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Online Fraud and Scams

Volume 701: debated on Monday 18 October 2021

I, too, wish to associate myself with your words, Mr Speaker, and those of the Home Secretary in memory of our two cherished friends, David and James—outstanding parliamentarians both. James, among his many other accomplishments, was also an exceptionally effective and highly respected Security Minister, in which role he set the enduring example. As well as by colleagues in this House, he is very much missed by officials in the Home Office and by the agencies and partners with which he worked.

Online fraud and scams have a devastating impact, and we are taking action to protect the public and make it harder for fraudsters to operate. The online safety Bill will tackle some of the highest harm frauds online.

I wish to put on record my own condolences to the families of James Brokenshire and Sir David. A lot of people have said that Sir David was a good support to new MPs, but he was also a good support to those of us doing things for the first time. Indeed, he chaired the Bill Committee when I was first on the Opposition Front Bench. He was a great support to me and will be dearly missed from the House.

Many of my Fleetwood constituents are seriously concerned about pension scams, which are on the rise. I pay tribute to the work of Age UK raising awareness of the risk of pension scams. Can the Minister tell me what steps he plans to take in the online harms Bill specifically on pension scams?

The hon. Lady is exactly right to identify the wickedness of pension scams picking on people, often at a time of weakness, which is part of a wider field of investment scams. As she will know, the online safety Bill is currently going through pre-legislative scrutiny, which is an opportunity for issues to be fleshed out. She is absolutely right that the Government focus remains very much on the pension scams that she mentions.

May I express my deep sadness at the loss of Sir David Amess and James Brokenshire?

May I also ask the Minister what action the Government and the police are taking to protect the elderly in particular from scams? One of the most repellent aspects of such crime is that the criminals particularly prey on the elderly and vulnerable.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question, which follows on from what the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) was saying. It is very important that we raise awareness of how people can protect themselves from these scams and the things to look out for. We need to encourage reporting so that we can build up a wider picture. It is also very important that we focus on victim support when these crimes have occurred and that we prevent re-victimisation. We are increasing our efforts in that area.

I echo what has been said about Sir David Amess. When it comes to James Brokenshire, quite simply he was everything you would have wanted in an opposite number. He was co-operative, constructive, but occasionally combative, and I will miss him.

I congratulate the new Security Minister, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), and I think we have already established a similar working relationship.

Online harms have been brought sharply into focus during the past 18 months. That includes not only fraud and scams, but extremism, radicalisation and terrorism. The police and the intelligence and security services are very concerned, and we sadly know the tragic consequences. Is the Minister satisfied that he can address that in the online safety Bill, or are specific and perhaps more urgent actions required? I assure him that if they are, we would seek to work with the Government in finding common ground to bring forward any necessary measures.

I thank the hon. Gentleman twice over: for what he said at the start and for his expression of support for doing what we must to ensure that we disrupt the terrible messaging, propaganda and ways of association that can have the most horrific outcomes and consequences, and thwart those efforts. There are important steps on illegal content in the online safety Bill that will improve our arsenal and toolkit. However, we must also work in particular on end-to-end encryption and platforms deliberately blinding themselves against being able to take down very harmful material. I look forward to working with him on that.

May I pay respects on behalf of the people of Stroud to the families of Sir David and James Brokenshire?

On the BBC yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was compelling when she spoke about the challenges of tackling anonymous abuse and understanding that the public are looking to us to make changes. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss my verification campaign with Clean Up the Internet to see how the Department can assist that work?

I will certainly meet my hon. Friend, who I recognise has done a lot of work in this area. I want to make it clear that where people are engaged in illegal abuse, they can be identified and prosecuted via existing legislation—the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016—but I accept that there are more aspects to this. I am happy to meet her and look forward to hearing her thoughts.