Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Online Pornography: Age Verification

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:43 am on 17th October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 10:43 am, 17th October 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for the work that she did as my predecessor at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

It will always be the priority of this Government, and probably of any Government, to protect citizens in general and children in particular. We will do that online just as much as we would seek to do offline. It is because of that approach that we are changing the approach to age verification on the internet. As my hon. Friend knows, the Secretary of State tabled a written ministerial statement on this issue yesterday. I hope to provide some more detail on that.

Adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm. We want to deliver the most coherent approach possible. I believe we can protect children better and more comprehensively through the online harms agenda that my hon. Friend championed so effectively than we can through the measures in the Digital Economy Act 2017. I shall be straightforward: it will take slightly longer to do it through this mechanism, but we will go as fast as we can and deliver on the agenda in a more comprehensive way.

As my predecessor in the Department, my hon. Friend was of course responsible for the publication of the “Online Harms” White Paper, which proposed the establishment of a duty of care on companies to improve online safety, overseen by an independent regulator with strong enforcement powers to deal with non-compliance. That vehicle goes further than the age verification proposals originally tabled, and since the White Paper’s publication, the Government’s proposals have continued to develop at pace. This week, the Government announced as part of the Queen’s Speech that they would publish draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny next year. It is important that our policy aims and our overall policy on protecting children from online harms be developed coherently. In view of these developments, we will bring forward the most comprehensive approach possible to protecting children.

The Government have concluded that this objective of coherence and comprehensiveness will be best achieved through the wider online harms proposals that my hon. Friend championed and that have support across much of the House. That is why we do not propose to commence part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. As currently drafted, the Act does not cover social media platforms, for instance, which is something that she and I both know was of concern to this House. It will give us a further opportunity to revisit the definition of pornographic material, which was also a concern of some Members.

As I say, we want to deliver the most comprehensive approach to keeping children safe online. I fervently believe that we can do that better through the online harms agenda. We are committed to the UK becoming a world leader in the development of online safety technology as a whole. This is a part of that, and it includes age verification tools, which will continue to be a key part of it. Everyone across the House agrees on the need to protect children online and offline. Pre-legislative scrutiny for the online harms Bill will be a vital part of that process. I hope that Members across the House, particularly my hon. Friend, will continue to engage with the Government so that we can bring forward something for which there is a cross-party consensus and that delivers an agenda that we can all share.