This Bill is a groundbreaking piece of legislation, and we are one of the first countries to attempt to bring in controls over content online. I therefore share the view of the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) that it is a great pity that its Second Reading was scheduled for a day when there is so much other business.
The Bill has been a long time in the preparation. I can remember chairing an inquiry of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in 2008 on the subject of harmful content online. Since then, we have had a Green Paper, a White Paper, a consultation, a draft Bill, a Joint Committee, and several more Select Committee inquiries. It is important that we get this right, and the Bill has grown steadily, as the Secretary of State outlined. I do not need to add to the reasons why it is important that we control content and protect vulnerable people from online content that is harmful to them.
There are two areas where I want to express a word of caution. First, as the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), is very much aware, the Government have an ambition to make the United Kingdom the tech capital of the world. We have been incredibly successful in attracting investment. He will know better than I that the tech industry in Britain is now worth over $1 trillion, and that we have over 100 unicorns, but the Bill creates uncertainty, mainly because so much is subject to secondary legislation and not spelled out in detail in the Bill. This will stifle innovation and growth.
It is fairly obvious which are the main companies that will fall into the category 1 definition. We are told that there may be some 15 to 20. Some of them are certainly obvious. However, I share the view that this needs to be determined more by risk than by reach. A company does not necessarily pose a significant risk simply because it is large. Companies such as Tripadvisor, eBay and Airbnb, which, on the size criteria, might fall within scope of category 1, should not do so. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister can say more about the precise definitions that will determine categories. This is more serious for the category 2 companies; it is estimated that some 25,000 may fall within scope. It is not clear precisely what the obligations on them will be, and that too is causing a degree of uncertainty. It is also unclear whether some parts of a large company with several businesses, such as Amazon, would be in category 1 or category 2, or what would happen if companies grow. Could they, for instance, be re-categorised from 1 to 2? These concerns are being raised by the tech industry, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will continue to talk to techUK, to allay those fears.
The second issue, as has been rightly identified, is the effect on freedom of speech. As has been described, tech platforms already exercise censorship. At the moment, they exercise their own judgment as to what is permissible and what is not, and we have had examples such as YouTube taking down the talkRadio channel. I spent a great deal of time talking to the press and media about the special protections that journalism needs and I welcome the progress that has been made in the Bill. It is excellent that journalistic content will be put in a special category. I repeat the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green). The Secretary of State made some very welcome comments on, I think, “This Morning” about the introduction of an additional protection so that, if a journalist’s shared content were removed from an online platform, they would need to be informed and able to appeal. That may require additional amendments to the Bill, so perhaps the Minister could say when we are likely to see those.
There is also the concern raised by the periodical publishers that specialist magazines appear to be outside the protection of journalistic content. I hope that that can be addressed, because there are publications that deserve the same level of protection.
There is a wider concern about freedom of speech. The definition “legal but harmful” raises real concerns, particularly given that it is left open to subsequent secondary legislation to set out exactly what the categories will be. There are also widespread concerns that we need to avoid, at all costs, setting a precedent that may be used by others who are more keen to censor discussion online. In particular, clause 103(2)(b) relates to messaging services and can require Ofcom to use accredited technology to identify CSEA material. The Minister will be aware that that matter is also causing concern.