Online abuse directed towards women and girls is entirely unacceptable. No one should have to worry about going online for fear of ill-treatment or harm. I therefore welcome that the Online Safety Bill puts in place the regulatory framework to tackle online abuse and protect vulnerable individuals.
As might be aware, the Online Safety Bill sets out plans for a new duty of care to make companies take responsibility for the safety of their users, building on the manifesto commitment on which I was elected to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. While the draft Bill required firms to take down harmful content after it had been reported to them by users, the Government has strengthened the Bill and as such firms must be proactive and prevent people being exposed in the first place. Ofcom, the UK's independent regulator, will be able to issue fines of up to 10 per cent of annual worldwide turnover to non-compliant sites or block them from being accessible in the UK.
The Bill has been strengthened with new priority offences, including a harm-based communications offence to capture communications sent to cause harm without a reasonable excuse. I am encouraged that the new offence will consider the context in which the communication was sent. This will better address forms of violence against women and girls, such as communications which may not seem obviously harmful but when looked at in light of a pattern of abuse could cause serious distress. For example, in the instance where a survivor of domestic abuse has fled to a secret location and the abuser sends the individual a picture of their front door or street sign.
More broadly, I welcome the Government's decision to strengthen the Bill which will clamp down on pimps and human traffickers, extremist groups encouraging violence and racial hate against minorities, suicide chatrooms and the spread of private sexual images of women without their consent.