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MPs propose Online Safety Bill amendments to ‘ensure Ofcom independence’

The Government has said the aim of the Bill is to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
The Government has said the aim of the Bill is to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

MPs have proposed amending the Online Safety Bill to limit the powers of the Culture Secretary’s influence over the new tech regulator, Ofcom.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) Select Committee, which has been a key body in scrutinising the Bill, says the Secretary of State’s ability to direct or block Ofcom from issuing codes of practices to platforms before they’re considered by Parliament should be removed.

MPs on the committee said the change was necessary to safeguard the independence and integrity of Ofcom in its role as the new regulator for the sector.

The Online Safety Bill is currently making its way through Parliament and contains proposals to introduce significant regulation to social media and other online platforms for the first time – with potential fines and access to sites being blocked for those who fail to protect users from harmful content.

In its role as regulator for the sector, Ofcom will also have the ability to create and publish codes of practice for service providers to help ensure they comply with the new rules and protect their users.

In a report published on the proposed amendments, the DCMS Committee said: “There is no need for the Online Safety Bill to provide the Secretary of State, now or in the future, with the power to direct or block the regulator from issuing codes of practice before Parliament considers them.

“The Government must maintain its approach to ensuring independent, effective and trustworthy regulation that has a proven track record in other sectors.”

The Committee’s chair, Conservative MP Julian Knight, said: “A free media depends on ensuring the regulator is free from the threat of day-to-day interference from the executive.

“The Government will still have an important role in setting the direction of travel, but Ofcom must not be constantly peering over its shoulder answering to the whims of a backseat-driving Secretary of State.”

The Government has previously said the aim of the Bill is to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

Nadine Dorries is the current Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.