Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:49 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 12:49 pm, 13th September 2016

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about having age-appropriate and good-quality sex education in schools, as I very much advocated during my previous job in the Home Office. However, we need to be clear that we have an incredible problem of pornographic images being available to children. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children reports that children as young as seven are being treated for addiction to pornography. This cannot be addressed through one measure alone, but the measures in the Bill will help. There is no silver bullet; a joined-up approach across the whole Government is needed to deal with it. I hope that he agrees that as we age-classify films, restrict age-inappropriate broadcasts to after the watershed, put age-inappropriate magazines on the top shelf and keep children out of sex shops, so equivalent and proportionate measures are needed online.

The Government have already made good progress on this subject. Frist, since 2013, public wi-fi is automatically filtered and pornography is blocked in many places that children regularly visit. Following agreement with the Government, the four largest internet service providers offer their customers family-friendly filters, which, since last year, are now turned on by default. The Bill now goes further. Pornographic websites will be required to have adequate age verification, which is equivalent to what the gambling industry already implements. The regulator will pass on details of the non-compliant to credit card companies and other service providers to enable them to withdraw business support. We will drive cultural change in the sector to ensure that children are protected.

Secondly, we will protect consumers from nuisance calls. The Government have already taken steps on this matter. In May, we required direct marketers no longer to withhold their caller identification information, so that consumers can see the number of who is ringing. The Information Commissioner seeks to enforce the law, and we will help her further by placing the direct marketing code on a statutory footing, so that penalties stick.

Thirdly, we will help to protect businesses from attacks on their intellectual property. Burglars can be sentenced for 10 years in prison, but the criminal gangs making vast sums of money through exploiting the online creations of others only face a two-year sentence. We will increase the sentence to 10 years. Criminals such as Paul Mahoney, who profited by almost £300,000 and cost industry millions by facilitating access to illegal films on the internet, need to be sent a clear message. We need to ensure that enforcement agencies and their partners have the right set of tools to tackle all types of piracy, which is why those measures are so important. We will make it easier to register designs, cutting costs for our creative industries while increasing protections.

As we build our digital economy, investing in infrastructure and empowering citizens, the Government must transform and become more digital. The Government want to use and manage the vast amounts of information we keep better. Let me be clear that that is not to develop some Big Brother state that sees and knows everything. We want to manage information better for the same reason that shopkeepers, farmers, insurers, car manufacturers, educators—practically anyone in our economy who has ambition—do. Quite simply, we want to deliver better services—to create, to improve and to deliver in the public interest, for the citizen’s benefit.

The Bill will allow public services to be targeted and delivered better. If one arm of the public sector knows who needs a service and the other arm is trying to deliver that service, the two need to be brought together, to work for the public benefit. Of course, we are doing that already in many places, but often only after legislating to enable specific data-sharing arrangements. All that takes time—time we do not have and can now save because of the Bill.

As the private sector knows well, information is a mineable commodity, from which value can be extracted. That value to the Government will come in better decisions, based on quality research and statistics. The Bill will allow us to spot problems and grasp opportunity for the benefit of everyone.

We will shortly be publishing the draft BBC charter for the next 11 years. My right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale led one of the largest and most open consultations ever conducted, and the new charter will provide the foundations for a stronger, more independent, more distinctive BBC that will inform, educate and entertain for many years to come.