I beg to move,
That this House
deplores the growth in child abuse images online;
deeply regrets that up to one and a half million people have seen such images;
notes with alarm the lack of resources available to the police to tackle this problem;
further notes the correlation between viewing such images and further child abuse;
notes with concern the Government’s failure to implement the recommendations of the Bailey Review and the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection on ensuring children’s safe access to the internet;
and calls on the Government to set a timetable for the introduction of safe search as a default, effective age verification and splash page warnings and to bring forward legislative proposals to ensure these changes are speedily implemented.
The motion is in the name of my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband.
The whole country was shocked and revolted by the trials of Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazell, the two men who brutally murdered April Jones and Tia Sharp. They sent a shiver of horror down the spine of every parent in the land. In both cases, they were found to have huge libraries of child abuse images on their computers. In both cases, this was the first known offence against children. Surely it is now beyond doubt that what a person sees influences how they behave.
Let us be clear: there is no such thing as child pornography. There is child abuse online. Any image depicting a sexual act with or on a child under 18 is illegal. Child abuse images are illegal under international law and in every country on the globe. The Internet Watch Foundation is the UK hotline for reporting child abuse. It has pioneered this work since 1996. It can disrupt and delete content on the web within an hour and it protects child victims by working in co-operation with the police at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. It also aims to prevent people from stumbling across such images. We all owe an immense debt of gratitude to the IWF.
However, the surge in the scale of the problems threatens to overwhelm both the IWF and the police. The IWF’s independent survey by ComRes found that up to 1.5 million people have stumbled on child abuse images, yet last year the IWF received only 40,000 notifications and some 13,000 web pages were taken down as a result. Its latest figures show a 40% rise on last year.
I support the hon. Lady’s opening words. I declare an interest as an IWF champion; the IWF does great work. Does she accept that her figure of 1.5 million people having seen child pornography is based on a sample of 2,000 people, of whom about 50 said that they seen such images? We do not know how much people have seen, or if they have seen anything. To extrapolate that far may be misleading.
Yes; I discussed the numbers with the IWF, of course. It says that the survey on which it based that estimate was typical of surveys it has been doing over several years, so I think the problem is widespread and that we should not argue too much. It is clear that the numbers are far, far too big.
Up to 88% of the child victims appear to be 10 years old or under, and 61% of the images depicted sexual activity between adults and children, including rape and sexual torture.
Google is one of the biggest hosts of child sexual abuse images, albeit inadvertently, and it should therefore accept the major responsibility for proactively monitoring and removing those images. Does my hon. Friend agree that if Google spent as much money on monitoring and removing illegal child sexual abuse images as it does on paying accountants to avoid tax in the UK, it might go some way towards living up to its motto, “Don’t be evil”?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. By a happy co-incidence I received an e-mail at 12.35 pm announcing that Google is increasing its contribution to the IWF to £1 million.
My hon. Friend spoke about the number of reported cases. As an Internet Watch Foundation champion, I went into every one of my primary schools, spoke to the 10 and 11-year-olds at every one of those schools, and asked those children how many of them had seen indecent images online. Every child in every class had been exposed to such material. Is that not a national disgrace?
Reference has been made to Google. I do not defend that or any other search engine other than to say that this debate is highly technical and we need to be accurate. Google does not host anything; nor does any other search engine. Google merely provides the means of finding a site, and the hosting, which is an international problem, needs to be addressed appropriately.
This is not an occasion for nit-picking—[Interruption.] It is important to take an international approach and I am disappointed in the Government for, among other things, not taking any international initiatives.
The police say their resources are inadequate to the task. Peter Davies, the head of CEOP, said that the police are aware of 60,000 people swapping or downloading images over peer-to-peer networks but they lack the resources to arrest them all. In any case, the IWF currently deals only with images on the web, not peer-to-peer images.
In answer to my parliamentary question last week, the Minister of State, Home Department, Mr Browne revealed that in 2012, despite the fact that the police are aware of those 60,000 people, only 1,570 were convicted of such
offences. What do Ministers intend to do about the problem? I hope that in his winding-up remarks the Home Office Minister will tell us. There is no point huffing and puffing about the problem if Ministers do not take the necessary action. It is obvious to the whole country that the current situation is totally unacceptable. It is obvious that Ministers have not got a grip. It is obvious that we need a change.
That is why our motion proposes a complete shift in approach from a reactive stance to a proactive strategy. We are calling for three things—first, safe search as the default option. The industry has already made the filters that are needed to screen out not just child abuse but pornography and adult content generally. We are saying that the filters should be the default, either on all computers and devices connected to the internet or by requiring internet service providers to install them by default. Then we can institute the second part of an effective system: robust age verification. A person seeking to cross the filter would be asked to confirm their name, age and address, all of which can be independently checked. Again, we know that this works. It is what Labour did for gambling sites in 2005. It is what mobile phone companies do when someone opens an account and gets a SIM card. It is what people do when they get a driving licence.
Does the hon. Lady accept that if we had safe search and such controls, young people would not be able either to access information about homophobic bullying, about how to deal with child abuse and about a range of other subjects? Indeed, such things are already filtered out by mobile phone providers, to the great detriment of many children.
No, I do not accept that. I shall go on to explain why that is a misconception on the part of the hon. Gentleman.
The approach that we are suggesting would cut demand for sites as well as reducing the supply of them. It would tackle child abuse online and the other major issue addressed by the Bailey review and the independent parliamentary inquiry—children accessing unsuitable material online. In recent days I have had the benefit of energetic lobbying from Google in particular, pressing its view that except for child abuse images, which are illegal, all other images should be available unfiltered on the internet. I have heard its views and come to my own conclusion.
I hope the Government’s vacillation on this point is not because they cannot put children before powerful vested interests. I say safe search filters are not a free speech issue. This is not censorship. This is about child protection and reproducing online the conditions established over a long period in the real world.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the Council of Europe One in Five campaign, which is built on the fact that one in five children across Europe is likely to be a victim of sexual violence? Does she agree that the magnitude of sexual violence is enormously inflamed by the open gateway of internet child abuse?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Once again, he emphasises the importance of the international dimension.
What we are proposing is aimed at reproducing the conditions that we have already established in the real world. The distinction between legal and illegal content is far too simplistic. For cinemas we have the highly respected independent British Board of Film Classification. It produces age ratings—12, 15 or 18. Any cinema found to be regularly flouting the age restrictions would lose its local authority licence. Furthermore, material classified as R18 can be seen only in certain cinemas, and some material deemed obscene is cut entirely. Yet on the internet it is all freely accessible to every 12-year-old. Indeed—this relates to what my hon. Friend Mrs Moon said a moment ago—the NSPCC believes that one quarter of nine to 16-year olds have seen sexual images online. We are not talking about young women baring their breasts—that is like something from Enid Blyton compared with the Frankenstein images now available.
The dangers are clear. On average, 29% of nine to 16-year-olds have contact online with someone they have never met face to face. Of course there is a real difference between child abuse online and extreme pornography, but unfortunately in the real world people who become addicted to pornography look for more and more extreme images, and that sometimes tips into child abuse images. Addiction is the issue. Users are found to have literally millions of images on their computer, and child abuse sites are signposted on pornography sites. Both are shared peer to peer.
Therefore, an effective age verification system would mean that paedophiles would lose the anonymity behind which they currently hide, and the denial of what they are really doing would be addressed by the third proposal in the motion, which is to have splash warnings before entering filtered sites. Work by Professor Richard Wortley at University College London suggests that that might halve the numbers viewing child abuse online.
Of course, those measures would have a cost to industry. TalkTalk, which has led the way in offering filters, has spent over £20 million. Some in the industry tell us that they do not want to lose their competitive edge, and some say that they do not want to act as censors. That is why the Government should act by putting a clear timetable for those reforms into law in order to speed up change, level the playing field and support parents. We know that most parents want to do what is right by their children, because 66% of people, and 78% of women, want an automatic block, according to a YouGov poll conducted last year, but the industry is not helping them enough. At the moment, some still require people to download their own filters—a near-impossible task for many of us—some see it as a marketing device, and others want to give the option of filters only to new customers. At the current rate of turnover, it would be 2019 before that approach had any hope of reaching total coverage. It simply is not good enough. [Interruption.] Does Claire Perry wish to intervene?
talking and much less action. After three years and two Secretaries of State, the Government still seem to think that a voluntary approach will work. Do they not know when they are being strung along, or do they not care? How many more years must we wait? How many child deaths will it take to shock them into action?
Let us look at the record. First, the Prime Minister set up the Bailey review, which reported in June 2011. It recommended that after 18 months the internet industry must, as a matter of urgency, act decisively to develop and introduce effective parental controls—with Government regulation if voluntary action is not forthcoming within a reasonable time scale—and robust age verification. But here we are, fully two years on, and nothing has changed. Contrary to the answer I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Education, Mr Timpson, who is in his place, the fact is that BT, Sky and Virgin are yet to come forward to announce their proposals on how they intend to deliver.
Then we had the independent parliamentary inquiry into child protection online, an all-party group. It recommended an accelerated implementation timetable, a formal consultation on the introduction of an opt-in content filtering system, and that the Government should seek back-stop legal powers to intervene should the ISPs fail to implement an appropriate solution. A year later, no solution has been implemented. Why did the Government not introduce a communications Bill with appropriate measures in the Queen’s Speech?
Finally, last autumn the Government undertook a consultation. It was so badly advertised that 68% of respondents were members of the Open Rights Group, an important group, but a lobbying group with 1,500 members, compared with the 34% of respondents who were parents of Britain’s 11 million children. Despite that, the Government concluded that parents did not want to see parental controls turned on by default.
The Government have zig-zagged back and forth but we have seen no action in the real world. The Secretary of State has called a meeting with industry representatives next week. What will she say to them? I hope that she will not engage in yet another round of fruitless pleas and requests. There is a total lack of strategy from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
I want to make an offer to the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Vaizey: if he brings forward measures, with a speedy timetable, for the introduction of safe search as a default, robust age verification and splash warnings, we will support him. I gather that Ministers are urging their colleagues to vote against the motion. It is time that the Government stopped hoping that everything will turn out for the best and started taking responsibility. The time for talking is over. The time for action is now. We must put our children first. I hope that all hon. Members will vote for the motion in the Lobby this afternoon.
The House finds itself today debating an incredibly important issue, and one that has risen in prominence because of the worst of circumstances. Helen Goodman referred at the beginning
This Government, and indeed the previous Government, take the continued availability of child sexual abuse images online extremely seriously. If I heard the hon. Lady correctly, she said that we should not refer to this as child pornography. She is quite right: it is child abuse, child torture and child rape. The creation of these images is abuse against a child, and that child is further violated every time the image is circulated and viewed by others. That is why the creation, distribution and viewing of child sexual abuse images is strictly prohibited in this country, and why we take action to stop it. We must take every possible step to prevent their production and distribution over the internet.
We must work together on that. We must recognise that that means using industry, law enforcement and the charitable sector. I think that we have made considerable progress. Let me start by talking about the Internet Watch Foundation. Before the IWF was established in 1996, this country hosted around 18% of the known child sexual abuse content on the internet, which is absolutely shocking. Since 2003, the IWF, working with industry, has reduced that figure to less than 1%. We fully support and welcome the work done by the internet industry in the UK, which uses a list provided by the IWF to block images of child sexual abuse. Blocking has a real and tangible benefit, as it stops people inadvertently viewing the images and stops paedophiles arguing that they found the images accidentally.
The IWF has a crucial role to play in the removal of these images from the internet. At the summit that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has called for next week, we will discuss what further measures we can take. It is right and proper that we look at the role and funding levels of the IWF, and at what more the industry can do in terms of its role and scope.
The IWF does a fantastic job, but it can only do as good a job as the referrals it receives. When I speak to parents and children in my constituency, they do not know what to do. Often, the advice given to children is “Turn the computer off.” That will not help us to track down images and stop them coming in in the first place.
I thank the hon. Lady for that contribution and pay tribute to her for the work that she does on these issues in this House and throughout the country. She is absolutely right. There is more we can do, and we need to look at a number of issues that will be raised at the summit next week.
First, we need to discuss the funding of the IWF. I note the £1 million contribution that Google has made this afternoon. We will discuss with the IWF what kind of funding it needs and what funding needs to come from the industry to help it to do the work that it needs to do. Secondly, we need to discuss the IWF’s role in peer-to-peer file-sharing. It is all very well, and absolutely right, to clamp down on and block the sites that host these vile and disgusting images, but we need to do more work on the activities of peer-to-peer networks where people are sharing them.
This involves the complex issue of how the IWF works with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. We have to clear the lines on that. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland referred to international work. We, as a Government, support the Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online, which covers more than 40 countries. Both CEOP and the IWF work internationally, and it is extremely important to focus on that work. We can be proud of our success in this regard, but, as she rightly points out, the problem remains one of images posted abroad.
Does the Minister agree that images of women being raped in pornography should also be illegal and banned from the internet?
The Ministry of Justice and the Home Office are looking very closely at that issue, which has been debated recently. It is right that my colleagues in the relevant Departments look to see what action it is appropriate to take.
CEOP works with UK police forces, which carry out excellent work in tracking down and arresting the owners of sites within the UK and rescuing and safeguarding the children who are subject to abuse. We will continue to support and promote the work of CEOP. It is important to note that the number of people working there has increased from 85 in 2010 to 130 now. CEOP is now a command within the National Crime Agency, and this will build on its success and allow it to work closely with other commands to ensure that children continue to be safeguarded. CEOP receives important support, in the form of a skills resource, from the business sector, including Microsoft, BAE Systems Detica and Visa, as well as children’s charities such as the NSPCC. At next week’s summit we will discuss what further resources we can bring to bear for CEOP, especially in terms of support from businesses that can bring particular skill sets to help it to carry out its work. As I said, we will also discuss with CEOP its close co-operation and work with the IWF.
I am pleased to hear the Minister being positive about the proposal by my hon. Friend Geraint Davies. I hope that the summit will be a very productive discussion. End Violence Against Women has come up with a specific proposal on how to tackle the production of so-called rape porn, both online and offline. Can the Minister confirm that that will also be on next week’s agenda so that it can be talked through with businesses and then inform the discussions between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice?
We will certainly look at what we need to include on the agenda. The summit has to focus on what internet companies can do to help us to tackle not only child abuse images but the exposure of children to online pornographic content. If there are comments to be made that would inform the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, we will make sure that that happens.
We need to focus on closer co-operation between the IWF and CEOP and on resource from industry to help the IWF to do its work. There should be greater focus on peer-to-peer networks, and a clear strategy to increase our international work, which is already taking place.
As the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said, there is a clear distinction between illegal child abuse images and age-inappropriate content.
I must apologise because I am speaking in a Welsh Grand Committee later and will miss part of this debate, which is particularly important to my constituency and has become hugely important to me due to the impact in Montgomeryshire following what has happened. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that Coral and Paul Jones, the parents of April Jones, should have an opportunity to express their views to Government at one level; we need to discuss exactly where it should be.
I absolutely hear what my hon. Friend says and will happily discuss with him what he thinks should be the appropriate way of ensuring that that takes place.
In protecting our children from online pornography, the Government are making a huge effort to minimise the harm that is caused by being exposed to age-inappropriate content. As the Minister with responsibility for the communications sector, I see the headlines that call for greater action from our biggest internet companies. I support those calls. We want more action because there are few more important issues than protecting children as they interact online. Let us be clear: the internet can be an amazing force for good. However, information available on the internet can also drive harm. Mobile phone operators, internet service providers, search engines and social media companies do act to protect children online, and I will come to some of the measures that have been developed through Government and industry co-operation.
The Minister refers to age-inappropriate online pornography. Does he really understand what children as young as eight are viewing, does he know that the average age of a young man viewing hard-core porn online has dropped to eight, and is he aware of the social and psychological harm that stems from viewing those types of images?
It is really important during this debate to make the point that everyone wants to see what we can do to minimise this harm. It is not appropriate to suggest that Ministers are not aware of the issues and do not want to act. [Interruption.] Nor is it appropriate to heckle me as I come on to setting out the points that I am here to set out. We need to work across Parliament. Members of the public will want to see cross-party action to tackle these issues.
What are you going to do, then?
Since 2008, the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, set up by the previous Government, has brought together industry, charities, law enforcement and academia to focus on developing measures to keep children safe
online. In October 2011, under the auspices of UKCCIS, and under this Government, the internet service providers developed a voluntary code of practice on the implementation of internet parental controls. A year on, the biggest four internet providers met their commitment to offer parental internet controls to new customers. Now, in a further step, the biggest five have committed to delivering whole home, network-level parental control tools by the end of this year. That will allow parents to set, with one click, parental controls on all devices in the home.
When we began these discussions with ISPs, they told us that that was not technically possible, so we have moved a huge way forward. Making it easier for parents to block adult and age-restricted material was a Bailey recommendation and that has been achieved. Network-level filters for domestic broadband was also a recommendation of the independent parliamentary inquiry into online child protection.
We can hold our heads high as being far more advanced than many other countries around the world. I will happily write to the hon. Gentleman with details of what other countries are doing and where we rank compared with them. It is also important to point out that those five ISPs cover the vast majority of customers using the internet at home.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said that we have not implemented the recommendations of the Bailey review, but I remind her that this Government set up that review because of this Prime Minister’s passion to protect children from the sexualisation of society. As Reg Bailey himself said in his recently published review of progress:
“I have been pleased to see that many parts of industry have risen to the challenge”
and that good progress has been made against his recommendations.
Bailey called for greater transparency in the regulatory framework through the creation of a single website for regulators. ParentPort, launched in 2011, is a single website, created by media regulators, through which parents can complain about inappropriate material. Bailey also called for a reduction in on-street advertising containing sexualised imagery that is likely to be seen by children, and the Advertising Standards Authority has issued guidelines on the use of such images in outdoor advertising. He also recommended restricting the employment of children as brand ambassadors and ensuring that magazines and newspapers with sexualised images on the cover are not sold in easy sight of children and that the content of pre-watershed TV programming better meets parents’ expectations.
Those recommendations and others have been met. Of course, that is not to say that every recommendation has been met in full. There is still work to do on, for example, online music videos.
The Bailey review also pointed out that, as much as we must try to adapt to many of the ways in which technology is changing, no filter or
technology can compensate for parents and teachers giving positive examples. Yesterday the House had an opportunity to make sure that sensitive discussion of issues such as sexual consent, equality and respect in relationships was on the agenda, so is the Minister disappointed that his Government voted against putting sexual consent in the curriculum in a way that would allow young people to get training and advice on how to tackle these issues and let us build a filter in their heads about them, too?
This issue was debated fully in the House yesterday and there are two Education Ministers present—the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Mr Timpson and my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary. As the hon. Lady knows, sex and relationships education is compulsory in secondary schools. We trust teachers, who are best placed to provide the appropriate advice, guidance and support to children in their schools. Teachers who teach sex education follow the statutory guidance laid out by the Education Secretary, but we do not believe it is right to remove the ability of parents to withdraw their children from sex education at any key stage, as the Opposition advocate.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that in sex and relationships education, particularly in primary schools, more guidance needs to be given on the age-appropriateness of the material? I know that he has already taken some steps to improve that, but what more can he do to make sure that children receive age-appropriate information?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, which she has campaigned on in this House. I pay tribute to her for the work she has done. We are introducing classification not just for music videos, but for DVDs used in schools for sex education. I will continue to have a dialogue with my hon. Friend on other appropriate measures. [Interruption.] The sneezing of Fiona Mactaggart is appropriate, because she was a member of the panel for the independent parliamentary inquiry into online child protection—as was the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland—to which I now turn.
I praise my hon. Friend Claire Perry. My involvement in these important issues started with an Adjournment debate that she had secured, during which I said that I wanted to hold discussions and work with her to make progress. She decided that it was appropriate to set up an inquiry, which had my full support and which, I am pleased to say, was a cross-party inquiry, with Members from all the main parties on its panel. Since my hon. Friend set up that parliamentary inquiry, not only has it come up with some sensible recommendations, which I will turn to in a moment, but I am also delighted that she has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s adviser. Although I pay tribute to many hon. Members, I am sure that most would agree that my hon. Friend has taken a fantastically prominent role in this debate, that she has moved it forward in leaps and bounds and that she is a fantastic advocate for more action in this area.
Pete Wishart, who is not in his place, pointed out how late this motion came to the House. As I have said, it is hard to support a motion that claims that the police lack resources when I have already pointed out that CEOP has significantly increased its manpower; that claims that the Government have failed to implement the Bailey review when I have already pointed out how many of the recommendations we have introduced; and that claims that we have not supported the independent parliamentary inquiry when we supported it from the start and have followed a lot of its recommendations.
The Opposition can decide whether they want to play politics with this issue or whether they want to have a serious debate about how to make progress. They cannot table a tendentious motion such as this and expect us to support it. What I am doing in this speech—and what other Government Members will do in theirs—is raising and addressing important issues, as some Opposition Members have done, and saying what the Government are doing.
Does my hon. Friend share my almost despair that, while some Members present, such as the hon. Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), have been intimately involved in this agenda for two and a half years, others who are heckling and shouting from a sedentary position have, to be frank, shown no interest whatsoever in this topic until it became a front-page issue? Working together will solve the problem. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a terrible and dangerous example of bandwagonism?
My hon. Friend is an authority on this issue and she has shown, throughout her engagement with it, her willingness to work across party lines and to look for practical solutions that will help keep our children safe. I hope that Opposition Members will listen to what she has just said and take it on board.
Does the Minister agree—I know that Claire Perry supports me in this—that credit card companies should be made accountable and perhaps face penalties if they are complicit in the downloading of child abuse images through online transactions, particularly those under £50 that can be facilitated by anonymous credit cards that can be accessed by children as well? Does he agree that the Government need to bring credit card companies to account and stop this abuse?
That is very important. As I have mentioned, Visa plays a role with CEOP. No credit card company would say that it was actively encouraging or supporting people to download images of child abuse. If the hon. Gentleman has specific examples, he should bring them to my attention. The credit card companies have an important and helpful role to play on this issue and many others, including piracy, and we must continue to work with them.
The Minister will know that many Members from all parts of the House have been interested in online safety for young people for a long time. Does he agree that it is slightly
perverse that this country has legislation that gives courts the power to order ISPs or websites to remove material that is defamatory or that contravenes copyright, but no powers for the courts to deal with serious issues such as online child pornography or incitement to violence, which have a devastating impact on people’s lives?
Companies that use the law to block sites that support pirated material seek an injunction through pre-internet copyright law. As has always been the case, what is illegal offline is also illegal online. People can therefore use existing law to attack sites. As I have said, the Internet Watch Foundation does block access to sites that host child abuse images.
The Minister is making a powerful case. Does he agree that it is somewhat misleading to imply that we have no powers to deal with such sites? In 2012, every one of the 73 UK webpages that hosted child pornography was removed within four days, and the vast majority within 60 minutes, of the IWF being notified.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I must make progress because a lot of people want to speak on this issue.
We have responded to many of the recommendations of the independent parliamentary inquiry. For example, the report called for filtered public wi-fi. Through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, the Government have secured a commitment from the main public wi-fi providers that they will offer family-friendly wi-fi in public places where children are likely to use it.
I am conscious of the time, so I will wrap up with a number of key points. On child abuse images, we will work with the industry to secure appropriate funding for the IWF. We will work with the IWF on its peer-to-peer and international work. We will also work with CEOP and the IWF to ensure that their work is co-ordinated effectively. We have made huge progress on protecting children from inappropriate content online. New customers are now provided with filters that are in place when they first access the internet. ISPs regularly contact existing customers through e-mails and on their bills to tell them about internet filters. On age verification, ISPs are bringing in closed-loop e-mails so that when the filters are changed in a home, an e-mail is sent to the account holder and, therefore, to the adult. I hear the point about splash pages and it is worth debating. It is important to analyse whether that would be an effective change.
I will make one wider point in conclusion. When I held a meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes and other hon. Members some years ago, about 80 Members turned up from across the political divide. All of them, from the über-libertarians to the ultra-authoritarians, wanted action. We have made progress. The ISPs and others should be in no doubt about the mood of this House. If not enough is done, legislation will be required. We must get the message across to them that this is not something on which they should consider the competitive advantage, but something on which they have to work together and co-operate. They must work together on issues such as publicity and education for parents.
The summit that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has called next week is an important staging post. I pay tribute to everyone in the House who has campaigned on this issue, because they have pushed it up the agenda. The people who can make a difference have been left in no doubt that no amount of weasel words or hiding behind technical obfuscation will stop this House taking the action that is needed to protect our children and clamp down on child abuse images.
Order. Many Members wish to speak, so I am introducing a time limit of eight minutes.
I usually open my remarks by saying that I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in a debate. Today, I do not have that feeling. I raised my children in an age when we did not have to worry about the issues under discussion and when protecting children was far more straightforward, but I am conscious that my grandchildren are growing up in a very different world. I congratulate the shadow Culture, Media and Sport team for ensuring that we have the opportunity to discuss this matter.
I give credit, as many Members will, to Claire Perry for her contribution. However, I think that she should reflect on her remarks about “bandwagonism”. This is the first time that I have spoken in a debate on this issue. She does not know what personal experiences other Members of the House might have had that make it difficult for them to make contributions on this issue, so she should be careful in her choice of words. I have worked with children who are victims of abuse, some of whom were subjected to pornographic images. Sadly, some of them even went on to sexually harm other children. I should not have to justify to her my right to stand here as a Member of Parliament, a parent, a grandmother and someone who has worked in child protection.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. May I extend the offer that has been open for almost three years to every Member of this House who feels that they can help push this agenda forward to please share their experiences and be involved? Please do not make this a partisan issue, because when we do that, industry drives a bus through Parliament. That is what we must avoid.
I would have welcomed more of an indication of regret from the hon. Lady at the words that she used. If she had experience of working in child protection, she would know that those words should be used very carefully.
I welcome the Minister’s comment that this issue is about much more than just child protection and includes child abuse. Sadly, in this day and age, it is also a matter of life and death. Fortunately, children can and do use the internet safely, and we must not lose sight of that.
Although I might not have been active on this issue in the House, I have been in my constituency. Last Friday, I went to Burgh primary school in Musselburgh, where the children recently took part in a competition to talk
about and devise ways of keeping themselves safe when using the internet. That is a great example of how we can empower children. I do not want children to be frightened of using the internet. It is an incredible resource that allows them to socialise, learn, have fun and access entertainment. We must be clear that we do not want to put children off. At Burgh primary school, I saw children being empowered to keep themselves safe. They even taught me a few lessons about how I could be safer. The head teacher and Mrs Gilbert, who leads the IT group, have the children running the school website. That is a great way to show children that the internet is a tool that could be useful to them at any point in their life and, at the same time, to ensure that they are aware of the risks.
Ofcom recently released figures showing that 91% of five to 15-year-olds have access to the internet at home. On average, they access the internet for about 90 minutes a day. A survey of 851 young children in 2012 by the ChildLine website also provided some interesting information. It was clear that what children really enjoyed was the fun, games, information and opportunities for social networking that they could access. What really concerned me, however—I hope the Minister or a Front-Bench Member will respond to this point—was that the survey showed that 69% of children are now accessing the internet through mobile phones, making it far more difficult for parents to supervise what they are saying and how they are interacting. I would be interested to hear whether the Government have any proposals for how we can deal with mobile phone companies and keep children safe, given that that is the way they are increasingly accessing the internet.
We all know horrific stories of bullying and of children accessing inappropriate material, and I have seen first hand through my work the impact that can have on children’s lives, development and their ability to become parents. I remember one child saying to me, “Fiona, I don’t think I should be a parent.” He had suffered such horrific abuse and seen such awful images that at the age of 10, this boy did not think he should be trusted to be a parent. We are discussing the most serious issues of children’s right to a childhood and a healthy adulthood.
We must do more to protect children, and this debate has caused me to reflect on an experience that I had around the age of 16—this was before the age of computers, certainly in the highlands of Scotland. I was getting ready for bed one night and I suddenly caught sight out of my bedroom window of a flashing light. I realised there was a man in the kitchen that overlooked my bedroom who had been watching me undress, and he was flicking the light to let me know that he was doing that. This is the first time I have ever shared that experience, because at the age of 16 I was too scared to tell anyone. I thought I had done something wrong; I was scared to tell my parents. My father had warned me that I should shut my bedroom curtains when getting ready for bed, and I was scared that he might go down and confront the man, or that my father—a very peace-loving man—might be hurt. I just did not feel I could do that, and I lived in fear for many months that the man was going to approach me or tell people what he had seen. We must remember just how difficult it is for young people to tell their stories—it has taken me until the age of 53 to tell that story.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children supports many of the recommendations in the motion, in particular having an opt-in option so that adults must choose if they wish to access adult material. That is the stage we have reached. I am no Mary Whitehouse, but I think we have reached a stage where so many children are at risk that we must do more.
I accept the hon. Lady’s thrust of where we need to get to. However, with such a relatively simplistic approach to an opt-in, how would we overcome encryption methods that would simply get around that?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I confess that that is well beyond my level of knowledge. In this day and age we must at least challenge the issue, and I am grateful that the Government have called a summit next week, which will be a great opportunity. I hope we give a clear steer and that there will be time scales for internet service providers as well. I confess freely to the hon. Gentleman that I do not have the answer to his question, but we must set that challenge and tell the sector that it must get its house in order. It is clear that we must do more.
Not so long ago, we in this House took the decision to make it illegal to carry a child in a car without them being safely secured in an appropriate way. At this time I think there is a greater risk to children’s safety from accessing the internet than from getting into a car, and if we can intervene in such circumstances that will be absolutely in order. It is early in the debate but I am glad that so far we have not heard talk of the nanny state. We must act on this matter to keep children safe.
When I went into schools around Bridgend I took two leaflets—one for parents and one for children—about staying safe online. They were seen by Dr Tanya Byron, and agreed with Google and local head teachers so that the content was accurate. It was clear that parents did not have the technical savvy; their children were wiser than them and knew how to remove the constraints, which is why we need such constraints put in place by providers rather than by parents. Children can remove their parent’s constraints.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point; children are often well ahead of the adults who are supervising them. I do not know whether the Government have any plans to involve children in the summit and this process. Children were part of the consultation, but what opportunities will the Government provide to allow them to be part of the debate? When I went into a local primary school I found that the children’s knowledge was well in advance of mine, and from my experience as a parent I know that children can be canny in finding ways round things that we are perhaps not aware of—
I am grateful, as always, for the chance to speak in and listen to a debate in the House on this incredibly important topic, and I will not focus on the unfortunate partisan tone of some of the proposals. I would love to support the motion, and if it had been better worded or perhaps more accurate it would have been easier to do so.
I want to respond specifically to some of the criticisms raised in the motion and refute them absolutely. Criticism has been made of the implementation of the Bailey review recommendations, and those of the parliamentary inquiry in which I was joined by more than 60 Members from across this House and from the other place including—as I have said—two hon. Ladies from the Labour Benches and several of my colleagues from the Government Benches. The inquiry came up with a series of recommendations. In 2011, the Bailey review recommended active choice in which parents have to choose whether they want filters, as well as more help for parents. The four main fixed-line internet service providers control 80% of the home internet market—this relates to a point raised earlier. They signed a code of practice to offer such a filter, and said they would roll it out within a year by October 2012. That deadline was met, but as many Members will remember, a cross-party group of MPs and peers did not feel that it was adequate or went far enough.
I pay great tribute to my hon. Friend who has championed this cause in the House, including in an Adjournment debate back in November 2010, which also coincided with the Safermedia conference. She has been raising the issue of harm related to pornography, and making the point that it is not just a fringe issue for one campaign organisation but a concern shared across the House. That momentum has helped to drive these changes, which will continue, and we do not need to resort to partisanship.
I came to this agenda as a mother, a feminist and someone who is deeply concerned about the long-term social experiment we are conducting with our young children. Fiona Mactaggart said it was good that we had an atheist leftie on the panel as that helped balance out some of the others, and it truly was a coalition of many minds coming together—I hope that will not be depicted in Hansard as an accurate description.
Another recommendation of the cross-party inquiry was for internet service providers to introduce account filters that protect all devices in the home with one click. Only four out of 10 parents in the country have installed device-level protection of any sort on their home computers. That is completely unacceptable, but the situation is complicated. We all have multiple internet-enabled devices and it is simply not good enough to say that consumers are stupid. We called on internet service providers to introduce one-click filtering on the home network, but as the Minister said, we were told by more than one ISP that that was technically impossible. Guess what? They are all going to implement it by the end of the year as a testament to the ongoing campaigning of this House.
Is the real problem with the motion a conflation between the legal and the illegal, and is my hon. Friend worried that those on the Opposition Front Benches are getting this completely wrong? Helen Goodman tweeted that we should introduce filters for child abuse, but surely child abuse
should be dealt with by the law. Paedophiles should be taken to prison and targeted by the police, working with internet service providers. My hon. Friend is doing the right thing by looking at the issue carefully and in real detail.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have two separate buckets. Some imagery is unequivocally illegal, but we would find other imagery exceptionally unpalatable and not want our young people to see it. Given that 88% of mainstream porn involves violence against women, we need to improve the filters to try to stop that coming into the home.
Another recommendation of the cross-party inquiry was that public wi-fi should be filtered. There is no need to see adult content on public wi-fi. That has been implemented in the majority of cases and we are looking for universal clean public wi-fi to be implemented later this year.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Lady on her work and on the huge contribution she has made. Has she had any discussions with the retail industry on public wi-fi?
I have not, but retailers source their wi-fi from a small number of providers, which have agreed to provide what is effectively clean public wi-fi.
We asked the Government for a formal consultation on opt-in filtering and got it. As Helen Goodman has rightly said, it is not clear that the consultation was entirely representative and democratic. However, it was an open consultation and we did our damndest to encourage people to respond. Consultations are not always democratic, and that one was what it was. Basically, the consultation rejected the idea of opt-in, but the Government response was clear that we should have much better filters that protect all devices; robust age verification; and a system that people cannot simply click through, and in which the filters remain on unless people choose to take them off.
Those changes are being implemented by the four main ISPs, which control more than 80% of the internet market to the home in the UK, and will be rolled out to new customers by the year end.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will try to make progress before taking another intervention.
In addition, as the Minister has said, the ISPs are trialling ways in which to get the filter into the installed base. The sea change in attitude among the ISPs—British companies that are family-friendly trusted brands and want to sell us stuff—has been enormous. That is a tribute to all hon. Members and Members of the other place who have campaigned so hard. The change in the situation is like night and day.
The second problem with the motion is that the call for the Government to set a timetable for the introduction of safe-search as a default is confusing. That is the same proposal as mandatory opt-in—it refers simply to Google SafeSearch functionality. The Internet Watch Foundation pointed out to me this morning that that proposal would only screen out material that is sexual in nature,
and that anyone seeking illegal child abuse imagery would simply switch it off. That is an important debate, but a slightly different one.
We are already focusing on age verification. The industry is testing much better age verification loops and splash pages. Splash pages alert people who are searching for blocked content that it is illegal and damaging, and that they should go somewhere else to look for help. There is widespread support for that proposal on both sides of the House.
Should we legislate further? As the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland knows, I am not at all averse to calling for legislation, but my sense is that, in this space, it is not helpful. Let me explain why. To make protection work, we need three things. First, we need committed politicians who are completely clear on the ask for industry. Secondly, we need engaged companies. Fiona O'Donnell referred to one problem with legislation. Children now access the internet via mobile phone, but when the Bailey review came out in 2010, there was only one mention of access to the internet via smartphone. The technological world changes faster than we can possibly imagine. It is a falsehood to say that clunky politicians and—forgive me—civil servants can be ahead of that change, as opposed to the companies that monetise that change. We have to get the companies engaged. Thirdly, we need to educate users—parents, grandparents and children—which is why I welcome what has been done in the primary school curriculum to improve e-safety and digital safety.
Therefore, it is depressing that the motion has been presented in a partisan way. We have a hugely productive agenda in the House for the past two years by working together. I believe that debates such as this one encourage industry to adopt a wait-and-see strategy, and to say, “Well look, the politicians cannot decide. Unless they make things illegal, we’re not going to engage.” That has been the problem with the internet all along. The industry has said, “We’ll wait till you tell us what is illegal, and that’s as much as we will do.” We must move beyond that situation, which we will do by working together.
I have one final point to make. The House will forgive me if I come across as a politician—I do not want to be a politician on this issue; I want to be a pragmatist. Our recommendations go so much further than the Byron recommendations, which were commissioned by the Government of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland. Those recommendations used toothless language, did not require any form of legislation, and were not well implemented. They were also based on a completely false ideology that default filters would lull parents into a false sense of security. There is no evidence of that, but the thought has permeated the debate for the past four years. Hon. Members can tell me if they believe that these two of the Byron recommendations are forward thinking or appropriate, or whether they do more than what we have proposed. The first recommendation is that search engines should make it easy to turn safe search on, and the second is that parents should be given free parental controls when they get a new internet connection. Our Government, with huge cross-party support, have done far more than that and made far more progress.
I encourage the hon. Lady to withdraw the motion, to ask to come to the summit next week, and to build a cross-party consensus on the asks. That is how we will make progress and keep our children safe online.
I do not profess any specific expertise, but if I have any, it is in relation to the work done on hate crime on the internet. I congratulate the Minister on his work with us. I also congratulate his predecessors, my right hon. Friend Margaret Hodge, and Barbara Follett, who is no longer a Member of the House, on their initiatives. All have been effective, and are appreciated.
I initiated a working group in the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism two years ago. We have managed to get senior executives for content from most of the world’s biggest internet companies to sit on the group, including executives from Apple, Google, Facebook, PayPal, Microsoft and Twitter. We also have one of the key interlocutors in the US on free speech, Professor Jeffrey Rosen, and, from the Ministry of Justice, the seconded Association of Chief Police Officers lead on hate crime, Paul Giannasi.
A report has been produced—it has not yet been circulated, but will be in the next week in this country and throughout the world—that the Minister and the Government will find useful. The report is on the problem of hate crime, but the problem is the same as online protection of children in respect of the grey areas that need to be tightened, the technical solutions and approaches, and the mindset in the industry.
Part of the problem the group has identified is the shadow internet. It is fine setting up solutions, but if that happens in separate countries, people will break them if they want to—they have relatively easy ways to do so. The debate so far has concentrated on websites and search engines, but, in fact, even when it comes to child abuse, gaming is as big a problem and a vastly growing one. Texting, smartphones and social networking are equally significant, growing and changing problems—the modality is changing.
The group makes six recommendations in the report on hate crime—they are relevant to the debate. The first recommendation is to create clear policies and include them within the terms of the service of the internet company. That would be a significant change. The working group has the key players and the decision makers—they are not the sub-decision makers, but the actual decision makers. That recommendation is achievable, and it would be significant.
The second recommendation is for mechanisms to enforce those policies. How do intermediaries, including national Governments, enforce them? For international industries, the role of intermediaries, whether they are specialist groups or national Governments, is a second key principle in the approach that should be taken.
The third and vital recommendation, which resonates with this debate, is to establish clear, user-friendly processes to allow users to report abuse. Those processes are not currently there, but they are achievable. If mechanisms are in place, progress ought to be relatively straightforward—far more straightforward in relation to child abuse than hate speech, where issues of illegality are far more complex—where there is criminality. Clearly,
there are technical solutions—I will not go so far as to suggest the software that the CIA has recently, allegedly, used—if the processes are in place.
The fourth recommendation is to increase transparency about terms of service enforcement decisions: case studies. For example, if an individual is prosecuted because someone has reported something that their child has stumbled across, the Government and other third parties have a critical role in how it will be reported and made public.
The fifth recommendation, which is probably specific to hate speech, is to encourage counter-speech. It is the same concept as the splash concept.
The sixth recommendation is to unite the industry. The industry will not always be American—with its concepts of free speech—so it is critical to achieve agreement within the industry while it still is.
If I can bring the hon. Gentleman back to the third recommendation, he makes a good point about reporting and taking down material. The IWF does a good job in that area. Apparently, last year 1.5 million adults came across abusive content on the internet, but only 40,000 reports were made to IWF, which has the powers to do something about it. There needs to be much greater publicity on how to report to ensure that action can take place.
Publicity on how to do so and technical ease of use in doing so, so that the democratic internet world can hit back effectively and the industry can be monitored, is key. The key members of the working group who really know what they are talking about would be more than happy to meet the Minister, if he would find that useful. We could bring them over from the US.
To get access to the right people, I went to meet industry leaders in their headquarters in California, and I made the point that their brands were in danger. If the users and third parties, albeit national Governments, can show successes in prosecutions, the industry will throw far more resources at the issue. The industry does throw at lot of resources at it. A third of all Facebook employees are dealing with it, because the dangers to its brand are so fundamental, but at the moment it is less of an issue for other companies. They do see the dangers to their brand, however, which is why senior people from PayPal now turn up to meetings.
I intervened on the Minister—it was not a hostile intervention—on agreements in other countries. One danger is that different countries will do different things. Of course, that is not an excuse for any Government to hold back, but the French Government are taking various legal actions against some of the key internet giants, as are the Italians, and there is a danger that the approach will become too bitty. May I suggest to the Minister that he try to up the stakes and achieve European Union consensus from Britain’s lead? If Britain is ahead of the rest of the European Union, that is a good opportunity to set the standards that others can push up to and take forward. That would be pragmatic and significant. We attack the industry—I am happy to attack the industry in various ways—but it does not
want terrorists using its platforms to kill people and it does not want paedophiles using their products to abuse children. That is obvious to me and it is also obvious to the industry.
Some years ago when I first came across Twitter, I tracked a few people who were following various trends and discovered an image of a man who had been beheaded. I wondered then about the extent to which Twitter could be used as a route into child abuse and what should be done about it.
I am pleased to say that Twitter participates in the working group that I have managed to initiate. The issues are complex, but all these issues are complex. Last night, I went on to the internet using a mobile device to seek the speech made by the Rev. Leslie Hardman when he went into Belsen concentration camp in 1945. I was immediately content blocked. These issues are not all straightforward, but some outcomes are exceedingly obvious and straightforward. I put it to the Minister that the industry and politicians have a mutual interest. That is the industry’s vulnerability. Finding the tools to expose those who refuse to participate properly and effectively is the key to real progress. If the Minister united the industry around that in Europe, he would make a phenomenal mark. My working group would be delighted to provide any help that it can.
This is an extremely important debate, which deserves wide and thorough consideration in this House. It is right that in recent years much attention has been given to this subject. I pay tribute to the Minister for the way he has responded to the debate, to the Prime Minister for the interest he has shown, and to his adviser, my hon. Friend Claire Perry, who has driven the agenda from quite an early stage and to whom credit should be given.
It is also important to give credit to the press, which has fed back persistently and consistently on this subject. I have no doubt that the Daily Mail’s campaign and active interest has contributed to encouraging politicians’ attention on to something that is obviously very important to the public in general, and, dare I say it, to its readers.
I must say, however, that the motion, as it is phrased, is not very helpful. It conflates child sexual abuse content, which is illegal, and adult content which is legal but from which we need to protect children. The actions needed to tackle these different types of content are different and it is very unhelpful to confuse and conflate the two.
This is one of the most dynamic problems we face as a society. As soon as one issue seems to have been dealt with, another problem emerges. That is the nature of today’s fast moving society, but this area of policy is certainly at the leading edge of the speed of change. Technology is developing faster than any Government can legislate, and avoidance measures lead to anti-avoidance measures, which in turn go on in a cycle. This throws up the risk of Members and individuals believing that there are straightforward solutions. That is not the case, and I pay tribute to the Government for stating on the record that their policies will develop. That is the pragmatic approach we need to take. We need to develop clear
principles: focusing on helping parents to introduce safety features; offering a choice of filters available from internet service providers; prompting parents towards security features; making it easier for parents to take charge; challenging the industry, which is exceptionally important; and working with law enforcement organisations to combat illegal content.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making such a balanced contribution. He will be aware that many companies have a zero-tolerance policy on child sexual abuse. One of those companies is Google, which helps fund and is a member of the IWF. Does he think it is now time that companies that are not members of the IWF joined and helped to fund it and adhered to its policies and principles?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the IWF—I should declare an interest as one of its champions—and would encourage all the industry to join and support its greater funding in the way that Google announced earlier today.
Before the Government’s welcome statement in response to their consultation on the debate over opting in and opting out of adult content, we ran the risk of presenting the situation as one that was relatively simple and where responsibility to protect ourselves could be conveniently passed over to others—for example, to ISPs. In reality, it is not that straightforward; it is far more complicated, and that is my issue with the motion, which, rather than helping, confuses the subject. Thankfully, however, the evidence to the consultation was clear.
I pay tribute to Reg Bailey, the chief executive officer of the Mothers’ Union, who recognised that complexity, against the general direction of the debate at the time and against those calling for a simple opt in/opt out approach—or an appropriate variant of it. A filter not only passes responsibility from parents to large organisations, whose judgments might be completely different from those of individual families, but makes false promises, because of the avoidance measures I mentioned earlier. Encryption, for example, is a typical problem that an ISP filter would not overcome, but a parent would not necessarily understand that.
At the moment, about 30% of customers choose to have an ISP opt-out. If the policy was reversed—so that people had to opt into adult content—the proportion would likely be much higher, which would run the risk of legal adult content providers using common avoidance techniques, such as encryption or proxy servers, which create further problems. Web proxies, which are a more recent development, and peer-to-peer networks are also not covered by ISP-level filters, but, believing their household computer to be safe, parents would be led into a false sense of security.
Would the hon. Gentleman not admit that some of these measures would make it safer for the average parent than the present situation?
I am coming to that very point. Challenges remain, but the last thing we want to do is create the impression that this is a simple issue and that children and families can be protected at the flick of a switch; it is much more complicated than that and deserves an intelligent debate. We need to recognise the differences
in these areas, rather than giving the impression, as some Members have, that the flick of a switch will make the difference. An ISP filter would be oblivious to the very risks from which we need to protect children. Furthermore, such filters would not protect against bullying, grooming or other serious risks, but at the same time they would give parents a false sense of security.
One of the most effective answers—there will be several answers, and filters have a part to play, but they are not the only solution—is for a parent to show a genuine interest in what is being viewed online. I am pleased that the debate over the past year or so has focused the minds of technology providers on making device-level and even profile-level security features and filters easier to use and understand. Google has its SafeSearch, for example, while Windows 8 has made significant steps: it can e-mail parents a list of all the sites viewed by a householder so that they can check themselves what the child has been looking at. Furthermore, now when someone signs up to an ISP or sets up a new router, they are asked what settings they want, not only for the household, but for each computer. It needs to go even further, however, down to profile level, because the same computer can be used by different people. It is important, therefore, that we have the right profile filter settings to protect the children using the computer. Clearly, technology companies need to do more to communicate that message and help parents further.
My comments so far have related to legal adult content, but we would all agree that the far more serious issues surround illegal content, particularly that involving the abuse of children—the area on which most of the recent public debate has focused. It is extremely important that we distinguish between legal and illegal content. This should not be a party political issue and there are no easy solutions. Some content might be distasteful, but might well be available on shelves of newsagents or shops in Soho.
I am running short of time, but if the hon. Lady will allow me to make my point, I might answer her question.
We need to recognise, however, that the policing of such shops is relatively straightforward and that in general children cannot access or stumble across such material. Appropriate filters should stop the “stumbling across” element, but that leaves us with the policing. We need to publicise the work of the IWF and reassure people who might report issues to it that they will not necessarily be compromised. Much attention is focused on search engine companies, and it is important that they play their part—they have a responsibility here—but having researched their activities, I am aware of some of the technology they use to identify illegal content. They can claim to be playing a part, therefore, but search engines need to be at the cutting edge of image analysis and coding—they need to be one step ahead of the perpetrators of these terrible offences.
By focusing the debate on search engines, as some Members did earlier, we are forgetting that hosting is where the offence effectively lies. If a website has been scratched from the search engine, the URL still exists
and those seeking to view illegal content can go straight to that address. The IWF, which has been mentioned several times—I welcome the extra money made available to it today—has made a huge difference. Some 1% of the content it removes from the internet is hosted in the UK; 54% is hosted in north America; 37% is hosted across the rest of Europe and Russia; the figure for Asia is only 1%; and for South America it is even smaller. Those are the issues. It is an international problem.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to today’s debate.
It is clear that neither the Minister nor anyone else can solve this problem on their own, but the Government can take action to help protect children online. My particular concern centres on the unmonitored use of the internet by those whom we already know to have a history of sex offending. The Government’s consultation on parental internet control stated that it was looking into the best way of shielding children from harmful and adult content, including sites that exposed children to online sexual grooming. Most of the debate and consultation in this area has focused on restricting access to adult, pornographic and child abuse material, but in looking at the most serious threat—of grooming and sexual abuse—we need to be serious not just about the online content, but about online users and those with whom children come into contact online.
In my maiden speech, I began with a few words about Ashleigh Hall, a young woman who lived in my constituency. When she was 17, she was murdered by a registered sex offender after she met him on Facebook. The 33-year-old offender used a fake identity, and for his profile took a picture of a younger man in order to start talking to and grooming Ashleigh. After she agreed to meet him, the offender posed as his internet personality’s father in order to pick her up, after which he abducted, raped and murdered her.
This man had a history of violent sexual offences, including multiple charges of sexual assault, rape and kidnapping. He was known to be dangerous and was a registered sex offender, but although he and his home were registered and expected to be monitored, his internet use was not. He was under no obligation to register his online identities, and I have learned that any refusal to do so would have been met with no action whatever. The authorities had no idea what images he was looking at or who he was communicating with.
We know that one quarter of 12 to 15-year-olds report using social networking sites to communicate with people they do not already know. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre receives more than 600 reports of grooming each month, yet as the situation stands, people we recognise as a serious threat to public safety are monitored in the community but not online, where they have as much access, if not perhaps more, to building relationships with young people and may pretend to be someone they are not.
One of the Labour party’s proposals refers to making extra resources available to the police to ensure that these things can be monitored. Could that have prevented that case from happening?
It is very difficult to say what might have prevented this tragedy, but the Government need to look with some urgency at the power to monitor the internet use of people whom we know to be a threat to children.
It is not acceptable for a known offender to have unmonitored online access in order to socialise with young people. I have raised this issue in the House before and asked the Government to make progress towards requiring sex offenders to register their online identities. Child protection and online safety will be significantly aided if that is a notification requirement for registered sex offenders as a matter of course, and if failure to do so is regarded with just as much seriousness as an offender failing to register the fact that they were living with young children. In 2011, the Government consulted on the prescribed information that offenders are expected to disclose, including increased notification requirements for foreign travel and living arrangements, and even changes to ensure that an offender could not avoid the register by changing their name, but the issue of online identification was not addressed.
It is often repeated that parents must take the lead in protecting their children in online activity, and so they must. However, parents such as Ashleigh’s mum deserve to know that dangerous people who are already known to the police and authorities are not left with the unchecked freedom to groom further victims. We know who these people are, but false, manipulative online identities mean that young people such as Ashleigh do not know whom they are speaking to. Access to inappropriate material for young children is very concerning, but I expect that controlling it will be a constant battle, with technology inevitably outpacing the law. My suggestion is to make a simple change, which follows the accepted principles of existing requirements on registered offenders, but it could make all the difference to a family’s safety. I am glad that we are debating measures to protect young people online. I would simply ask that, as well as considering the broad safeguards that we seek to introduce, we also focus on the internet use of those whom we already know have a history of sexual offending.
I am pleased to take part in this debate. I congratulate the Labour party on calling it and using up one of their Supply days to raise a serious and important matter to us all.
It seems that every great invention that we make as human beings brings both benefits and disbenefits. I think of the internal combustion engine, which led to the car, which gives us all great mobility but creates pollution and kills 3,500 of our citizens on the roads every year. Now we have the internet, which gives us amazing access to information and the ability to interact socially, but can allow access to all kinds of unsavoury and potentially harmful material. It is vital that we do a better job of protecting our children, and I congratulate the Government on the steps they have taken so far.
I have just two points to make in this debate. I do not pretend to be an expert and I certainly do not follow my hon. Friend Alun Cairns in his technological knowledge. These points have been drawn to my attention by the British Board of
Film Classification, which I would describe as a trusted and familiar friend to most of us, as we see its image before films. I think back to the first film I went to see, the James Bond film “Thunderball”, in 1965—obviously I was a baby.
What was the certificate?
I do not know what the certificate was, but may I just get on with my speech?
My point is that we trust the BBFC’s classifications. When the Video Recordings Act 1984 was passed, more than 25 years ago, certain video works—I will come to online content in a second—were made exempt from classification because they were considered unlikely to be harmful. However, the content of exempt works has changed beyond recognition since 1984, which means that inappropriate and potentially harmful content can be legally supplied to children. On
Once implemented, the decision will improve the protection that children enjoy from potentially harmful media content by ensuring that video content such as drug misuse, strong violence, racist language and certain sexual content can no longer legally be freely supplied to children. Instead, the BBFC will classify such content to keep it away from vulnerable and impressionable children. The Government have said that they hope to have the new regime in place by April 2014, and I very much hope—I know that the Minister is listening carefully—that the Government will keep to that timetable, which requires secondary legislation. However, the legislation has never covered online content, and there is now particular concern about the content of online music videos.
My hon. Friend is making a good point about the Government’s welcome announcement. There is still a problem though, because although there is some classification of adult content and 18 video ratings in gaming now, auntie Mabel who buys a video for her grandchild at Christmas needs to be made absolutely aware of the severity of some of the content to which she might inadvertently be exposing her grandchildren. We need better information in the shops and on the part of retailers at the point of sale, so that she can ask whether she really wants her grandchildren to see that sort of content.
The issue of online music videos, to which the Bailey report also referred, must be seriously considered. My attention was recently drawn to an online video made by a well known pop singer—I had not heard of her before, but never mind—which showed explicit shots of a young teenage girl, concerned about her body image, slitting her wrists in the bath. It is the video to a well
known song—I remember hearing it in my house. Although it has a happy ending, I would argue that the graphic scenes in that video—which I am sure parents would allow their children to watch in a very relaxed way—are far too explicit and dangerous for young teenage children to watch. We all know that many of the children who follow these pop stars are very young and impressionable. At the very least, online videos should contain some kind of classification.
The Government are rightly pressing the music industry voluntarily to adopt age-appropriate ratings for online music videos. In response to a parliamentary question from Helen Goodman, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Mr Timpson said:
“The Government will now take action to: make sure that online music videos carry labels that show their age suitability, in order to protect children from harmful material; and make it even easier for parents to keep their children safe online, wherever they are and in whatever way they might access the internet.”—[Hansard, 6 June 2013; Vol. 563, c. 1263W.]
The onus has therefore been placed on the music industry to come forward with a system that will work.
The BBFC hopes to work with the recorded music industry towards the goal of achieving well understood and trusted age ratings and content advice for online music videos, as it has done successfully with the home entertainment industry in relation to other online videos. The BBFC has now rated more than 200,000 videos for online distribution by such companies as Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Universal and Sony. BBFC ratings are used by platforms such as iTunes, Netflix, blinkbox, BT Vision and TalkTalk—some of which I had heard of.
Have you used any of them?
No, I have not used any of them.
One obvious solution that the music industry could consider in response to the Government’s demands for age-appropriate ratings for online music videos would be to adopt BBFC classifications voluntarily online. Does the Minister agree that that would be a constructive way forward?
My final point relates to user-generated content—UGC. Independent research from June 2011 shows that while the public believe that the internet brings greater choice, freedom and flexibility, the majority of viewers still consider it important to be able to check the suitability of the audio-visual content that they download, with 85% of the public considering it important to have consistent BBFC classifications available for video-on-demand content. The figure rises to 90% for parents of children under 16.
However, it is amateur user-generated content such as that seen on YouTube that makes up the majority of video content online. This might feature content that is potentially harmful to children—I accessed the video to which I referred earlier through YouTube this morning—and it is presently unregulated. The BBFC and the Dutch regulator NICAM have together developed a tool for ordinary people to age-rate UGC across different countries and platforms. I hope that my technological friend to my right, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan, will consider that a good thing.
The tool is designed to enable those with responsibility for children to make fully informed viewing choices about non-professional content online. Through a single, simple, free-to-complete questionnaire, the tool instantaneously produces an age rating that can be shown on screen. The ratings can differ from country to country to reflect different national sensitivities and concerns over content. The tool is simple. It contains six questions about the content of the UGC, on behaviour, drugs, horror, language, sex and violence. Completing the questionnaire takes less than a couple of minutes. It also includes a facility for viewers to report content that, in their view, might be illegal. In the UK, such a report would go direct to the Internet Watch Foundation, about which much has been said this afternoon.
The tool is also flexible. For instance, the questionnaire may be completed by those uploading content. Alternatively, it may be completed by those viewing the content online. The ratings can be linked to online filters. This new initiative will shortly be trialled by Mediaset in Italy, and the BBFC and NICAM are looking for trial partners elsewhere, including in the United Kingdom. This is an example of the kind of initiative that can make the online world safer for children, and it has been welcomed by the EU Commission’s Safer Internet Coalition. I very much hope that our Government will get behind this initiative to help parents and children to make better informed choices about user-generated content. As we have heard this afternoon, there is no silver bullet on this issue, but with such incremental advances, our children will be better protected.
The motion rightly starts with the issue of child sex abuse, recent cases of which have caused so many of us such distress. I want to start by praising the brilliant work of the Internet Watch Foundation; like many other Members, I am one of its champions. I thank the EU for funding it, and I say to Google, “We’re glad you have increased the amount you give to the foundation, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want your taxes.”
I want to focus on the second part of the motion, which considers the broader issue of child protection on the internet. We know that 90% of children live in homes that have internet access, and more than half of those children have internet access in their bedrooms. I got those figures from the report produced by the inquiry on which I was proud to serve with Claire Perry. It includes some excellent recommendations, and it has moved this agenda forward in an important way. She described me as fulfilling the need for a representative on that body from the leftie atheist end of the spectrum. We were able to put on the agenda an issue that had not been sufficiently addressed before. Since then, I have been thinking about how many children have internet access not only in their bedrooms but on the mobile devices in their pockets. I suggest that that applies to a substantial proportion of our children.
This right-wing Christian served on the inquiry along with that left-wing atheist. Does the hon. Lady agree that the momentum created by the inquiry has led to internet service providers becoming more
receptive and that it has moved things on? In some ways, it has created a sea change. We now need to work with them to ensure that they bring about real, practical change, rather than simply positioning ourselves.
I do not think that that is what is happening in this debate. I will come to that point in a moment, as it has also been raised by other hon. Members.
The conclusion of our cross-party report was that parents need help, a topic that has been dealt with to some extent already in the debate. We need to think of better ways of helping parents, because what we have is not enough. I genuinely think that home-level security controls can make a huge difference. The technocrats on the Conservative Benches might suggest that such controls are much less powerful than we think, but they are much more powerful that what is often used currently. We must not make the best the enemy of the good.
Companies need to step up to the mark, and we have been able to put pressure on some of them to do so. During our inquiry, TalkTalk showed how it would be possible to have home-level security arrangements, even though other companies said that it would not be possible to do it in that way. Now, those other companies are beginning to face up to the fact that it is possible.
I still want to underline the point that there are relatively easy ways of getting around some of those filters. We must not give the impression that having such filters will protect families and individuals.
The hon. Gentleman might well be right. Most filters are too complicated for someone like me to implement—a point that I kept making during the inquiry. I simply cannot do that thing where you have to type in about 25 digits and letters in order to make a filter work; and that is chronically true of mums.
The problem with those filters is that it takes a long time to master their installation, but it takes the average self-respecting child less than an hour to get round them.
My hon. Friend is right. However, what we can do by installing home-level filters is increase the base level of security. It is true that some people can get round them, but if we increase the base level of security, we are giving some extra help to some parents.
We also need to help children to protect themselves. I was really disappointed by yesterday’s debate, which I connect to this subject, on whether sex and relationships education in schools should be compulsory. We do not have to take the word of a leftie atheist on this; let us take the words of Ofsted, which has stated:
“A lack of high-quality, age-appropriate sex-and-relationships education in more than a third of schools is a concern as it may leave children and young people vulnerable to inappropriate sexual behaviours and sexual exploitation. This is because they have not been taught the appropriate language or developed the confidence to describe unwanted behaviours or know where to go to for help.”
The report also found that, in just under half of schools, pupils had received lessons about staying safe but few had developed the skills to apply their understanding effectively, such as assertiveness skills that enable them to stand up for themselves and negotiate their way through difficult situations. We need to give children
those skills, and to ensure that they can keep themselves safe. Ofsted also pointed out that children understand the importance of applying security settings on social networking sites but that they did not always know how to set them, or did not bother to do so. Our sex and relationships education is failing children, leaving them unable to keep themselves safe.
The work of Laura Bates and the Everyday Sexism project was honoured at a dinner, held in memory of Emily Wilding Davison, that I attended last night. Everyday Sexism was honoured because it recognises how sexism can be really dangerous for young girls. I have heard Laura talk about how young girls who have been shown gross images of pornography and sexual violence by young boys are often frightened of sex. They think that sex is something cruel, horrible and dangerous. We have to bring back the connection between love and sex; it is being destroyed by what my hon. Friend Ms Abbott has described as our “pornified” society. She is right; it makes society a dangerous place for young girls to live in. First of all, we need to help parents to protect them; we secondly expect the companies to improve their levels of protection; and we thirdly need to enable children to protect themselves. For that reason, I believe this debate is closely related to the amendment that Labour moved yesterday on compulsory sex and relationships education in schools, which needs to include the issue of consent.
Some Members said earlier, “Let’s make this a cross-party issue”, and I am willing to do that. I have worked across party on the excellent inquiry on the safety of children on the internet. If the Minister said to the Opposition Front-Bench team, “I will invite you to the summit dealing with URLs and providers, as you should be there”, I would then believe that this was a genuinely cross-party issue, and I would invite my Front-Bench team not to press this motion to the vote. I am thus challenging the Minister to do that in his response. I would hope that if he did so my Front-Bench team would say, “Okay, we do not need a vote; this is genuinely cross-party; we are unanimous and we will together do more to protect our children from a violent society that is making them frightened of sexual relationships.” We should feel very guilty if the result of what we do is to create a world in which sex is scary.
I was not planning to speak, but I found the tenor of so much of what has been said so frustrating in its lack of accuracy that I had to speak. I would exempt some speeches, particularly that of Alun Cairns, who used technical accuracy, which does matter. It is a pleasure to follow Fiona Mactaggart, for whom I usually have great respect, but she gave it away when she complained about “the technocrats”. Technical accuracy matters if we are going to do things that work. We need to know exactly what “inviting urls to a meeting” is supposed to mean.
There is a huge danger of falling into the trap of the politician’s syllogism: we must do something; this is something; therefore we must do this. That is the danger we face. Is there a problem? Absolutely, there is a huge problem with child pornography, which is nasty, cruel
and illegal. We have to stop it. The IWF does an excellent job in trying to do so. Is there a problem with young people having inappropriate access? Yes. Is there a problem with online grooming? Yes. Is there a problem with online cyber-bullying? Absolutely. Is there a problem with the widespread sexualisation of young women in particular? Absolutely, and I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, my hon. Friend Jo Swinson for her consistent work to combat it.
The approach highlighted today, particularly by Helen Goodman, simply will not work. I find that frustrating, as it does not engage with the facts or reality of what is happening. Ms Harman was heckling earlier and said that we should not focus on the detail. If we do not focus on the detail, we will not get something that works.
What would work? I absolutely endorse the work of the Internet Watch Foundation. It does excellent work and I am delighted to see it getting more funding, as I think it should have extra support. I am pleased, too, that the Government are supporting CEOP so that when we find people carrying out illegal activities, we take the correct legal action. That is what should happen. We should never allow a situation in which the police simply do not have the money to arrest somebody who they know is doing something illegal.
The things we have heard about today will not make a difference. The people who are heavily engaged in child pornography will not be tackled. Those people are very internet savvy. They will use virtual private networks that are not listed, so nothing we have heard about today will tackle any of those problems. We have to work at the technical level to get things right rather than just try to make it look as if we are doing something.
In some ways, child pornography is easier to deal with because it is possible to define it. We know what is illegal and there are clear definitions. The IWF has a manual check for the sites. Certain sites can be blocked only when it knows that there is something wrong. That is very different from the space around legal material, or trying to come up with ways of filtering out things that are fundamentally legal and making a judgment call based on them.
We are making judgment calls all the time.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, but writing algorithms to do that on millions and millions of websites simply cannot be done correctly. I shall come back to that, although I know that the hon. Lady and the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham are not concerned about the errors that would be made.
It is absolutely right to provide tools for parents to control what is happening. They should be the ones empowered to look after their children. I would rather trust the parents to look after their children than require state-level controls. It is absolutely right to have those available for people to use and to make them easy and clear to use. I think there should be no default because I think we should encourage parents to engage with the question before they make a decision. They should be faced with a box that they have to tick, but they should
be in charge. The Byron review was very clear that a false sense of security could be created if we just tell people that everything is safe.
The problem here is that we are not dealing with simply looking at a book or magazine and deciding whether it is suitable for a child. We are dealing with something that many people have said—this has been the focus of much of the research—they find very difficult to operate. The outcome is that many parents are not able to use those filters.
The hon. Lady is right, which is exactly why we need simpler filters. The work done by Talk Talk and others provides precisely that. There should be simple clear filters with simple clear questions so that parents can have a look and make a simple clear decision. I do not want to force parents to abdicate that responsibility because there are other consequences of these filters.
Any filtering system will have large errors. There will be errors that mean it does not filter out some things that we might want it to filter out because it cannot be sorted out perfectly. There is no way of indentifying automatically what counts as pornography and what does not; what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. That is simply impossible to achieve, so stuff will get through that we are not expecting to get through. There is also the problem of filtering some useful things out. There are already many cases—when it comes to advice for lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, for example—where mobile phone providers automatically filter out the content, which can cause serious harm to young people trying to get advice. Trying to get advice about abortion services is another problem. There are a whole range of such issues that are automatically filtered out by many mobile phone providers. If we are telling children that we do not want to let them have appropriate information, that can be damaging.
I should declare an interest as a champion of the Internet Watch Foundation. I am slightly disappointed at the rather defeatist attitude taken by the hon. Gentleman. The solution is not a silver bullet. It is not any one of the individual things that have been mentioned; it is a jigsaw. Empowering and giving resilience and confidence to our children—and confidence, resilience and expertise to their parents to be able to filter what they believe to be right and wrong—is an important part of that jigsaw. Filters have their flaws, but they are part of that jigsaw as well. Will the hon. Gentleman admit that some of the things mentioned during the debate are part of the solution and that we should not dismiss them simply because they are not absolutely perfect?
I agreed with almost everything the hon. Gentleman said, until the end. Yes, I think we should empower parents to make the correct decisions, and I believe we should educate children so that they can think for themselves and be empowered. I absolutely agree with all of that, but that is not what the motion says and it is not what the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland emphasised. The hon. Gentleman and I would agree that there are some important measures for
empowerment: the problem is, if we provide an illusion of protection, which gives people a false sense of security, that can make people less safe. It can leave children more exposed than doing things that actually work. It also downgrades the role of parents and parenting.
Moreover, we must accept that any filter can be bypassed. It is easy for those who know what they are doing to carry out a quick Google search and find out how to bypass any filter that they encounter, and there is no way in which we could prevent that from happening. We must therefore try to engage with people rather than introducing state control in the form of legislation to force search engines to run in a particular way, because that does not work. [Interruption.] The motion calls for legislation. If the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland does not believe that it should, that is her problem. Perhaps it suggests that motions should be tabled rather earlier than a few hours before the deadline for any changes.
Yes, we must do something, but what we do must work, must be proportionate, and must make things better for the people about whom we are concerned. That, rather than what was suggested by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, is the way forward. I commend the Minister—it is good to see him back in the Chamber—for his work on the issue, for his commitment to trying to deal with the problems in a way that will make a difference, and for the position that he has taken today.
While we are all patting ourselves on the back and saying that there is widespread agreement—and there clearly is widespread agreement—we should also bear it in mind that there is a considerable campaign against the taking of steps in this direction. It has not really been represented in the House today, but it is clear from earlier debates, and from communications that we have all received, that there is another point of view which is very different. There are people who want a degree of freedom in society that can actually be damaging, and we must be prepared to have a proper debate about that as well.
The issue of freedom is very important in the history of events such as the women’s movement, but there has often been a confusion between freedom in a fairly abstract sense—for instance, the sexual liberation of the 1960s—and the effect that some material can have on, in particular, those who are vulnerable. Much of what appears on the internet and elsewhere is damaging because of the way in which it portrays women, the way in which it portrays relationships between men and women, and the way in which it allows people to see a version of human relations that is deeply damaging.
People sometimes say that such material will not be harmful to many people, but it probably will be. It is interesting that the same argument is never advanced about advertising. People do not advertise because they think that advertising does not work; they advertise because they think that advertisements influence us, and indeed we are all clearly influenced by them. We have all found ourselves going into a shop and buying something that we may not have meant to buy because we saw or heard an advertisement for it, and thought “That sounds like a good idea.” I am not suggesting that someone who stumbles across pornography, online
or anywhere else, is bound to turn into a violent person, but there will be some people whose attitudes, particularly their attitudes to what is acceptable between men and women, will be affected by it.
My hon. Friend has made an important point about the availability of images on the internet. There are more child abuse images circulating on the internet now than ever before. As a result of freedom of information requests by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, about 26 million images were seized in two years by five local forces. Does my hon. Friend agree that the availability of such material is leading to a potential normalisation of it, and that that is one of the most important problems that we must tackle in the interests of our children today?
I agree that we should take that problem very seriously, and should take action to deal with it.
This is not only about protecting children, although that is extremely important. It is also about protecting older young people, and about protecting adults and, hopefully, changing their views. I think that if certain types of behaviour are normalised and become commonplace, they will eventually be seen as broadly acceptable, and the relationships that are portrayed between men and women will be considered not unacceptable, but something that women themselves are almost expected to accept.
I think that it is important to deal with this. I thought that it was important many years ago when groups were campaigning about, for example, pornography in magazines, but this type of pornography is pervasive in a way that even that was not. Going to buy a magazine in a shop was a more difficult transaction for many people than what we now see happening in our homes.
Does my hon. Friend also think that ISPs have a vested interest in that regard? If adults had to opt in to view adult sites and pornography, that would almost certainly have an impact on business and the number of people choosing that option.
In many ways, I would hope that that was not the case. I do not know where the ISPs make their money, but many of us are critical of their reluctance in this matter. One or two Members have suggested today that, because some of the proposals would not be perfect and would not screen out everything and because some organisations and people might be clever enough get around them in various technical ways that we do not necessarily fully understand, we should not take those steps. As in so much of our political and social lives, we should not make the best the enemy of the good. If we can do something to improve things, we should do it.
I want to highlight that I am a strong advocate and fan of filters, but I think it is very dangerous to give the impression that they are the whole answer. The solution is far more complicated than that and we must be clear about it.
We must not approach this at cross purposes. I do not think that anyone is saying that any of the proposals are perfect; we are merely seeking to
improve the situation and to give greater protection. I have no doubt that there will be some very clever people who can find ways around all sorts of things—we know that that happens—but to say that we should not put such measures in place for that reason would be wholly wrong.
Let me address some of what Dr Huppert said. He seemed, perhaps surprisingly, to be setting the state against the parent in a way that is not helpful. Of course parents should be making decisions for their children, but there are many circumstances in which we have to rely on others in schools and in the wider world to protect our children. That is not an abdication of parental responsibility, because parents cannot be with their child all the time. They will not be able to supervise every social contact they have. As a parent, I would certainly prefer to be confident that I could let my children out into a world that I could regard as reasonably safe—whether that was the physical or virtual world—than to be unable to do so. Perhaps that is not what the hon. Gentleman was suggesting, but that was how it came across to me. Suggesting that such an approach somehow does not leave things to the parents and that it wants the state to step in is a wholly wrong way of considering the matter.
The concern is that the filters will be easy to bypass and that a huge proportion of young people will be able to get past them. If parents are led to believe that such things mean that their children will not be able to access inappropriate material when they are up in their room on their computer, that will lead parents to make the wrong decisions about how best to look after their children. It is not that parents do not know how to do that—as we know from when parents were asked about the subject by Ofcom, this is a question of supervision, which is far more effective than a misleading sense of security.
One of the practical problems with that approach is the notion that someone is, in any sense, going to be there supervising their children through all this—we all do our best. We attempt to instil the values and behaviours that we want in our children, but it would be wrong to suggest that that will always work, even for those of us who think, or hope, we are or have been very good parents. Children grow older and they are out in that wider world—in friends’ homes or out in all sorts of other social contexts. I want my children to be protected from being able to buy alcohol when they are too young to buy it. I do not want to have to accompany them everywhere to make sure they do not do that; I want to be sure that they are, within reason, protected. However, I know that that can be got round as well, because I know that children are very good at getting fake IDs. That does not mean that we should just abandon the attempt to control these things.
Order. The wind-ups are due to start at 4.10 pm, so I am establishing a time limit on all Back-Bench speakers of six minutes. If there are lots of interventions and speeches run for longer than six minutes, the last few speakers will have their time cut again. Please remember that interventions are supposed to brief and relevant to the point being made at the time. I call Diane Abbott.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am pleased to be speaking in this important debate. Throughout it, we have heard a lot about committees, working parties and foundations, but I want to bring the debate back to what is at the heart of this issue—children and families. I say to Claire Perry that I bow to no one in my respect for the enthusiasm with which she has embraced this issue since she became a Member of Parliament in 2010, but she must be slightly careful about sounding as if politics began when she became a Member of Parliament then. It is also appropriate to give some credit to all the individual activists, and to organisations such as the Mothers’ Union and the Everyday Sexism Project, for campaigning on these issues for very many years before 2010.
A number of Government Members have made the distinction between legal and illegal internet images, as if the legal ones are in some sense benign. Let me remind the House that it would not be legal to show those images to under-18s in a cinema, so why should we be complacent about under-18s accessing them online? Over and over again, I have heard Members of this House say, as Dr Huppert did, “Parents should look after their children. It is all about the parents.” One of the problems with this particular issue is that the technology and the drive of the industry has completely outrun parents’ understanding. When I was a child, if a young person wanted to see pornography, they had to go to a newsagent and purchase a top-shelf magazine. No newsagent would have sold such a magazine to a child as young as 11, yet the average age of boys accessing hardcore porn online has dropped to eight. That is what we are talking about. We would not allow eight-year-olds to go into a cinema to see hardcore porn, so why are Government Members so complacent, or unwilling to take decisive action, about eight-year-olds accessing this online—on their computer, on their phone or wherever?
People who say, “The parents should sit by them” are not living in the world that parents do. I have sat next to my son when he was a much smaller child and we have been innocently googling “Disney” or “Pokémon” only to find that these pornographic pop-ups appear on the screen. If the child is there on their own, all they have to do is click through to see thoroughly horrific images—that is the reality.
This is all about ease of access, the way in which the technology has come on in leaps and bounds and the harms of online porn. In the few minutes available to me, I want to touch on that. My hon. Friend Fiona O'Donnell spoke from her own experience about it. We are dealing with an increasingly sexualised and pornified culture. Even if our own children are not accessing porn, the extent to which young people are doing so is affecting girls’ self-image and boys’ sexual demands. Girls now think it perfectly normal to sext pictures of their naked bodies to boys; otherwise they are not accepted—not part of the gang. We in this country have more plastic surgery than people anywhere else in Europe. Accessing online porn is associated with domestic violence and, as we have heard, murder and brutality. There are real harms attached to the increasing access by very young children of online porn, and I wish some Government Members had taken the matter more seriously.
As for the role of the industry, I am very glad that everyone is sitting round the table with the industry, and I am glad that the industry is being nice, but this House must remember that pornography is the biggest driver of traffic to the internet. Porn is the most frequent search term on Google. We cannot allow an industry that makes millions out of porn, month on month, to dictate the pace of change.
What needs to happen? No one is saying that there is one technological fix; not a single speaker has said that. First, we need to help parents to talk to their children. Through Sure Start and other initiatives, we need to encourage young parents to understand how to talk to their children about these matters, and to understand the dangers. Most young children do not understand that if they text or put on Facebook a picture of their naked body, it never disappears. We need to help parents to talk to their children, but we also need statutory sex and relationships education. No one will take the Government seriously on the matter of access by children to online porn while they continue to set their face against statutory sex and relationship education.
Of course, we need a willingness to legislate. I am very glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Vaizey, sits around the table with the industry, and that many members of the Government have personal connections with Google and so forth, but women and families watching this debate do not want the industry to dictate the pace of change. They want a Government who are prepared to stand up to the industry and to legislate, because only with a realistic threat of legislation will the industry meet these needs and concerns, and address the unhappiness and misery that children’s access to online porn is causing in our society.
My constituency is not that far from where the tragic death of April Jones took place, and there was much reflection in the communities that make up my constituency on the issues surrounding that death, and on the mindset of Mark Bridger. I do not make any pretence of great technical knowledge, and I was reminded of that point yet again yesterday when I failed to add a printer to my computer; instead, I went on to another. That is not the issue. For me, this is not a general, abstract debate on what is, and what is not, censorship. It is about how things that would not in a million years be legal offline seem to be legal online. That is a matter of great concern. Offline, we would not allow young children access to the sort of images that they can access online, and that is of great concern.
Some people will try to portray this as a debate about censorship. We know what censorship means; it happens in certain countries, where there is the total blocking of social networking and references to the Dalai Lama, and a ban on certain political viewpoints. We are not talking about that.
Various American states have brought in legislation on the issue, including, in some cases, state-mandated internet filtering on various computers. Certain states have passed laws against digital harassment. The state of Illinois has criminalised electronic harassment outside the school setting. That is interesting, and it is important that we learn from those experiences.
I was heartened by what the Minister said when my hon. Friend Geraint Davies brought up the issue of closing the loophole regarding rape pornography websites. It has been illegal to publish portrayals of rape in the UK since 1959, but such material is legally available to download online if it comes from foreign websites. I am heartened by what the Minister said; I think I detect a certain softening of what the Ministry of Justice has previously said on that, and I hope that the Government take the views of many individuals and groups into consideration.
The Minister and other Members have spoken at length about the excellent work of CEOP. Figures provided by CEOP show that only one in every 15 people caught viewing child pornography on the internet is arrested. The NSPCC has said that when agencies such as CEOP track down people viewing pictures of child abuse, they should
“feel the full force of the law”,
making the point that it was shocked by the figures and calling on police chiefs to take the issue more seriously because of the strong link between viewing child porn and attacks on youngsters. As a spokeswoman for YoungMinds, a charity committed to improving the emotional well-being and mental health of children and young people said, the link between viewing child pornography and the sexual abuse of children means that
“thousands are at risk of serious harm”.
That is an important point highlighting the need to arrest more of the people involved.
In 2008, for the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, Professor Tanya Byron stressed the importance of building children’s resilience; for example, teaching them not to give out contact details online. I, too, was disappointed that we did not have the debate on relationship education yesterday and I hope it will come back in another format.
Finally, many of us have been interested in the debate taking place on Facebook where to some extent we are seeing citizen power, with people contacting the advertisers of various sites and stating that they will not buy their products unless they put pressure on certain social networking sites to take down, for example, jokes relating to rape. We all know that we cannot totally police the internet but it is important that we try to do that in diverse ways, and that we come together as a House to do so. This is not an issue about social liberals or social conservatives. I am quite happy to say that I am a social conservative inside the Labour party, although my more socially liberal friends are not always pleased about that. It is important that the issue brings us together and that we continue to work on it because, as we saw in the case of April Jones, in its most extreme form its consequences are truly devastating.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Susan Elan Jones. I declare myself a dinosaur where online issues are concerned. I was going to say the same thing about my hon. Friend Ms Abbott, but she is much more modern than I am. Although she, I and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were elected 26 years ago
yesterday, she is thoroughly modern in her approach. She was able to name the Pokémons as one of the groups that children look at online, though Pokémons are perfectly fine as creatures and they probably need protection from the children.
In the short time available to us to speak, let me say that I normally go to Dr Huppert, who is a member of the Home Affairs Committee, for advice on these matters, and I listened carefully to what he said about filters. However, I think the real responsibility is on the internet companies and the service providers. They have got away with murder—literally, in some cases—because people have been able to use the internet to groom young girls and children and to behave in an irresponsible way. The internet companies throw up their hands and say that is freedom of speech.
We recently had some of those companies before the Home Affairs Committee during our last inquiry and also during a previous inquiry, so we have questioned them about both the roots of radicalism and e-crime. We will invite them again when we look at this matter again. They are very reluctant to intervene, and a tiny proportion of their profits—a tiny proportion—goes to the Internet Watch Foundation. It is not enough. They cannot sit back complacently and allow these things to go on without intervening and cleaning up the internet.
The Home Secretary has made positive statements, after what happened in Woolwich, about her desire to get things done. I am glad that there is a summit next week. I hope that she will be invited and that this is not just being seen as an issue for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, because when dealing with crime it is important to ensure that the police are fully involved.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the search engines, most of which are based in America, pleading freedom of speech. Does he agree that every search engine could have a simple sign on its home page alerting users to how they can report material they are concerned about, which would cost nothing? That way, there would be no excuse for not knowing what to do. They could also put money into having moderators to ensure a rapid response to unacceptable material.
Yes, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for all the work he did in that area as Children’s Minister and since then. The internet companies must be proactive. They have to go in and clean up the internet. They cannot just sit back and allow others to do it for them. It is so difficult to get internet companies to appear before Select Committees. It takes an age to find them, and then they always respond by saying that they are based in California or New York and therefore do not come over to the UK. They send us their public relations officers, but they, very nice people though they are, are not the decision makers.
I am full of praise for the work CEOP does. I have visited it, along with members of the Home Affairs Committee, and encourage other right hon. and hon. Members to go—it is just across the Vauxhall Bridge road—and see the fantastic work being done. I pay tribute to Jim Gamble for his work in setting it up in the first place and to Peter Davies, who leads it ably. I say to the Policing Minister—he is now in conversation with the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Vaizey, who has done a great deal of work in these matters, for which we are grateful—that it is very important that we protect CEOP’s budget. The Home Affairs Committee expressed concern that CEOP was being put into the National Crime Agency. We accept what the Government have done and understand the need to rationalise the policing landscape, but it is important to maintain CEOP’s budget and focus. I understand that its budget will be cut by 10% over the next four years. Perhaps the Minister can reassure me that that is not the case and that CEOP, even though it is in the NCA—the Committee thinks that is fine for the moment, but we will revisit the subject—will still retain its focus. Ultimately, it provides terrific expertise that could benefit police forces across the country.
Finally, I recently visited Europol and Interpol. I urge the Policing Minister to visit those organisations, because I gather that no Home Office Minister has visited Europol in recent years. They are doing some fantastic work internationally. I know that the Cabinet Office has funded a project in Interpol specifically dealing with online child exploitation. I think that we can take credit for the work we are doing internationally. To return to my first point, the internet is a marvellous invention and a power for good, but as we have seen, and as we have heard today, it can be used in a different, darker way to exploit children. I hope that internet service providers and others involved in this whole area will understand their responsibilities and act accordingly.
On Monday the Home Affairs Committee launched its report on child sexual exploitation and grooming. Rotherham is one of the areas that figures in that report, due to it historic failings in tackling that vile crime. Since my election six months ago, I have made it my mission to ensure that we do not let Rotherham children, and indeed all children, down like that again. Rotherham council and South Yorkshire police are now working collaboratively with the national charity Barnardo’s and local charities SAFE@LAST and GROW. Together they will implement preventive measures and investigate and prosecute abusers.
Since January there have been 34 investigations into child sexual exploitation. Seven offenders are now being prosecuted and there are four major ongoing operations. I assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and this House that I will be watching like a hawk to make sure that the authorities continue to protect our children. However, child sexual exploitation has been steadily increasing in the UK. Barnardo’s, which runs 24 sexual exploitation services across the country, saw a 22% increase in the numbers of sexually exploited children in 2011-12. The internet has been used in the majority of those cases.
The dramatic rise in the use of communications technology and the development of new forms of social interaction online have hugely complicated child protection in Britain. Social media have greatly increased the ability of gangs and individuals to target vulnerable children. Children naively share a great deal of information online and are often unaware of the risks in doing so, or of the security measures that are there to protect them. Abusers have always been able to identify vulnerable children, but social media and mobile phones now make it easy for them to make contact with them.
Technology has left parents with an extremely difficult task in monitoring their children’s interactions and recognising potentially dangerous situations. Children and parents must be better educated as to the risks of online communications and the safeguards that are currently available. I recognise the comments of Claire Perry, which others have echoed, but I still urge the House to support our proposal to have safe search as the default option on computers and search engines. Filters already exist to screen out harmful material, but 54% of parents whose children use the internet at home have no parental controls installed on their devices. Making filters the factory setting removes this risk, and parents have the option to opt out of the system if they see fit.
Social media have increasingly exposed ever-younger children to sexualised material. Some 24% of nine to 16-year-olds in the UK say that they have seen sexual images in the past 12 months, online or offline. A number of services have linked exposure to overtly sexual content via the internet with children displaying inappropriately sexual behaviour. Such behaviour has been highlighted as contributing to greater vulnerability of increasingly young children. I do not believe in censoring the internet, but it is important that children are protected from inappropriate content.
In the past, increased sexual behaviour among children has led to a perception that they are somehow complicit in their abuse. Regrettably, this has frequently been an obstacle to proper safeguarding measures being taken. Equally horrifyingly, the child’s sexual awareness has been successfully used in courts to enable abusers to get a lesser sentence. Work is being done to tackle this attitude among authorities and police forces, but it is imperative that proper training is provided to staff to ensure that they take all cases seriously and recognise the need to protect children, regardless of the child’s own attitude or behaviour.
Technology is, by its nature, evolving. Agencies face an extremely complex task in keeping up with developments and ensuring that procedures are adequate and that staff are well trained to meet existing and developing challenges. The complexity of these challenges has demonstrated the need for better co-ordinated operations. Agencies must ensure that there is a free flow of information between them because in the past it has proved too easy for vulnerable children to fall through the gaps due to poor communication. Levels of co-ordination vary widely throughout the country, and that should not be allowed.
While child protection must always be the primary focus, prosecution must not be allowed to become an ancillary concern. I recognise that prosecutions in these cases can be extremely difficult, but without a proper deterrent the risk of child abuse will continue to rise. We must ensure that the law is fit for purpose. New forms of abuse and grooming, especially online, might not always
fall under existing laws. It is our duty to provide our police and child protection officers with the tools they require to ensure that vulnerable children are protected and offenders are prosecuted.
A number of recent cases, including in my own constituency, have highlighted the need for further action to tackle child abuse. Good work is being done to ensure that children are protected, but I stress that more needs to be done to meet the demands of a complex and fast-changing problem. We must ensure that vulnerable children are not failed.
Google, Facebook and Twitter are the new gateways for abuse and pornography—Google historically so. Google has donated £1 million, but it is important that such enormous companies pay their tax and take their responsibilities. I was interested to hear the comments of my hon. Friend Jenny Chapman about the appalling death of one of her constituents and agree with her call to track sex offenders online.
I am glad to see the former Immigration Minister, Damian Green, in his place—I hope he knows something about this—because we need to confiscate the passports of known sex offenders involved in sex tourism, which I have discussed in the Council of Europe. There needs to be more international collaboration, including DNA sharing.
I mentioned earlier the responsibility of credit card companies such as Visa. If they are found to be complicit in the downloading of child abuse imagery they should be fined. It is a startling fact that across Europe about one in five children are likely to be subjected to sexual violence. This is the appalling world we now live in, hence the Lanzarote convention, which is an international agreement to protect children’s rights, stop exploitation and increase co-operation. I hope that, despite the inward-looking tendency of the current Administration vis-à-vis Europe and the world, they will reach out in the interests of children.
I intend to table an early-day motion on the issue of rape imagery on the internet. I mentioned it on Twitter and received a barrage of responses from, of course, men—some of whom were lawyers—saying that the Ministry of Justice says that there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the portrayal of women being raped and encouraging rape and rapists. That is an extraordinary thing to say, but even if it was true it is wrong to think that it is all right for men to get off on online images of women being raped.
The reality is that children take their mobile phones to schools and freely download images of—how can I put it?—“normal” pornography and more abusive pornography, which is leading to a new idea of what is culturally acceptable in human relationships. That, in turn, puts pressure on women to go through a process of various pornographic acts that are regarded as the norm in a relationship. There is a danger that boys are being encouraged to be more forceful in their pursuit of girlfriends and what they expect them to do in emulating what is regarded as normal adult behaviour.
The motion’s call for an opt-out, therefore, is completely right. The facile comments made by various Members about filters not being perfect so we should not have
any are ridiculous. It is like saying that a safety belt or another form of protection cannot protect us completely. Obviously they cannot, but when children are given phones by their parents they should be locked out of accessing imagery that they can share with others—this is true of the male community in particular—while endless pressure is put on the female community. We want schools to be a protected environment for our children. That must be part of the answer.
I am drawing a wider picture of the appalling situation with regard to child sex abuse imagery. As the normality of viewing this sort of stuff penetrates our school environment, affecting younger and younger children, the whole thing becomes an endemic problem. We need to act now. It is true that we need cross-party consensus, but we cannot simply rest on our laurels, hope for the best and get grudging, belated co-operation from the industry, which is making so much money out of internet pornography.
All hon. Members agree that child abuse is an horrific crime. I am pleased that the Opposition have provided the House with the opportunity to discuss how to tackle it this afternoon.
I am disappointed that the Government will not support the motion. We tabled it in good faith and it is wrong to accuse us of playing politics on this important issue. After all, all of us in Parliament are politicians and we are debating the big political issues of the day. I am sorry if it is politically inconvenient for the Government to discuss this subject today. It is also a great shame that they were not able to stir themselves to table an amendment to the motion.
Members may be interested to know that in the course of this debate, reports have come in of material that should be taken down. It is therefore good that this debate has taken place.
I would like to mention a few of the contributions that have been made. My hon. Friend Fiona O’Donnell talked in a very personal way about how difficult it is for young people to deal with abuse. My hon. Friend John Mann spoke of his experience of hate crime. My hon. Friend Jenny Chapman talked about the dreadful murder of Ashleigh Hall and the need to regulate the use of the internet by sex offenders. My hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart talked about the important role of PSHE and said that it should be a compulsory part of the national curriculum. My hon. Friend Sheila Gilmore spoke, as usual, with enormous common sense. My hon. Friend Ms Abbott made an excellent contribution about the pornified culture that has developed. My hon. Friend Susan Elan Jones set out clearly how things can be illegal offline but legal online. The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee talked about the importance of working not just with the DCMS, but with the Home Office and other agencies on this important issue. My hon. Friend Sarah Champion spoke with great knowledge about what is happening in her local area,
and the problems and challenges that it faces. My hon. Friend Geraint Davies had an excellent idea relating to the role of credit card companies in helping people to download porn.
There were contributions from other Members of the House, including Claire Perry. It is important to acknowledge her hard work on this subject. It is unfortunate that she was unable to stay for most of the debate and did not hear the contributions of many hon. Members who have been concerned about this issue and taken it up for many years. Mr Streeter made a sensible proposal about music videos that I hope the Government heard. The hon. Members for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) and for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) also spoke.
The estimate of the number of people in the UK who access child abuse images online is truly shocking and cannot be ignored. I was pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport agreed that it is important to realise that everyone who accesses such material on the web is an abuser, because accessing images of abuse is an inherent element of the process of abuse.
In opening the debate, my hon. Friend Helen Goodman talked about the important work of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, as did the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. The work that CEOP does is unpleasant and complicated, but it has the expertise to profile offenders and understand the processes of abuse. However, it is being lost as a separate, dedicated agency and will become part of the National Crime Agency. We have already lost its former head, Jim Gamble, and his 20 years of experience in fighting abuse. He did not feel that the new framework would protect the work that CEOP does. The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee also raised concerns about its budget. I hope that the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice will reassure the House on that issue.
Police forces up and down the country are attempting to prevent abuse and to prosecute those who are involved. However, they are having to deal with a 20% cut to the policing budget, which means that they are losing thousands of officers from the front line, as well as back-office staff who investigate crimes and support victims. Will the Minister say whether he considers the work that is carried out in this area to be front-line policing? Although reported crime is falling overall, will he say where the 500,000 people who reportedly access child abuse images online appear in the crime figures?
Dealing with technology for keeping our children safe is not always the forte of the House of Commons, but I pay special tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland, and many other Members, for their work on how we can utilise technology in the fight to keep children safe. Sometimes, that will mean working with the industry, and in many cases we are grateful for the research it has done and the work in which it has invested. As the motion points out, however, where the industry—particularly ISPs—do not respond, it is our role as law makers to make it act. The Government must have their own technical advisers so that they do not have to rely on the industry saying whether something
is or is not possible. At the summit next week, I hope that Ministers will make clear the need to act swiftly and resolve issues that have been outstanding for some time, with a clear timetable.
In the context of abusive material being freely available, we should be looking to help parents protect children from accessing pornography. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland made an eloquent case for how the three measures that Labour is calling for in the motion could be a practical solution to try to stop children accessing pornography.
The report from the Children’s Commissioner, appropriately entitled “Basically...porn is everywhere”, found that a significant proportion of children and young people are exposed to or access pornography, and it is not uncommon for children as young as 10 to access it. Perhaps more important are the report’s findings on the effect that is having on young people. Access and exposure to pornography affects children and young people’s sexual beliefs, leading to unrealistic attitudes about sex and beliefs that women are sex objects. There is a clear link between access and exposure to pornography, and children’s and young people’s engagement in risky behaviours. Exposure to sexualised and violent imagery has a particular effect on the development of young people’s attitudes to relationships. That is why one of the commissioner’s main recommendations was for proper sex and relationship education to tackle attitudes premised on pornography.
The logic is clear. With children being exposed to ever more graphic and extreme images online and through social media, we should use schools as a forum to have an informed discussion with children about sex and relationships. Of course we want families to do that too, but many parents are asking for such discussions to be part of the school curriculum as well. We should explain to children what constitutes consent and what constitutes abuse.
I will not give way because the hon. Lady was not present for most of the debate this afternoon.
The Government repeatedly claim that good schools are already providing good personal, social, health and economic education. That may be right in some schools, but they cannot continue to deny research that shows that the overwhelming majority of schools do not provide good PSHE. Yesterday, the House had the opportunity to ensure that all schools provide such education, but the Government blocked the measure. Shockingly, the Liberal Democrats voted against their own long-standing party policy on PSHE being made statutory.
It may be too early to talk about the long-term effects of witnessing pornography from a young age, but it is not too early to talk about the current environment that girls face at school. I pay tribute to the work of the End Violence Against Women coalition, and its Schools Safe 4 Girls campaign. It has highlighted the fact that one in three teenage girls has experienced sexual violence from a partner. In a survey of year nine children as part of the From Boys to Men project, 40% of children interviewed reported that hitting a partner was okay in at least one of the circumstances highlighted. If we are serious about tackling child abuse, we must be serious
about tackling the climate in which children and young people grow up, and the images to which they are exposed.
As well as stopping child abuse, we need to tackle staged rape and child abuse—the so-called rape porn industry that depicts rape and child abuse and that, because it is staged by actors who are over 18, is legal. The End Violence Against Women coalition and the South London Rape Crisis centre have highlighted the material that is available. It includes: “Young schoolgirls abducted and cruelly raped. Hear her screams”, “Little schoolgirl raped by teacher”, “Tiny girl sleep rape” and “Girl raped at gun point”. One expert, Professor Clare McGlynn of Durham university, has said:
“It is undeniable that the proliferation and tolerance of such images and the messages they convey contributes to a cultural climate where sexual violence is condoned.”
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland said in opening the debate, both Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazell had viewed violent and misogynistic pornography before they murdered young girls. Labour is committed to looking at how to ban such violent content. I hope the Minister joins the Opposition by committing the Government to the principle of banning such material.
In a free society in the digital age, we cannot protect young people from every danger they could encounter, but we can tilt the odds in their favour. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to support the motion.
Protecting children online is of huge and growing importance. I thank all hon. Members for a useful and thought-provoking debate. I join the many tributes rightly paid to my hon. Friend Claire Perry for her energy and work. Diana Johnson was uncharacteristically churlish in her remarks to my hon. Friend. I will not reciprocate in kind by naming the Labour Members who asked me to respond to points at the end of the debate who are not now in their seats.
Along with hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am appalled by the continuing misuse of the internet in the various ways they have discussed. As the debate has shown, we have made significant strides in tackling the problem through collaborative work by the Government, law enforcement, the industry and charities. Of course, there is a great deal more to do. We are fully committed to tackling the creation, sale and possession of child abuse images.
The Government strongly support the work to prevent access to such images. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said in his opening speech, a lot of work has been done, with 98% of domestic broadband lines covered by blocking based on the Internet Watch Foundation list.
We note the findings in the IWF report regarding the difference in the speed of take-down of illegal images between IWF members and ISP hosting providers that are not members. We urge all ISPs and hosting providers to join the IWF and improve their take-down times. We expect all companies to do their utmost to protect our society from such images through implementing blocking using the IWF list and by taking any other action they
can take. For example, Google is a member of the IWF, and works to remove child abuse images as soon as it becomes aware of them. The IWF has recommended that as a further deterrent its members return an error page notifying users that they have tried to access indecent images of children.
Let me deal with as many of the individual points that have been made as I can. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre budget has been relatively protected. More importantly, by modernising the structure and processes, and through the effective harnessing of other funding sources from outside the Government, CEOP has increased the number of people who work for it from 85 in November in 2010 to 130 currently. More people currently work in CEOP than at any time in its history. As its recent annual review illustrated, the centre is more productive than ever. Therefore, the line in the motion on the lack of resources available to the police to tackle the problem is simply factually wrong.
In 2012-13, CEOP safeguarded and protected 790 children, an increase of 85% on the previous year, and the highest yearly figure since the centre launched in 2006. That brings the total number of children who have been protected to 2,255 in that seven-year history. Its chief executive, Peter Davies, has said:
“This past year has not only seen increases in the number of reports to the Centre from the public and industry, but also a large increase in the number of children CEOP has been able to protect and safeguard from some of the worst offenders who seek to exploit our children.”
CEOP is doing a good job. It is getting better and better at doing that job, and it will get better still as part of the National Crime Agency. There seems to be some misunderstanding on the Labour Benches. CEOP will retain its identity within the NCA, but being part of the NCA will enable it to become even more effective.
Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North in her winding-up speech, raised the issue of simulated pornographic images depicting rape. It goes without saying that rape is an abhorrent crime and I understand the concern about the availability of such content. We are meeting internet providers to consider what more can be done. The issue will also be looked at by the new national group on sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, which I am now chairing. It is a very serious issue for the Government.
Various hon. Members, including Fiona O'Donnell, raised the issue of content that is characteristically accessed through mobile devices. Since 2005, mobile network operators have signed up to a voluntary code to apply default filters for pornography via mobile devices that are internet-enabled. I hope that provides her and Geraint Davies with some reassurance.
I mentioned the national group on sexual violence against children and vulnerable people. The issues we have been discussing today are part of its work, but only a small part, as consideration of the recent cases of organised predatory child abuse will be a significant part of the group’s activity. In response to whether the Home Office will be at the summit next week, I will be there in my role as chairman of that group.
My hon. Friend Mr Streeter asked about online video labelling. Ministers have called on the industry to develop solutions by the end of this year to ensure that online videos, particularly
those that are likely to be sought out by children and young people, carry advice on their age suitability and content. I hope that provides him with reassurance. The British Board of Film Classification is on the board of UKCCIS—the UK Council for Child Internet Safety—so it is intimately involved with all our work on this matter. Various Members mentioned the effect on gaming online. All major games consoles have parental controls that allow parents to restrict online gaming by their children.
I am happy to reassure Members who asked whether we were working closely with other EU countries. We are looking at several key areas on an EU-wide basis, including: better notice and take-down of child sex abuse images, better promotion of parental interest controls, better reporting and better privacy settings. As has been said, the UK is a leader not just in Europe but around the world in its response to this difficult matter, and I think other European countries would acknowledge that.
There has been much discussion about parents. Although the majority of parents feel that they have the information they need to help their children stay safe online, 81% say that they talk to their children about their internet use. Again, there is more to be done. There are good private sector initiatives, such as Vodafone’s Digital Parenting magazine and the “Parent Portal” website, which contains useful online safety information. This September, the ISPs will be launching a campaign to improve parents’ awareness of internet safety.
There has also been much discussion on what happens in our schools. I should emphasise that the Secretary of State’s guidance on teaching sex and relationships in secondary schools will address key issues such as consent within relationships. The discussion of online safety for children, which already takes place in secondary schools, will soon be switched to primary schools too. That should address the point about very young children accessing such material.
I hope the House will see that a huge amount has been done. We part company from the motion over the thought that not much has been done. This is a very difficult area and we are doing a lot, and to suggest that nothing much is happening is simply wrong. I hope, therefore, that having listened to this very serious debate, the Opposition will withdraw their motion, but if they decide not to do so, I urge the House to reject the motion and endorse the effective action taken by the Government on this important matter.
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