Zach's Law to be introduced in House of Lords
Amid ongoing turmoil in Westminster, one policy unites MPs from across the political divide: Zach's Law.
In another exciting week for the Zach's Law campaign, the Government have promised to include an amendment to criminalise epilepsy trolling when the Online Safety Bill reaches the House of Lords in autumn. And, to top this off, MPs from all major political parties have joined forces to praise our young campaigner "wee Zach.”
While they had previously promised to enact Zach’s Law, the Government had not said when or in which piece of legislation. But last week they confirmed it would be included in the Online Safety Bill currently working its way through Parliament, and thus become law in early 2023 – according to existing parliamentary schedule. The inclusion of Zach's Law in the Online Safety Bill is especially important as it means epilepsy trolling will be covered by the regulatory powers of Ofcom and ability to financial sanction tech companies which are included in the Bill.
In a written statement (opens in hansard.parliament.uk), Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries admitted that the sending of flashing images to people with epilepsy caused "significant harm" and confirmed that "the Government will legislate for a new offence of epilepsy trolling through this Bill."
Ms Dorries said: “ We had hoped to introduce a Government amendment at Report stage but it is essential to create an offence that is legally robust and enforceable so that those perpetrating this disgraceful behaviour will face the appropriate criminal sanctions. We therefore commit to table amendments to create this offence in the Lords.”
Following this exciting development, MPs from the four largest political parties praised Zach Eagling, the campaign's 11-year-old figurehead. Speaking at the Report Stage of the Online Safety Bill, John Nicolson, the SNP's culture spokesperson, said he wanted to pay tribute to "wee Zach" who had led the Epilepsy's Society's campaign against the "wicked people" who send flashing images to people with epilepsy.
Damian Collins, the newly appointed Minister for Tech and Digital Economy, highlighted the importance of finding common ground in Parliament and held up Zach's Law as an example of this.
Mr Collins, who previously chaired the Joint Committee which scrutinised the Online Safety Bill, described Zach's Law as "a good example of how a clear offence, something that we all agree to be wrong, can be tackled through this legislation; in this case, a new offence will be created, to prevent the pernicious targeting of people with epilepsy with flashing images."
The cross-party nature of Zach's Law was also highlighted by Zach's local MP, Kim Leadbeater. Ms Leadbeater said: "It is not always easy, but I know we can find common ground in this place, as we saw during the Committee stage of the Bill when I was delighted to gain cross-party support to secure the introduction of Zach’s law, inspired by my young constituent Zach Eagling, which will outlaw the dreadful practice of epilepsy trolling online."
Other MPs who spoke in favour of Zach's Law included Conservative Julian Knight, who chairs the DCMS Select Committee, and Labour grandee Dame Margaret Hodge.
Speaking after the debate, Sarah Green, the Liberal Democrat MP for Chesham and Amersham, where the Epilepsy Society is based, said: "I am pleased that the Government have committed to passing Zach's Law. I want to congratulate the Epilepsy Society on their long and persistent campaign which has led to this. It is a great outcome for the campaign and a real testament to the organisation's hard work."
The Online Safety Bill now moves on to the Third Reading in the House of Commons. This will then be followed by the Bill's introduction to the House of Lords, which will include Zach's Law.