A Conservative leadership candidate has said the Online Safety Bill in its current form should not become law after it emerged the Bill’s final stages have been delayed until the autumn.
Former minister Kemi Badenoch said the postponement was the “right move”, adding that if she is elected as leader of the Tories she will “ensure the Bill doesn’t overreach”.
In response to reports it was being deferred, Ms Badenoch tweeted: “This would be the right move. The Bill is in no fit state to become law.
“If I’m elected Prime Minister I will ensure the Bill doesn’t overreach. We should not be legislating for hurt feelings.”
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who is spearheading the Bill and is backing Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to be the next leader of the Tories, replied: “Which part of the Bill legislates for hurt feelings, Kemi?”
The legislation was provisionally due to go before Parliament next week but the PA news agency understands it has been delayed to allow for a confidence vote in the Government and the next stage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to take place ahead of recess.
However, sources have said the Bill is expected to be tabled in the autumn once the new prime minister has taken office.
Campaigners have warned that the delay could be detrimental in the fight to keep children safe online.
Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said: “The Online Safety Bill is a crucial piece of legislation that is fundamentally about protecting children from harm and abuse that is taking place on an industrial scale on social media.
“Any delay will mean families continue to pay the price for the failure and inaction of tech firms who have allowed harm to fester rather than get their house in order.
“Online regulation is therefore vital to force their hand and delivering this legislation should be a cornerstone of any Government’s duty to keep the most vulnerable in our society safe.”
Tim Cairns, senior policy officer at social policy charity Care, added: “Care completely understands the free speech concerns associated with certain provisions in the Online Safety Bill, and we share fears that a requirement to police ‘legal but harmful’ speech would devastate free expression online. However, other aspects of this legislation are unquestionably laudable.
“We are living in an era when safeguarding in the online sphere does not have parity with safeguarding in the offline world. Care is particularly concerned about the array of disturbing and harmful content children encounter online, including pornography, which they can access with ease.
“Age verification is one measure that would reduce child exposure to pornography – something the vast majority of Brits support. Age checks were already legislated for in 2017 but never actually brought into force. The Online Safety Bill was supposed to correct this mistake.
“If the Online Safety Bill does not return at all under a new Prime Minister, the Government must enact Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act immediately, to deliver this safeguard. If a version of the Bill returns, we trust this vital aspect will be retained and introduced quickly.
“Failing to deliver this change would amount to a second betrayal of children, who deserve help and protection from those in power.”
The Bill is currently in the report stage and is due to have a third reading in the Commons.