What has happened to the Government’s pledge to protect children from online pornography?
This was the question raised by Fiona during a Westminster Hall debate on today.
“We can never make the internet safe, but we can make it safer”.
The 2015 Conservative Manifesto made a commitment that to “stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material.”
“That is crucial because of what the Children’s Commissioner says about the damaging impact of such sites on young people’s views of sex or relationships and belief that women are sex objects."
“The indications were that that Bill would be ready for pre-legislative scrutiny in early 2020. I am more than saddened that that was not the case.”
In 2016 the Government introduced proposals for age verification, and Fiona was one of the MPs who spent many hours scrutinising and amending the legislation before it was passed as part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017.
However, in 2019 the Government decided not to implement this, and instead stated that they would introduce compulsory age checks through the Online Harms Bill.
This was supposed to be ready for pre-legislative scrutiny in early 2020 but did not emerge. The current timeframe suggests that it could be 2023 before it is passed, eight years after the initial manifesto pledge.
“The Government should neither delay nor water down its clear manifesto commitment. I call on the Government to move to implement Part 3 immediately and to implement additional online safety protections through the Online harms Bill urgently”.
After the debate she added:
“We have the ability to protect children from commercial pornography sites now through world leading legislation which this Parliament passed after long debate. I am increasingly concerned that the Government is dragging its feet on this issue, despite the hard work that has already been done.”
“Just this week Savanta ComRes polling has been published which shows that parents are deeply concerned about this issue – if you discount the ‘don’t knows’, 74% of those polled think the Government should implement Part 3 now and then implement further protections through the Online Harms Bill.”
“Currently children as young as five have unfettered access to online pornography. We cannot agree to three more years of this. It should be stopped immediately.”
Savanta ComRes polled 2,100 adults throughout the United Kingdom in mid-September. 63% said that the Government should implement part 3 of the 2017 Act now, 21% thought that the Government should delay until all other mechanisms for addressing online harm are ready. 16% said they did not know.