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Children: Adult Material Online

Volume 746: debated on Wednesday 19 June 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to protect children from easily accessing pornography and other adult material online.

My Lords, through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, jointly chaired by three government Ministers, the Government have gained commitment from the five main internet service providers actively to encourage new and existing customers to switch on parental internet controls if children are in the household. Public wifi providers are now filtering pornography in public places, and there is work under way with device manufacturers and retailers to encourage greater availability of parental controls.

I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Unfortunately there are many vulnerable children without parents, or who have uninterested parents, so no amount of awareness education will do anything for these kids. Many are already re-enacting pornographic behaviour on other children, as highlighted by the NSPCC. So will the Minister tell the House, as the service providers are working on filtering for new customers, why the Government do not insist that they offer filtering for their existing customers, and block porn and adult material by default as part of the solution to protect all children before they end up in a moral wasteland?

We have asked the ISPs actively to encourage people to switch on parental controls if there are children in the household, whether they are new or existing customers. The ISPs regularly contact existing customers through e-mails and on their bills. We also want the ISPs to put in place measures to check that the person setting up the parental controls is over the age of 18. The five main domestic ISPs, which cover 90% of households in the UK, have committed to ensure that these measures are in place for existing as well as new customers by the end of this year.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with me that we are faced with harm to children, not only in this country but also overseas? For example, in south-east Asia, children can be kidnapped or bought and subjected to horrific abuse for the making of pornographic films. Does he further agree that action is needed on both the making and viewing of such films?

I entirely agree. The fact that this happens is shocking, and the fact that it is so easy for our children to access these dreadful images is shocking. Certainly, a step change in attacking images of child abuse on the internet was secured yesterday at a meeting with the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller; companies agreed to increase funding substantially to the Internet Watch Foundation so that it can now actively search, block and remove child abuse images. It will no longer have to wait for illegal material to be reported. Anyone trying to access a page blocked by the Internet Watch Foundation will see a warning message, known as a splash page, saying that they are trying to access illegal material. The industry will commit to sharing technological knowledge to enable all corners of the industry to tackle the availability of these appalling images online.

I thank the noble Baroness for her Question, which is a fundamental one. While the corporate sector has an immensely important role to play, so does education, and so do schools. I refer the Government to the work that Professor Tanya Byron did on this subject under the previous Government, which is extraordinarily sensible, and a simple way for schools to adapt to the learning that is incredibly important around this issue.

I agree entirely with the noble Baroness that schools have a big role to play, and I am aware of Tanya Byron’s work. Parents have a big role to play as well. It is quite clear that too many members of our modern generation are exposed to unacceptable sexual images, and they should be taught about the importance of relationships.

My Lords, the Government’s initiatives in this field are clearly welcome. The question is whether they go far enough. Why is so little effort being put into working with the industries to ensure that there is a robust system of age and identity verification available for those who try to access services of all sorts on the internet? Not only could those who use child pornography be identified, it would also protect children from seeing things that they should not see, and it would no doubt solve all sorts of other problems that we might have in respect of material which is available online.

The noble Lord is quite right. The Government want the industry to develop robust age verification systems to prevent children and young people being able to access these images. ISPs are bringing in closed loop e-mails so that when the filters are changed in a home, an e-mail is sent to the account holder and therefore to the adult. There is a major piece of work going on through UKCISS, but it is true that it will be difficult to ensure that all pornographic sites have robust age verification systems in place as many—indeed, most of them—are hosted outside the UK.

My Lords, in light of yesterday’s question about sex education, and the important Question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, can the Minister tell the House whether there is interdepartmental working that involves the Department for Education, the Department of Health, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Ministry of Justice?

There is, on a number of fronts, including work on troubled families, but I think that the right reverend Prelate’s question merits a more detailed answer, so I shall write to him.

Or televisions, for that matter. I agree. However, it is a fact of life these days, I am afraid, that the internet is the pavement for our children. That is why this is such an important issue, and parents do not understand enough about it.

My Lords, schools are also central to safeguarding children in this area. Yesterday the Minister said that teachers should be able to teach internet safety effectively in computing classes. With respect, I doubt that anyone knowledgeable in this area agrees with that view, because it requires teachers trained in addressing these difficult personal and social issues with young people—and that will not happen in a computing class. One of the most compelling arguments for statutory personal, social and health education within the national curriculum is the provision of specially trained teachers. Will the Government now consider making these important child safety issues part of the national curriculum?

The noble Baroness and I entirely share that view about the importance of teaching children PSHE. We are bringing in e-safety for the first time in both primary and secondary computer science—and we trust teachers to deliver the pastoral care that their children need. Oddly, the Opposition, who are the party of the unions, do not seem to do so. However—I said it twice yesterday and I shall say it again today—we are not going to make PSHE statutory.