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Online Harmful Material

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 13 February 2020

The Government are committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to go online. Yesterday, we published our initial response to the consultation on the world-leading proposals in our online harms White Paper. This document set out in additional detail how we will introduce a duty of care on companies to keep their users safe online while protecting freedom of expression.

It has been many months since the consultation on the Government’s online harms White Paper closed, and we have only just received the initial response. Based on the latest police recorded crime data, it is estimated that an average of one online abuse offence against a child was recorded every 16 minutes in England and Wales, which equates to up to 90 online sexual offences against children every day. Can the Minister tell us today when we can expect to see legislation brought forward?

This Government are absolutely committed to moving as quickly as we possibly can on this legislation. That is why we have said we will be publishing a full response in the spring, and why we will be legislating this Session. Many of the offences that she talks about are already covered by other legislation, but the online harms Bill will bring a coherent and world-leading approach to some of the most important issues of our age.

Recent figures from Ofcom show that half of all parents are worried about the online safety of their children, and sadly, as we have heard, they are right to be worried. The Government’s online harms consultation closed more than 200 days ago. If NSPCC estimates are right, there have been more than 20,000 unspeakable child offences and abuses in the time that it has taken for the Government to string together an initial response. We are told that legislation is on its way, but how many more days will anxious parents have to wait? Who will take responsibility for children who are harmed while this Government dither?

The NSPCC has come out strongly and welcomed what we announced yesterday, which is a hugely important step. The hon. Lady is right to say that there is never an excuse for delay in this sort of area, but as the NSPCC said to me yesterday, bad regulation is worse than no regulation. We will take our time to get this right, but we will not delay for a second longer. That is why we will legislate in this Session.