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Online Pornography: Age Verification

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

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Photo of Margot James Margot James Independent, Stourbridge 10:43 am, 17th October 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. The statement yesterday came as a shock to children’s charities, the age verification industry, the regulator and the online pornography industry itself, all of which were ready for, and expecting, the age verification regulations to be brought into law by the end of this year.

The Government postponed the introduction of the controls in July after an administration error in which the EU was not informed about the proposals as it should have been in line with single market rules. At that time, firm assurances were given to the public, children’s charities and the industry that the EU issue would be resolved swiftly and that legislation would be brought in by the end of the year or early next year at the latest. There was a debate in the Statutory Instrument Committee earlier this year about the exemption of Twitter and other social media platforms from the AV regulations, and it was agreed that we would review the effectiveness of the regulations 12 months on from their introduction. Such a timetable would still be much sooner than the indefinite postponement effectively announced by the Secretary of State yesterday.

No one is arguing that AV provides a panacea for the prevention of children accessing adult content—we know that there are ways to circumvent AV—but children’s charities have provided evidence that too many children stumble across adult material accidentally and that this can have a damaging effect on them at a vulnerable age. It is likely that the regulations would raise the age at which young people are first exposed to pornography. The Secretary of State should not make the perfect the enemy of the good when it comes to child protection, especially after the Government have given so many assurances that once the privacy issues have been dealt with—they now have been—the regulations will be brought into law. For the Government to renege on their commitments in this important area is a very retrograde step, and I urge my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State to think again.