Internet Pornography

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:47 pm on 23rd November 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Culture, Communications and Creative Industries) (jointly with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) 7:47 pm, 23rd November 2010

I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I will address it in a moment, but first I want to talk about the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. I do not think that this is a dead end, because UKCCIS does incredibly important work. It focuses on content, self-regulation and joined-up government. Although, as I have said, we have a legal framework, that framework alone will not keep our children safe online. Real, effective protection for children can be achieved through parents, charities, industry, law enforcement authorities and Government working together. That is why Professor Tanya Byron-to whom my hon. Friend referred-was asked to take charge of an independent review on child internet safety, which led directly to the launch of UKCCIS.

UKCCIS is chaired by Ministers from the Department for Education and the Home Office, and Ministers from other Departments, including mine, attend its meetings regularly. It brings together more than 170 organisations from across industry, including internet service providers, the third sector, law enforcement authorities and the devolved Administrations, so that they can take positive steps to help children to stay safe online.

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are working with the internet industry, through UKCCIS, to create an online environment in which children are protected from potentially harmful or inappropriate content. We want our young people to develop the knowledge, skills and resilience that will enable them to avoid accessing such content, and, if they do come across it, to avoid it in future and report it to the appropriate authorities when it causes major concern. UKCCIS is also working to encourage parents to take responsibility for what their children see online. I hear what my hon. Friend says about the need for ISPs to block this content, but I think it important for parents to take responsibility, and to use the filters and parental controls that are available in current technology to prevent their children from accessing harmful material.

My hon. Friend pointed out that people access pornography not just through their computers, but through their mobile phones. That is another issue to which I am hugely sympathetic, and it has been raised with me in my capacity as a constituency Member of Parliament. As my hon. Friend said, all UK operators operate a parental control regime on mobile phones that should prevent access to over-18 sites. It is set as a default on all phones when they are purchased, and it is for the consumer to request its removal, subject to proof of age. Ofcom provides detailed information on parental controls and access to adult content on its website. However, that goes only some way to protecting young mobile users from harmful content. Unfortunately, it is not possible to tackle content that is shared via bluetooth, for example, on a phone-to-phone basis. That is why the work of organisations such as UKCCIS is so important

What causes me to have a huge amount of sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said is the fact that I do not subscribe to the view that internet service providers are simply dumb pipes. In opposition and now in government, I have waged something of a campaign to that effect. According to one school of thought, ISPs are there simply to channel the content to homes, and should not interfere with what goes down their pipes. It is often said that asking them to do so would be the equivalent of asking Royal Mail to open every envelope and parcel and have a look at the contents. In that context, the hon. Lady rightly identified a red herring in relation to both expense and the idea of regulation. I also believe that we should not over-regulate the internet, and that self-regulation should be the first stop before we consider Government regulation or legislation. However, I think it should be put on the record that ISPs can play a role, and, indeed, have played a very effective role in combating child abuse content online.