Online Harms White Paper

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:31 pm on 8th April 2019.

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Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 5:31 pm, 8th April 2019

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman not just for what he has said this afternoon but for the open approach he has taken to the discussion of these matters. As he says, this is one of the toughest policy challenges we face, and I believe we will resolve it only if we are able to work across the House to make sure that what we produce is as robust as it can be.

As the hon. Gentleman also says, there will be a considerable amount of resistance to what is proposed in this White Paper, and we will all need to hold our nerve in the face of that pressure. He asks about legislation, and it is our intention to legislate in the next parliamentary Session, but he will understand that there is a tension between the urgency, which we all accept exists, to tackle these harms and, indeed, to legislate to do so and the need to make sure that we have taken account of the views and the thinking that others can contribute. He knows that I have sought to do that up to this point, and I will seek to do it from this point on. I want to ensure that we make this as robust as we can, that we get it right, that we have understood the detail, and that it will stand up to the kind of scrutiny and pressure that he rightly describes. With that tension in mind, we will move as quickly as we can.

On electoral integrity, the hon. Gentleman heard me say a moment ago that the White Paper does not represent the sum total of the Government’s action in relation to harms on the internet more broadly. He will know that the Cabinet Office will imminently be bringing forward its “defending democracy” piece of work. I hope he will find in that a good deal of the material he referred to. Indeed, while a good number of the Government’s responses to the excellent piece of work produced by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee are, as he said, dealt with in the White Paper, some will be dealt with in that document.

Disinformation is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, one of the harms that we have identified in the White Paper as needing the attention of the regulator. We believe that a number of things can be done. We will expect the regulator, in its codes of practice and through the duty of care more broadly, to focus on the need to ensure that authoritative sources are prioritised over non-authoritative sources and that fact checking is available. There are other measures that the regulator could take, not least in respect of the point I made about public education. In relation to many of the issues on which disinformation is focused, we believe that the answer, at least in part, is to ensure that our fellow citizens are equipped with the skills they need to understand what they should be looking for to determine what they believe and what they do not. That is a legitimate focus for the regulator.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned competition, and I understand his focus on that. Again, I make the point that it will be dealt with, but that it will be dealt with elsewhere. He will know about the Furman review, which was recently completed at the Government’s instigation. We will take seriously what Professor Furman and his panel have said, and we will respond in due course. When we do so, the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to take the matter up again, and I know he will.