Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:23 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne 5:23 pm, 13th September 2016

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture visited my constituency last year. We met M-Tech, a local enterprise that provides IT solutions to small businesses and education, and we spoke about many of the provisions in the Bill. I welcome the Bill and I am sure the Minister in turn will welcome the news that Eastbourne was recently identified as a hotspot for creative industries. That is very good news and we are looking to build on it, in part through some of the Bill’s provisions. But today I want to confine my remarks to concerns on child protection and age verification, while noting that in keeping children safe online nothing compares to the role of parents and schools. Industry, however, does have its part to play.

I am pleased that the Government are using this Bill to press ahead with our manifesto commitment to stop exposure to harmful sexualised content online by requiring age verification. The central question now, however, is how we rise to that implementation challenge, being especially mindful of the fact that the vast majority of online pornography accessed in the UK is from sites based in other jurisdictions. According to the Authority for Television On Demand, 23 of the 25 most popular porn sites among British users are located in other countries.

The Bill proposes to give the regulator the power to impose fines on non-compliant sites, but what happens if a site in another jurisdiction refuses to pay? The Bill’s enforcement proposals on financial transaction blocking rely heavily on ancillary services and payment providers removing their services from sites illegally accessing the UK market from other countries.

As research from Oxford University has demonstrated in relation to age verification checks for online gambling, the best guarantee that age verification checks will be implemented is the certain knowledge that, if they are not, financial transactions will be blocked. Having alerted a financial transaction provider about a non-compliant site, under the provisions in clause 22, regulators should then be required to follow through and ensure that the transactions are blocked, and have the power to act if they are not.

The Minister, Baroness Shields, explained last December that the Government were obliged to introduce new legislation before December this year to make provision for the adult content filtering regime that the Government had negotiated with the big four ISPs back in 2013. She explained that this was necessary because, without legislation, the voluntary approach negotiated by the then Prime Minister would be deemed illegal under European Union law. Although this country has voted to leave the EU, we remain a member at present and we will certainly still be a member in December. Mindful of the fact that this hugely important arrangement helps to protect 88% of British households with children from a wide range of adult content—not just pornography —it is vital that it should continue. How does the Minister see this important protection continuing, if not through the vehicle of the Bill? I look forward to hearing his comments.