Digital Economy

Part of Uk-EU Negotiations – in the House of Commons at 8:28 pm on 17th December 2018.

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Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport 8:28 pm, 17th December 2018

With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank Liam Byrne for his support for the regulations. I agree with him that—as I said in my opening remarks—they are a contribution to the greater security of children and young people online, but, as I think the whole House agrees, they are not a total solution.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what further steps we were taking, and asked about their timings. I reassure him that the Secretary of State will review the performance of the regulations within 12 to 18 months of their taking effect. As part of that review, and in response to the deep concern that has been expressed by many Members in all parts of the House this evening about the extreme nature of pornography, we will look at the fact that this being behind age verification should not be a licence for the production of that sort of material. The Secretary of State will also be empowered to reconsider the definitions of extreme pornography. I thank him for remaining in the Chamber throughout the debate. I am sure that he has noted the will of the House that we revisit those definitions, which do not appear to me to be fit for purpose.

A White Paper on online harms will be published early in the new year. The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the desirability of placing a duty of care on social media platforms, which are relevant to the debate and which have a far wider impact than the issue that we are debating tonight. I reassure him that we are considering a duty of care as part of the development of that White Paper. I look forward to his further contributions on how to make such a duty effective in this context.

My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce mentioned the risk that pornographic sites would flood themselves with non-pornographic material in order to evade the scope of the regulations. We have considered that. My Department and the British Board of Film Classification have held discussions with commercial providers of pornography sites, and we have encountered a great willingness on the part of those operators to fall in line with age-verification measures. Indeed, they are setting up arrangements to do so. We consider it unlikely that sites will go to the trouble of being flooded with non-pornographic content but, if we turn out to be over-optimistic on that front, my hon. Friend can be assured that that would weigh heavily with the Secretary of State when he reviews the operation of the regulations.

My right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, mentioned the Lords amendments that had facilitated the availability of extreme pornography involving violence, and even involving children, if generated via technology as opposed to human actors. That strikes me as a grotesque loophole. I agree with my right hon. Friend and others that Baroness Howe’s Bill, which seeks to render this activity illegal, is worthy of our consideration, and I commit the Government to considering it as a potential means of combating that sickening loophole.

Sarah Champion, who has huge expertise in this area, mentioned the predominantly coercive, violent and gendered basis of the grotesque abuse of women in much of the content, and the effect that that could have on the minds of young people as they develop into adulthood. Let me reassure her, as I reassured my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, that we will definitely consider her comments. She made a number of worthwhile suggestions, and I will write to her, as time does not permit me to go through all of them in turn.

I am sure I was not alone in my surprise when Christine Jardine declared that the Liberal Democrats would oppose the regulations, on the broad basis that they do not go far enough. I think that the rest of the House agrees that they do not yet go far enough in tackling the problem before us. She must agree, however, that certain aspects of this are very difficult. Tackling pornographic content on a site like Twitter is very difficult, because to introduce a blanket ban on anyone under the age of 18 accessing a social media platform of that nature would have serious unintended consequences. We need to get these matters right and, rather than the Liberal Democrats just opposing these measures, they would do well to contribute to the debate. I urge the hon. Lady’s party to reconsider its position, which if unchanged will lead it into disrepute.

I am grateful for the comments from Jim Shannon. He reminds me of my party’s manifesto commitment to end the access of children and young people to pornography sites. I agree with him that we need to go further, but I commend these regulations to the House as a very good start and I thank hon. Members for their support this evening.

One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Speaker put the Question (Standing Order No. 16(1)).

Question agreed to.


That the draft Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations 2018, which were laid before this House on 10 October, be approved.