Skip to main content

Children: Online Safety

Volume 751: debated on Tuesday 28 January 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that minors are not exposed to the dangers of online media.

My Lords, the Government take this issue very seriously indeed, and continue to urge all parts of the industry to do more. The four main internet service providers will very soon have implemented family-friendly filters at network level for all new customers, with existing customers to follow. Ministers have also called for all social media companies to attend a meeting very shortly to review what processes are in place to ensure that minors are kept safe.

My Lords, while I am grateful for the sympathetic response of my noble friend, I would gently say to him that there is no greater crime than the destruction of childhood innocence. If it is right to take sanctions against those who supply cigarettes or alcohol to those who are underage, is there not an overriding case for not leaving the dissipation of this evil material to self-regulation? We need to take action and we need to do it very quickly.

I can understand my noble friend’s extreme concern about this issue, but it is the case that anything that is illegal offline is also illegal online. On his point about the self-regulatory environment that we have been encouraging—and great progress has been made—with the technological advances in this whole sector, we need to be ahead of the game. That is why we are working to get the internet service providers to be part of the teams, to ensure that the problems to which my noble friend has referred are matters of the past.

My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful for the progress that the Government have made in protecting children online. Education is also a very important part of the solution, along with default filtering. Will the Minister set out the Government’s new plans to improve online safety education in schools and say when these plans will commence?

My Lords, education of children and, I have to say, parents clearly is absolutely key to a successful resolution. Therefore, as part of the reforms to the national curriculum, from September this year e-safety will be taught as part of computing at all four key stages, which apply to pupils from the ages of five to 16. The internet child safety organisations have been playing a very big part in helping to formulate how the computing curriculum is arranged.

My Lords, I wish to pay a compliment to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who has an important amendment today to the Children and Families Bill on this very issue. In the mean time, does the Minister think that the reviewing of standards is tough enough, and should Ofcom play a strengthened role?

My Lords, Ofcom has a very important role to play. In fact, part of the reporting that we are looking to Ofcom to fulfil is how the parental awareness campaign goes this year. We want Ofcom to be part of that and to report back on how successful it has been. The internet service providers will spend £25 million on it this year. Clearly, standards are another important feature, and Ofcom has a very important role to fulfil.

My Lords, it is inevitable that some online sites will be unintentionally blocked because of filtering, but that is easily rectified. Does my noble friend agree that protecting and safeguarding children from social, physical and moral harm far overrides the argument of those who say that filtering threatens their rights and freedoms?

My Lords, we all have a responsibility to children and the vulnerable to make sure that the extraordinary new revolution we have is used responsibly. That is why what the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are doing is so important.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that during the Second Reading debate on the admirable Bill of my noble friend Lady Howe, I raised specifically with him the case of a teenager who had taken his own life because of visits to so-called suicide sites on the internet? What more are the Government doing to outlaw such sites on the internet and to prosecute those who run them?

As I said, anything that is illegal offline is illegal online. As for suicide and self-harm sites, that is part of the filtering element that we are looking at to ensure that children are more secure. Certainly, I would say to any provider of a suicide site that it should be taken down.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what efforts the Government are making to work with our international partners, because we know that many sites hosted abroad post information and opportunities for our children which are very damaging?

The noble and learned Baroness is absolutely correct: this has to be dealt with globally as well as by what we are doing in this country. In fact, international organisations consider that the UK is at the absolute forefront on this issue and is developing mechanisms which are now being used all over the world. It is very important that we work globally.