Online Pornography (Commercial Basis) Regulations 2018 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 6:45 pm, 11th December 2018

I had not forgotten that. It would obviously be difficult for me to commit to finding the necessary time but I will take that back to the department. I am not sure that it is currently within the plans of the Chief Whip to bring forward that legislation but I will ask. I understand the point that is being made but, as I said, the issue may well be covered within the review. I am afraid I cannot go any further than that tonight.

As for ancillary service providers, the BBFC and the DDCMS have been engaging with several companies. They have already agreed to act, as doing so is in line with their current terms of service. Therefore, we are optimistic that the voluntary approach will work, and of course that will be reviewed.

The right reverend Prelate, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and others talked about the rationale for choosing one-third of content as the appropriate threshold. During the passage of the Bill, it was established that the focus should be on commercial pornography sites and not on social media. There were good reasons for that but I do not want to revisit them—that is what was decided. The one-third threshold was regarded as proportionate in introducing this new policy where sites make pornography available free of charge. However, websites that market themselves as pornographic will also be required to have age verification, even if less than a third of the content is pornographic.

A third is an arbitrary amount. It was discussed and consulted on, and we think that it is a good place to start on a proportionate basis. We will keep this matter under review and, as I said, it will be one of the obvious things to be taken into account during the 12 to 18-month review. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, asked how it will be measured. It will be measured by assessing the number of pieces of content rather than the length of individual videos. It will include all pornographic images, videos and individual bits of content, but the point to remember is that the threshold is there so that a decision can be made on whether it is reasonable for the regulator to assume that pornographic content makes up more than one-third of the entire content. This will be done by sampling the various sites.

The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked about ISP blocking and suggested that everyone would try to game the system to get out of meeting the requirements. That is not what we believe. The BBFC has already engaged with ISPs and we are confident that this will be an effective sanction. The wording in the guidance indicates that the regulator should take a “proportionate approach”. However, we are grateful for the noble Earl’s help. I am sure that he will also help during the review and later in the process when it comes to online harms. I see that he wants to help now.