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Chamber and committees

Criminal Justice Committee [Draft}

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Agenda: Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2, Online Safety Bill, Subordinate Legislation


Contents


Online Safety Bill

The Convener

The next item of business is consideration of the Online Safety Bill legislative consent memorandum. I welcome back Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, and I welcome Patrick Down from the criminal justice division of the Scottish Government.

I refer members to paper 1 in their packs and invite the cabinet secretary to make a short opening statement.

Keith Brown

The overarching purpose of the UK Government’s Online Safety Bill is to establish a new regulatory regime to address illegal and harmful content online. In particular, the bill creates new duties on providers of internet services to deal with illegal and harmful content and activity, and it confers new powers on Ofcom to act as the online safety regulator responsible for enforcing the legal requirements that are imposed on service providers.

13:15  

The power to legislate on the subject matter of the bill is almost entirely reserved to the Westminster Parliament. However, the bill extends the executive competence of the Scottish ministers in two very narrow areas, which is why the LCM is required.

First, it provides a power for the Scottish ministers to amend by affirmative order the list of education and childcare providers that are exempt from the legislative framework for the regulation of user-to-user internet services. I will briefly explain the reason why those services are exempt. Many education and childcare providers are subject to existing duties to safeguard children that require them to protect children online. Exemption ensures that the regulation of online safety is proportionate and that those education and childcare providers are not subject to duplication of regulatory oversight by Ofcom. The power enables the Scottish ministers to ensure that the descriptions of education and childcare providers can be updated to reflect any future changes to how such services are provided or to take account of different safeguarding duties applicable to such providers in Scotland.

Secondly, the bill extends the executive competence of the Scottish ministers by providing a power to amend the list of child sexual exploitation and abuse offences in part 2 of schedule 6 to the bill. The bill places a duty on providers of internet services to proactively remove content posted by users of their sites that would amount to a child sexual exploitation and abuse offence. Those include, for example, offences concerning indecent images of children. The power will enable the Scottish ministers to update the list of offences to account for any future reform of the law in that area, instead of having to rely on those changes being made in the Westminster Parliament. That reflects the fact that the underlying criminal law in the area is devolved, making it appropriate that the power sits with the Scottish ministers.

I am happy to take members’ questions.

Do members have any questions about the memorandum?

Pauline McNeill

I acknowledge the importance of the legislation. In various debates regarding violence against women, we have highlighted the importance of cybercrime and of the harms that can happen online. I note, for example, that 70 per cent of girls aged 12 to 18 have been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men.

Do you agree that it is important to monitor how effective the legislation is in the long run? If it is to be worth anything, we must ensure that it will protect women and girls from unsolicited images. I am sure you agree that it is part of the unfortunate umbrella of violence against women and girls.

Keith Brown

I very much agree with those sentiments. However, the bulk of the legislation is reserved. The two areas that we would want to monitor would be those very narrow ones. I am sure that, in general, everyone will be looking at how effective the legislation is, for the reasons that Pauline McNeill has outlined.

Does any other member want to come in?

Has the Scottish Government asked the UK Government for any changes to the bill, or is it content with the wording as it stands?

I might get Mr Down to add to this answer. That dialogue with the UK Government is not yet finished. There is still more work to do.

Patrick Down (Scottish Government)

To repeat what the cabinet secretary said, we are still in discussion with UK officials about possible changes that could be made to a number of technical areas through the amendment and scrutiny of the bill at Westminster.

The Convener

As no one else wants to come in, I thank the cabinet secretary. Please stay with us for a couple more minutes as we formally consider the LCM.

The committee will now formally consider the legislative consent memorandum on the Online Safety Bill. Do members wish to highlight any issues that they would like to have included in the committee’s report on the LCM?

No issues have been raised by members. That being the case, does the committee agree that the Scottish Parliament should give its consent to the relevant provision in the Online Safety Bill, as is set out in the Scottish Government’s draft motion?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener

As no one else wants to come in, I thank the cabinet secretary. Please stay with us for a couple more minutes as we formally consider the LCM.

The committee will now formally consider the legislative consent memorandum on the Online Safety Bill. Do members wish to highlight any issues that they would like to have included in the committee’s report on the LCM? I see that they do not. That being the case, does the committee agree that the Scottish Parliament should give its consent to the relevant provision in the Online Safety Bill, as is set out in the Scottish Government’s draft motion?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener

Are members content to delegate to me the publication of a very short factual report on the outcome of our deliberation on the LCM?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener

The issue now moves to the chamber for all members to decide on, on the basis of our report.

We will have a very short suspension to allow Scottish Government officials to swap over.

13:20 Meeting suspended.  

13:20 On resuming—