The list of Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech is tired and uninspiring. Much has been promised before and the question must be why it has taken so long. My concern though is where some of these measures could go awry, and whether they should be neutered or tipped into the long grass.
The Online Safety Bill is a revival of one which has been discussed here before. They could get it right, but so far it has been all wrong. This is a pity, because a good, limited law could be a benefit to vulnerable people, in particular teenage girls and flaky young men, of which there are many.
The Bill is meant to have a mechanism by which consumers may challenge an online forum which blocks them, though it is always open to a platform to set its own rules: you would not expect for example a forum for vegetarians to allow me on there to promote the health benefits of beef. However there are competition issues, and these should be a matter for government concern: if a social media platform wants to limit discussion on any issue, it may do so as a private company, and the consumer’s remedy is to go off to another platform, but if all the main players adopt a common position, that is a restrictive trade practice. This is a real risk: Twitter could legitimately block Donald Trump when they chose, but when other media companies blocked the operation of an alternative forum that he used, that was a restrictive practice. The sorts of things said by vengeful ex-presidents may turn the stomach but there cartels may not build a wall to prevent legal expression. Can the Online Safety Bill or the Media Bill deal with these competition issues? They should do.
My attention was drawn recently to action by the British Board of Film Classification imposing an ‘Adult Content’ filter on a website (conservativewoman.co.uk) – a site too much given, I must say, to irresponsible vaccine conspiracy ideas, but ‘Adult Content’? Surely not. It may be the section in the Board’s rules on ‘discrimination’, which is wide open for activists to abuse. Mobile companies en masse use the BBFC blacklist, and if such a cartel is tolerated then it must again be subject to rules to prevent anti-competitive practice.
The Renters Bill has been looming for years, and I have discussed its ideas before. They are bad ideas, which will hurt the very people they are intended to benefit. If tenants cannot be removed, landlords will get out for the game, there will be fewer flat available and rents will rocket. Furthermore, a landlord will be unable to empty his property to improve it and get a better rent, so the quality of homes will decline. Only slum landlord’s with thugs ready to enforce their word will thrive.
There is also the benevolent promise of an ombudsman for disputes. This position will fall to institutional capture by activists.
On the other hand, the bill, we are told, will “reform possession grounds for landlords” – maybe the right to remove tenants to improve the property can be retained.
Whatever the government have in mind, they must cast out the demon whispering in their ear – Shelter, an organisation which once did good and is now, regrettably a fake charity pushing a malevolent political agenda.
The Bill of Rights would take a series of articles on its own. The Grauniad has condemned it unseen as a tyrant’s charter, as it would: the Grauniad‘s enmity is generally a promise of a good thing. We shall see.
A programme of increasing individual freedom might have been expected as a reward for sitting out the intolerable lockdowns, but there is little sign of it here, yet. There may be ways to mould these bare titles and proposals so that we end up more free.