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Internet pornography: requirement to prevent access by persons under the age of 18

Part of Digital Economy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 20th October 2016.

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Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Conservative, Devizes 2:30 pm, 20th October 2016

Mr Stringer, I assume that, like me, you sometimes have the feeling that you have sat down before you have finished what you are saying. I apologise to the Committee. I am rarely short of words, but in this case I was.

I want to respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Bristol West and clarify exactly what we have asked and should be asking internet service providers to do. In doing so, I shall refer to the new EU net neutrality regulations, which, despite the Brexit vote, are due to come into force in December. They cause many of us concerns about the regime that our British internet service providers have put in place, which I believe leads the world—or, at least, the democratic free world; other countries are more draconian—in helping families to make these choices. We do not want all that good work to be unravelled.

Our current regime falls foul of the regime that the European Union is promoting, and unless the Government make a decision or at least give us some indication relatively quickly that they will not listen to that, we may have an issue in that all the progress that we have made may run out by December 2016. I would be grateful if the Minister told us what the Government are doing to get the new legislation on the statute book in line with the schedule set out by his colleague Baroness Shields last December.

We have an effective voluntarily filtering arrangement. I believe—I think that this point is in the scope of ancillary service providers—that we intend to capture internet service providers as part of the general suite of those responsible for implementing over-18 verification, but I want the Government to make crystal clear that they are aware of the responsibilities of internet service providers and intend for the regulator to include them in the basket of those that they will investigate and regulate.

The big missing link in all this has been getting content providers that provide material deemed to be pornographic to do anything with that material. The difference is that content providers of, say, gambling sites have always been required to have age-verification machinery sitting on their sites.

The hon. Member for Bristol West is quite right that we want ISPs to be captured under this regulatory regime, but I am keen to hear from the Minister that all the work that we have done with ISPs that have voluntarily done the socially and morally responsible thing and brought forward family-friendly filters will not be undone by December 2016, when the EU net neutrality regulations are intended to come into place.