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MPs Criticise Govt Over Pornography Age Checks Failure

Online Safety
20 November 2020
Child on computer istock 0 0

On Thursday, MPs took part in a backbench business debate on online harms in the House of Commons.

From across the House, MPs raised numerous issues, from child sexual exploitation, which is being fuelled by live streams online, to the widespread availability of violent, commercial, online porn.

Dame Diana John­son MP

Dame Dianna Johnson MP argued that there is an online harm the government could act immediately to protect children from.

She was referring to the availability of online, commercial porn, which is often violent. Three years ago, MPs and Peers approved regulations to introduce age verification with the express purpose of protecting children from this material.

In her speech, Dame Johnson said:

“Back in 2017, Parliament passed part 3 of the Digital Economy Act. Enacted, it would prohibit commercial pornography websites from making their content available to anyone under the age of 18 and create a regulator and an enforcement mechanism. It was backed by the leading children’s charities, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Barnardo’s, as well as the majority of parents. However, in 2019, the Government announced that they would not be implementing part 3 of the 2017 Act. In the online harms White Paper in February, the Government said that any verification.”
Dame Diana Johnson MP

Recent polling for CARE highlighted that the majority of parents want age verification to be introduced now, rather than any further delays.

The Government said when it dropped the age verification scheme that it would use the online harms bill to address the problem of commercial online pornography.

However, written answers to questions since then suggest whatever is proposed will not be as robust and therefore as effective as the legislation MPs and Peers have already passed.

Fiona Bruce MP

Fiona Bruce MP, meanwhile, a long-time friend of CARE’s and a champion on age verification and robust action to protect children from online harms echoed Ms Johnson’s comments.

She strongly urged the Government to implement age verification as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the new online harms bill.

She said:

“Specifically, the Government have failed to implement age verification, legislation on which was actually passed in part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. I urge the Government to implement age verification and join colleagues in doing so today. We will never make the internet safe, but we can make it safer by implementing measures quickly to give children some protection from commercial pornography sites, pending the introduction of a more comprehensive Bill.”
Fiona Bruce MP

Nick Fletch­er MP

Nick Fletcher MP, who recently wrote an excellent article urging the Government to implement age verification also called for action on this front.

He said:

“This is an incredibly important issue, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) that we should waste no time in introducing age verification as soon as possible to ensure that our children can use the internet in a safe way and not come across content that would expose them to material that they are far too young to see. Not only would that uphold the law, which is clear in setting out the illegality of under-18s viewing such content, but it would ensure that our young people’s development is not threatened and that children are allowed to be children.”
Nick Fletcher MP

Car­oline Ansell MP

Caroline Ansell MP also argued the Government was failing to make use of existing legislation which could be used to protect children from online porn:

“We made a commitment to introduce statutory age verification on porn websites. We supported that in 2016 and we supported it in 2017. It is still supported now. The most recent survey suggested that 83% of parents urged it as mission critical to protect their children. We know that early exposure to porn is harmful. I understand that there are technical issues, but surely these can be overcome. Other countries have shown the way, when we were previously world leading—France, for example, most recently.”
Caroline Ansell MP

Jim Shan­non MP

DUP MP Jim Shannon called the Government's failure to implement age verification a 'disaster':

The non-implementation of part 3 of the Act is a disaster for children as it needlessly exposes them to commercial pornographic websites, when this House has made provision for their protection from some sites.
Jim Shannon MP

CARE’s Response

There is clearly cross-party support for introducing age verification now, rather than waiting for the new online harms bill. The Government has not yet responded to its White Paper consultation on the new online harms bill. Even though the Minister said it would do so before the end of the year with new legislation is 2021, it will take months or even years before the law is properly implemented. Meanwhile, children continue to access commercial, online pornography with alarming ease. Parliament has passed age verification regulations and the technology exists to implement it. So the failure to introduce age verification is a moral failure as much as a failure of leadership.

As our CEO, Nola Leach, argued in Politics Home in September, the only thing worse than not delivering robust online protections for children, is having the ability to do so and still not getting it done.

Keep the pres­sure up

You can help protect children online from commercial pornography by asking your MP to support age verification. Our campaign page will help you do this. It takes only 5 minutes to respond and your email could persuade another MP to put more pressure on the Government.

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