected against an ever-growing onslaught of online harms. This can be achieved through the shaping of a Bill which is practical, implementable, and which will empower the Regulator to take decisive action against platforms which neglect their safety duties. We wholeheartedly support the ambition of the Online Safety Bill—to make the United Kingdom the safest place in the world to be online—and we trust that our recommendations will bring the final Act closer to achieving that aim.
468.We are very grateful for the co-operation that has been shown by the Department and by public bodies, including Ofcom and the ICO, to us during the scrutiny of the draft Bill. We are particularly grateful for the positive way that new ministers have engaged with us and expressed themselves open to our findings. At the same time, much of the draft Bill depends on definitions of types of content, codes and thresholds set by secondary legislation. Some indicative examples published “without prejudice” alongside the draft Bill would have greatly facilitated scrutiny. We also regret that the Government was not willing to publish an ECHR memorandum for the draft Bill.
469.This Report must be understood as a whole document, comprising a cohesive set of recommendations working in tandem to produce a new vision of the Online Safety Act. The Government should not seek to isolate single recommendations without understanding how they fit into the wider manifesto laid out by the Committee. Taken as a whole, our recommendations will ensure that the Bill holds platforms to account for the risks of harm which arise on them and will achieve the Government’s ultimate aim of making the United Kingdom the safest place in the world to be online.