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.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the Ofcom’s publication Trends in Advertising Activity—Payday Loans, published in December 2013, what assessment they have made of the impact on children between four and 15 years old of the number of payday loan advertisements to which they are exposed.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of Ofcom’s publication Trends in Advertising Activity—Payday Loans published in December 2013, what assessment they have made of the increase in the number of payday loan advertisements watched by children aged four to 15 years old over the past four years; and whether they have any plans to address the situation.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of Ofcom’s publication Trends in Advertising Activity—Payday Loans published in December 2013, what assessment they have made of the frequency and impact of payday loan advertising viewed by children on non-children’s television channels.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of Ofcom’s publication Trends in Advertising Activity—Payday Loans published in December 2013, whether they plan to commission research into the impact of payday loan advertisements on young peoples’ attitudes to the responsible use of money.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Deighton): Payday loan adverts are subject to the Advertising Standards Authority’s strict content rules. The ASA will not hesitate to ban irresponsible adverts, and has a strong track record of doing so.
The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), the body that writes the Broadcast Advertising Code, is considering Ofcom’s research and the extent to which payday loan advertising features on children’s TV, and whether there are any implications for the ASA’s regulation of this sector.
Separately, the Financial Conduct Authority is consulting on new rules for consumer credit adverts, including proposals to introduce mandatory risk warnings and signposting to debt advice. It has powers to ban misleading adverts which breach its rules.