Online Harms — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:22 pm on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East 3:22 pm, 7th October 2020

May I say how wonderful it is to be back in Westminster Hall after so long? I thank all the House staff who have made that possible and I congratulate my hon. Friend Holly Lynch for securing this important debate.

Many Members have spoken about the abuse and grooming that happens online. I completely agree that that needs to be targeted and legislated for. Some may have assumed that I would be talking about gambling today, but I am not. I want to focus on a specific area that is a cause of untold damage and should be included in the scope of any legislation about online harms.

Online sellers are creating a significant problem by not protecting consumers who are purchasing electrical goods from their sites. We know from experience that such goods may be substandard, counterfeit, recalled or non-compatible with use in this country. There is a severe lack of transparency that is putting many lives at significant risk.

Electricity causes more than 14,000 house fires annually, almost half of all accidental house fires. Each year, thousands are injured due to electrical incidents. In a survey carried out by Electrical Safety First, a staggering 93% of customers said that they would expect online sellers to protect them from purchasing counterfeit or substandard products, yet even when buying from well-known global platforms far too often that is not the case. Millions of people are falling victim with potentially tragic consequences.

This year has unsurprisingly seen a record rise in online sales, meaning a record number of unsuspecting customers purchased potentially unsafe goods. When the hair, beauty and wellbeing sector was forced to close salons and spas for longer than other businesses, many people will have gone online to purchase equipment to cut the family’s hair or bought items that would enable them to do their own beauty treatments at home. In fact, research suggests that as many as 21 million consumers did this. With stocks running out fast, many people were just grateful to buy whatever they could get hold of, probably without even considering whether the product would be safe or not.

With covid restrictions set to continue, the increase in online shopping could have devastating consequences. Sales of electrical goods online are likely to be even higher this Christmas, so we have to do everything in our power to limit the harm and protect innocent consumers.

Since I first became an MP in 2015, I have campaigned for the need for the safer sale of electrical goods through online marketplaces. As a nation, our shopping habits were already moving online, but the coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns have escalated that trend at a far greater pace than we could ever have imagined. That is why I urge the Government to include the sale of unsafe electrical products in the expected online harms legislation.

Tighter controls are needed on the platforms selling those products, to ensure that people are purchasing items confident in the knowledge that their goods meet safety standards. Online sellers must take responsibility for their own checks and procedures to guarantee that the goods they are selling are genuine, safe and not subject to manufacturer’s recall.

Online harms legislation is vital to protect people from a wide range of potential dangers. Almost 90% of adults use the internet, and none of us can deny how potentially dangerous so many aspects of the digital world are. We cannot ignore the fact that our legislation needs to catch up. Terrorist activity, online bullying, gambling, child safety and the safety of vulnerable adults are all areas in desperate need of legislation, but so is the hidden harm of the potential purchasing of life-threatening electrical goods. When the Government bring in this new legislation, it is essential that the sale of unsafe electrical goods is included within the remit. Potentially fatal products are an online harm and it is our responsibility to ensure those sales are legislated against.