Peers warn lack of clarity on IWF role could create ‘vacuum which allows hateful material to proliferate’

Published:  Wed 24 May 2023

IWF amendment dismissed as Government ‘satisfied’ existing powers are enough to allow the IWF’s ‘significant role’ to continue. 

Former Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan has warned a lack of clarity over the role of the “absolutely world-leading” Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and how it will work with Ofcom could leave a “vacuum” which puts children at risk. 

Tory Peer Baroness Nicky Morgan said an amendment to the Online Safety Bill was needed to make provision for Ofcom to co-designate the IWF to ensure it could continue its vital work removing “awful” child sexual abuse material. 

The amendment was moved by Lib-Dem Peer Lord Timothy Clement-Jones.  

The proposed changes to the legislation, however, were dismissed – with the Government telling Peers they are “satisfied that the powers under the Communications Act and the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act are sufficient” to allow the IWF’s “significant role” to continue.  

 

The amendment was debated in the House of Lords on May 16, gaining cross-party support, with Lord Clement-Jones, Labour’s Baroness Anna Healy and Baroness Morgan all signing the amendment.  

Lib Dem peer and IWF Champion, Baroness Floella Benjamin, Labour Peer Baroness Gillian Merron, and Crossbench Peer Baroness Beeban Kidron also spoke in support of the amendment.  

Speaking in the Lords, Baroness Morgan said: “We have an absolutely world-leading organisation in the form of the Internet Watch Foundation which plays an internationally respected role in tackling child sexual abuse.  

“Any delay in establishing the role and responsibility of an expert organisation such as the IWF in working with Ofcom risks leaving a vacuum in which the risk is to children.  

“If there is a vacuum left, and the IWF is not certain about its position, then what happens is that the children who are harmed most by this awful material are the ones who are not being protected.” 

Baroness Nicky Morgan
Baroness Nicky Morgan

Lord Clement-Jones said the IWF’s expertise should be drawn upon to help in the fight against online child sexual abuse.  

He said: “Any delay in establishing the roles and responsibilities of expert organisations such as the IWF in working with Ofcom under the new regulatory regime risks leaving a vacuum in which the risks to children from this hateful form of abuse will only increase. There is already so much expertise in other organisations such as the IWF.” 

Baroness Benjamin further urged the Government to take action to ensure that Ofcom clarifies how it intends to work with the IWF.  

She said: “The Internet Watch Foundation is an organisation I am proud to support as one of its parliamentary champions, because its staff are guardian angels who work tirelessly beyond the call of duty to protect children. 

“The IWF’s work is vital in removing millions of images from the internet each and every year, day in, day out.  

“As yet, this Bill does not go anywhere near far enough in recognising the important contribution the IWF has to make in implementing this legislation.”  

Baroness Benjamin
Baroness Benjamin

Baroness Kidron also praised the work of the IWF – paying tribute to the work of those at the “front line” of fighting child sexual abuse.  

She said: “Nothing should be left to chance on the IWF. No warm words or good intentions replace the requirement for its work to be seamlessly and formally integrated into the OSB [Online Safety Bill] regime.  

“I put on record the extraordinary debt that every one of us owes to those who work on the front line of child sexual abuse. I know from my own work how the images linger. We should all do all that we can to support those who spend every day chasing down predators and finding and supporting victims and survivors.” 

Lord Stephen Parkinson, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, acknowledged the pivotal role of the IWF, saying that the Government valued its work extremely highly. 

Despite this, he dismissed the amendment on the basis that it would lack Ministerial oversight and Parliamentary scrutiny. 

He said: “Clearly, Ofcom will need a wide variety of relationships with a range of organisations. Ofcom has been in regular contact with the Internet Watch Foundation, recognising its significant role in supporting the objectives of online safety regulation. 

“On the designation of regulatory functions, we are satisfied that the powers under the Communications Act and the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act are sufficient, should other bodies be required to deliver specific aspects of the regime, so we do not see a need to amend the Bill in the way the amendments in this group suggest.” 

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