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Fraudulent Online Advertisements

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 16 September 2021

The Government are committed to tackling online fraud. That is why, later this year, we will be consulting on the online advertising programme, which is considering all options, including legislation, to tackle paid-for advertising online. Meanwhile, the draft online safety Bill, which is currently in prelegislative scrutiny, will address fraudulent user-generated content.

Paid-for scam adverts are rife online, and it is not unusual for people to lose their entire life savings to them. The Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee in July that

“one of the key objectives of the Online Safety Bill is to tackle online fraud,”

but the Bill as drafted does not cover paid-for scam adverts at all. I am pleased that the prelegislative scrutiny Committee is going to take a look at this, but will the Minister review the Department’s currently indefensible position? We cannot wait years for the other process that he referred to to work its way through the system.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise a hugely important issue. I and this Government share his impatience to tackle it, but that is why we are talking, through the online advertising programme, about looking at every single option, whether it is to tackle user-generated content through one mechanism or, potentially, advertising through another. It is about getting that combination of measures right so that we can achieve the maximum possible effect.

May I, through the Minister, pass on my congratulations to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), on her appointment?

In line with the whole issue of fraudulent adverts, there is also the big issue of the appalling behaviour of gambling companies and their advertising, which causes huge problems and addiction for many young people. May I, through the Minister, ask the new Secretary of State whether she would take a meeting with families bereaved as a result of gambling addiction?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that terrible scourge. I am happy to tell him that my hon. Friend the Secretary of State would be delighted to take the meeting he suggests.

May I, too, extend a warm welcome to the new Secretary of State and the new Minister? I hope that, as Digital Secretary, she has changed her parliamentary password.

Online fraud is a growing goldmine for fraudsters and online child abuse is a growing goldmine for paedophiles. Latest figures from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Internet Watch Foundation show a 70% increase in sexual communication offences with children, and a 77% increase in self-generated child sexual abuse material. Why are the Government still stubbornly and inexplicably refusing Labour’s call and the NSPCC’s call for the immediate implementation in the online safety Bill of personal criminal liability for senior tech executives whose actions consistently and significantly put children at risk? We already have such a legal regime that works in financial services and in health and safety. There must be a compelling reason why the Government refuse to do the same to protect our children online. Can the Minister tell us what it is?

As the hon. Lady knows, the Bill is going through the pre-legislative scrutiny process. We are entirely aware of the issues she raises. The aim of the Bill and the aim of the Government’s approach will always be to take the most effective attitude to tackling them. As the Bill goes through that process, we will of course continue to look at all the options, but our priority will be the effectiveness of the legislation. A mechanism may well work well in other industries, but that does not necessarily mean we should copy and paste it into another.