Digital Economy Act 2017 (Commencement of Part 3) Bill [HL] Debate

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Lord McColl of Dulwich

Main Page: Lord McColl of Dulwich (Conservative - Life peer)

Digital Economy Act 2017 (Commencement of Part 3) Bill [HL]

Lord McColl of Dulwich Excerpts
Lord McColl of Dulwich Portrait Lord McColl of Dulwich (Con)
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My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, for picking up the baton from Baroness Howe and continuing to bring this important subject before your Lordships’ House.

I want to quote what the Government said in response to the Ofsted Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges which was published last June, as has been mentioned. A Statement was made in the other place on 10 June and in this House on 17 June which said:

“There is another thing that is not okay: the ease of access to and increasing violence of online pornography. This increasingly accessible online content, which often portrays extremely violent sex, can give young people warped views of sex and deeply disturbing views on consent.”—[Official Report, 17/6/21; col. 2071.]

That is why we are debating this Bill today. The Government appear to have been taken by surprise by the findings of the report last year. But it is not a surprise. The Conservative manifesto of 2015 acknowledged the impact of pornography on young people and promised action to stop children accessing this material.

In 2016, the Government introduced proposals for age verification by stating their concerns in terms very similar to the words used last year. The consultation document said:

“Pornography has never been more easily accessible online, and material that would previously have been considered extreme has become a part of mainstream online pornography. When young people access this material, it risks normalising behaviour that might be harmful to their future emotional and psychological development.”

The consultation document was issued in February 2016. Here I stand, nearly six years later, dismayed that the promised action has not materialised.

I do not doubt the Government’s good intentions with respect to the online safety Bill. I met the Minister with the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, last year to discuss the new proposals. But I said at the time—on Report on the domestic violence Bill—that I remained just as baffled after that meeting as to why the Government choose not to implement Part 3. I am not suggesting that Part 3 is a complete answer to all the issues around online pornography, but it is what we have available to us now. Doing nothing in the interim—before the online safety Bill comes into effect—is leaving our children and youth without protection from material that the Government acknowledge can lead to real harm.

It is not only children who are impacted by pornography. In our debates on the domestic violence Bill last year, it was clear that—as I said in Committee—sexual violence is an important part of domestic violence. During the debates, we heard about the links between pornography and acts of rough sex. The subsequent call for evidence to inform the tackling violence against women and girls strategy

“showed a widespread consensus about the harmful role that violent pornography can play in violence against women and girls”.

On 17 November 2021, when asked about the regulation of pornography, the Prime Minister said that

“people are coarsened and degraded by this stuff”.

I could not agree more.

I am left wondering why the Government do not use the legislation that is on the statute book to act now, as has been mentioned before. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, but I hope his remarks will be more than the stock statements about how the Government are working on the online safety Bill. This was the position in March 2021, and we have not yet started debating the Bill in Parliament.

I started my speech by referring to the Government’s response to the Ofsted report. The response included that announcement that

“the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have asked the Children’s Commissioner to start looking immediately at how we can reduce children and young people’s access to pornography and other harmful content. That work will identify whether there are actions that can be taken more quickly to protect children before the online safety Bill comes into effect.”—[Official Report, 17/6/21; col. 2071.]

I hope the Minister will set out clearly today the Government’s short-term plans to achieve these objectives, and how they will also ensure that the plans include actions to protect women from the consequences of violent pornography. I urge the Minister—as I have done before—to include the implementation of Part 3 as part of the interim measures.