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Online Child Grooming

Volume 650: debated on Monday 3 December 2018

Tacking online grooming is one of our highest priorities. We are increasing our investment in law enforcement and legislating on online harms to bear down on the threat. In November, I also co-hosted a hackathon in the United States, where tech companies developed an artificial intelligence product to detect online grooming, which will be sent out licence-free for all technology companies to use worldwide.

I was particularly impressed by the hackathon and the tools used. Will my right hon. Friend explain in more detail how what he saw in the US can be used here in the United Kingdom?

I gladly will. The hackathon event that I attended in the US involved the giant tech companies that we all know of. They worked together to develop a new artificial intelligence product that will detect online grooming; that is the intention. The technology showed the industry at its best and most creative, and it will help change people’s lives.

The Home Secretary will be aware that next Thursday we have a debate on the public health model to reduce youth violence. A key aspect of the public health approach is cross-departmental working, so will the Minister commit to inviting other relevant Departments next week so that they can listen, if not respond, to this important debate?

The hon. Lady makes a good point about serious violence. It is important to look carefully at this public health approach, which is why I have talked of it at length in the last couple of months and have already set out the Government’s intention to have a statutory duty on public bodies and agencies to work together on it.

On the wider issue of child grooming, does the Home Secretary agree that the delays by Telford and Wrekin Council in setting up an independent inquiry into the child grooming that has gone on in that borough is completely unacceptable and that it needs to get on with it for the victims and the victims’ families?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It is very unfortunate that the inquiry has been delayed; it is very important in the interests of justice and especially for those victims and their families, and I hope the council just gets on with it.

I know that the Home Secretary takes child grooming online extremely seriously. I am sure he agrees, however, that there is a need to have better education for, and understanding among, young people so that they can see the signs and feel free to report when they are uncomfortable and concerned about what is happening, particularly on social media platforms. Will the Secretary of State set out what more he can do to make sure young people have that understanding and feel free to report when they are worried about what could be happening online?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that point, and the companies can do more to help young people to help themselves when online. When I was recently in the US, I met all the tech giants, and there are tools that they can roll out and they have promised to do just that, but there is also a role for parents in helping their children to be much more aware online.

Sadly, the amount of abuse that we are seeing is increasing year by year. There was a 23% increase in all child sex offences in the year to March 2018 and a 206% increase since 2013. The good news is that much more work and effort is going into this; each month there are around 400 arrests and 500 children safeguarded.

Tackling online crime needs to be cross-border, yet the Government have failed to get the Schengen information system, or SIS II, and the European Criminal Records Information System included in the political declaration. They have also not identified exactly what our relationship with Europol and Eurojust will be going forward, and we have only vague promises on maintaining the benefits of the European arrest warrant. When will the Government act to stop this diminishing of our ability to tackle crime?

The hon. Gentleman will know from the information we have already published that we have reached a good agreement with Europe on future security co-operation, for example on passenger name records, DNA and other important databases. He mentioned the SIS II database, and there is also the criminal records database; we will continue to work together on those issues, and I am sure we can reach an agreement.