Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] — Protecting Children Online

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 12th June 2013.

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Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge 3:21 pm, 12th June 2013

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.