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Copycat Websites

Volume 590: debated on Thursday 8 January 2015

Copycat websites con people out of hard-earned cash. They undermine trust in online services and we are committed to stopping them. We need to work with search engines, to take enforcement action, to improve the consistency of Government websites and to educate consumers.

The top advertised search result for the European health insurance card if someone searches for “health card” or “national health card” is a site that charges £49 for its so-called services. Will the Minister act to put a stop to that practice by giving similar powers to those of Transport for London and blocking transactions from that site, tackling the problem at source?

We have taken a lot of action. We have worked closely with the search engines to ensure that they implement their terms and conditions on copycat website advertising, and the click-through to Government websites has increased by 30%. There is a problem with blocking transactions for websites that charge. A lot of Government services are free and we would not necessarily know whether other websites were charging. We know what Transport for London has done and we continue to keep the issue under review.

In fact, I was recently online to renew my European health card. I discovered that most of the top Google search results were sites that made people pay, but a lot of consumers do not realise that they can get the card free. There is an urgent need for the Government to take action to ensure that at least Government-provided services are clearly signposted on websites so that people know they are on a genuine website and not one that will rip them off.

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. I hear complaints from my constituents about such websites. We have referred the issue to the Internet Governance Forum and convened a round table of digital traders to discuss strengthening terms and conditions, and we work with Nominet, the UK’s internet registry services provider, to look at ways of prohibiting the registration of such domain names.

May I associate the members of the Opposition Business, Innovation and Skills Front-Bench team with the Secretary of State’s remarks? We wish you a happy new year, Mr Speaker, and express our sympathies to the families of those killed in Paris.

The Minister seems not to get the point. Many of those services are meant to be free, but the sites imply that people have to pay for them. The Mayor of London obviously does not believe that the Government’s action on copycat websites is good enough because he has introduced legislation to tackle rip-off congestion charge sites. Does the Minister believe the Mayor was right to do that? If so, why is what is good enough for London not good enough for the rest of the UK?

I always support the Mayor of London, because he is one of the most brilliant Mayors of London this country has ever seen. He has frozen the Mayor’s precept and introduced Boris bikes. However, it took me an hour and 10 minutes to get to Westminster from Hammersmith on the tube, so perhaps today I am about 99% supportive of the Mayor rather than 100%.

I completely agree with the hon. Lady’s sentiment that we must stamp on these copycat websites. I progressed the issue myself because of complaints from my constituents. That is why I am so pleased that we have made progress with strengthening search engine terms and conditions and started to move away from copycat websites having prominence and seen an increase in people using Government websites.