Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:52 pm, 13th September 2016

Indeed. My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I do not believe that the Bill goes far enough, but it has the potential to do so.

As currently set out in the Bill, the age regulator covers only commercial pornographic sites. This is not typical of the way in which children access or share sexualised, pornographic and other age-inappropriate content. Will the Minister commit to extending the role of the regulator so that it also covers user-generated sites and peer-to-peer services, such as live streaming and video chat sites, and avoids any unnecessary loopholes that could lead to the legislation being deemed invalid?

The powers of the regulator as set out in the Bill are extremely limited. They provide legal cover only for payment service providers that break their contract with non-compliant commercial pornographic sites. Will the Minister expand the role of the age regulator, to ensure that it has the power to issue fines and enforcement notices, and to enforce the withdrawal of payment services? Online abuse is a problem the world over, and the internet does not respect international borders. Will he therefore give the regulator powers to block sites outside the UK’s legal jurisdiction which do not comply with UK regulations?

Part of the solution must be to support parents to feel confident in understanding the dangers posed by the internet. According to Barnardo’s, half of young people living at home report that their parents know only some of what they are doing online. Will the Minister consider including provisions to provide up-to-date information for parents about parental controls and other ways of restricting children’s access to potentially harmful content, and supporting parents to recognise the dangers faced by their children online?

Finally, preventing access to pornography and indecent material is vital, but it is also necessary to give children the resilience to challenge and contextualise what they see online. It is my view and that of all the major children’s charities that the best way to do this is by providing all children with age-appropriate resilience and relationship lessons as soon as a child reaches school age. This would allow children to see pornography for what it is—a fantasy that predominately subjugates and abuses women.

Girls and boys must not grow up believing that violence and non-consensual sex is normal or to be expected. Sadly, though, that is exactly what the young people I speak to believe. That is echoed in the Women and Equalities Committee’s report on sexual harassment in schools, which was released today. My final request is for the Minister to add provisions to strengthen the content of the e-curriculum taught in schools at all key stages. This should include recognising abuse and exploitation online, mitigating risks and using the internet safely and responsibly. Giving children the knowledge and tools to contextualise pornographic content and to challenge abusive behaviour is the best way to empower and protect them.