Freedom Association Council member, Lord Moylan, spoke in the Second Reading debate of the Online Safety Bill in the House of Lords on 1st February 2023. All of us want children to be safe from predators; however, this Bill goes well beyond that and is a huge threat to freedom of speech. Lord Moylan makes this point succinctly.
Click below to watch the speech. Scroll down to read it.*
My Lords, it is hard to think of something new to say at the end of such a long debate, but I am going to try. I am helped by the fact that I find myself, very unusually, somewhat out of harmony with the temper of the debate in your Lordships’ House over the course of this afternoon and evening. I rather felt at some points that I had wandered into a conference of medieval clerics trying to work out what measures to take to mitigate the harmful effects of the invention of moveable type.
In fact, it probably does require an almost religious level of faith to believe that the measures we are discussing are actually going to work, given what my noble friends Lord Camrose and Lord Sarfraz have said about the agility of the cyber world and the avidity of its users for content. Now, we all want to protect children, and if what had come forward had been a Bill which made it a criminal offence to display or allow to be displayed to children specified harmful content—with condign punishment—we would all, I am sure, have rallied around that and rejoiced. That is how we would have dealt with this 50 years ago. But instead we have this; this is not a short Bill doing that.
Let me make three brief points about the Bill in the time we have available. The first is a general one about public administration. We seem to be wedded to the notion that the way in which we should be running large parts of the life of the country is through regulators rather than law, and that the independence of those regulators must be sacrosanct. In a different part of your Lordships’ House, there has been discussion in the last few days of the Financial Services and Markets Bill in Committee. There, of course, we have been discussing the systemic failures of regulators—that is, the box ticking, the legalism, the regulatory capture and the emergence of the interests of the regulator and how they motivate them. None the less, we carry on giving more and more powers. Ofcom is going to be one of the largest regulators and one of the most important in our lives, and it is going to be wholly unaccountable. We are not going to be happy about that.
The second point I want to make is that the Bill represents a serious threat to freedom of speech. This is not contentious; the Front Bench admits it. The Minister says that it is going to strike the right balance. I have seen very little evidence in the Bill, or indeed in the course of the day’s debate, that that balance is going to be struck at all, let alone in what I might consider the right place—and what I might consider the right place might not be what others consider it to be. These are highly contentious issues; we will be hiving them off to an unaccountable regulator, in effect, at the end.
The third point that I want to make, because I think that I am possibly going to come in under my four minutes, is that I did vote Conservative at the last general election; I always have. But that does not mean that I subscribe to every jot and tittle of the manifesto; in particular, I do not think that I ever signed up to live in a country that was the safest place in the world to be on the internet. If I had, I would have moved to China already, where nothing is ever out of place on the internet. That is all I have to say, and I shall be supporting amendments that move in the general direction that I have indicated.
*Source: House of Lords Hansard