Guido treads warily here. MPs and clerks have been at this Bill for five years with several secretaries of state and governments galore. Last week, its 243 pages were at Report stage – actually heading to the floor of the House with a number of sinister clauses in it – when Secretary of State Michelle Donelan ordered it back into committee for surgery. All provisions curtailing the idea of “legal but harmful” speech or “lawful but awful” communications were to be cut out from the Bill.
Has that happened? Has it been cleaned up, cleaned out, cleaned?
On Minister Scully’s account, it wasn’t clear to the back of the room. As a text-to-speech device, Paul Scully will benefit from an upgrade. The urgent monotone, the quick-fire of drafting terms – it’s not easy to keep up for those who haven’t been toiling in this particular vineyard as long as he.
However, the Oppositions gave clarity. On the account of the SNP’s Kirsty Blackman and Labour’s Charlotte Nichols, it is now a completely different Bill: “It is not an online safety Bill, it is a child protection Bill.”
That sounded quite good. Ah, but no. The Bill now failed to create a safe internet. And safety was paramount.
The Report Stage of the Online Safety Bill. The conclusion. The grand finale. Culture minister Paul Scully’s moment in the limelight.
It took some time to realise that a lot of the Bill was going back to the beginning. The ways of procedure can be beyond mortal understanding.
So, the Speaker kicked off Report by saying, in paraphrase, that the text was all over the shop, that half of it was going back to Committee for redrafting, and that those parts of particular interest to Guido would be getting the treatment. What sort of treatment we won’t know for sure until Thursday week when the Committee passes the Bill’s New Clauses back into the world.
Having spoken to the Secretary of State last week, Guido believes – wants to believe – that the “legal but harmful” theme in the Bill as concerning adults would be omitted. The Secretary of State included an Amendment to that effect. Why that couldn’t be done on the floor of the House – who knows? It looks like there are complications. Difficulties. Effective resistance. Delay means danger, that is almost certainly true.
Guido spotted a surprising update to Paul Scully’s register of ministerial interests this morning. In February, the BEIS minister received £370-worth of cosmetics from ASOS. A subtle dig from the makeup brand…
Paul chose not to to keep the gift – well above the £140 limit – and it was kept by the department. Asked by Guido why he didn’t want the self-care gift, Paul said that plenty of people in the department deserve a bit of pampering courtesy of ASOS. He’s happy with a bit of “bald patch deshine” and some concealer for the bags under his eyes when he appears on TV. Westminster’s own Ru-Paul’s Drag Race…
Intervening on the story of the day, Business Minister Paul Scully has confirmed before a Commons Select Committee that the government is not planning on arresting Elon Musk the next time he visits Britain. MP Nus Ghani asked the question in light of the DCMS Online Harms Bill, which “mandates that platforms have to remove content that emotionally distresses people – so are we going to be arresting Elon Musk when he arrives in the UK, or are we going to change the Online Safety Bill?”
Scully: “We won’t be arresting Elon Musk, I can leave that with you.”
On a more serious note, as the Institute for Economic Affairs’ Matthew Lesh pointed out last night, although Elon’s victory might herald the imminent return of free speech to the platform, he’s about to run into a major UK roadblock. Drop the plan, Nadine…
Try explaining this headline to somebody 24 hours ago. On LBC this morning small business minister Paul Scully was asked by Nick Ferrari about the Molly Mae libertarianism controversy that Guido reported on yesterday afternoon. In classic ministerial question spinning, Scully managed to turn the issue into espousing the need for ‘levelling up’, while also agreeing with the bikini-clad star that “an aspirational approach to life is no bad thing”. Odds on Molly making an appearance at this year Tory Party conference?
And we’ve still got another day of crime week to get through…