7 Lord Bishop of Gloucester debates involving the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Online Safety Bill

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
I finish by saying that throughout the Bill’s journey through Parliament, we have debated whether it sufficiently protects women and girls. The objective answer is, “No, it does not”, but there appears to be a real reluctance to accept this as fact. Instead of just agreeing to disagree on this topic, we instead have an opportunity here to protect millions of women and girls online with a violence against women and girls code of practice. So I ask noble Lords to support this critical amendment, not just for the sake of themselves, their daughters, their sisters or their wives but for the sake of the millions of women whose names we will never know but who will be grateful that we stood on their side on the issue of gendered online violence. I beg to move.
Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 97 and 304, and I wholeheartedly agree with all that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said by means of her excellent introduction. I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has to say as she continues to bring her wisdom to the Bill.

Let me say from the outset, if it has not been said strongly enough already, that violence against women and girls is an abomination. If we allow a culture of intimidation and misogyny to exist online, it will spill over to offline experiences. According to research by Refuge, almost one in five domestic abuse survivors who experienced abuse or harassment from their partner or former partner via social media said they felt afraid of being attacked or being subjected to physical violence as a result. Some 15% felt that their physical safety was more at risk, and 5% felt more at risk of so-called honour-based violence. Shockingly, according to Amnesty International, 41% of women who experienced online abuse or harassment said that these experiences made them feel that their physical safety was threatened.

Throughout all our debates, I hesitate to differentiate between the real and virtual worlds, because that is simply not how we live our lives. Interactions online are informed by face-to-face interactions, and vice versa. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the lived experience of the majority—particularly, dare I say, the younger generations. As Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons, I recognise the complexity of people’s lives and the need to tackle attitudes underpinning behaviours. Tackling the root causes of offending should always be a priority; there is potential for much harm later down the line if we ignore warning signs of hatred and misogyny. Research conducted by Refuge found that one in three women has experienced online abuse or harassment perpetrated on social media or another online platform at some point in their lives. That figure rises to almost two in three, or 62%, among young women. This must change.

We did some important work in your Lordships’ House during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act to ensure that all people, including women and girls, are safe on our streets and in their homes. As has been said, introducing a code of practice as outlined will help the Government meet their aim of making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, and it will align with the Government’s wider priority to tackle violence against women and girls as a strategic policing requirement. Other strategic policing requirements, including terrorism and child sexual exploitation, have online codes of practice, so surely it follows that there should be one for VAWG to ensure that the Bill aligns with the Government’s position elsewhere and that there is not a gap left online.

I know the Government care deeply about tackling violence against women and girls, and I believe they have listened to some concerns raised by the sector. The inclusion of the domestic abuse and victims’ commissioners as statutory consultees is welcomed, as is the Government’s amendment to recognise controlling and coercive behaviour as a priority offence. However, without this code of conduct, the Bill will fail to address duties of care in relation to preventing domestic abuse and violence against women and girls in a holistic and encompassing way. The onus should not be on women and girls to remove themselves from online spaces; we have seen plenty of that in physical spaces over the years. Women and girls must be free to appropriately express themselves online and offline without fear of harassment. We must do all we can to prevent expressions of misogyny from transforming into violent actions.

Baroness Kidron Portrait Baroness Kidron (CB)
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My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 97 and 304, and I support the others in this group. It seems to be a singular failure of any version of an Online Safety Bill if it does not set itself the task of tackling known harms—harms that are experienced daily and for which we have a phenomenal amount of evidence. I will not repeat the statistics given in the excellent speeches made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and the right reverend Prelate, but will instead add two observations.

Baroness Kidron Portrait Baroness Kidron (CB)
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I want to answer the point that amendments cannot be seen in isolation. Noble Lords will remember that we had a long and good debate about what constituted harms to children. There was a big argument and the Minister made some warm noises in relation to putting harms to children in the Bill. There is some alignment between many people in the Chamber whereby we and Parliament would like to determine what harm is, and I very much share the noble Baroness’s concern about pointing out what that is.

On the issue of the system versus the content, I am not sure that this is the exact moment but the idea of unintended consequences keeps getting thrown up when we talk about trying to point the finger at what creates harm. There are unintended consequences now, except neither Ofcom nor the Secretary of State or Parliament but only the tech sector has a say in what the unintended consequences are. As someone who has been bungee jumping, I am deeply grateful that there are very strict rules under which that is allowed to happen.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I support the amendments in this group that, with regard to safety by design, will address functionality and harms—whatever exactly we mean by that—as well as child safety duties and codes of practice. The noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Harding and Lady Kidron, have laid things out very clearly, and I wish the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, a happy birthday.

I also support Amendment 261 in the name of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Oxford and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. This amendment would allow the Secretary of State to consider safety by design, and not just content, when reviewing the regime.

As we have heard, a number of the amendments would amend the safety duties to children to consider all harms, not just harmful content, and we have begun to have a very interesting debate on that. We know that service features create and amplify harms to children. These harms are not limited to spreading harmful content; features in and of themselves may cause harm—for example, beautifying filters, which can create unrealistic body ideals and pressure on children to look a certain way. In all of this, I want us to listen much more to the voices of children and young people—they understand this issue.

Last week, as part of my ongoing campaign on body image, including how social media can promote body image anxiety, I met a group of young people from two Gloucestershire secondary schools. They were very good at saying what the positives are, but noble Lords will also be very familiar with many of the negative issues that were on their minds, which I will not repeat here. While they were very much alive to harmful content and the messages it gives them, they were keen to talk about the need to address algorithms and filters that they say feed them strong messages and skew the content they see, which might not look harmful but, because of design, accentuates their exposure to issues and themes about which they are already anxious. Suffice to say that underpinning most of what they said to me was a sense of powerlessness and anxiety when navigating the online world that is part of their daily lives.

The current definition of content does not include design features. Building in a safety by design principle from the outset would reduce harms in a systematic way, and the amendments in this group would address that need.

Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Portrait Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie (Con)
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My Lords, I support this group of amendments. Last week, I was lucky—that is not necessarily the right word—to participate in a briefing organised by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, with the 5Rights Foundation on its recent research, which the noble Lord referred to. As the mother of a 13 year-old boy, I came away wondering why on earth you would not want to ensure safety by design for children.

I am aware from my work with disabled children that we know, as Ofcom knows from its own research, that children—or indeed anyone with a long-term health impact or a disability—are far more likely to encounter and suffer harm online. As I say, I struggle to see why you would not want to have safety by design.

This issue must be seen in the round. In that briefing we were taken through how quickly you could get from searching for something such as “slime” to extremely graphic pornographic content. As your Lordships can imagine, I went straight back to my 13 year-old son and said, “Do you know about slime and where you have you seen it?” He said, “Yes, Mum, I’ve watched it on YouTube”. That echoes the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron—to whom I add my birthday wishes—that these issues have to be seen in the round because you do not just consume content; you can search on YouTube, shop on Google, search on Amazon and all the rest of it. I support this group of amendments.

Authors, Booksellers and Libraries: Economic Recovery

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Monday 10th January 2022

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As the noble Baroness will know, this matter is being led by the Intellectual Property Office, but it is clearly a complex matter which touches on not just the work of DCMS but other government departments. Officials across government are analysing the responses before Ministers are able to make an informed decision on the UK’s future approach. It is very much a case of measuring twice and cutting once rather than rushing forward into a decision and bearing the consequences later.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, as pro-chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire I am very aware that during the time of pandemic there have been issues with ebooks relating to university libraries. How will the Government address the current issues of excessive pricing, restrictive licensing and lack of availability of academic ebooks?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, that it is a matter for publishers and their academic customers. I am pleased to report that ebook sales have increased during the pandemic, so people are continuing to buy them, but I will take that point back to the department.

Choirs: Restrictions

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Wednesday 30th June 2021

(3 years ago)

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am sure the noble Lord is aware that the events to which he refers are part of the events research programme, and particular public health measures are taken for all those attending. The evidence is clear that, sadly, singing increases the risks of transmission. Hence, we have the guidance we have been given.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, bearing in mind that on Monday in the other place the new Health Secretary said he hoped that church congregations would soon be able to sing together, could the Minister please give us some clarity on this and say what plans the Government have now to review the research on congregational singing with the use of face coverings, given that singing is not an add-on to worship but integral to it?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I absolutely recognise the right reverend Prelate’s final remarks about singing being integral to worship. We continue to be led by the science and the experts, and to follow the public health advice. As soon as that changes, we will of course update the guidance.

Social Capital

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Monday 25th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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Churches and other faith communities bring together a diversity of people across all ages and backgrounds, and thus are often a strong source of social capital, as well as spiritual capital, as we have seen during the pandemic. Will the Minister say what Her Majesty’s Government are doing, both financially and in other ways, to enable local and faith communities to invest in and rebuild their social capital, as we emerge from this pandemic?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate makes an important point. My noble friend Lord Greenhalgh has been working hard, in his role as Faith Minister, to bring faith communities together. I am happy to share an obvious example with the House, which is the role that faith groups are playing to support the vaccine rollout, and to manage misinformation and disinformation about the impact of vaccines.

Professional and Amateur Sport: Government Support

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Thursday 1st October 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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It is hard to assess the absolute impact of the fact that some leisure centres have not yet reopened, because obviously there is a substitution with other provision being offered, principally online. But the noble Baroness is absolutely right about the importance of sport for our physical and mental well-being. The Government understand the financial pressures that some sports and leisure centres are under, and are pleased that so many have been able to open, following Covid-secure guidelines.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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[Inaudible.] What investment will the Government make into local provision for children and young people to engage in sports and physical activity that is shaped by them, given the research of the Children’s Society highlighting the importance not only of chosen physical activity but also of positive time with peers, and the fact that that has all been horribly impacted by Covid-19?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I share the right reverend Prelate’s appreciation of the fact that sports clubs do so much more for their communities than just provide sport, and I welcome very much the pilot projects that she mentions. Through Sport England, there is a lot of collaboration with young people to ensure that local provision does indeed meet their needs and reflect their own aspirations.

Social Media: News

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Thursday 11th January 2018

(6 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for obtaining this debate. I, too, thank her for her tireless work in this area.

Social media and online platforms now play an enormous role in shaping national dialogue and accepted social standards. In my visits to primary schools and secondary schools in the diocese of Gloucester, I have spent time talking with children about social media, and I affirm all that is good. Yet, as children progress to secondary school, their view of themselves and the world is increasingly being shaped by social media and online platforms. Young people are receiving strong messages about worth being about looking a certain way and about success being measured in online likes. Furthermore, their fears about the world they are growing up in are being fuelled by what they read online.

The content we consume shapes how we see ourselves, other people and the world. It is no longer sufficient for social media and online platforms to cling to a simple dichotomy of platform versus publisher in order to escape responsibility for the content they promote and share. While previous generations’ engagement with media might have been limited to print media and television broadcasts regulated by formal standards and watersheds, modern consumers, including children, are exposed to huge swathes of unregulated content. Research conducted by the UK Safer Internet Centre in 2016 found that more than 80% of the teenagers surveyed had seen or heard online hate about a specific group.

While we would be foolish to think that we can legislate for human relationships, we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to create legislation that protects the vulnerable and promotes the kind of society we desire to live in, particularly given problems we have been hearing about around hate speech, fake news and extremist content online. The Communications Committee of this House last year produced an extremely valuable report, Growing Up with the Internet, and I hope that the Government will take heed of the need for there to be a requirement for firms proactively to develop software to identify and remove harmful content as well as to ensure that design is child-friendly with default settings to protect children’s privacy and safety. I am very disappointed that the Government have chosen not to accept the recommendation of an independent children’s digital champion. I would like to know how there will be effective accountability without that.

I would also like to draw attention to the recent review, Intimidation in Public Life, published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It has a number of helpful suggestions, and I hope that the Minister can assure us that the Government will accept them, in particular, a requirement for social media companies and online platforms to publish quarterly reports on their progress on removing reported content. It would also be good to know from the Minister whether there are plans to monitor the implementation of the legislation in Germany that will fine firms which are insufficiently quick to remove illegal content identified by users.

Alongside the need for such legislation, it is good to know that the BCS, the chartered institute for IT, is endeavouring to facilitate solutions-focused dialogue between social media companies and political parties. I understand that Twitter and Facebook have opted in, and I hope that there will be participation across all political parties. I also hope such dialogue will contribute to legislation rather than being a completely alternative path.

I am grateful for today’s debate and sincerely hope that the outcome of our discussions will have a real impact on how we relate to one another online.