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The Online Safety Bill [Bill 285 2021-22] was introduced in the House of Commons on 17 March 2022.

The Government has said the Bill delivers its “manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while defending free expression”.

What does the Online Safety Bill aim to do?

The Bill has five policy objectives:

  • to increase user safety online.
  • to preserve and enhance freedom of speech online.
  • to improve law enforcement’s ability to tackle illegal content online.
  • to improve users’ ability to keep themselves safe online.
  • to improve society’s understanding of the harm landscape.

Policy background to the Bill, as it was originally introduced, is set out in the Library briefing, Analysis of the Online Safety Bill (PDF)(8 April 2022). 

Progress of the Bill through Parliament

The Bill had its second reading on 19 April 2022. A carry-over motion, allowing it to be carried into the next parliamentary session, was approved on the same date.

The Bill was considered by a Public Bill Committee over seventeen sittings between 24 May and 28 June 2022. Oral evidence was taken from expert witnesses during the first four sittings.

Line by line examination of the Bill took place over thirteen sittings in June 2022. The Government added a new Schedule 2 to the Bill to enable Ofcom to recover its initial costs by charging fees to service providers. Clause 129 was also amended by the Government so that Ofcom, the communications regulator, would have to consult the Information Commissioner’s Office before publishing guidance on using its enforcement powers. No Opposition amendments were agreed.

The first day of report stage took place on 12 July 2022. Government amendments were added to the Bill relating to journalistic content, adult safety duties, and illegal content duties.

Michelle Donelan became Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on 6 September 2022. She then reviewed the Bill’s adult safety duties. According to the DCMS, this was to ensure the right balance was struck “between protecting users from harmful content online and protecting users’ rights to freedom of expression”.

During this time, some MPs raised concerns about when the Bill’s remaining Commons stages would take place and whether it would have time to pass in the current parliamentary session.

The second day of report stage took place on 5 December 2022. New Government clauses and amendments were agreed. These included a new clause to add an offence of “epilepsy trolling” to the Bill. The Commons also agreed several Government amendments to remove the proposed new harmful communications offence and the proposed repeal of existing harmful communication offences.

On 28 November 2022, the Government announced plans to amend the Bill, including the removal of the “legal but harmful” provisions for adults to protect freedom of expression. To enable debate on the amendments and new clauses, the Bill was recommitted to a Public Bill Committee. There were two committee sittings on 13 December 2022 and one sitting on 15 December 2022. New government clauses and amendments were made. Among other things, these removed the adult safety duties and introduced new user empowerment tools for adults, so people would be able to control what content they might see online. They would also require the largest companies to remove or restrict access to legal content only where this was consistent with their terms of service.

In a Written Ministerial Statement of 17 January 2023, the Government said that it would be amending the Bill in the Lords to:

  • strengthen the provisions on senior management liability.
  • combat illegal boat crossings.

The Bill had its third day of report stage and its third reading on 17 January 2023. It was introduced in the House of Lords the following day (HL Bill 87(Rev) (PDF).

The DCMS has published a Factsheet on the Bill (18 January 2023).

For commentary on the Bill, see the Library briefing, Online Safety Bill: A reading list (PDF) (30 November 2022).

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