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Child Abuse (Internet)

Volume 459: debated on Monday 30 April 2007

5. What further steps he plans to take to stop access to images of child abuse via the internet in response to the annual report of the Internet Watch Foundation; and if he will make a statement. (134277)

The Government welcome the report of the Internet Watch Foundation, which was published this month, and congratulate the IWF and their partners on their work and achievements.

We continue to work very closely with the internet service providers industry in the UK to ensure that blocking mechanisms are in place to restrict access to the sites identified by the Internet Watch Foundation. We are aiming for every ISP to support the blocking mechanism by the end of 2007. Additionally, the Department is supporting work by the British Standards Institution to develop a kite-mark for software products that PC-owners can use to block access to the sites at software level. That will be available by the end of the year.

I congratulate the IWF, mobile phone companies, ISPs, the police, the charities and the Government's taskforce on making the UK a country that has virtually eradicated the hosting of those disgusting sites, but the IWF report showed that an increasing proportion—90 per cent.—are hosted in the US and Russia, and that the images are getting worse and more disgusting. What action can the Government take to encourage and to help those countries to improve their performance in blocking sites? Will my hon. Friend consider discussing with his Foreign Office colleagues organising an intergovernmental conference with Russia, the US, the European Union and the UK to stop children being abused and raped in front of the camera for profit?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, the sentiments of which I know will be supported by all hon. Members. Just to reiterate the points that she made, 83 per cent. of all illegal child abuse websites that the IWF identified were hosted in the US and Russia, and 90 per cent. of those victims were under 12 years of age. What is increasingly worrying is the severity of the images that are posted on the sites. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. We are looking to work through the EU, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and other international bodies to see what we can do to encourage some of our international partners to take a more effective approach to blocking those sites. Hosting a conference is perhaps one of the ideas that we need to look at.

In his parliamentary answer in February, the Minister said that he would publish the research report on the exploitation and abuse of children in this country by a funded organisation, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—CEOPC—and that that would give us an idea of the nature and scale of child abuse and exploitation.He undertook to publish it by April. Will he produce the rabbit out of his hat this afternoon?

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot produce the report that he mentions today. However, the report that CEOPC is in the process of producing is extremely important. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will look at it in due course, and we will publish it as soon as possible. It deals with child abuse—as the hon. Gentleman knows, because of his work in that area—but also with child trafficking. The Government want to expand our knowledge and understanding of the extent of this problem and the numbers involved. We will publish the report as soon as possible.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that it is time that the servers themselves policed such sites as come into this country? People with computers use those servers, and it is time the servers did the policing. Can a hotline not be set up so that complaints can be made about such illegal sites coming through our computer systems? Should not ISPs be forced to put up such information on their sites so that it can be passed on to the necessary people?

We are trying to make progress through self-regulation and, as my hon. Friend knows, we have good relationships with internet service providers and mobile telephone operators. We have a target that by the end of 2007 all of our operators will have blocking mechanisms in place. Good progress is being made: almost 90 per cent. of those images are being blocked by our ISPs. They also provide that if people access such sites a message pops up informing them that they have accessed illegal material. We are considering what message ought to pop up on the computer screen, and examining the possibility of making it a tougher law enforcement message. However, to answer my hon. Friend’s question, what is important is the relationships that we have with our international partners. The key to tackling this problem lies in greater co-operation with other countries.