Digital Economy

Part of Uk-EU Negotiations – in the House of Commons at 7:05 pm on 17th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport 7:05 pm, 17th December 2018

I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that I certainly think it has the experience, expertise and resources to undertake this role. It has more than a century of experience in the control of film content. It has additional resources and moneys with which it can hold to account age-verification providers and, most importantly, the websites that are providing the pornographic content.

In addition to the criteria that the BBFC will use to verify the effective control of age-verification arrangements, it has provided typical examples of features that it would regard as non-compliant in the arena of age verification.

The second piece of guidance provides a non-exhaustive list of ancillary service providers that the BBFC will consider. That list is not exhaustive, to ensure that the policy remains flexible to future developments. The BBFC has published draft versions of both pieces of guidance and has run a public consultation for four weeks on their content. The draft guidance laid before the House takes account of comments received from affected companies, age-verification providers and other interested parties.

I have been clear that age verification is not a silver bullet, and we know that what we are doing is difficult. Indeed, we are the first country in the world to introduce such a measure. I am aware of the concerns expressed by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments about the drafting of the Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations 2018. I have considered its concerns carefully, and we are grateful for its work, but we do not believe that the variation in the legislation between the terms “met” and “applied” will be difficult for a court to interpret.

The Committee expressed concerns about the content threshold because it anticipates difficulty with the application and interpretation of the regulation. As I have said, the regulation will not apply in a case where it is reasonable for the age-verification regulator to assume that pornographic material makes up less than one third of the content of such a site. As stated in the BBFC guidance, the BBFC will seek to engage and work with a person or company who may be in contravention of the requirement in advance of commencing enforcement action.

I am aware that the Committee has also drawn the special attention of both Houses to these draft pieces of guidance because, in its view, they fail to contain the guidance required by section 25(1) of the 2017 Act and contain material that should not have been included. Section 3, paragraph 5, of the age-verification guidance sets out the criteria that the regulator will treat as complying with age verification. The guidance goes on in paragraph 6 to give examples of features that, in isolation, do not comply with the age-verification requirements. That approach ensures fairness and is product-neutral. Rather than recommending a particular solution, the guidance sets out principles that will encourage further innovation.