The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:12 pm on 24th October 2019.

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Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam 2:12 pm, 24th October 2019

I agree with my hon. Friend. In the interest of saving time, he takes me directly to my next point, which is that we in the UK are well placed to do the work to which he refers. We are respected not just for our scientific expertise, but also for our regulatory expertise. I hope very much that the Government will engage fully in that task.

Finally, I urge the Government to maintain their commitment to internet safety and the reduction of online harms. I was very proud to bring forward the online harms White Paper in conjunction with a number of ministerial colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Chancellor when he was Home Secretary. That White Paper sets out a response to online harms in social media and other user-generated content that seeks to balance freedom of speech with protection of the vulnerable in a fast-moving landscape where, frankly, hardly any rules have been applied so far. I believe that the approach it sets out strikes that balance well, but we certainly heard arguments that said, “Hold back. Let someone else regulate first, in case all the investment coming into the UK now from Google, Facebook and all the rest goes somewhere else instead.” Well, I rejected those arguments then and I reject them now—not least because, as these companies themselves generally accept, if social media and other online spaces are not seen as safe spaces, people will increasingly choose not to be there, and if people are not there, they cannot be sold anything there, so it is good business as well as good policy to make them safer. I am therefore pleased to see in the Gracious Speech a commitment to continue to develop proposals to improve internet safety, but I am disappointed not yet to see a commitment to legislate to do so. I understand Ministers’ preference to pursue pre-legislative scrutiny first, and it is important to get this right, but I urge them not to lose momentum.

At this crucial moment in the development of the digital economy, we should not just act to protect the vulnerable in our own communities; with that well-deserved reputation for both innovating and regulating effectively, we should also be proud to lead the world in making the internet a safer place.