Today Lord Frost joins Guido in the fight against the Online Harms Bill, launching an all-out assault on its threat to free speech. Frost’s no holds barred attack, including calling the bill “fundamentally flawed” and un-conservative, has been published alongside a new paper by the IEA, which accuses the bill of handing “unprecedented censorship powers to Secretary of State and Ofcom”. Objectively correct.
In full, Frost says:
“There is so much wrong with this Bill that it is hard to know where to start, but the report rightly highlights the fact that it will mean some speech that is legal offline will effectively be impossible online. That makes no sense and will be highly damaging to public debate, especially given the weakness of the free speech protections in the Bill.
“Overall the Bill also panders to the view of the perennially offended – those who think the Government should protect them from ever encountering anything they disagree with. A Conservative Government should not be putting this view into law.
“The best thing the Government could do would be to slim down the Bill so they can proceed rapidly with the genuinely uncontroversial aspects, and consign the rest where it belongs – the waste paper basket.”
Reading through the IEA’s paper, one thing that immediately jumps out to Guido is that the government’s own expected cost of the bill has jumped up from £2.1 billion in May 2021 to £2.5 billion today – a whole £400 million extra in a year. A figure the IEA rubbishes as a nonsense underestimation anyway:
“The impact assessment asserts that it will cost businesses, on average, £700 over ten years to read and understand the regulations, for example. However, this would not realistically cover the fees of a specialist law firm for two hours, let alone the internal staff time costs. The impact assessment specifically assumes staff will only require 30 minutes to familiarise themselves with the requirements of the 255-page legislation and 90 minutes to read, assess and change terms and conditions in response to the requirements. Legal advice is estimated to cost £39.23 per hour an order of magnitude less than the fees of hundreds of pounds per hour typically charged by lawyers in this field.”
Turning to the inclusion of ‘legal but harmful’ speech, which platforms will have to crack down on, huge questions remain on specifics given the government has still not formally specified categories this will include. While the obvious woke labels of ‘misogynistic abuse’ will likely be included, shadow DCMS secretary Lucy Powell has already let the mask slip on the future plans of Labour ministers to massively abuse this power:
“Lucy Powell has raised concerns that the Bill as it stands would allow ‘incels’ and ‘climate deniers’ to ‘slip through the net’. She clearly envisages an extension of the notion of ‘harmful’ to cover matters of public policy debate.”
David Davis also pitches in, warning “could end up being one of the most significant accidental infringements on free speech in modern times.” Guido can’t understand why Nadine believes this won’t backfire on Conservatives like her. Big Brother Watch already proved that her “nail your balls to the floor” tweet, if posted to Facebook, results in the post being deleted by the platform. That’s before her new free speech clamp down comes into force…
Guido encourages all policymakers to read the paper – embedded below. If the government wants to get the Boris show back on the road, and reassure Tory members and MPs that this government is worth fighting for – while saving at least £2.5 billion – scrapping swathes of this big-state bill could not be a more obvious starting point…