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Online Child Sexual Exploitation

Volume 620: debated on Monday 23 January 2017

8. What steps the Government and UK law enforcement agencies are taking to tackle online child sexual exploitation domestically and internationally. (908285)

The Government’s response includes law enforcement agencies taking action against online offenders, developing new capabilities to find and safeguard victims, and working with the internet industry to remove illegal images. We have led the global response to online child sexual exploitation through the WePROTECT Global Alliance, working with countries, companies and civil society organisations to develop a co-ordinated response.

The latest Government statistics show that in 2015, over 500 children in Wiltshire were victims of online abuse and became the subject of a child protection plan. What impact is the child abuse image database having in helping to catch those who perpetrate this vile crime in Wiltshire?

The database makes it much easier for our National Crime Agency and our other assets to tackle the threat posed by paedophiles online. We are determined that the powers given to us in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will add to that to make sure that we catch these people. Child sexual abuse is horrific, and carries on on the internet across the country. I urge hon. Members to recommend to their constituents that a process to contribute to keeping their own children safe is to take time out to look at the Thinkuknow campaign on the National Crime Agency website, because all parents—as I do—have a role in making sure that their children know what is safe online.

But actually, do not children need to be educated about how to help themselves stay safe online? If we had compulsory sex and relationships education, would not every school be able to make sure that every child knew how to be safe online?

May I ask the right hon. Lady to go on to the website of the National Crime Agency and look at the Thinkuknow campaign? The online tutorial is tailor-made for children and is broken down by age, so my young children have an appropriate curriculum to look at; it makes a real difference. There is even a tutorial for her, so that she may follow it and understand how she can be safe online and make sure children are as well.

I was concerned to hear from my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), that there are 500 cases in Wiltshire. Does the Minister agree that the Wiltshire constabulary might be better spending the £1 million and deploying the 18 full-time officers currently looking into possibly bogus allegations against Sir Edward Heath, on looking into those 500 cases?

My hon. Friend will know that priorities for the police are set by the police; it is not for Ministers to interfere with the decisions they make. It is of course very important that we investigate all allegations of sexual abuse without fear or favour, and that we get to the bottom of it and put away those people who are causing such harm.

The Minister is being far too glib. All the research shows that the best intermediary for teaching children is someone they trust in a school—that is the truth—and online work is not actually very effective. Is it not the truth that bullying and exploitation are rampant, and is it not about time that we stopped making excuses and took on the Googles and the people who allow this to be transmitted?

The hon. Gentleman misses the point: we are taking on the Googles and the big internet companies, but he should spend time in schools. In the primary schools that my children attend, they are given classes on how to stay safe online. This is not done in a silo, with just a website; it is a combination of the website with teachers and parents—everyone has a role—and that is being delivered. Our challenge in the world of the internet is to keep pace with the huge numbers of referrals that we get every month of international paedophiles who abuse the internet to exploit our children and take advantage of the latest technology, and to ensure that our law enforcement agencies constantly go the extra mile to catch them.

Order. I gently remind the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who nodded sagely at me to denote her interest in this matter, that on the whole it is prudent to stand, as the Speaker has many qualities but is not psychic.

23. I apologise, Mr Speaker. I thought my question had been grouped with this one, but I was clearly quite wrong.We have had a dreadful local case in which an international paedophile ring, such as those the Minister mentioned, infiltrated a chatroom aimed at nine-year-olds, with really dreadful consequences for those children. Will the Minister tell us what investment the Government are making to help the police and other law enforcement agencies deal with and stamp out this sort of abuse? (908301)

The National Crime Agency’s child exploitation and online protection command received an extra £10 million this year, and in November 2015 the NCA joined up with GHCQ in a joint operations cell to ensure that we tackle some of the most complicated crimes online. Those two things are just part of the whole process, and I would be happy to brief my hon. Friend further on the whole spectrum of efforts that we take against paedophiles and online abuse. The key is that we can all contribute to that online safety—teachers, parents, law enforcement agencies and community leaders— to ensure that we are aware of how paedophiles operate, and can shut them down and put them away.