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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat as a Statement an Answer given in the other place earlier today by my honourable friend the Minister for Digital and Broadband. The text of the Answer was as follows:
“Mr Speaker, I thank my honourable friend for her Question this morning and for the work she did while she was a DCMS Minister on this policy. As she knows, the Secretary of State tabled a Written Ministerial Statement on this issue yesterday. I come to the House further to that Statement.
Protecting children is at the heart of our online harms agenda, and is key to wider government priorities. When she was a Minister, my honourable friend was of course responsible for the publication of the online harms White Paper in April this year. The White Paper 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.
Since the White Paper’s publication, the Government’s proposals have continued to develop at pace. The Government announced in the Queen’s Speech that we will publish draft legislation. It is important that our policy aims and our overall policy on protecting children from online harms are developed coherently in view of those developments, with the aim of bringing forward the most comprehensive approach possible to protecting children.
The Government have concluded that this objective of coherence will be best achieved through our wider online harms proposals and, as a consequence, will not be commencing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 concerning age verification for online pornography. The Digital Economy Act objectives will therefore be delivered through our proposed online harms regulatory regime.
As currently drafted, the Digital Economy Act does not cover social media platforms, something which my honourable friend and I both know was of concern to this House, and indeed warranted substantial debate in December 2018. It will also give us an opportunity to revisit the definitions of pornographic material, which I know have been a concern of some Members of the House—one which my honourable friend has shared.
I assure my honourable friend that the Government’s commitment to protecting children online is unwavering. Adult content is too easily accessed online and more needs to be done to protect children from harm. We want to deliver the most comprehensive approach to keeping children safe online, and recognised in the online harms White Paper the role that technology can play in keeping all users, particularly children, safe.
We are committed to the UK becoming a world leader in the development of online safety technology and to ensure that companies of all sizes have access to, and adopt, innovative solutions to improve the safety of their users. This includes age-verification tools and we expect them to continue to play a key role in protecting children online.
I would welcome my honourable friend’s engagement, along with that of all Members of this House, while we continue to engage with Members of Parliament on the provisions of the online harms regime, to ensure effective online harms proposals which deliver on the objectives of the Digital Economy Act”.