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Online Abuse

Volume 664: debated on Thursday 3 October 2019

Online abuse is unacceptable and far too prevalent. Close to half of UK adults say that they have seen hateful content in the last year alone. As has been mentioned, we published the online harms White Paper in April. It tackles legal but harmful and also illegal content, including hate crime, harassment and cyber-stalking. We will seek to bring that forward.

Recent events have highlighted the high levels of online abuse faced by Members of Parliament, especially women. The threats of violence and intimidation towards those in public life undermine democracy and cannot be acceptable. The Jo Cox Foundation is calling on all political parties to commit to a joint standard of conduct to uphold the highest standards in public life. Does my hon. Friend the Minister support that initiative?

I pay tribute not only to my hon. Friend for the work that she has done in this area, but to the foundation for the work that it is doing. She is right that we should seek to do all we can, cross-party, not only to discourage the abuse that she speaks of, but to encourage people to come into politics. That will not happen so long as the level of abuse is as it is, and we will look closely at the proposals, as well as those others that have come forward.

Has the Minister, or anyone in his Department, had discussions with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster concerning these matters since the Chancellor was appointed?

I have discussed aspects of this with the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who obviously reports directly to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and I will continue to do so.

The Minister says that the abuse is unacceptable, and he is right. Some time ago, there was a picture on the internet of my young son being executed, but nobody seems to be able to do anything whatever about this. We say it is unacceptable, but we do not seem to be able to do anything. What are the Minister’s ideas?

My hon. Friend is completely right that, as things stand, we are not able to take the action that we should be able to. It is also important to say that social media companies themselves have also not taken the action required of them in a civilised society. The online harms White Paper and its journey into legislation will be a crucial method of tackling this, but it is not the only one, and I would like to continue to work with the social media companies to bring forward much more rapid progress.

Good morning, Mr Speaker. May I welcome the Secretary of State to her new role and, on behalf of my team, welcome her team to their new roles too?

The cyber-security fund forms part of this Government’s approach to combating harmful online activity, but serious doubts have been raised about the fund’s management. Given the concern, can the Minister or the Secretary of State confirm today whether Hacker House is a UK-based company?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we discussed this subject in an urgent question earlier this week. As far as Companies House is concerned, and as far as all the due diligence that was done at the time was concerned, Hacker House met all the criteria. He also knows, however, that we are looking into this matter, and that a review will report to the House by the end of this month.

Last week, the Minister made a statement to the House in which he gave the impression that Hacker House was UK-based when he referred to a UK phone number owned by the company. My team phoned it and it was answered by a woman in California.

The Minister mentions Companies House. I looked at the Companies House website this morning and saw that there has been a registration detail change—one of the principal directors now registers their state of residence as the United States. So I remain concerned, not least because Hacker House’s accounts show receipt of a loan of £700,000 from one of the company’s directors. Can the Minister assure us that this unusual transaction was not used to unlock a taxpayer-funded Government scheme?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are having a review that will look into all these matters. As he knows, the residence of an individual director is not one of the defining characteristics of whether a company is based in the UK.