At yesterday’s Spectator hustings for the final three Tory leadership candidates, each one of them ended up committing to overhauling the controversial Online Safety Bill. The Spectator and many Conservative MPs have expressed serious concerns about the impact of this legislation, drawn up with the best of intentions, on free speech.
Each acknowledged that there was a real problem with the current drafting, which creates a new definition of ‘legal but harmful’. Kemi Badenoch, who was knocked out yesterday, had described this as cracking down on free speech to prevent ‘hurt feelings’, which is something none of them fully accepted. But they all saw that ‘legal but harmful’ as it currently stands is a bit of a one man’s meat is another man’s poison situation.
It’s worth noting that both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak said their approach to the legislation was based on their own experiences as parents and their fears about their daughters accessing damaging things online. It is why Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and her opposite number Lucy Powell are both confident about defending the Bill: they know that parents are desperate for something to be done about the Wild West of the online world for children.
The problem is that when politicians create Something Must Be Done bills, they often end up with legislation that creates a lot of new problems that weren’t properly addressed because everyone was so focused on the principle, not the detail.
You can read below what each candidate said in full on this matter, or watch it here.
‘I come at this first as a parent. I have two young girls who are at the age where they’re starting to go online more.