Online Harms

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 19th November 2020.

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Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley 3:35 pm, 19th November 2020

This is an incredibly important issue, and I agree with my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce that we should waste no time in introducing age verification as soon as possible to ensure that our children can use the internet in a safe way and not come across content that would expose them to material that they are far too young to see. Not only would that uphold the law, which is clear in setting out the illegality of under-18s viewing such content, but it would ensure that our young people’s development is not threatened and that children are allowed to be children.

Furthermore, we Conservatives should not forget that a year ago, we stood on a manifesto commitment to introduce statutory age verification checks for pornographic websites. This really matters and the public seem to believe so as well. Research carried out for the British Board of Film Classification in 2019 concluded that 83% of parents believe there should be robust age verification controls in place to stop children seeing commercial pornography online. If we are to respect the views of the public and uphold the public’s trust in this place, the Government must commit to enacting this policy. Statutory age verification checks for pornographic websites is what we promised and there should be no doubt that, as Conservatives, that is what we must deliver.

Equally, it is crucial that this subject is not broadened out by the Government to include other issues such as access to pornography on social media. Having read the debate on 7 October, I think that it is really important that today the Minister does not try to change the subject to accessing pornography on social media. Although that is an important issue, it is not what was referred to in our manifesto commitment in 2019. Of course, while I would be more than happy if the Department also brought something forward to protect children from pornography on Twitter, we must press ahead and look at that specific issue later. There is no reason not to press ahead and deliver part 3 as soon as possible.

In business questions last month, the Leader of the House laid out the Government’s reasons not to implement part 3, yet while I appreciated his time in answering my question, I did not wholly buy into his argument. I therefore appeal to the Government to give the matter more thought after this debate. This is, after all, in the interests of protecting children from pornography between now and the implementation of any online harms Bill. As that is likely to be several years away, it is crucial that the Government reconsider their decision and act on the wishes of the electorate.

Having spoken to stakeholders, I am told that the Government could redesignate the regulator and bring forward an implementation date at any time and that we could move to full-blown implementation of part 3 within a matter of months. As a family man and a committed Christian, I urge the Government to enact part 3. This will protect our children and ensure that the Government hold true to their election promise.