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Online Protection: Covid-19

Volume 677: debated on Monday 22 June 2020

What steps his Department is taking to protect children and young people online during the covid-19 outbreak. (903514)

At this deeply challenging time, it has been so important that people, especially children, have been able to stay in touch online, but, of course, they should be able to do so safely. We have worked with the National Crime Agency, the UK Safer Internet, Internet Matters, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and many other experts to provide detailed guidance and support to schools and colleges on keeping children safe online, as well as advice and high-quality resources for parents and carers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although we must be cognisant of the risks on the internet to children and young people, it is very important for their mental health and social wellbeing that they are encouraged to connect via various internet channels with family, friends and others who are part of their support network?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Being online has had great benefits for children, giving them access to educational resources and entertainment but also enabling them to stay in touch with family and friends, which is vital to their wellbeing. Social media companies have a role in keeping children safe. This Government are committed to creating a statutory duty of care on companies to protect their users, especially children. But they should not wait for us to legislate—they should act.

Charities such as the NSPCC and Barnardo’s have highlighted how children are at increased risk of online harm during this pandemic. It has been over a year since the Government’s White Paper on online harms, which set out the need for a duty of care regulator. Every day that this is delayed, more and more children are put at risk. So I ask the Government now: at what point will they stand up to the tech companies, put vulnerable children first, and bring forward a Bill on this?

I thank the NSPCC and Barnardo’s for the work that they are doing with the Government to help to keep children safe online, but also in the home and outside the home. We are committed to introducing a duty of care on social media companies. We published the initial response to the consultation in February and a full response will be published later this year. We are working with the sector on a detailed code of conduct. But the first thing we must do to keep children safe is to get them back in school, and I would like the hon. Lady to support us in doing that.