On 23rd May 2023, the House of Lords debated the Online Safety Bill in committee. During the debate, the Bishop of Oxford spoke in support of amendments tabled by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara which “would require the Secretary of State to publish draft codes of conduct from OFCOM for consideration by relevant committees of both Houses of Parliament,” and by Baroness Stowell of Beeston to clarify the powers of secretaries of state with regards to Ofcom’s independence:
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, it is pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, whose very powerful speech took us to the heart of the principles behind these amendments. I will add my voice, very briefly, to support the amendments for all the key reasons given. The regulator needs to be independent of the Secretary of State and seen to be so. That is the understandable view of the regulator itself, Ofcom; it was the view of the scrutiny committee; and it appears to be the view of all sides and all speakers in this debate. I am also very supportive of the various points made in favour of the principle of proper parliamentary scrutiny of the regulator going forward.
One of the key hopes for the Bill, which I think we all share, is that it will help set the tone for the future global conversation about the regulation of social media and other channels. The Government’s own impact assessment on the Bill details parallel laws under consideration in the EU, France, Australia, Germany and Ireland, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, referred to standards set by UNESCO. The standards set in the OSB at this point will therefore be a benchmark across the world. I urge the Government to set that benchmark at the highest possible level for the independence and parliamentary oversight of the regulator.