All 9 Claire Perry contributions to the Digital Economy Act 2017

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 11th Oct 2016
Digital Economy Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tue 11th Oct 2016
Digital Economy Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 13th Oct 2016
Digital Economy Bill (Third sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Tue 18th Oct 2016
Digital Economy Bill (Fourth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 20th Oct 2016
Digital Economy Bill (Fifth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 20th Oct 2016
Digital Economy Bill (Sixth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 27th Oct 2016
Digital Economy Bill (Tenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 1st Nov 2016
Digital Economy Bill (Eleventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons
Mon 28th Nov 2016
Digital Economy Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading: House of Commons & Legislative Grand Committee: House of Commons & Programme motion No. 3: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons

Digital Economy Bill (First sitting) Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Digital Economy Bill (First sitting)

Claire Perry Excerpts
Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 11th October 2016

(7 years, 8 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Digital Economy Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 11 October 2016 - (11 Oct 2016)
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
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Q Baroness Harding, should the USO not have been an open tender process? If it had been, would it not have been right for it to have gone to more than one contractor, given the differences between the problems in inner city areas and those in rural areas?

Baroness Harding: Yes, maybe. I presume that you refer to the BDUK process that has taken place. I am actually very supportive of a universal service obligation. I do not agree with Sean Williams that 10 megabits will be sufficient as we look forward; it is very dangerous to try to set that number through primary legislation because technology is moving so fast. I fear that the rural communities who are furious that they do not have 10 meg today will be furious that they do not have 1 gigabit in three or four years’ time. I think you should be more ambitious, otherwise the political problem will never go away.

In terms of how then to get value for money for any form of Government subsidy, taxpayers’ money or levy going towards the final few per cent., I agree with the premise of your question. The more competition there is, the better, and it is a huge shame that there was none in the last process. To be fair to the Government of the time, I do not think that was because of how it was designed. The good news is that the market has changed quite a lot since then, and there are now a number of quite small providers building proper fibre-to-the-premises 1 gig services in rural areas, such as Gigaclear. I would be much more hopeful that, looking forward, it will be possible to design a process that is not reliant on one large incumbent.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con)
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Q As you know, I represent a very rural constituency. I support what has happened; it is clearly far better than it was five years ago. However, what happens if no USO provider is willing to come forward to deal with the last 500 houses in the Devizes constituency? What should happen then?

None Portrait The Chair
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The acoustics in the room are terrible. If Members and witnesses could really speak up, that would be very helpful.

Sean Williams: To answer from our perspective, we are willing to enter into a binding legal commitment that we will deliver at least 10 megabit broadband to 100% of premises by the end of 2020. Our objective with this is really to give the Government and Ofcom comfort that we can get on and do this.

I would emphasise that I think that there is a lot of competition, as the Baroness just mentioned. We have Virgin expanding their network, we have Gigaclear and Hyperoptic expanding their network and we have the mobile operators expanding networks that can deliver 10 megabit broadband by 4G. There is a lot of competition to deliver this. For our part, we are willing to undertake to make sure that every single premises can get 10 megabits by the end of 2020.

Baroness Harding: The MP for Devizes raised a very good question. I am a firm believer that competition will do the majority of this, and we should try our damnedest to make the private sector fund most of this through competition, but I think there is a fair chance that in three or four years’ time a number of your constituents will not have broadband that they think is good enough.

I promise that I will not take up the whole session on this, but I think that the solution is to separate Openreach completely and put a universal service obligation on an independent Openreach. Once you have an infrastructure entity that is not owned by one of the retail providers, that takes away a lot of the industry issues with the public subsidy in some shape or form needed to get proper fibre for that final few per cent.

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Matt Hancock Portrait The Minister for Digital and Culture (Matt Hancock)
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Q I welcome the commitment from BT to reach 100% of premises by 2020, but I ask for a point of clarification on language. Mr Williams, you referred in the percentages to “fibre” and, separately, to “fibre to the premises”. Can you confirm that by “fibre” you mean a combination of fibre and copper and that by “fibre to the premises” you mean pure fibre? The use of the term “fibre” reflects statistics that I understand mean fibre to the cabinet, so I find confusing the offer to households being “fibre plus copper”. I would be grateful if you clarified that.

Sean Williams: I am happy to. When I use the term “fibre broadband”, I mean fibre to the cabinet, which is a combination of rolling out fibre further into the network but with copper into the end premises. When I use the term “fibre into the premises” I mean fibre all the way into the building. I apologise for being unclear.

When I say we will deliver fibre broadband, it will largely be, in my view, through a combination of fibre and copper, but we are also very positive about fibre to the premises and typically deploy fibre to the premises in all new building sites and in lots of Broadband Delivery UK areas. We are developing fibre to the premises solutions that are particularly targeted at small and medium-sized enterprises. We have made a commitment that we will get ultrafast broadband speeds, which is both fibre and copper, and also fibre-to-the-premises solutions to 1 million SMEs by 2020. We have heard the prioritisation that the Government have put on getting very good broadband speeds to small and medium-sized enterprises and we have made a commitment we will get that to 1 million of them by 2020 as well.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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Q I am conscious of what Baroness Harding said about perhaps not setting a quantum, but do you think there should be a separate quantum for SMEs? One of the challenges we have is that there is not enough. We do not have separate legislation or, indeed, powers for cabling to new business parks. If I may ask a supplementary question, in my experience the issue with the USO is often with the broadband speeds in the household; it is not just a question of getting the cable to the front door or the bricks. What could the process be for dealing with those claims and helping householders realise that that might be a problem?

One final question: we would like the USO to be an average speed, rather than being achieved 15% of the time, or whatever the current average regulations are. What are your views on that? Are you prepared to commit to our offering an average USO of 10 megabits per second?

Baroness Harding: At the risk of being dangerously technical, I think we all try to summarise in the form of speed, but actually consumers and businesses would say that reliability and consistency are every bit as important as speed. The small businesses that are customers of TalkTalk would say, “It’s not the headline speed I need. I need it to work every single second when my customers are using the chip and pin machine in my small corner shop”, for example. So while speed is a useful proxy, it is not perfect.

The Minister gets to the nub of the issue: when you have a proper fibre network that goes all the way to the premises, you have upgrade potential. You just change the card in the rack of computers back at the exchange and you can go from 1G to 100G. You also have a much, much more reliable network. When it rains, water does not get into the copper and it does not stop working.

The small businesses that we talk to are very cross that the fibre-to-the-premises roll-out has missed out a lot of business parks—not necessarily because they want speed, but because they want a reliable service where they can upload as much as they can download and customers can always buy things from them.

I would therefore support being clearer in the detailed regulations that I presume Ofcom would set in specifying the service requirements for small businesses as opposed to consumers.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
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Q What flexibility would you like to see within the legislation for either the Government or perhaps Ofcom to be able to deem the level of the USO in the manner that Baroness Harding described as technology increases?

David Dyson: I have a couple of points. Covering some of the previous questions, it is impossible to predict what will be the right speed in five years’ time. There are two elements to delivering that. One is effective competition. On the second, I agree with Baroness Harding that in those harder-to-reach less economic areas, the separation of Openreach is the only way that you will get assurance that those customers will get the right speed.

Fundamentally, Ofcom needs to have more powers to make the right decisions that effectively create the right competitive environment in the UK—an environment where it is not constantly worried about being litigated. At that point, you have a stronger regulator that will make the right decisions for the right reasons and a lot of these discussions will take care of themselves.

Baroness Harding: You can see from my nodding head that I agree with David. A lot of the provisions in the Bill are very good, pro-consumer, and I would encourage the Committee to look very favourably towards them. David has just alluded to one of them, which is to make sure that you have a stronger regulator that can get decisions taken faster without using up nearly 50% of the Competition Appeal Tribunal’s time.

Sean Williams: On the specific question about flexibility, as long as it is stable enough for network investors to deploy a certain investment in order to get to the target and then recover some of their investment money, it can be flexible after that. If it is too flexible, you never quite know what you are supposed to be investing in, so I think it needs to be definitive for a period and then it can move on progressively as society and the economy moves on.

I agree with Baroness Harding on the subject of reliability. Reliability is a very important metric, but SMEs are not typically the most demanding broadband customers. A big household streaming lots of HD videos is a very demanding broadband supplier. SMEs and large households have different kinds of requirements and we need to work with Ofcom to establish exactly what those standards should be.

It is true that some of the problems happen within the home or within the business premises. It is important to make sure that all the retailers—TalkTalk and all the others—are able to support their customers in the business or home. Making sure those networks and wi-fi work well is also very important, to answer Mr Perry’s earlier remarks.

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Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
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Q Why should we be limiting ourselves to something that is barely sufficient now? What changes could we see in the Bill that would give us anything like the connectivity that Mr Wheeldon just mentioned?

Paul Morris: You have to make sure that the USO does not get in the way of future ambition. We have to think about how we move from what we have today, which is largely a copper and fibre mix, with the exception of Virgin. We still have telephone lines running broadband, essentially; as David says, we have to move on and be more ambitious. The point is to make sure that the USO does not get in the way of that ambition to do better and to use fibre for homes and businesses. We should make sure that the smaller networks have an option to be involved in the USO, and, if they have the ambition, that they know that a USO provider is not going to over-build them.

There is lots to be done outside the legislation, and clearly we do not need to repeat the mistakes of BDUK. We need to know where the assets are, who can do the work and where the green cabinets are. It needs to make sense and we need to have some kind of register. We need a practical approach and money needs to follow results—not the other way round, which was the other issue with BDUK. We can learn from some issues from the past, and we need to make sure that this USO does not get in the way of what we need to do next, which is to have much more fibre in the ground across the whole country.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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Q I represent a fairly rural constituency and I was interested to know what would happen if no USO provider came forward to do the right thing. What should happen in that case? How will the Government be able to mandate that provision?

Daniel Butler: We are not convinced that that situation will arise. What Mr Williams from BT just outlined was that BT was willing to enter into a legal obligation in which it would be the national provider for a universal service obligation. That is how it works today under the fixed telephony USO. Up to a relatively high cost threshold, BT is not allowed to pick and choose which areas and premises it connects and which it does not; it has a legal obligation to fulfil. The model does not need to radically change as we move to a broadband USO.

Paul Morris: Basically, you have to remember that most of these premises will have a telephone line—although not all, I grant you. That is a good start. It is about how we use what is already there well, and how we upgrade it.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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Q Exactly, but as I know from personal experience, having a copper line does not guarantee anything like the advertised speeds today. My previous question related to small businesses. Some of the most frustrated people in my constituency are small businesses in business parks, who could benefit hugely from an upgrade. Do you think the Government should be setting a separate USO for a small business, versus a household?

Daniel Butler: The evidence suggests that 10 megabits is sufficient for the average small business. An extensive study conducted by Communications Chambers for the Broadband Stakeholder Group found that in 2015, the average bandwidth requirement for a small business was 5 megabits per second. That was likely to increase to about 8 megabits per second by 2025.

As Mr Williams pointed out in the previous session, the bandwidth requirement of the average small business is likely to be less bandwidth-intense than the average household. The heavy-bandwidth applications that place the most pressure on a household connection— simultaneous usage and HD video—are less pronounced in a small business environment, where the majority of usage involves accessing Government websites, accessing websites more generally, sending emails and so on.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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Q That rather depends on the sort of small business. While that might be true for a farmer, for example, what I want in my constituency is the ability to have the sort of businesses that would locate to silicon roundabout come to a beautiful part of the country where property is much cheaper. I would be cautious about writing off rural areas as only ever being able to access Government websites and check their emails one at a time. I think we should be doing something much more ambitious with obligations—particularly for small business parks, so you have clusters of fibre around those.

David Wheeldon: We would probably part company with Virgin Media here, in as much as we do not think you should be constraining by type of usage in quite that way. All the history and evidence of the data that goes across our networks means we are seeing a continued exponential increase in data usage. Going back to what Daniel said earlier, it is hard to say that specific usages are worthy of a USO intervention and others are not. Those things will change over time, including small businesses—their use cases will change over time.

In the case of businesses and business parks, it is extraordinary that there are business parks, not just in rural areas but in city areas, that do not have sufficient fibre connections. Very often that is to do with the distortions in the market where it is to the benefit of the network operator to be selling expensive leased lines to businesses rather than investing in fibre to all premises.

When we come down to it, this is a problem based around the quality of the infrastructure we have at the moment and the incentives to continue to invest. As Paul Morris said, it is important that we get the USO right, but it must not stand in the way of the massive further investment we believe is required of the nation’s network.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
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Q I am a little shocked to hear Mr Butler say that 10 megabits is okay for the average small business. In my constituency, high-tech industries and digital creative industries need something much more reliable, much more secure and a lot greater than 10 megabits. They are not just uploading the odd film; they are making the films. Can I push you on that? They need secure, reliable, consistent bandwidth. What on earth has blocked the roll-out of that so far in city centres as well as rural areas? What else could the Bill do to push business, provide the infrastructure or give Ofcom the teeth—whatever is needed—to help the high-tech and creative industries grow?

Daniel Butler: This is one part of the market where Paul’s concerns about market distortion are particularly pronounced, because the market for small business connectivity is evolving at a rapid pace. Broadband providers are beginning to target the types of use cases you outlined there: high-tech but small business where, realistically, a leased line is not an affordable solution. Virgin Media has been at the vanguard of product innovations to make symmetric business broadband connections available to high-tech businesses in London, but also outside of London, at more affordable, residential-type price points. This is one example where the market is evolving at a very rapid pace.

Business connectivity is starting to address the challenges you have identified. The use requirements I outline are what the evidence suggests is the typical requirement of a small business. Obviously, there will be outliers where the market is the right mechanism to deliver for those companies.

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Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan
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Q It would be very helpful if you could do that before we meet next week.

Pete Moorey: On the 10 megabit point, clearly for a lot of consumers it will not be enough; for others, it will be a godsend. Ofcom has done a pretty decent piece of work in understanding average consumer use at the moment. It has developed a speed that is probably appropriate to start, but will have to be addressed in time. The really important issue is how it does that and how it involves consumers in the process. There is a real danger that we get into an arbitrary point of view and say, “Well, it should be 15 or 20 megabits” rather than setting the speed with consumers themselves.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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Q I want to focus questions directly on Mr Legge. I represent a very rural constituency. We are very anxious about home building. We now have effective neighbourhood plans that rather than mandating giant developments plonked down wherever anybody wants them, require developers—often small developers—to work with communities. The preamble is to ask you whether you think the new law coming in next year to require automatic superfast broadband connection for sites of more than 100 homes is suitable for rural areas, or whether we ought to be going further and effectively making it a utility provision for all home builders.

James Legge: My view is very much that it should be seen as a utility provision. The whole way in which we have looked at the housing problem in rural areas has transformed over the last 10 years from the idea of plonking mini-towns on the edge of existing communities. We have realised that if you try to do that, all you do is create massive local opposition and nothing gets built. What you want is small-scale development that is sensitive and local to the community, provides local housing, and is affordable, often affordable in perpetuity.

The idea that you will only get broadband provision when you build 100 premises on the edge of a village or in a rural area is undesirable, simply on the grounds that where new properties are going in and we are putting in an infrastructure, it seems absurd not to take the opportunity. We would not say we are not going to put in electricity, water or, ideally, gas as well, although we do not have mains gas everywhere, to be fair. I think broadband is too important.

It is also important to realise that the population trend at the moment is a move from towns to rural areas. There is enormous potential. If you take a population of 10,000, there are more start-up businesses in rural areas. I think London and some of the major urban city centres exceed. The countryside is a largely missed opportunity, but all the signs are there that if it gets broadband it is ready to fire and go further; so the figure of 100 is too urban-centric in thinking.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
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Q Mr Legge, you talk about the need for a fair system of site rents for country landowners in terms of wayleaves and access.

James Legge: I do not think that I did—

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None Portrait The Chair
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This will probably be the last question.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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Q I wanted to confirm with Mr Legge that he was aware that there are provisions in the Bill to report broadband speed by household. That is something I welcome, and I hope he does too. I suppose that, like me, he is concerned about Mr Huddleston’s point about the provision of service speed to many households in rural areas. I hope that, as a representative of a large chunk of the country, he will welcome that as a positive step for many rural households.

James Legge: Yes, we absolutely think the Bill is very much a step in the right direction, but it is like everything: one can always ask for more and hope for more. Certainly, from our point of view, increasing competition and empowering the consumer is one of the most important aspects of the Bill. Otherwise, people are not in a position to make choices and then take action when the companies do not deliver. As I said, it is important that that is seen as a first step and not as, “We have got 10 megabits—then what?”

None Portrait The Chair
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It was not the last question.

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Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan
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Q Finally, should the Bill be strengthened in some way in order to achieve that, and could that be done by an amendment to it, either of you?

Jeni Tennison: I think it could be strengthened by adding some provisions around openness and transparency, putting that at the heart of what you need to do whenever there is a data-sharing arrangement.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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Q I appreciate that point, but does either of you agree that there is a real asymmetry of concern between data which an individual may share with a public body and data which individuals share with a corporate body? One thing I am fascinated by, and it relates to so many provisions in the Bill, is that we knowingly or unknowingly give away rights to all kinds of information with every keystroke we make on the internet. We give huge chunks of personal information to corporate bodies which do not have the definition, as per clause 31, of improving the welfare of the individual, but are simply in it for profit. How would either of you help us to address that? Perhaps the Government—rightly, as an elected organisation—are being scrutinised about this, but my constituents are willy-nilly giving away vast chunks of their data, and in some cases giving away private data to very insecure storage facilities, almost without knowing it. It is frustrating for a Government who are trying to do the right thing to make digital government far more effective—as you did, Mike, during your time—to constantly be facing concerns and criticisms that ought properly to be applied to corporate bodies, but never are.

Mike Bracken: I completely understand your point about asymmetry and I agree with that. I would suggest that in corporate, public and private life it is a fair assumption that many people in the country are waking up to how their data have been used, how they have released that data and, increasingly, the repercussions of that, whether on social media, transactional data with a private company or, indeed, the public sector. There is a general awareness of and unease about some of the practices in all three of those sectors.

Having said that, the Government are held to a different account. Our members—we are a member-based organisation—hold the Co-op to a different account. We are the custodian of their data, and we are owned by our members. Many of the services we provide or help to provide to our members, such as wills, probate and funeral care, are deeply emotive at a certain time of life. These services often depend on Government data being in very good shape about place, location and identity. It is a fair correlation to draw that there should be a symmetry between how an organisation like us should be governed and managed, and the rules that should apply to public sector data. That is not to say that all the data regulations which apply to all corporations and trading organisations need to be exactly the same as those for the Government. That would be a political issue far beyond my position to comment on. The Co-op would look to see that the Government uphold the highest possible standards, so that our members can get the best possible use of that public data.

Jeni Tennison: Perhaps I can add a couple of things. Mike has made the point well that the Government need to act as a model for how to do data sharing well, and how to be open and transparent about handling people’s personal data. The Government are in a position of authority there. However, the other thing to bring up is that we have a mixed economy for the delivery of public services, including the private sector, charities and social enterprises. There should be some scrutiny over the way in which those organisations are handling personal data in the context of delivering those public services.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Q Do you believe that there is a lot of work to do in terms of clarity, in order to allay some of the fears about which data are being used here? I have had emails from constituents, and there is a perception that Excel spreadsheets will be floating around universities with personal financial data and personal health records. It is nothing like that, is it? It is aggregated and anonymised. What can we do, what can Government do and what can you do to help clarify the opportunity, move the debate on to those opportunities and allay some of those fears about data protection?

Jeni Tennison: I completely agree that there needs to be greater clarity about which data are being shared with whom, and why and how. You say that we are talking here about the transfer of aggregate and anonymised data, but that is not necessarily the case for some of the pieces of data sharing that are in the Bill. Some of it is the sharing of individual-level data, but it is not clear whether those are bulk Excel spreadsheets or through APIs. Those are the kinds of details that actually make a difference to how anybody might think about this trade-off between privacy and the public good.

Mike Bracken: Perhaps another way of thinking about that would be to question whether there needs to be sharing at all. As Jeni said, the sharing of data in Government has many different forms. Hopefully, many of those are secure and anonymised. I have doubts about our overall data-sharing operations, simply because Government is so distributed and there are so much data. Adding more sharing, without a clear landscape under which that is happening, seems to add more risk of privacy violation and more risk to security. Perhaps a way to think about it is access rather than sharing. Many Government Departments, and many organisations, are able to provide individual data points at point of request to people who they trust. You can query a dataset using an application programming interface rather than sharing an entire dataset with Departments. I suspect it is that willingness to share very large sets of data in different ways for the convenience of Government Departments and agencies that is the root cause of the unease around the data sharing part of the Bill.

Digital Economy Bill (Second sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Cabinet Office

Digital Economy Bill (Second sitting)

Claire Perry Excerpts
Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 11th October 2016

(7 years, 8 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Digital Economy Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 11 October 2016 - (11 Oct 2016)
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q And is that the only form of age verification that you have so far looked into?

David Austin: The only form of age verification that we, as the BBFC, have experience of is age verification on mobile phones, but there are other methods and there are new methods coming on line. The Digital Policy Alliance, which I believe had a meeting here yesterday to demonstrate new types of age verification, is working on a number of initiatives.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con)
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Q May I say what great comfort it is to know that the BBFC will be involved in the regulatory role? It suggests that this will move in the right direction. We all feel very strongly that the Bill is a brilliant step in the right direction: things that were considered inconceivable four or five years ago can now be debated and legislated for.

The fundamental question for me comes down to enforcement. We know that it is difficult to enforce anything against offshore content providers; that is why in the original campaign we went for internet service providers that were British companies, for whom enforcement could work. What reassurance can you give us that enforcement, if you have the role of enforcement, could be carried out against foreign entities? Would it not be more appropriate to have a mandatory take-down regime if we found that a company was breaking British law by not asking for age verification, as defined in the Bill?

David Austin: The BBFC heads of agreement with the Government does not cover enforcement. We made clear that we would not be prepared to enforce the legislation in clauses 20 and 21 as they currently stand. Our role is focused much more on notification; we think we can use the notification process and get some quite significant results.

We would notify any commercially-operated pornographic website or app if we found them acting in contravention of the law and ask them to comply. We believe that some will and some, probably, will not, so as a second backstop we would then be able to contact and notify payment providers and ancillary service providers and request that they withdraw services from those pornographic websites. So it is a two-tier process.

We have indications from some major players in the adult industry that they want to comply—PornHub, for instance, is on record on the BBC News as having said that it is prepared to comply. But you are quite right that there will still be gaps in the regime, I imagine, after we have been through the notification process, no matter how much we can achieve that way, so the power to fine is essentially the only real power the regulator will have, whoever the regulator is for stage 4.

For UK-based websites and apps, that is fine, but it would be extremely challenging for any UK regulator to pursue foreign-based websites or apps through a foreign jurisdiction to uphold a UK law. So we suggested, in our submission of evidence to the consultation back in the spring, that ISP blocking ought to be part of the regulator’s arsenal. We think that that would be effective.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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Q Am I right in thinking that, for sites that are providing illegally copyrighted material, there is currently a take-down and blocking regime that does operate in the UK, regardless of their jurisdiction?

David Austin: Yes; ISPs do block website content that is pirated. There was research published earlier this year in the US that found that it drove traffic to pirated websites down by about 90%. Another tool that has been used in relation to IP protection is de-indexing, whereby a search engine removes the infringing website from any search results. We also see that as a potential way forward.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
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Q First, can I verify that you both support adding in the power to require ISPs to block non-compliant sites?

David Austin: Yes.

Alan Wardle: Yes, we support that.

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Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
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Q To follow on from the Minister’s question, you feel you are able to tackle roughly the top 50 most visited sites. Is there a danger that you then replace those with the next top 50 that are perhaps less regulated and less co-operative? How might we deal with that particular problem, if it exists?

David Austin: When I said “the top 50”, I was talking in terms of the statistics showing that 70% of people go to the top 50. We would start with the top 50 and work our way through those, but we would not stop there. We would look to get new data every quarter, for example. As you say, sites will come in and out of popularity. We will keep up to date and focus on those most popular sites for children.

We would also create something that we have, again, done with the mobile operators. We would create an ability for members of the public—a parent, for example—to contact us about a particular website if that is concerning them. If an organisation such as the NSPCC is getting information about a particular website or app that is causing problems in terms of under-age access, we would take a look at that as well. In creating this proportionality test what we must not do is be as explicit as to say that we will look only at the top 50.

First, that is not what we would do. Secondly, we do not want anyone to think, “Okay, we don’t need to worry about the regulator because we are not on their radar screen.” It is very important to keep up to date with what are the most popular sites and, therefore, the most effective in dealing with under-age regulation, dealing with complaints from members of the public and organisations such as the NSPCC.

Alan Wardle: I think that is why the enforcement part is so important as well, so that people know that if they do not put these mechanisms in place there will be fines and enforcement notices, the flow of money will be stopped and, crucially, there is that backstop power to block if they do not operate as we think they should in this country. The enforcement mechanisms are really important to ensure that the BBFC can do their job properly and people are not just slipping from one place to the next.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q Of those top 50 sites, do we know how many are UK-based?

David Austin: I would guess, none of them. I do not know for sure, but that would be my understanding.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q Secondly, I want to turn briefly to the issue of the UK’s video on demand content. My reading around clause 15 suggests that, although foreign-made videos on demand will be captured by the new provisions, UK-based will continue to be caught by Communications Act 2003 provisions. Do you think that is adequate?

David Austin: That is my understanding as well. We work very closely with Ofcom. Ofcom regulates UK on demand programme services as the Authority for Television On Demand, but it applies our standards in doing so. That is a partnership that works pretty effectively and Ofcom has done an effective job in dealing with that type of content. That is one bit that is carved out from the Bill and already dealt with by Ofcom.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

It is already done. Okay. Thank you.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We have given the witnesses a good half-hour grilling, so if no one is seeking to catch my eye—yes, Calum?

--- Later in debate ---
Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q One of the biggest challenges facing coastal and rural communities like mine is the problems with undulating coastlines and areas of outstanding natural beauty. I am interested in your thoughts on how we can strengthen the Bill to make sure we get out to some of the rural areas left behind in the past.

Scott Coates: I refer you back to the last question. The most efficient way to deal with that is through the licences. There is licensing coming up that will create an opportunity. Unfortunately, it is going to be a few years before the airwaves that deliver that are available for deployment.

There is a lot of activity happening in the sector at the moment. The mobile operators are very busy investing in their networks and we are working hand in hand with them to help them deliver that. I know we are building new towers in coastal areas right now; I do not know if we are building one in your constituency. So it is getting better. Bear in mind that the Government struck a deal with the mobile operators 18 months ago and the operators are busy investing on the back of that. In the last 4G licence, when the 800 MHz got auctioned, one of the licence lots, bought by Telefónica, required it to cover more of the country, so Telefónica is investing on the back of that as well.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q I want to push Dr Whitley on the privacy question. I think that what you are asking for, a code of conduct and some clarity, is reasonable, but equally, we cannot know what the demands and the questions might be going forward, or the data requirements. I look back on where Government do share data, querying the national insurance database, or, indeed, the Government ID project, where DVLA records were queried as a measure of identity, it all appeared to be fine, there were no issues of privacy or data loss, to my knowledge. In a way, should we not be taking on trust—I know that trust is a word people never like to use with Government, whereas we trust corporates all the time with all kinds of data—that we have not had a problem and that the right rules and procedures and the spirit of privacy will be protected?

Dr Whitley: You have highlighted a very privacy-friendly way of checking data that says, somebody has a database and you look it up and you say, “This particular person, or this particular attribute, is it true, yes or no?” Referring to the previous evidence session and the question, “Is this person over 18 and therefore able to access?”, yes/no seems a perfectly reasonable way of doing that and that is the kind of thing that we have been encouraging Government to do. As you say, the Verify programme uses exactly those kinds of checks. The problem is that, without that level of detail, it is not at all clear that that is going to be proposed for all parts of the data sharing. Again, with the civil registration data, they say explicitly, “We want to do bulk sharing” and that is, by definition, not a yes/no check. That is, “Here is a set of data that we have that we think will be useful for your Department to match against and thereby tailor particular services.”

As the National Audit Office reported a few weeks ago, there were 9,000 data incidents within Government in 2014-15. If you start just moving the data around, you really run the risk of data incidents of varying levels of severity, and if you do not have that detail you have to rely on trust. Is it not better to have that detail, so you can say, “This is what we want to do, this is the way we are thinking of doing it”, and ask experts, not only in PCAG but in general, “Do you have any issues or concerns about that and, if you do, what alternative ways might there be for addressing those?”?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q Do large corporate families do that? Nobody ever reads the Ts and Cs, but if they do, do you give explicit permission for your data to be handled around the Facebook family, for example, in the way that you suggest Government should specify? That is just a question from ignorance.

Dr Whitley: I do not know exactly how Facebook would handle it, but even if you are not worried about the data breach and data loss issue there is just a simple efficiency thing: it is a lot easier to have small pieces of data—yes/no, they are interested in this form of cat food, they are interested in those kinds of holidays, therefore target adverts based on that—than sending huge swathes of data to other parts of the system for duplication and therefore increasing the risk of data loss.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q It is an operational concern as well as a privacy concern?

Dr Whitley: Yes. From my perspective you start with a privacy concern that says, minimise the data that you are handling, do not have it in duplicate locations all over, but a consequence of starting with that privacy concern is that you also have very clear operational efficiencies; that you are not duplicating data and you are not having large amounts of data in your system, because the more data you hold, the more likely it is that there will be a breach, an attack, an accidental loss or whatever.

--- Later in debate ---
Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Forgive me for interrupting Mr Killock, but there is a good reason. You asked about successful outcomes—and if you are going to ask a question, I am going to answer it—the successful outcome is that children are protected in the online world in the same way as they are protected in the offline world. I have to reiterate this to you: I do not understand why you think it is a risk worth taking that some adults may or may not have their own personal preferences infringed, balanced against the harm which we know is done to children. On teenage boys, just saying that because teenage boys may or may not continue to watch pornography there is no point, that seems to be a very sad conclusion to come to.

Jim Killock: The point is that you can help children to be protected, the questions is, what is the best way? For instance, I agree with the NSPCC’s calls for the compulsory education of children. Of course that should be happening and it is not. Similarly, Claire Perry’s initiative to have filters available has its merits. Where I have a problem is where adults are forced into that situation, where they are having websites blocked and where there is little redress around that. I caution you around large-scale blocking of websites because we know from our own evidence that a very large number of websites get blocked incorrectly and it has impacts on those people too. The question is, what is effective? I am not sure that age verification will be effective in its own terms in protecting children.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Mr Killock, it is nice to hear you finally supporting the initiative. Indeed, all of the shroud waving about false blocking was brought out with vigour many times over the past five years—

Jim Killock: We stand by that.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Best not to interrupt the questions, Mr Killock. Let the questions be put.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q My point is that it is sad that the campaign once again from your organisation is that the perfect must be the enemy of the good. I am afraid I would also question this issue of false blocking, and I would appreciate written evidence if you have it. It is a tiny fraction. It has never reached anything like the levels your organisation has claimed, and the processes for notification and unblocking have massively improved over the last five years. My question to you is: at what point does your organisation stop dealing with this world where it is, “Hands off our internet” and start accepting that content provision via the internet, which is just another form of provider, should have exactly the same safeguards as exist in the offline world?

Renate, your points around this are also quite disturbing because you are holding up for a perfect world—

Renate Samson: What points?

Q Claire Perry: Around privacy and data recognition. At what point do we accept that what is proposed in this Bill is actually a good step forward? While it may not be perfect, it is a massive step-change improvement on what we have today.

Jim Killock: The first question is: “What is the impact on everyone?”

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q No, the question is: will you provide us with written evidence of this issue of false blocking, in detail, because I happen to think it is completely untrue, your words on this?

Jim Killock: Yes, we can.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q We would appreciate written evidence by next week. Thank you.

Jim Killock: We have literally hundreds.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q Hundreds? Of the 1.5 billion websites that are out there?

Jim Killock: The error rate does not appear so large; but when you multiply that by the number of providers that have different blocking systems it becomes quite significant.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I look forward to the evidence.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Do not interrupt the questions, or the answers.

Jim Killock: On the wider question, what is effective, the question is how are children protected, versus what is the impact on adults. At the moment we do not know, because the system is not in place, what that effect on adults will be; but we have to be concerned that adults should feel free to access legal material, no matter what it is. They should not feel like they are being snooped on or having their privacy or anonymity removed.

I was encouraged by some of things that were said earlier, but I have to say that when we sent some technical observers to hear about the systems that are likely to be put in place—the sort of things that vendors want to do—we heard a rather different story. The sorts of things they want to do include harvesting user data, maybe using Facebook and other platforms, to pull in their data to verify people’s age by inference. These things were not privacy friendly. Let us assume that the BBFC has a job, as apparently it does. It would be good if it had clear duties around privacy and anonymity, to make sure that it has to put those things first and foremost when it is choosing and thinking about age verification systems.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q As a supplementary, does your organisation campaign against age verification on gambling sites on the internet?

Jim Killock: No, we do not.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q Even though exactly the same issues of privacy could apply?

Jim Killock: I think they are rather different, are not they?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q Why? They are legal.

Jim Killock: The first thing is that gambling sites are dealing with money. They have to know a little bit about their customers. They need to do that for fraud purposes, for instance. The second thing is, I think, it is much harder to argue that there is a free expression impact for gambling, compared with accessing legal material, whether it is pornographic or not.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q So your interest is not about legality. It is about your interpretation of legal and illegal material.

Jim Killock: It ultimately is about what the courts think is the boundary around free expression, and what sort of things are impacting on people’s free expression and privacy. That is our standpoint. What we are asking for, the same as you, is the same standards online as offline. One of those standards is human rights and what we are entitled to do.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Let us hear from Ms Samson; and then we are moving on.

Renate Samson: Just to be clear, we submitted evidence and we have concerns about part 5 of the Bill. The questions you have been asking Mr Killock—I am unclear; are you asking me about the same issues you are asking him?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

No, specifically about the part 5 questions.

Renate Samson: Okay. We have not, in our evidence and our concerns, asked for a perfect Bill, although I do not believe there is any harm in trying to make the best piece of legislation we can. The work that we do with the Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group and as part of the open policy making process is about having engagement, to ensure that we are the leading light in data sharing, but also data protection. As Mr Killock has mentioned, we are currently looking at the Data Protection Act 1998. That will probably expire in May 2018, and we will get the general data protection regulation. Right now the measure in question does not even refer to that, or, indeed, to the Investigatory Powers Bill. It refers to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the DPA. Also, it will probably fail on a number of the key points of the GDPR, in relation to potential profiling, consent of the individual, and putting the citizen at the heart of data sharing and data protection.

I am not looking for “perfect”, but I think “perfect” is a good place to head towards.

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q My question is for Mr Killock, with regard to what the Bill is seeking to do in terms of equalisation of copyright offence penalties. I just wondered why your organisation was not in favour of rights holders—the tens of thousands of content creators. Why is your organisation not keen on the idea in the Bill?

Jim Killock: That would be a misrepresentation. We are quite clear in our response. We are worried about the impact of this on people who should not be criminalised and who we thought the Government were not trying to criminalise in this case. Our position is that if the Government are going to extend the sentence and have the same sentence online as offline for criminal copyright infringement—that is to say, 10 years—then they need to be very careful about how the lines are drawn, because the offences are quite different. Offline, in the real world, criminal copyright infringement covers a number of acts. It is all about copying and duplication. Essentially, it is about criminal gangs duplicating DVDs and the like. Online, making that separation is harder, because everything looks like the same act—that is to say, publication. You put something on the internet, it is a publication. So how do you tell who is the criminal and who is the slightly idiotic teenager, or whatever it happens to be? How do you make sure that people who should not be threatened with copyright criminal sentences are not given those threats?

We particularly draw attention to the phenomenon of copyright trolling. For instance, there is a company called Golden Eye International, a pornographer which specialises in sending bulk letters to Sky customers, BT customers and so on, saying, “Please pay us £300 because you downloaded a film that is under copyright.” These are obviously pornographic films and they then wait for people to pay up. They have no specific knowledge that these people are actually the people doing the downloading, all they know is that somebody appears to have downloaded.

--- Later in debate ---
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q It discusses the transfer of data. It does not talk about your accessing data. It does not mention the technology through which you would do it. There are no codes of practice alongside how it would happen. It is very broad and explicitly talks about data sharing in certain areas.

Hetan Shah: I think I said this earlier, but in case I was not clear I shall repeat it. For statistical and research purposes, statisticians and researchers are interested only in aggregates; they are not interested in us as individuals. It is a key point that the relevant clauses are quite different from some of the other parts of the Bill. Others have indicated in their evidence that this area should be seen as slightly different.

It is also worth noting that there are safeguards that have been tried and tested over many years. There is the security surrounding the data—the ONS will not even let me into the vault where they hold the data. You need to be accredited and to sign something saying that you will not misuse the data. If you do, you will go to jail. The trick that has been missed has been not saying all that, because it is almost assumed that that is how the ONS works. My suggestion is that if you want to strengthen that part of the Bill, you should just lay out the safeguards that are already common practice in the ONS.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q Thank you both for setting out some very factual and helpful arguments as to why the provisions are a good thing, particularly when it comes to aggregate statistics. I was struck by a quote in your report published in March, Professor Sir Charles. You mentioned the

“cumbersome nature of the present legal framework”,

which the Bill will clearly help to solve, and you also said that there was a

“cultural reluctance on the part of some departments and officials to data sharing”

and, in many ways, to working together, as we know from experience. How do we solve that problem and get Departments to realise how helpful some of these datasets might be?

Professor Sir Charles Bean: A key thing about the Bill is that it shifts the onus of presumption. There is a presumption of access unless there is a good reason not to comply or explain, if you like, as opposed to the current arrangement, which is that the data owner has the data and you say, “Can you please let us have a look at it?” There is civil service caution. I was a civil servant very early on in my career, so I am aware of how civil servants think. Inevitably, you are always worried about something going wrong or being misused or whatever. That plays into this, as well.

In the review I said there are really three elements and I think they are mutually reinforcing. There is the current legal framework, which is not as conducive as it could be; there is this innate caution on the part of some civil service Departments, or even perhaps on the part of their Ministers on occasion; and then the ONS has not been as pushy as it might have been. It is partly that if you know it is very difficult to get in—people are not very co-operative at the other end and the legal frameworks are very cumbersome—you are less inclined to put the effort in, and you think, “Oh, well, let’s just use the surveys, as we’ve always done.” So I think you need to act on the three things together, but they are potentially mutually reinforcing if you get the change right.

Hetan Shah: This is one area where I think the Bill could be strengthened. At the moment, the ONS has the right to request data; similarly, the researchers have the right to request data. The Department can still say, “No”, and in a sense the only comeback is that there is a sort of name-and-shame element of, “Parliament will note this”, as it were. My worry, given the cultural problems that have been seen in the past, is that that may not be enough. So why do we not do what Canada does? It just says, “The ONS requests”, and the Department gives.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Q It is a presumption in favour of sharing?

Hetan Shah: Yes, precisely. Similarly, with research you could have the same situation where, as long as the researcher meets the code of practice this required, the presumption would be in favour.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you. Chris Skidmore has just caught my eye for a final quick question.

Claire Perry Portrait Chris Skidmore
- Hansard - -

Q Professor Bean, in terms of the current legal framework and the problems with it as it exists, am I right in saying that there is an issue with legislation that was passed in the previous Government, under Gordon Brown’s premiership, that caps the use of data and research material, and which needs to be addressed quite urgently?

Professor Sir Charles Bean: Yes, I think it does need to be addressed. The existing Act was introduced with the intention of trying to improve the ability to share data, but it just has not operated in the way that people maybe hoped it would. In practice, having talked to the ONS and other Departments, it sounds like an extremely cumbersome process. So I think this is a case where the original legislation may have been well intentioned, but—

Claire Perry Portrait Chris Skidmore
- Hansard - -

Q Will there be a problem even with accessing some datasets after a certain point in time—?

Professor Sir Charles Bean: There is a point after 2007, yes. You have to specifically write into the legislation that, in principle, the information can be shared, yes, whereas these information-sharing orders—

Claire Perry Portrait Chris Skidmore
- Hansard - -

Q So that is creating a real problem in the infrastructure that needs to be addressed?

Professor Sir Charles Bean: Yes.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you, colleagues. Thank you very much indeed to our final two witnesses; you gave very clear and expert answers. Thank you; it is much appreciated.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Graham Stuart.)

Digital Economy Bill (Third sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Cabinet Office

Digital Economy Bill (Third sitting)

Claire Perry Excerpts
Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 13th October 2016

(7 years, 8 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Digital Economy Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 13 October 2016 - (13 Oct 2016)
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you. We have got seven minutes and three colleagues to go. Claire Perry.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Q Mindful of the concern that Dr Fishenden has raised about data protection and privacy, I just really wanted to press Mr Chisholm a little bit. Thank you for your submissions and what you described. You made it very clear that we are asking some people who are in the most vulnerable circumstances to deal with a multitude of problems. It is difficult enough managing one’s own financial ins and outs as somebody who does not face particular restrictions in life. Would you agree that if we can appropriately deal with the privacy issue, which I believe we can, clauses 30 to 35 and 40 to 47 are actually helping those who are in most need of our collective help?

Alistair Chisholm: I have not got the clauses in front of me, but I roughly know what you are referring to—

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Sorry, it is around information provision to electrical suppliers, where you very eloquently described that people can automatically get the warm home discount but they may have to go through several hoops, and also the issue around netting-off of Government debt collection, if you like.

Alistair Chisholm: I think that the sharing of DWP data with energy suppliers is sensible and will help more people. For Government debt collection sharing to give the benefits that it could, it is very important that the approach to debt collection is aligned with best practice. So we need both those things in place, but, definitely, where data are not shared well, that hurts people.

Peter Tutton: I agree entirely. The key to it is getting the good practice in place, and that will bring the benefits.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

But facilitating this sharing can only be helpful for those who are most in need of help.

Peter Tutton: Well, it could be harmful, as I say, if it ends up as one contact for a big load of Government debt all put together—that is a really aggressive contact—and a bigger debt means a more aggressive approach. That could be more harmful, but if we get the right debt collection principles in place, it can only help.

--- Later in debate ---
Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Email that to us later. What is yours, Dr Fishenden?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

It is outrageous to outsource your job!

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Please continue, witnesses. We are running out of time.

Dr Fishenden: I would like to see some precision around what is meant by data sharing. Some earlier drafts from about three years ago reflected much better cyber-security and privacy practice around defining what that meant and how we would make sure it was not slopping people’s personal data around, but just confirming specific pieces of data to enable someone to make a decision or undertake a process.

Alistair Chisholm: It is not enough to say on data sharing powers that the organisation should “have regard to” the code of good practice. It must be stronger than that. We need something in the Bill to make sure that the code of practice is not just a one-page set of high-level principles, but will make a difference. That means some conversations with collecting Departments that might have to be quite robust on occasions. Stronger protection around debt protection practices are needed.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Claire Perry has the final question.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

It is not really a question. May I put on the record that the Government today announced a delay repay scheme to compensate automatically for 15-minute delays to railway journeys, so it is wonderful to see Ofcom supporting the moves that regulators of other industries are introducing?

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you, Claire, for your out of order contribution. Thank you very much to our two expert witnesses from Ofcom. You have been very concise and clear and rattled through your answers expertly. Thank you. We now release you. We will have a three-minute comfort break.

Examination of Witnesses

Elizabeth Denham and Steve Wood gave evidence.

Digital Economy Bill (Fourth sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate

Claire Perry

Main Page: Claire Perry (Conservative - Devizes)

Digital Economy Bill (Fourth sitting)

Claire Perry Excerpts
Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 18th October 2016

(7 years, 8 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Digital Economy Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 18 October 2016 - (18 Oct 2016)
Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely agree with that suggestion. BT has used copper assets well to manage to get a large proportion of the country up to a decent standard quickly. The Minister made a good point in the evidence sessions when he challenged the BT director of strategy on the number of premises that were connected to fibre, by suggesting that in fact those premises were all connected not by fibre, but by copper loop to a box that was connected by fibre. The Minister was absolutely right to make that proposal. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley made an extremely valuable point about the controversies that continue within the telecoms industry. It is not an industry that sits comfortably with itself; everyone seems to be at each other’s throats. There is competition, there is healthy competition and there are outright dog-eat-dog hostilities. I wonder whether they fight too much among themselves and take their eyes off the ball when it comes to serving the consumer. A proper, annual parliamentary process that can focus the attention of the industry, as well as of Ministers, and give Parliament the chance to consider how this important and critical piece of national infrastructure is rolling out would be extremely valuable. To quote the Minister, it would hold the industry’s feet to the fire annually.

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk is right: we should not be limiting our ambition. The amendment proposes an annual review to see how far we can take our ambition in the forthcoming period. I hope to see—as the hon. Gentleman suggests—a roll-out of fibre to premises as the baseline standard in coming years. The one concern I have about the industry, which the amendment touches on, is that we will be driving forward with higher capacity and capability standards across 80% of the country, but those areas that are currently notspots will remain notspots. I hope that will be covered by other parts of the Bill, and that the Minister will address that. This amendment, though, will focus the attention of the industry on delivery by requiring it to report annually to Parliament via Ministers and via Ofcom. We can see who is delivering and who is not, and why not. It is an excellent amendment, and I am pleased to support my hon. Friend.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I sympathise with many of the things that the hon. Member for the City of Chester has said. I cannot promise that I will not visit during a political campaign, because it is a seat I would like to see returned to the fold, despite his good efforts.

While I understand the spirit in which amendment 82 and new clause 9 have been tabled, I reject their premise. We heard clearly in the evidence sessions what is wrong with the Government—and, indeed, one provider—trying to over-specify and push out a solution. I know from my own constituency that, although there has been decent progress, it has not gone far enough—I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. There are specific communities—for instance Shalbourne, a beautiful village—where there are insoluble notspots. These houses seem unable to be connected to the exchange because they connect to a Hampshire exchange, not a Wiltshire one, so all the good work Wiltshire council has done putting in local taxpayers’ money and working with BT Openreach is of no benefit whatsoever to those constituents. In Worton, where we actually had the discussion with BT, there is a dividing line right down a street: some houses are connected and some are not. We all know that that is increasingly very bad for house prices and really does affect people’s mindset when they move into the constituency. In my area, the Lydeway business park, which includes a very fine farm shop and other small businesses, is desperate to get better broadband connectivity, but we cannot seem to get it.

We heard from TalkTalk and other witnesses that the job is not to specify what the solution should look like and have lots of arduous burdens on Government to report back, but to empower consumers to say, “Let’s go out and talk to Gigaclear.” Or we could look at what has been done in a part of Cumbria, represented by one of my hon. Friends, where communities have come together, worked with farmers to waive fees for crossing land and come up with a community-led solution.

Empowering consumers, as the Bill will do, would enable them to demand a legal right to a decent level of broadband connectivity. I accept that 10 megabits per second is an aspiration for many premises already—they do not get anything like it—and I completely accept the point that that may not be enough in future.

We also heard in the witness sessions that technology in terms of compressing more and more data and information down existing fibre or copper is improving all the time. It might actually be sufficient for some families. I have managed to upgrade with the cabinet in Upavon to about 15 down and 10 up. It is nowhere near enough when all the kids are home and they are on Netflix and other things but it is not bad. If I yell at them loudly enough to get off the wi-fi, I can actually get my constituency work done, albeit from home.

I contrast that with what it was like before when, if the hamsters pedalled fast enough, I might have been able to send one email an hour. It is a massive improvement to productivity in the Perry household.

Calum Kerr Portrait Calum Kerr
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope the hon. Lady would not yell at me to get off the wi-fi. She is making some good points but I would try to draw her back to the substance of the amendments. There is no focus on technology. We want to ensure that the USO is delivering for all our constituents. All we want is a review to monitor progress and ensure that the design is fit for purpose. It is not about technology so I urge the hon. Lady to think again.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I accept the spirit of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I did sit until recently on the inter-ministerial Committee looking at how to upgrade the digital services right across the country.

It is clear that Ofcom is taking its responsibilities very seriously, both to report on the number of premises that are connected and to tighten up on some of the issues where broadband companies advertise the maximum speed a customer might ever get if connected rather than the average speed. Ofcom is a very good regulator under Ms White’s chairmanship and it is absolutely stepping up to the plate.

I am afraid that I cannot support the amendment or the new clause because they are stuck in the past, looking at how we push out a good solution rather than empowering consumers to pull through the best solution that works for them. That solution might look very different in my constituency of Devizes from how it might in Cheshire or the highlands of Scotland. We have made decent progress but it is not far enough. I applaud the Government for bringing forward both the USO as an underlying obligation and the flexibility to amend that as technology changes.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to support the amendments under discussion and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley for an excellent speech and for leading the debate, particularly on amendment 82.

I want to ask this of the Committee. Do we want to be ambitious? For me, this is about ambition. Do we want an economy that has the nuts and bolts, the things we require, to make it fit for the 21st century and the challenges it is already throwing up? Do we want our tech and creative industries, such as those that operate in my constituency of Bristol West, to be able to perform their functions, or do we want them to move away?

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Amendment 82 would ensure that we assess whether we are meeting our obligation and, if possible, going beyond it. It would be wonderful if the assessments were carried out and it was found that we were exceeding the USO, but we will not know unless there is a requirement to assess, so the annual report that my hon. Friend has requested is a good plan. I disagree with the hon. Member for Devizes, although I know her constituency well. I would like there to be a push factor for her constituency as well as a pull factor. Yes, constituents will want to make their own choices, but if good, high-quality reports are laid before Parliament, we parliamentarians will be able to support our constituents and they will be helped to make good choices.
Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

If the hon. Lady knows my beautiful constituency, she is always welcome to come and have a cup of coffee and admire it. The last time it was anything other than Conservative was 1921, so she is welcome to visit but not to campaign. Surely she, like me, welcomes Wiltshire Council’s commitment of taxpayers’ money to the programme and the fact that 91% of premises have now been passed by the BT programme. We are not there yet, but we have made enormous progress.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Although the Committee is going really well and everyone is doing great, we are now straying slightly into Second Reading territory. Let us keep our comments focused on the amendments and new clause in hand and we will all get along swimmingly.

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Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will look into that. I will be surprised if that does not happen already, but I will take it up.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Will the Minister make representations that the threshold of 100 houses for the mandatory provision is perhaps a little high, certainly for those of us in rural constituencies?

Digital Economy Bill (Fifth sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate

Claire Perry

Main Page: Claire Perry (Conservative - Devizes)

Digital Economy Bill (Fifth sitting)

Claire Perry Excerpts
Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 20th October 2016

(7 years, 8 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Digital Economy Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 20 October 2016 - (20 Oct 2016)
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Amendments have been tabled by Members on both sides of the Committee. The argument that we should not table amendments in Committee is an argument for having Bills come out of the parliamentary process in exactly the same form as they go in. Even the Government would not make that case. The central point here is that we offered plenty of time, which was agreed on a cross-party basis, and the Labour party has asked to reduce that time. In considering whether there has been enough time in Committee, those who read the transcript in the weeks and months to come ought to recognise that the Government have been as accommodating as possible, but that we had to give way to the Labour party’s request for less time and scrutiny in Committee.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con)
- Hansard - -

We have a Minister who is engaging with the nuts and bolts of a Bill that was prepared long before he came to office. I, for one, am delighted that we have an active Minister who is determined to make this exceptionally important Bill as good as it can be. I do not accept this criticism. It is excellent that the Government are tabling these amendments and allowing time to consider them.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I obviously agree.

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Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes—although I have had no discussions with them at a ministerial level about the amendments, I understand that discussions have taken place between officials. The effect of the amendments will be to make the law work better, so I hope they will have cross-party support.

Amendment 8 agreed to.

Amendments made: Government amendment 9, in clause 14, page 17, line 18, leave out “Subsections (3A) and (3B)” and insert

“Section 41(7) and subsection (3B) above”.

Subsection (3C), inserted in section 107 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 by the clause, lists enactments displaced by the time limits mentioned in subsections (3A) and (3B). Subsection (3A) merely refers to section 41(7), and the amendment substitutes a direct reference to that provision for the reference to subsection (3A).

Government amendment 10, in clause 14, page 17, line 26, at end insert—

“(3D) In relation to proceedings in Scotland, subsection (3) of section 136 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (date when proceedings deemed to be commenced for the purposes of that section) applies also for the purposes of section 41(7) and subsection (3B) above.”.

The amendment adds provision about when proceedings in Scotland are deemed to be commenced for the purposes of the time limits in section 41(7) and new subsection (3B) of section 107 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006.

Government amendment 11, in clause 14, page 17, line 31, at end insert—

“() for subsection (8) substitute—

“(8) For further provision about prosecutions see section 107.””.—(Matt Hancock.)

Existing section 41(8) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 applies to section 41(7) and is superseded by section 107(3C) inserted by the clause (see amendment 9). Amendment 10 also inserts provision applying to section 41(7) into section 107. Amendment 11 therefore substitutes a subsection referring the reader to section 107.

Clause 14, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15

Internet pornography: requirement to prevent access by persons under the age of 18

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 65, in clause 15, page 18, line 15, at end insert—

“(d) how persons can make a report to the age-verification regulator about pornographic material available on the internet on a commercial basis that is not complying with subsection (1).”.

This amendment places a requirement on the age-verification regulator to provide guidance as to how persons can report non-compliant pornography websites to the age-verification regulator.

I am extremely glad to have tabled a series of amendments to the vital provisions in part 3 of the Bill. As I said on Second Reading, we have come such a long way, and the enormous cross-party consensus to make the internet safer for young people has been crucial to that. We have seen some very effective sponsorship and responses from the previous Minister and his Department under the leadership of the last Prime Minister. Without his championship of this issue, we would not be where we are today.

My intention in tabling the amendments was to make provisions that are already good somewhat better, in the spirit of trying to encourage the Government to think hard about the line-by-line drafting. It has been made clear to me in meetings with organisations such as the British Board of Film Classification that there are ways to enhance the role of a regulator. I am delighted that the BBFC has been given the role, because it is truly a trusted brand; it is innovative and it does brilliant work to define age-rating boundaries. I have listened carefully to it.

What I am looking for is a clearer understanding of how the Government envisage the process of regulating websites and apps that provide access to material defined as pornographic in the UK. In his evidence session last week, David Austin referred to

“stages 1 to 3 of the regulation.”––[Official Report, Digital Economy Public Bill Committee, 11 October 2016; c. 39, Q84.]

I would be interested to hear the Minister’s explanation of how those different stages might work and to understand better how the enforcement element will work in practice—perhaps we will touch on that today but return to it in a later sitting.

I was struck by evidence given by those who do not support the changes; they feel that the issue is important but they argue that we should not be bringing in the new rules because we will not be able to make them stick. I must also mention my gratitude to the many organisations that have provided information and support on part 3 of the Bill. In particular, I note the contributions of Christian Action Research and Education, the Digital Policy Alliance, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Centre for Gender Equal Media.

My first amendment is to clause 15, which sets out the extremely welcome requirement that age verification should be introduced by websites and apps that are making commercial pornography available in the UK. Amendment 65 would add a new paragraph to clause 15(3) to strengthen enforcement by allowing the public and industry to provide intelligence to the regulator about the sites that do not have age verification.

I have always been struck by what we do not know about the internet. We all know that there is a massive proliferation of sites. I do accept what is said about much of the pornographic traffic concentrating around particular sites, but it grows like a Hydra every day. One of the BBFC’s most effective acts has been to allow effectively self-regulation and allow people to report and comment on a particular posting, which is, if you like, a sort of self-rating scheme. That would be extremely valuable. Clearly, the regulator cannot be expected to scrutinise the entire world of sites. Allowing members of the public and industry to notify the regulator that information is there that should be regulated would be helpful.

I note that the Digital Policy Alliance recommended in one of its parliamentary briefings back in April that this power should be available. It would be an excellent way to ensure that the public can feel involved in protecting their children. One of the messages I have heard over the past few years is how much families feel disempowered in the process of keeping their children safe. Of course, people accept the notion of parental responsibility and of course schools have become involved in this process, but we have made it uniquely difficult for families effectively to keep their children safe on a digital platform.

We have other rules and regulations around broadcast and written media that make it much easier for families wanting to be involved in that process. The amendment, allowing the BBFC to provide notice that these referrals can be made, would be very helpful. I note that David Austin of the BBFC said last week that he does intend to take referrals from the public.

Will the Minister please confirm that it is also the Government’s intention to promote the involvement of the whole community in championing online targeted child protection, and how this referral mechanism can be guaranteed? I hope he will consider this small change to the Bill.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our intention is to establish a new regulatory framework and new regulatory powers tackling the viewing of adult content by minors. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend over many years in getting us to this point. It has already ensured that there is voluntary activity, and that there are now legislative proposals is in many ways largely thanks to her campaigning. I am delighted that we have reached this point.

I am also delighted that, as we heard last week, the British Board of Film Classification will be designated as the age verification regulator. That is undoubtedly the best body in the land to do that job. It has the capability, as we heard at the evidence session. It will be responsible for identifying and notifying infringing sites. That will enable payment providers and other ancillary services to withdraw services from those providers that do not comply as soon as possible. Proceeding in that way will allow us to work quickly and effectively with all parts of the industry to ensure that they are fully engaged—indeed, that engagement has already started. We need to ensure the system is robust but fair and the providers of pornographic material are encouraged to be compliant by the processes in place.

I have every confidence, as I think we all should, in the BBFC’s ability to deliver on this. We heard from David Austin, the chief executive, in evidence that he is already working on this. He said that the BBFC would create something, and that it has done so with mobile operators. I think that its commitment to enable members of the public and organisations such as the NSPCC to report a particular website is the best way forward. That is a sensible approach for the regulator to take.

We should take a proportionate approach to the regulator’s role and allow the BBFC to do the job at which it is expert. We have required the regulator to issue guidance in circumstances where it allows the subjects of regulation to understand how the regime applies to them, but I think that going further and requiring this level of specification is not necessary, given the BBFC’s commitment and the uncontroversial nature of the need. That will give us flexibility as well as a clear commitment to make this happen. I hope that given that explanation, my hon. Friend will withdraw her amendment.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I am pleased to hear that the Minister shares the view that the BBFC should be given a permissive regime to do some of the things it does well, rather than the Government specifying too much. With that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 85, in clause 15, page 18, line 20, leave out subsection (5)(a).

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The amendments all explicitly include on-demand programme services in the age verification measures proposed by the Government. Given the rise in the use of mobile devices and tablets in the past decade, the case for appropriate online pornography enforcement has increased. We commend the Government’s intention in the proposals. I also put on the record our thanks and congratulations to the hon. Member for Devizes, who has campaigned on this issue for many years along with many other hon. Members, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West.

The ultimate goal is to seek parity of protection for children between the online and offline worlds, but how that is done in practice is fraught with issues. I hope that we can improve the proposals before us. Teens have an emerging right to independent communication with friends and family, and we recognise and respect that. We must not fall back on outdated means of protection such as blanket parental permissions. We need to empower and protect young people in ways that make sense to them and that they can and will use.

As the Committee knows, the effects of online pornography on unhealthy attitudes to sex and relationships are only just starting to be explored, but the research indicates a troubling trend. The NSPCC study of more than 1,000 young people aged 11 to 18 found that over half the sample had been exposed to online pornography, and nearly all of that group—94%—had seen it by age 14. Just over half the boys believed that the pornography that they had seen was realistic, and a number of girls said that they worried about how it would make boys see girls and the possible impact on attitudes to sex and relationships. One respondent said:

“Because you don’t get taught how to go on the internet and keep yourself safe, there are loads of tricks to get you to give away or to go on a bad website.”

Crucially, in research by Barnardo’s, four fifths of teenagers agreed that it was too easy for young people to see pornography online by accident.

Adult products and spaces, including gambling shops, sex shops and nightclubs, are restricted in the offline sphere. Contents such as film and television, advertising and pornography are all also limited, with penalties ranging from fines to custodial sentences available to discharged proprietors who do not comply. It is a transparent, accountable process overseen by regulators and licence operators such as Ofcom, the BBFC and the Gambling Commission to ensure that children are protected from age-inappropriate content and experiences.

Labour is happy to support the Government’s efforts to introduce age verification, but we must ensure that enforcement is strong enough. Our amendment speaks to that broad aim of the Opposition, which I know is supported by Government Back Benchers, given the other amendments tabled today. However, the measure cannot be seen as a silver bullet, which is why tacking this manifesto commitment on to a Digital Economy Bill is inadequate. First, slotting it into a Bill on the digital economy gives the impression, however unintentional, that the measure is designed to deal only with commercial providers of pornography, those who exploit data or benefit from advertising or subscription services—those who are, in short, part of the digital economy, rather than all providers of pornography online.

Although we are aware that most pornography providers operate on a commercial basis, many do not. Peer-to-peer networks and Usenet groups, however difficult to police, would presumably not be in the scope of the Bill. That is on top of pornography available through apps that are commercial enterprises, such as Twitter and Tumblr, or free webpages, such as WordPress, where the provision of pornography is incidental or provides no income to the overall business, or is not used for commercial purposes at all. Under clause 15 as it stands, it is by no means clear that all pornography available on the internet will be subject to age verification requirements.

Allow me to remind the Minister what the Conservative party manifesto said on the matter in 2015. It stated that

“we will stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material”.

There is no prevarication or equivocation there, and I commend the wording in the manifesto. Unfortunately, between that time and the legislation being drawing up, a rogue adjective has been added to the commitment, which seemed perfectly clear in the manifesto. One could easily argue that if a site such as Tumblr does not make pornography available on a commercial basis, then it is exempt, which would leave that manifesto commitment in some difficulty. Can we therefore have a commitment from the Minister that the regulator will be able to go after all sites containing pornographic material and not just those operating on a commercial basis, however broadly we may want to define “commercial”? The word seems at best unnecessary, and at worst a breach of the manifesto commitment.

Slotting age verification into the Bill gives Members nothing like the scope needed to tackle the effect of under-age viewing of pornography, which is surely the intention behind its implementation, because the measure is not enough to protect children. For a start, the regulator should also be responsible for ensuring that services undertake self-audits and collect mandatory reports in relation to child abuse images, online grooming and malicious communication involving children. To ensure that services are working to consistent principles and to best support the collection and utilisation of data, the regulator should also be responsible for developing a definition of child abuse.

We need to improve reporting online. Children and young people are ill served by the currently inadequate and unreliable reporting systems when they experience online abuse. Reporting groups need to be standardised, visible, responsive and act rapidly to address issues. Every reporting group must be designed in ways children say they can and will use. The NSPCC found that 26% of children and young people who used the report button saw no action whatever taken in response to their complaint; and of those who did get a response, 16% were dissatisfied with it. The Government should include independent mediation and monitoring of responses to complaints.

Clearly, we need compulsory sex education in our schools. Compulsory age-appropriate lessons about healthy relationships and sex are vital to keeping children safe on and offline. We know that children are exposed to pornography, sometimes in an extreme or violent form. Alongside regulation to limit access to these materials, building resilience and instilling an early understanding of healthy relationships can help to mitigate the impact of that exposure.

On that point, we are incredibly keen to ensure that legislation is as clear as possible and that any potential loopholes are closed. One such loophole is clause 15(5)(a), which for reasons that are unclear excludes on-demand programme services. Explicitly excluding any on-demand programme service available on the internet in the Bill—although we are aware that they are regulated by Ofcom—risks on-demand programme services being subject to a much looser age verification requirement than the Bill would enforce on other pornography providers. We do not believe that the legislation intends to create two standards of age verification requirements for online content, regardless of whether it is separately regulated. The amendment is intended to close that loophole.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I will speak to amendments 85 and 87. I raised a question with David Austin last week about the regulation of video on demand. He confirmed that the intention of the Bill as it stands is to maintain the regulation of UK video on demand with Ofcom under the Communications Act 2003. That seems totally reasonable to me because Ofcom has done a good job. I think the issue is that the framework only requires age verification for R18 material.

I am not trying to give everyone a lesson—by the way, this is why we are so grateful to the BBFC; it gives very clear definitions of the material—but R18 is effectively hardcore porn. It contains restricted scenes that we would all consider to be pornography. Since 2010, the 18-certificate guidelines permit the depiction of explicit sex in exceptional justifying circumstances, so it is perfectly feasible for children to view 18-rated content that we would all consider to be pornographic. I fully agree with the sentiment behind amendments 85 and 87 to provide a level playing field for all online media, but we must ensure that all R18 and 18 content accessed through video-on-demand services is included in the provisions. However, removing clauses 15(5)(a) and 16(6) would cause a fair amount of confusion, as video-on-demand services would be regulated by Ofcom for the majority of the time but for age verification matters would be regulated by the BBFC and Ofcom, which raises the question of who has precedence and how enforcement would work.

I have therefore tabled new clause 7, which would meet the same objective in a slightly different way by amending the current regulatory framework for video on demand to ensure that children are protected from 18-rated as well as R18-rated on-demand material. The relevant section of the Communications Act 2003, section 368E, was amended by the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 to specify that R18 material should be subject to age verification to protect children. It is not a big step to require 18-rated pornographic material, which is the subject of much of this part of the Bill, to be included within the scope of that section. That would effectively create a legal level playing field. It would remove the issue of parity and precedence and would give us parity on the fundamental issue of the protection of children.

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley said. Ofcom’s latest figures on children and the media show that 51% of 12 to 15-year-olds watched on-demand services in 2015. The viewing of paid for on-demand content has gone up and accounts for 20% of viewing time for young people aged 16 to 24. They can view content rated 18 or R18 that would be prohibited for some of them if they were to purchase it in the offline world. With new clause 7, I recommend that the Government should try to ensure parity between the online and offline worlds. This Bill is a brilliant way to ensure that there is parity in the way that pornographic content is accessed.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley made about the wording of the clause and how it talks about material that is made available “on a commercial basis”, does the hon. Member for Devizes have any concerns that that might be a definitional problem that could create a loophole?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman raises a challenge. The explanatory notes make it clear that the Government intend to capture both commercial and freely provided material, which gets to the root of his concern. If someone is benefiting from the viewing of such material, the Government intend to capture that within the definition. I commend both the Minister and his Department for asking the BBFC to take on the role of regulator, because I have a high level of faith in its ability to do just that.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I take the hon. Lady’s point that the Government have said that they would like to capture such material, but my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley said that they might not capture everything. We tabled a probing amendment to take out the words “on a commercial basis” to test that, but it was ruled out of scope because the Bill is about the digital economy. So it has to be material that is made available on a commercial basis only, otherwise it is out of the scope of the Bill.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is splitting hairs. The Government have issued clear guidance that the definition of “commercial” includes free content. There are very few altruistic providers of this material. Free content tends to be provided as a taster for commercial sites.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There are lots!

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Well, I accept that is true of streaming and on-demand, which is why this provision is important. It would capture material that is rated 18, not just restricted-18, and put it on a level playing field with restricted-18 material. The on-demand video content that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley mentioned would be covered by the changes. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response to my proposed new clause 7, which would support parity of both content and regulator.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Graham Stuart.)

Digital Economy Bill (Sixth sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate

Claire Perry

Main Page: Claire Perry (Conservative - Devizes)

Digital Economy Bill (Sixth sitting)

Claire Perry Excerpts
Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 20th October 2016

(7 years, 8 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Digital Economy Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 20 October 2016 - (20 Oct 2016)
Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley for making such a clear and cogent argument for why the Bill needs further amendment. As I think she said—I am sure that she will correct me if I am wrong—we want to ensure that the Government stick to their manifesto commitment to protect children from all forms of online pornography. That will take consistency and a depth of modesty about the extent of our various levels of knowledge about how the internet works.

The hon. Member for Devizes made a good speech, and I am grateful to her for making the argument about on-demand films, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley also did, but the hon. Lady said—please correct me if I am wrong—that there were not many providers of free online pornography. I must respectfully disagree. Given the existence of peer-to-peer sharing and other forms of availability—my hon. Friend mentioned Tumblr and other social media websites—I am afraid that it is incredibly easy, as my nephews and nieces have confirmed, sadly, for a young person to access free online pornographic content in ways that most of us here might not even understand.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I am happy to clarify. My focus was on the Government’s intention to capture free and commercial pornography. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that there is a plethora of free stuff out there, and she is right to focus on the harm that it causes.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for that clarification. I understand from an intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West that the reason why we were not allowed to remove the words “on a commercial basis” was that they were deemed out of scope. As I understand it, the word “economy”, if we stick to the letter of it, includes transactions for which there is no financial payment. There are transactions involved, and the word “digital” is in the title of the Bill, so I think it unfortunate that the amendment was not agreed to. Taking out the words “on a commercial basis” would have done a great deal to make consistent across all platforms and all forms of pornographic content available online the restrictions that we are placing on commercial ones.

I support the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend to the wording of clause 15(5)(a) and (6), for reasons that have already been given, and I want to add to the arguments. Hon. Friends and Members may have read the evidence from Girlguiding. As a former Guide, I pay tribute to the movement for the excellent work that it has done. It has contributed a profound and well-evidenced understanding of what young women are saying about online pornography. I will pick out a couple of statistics, because they make arguments to which I will refer in interventions on later clauses. That will make my speeches less long.

In the 2016 girls’ attitudes survey, half of the girls said that sexism is worse online than offline. In the 2014 survey, 66%, or two thirds, of young women said that they often or sometimes see or experience sexism online. It is a place where young women routinely experience sexism, and part of that sexism is the ubiquity of pornography. In 2015, the survey found that 60% of girls aged 11 to 21 see boys their age—admittedly, some of those are over the age of 18, but they are still the girls’ peers—viewing pornography on mobile devices or tablets. In contrast, only 27% of girls say that they see girls their age viewing pornography. The majority of those young women say from their experience that children can access too much content online and that it should be for adults only. In the survey, we see a certain degree of concord among young women in the Girlguiding movement, Opposition Members and the Government manifesto, which pledged, as my hon. Friend said, to exclude children from all forms of online pornography.

The 2015 Girlguiding survey also found that those young women felt that pornography was encouraging sexist stereotyping and harmful views, and that the proliferation of pornography is having a negative effect on women in society more generally. Those young women are the next generation of adults.

I have worked with young men who have already abused their partners. In my former job working with domestic violence perpetrators, I worked with young men of all ages; for the men my age, their pornography had come from the top shelf of a newsagent, but the younger men knew about forms of pornography that those of us of a certain age had no understanding of whatever. They were using pornography in ways that directly contribute to the abuse of women and girls, including pornography that is filmed abuse. I shall come back to that point later, but we need to recognise that young men are getting their messages about what sex and intimacy are from online pornography. If we do not protect them from online pornography under the age of 18, we are basically saying that there are no holds barred.

The hon. Member for Devizes and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley mentioned loopholes. When we leave loopholes, it creates a colander or sieve for regulation. Yes, the internet is evolving and, yes, we in this Committee Room probably do not know every single way in which it already provides pornography, and certainly not how it will in future, but that is a good reason to provide a strong regulatory framework when we have the chance. We have that chance now, and we should take it. If it remains the case that removing the words “on a commercial basis” is deemed outside our scope, which I find very sad—I think it is a missed opportunity, and I hope the House can return to it at some point and regulate the free content—we must definitely ensure that we are putting everything else that we possibly can on a level playing field. That means that the regulation of video on demand has to be consistent and that we have to close any other loophole we can spot over the next few days.

I hope Opposition amendments will make the Government think about the manifesto commitment they rightly made—I am happy to put on the record that I support it—and take the opportunity to stick to it. Young women want that; young men need it, because my experience of working with young men who have abused their partners and ex-partners is that they felt that they were getting those messages from pornography; and we as a society cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer. We have a chance to do something about it, so let us take that opportunity.

--- Later in debate ---
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The principle is that there is a distinction between those who are making money by targeting and are indifferent to potential harm and those whose services facilitate the provision of porn to those who are under age. I think it is a reasonable distinction. We are trying to deal with the mass of the problem. By its nature, it is very difficult to get to 100%. I think that leaving the Bill in this way, with flexibility for the regulator to act, has a big advantage over being overly prescriptive in primary legislation and too specific about the way in which the regulator acts, not least because disrupting the business model is the goal of trying to provide enforcement.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I support the Minister’s point about over-prescription, but perhaps he could help me by talking about a particular case. Let us take Tumblr hosting a stream of content which is 18. Who would the regulator target if it issued an enforcement notice? Would it be the content provider, or would it be the social media platform that is hosting that content?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In that case, the platform—I do not want to get into individual platforms, but I am happy to take my hon. Friend’s example—would likely be an ancillary service provider and therefore captured. This is a very important distinction. There is a difference between somebody who is actively putting up adult material and choosing not to have age verification, and a platform where others put up adult material, where it is not necessarily impossible but much harder to have a control over the material. There is an important distinction here. If we try to pretend that everybody putting material onto a platform, for example, the one that my hon. Friend mentions, should be treated the same way as a porn-providing website, we will be led into very dangerous territory and it makes it harder to police this rather than easier. That is my argument.

On the specific amendments, I understand entirely where the argument on demand is coming from. I want to give an assurance which I hope will mean that these clauses will not be pushed to the vote. On-demand audio-visual media services under UK jurisdiction are excluded from part 3 of the Bill because they are regulated by Ofcom under part 4A of the Communications Act 2003. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes said, other on-demand services that are not currently regulated in the UK will be caught by the Bill regime.

--- Later in debate ---
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Quite a lot of clarification is needed, and I hope it will come during the Bill’s passage. I do not think that the distinction between Ofcom and the BBFC is clear in this part of the Bill or in later clauses on enforcement. However, given that it states elsewhere in the Bill that the proposal is subject to further parliamentary scrutiny, and as the BBFC has not yet officially been given the regulator role—as far as I am aware—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 66, in clause 15, page 18, line 24, at end insert

“or an internet service provider.”.

This amendment and amendment 67 ensure that the requirement to implement age verification does not fall on ISPs but commercial sites or applications offering pornographic material; and defines internet service providers.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 90, in clause 22, page 23, line 29, leave out

“or ancillary service provider”

and insert

“, ancillary service provider, or internet service provider.”.

Amendment 77, in clause 22, page 24, line 23, at end insert “or

(c) an internet service provider.”.

This amendment and amendment 78 ensure that the definition of an ancillary service provider would include ISPs; and defines internet service providers.

Amendment 91, in clause 22, page 24, line 23, at end insert—

“(6A) In this section an “ancillary service provider” includes, but is not limited to, domain name registrars, social media platforms, internet service providers, and search engines.”.

Amendment 67, in clause 25, page 26, line 2, at end insert—

““internet service provider” has the same meaning as in section 124N of the Communications Act 2003 (interpretation);”.

See the explanatory statement for amendment 66.

New clause 8—Duty to provide a service that excludes adult-only content—

“(1) This section applies to internet service providers who supply an internet access service to subscribers.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), “subscribers” includes—

(a) domestic subscribers;

(b) schools; and

(c) organisations that allow a person to use an internet access service in a public place.

For the purposes of the conditions in subsections (3) and (4), if the subscriber is a school or organisation a responsible person within the school or organisation shall be regarded as the subscriber.

(3) A provider to whom subsection (1) applies must provide to subscribers an internet access service which excludes adult-only content unless all of the conditions listed in subsection (4) have been fulfilled.

(4) The conditions are—

(a) the subscriber “opts in” to subscribe to a service that includes online adult-only content;

(b) the subscriber is aged 18 or over; and

(c) the provider of the service has an age verification scheme which meets the standards set out by OFCOM in subsection (4) and which has been used to confirm that the subscriber is aged 18 or over before a user is able to access adult-only content.

(5) It shall be the duty of OFCOM, to set, and from time to time to review and revise, standards for the—

(a) filtering of adult content in line with the standards set out in Section 319 of the Communications Act 2003;

(b) age verification policies to be used under subsection (4) before an user is able to access adult content; and

(c) filtering of content by age or subject category by providers of internet access services.

(6) The standards set out by OFCOM under subsection (5) must be contained in one of more codes.

(7) Before setting standards under subsection (5), OFCOM must publish, in such a manner as they think fit, a draft of the proposed code containing those standards.

(8) After publishing the draft code and before setting the standards, OFCOM must consult relevant persons and organisations.

(9) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to establish procedures for the handling and resolution of complaints in a timely manner about the observance of standards set under subsection (5), including complaints about incorrect filtering of content.

(10) OFCOM may designate any body corporate to carry out its duties under this section in whole or in part.

(11) OFCOM may not designate a body under subsection (10) unless, as respects that designation, they are satisfied that the body—

(a) is a fit and proper body to be designated;

(b) has consented to being designated;

(c) has access to financial resources that are adequate to ensure the effective performance of its functions under this section; and

(d) is sufficiently independent of providers of internet access services.

(12) It shall be a defence to any claims, whether civil or criminal, for a provider to whom subsection (1) applies to prove that at the relevant time they were—

(a) following the standards and code set out in subsection (5),; and

(b) acting in good faith.

(13) Nothing in this section prevents any providers to whom subsection (1) applies from providing additional levels of filtering of content.

(14) In this section—

“adult-only content” means material that contains offensive and harmful material from which persons under the age of 18 are protected;

“age verification scheme” is a scheme to establish the age of the subscriber;

“internet access service” and “internet service provider” have the same meaning as in section 124N of the Communications Act 2003 (interpretation);

“material from which persons under the age of 18 are protected” means material specified in the OFCOM standards under section 2;

“OFCOM” has the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Communications Act 2003;

“offensive and harmful material” has the same meaning as in section 3 of the Communications Act 2003 (general duties of OFCOM); and

“subscriber” means a person who receives the service under an agreement between the person and the provider of the service.”.

This new clause places a statutory requirement on internet service providers to limit access to adult content by persons under 18. It would give Ofcom a role in determining the age verification scheme and how material should be filtered. It would ensure that ISPs were able to continue providing family friendly filtering once the net neutrality rules come into force in December 2016.

New clause 11—Power to make regulations about blocking injunctions preventing access to locations on the internet—

“(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the granting by a court of a blocking injunction in respect of a location on the internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that is contravening, or has contravened, section 15(1) of this Act.

(2) “Blocking injunction” means an injunction that requires an internet service provider to prevent its service being used to gain access to a location on the internet.

(3) Regulations introduced under subsection (1) above may, in particular—

(a) make provision about the type of locations against which a blocking injunction should be granted;

(b) make provision about the circumstances in which an application can be made for a blocking injunction;

(c) outline the type of circumstances in which the court will grant a blocking injunction;

(d) specify the type of evidence, and other factors, which the court must take into account in determining whether or not to grant a blocking injunction;

(e) make provision about the notice, and type of notice, including the form and means, by which a person must receive notice of an application for a blocking injunction made against them; and

(f) make provision about any other such matters as the Secretary of State considers are necessary in relation to the granting of a blocking injunction by the court.

(4) Regulations under this subsection must be made by statutory instrument.

(5) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

(6) In this Part— “Internet service provider” has the same meaning as in section 16 of the Digital Economy Act 2010. In the application of this Part to Scotland “injunction” means interdict.”.

This new Clause empowers the Secretary of State to introduce regulations in relation to the granting of a backstop blocking injunction by a court. The injunction would require an internet service provider to prevent access to a site or sites which do not comply with the age-verification requirements. This would only be used where the other enforcement powers (principally fines) had not been effective in ensuring that sites put in place effective age-verification.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I welcome the Minister’s previous comments, which gave me some real assurances on the parity of content and regulator. I also reassure him of how popular he will be when the Bill finally passes—the Centre for Gender Equal Media said that, in its most recent survey, 86% of people support a legal requirement on companies to prevent children’s access to pornography. We are moving in the right direction.

Amendment 66 seeks to pick through slightly more carefully who is responsible and is captured by the Bill’s language. There are four internet service providers in the UK through which the majority of broadband internet traffic travels, and they have come a long way. Five years ago, they accepted none of our proposals, be it single click protection for all devices in the home or the implementation of a filtering system that required selection—we could not select whether or not the filters were on. They have gone from that to the position now whereby, in some cases, we have ISPs that provide their services with the filters already on as default—something that we were told was absolutely unimaginable. With that regime, the level of complaints is very low and the level of satisfaction is very high.

Amendment 67 is consequential on amendment 66 and both seek to clarify the scope of who exactly would be covered under the wording of clause 15(1), which states:

“A person must not make pornographic material available on the internet on a commercial basis to persons in the United Kingdom except in a way that secures that, at any given time, the material is not normally accessible by persons under the age of 18.”

The Government have made it quite clear in the consultation, and the Minister clarified in his previous remarks, that the proposals apply to companies running websites aimed specifically at providing pornographic content for commercial gain, and that they want those who profit from such material being made available online to act in a legal, socially responsible way. It could be argued that ISPs both profit from the material being made available online and also make pornographic material available online, even though they are not the original source of the material. We also heard from the Minister that he is minded to consider social media platforms in that same category. In my view, the regulator must also publish guidance under clause 15(3) about

“circumstances in which the regulator will treat an internet site or other means of accessing the internet as operated or provided on a commercial basis”.

It is my concern that that could also be read as applying to ISPs. The amendments are intended to clarify that. In fact, I can quote from an article from July, which said:

“Internet access providers are likely to feel left in an uncertain position at the moment as, while the Bill does not reference them in this context, the definition of ‘makes pornographic material available’ could be argued as incorporating companies which provide connectivity to servers used for the making available of pornographic material”,

and piping that material into the home.

Paragraph 22 of the explanatory notes makes reference to “commercial providers of pornography”, and that obviously appears to place the onus of this suite of measures firmly on the content providers, but an optimal approach would be to improve the drafting to make the legislative attempt clear. I know we will have further discussions about the role of ISPs, but ISPs have done what we have asked them to do in introducing family friendly filters.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am trying to understand why the hon. Lady believes that ISPs should not have this responsibility.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Because various other aspects of the Bill capture ISPs. My concern is that the Bill focuses on the commercial content providers where they are. The amendment is intended to probe the Government about how they are thinking about ISPs vis-à-vis commercial content providers in the drafting of the clause.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our amendments are designed to enable the regulator to ask the internet service provider to block offending sites. This goes back to the point we made earlier on the differences between sites operated “on a commercial basis” and social media sites and ancillary sites. The proposals as they stand do not give the regulator sufficient powers to enforce the mechanisms proposed in the Bill.

Broadening the definition of “ancillary service provider” specifically to include internet service providers would require the regulator to notify them of non-compliant sites. That will put ISPs in the same bracket as payment service providers, which will be required to withdraw their services if other measures have been exhausted. In the case of ISPs, they would be required to block offending sites.

The amendments would create a simple backstop power where enforcement through the Government’s proposals had not achieved its intended objective and commercial providers had not withdrawn their services, either because the fine does not act as a deterrent or because, due to their international status, they do not need to comply. If pornography providers continued to provide content without age verification restrictions, the regulator would then have the power to require ISPs to take down the content.

We believe that, without amendment, the proposals will not achieve the Bill’s aim, as non-compliant pornographers would not be absolutely assured of payment services being blocked. First, the proposals do not send anywhere near a strong enough signal to the porn industry that the Government are serious about the proposals and their enforcement. Giving the regulator the power but not the stick suggests that we are not all that bothered about whether sites comply. Secondly, we can have no reassurance that sites will be shut down within any kind of timeframe if there is non-compliance. As drafted in the explanatory notes, “on an ongoing basis” could mean yearly, biannually or monthly, but it makes a mockery of the proposals if sites could be non-compliant for two years or more before payment services may or may not act. That does not provide much of an incentive to the industry to act.

Throughout the evidence sessions we heard that there are significant difficulties with the workability of this entire part of the Bill. For instance, many sites will hide their contact details, and a substantial number will simply not respond to financial penalties. Indeed, an ability already exists in law for ISPs to be compelled to block images that portray, for example, child sex abuse. There is also an ability to block in the case of copyright infringement. It therefore seems eminently reasonable that in the event of non-compliance, the regulator has a clear backstop power. We believe that even just legislating for such a power will help speed up enforcement. If providers know that they cannot simply circumvent the law by refusing to comply with notices, they will comply more efficiently. That will surely help the age verifier to pass the real-world test, which is integral to the Bill’s objectives.

--- Later in debate ---
Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

On a point of order, Mr Stringer. Perhaps this shows my ignorance of doing Committees from the Back Benches, but I intended to go on in my speech to discuss new clause 8, which I have tabled and which defines more clearly what I expect internet service providers to do. Would it be in order for me to deliver those remarks, or have I lost my opportunity?

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Let me be clear: we are considering amendment 66 to clause 15, amendments 90, 77, 91 and 67, and new clauses 8 and 11. Members can speak more than once in Committee if they wish to. The hon. Lady has the right to discuss her new clause.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

May I please rise again, then? Apologies to the Committee—[Interruption.] I am so sorry; the hon. Member for Bristol West was speaking.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

The hon. Lady may catch my eye later.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I defer to the hon. Lady. She mentioned something she is going to say in due course; I look forward to hearing it. Nevertheless, I stand by my comments. We need to be clear about whether we are going to fail to require ISPs to do something that we already require them to do for copyright infringement and other forms of pornography involving children. I fail to see what the problem is. Having a blocking injunction available to the regulator would give them another tool to achieve the aim that we have all agreed we subscribe to, which is being able to block pornography from being seen by children and young people.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Mr Stringer, I assume that, like me, you sometimes have the feeling that you have sat down before you have finished what you are saying. I apologise to the Committee. I am rarely short of words, but in this case I was.

I want to respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Bristol West and clarify exactly what we have asked and should be asking internet service providers to do. In doing so, I shall refer to the new EU net neutrality regulations, which, despite the Brexit vote, are due to come into force in December. They cause many of us concerns about the regime that our British internet service providers have put in place, which I believe leads the world—or, at least, the democratic free world; other countries are more draconian—in helping families to make these choices. We do not want all that good work to be unravelled.

Our current regime falls foul of the regime that the European Union is promoting, and unless the Government make a decision or at least give us some indication relatively quickly that they will not listen to that, we may have an issue in that all the progress that we have made may run out by December 2016. I would be grateful if the Minister told us what the Government are doing to get the new legislation on the statute book in line with the schedule set out by his colleague Baroness Shields last December.

We have an effective voluntarily filtering arrangement. I believe—I think that this point is in the scope of ancillary service providers—that we intend to capture internet service providers as part of the general suite of those responsible for implementing over-18 verification, but I want the Government to make crystal clear that they are aware of the responsibilities of internet service providers and intend for the regulator to include them in the basket of those that they will investigate and regulate.

The big missing link in all this has been getting content providers that provide material deemed to be pornographic to do anything with that material. The difference is that content providers of, say, gambling sites have always been required to have age-verification machinery sitting on their sites.

The hon. Member for Bristol West is quite right that we want ISPs to be captured under this regulatory regime, but I am keen to hear from the Minister that all the work that we have done with ISPs that have voluntarily done the socially and morally responsible thing and brought forward family-friendly filters will not be undone by December 2016, when the EU net neutrality regulations are intended to come into place.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Quite a lot of points have been raised, and I seek to address them all. Clause 22 is an important provision containing the powers at the heart of the new regime to enable the age-verification regulator to notify payment service providers and ancillary service providers that a person using their services is providing pornographic material in contravention of clause 15 or making prohibited material available on the internet to persons in the UK.

Amendments 66, 67, 77, 78, 90 and 91 would provide that the requirement to implement age verification does not fall on ISPs and further clarify that ISPs are to be considered ancillary service providers. Amendment 91 would clarify that as well as ISPs, domain name registrars, social media platforms and search engines are all to be considered ancillary service providers for the purposes of clause 22, which makes provision for the meaning of “ancillary service provider”.

This is a fast-moving area, and the BBFC, in its role as regulator, will be able to publish guidelines for the circumstances in which it will treat services provided in the course of business as either enabling or facilitating, as we discussed earlier. Although it will be for the regulator to consider on a case-by-case basis who is an ancillary service provider, it would be surprising if ISPs were not designated as ancillary service providers.

New clause 8 would impose a duty on internet service providers to provide a service that excludes adult-only content unless certain conditions are met. As I understand it, that measure is intended to protect the position of parental filters under net neutrality. However, it is our clear position that parental filters, where they can be turned off by the end user—that is, where they are a matter of user choice—are allowed under the EU regulation. We believe that the current arrangements are working well. They are based on a self-regulatory partnership and they are allowed under the forthcoming EU open internet access regulations.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I think I understand the Minister to be saying that in cases where companies have introduced filters that are on by default, the fact that the users can choose to turn those filters off in the home means that they would not be captured by the net neutrality rules. Is that correct?

--- Later in debate ---
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

David Austin of the BBFC said:

“We see this Bill as a significant step forward in terms of child protection.”––[Official Report, Digital Economy Public Bill Committee, 11 October 2016; c. 42, Q94.]

We think, on balance, that the regulator will have enough powers—for example, through the provisions on ancillary service providers—to take effective action against non-compliant sites. For that reason, I think this is the appropriate balance and I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes to withdraw her amendment.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I think that we are running through two definitions of ISPs: one relating to ancillary service providers and the other to enforcement and blocking. If we include ISPs in the definition of ancillary service providers, we want to make sure that they are captured, either explicitly or as a service provider. Is the Minister saying that he is comfortable with the enforcement regime without blocking? Would it require further legislation for blocking to be carried out if the regulator felt it was an appropriate measure? Are we ruling that out in this legislation?

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. The hon. Lady is making a speech. If the Minister wants to intervene, he may.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I apologise. I would like to conclude my speech by inviting the Minister to respond.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I would like to provide a point of clarity on the speech she has made. Treatment of an ASP will not lead to blocking. I think that is the answer to her question.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for that intervention. We will return to this subject in a series of amendments around clause 20. I want to thank the Minister for clarifying some of the murkiness around definitions in the Bill. I want to ask him and his team, though, to consider what his colleague had said, which goes back to the net neutrality point.

I accept what the Minister says about the spirit being absolutely clear, that our current filtering regime will not be captured, but Baroness Shields did say that we needed to legislate to make our filters regime legal. I did not hear from the Minister that that legislation is something that the Department is preparing or planning to introduce.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We very much share the hon. Lady’s concerns that the legislation has explicitly excluded the ability of internet service providers to block. We simply cannot understand why the Government have ruled out that final backstop power. We appreciate it is not perfect but it would give the regulator that final power. We will return to new clause 11 at the end of the Bill and be pushing it to a vote when we come to it.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for making her intentions clear. I am prepared to withdraw or not push my new clause to a vote on the basis of what the Minister said, but I would love to get his assurances—perhaps he will write to me—to be crystal clear on the fact that he believes the Government do not have to legislate in order to push back on the net neutrality regime.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the hon. Lady sits down, she did mention the view of Baroness Shields that there should be new legislation. Notwithstanding our remarks about the number of Government amendments, does the hon. Lady believe this Bill could be a useful vehicle to achieve that?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Given the Brexit vote, I would be inclined to accept a letter from the Minister suggesting that we will absolutely resist any attempt to make EU net neutrality apply to what is a very fine, though not perfect, voluntary regime. On that basis, I accept the Minister’s assurances that that is what he intends to do. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17

The age-verification regulator: designation and funding

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In this and related clauses, we seek to strengthen the proposals that the Government have put forward. We have said that the regulation needs to be beefed up to require internet service providers to be notified about non-compliance. We would like to see an injunction power to take down any content which a court is satisfied is in breach of the age-verification legislation, as soon as possible, at the start of the four-tier regulation process the Government have identified in their amendments and letters published to the Committee last week.

That would require a regulator with sufficient enforcement expertise and the ability to apply that injunction and push enforcement at an early stage. As we are aware, however, the BBFC heads of agreement with the Government do not cover enforcement. Indeed, they made perfectly clear that they would not be prepared to enforce the legislation in clauses 20 and 21 as they stand, which is part 4 of that enforcement process, giving the power to issue fines. The BBFC is going to conduct phases 1, 2 and 3 of the notification requirements, presumably before handing over to a regulator with sufficient enforcement expertise, but that has not been made clear so far.

While we welcome the role of the BBFC and the expertise it clearly brings on classification, we question whether it is unnecessarily convoluted to require a separate regulator to take any enforcement action, which will effectively have been begun by the BBFC and which so far has not been mentioned in the legislation. This goes back to the point my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West made earlier about the two separate regimes for on-demand programme services.

As I understand it, although it is not clear, the BBFC will be taking on stage 3 of the regulation, meaning it will be involved in the first stage of enforcement—in notification. That is fine, but it will then have to hand over the second stage of enforcement to another regulator—presumably Ofcom. The enforcement process is already incredibly weak and this two-tiered approach involving two separate regulators risks further delays in enforcement against non-compliant providers who are to protect or take down material that is in breach of the law. In evidence to the Committee, the BBFC said:

“Our role is focused much more on notification. We think we can use the notification process and get some quite significant results.”—[Official Report, Digital Economy Public Bill Committee, 11 October 2016; c. 41, Q83.]

We do not doubt it, but confusion will arise when the BFFC identifies a clearly non-compliant site that is brazenly flouting the law, and it does not have power to enforce quickly but will have to hand it over.

We would also like to hear when the Government are planning to announce the regulator for the second stage and how they intend to work with the BBFC. As far as I can see, this will require further amendments to the Bill. If it is Ofcom, it would have been helpful to have heard its views on what further enforcement powers it would like to see in the Bill, rather than being asked to fill in after the Bill has passed through Parliament. There is a clear danger that the enforcement regulator could be asked to take over enforcement of age verification, which it thinks requires more teeth to be effective.

We therefore have very serious concerns about the process by which clause 17 will be have effect. Although we will not vote against the clause, we want to make it very clear that we would have preferred to have seen an official announcement about who will carry out the enforcement provisions in the Bill before being asked to vote on it.

--- Later in debate ---
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would expect that to happen immediately. The question of the designation of the backstop enforcement regulator does not stop or preclude the BBFC from getting going on this. As we have heard, it is already working to put in place its own internal systems. As I have just said to the Committee, we have a new commitment that we expect to commence the provisions in terms of getting the system up and running within 12 months of Royal Assent; after that, if the BBFC has designated that there is a problem, I would expect action to be immediate, because I expect the BBFC to ensure through good relations that systems are in place.

I see enforcement very much as a back-up to good behaviour. As we have seen with the taking down of child pornography and material related to terrorism, many providers and platforms respond rapidly when such material is identified. It will be far better if the system works without having to resort to enforcement. We will set out in due course who is best placed to be the regulator for enforcement, but the system is new, and the approach provides the level of flexibility that we need to get it right. I have every confidence in the BBFC’s ability and enthusiasm to deliver on these aims, so I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 17 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 18 and 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20

Enforcement of sections 15 and 19

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 68, in clause 20, page 21, line 5, at beginning insert

“If the person in contravention of section 15(1) is resident in the United Kingdom,”.

This amendment and amendments 69, 70, 71, 72, 73 and 74 place a requirement on the age-verification regulator to impose fines where a UK person has contravened clause 15(1) unless the contravention has ceased; or to issue an enforcement notice to person outside of the UK who has contravened clause 15(1).

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 69, in clause 20, page 21, line 5, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

See the explanatory statement for amendment 68.

Amendment 70, in clause 20, page 21, line 7, after “15(1)”, insert “, unless subsection (5) applies”.

See the explanatory statement for amendment 68.

Amendment 71, in clause 20, page 21, line 10, at beginning insert

“If the person in contravention of section 15(1) is not resident in the United Kingdom,”.

See the explanatory statement for amendment 68.

Amendment 72, in clause 20, page 21, line 10, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

See the explanatory statement for amendment 68.

Amendment 73, in clause 20, page 21, line 16, leave out subsection (4).

See the explanatory statement for amendment 68.

Amendment 74, in clause 20, page 21, line 42, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

See the explanatory statement for amendment 68.

--- Later in debate ---
Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

This is a series of consequential and investigatory amendments intended to probe the Minister’s thinking about what the regulator can actually do. At the moment, enforcement operates through a series of financial penalties, which we can discuss further when we debate clause 21, or of enforcement notices. We heard clearly last week from David Austin that the challenge is that almost none of the content-producing sites that we are discussing are based in the UK; in fact, I think he said that all the top 50 sites that the regulator will rightly target are based overseas.

The challenge is how the Government intend to carry out enforcement. I know that the BBFC’s current enforcement role is not carried out through its own designated powers; it is carried out through various other agencies, and the Bill makes further provision for financial penalties. I tabled the amendments to press the Minister on the point that it would be clearer to specify that where a site, or the company that owns a site, is based in the UK, a financial penalty can and will be applied.

For overseas sites, enforcing a financial penalty, if one can even get to grips with what the financial accounts look like, may be difficult, hence the enforcement notice and then a series of other potential backstop actions; I know that the Minister is aware that I do not feel that we have exhausted the debate on blocking. I am trying to probe the Government on whether there is a way to use the Bill to reflect the reality that content providers are unlikely to be based primarily in the UK, and that perhaps a different approach is needed for those based offshore.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We completely support the hon. Lady’s amendments, which propose a sensible toughening up of the requirements of the age verification regulator. We particularly welcome the measures to require the regulator to issue enforcement notices to people outside the UK if they do not comply. That is an attempt to close a large hole in the current proposals. How will the BBFC tackle providers outside the UK?

At the evidence session last week, David Austin said that

“you are quite right that there will still be gaps in the regime, I imagine, after we have been through the notification process, no matter how much we can achieve that way, so the power to fine is essentially the only real power the regulator will have, whoever the regulator is for stage 4”;

we are not yet certain.

He continued:

“For UK-based websites and apps, that is fine, but it would be extremely challenging for”

the BBFC, Ofcom or whoever the regulator is for stage 4

“to pursue foreign-based websites or apps through a foreign jurisdiction to uphold a UK law. So we suggested, in our submission of evidence to the consultation back in the spring, that ISP blocking ought to be part of the regulator’s arsenal.”––[Official Report, Digital Economy Public Bill Committee, 11 October 2016; c. 41, Q91.]

That is precisely why we will return to the amendment on ISP blocking, because if we are to pursue foreign-based providers, the ability to block will be integral to that strategy.

--- Later in debate ---
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am thankful for the opportunity to respond. I will actually respond to the points made about these amendments, which were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, rather than the reiteration of the blocking debate, which we have had and will no doubt have again on further clauses.

First, clause 17 clearly makes provision for the Secretary of State to designate more than one person as a regulator. Secondly—a crucial point—the complexity in regulation is deciding who is satisfying the rules and who is not, and that is for the BBFC to determine, whereas issuing fines is essentially a matter of execution and could be fulfilled by a variety of bodies. We will come forward with more detail on that in due course.

I think the whack-a-mole analogy inadvertently made the point, which is that when we are trying to deal with a problem on the internet, where people can move about, we can deal with the mainstream of the problem, which comes from reliable providers of adult material, who are already engaged and want to ensure they comply with the law. In future, once this measure becomes law, refusing to put age verification on adult material will be illegal, so we will be dealing with illegal activity. That will mean that the vast majority of people will comply with the law, and we heard that very clearly in the evidence session. The question then is how to deal with non-compliance and on the internet we know that that is very difficult. The proposals are to deal with non-compliance by disrupting business models and by imposing financial penalties.

I understand what my hon. Friend is trying to do. She is trying to strengthen the imposition of financial controls. Inadvertently, however, her amendments would reduce the regulator’s discretion by obliging the it to apply sanctions when they are available, and they would remove the power to apply financial penalties to non-UK residents.

We want to be able to fine non-UK residents—difficult as that is—and there are international mechanisms for doing so. They do not necessarily reach every country in the world, but they reach a large number of countries. For instance, Visa and other payment providers are already engaged in making sure that we will be able to follow this illegal activity across borders.

Therefore, while I entirely understand where my hon. Friend is coming from, the amendments would inadvertently have the effect of removing the ability to apply an enforcement notice to a UK resident, although I am certain that that is not what she intended. So I resist the amendment but I give her the commitment that we have drafted the clause in such a way as to make it as easy as possible for the enforcement regulator to be able to take the financial route to enforcement.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, the provisions do extend to Scotland, with necessary modifications to Scottish law. I am sure that he, like me, will have seen clause 17(5) and clause 20(11)(b), which refer to modifications needed to be consistent with Scottish law. On the basis of that information, I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for that clarification and for the mention of support. The intention was to help to provide a practical solution rather than cut off aims. He has persuaded me that I do not need to press the amendment to a vote. Although I take the point about shared regulation, I would ask him to consider in setting up the BBFC as the primary regulator that it is working reasonably well in the video-on-demand world, but this may be having them stray into a new sphere of expertise in terms of finding, identifying and sending out enforcement notices or penalties, particularly for foreign-based companies. I think the whack-a-mole analogy is entirely consistent—they will shut their doors and reopen in another jurisdiction almost overnight. Given the anonymity principles, it is sometimes almost impossible to know where they actually are. If the Minister is assuring us that everyone is aware of the problem, he believes the powers allow the regulator to be flexible, and it is something that his Department will consider, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 86, in clause 20, page 21, line 40, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

“(b) “during the initial determination period fix the date for ending the contravention of section 15(1) as the initial enforcement date.”.

--- Later in debate ---
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not test the Committee’s patience further by going over arguments that we have already had, but there is one further area of clause 20 that we wish to touch on—the lack of an appeals process in the legislation. The Minister may expect the regulator to build that appeals process in: it would be helpful to have some clarity from him on that.

As I understand it, the BBFC will use analytics to identify sites that should have age verification. Analytics are not foolproof, so obviously an appeals mechanism will be needed for websites incorrectly prevented from operating. Previous such systems have wrongly filtered out websites such as breast cancer charities or forums for gay and transgender people. That is incredibly important: let us put ourselves in the shoes of a young gay man or woman, growing up in a religious household perhaps, who does not know where to turn to ask the questions that would plague any teenager coming to terms with their sexuality and who seeks refuge and solace in internet forums with other people going through the same issues. As risky as the internet can be, it can also be an incredibly empowering, transformative space that can literally save lives in such situations. Such lifelines must absolutely not be filtered out by ASPs or made subject to age verification; the Bill should include a mechanism that allows for correction when they have been mistakenly identified.

We also need clarification on who will develop the analytics, the data they will be based on and whether it will be done in consultation with the tech industry. We can only assume that this is an oversight that will be corrected when working out how the regulator is to proceed.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady raises an important point about access to information about sex education, sexuality, abortion and all sorts of things that are incredibly valuable. She is right to draw attention to safe forums. I reassure her that many of the same issues came up with respect to the question of voluntary filtering and, despite what some of those giving evidence said, the incidence of false blocking of such valuable sites is incredibly low. The BBFC as regulator is really good: it is not in the business of defining based on imagery, and it has fairly detailed algorithms. I share her concern, but I want to offer some comfort.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful. I heard the BBFC or the Open Rights Group say that the incidence was very low, but it would do no harm to build an appeals process into the legislation to ensure that where sites that should not be blocked or require age verification have fallen through the cracks, that can be resolved at the behest of the regulator.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is absolutely correct that there needs to be an appeals process. That process is provided for in clause 17(4):

“The Secretary of State must not make a designation under this section unless satisfied that arrangements will be maintained by the age-verification regulator for appeals”.

I agree with everything else she said. It is worth remarking on the recent announcement that gay and bisexual men will now be pardoned over abolished sexual offences—that is not in the Bill, so that remark was completely out of order, but I still think it was worth making. Appeals are important; I hope she is satisfied that they are provided for.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 20 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 22

Age-verification regulator’s power to give notice of contravention to payment service providers and ancillary service providers

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 75, in clause 22, page 23, line 28, at end insert; “and

(c) the person has been the subject of a enforcement notice under section 20(2) and the contravention has not ceased.”

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 76, in clause 22, page 23, line 29, leave out “may” and insert “must”

This amendment places a requirement on the age-verification regulator to give notice to payment or ancillary service providers that a person has contravened clause 15(1) or is making prohibited material available on the internet to persons in the United Kingdom.

Amendment 79, in clause 22, page 24, line 24, leave out “may” and insert “must”

This amendment places a requirement on the age-verification regulator to issue guidance about the services that it determines are enabling or facilitating the making available of pornographic or prohibited content.

New clause 6—

“Requirement to cease services to non-complying persons

‘(1) Where the age-verification regulator has given notice to a payment-services provider or ancillary service provider under section 22(1), the payment-services provider or ancillary service provider must cease the service provided to the person making pornographic material available in the United Kingdom.

(2) A payment-services provider or ancillary service provider who fails to comply with a requirement imposed by subsection (1) commits an offence, subject to subsection (3).

(3) No offence is committed under subsection (2) if the payment-services provider or ancillary service provider took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to ensure that the requirement would be complied with.

(4) A payment-services provider or ancillary service provider guilty of an offence under subsection (2) is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine.

(5) In this section “payment-services provider” and “ancillary service provider” have the same meaning as in section 22.”

This new clause requires payment and ancillary services to block payments or cease services made to pornography websites that do not offer age-verification if they have received a notice of non-compliance under section 22(1). This provision would only apply to websites outside of the UK. This would enhance the enforcement mechanisms that are available under the Bill.

New clause 18—Approval of Age-verification providers

‘(1) Age-verification providers must be approved by the age-verification regulator.

(2) In this section an “age-verification provider” means a person who appears to the age-verification regulator to provide, in the course of a business, a service used by a person to ensure that pornographic material is not normally accessible by persons under the age of 18.

(3) The age-verification regulator must publish a code of practice to be approved by the Secretary of State and laid before Parliament.

(4) The code will include provisions to ensure that age-verification providers—

(a) perform a Data Protection Impact Assessment and make this publicly available,

(b) take full and appropriate measures to ensure the accuracy, security and confidentiality of the data of their users,

(c) minimise the processing of personal information to that which is necessary for the purposes of age-verification,

(d) do not disclose the identity of individuals verifying their age to persons making pornography available on the internet,

(e) take full and appropriate measures to ensure that their services do not enable persons making pornography available on the internet to identify users of their sites or services across differing sites or services,

(f) do not create security risks for third parties or adversely impact security systems or cyber security,

(g) comply with a set standard of accuracy in verifying the age of users.

(5) Age-verification Providers must comply with the code of practice.

(6) To the extent that a term of a contract purports to prevent or restrict the doing of any act required to comply with the Code, that term is unenforceable.”

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

We promised to return to the topic of enforcement and blocking, and we have reached it today. That is very good; it suggests that our progress on the Bill is excellent.

The purpose of these amendments and new clause 6 is to clarify and strengthen the enforcement process. We have already discussed fruitfully how clause 20 will be used, particularly for sites based overseas, and I was reassured by what the Minister said, but I want to turn to the “what ifs”. What happens if the regulator acts, has clarity about whether they are imposing a fine or an enforcement notice, and nothing actually happens—none of the sanctions in the current regime leads to a website imposing age verifications? I welcome what the Bill says about involving a direct relationship between not just the regulator and the platform or the website, but the payment providers. As the Minister said, cutting off the business model—the cash flow—is a very effective way of making enforcement happen.

I have a series of questions relating to the process. First, it is not clear when the regulator will inform providers that such a contravention is happening. Some questions were asked about how long it will be and what the time period will be, but when does the regulator actually issue a notice? Amendment 75 states that the regulator has a power to issue a notice under clause 22 when an enforcement notice has been issued and the contravention has not yet ceased. I think websites ought to be given the opportunity to respond to the regulator’s intervention before the payment providers and ancillary services are involved. That process should be very clear. It is the same if we have an issue with service provision at home: we know what our rights are, what period of time we have to complain and what happens when that period expires.

Secondly, as I read the Bill—I am in no way setting myself up as somebody who understands every aspect of the legal jargon—there appears to be no requirement for the regulator to inform the payment providers and ancillary services of a contravention. It may just be implicit, but amendment 66 would make it mandatory for the regulator to inform the payment providers and ancillary services if there were a contravention. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased that we have returned to enforcement and compliance, and I hope we are going to spend more time on blocking. The hon. Lady’s amendment uses the term “ancillary service provider”, to which she referred earlier. I would be very grateful if she spent some time spelling out in a bit more detail what an ancillary service provider is. Does it include ISPs? I think she alluded to that earlier, but I am not sure. Can she help clear up the confusion with some detail, please?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I apologise if I have caused any confusion. I will let the Minister specify exactly what he thinks. In tabling these amendments, I wanted to ensure that as wide a group of people and companies as possible is involved in doing something we all think is very valuable—implementing these age verification mechanisms. As I read the Bill as drafted, it does not contain a clear distinction between ISPs and ancillary service providers; they are included in the same bucket. I want to clarify that I think that both ISPs and ancillary service providers—in my mind, ancillary service providers are the platforms that we discussed by name earlier—have a duty and a legal responsibility to ensure that the age-verification mechanisms are in place.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady will have to forgive me. We are going to hear from the Minister shortly, but I would like to know if, in her amendment, ancillary service providers definitely include internet service providers. I know it is a difference of just one word, but I would be grateful for her clarification.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I share some of the hon. Lady’s uncertainty—I was going to say confusion, but it is not—about the terminology. Would the definition include, for example, telecoms providers over whose networks the services are provided?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I am perhaps going to let the Minister spell that out exactly. The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point: we all know now that access to internet services is often done entirely over a mobile network. I can again give some comfort on this issue. The BBFC, which is an excellent choice, has worked for many years with the mobile service providers—a witness gave evidence to this effect—so they already offer a blocking service based on the BBFC’s definition of 18-plus and 18-minus material. It is essentially an opt-in service. Someone has to say that they are under 18 and checks are carried out. The providers already offer the service, and it seems to work reasonably effectively.

I apologise for inadvertently misleading the Committee —perhaps it reflects some of the confusion in the wording—and I want to be very clear about who we are trying to capture with the amendments. We would all support the idea of spreading the net as widely as possible in ensuring the right behaviour, but it is important to make clear that ISPs are to be expected and legally mandated to carry out the same checks.

Another point I wanted to make with amendment 79 was to ask the regulator to issue guidance on the sort of businesses that will be considered to be ancillary services. The reason for putting that in the Bill is that, as we debated extensively in earlier sittings, the world changes. We had very good debates about why 10 megabits per second might not be appropriate in a couple of years’ time and why the USO as originally construed was laughably small. We all try to do the right thing, but of course the world changes. The reference by the hon. Member for City of Chester to Whac-A-Mole was interesting. What will the consequences be of implementing the Bill? We are a very substantial revenue stream for many websites, and new service models might arise. Someone might be scrutinising the letter of the law and thinking, “We are not captured by this, so we are not captured by these regulations.” Asking for the regulator to issue guidance on the types of businesses that will be considered to be ancillary services could future-proof some of the Bill.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the hon. Lady again allowing me to intervene. I apologise for interrupting her sentence; that was not my intention. I am pleased to see her amendments. This discussion is helping me and perhaps all of us to come to some form of understanding. I have a little metaphor in mind. If a cinema was allowing children to see pornography, we would hold the ticket seller responsible, as well as the organisation running the cinema, but not the bus driver who drove the bus the child took to get to the cinema. Does that metaphor help?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

It depends whether the bus driver was paid for by the cinema. That is the point. Businesses pop up. There might be a bespoke Odeon cinema. My point is that we need to ensure that the regulator has as much flexibility as possible to respond to changing definitions. The current definition of an ancillary service provider is quite clear, although I would like the Minister to clarify it, but my amendment would try to future-proof the definition.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In raising the issue of whether the bus driver was paid for by the cinema, the hon. Lady has helped me to hit on something else. Are we not considering the role of search engines in this matter and whether they are driving things or complicit? I do not know the answer to that question. She has raised a helpful analogy in response to my analogy.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

How long has the Committee got to hear about search engines? The hon. Lady raises a fascinating point. It was through a very strong cross-party effort and with the leadership of the former Prime Minister that we got the search engines to do some compelling things. Let me give her an example. It was clear that search engines in Europe were happy to allow terms to be typed in that could only lead to sexual images of child abuse being returned. I had the important but unenviable job, as the Prime Minister’s special adviser on the issue, of sitting down with the parents of April Jones, the little girl murdered in Wales, and trying to explain to them why, when their daughter’s killer typed in “naked little girls in glasses”, they received an image. It took many levels of conversation, including a personal conversation between me and the head of Google Europe, saying, “How do you as a parent feel about this? I don’t care about you saying ‘We serve up everything at all times’; I don’t care that the search terms themselves are not illegal. What I care about is your duty. You have a duty to do no evil, and in my view, you are breaching that.”

This is why I am so proud of what the Government have done. With all that effort and by recruiting Baroness Shields, who has been a worthy addition, we got the internet service providers not only to not return illegal imagery but, with the help of experts, not to return anything at all to a whole series of search terms that were found to be used by paedophiles in particular. I am sure that the hon. Lady will have seen that the Government then went further. It all comes down to what is legal. Your porn is my Saturday night viewing. [Laughter.] Theoretically.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I urge the hon. Lady to consider re-wording what she just said, for my sake and for hers.

--- Later in debate ---
Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I may have come up with a Daily Mirror headline. My point is that the whole debate about pornographic material has always ended in the cul-de-sac of freedom of speech. That is why we worked with internet service providers, saying, “Let parents choose. Let’s use the BBFC guidelines. They have years of experience defining this stuff based on algorithms.” It is not for the hon. Lady or me to decide what people should not be viewing; we quite properly have an independent agency that says, “This is appropriate; this is not.”

However, the hon. Lady has eloquently raised the point that for too long, we have treated the internet as a separate form of media. We accept in cinemas, whether or not the bus driver is working for them, that if a film is R18, we are pretty negligent if we take our kids to see it, but we are helped to see that. We do not let our kids wander into the cinema and watch the R18 stuff with nobody stopping them along the way, but for too long, that has been the situation with the internet. The hon. Lady has raised a good point about search engines. I can assure her that the world has changed significantly, certainly in the UK, although other jurisdictions may not have been so influenced.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I should probably declare that prior to becoming an MP, I worked at Google. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is where it becomes complex? A search engine, to use another analogy, is a bit like a library. The books are still on the shelves, but the search engine is like the library index: it can be removed and changed, but the content is still there. That is why we need to do much more than just removing things from the search engine: the content is still there, and people can find alternative ways to get to it. We must do much more.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I defer to my hon. Friend’s knowledge. Of course we all agree that certain instances of countries taking things down are utterly abhorrent; I am thinking of information about human rights in China, or about female driving movements in Saudi Arabia. We do not want to be in the business of over-specifying what search engines can deliver. We have not even touched on Tor, the dark web or the US State Department-sponsored attempts to circumvent the public internet and set up some rather difficult places to access, which have increasingly been used for trafficking illegal material.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We need to keep hold of the search engine issue for a moment, because search engines are part of the process. To restate the bus driver analogy, a search engine is also like a sign saying to adults, and children, “You can go here to see pornography”.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I think we will let the Minister talk about that. Again, think about the practical series of keystrokes. Let us take gambling for a moment. It is quite a good analogy, because we mandated in the Gambling Act 2005 that there should be age verification. The search engine host provides access to a site, and users must go through an age verification mechanism. Age verification is incumbent on the site, and the service provider is legally responsible. I shall let the Minister discuss search engines in his speech.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. We are discussing new clauses 6 and 18.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I am so sorry, Mr Stringer. I have jumped ahead.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Has the hon. Lady finished her speech, or does she want to continue?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I will finish at that point.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to speak to new clause 18, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West. I also support the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Devizes. The Government’s proposals really do rely on an awful amount of good will among all the stakeholders involved in the legislation. It makes sense to create a backstop power for the regulator to require payment services to act should they not do so in the first instance.

New clause 18 comes from a slightly different perspective. It would oblige the age-verification regulator to ensure that all age verification providers—the companies that put the tools on websites to ensure compliance—are approved by the regulator; to perform a data protection impact assessment that they make publicly available; and to perform an array of other duties as well.

The new clause is designed to address some of the concerns about the practicality of age-verification checks, ensuring that only minimal data are required, and kept secure; that individuals’ privacies and liberties are protected; and that there is absolutely no possibility of data being commercialised by pornographer. We raise the latter as a potential risk because the proposals were drafted with the input of the pornography industry. That is understandable, but the industry would have a significant amount to gain from obtaining personal data from customers that might not currently be collected.

As we said earlier, we have full confidence in the BBFC as regulator, but, as with the proposals in part 5 of the Bill, it is vital that some basic principles—although certainly not the minutiae—are put on the face of the Bill. We are certainly not asking anything that is unreasonable of the regulator or the age-verification providers. The principles of privacy, anonymity and proportionality should all underpin the age-verification tool, but as far as I am aware they have not featured in any draft guidance, codes of practice, or documents accompanying the Bill.

The Information Commissioner agrees. The Information Commissioner’s Office’s response to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s consultation on age verification for pornography raised the concern

“that any solution implemented must be compliant with the requirements of the DPA and PECR”—

the Data Protection Act 1998, and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 that sit alongside it. It continues:

“The concept of ‘privacy by design’ would seem particularly relevant in the context of age verification—that is, designing a system that appropriately respects individuals’ privacy whilst achieving the stated aim… In practical terms, this would mean only collecting and recording the minimum data required in the circumstances, having assessed what that minimum was. It would also mean ensuring that the purposes for which any data is used are carefully and restrictively defined, and that any activities keep to those restricted purposes…In the context of preventing children from accessing online commercial pornography, there is a clear attribute which needs to be proven in each case—that is, whether an individual’s age is above the required threshold. Any solution considered needs to be focussed on proving the existence or absence of that attribute, to the exclusion of other more detailed information (such as actual date of birth).”

The Commissioner made it clear that she would have

“significant concerns about any method of age verification that requires the collection and retention of documents such as a copy of passports, driving licences or other documents (of those above the age threshold) which are vulnerable to misuse and/or attractive to disreputable third parties. The collection and retention of such information multiplies the information risk for those individuals, whether the data is stored in one central database or in a number of smaller databases operated by different organisations in the sector.”

I understand that the Adult Provider Network exhibited some of the potential tools that could be used to fulfil that requirement. From the summary I read of that event, none of them seem particularly satisfactory. My favourite was put forward by a provider called Yoti, and the summary I read describes the process for using it as follows:

“install the Yoti App…use the app to take a selfie to determine that you are a human being…use the app to take a picture of Government ID documents”—

passport or driving licence, I imagine—

“the app sends both documents to Yoti…Yoti (the third party) now send both pictures to a fourth party; it was unclear whether personal data (e.g. passport details) is stripped before sending to the fourth party…Fourth party tells Yoti if the images (selfie, govt ID) match…Yoti caches various personal data about user”

to confirm that they are over 18. The user can then visit the porn site—whatever porn site they would like to visit at that time—and then the

“porn site posts a QR-like code on screen…user loads Yoti app…user has to take selfie (again) to prove that it is (still) them…not a kid using the phone…user scans the on-screen QR-code, is told: ‘this site wants to know if you are >18yo, do you approve?’…User accepts…Yoti app backchannel informs porn site…that user >18yo”

and then the user can see the pornography.

I do not know whether any Committee members watch online pornography; I gather that the figure is more than 50% of the general population, and I am not convinced that hon. Members are more abstinent than that. I ask Members to consider whether they would like to go through a process as absurd as the one suggested.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

In the name of research, people look at many things.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady has got ahead of the potential Daily Mail headline when the freedom of information request comes in for her Google search history.

I am not convinced that anybody would want to go through a process as the one I have just described, or even one significantly less convoluted. I suggest that instead they would seek entertainment on a site that did not impose such hurdles. The BBFC in its evidence made the telling point that the majority of the viewing population get their content from the top 50 sites, so it is very easy to target those—we see that entrenched in clause 23. The problem with that, as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester pointed out, is that targeting those sites may push viewers to the next 50 sites, and so on. We therefore need to ensure that the process is as straightforward and as minimal as possible.

--- Later in debate ---
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is absolutely right, and I will come to that point. We heard evidence from the BFFC that it intended potentially to use age-verified mobile telephony to ensure that sites are properly age verified, but I am afraid that that approach is also flawed. First, there is the obvious issue that there is nothing to stop an underage child using the information attached to that phone—be it the phone number or the owner’s name—to log on and falsely verify. Equally, there are enormous privacy issues with the use of mobile-verified software to log on.

The BBFC said clearly that it was interested not in identity but merely in the age of the individual attempting to access online pornography, but as we all know, our smartphones contain a wealth of information that can essentially be used to create a virtual clone. They are loaded with our internet conversations, financial data, health records, and in many cases the location of our children. There is a record of calls made and received, text messages, photos, contact lists, calendar entries and internet browsing history—the hon. Member for Devizes may want to take note of that—and they allow access to email accounts, banking institutions and websites such as Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Netflix. Many people instruct their phones to remember passwords for those apps so they can quickly be opened, which means that they are available to anyone who gets into the phone.

All that information is incredibly valuable—it has been said that data are the new oil—and I imagine that most people would not want it to be obtained, stored, sold or commercialised by online pornography sites. The risks of creating databases that potentially contain people’s names, locations, credit card details—you name it—alongside their pornographic preferences should be quite clear to anyone in the room and at the forefront of people’s minds given the recent Ashley Madison hack. I am not condoning anyone using that website to look for extramarital affairs, nor am I privileging the preferences or privacy of people who wish to view online pornography over the clearly vastly more important issue of child protection. However, one consequence of that hack was the suicide of at least three individuals, and we should proceed with extreme caution before creating any process that would result in the storing of data that could be leaked, hacked or commercialised and would otherwise be completely private and legitimate.

That is the reasoning behind our reasonable and straightforward amendment, which would place a series of duties on the age-verification regulator to ensure that adequate privacy safeguards were provided, any data obtained or stored were not for commercial use, and security was given due consideration. The unintended consequences of the Government’s proposals will not end merely at the blocking of preferences, privacy or security issues, but will include pushing users on to illegal or at the very least non-compliant sites. We are walking a thin tightrope between making age verification so light-touch as to be too easily bypassed by increasingly tech-savvy under-18s and making it far too complicated and intrusive and therefore pushing viewers on to either sites that do not use age verification but still offer legitimate content or completely illegal sites that stray into much more damaging realms. These provisions clearly require a lot more consultation with the industry, and I am confident that the BBFC will do just that, but the Opposition would feel a lot more confident and assured if the regulator was required to adhere to these basic principles, which we should all hold dear: privacy, proportionality and safety.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady rightly gets to the great concern that somehow, in doing something good, an awful lot of concern can be created, and I am sympathetic to her points. I remind her that it is not as if these sites do not know who is visiting them anyway. One of the great conundrums on the internet is that every single keystroke we take is tracked and registered. Indeed, that is why shopping follows us around the internet after we have clicked on a particular site. Unless people are very clever with their private browsing history, the same is the case for commercial providers.

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Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely support the Government’s intention here. We just want to ensure it is done in the right way and balances both sides of the argument. I think it is absolutely right that internet service providers are offering this filter, but does the hon. Lady share my concern that very few families take it up and very many families turn it off?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

There are Ofcom data. One of the requirements we asked for was for Ofcom to monitor. Take-up improved, and, as I said, some internet service providers now have an automatic “on” system, whereby a person has to intervene to take the filters off. I am told that only about 30% of families choose to do so. Here is the savvy thing: we all know that people live in households with multiple ages and multiple requirements on the internet, so many ISPs now offer a service that enables people to disable the filters for a period and automatically reinstate them the following day. They do not have to do anything if they want the filters to be in place, but they might want to access over-18 content as an adult.

I want to discuss some of the other issues that have come up in this conversation, in the process of finally speaking about these amendments. Is it in order to do so, Mr Stringer?

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

It is if it is covered by the amendments and new clauses 6 and 18, but I cannot tell until you start speaking.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Then I will carry on, because it definitely is. I think I misspoke at the beginning when I talked about new clause 7. I was actually referring to new clause 6; it was just my note-taking.

I was trying ensure that we put in place series of protections, including enforcement notices that are acted upon, financial penalties that make a difference and the ability to stop income streams moving from the payment providers to the various content providers. I want to press the Minister on the question of blocking, because it comes back to the issue of why anyone would care. If somebody does not respond to an enforcement notice—if, for example, the fine is not sufficient to make them stop —how can it be that we are not considering blocking? Of course, we do that for other sites. I know it is not applicable to every form of illegal content, but I am very struck by copyright infringement, which generates take-down notices very swiftly, and upon which the entire provision of internet service providers and ancillary services act. I would be really interested to hear from the Minister why blocking has been rejected so far. Could it be put in place as a backstop power? I worry that, without it, all of this amazing progress will not have teeth.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is sometimes said that Parliament skates over matters and does not get under the skin of things, but in the discussion we have just had Committee members displayed a great deal of analysis, experience and wisdom, and our debate on the Bill has been enriched by it. I am very grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who made very good contributions to help us get this right.

Exactly as the hon. Lady the Member for Sheffield, Heeley said, getting this right involves walking a tightrope between making sure that there is adequate enforcement and appropriate access for those for whom it is legally perfectly reasonable to access adult content. We must get that balance right. With that mind, we have drafted the clauses, particularly clause 22, to allow the regulator to operate with some freedom, because we also need to make sure that, over time, this remains a good system and is not overly prescriptive. It was ironic that in a speech about privacy, the hon. Lady started to speculate about which MPs enjoyed watching porn. I am definitely not going to do that.

The truth is that age verification technology is developing all the time. Online personal identity techniques are developing all the time, and indeed, the British Government are one of the leading lights in developing identity-verification software that also minimises the data needs for that verification and does not rely on especially large state databases to do that, and therefore does it in a relatively libertarian way, if I can put it that way. Providing for verification of identity or of age, because age without named identity is what is really being sought here, but is difficult to achieve, is an incredibly important issue. A huge amount of resource is going into that globally to get it right, and it ties closely to cyber security and the data protection requirements of any data.

The UK Data Protection Act has a broad consensus behind it and follows the simple principle that within an institution data can be shared, but data must not be shared between institutions. The institution that holds the data is responsible for their safekeeping and significant fines may be imposed for their inadvertent loss. The forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation increases those fines. Rather than reinventing data protection law for the purposes of age verification in this one case, it is better to rest on the long-established case law of data protection on which the Information Commissioner is the lead.

We had a very informed debate on the role of search engines. The regulator will be able to consider whether a search engine is an ancillary service provider. Although we do not specify it, I would expect ISPs to be regarded as ancillary service providers, but that will be for the regulator.

On the name of payment providers who are already engaged, rather than enforced engagement, we already have engagement from Visa, MasterCard, UK Cards Association and the Electronic Money Association, and clearly there a lot more organisations that can and should be engaged.

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Having given that response to the points that were made, I hope that these amendments will be withdrawn, but I thank the members of the Committee for the contributions that they have made in our consideration of these matters.
Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for that response. I would have liked to hear him say a little bit more about how the payment service providers are involved in the game and whether we are relying on them to do the right thing because they are large corporate companies, or whether, as new clause 6 proposed, there was an opportunity to strengthen the wording of the Bill.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise; there were so many interesting points made that I did not get to that one.

The provision of pornography without an age verification in the UK will become illegal under this Bill. There is a vast panoply of financial regulation requiring that financial organisations do not engage with organisations that commit illegal activities, and it is through that well-embedded, international set of regulations that we intend to ensure that payment service providers do not engage with those who do not follow what is set out in the Bill. Rather than inventing a whole new system, we are essentially piggybacking on a very well-established financial control system.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

That is a very reassuring reply and I thank the Minister for it. We have had a very good debate. I know that his officials will be listening and thinking hard about what has been said, and I do not think it would serve the Committee any purpose to press my amendments or my new clause to a vote.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It was interesting to hear the Minister refer to financial regulations. I was not present on Second Reading because I was not then in the position that I occupy now, but having read that debate I do not believe that there was any such reference. So we would like some clarity on who will be the regulator of the payment service providers and what work has already been done with the Financial Conduct Authority—I assume it will be with the FCA in this circumstance—to ensure that it will be regulating those providers, to make sure that they act with speed and due diligence on receiving notification from the age verification regulator under clause 15.

It is disappointing that the Government do not consider new clause 18 necessary to amend the Bill. I appreciate that the BBFC has been given powers to establish a code of practice, but given the very serious consequences that could result from that not being done correctly, some basic principles need to be embedded into the process, based on the issues that I raised earlier in our discussion.

I will just add that we will return to this issue on Report.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have been engaging directly with payment service providers, although—no doubt as and when necessary—engagement with financial authorities will be made. Payment service providers can withdraw services from illegal activity under their existing terms and conditions, so the provision is already there for the measures to take effect.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23

Exercise of functions by the age-verification regulator

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 80, in clause 23, page 25, line 1, at end insert—

‘(3) The age-verification regulator must consult with any persons it considers appropriate, about the option to restrict the use of its powers to large pornography websites only.’

This amendment requires the age-verification regulator to consult on whether, in the exercising of its function, it should restrict its powers to large pornography websites only.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 12—Code of practice by age verification regulator

‘(1) The age verification regulator must issue a code of practice giving practical guidance as to the requirements of any provision under this Part of the Act.

(2) The following persons must, in exercising their functions under this Part and in the design and delivery of their products and services, adhere to the code of practice, and ensure that the safety and wellbeing of children is paramount—

(a) relevant persons;

(b) internet service providers;

(c) ancillary service providers;

(d) payment-service providers; and

(e) any such other persons to whom the code of practice applies.

(3) Any code of practice issued by the age verification regulator under subsection (1) above must include standards in relation to the following—

(a) how content is managed on a service, including the control of access to online content that is inappropriate for children, and the support provided by the service for child safety protection tools and solutions;

(b) the assistance available for parents to limit their child’s exposure to potentially inappropriate content and contact;

(c) how the persons specified in subsection (2) above shall deal with abuse and misuse, including the provision of clear and simple processes for the reporting and moderation of content or conduct which may be illegal, harmful, offensive or inappropriate, and for the review of such reports;

(d) the action which must be taken in response to child sexual abuse content or illegal contact, including but not limited to, the co-operation with the appropriate law enforcement authorities;

(e) the action to be taken by the persons specified in subsection (2) above to comply with existing data protection and advertising rules and privacy rights that address the specific needs and requirements of children; and

(f) the provision of appropriate information, and the undertaking of relevant activities, to raise awareness of the safer use of connected devices and online services in order to safeguard children, and to promote their health and wellbeing.

(4) The age verification regulator may from time to time revise and re-issue the code of practice.

(5) Before issuing or reissuing the code of practice the age verification regulator must consult—

(a) the Relevant Minister;

(b) the Information Commissioner;

(c) the Scottish Ministers;

(d) the Welsh Ministers;

(e) the Northern Ireland Executive Committee;

(f) the persons specified in subsection (2) above;

(g) children;

(h) organisations and agencies working for and on behalf of children; and

(i) such other persons as the age verification regulator considers appropriate.

(6) As soon as is reasonably practicable after issuing or reissuing the code of practice the age verification regulator must lay a copy of it before—

(a) Parliament,

(b) the Scottish Parliament,

(c) the National Assembly for Wales, and

(d) the Northern Ireland Assembly.

(7) The age verification regulator must—

(a) publish any code of practice issued under subsection (1) above; and

(b) when it revises such a code, publish—

(i) a notice to that effect, and

(ii) a copy of the revised code; and

(c) when it withdraws such a code, publish a notice to that effect.

(8) The Secretary of State may by regulations make consequential provision in connection with the effective enforcement of the minimum standards in subsection (3).

(9) Regulations under subsection (8)—

(a) must be made by statutory instrument;

(b) may amend, repeal, revoke or otherwise modify the application of this Act;

(c) may make different provision for different purposes;

(d) may include incidental, supplementary, consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provision.

(10) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (8) (whether alone or with other provisions) which amend, repeal or modify the application of primary legislation may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(11) In this Part—

“ancillary service provider” has the meaning given by section 22(6);

“child” means an individual who is less than 18 years old.

“Information Commissioner” has the meaning given by section 18 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000

“Internet service provider” has the same meaning as in section 16 of the Digital Economy Act 2010.

“Northern Ireland Executive Committee” has the meaning given by section 20 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998

“payment-service providers” has the meaning given by section 22(5) “relevant Minister” has the meaning given by section 47(1)

“relevant persons” has the meaning given by section 19(3)

“Scottish Ministers” has the meaning given by section 44(2) of the Scotland Act 1998

“Welsh Ministers” has the meaning given by section 45 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.’

This new Clause gives the power to the age verification regulator to introduce a code of practice for internet content providers. The code of practice would be based on existing industry and regulatory minimum standards (such as the BBFC classification system) and require providers to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of children is paramount in the design and delivery of their products and services.

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Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I promise this will be the last time I speak today. I am afraid I have had a slight change of heart. I tabled this amendment around many points that have been raised today on the difficulty of focusing the BBFC’s efforts on the fact that much of this traffic is not simply going to the larger websites. As we have heard, many other free sites are providing information. However, in reading my amendment, I have decided that it is almost a vote of no confidence in the BBFC’s ability to be flexible and I would therefore like to withdraw it.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

New clause 12 would give the power to the age verification regulator to introduce another code of practice—the Opposition are very fond of them—for internet content providers. [Interruption.] And reviews, we are very fond of reviews.

We have made it clear throughout that we want enforcement to be as tough as possible and for all loopholes to be closed, but we also want to ensure that children are as safe in the online world as they are offline. There absolutely needs to be that parity of protection. That is one reason why we are disappointed, as I mentioned, that these measures came forward in a Digital Economy Bill, where it was incredibly difficult to look at the issues of child protection online in a thoroughly comprehensive way.

The new clause proposes that the regulator should work with industry to create a statutory code of practice, based on BBFC guidelines for rating films and the principles of the ICT Coalition for Children Online. The code would establish a set of minimum standards that would apply consistently to social networks, internet service providers, mobile telecommunication companies and other communication providers that provide the space and content where children interact online.

This is not intended to be an aggressive, regulatory process. We envisage that it will be the beginning of a much broader debate and conversation between regulators and content providers about just how we keep our children safe on the web. This debate will encompass not only ideas such as panic buttons, but education about the online world, which must run in parallel for any process to be effective.

A statutory code would work with providers to lay out how content is managed on a service and ensure that clear and transparent processes are in place to make it easy both for children and parents to report problematic content. It would also set out what providers should do to develop effective safeguarding policies—a process that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has supported.

As I said, this will clearly be a staged process. We envisage that in order to be effective, the development of a code of practice must involve industry, child protection organisations such as the NSPCC and, crucially, the children and families who use online services. But this code of practice would be based on existing industry and regulatory minimum standards and would require providers to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of children is paramount in the design and delivery of their products and services. The new clause would also empower the Secretary of State to make regulations to ensure effective enforcement of the minimum standards in the code of practice.

The online world can be an enormously positive force for good for our children and young people. It makes available a scale of information unimaginable before the internet existed and there is compelling evidence that that constant processing of information will lead to the most informed generation of children the world has known, but it needs to be made safe to realise that potential. The new clause would give assurance to Opposition Members that we will enable that to happen.

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Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do recognise that. My point is that making non-statutory guidance statutory will not help in that space, but there is clearly much more to do. I hope that, with that assurance, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes will withdraw the amendment.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a very curious clause, which renders much of the well-informed—as the Minister said—and useful discussion that we have had today about enforcement, targeting smaller providers and restricting access across the web, completely and utterly redundant. If the clause as I read it goes forward unamended, it will provide the regulator with the ability to target only the largest providers of online pornography, perhaps even limiting its ability to target only them.

As we have discussed at length, this is an incredibly difficult area to police, which I appreciate. It is obviously going to be far easier to tackle the 50 largest providers, not least because I assume many of them are already providing some level of age verification and are probably more at the responsible end of online pornography content providers. I would remind the Committee of the Conservative party’s manifesto, which said:

“we will stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material”.

That does not make any reference to commercial providers or whether the provider has a large or small turnover, is on WordPress, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat. Today’s debate has very much suggested that the role of the regulator will be to focus on those sites that are operated on a commercial basis. Given the Minister’s reluctance to implement internet service provider blocking, I do not believe that the manifesto commitment will be achieved.

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Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

Part of my reason for withdrawing my amendment was that I was encouraged by the word “principally” on line 35 of this page. It is not a restriction; the regulator certainly has the power under the clause to go after it. My issue is that there is a worry, although not with this regulator, that success will be defined by the number of websites or the number of enforcement notices issued. It is not about the number of websites; it is about the number of eyeballs going to them, so it is absolutely right that the regulator focuses on larger sites first. The wording of the Bill allows the regulator discretion to go after any site.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the basis that I agree with that explanation also, I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Digital Economy Bill (Tenth sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Cabinet Office

Digital Economy Bill (Tenth sitting)

Claire Perry Excerpts
Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 27th October 2016

(7 years, 7 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Digital Economy Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 27 October 2016 - (27 Oct 2016)
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would like to put on the record again that this Bill was clearly not ready for Committee. We have just seen another example of an amendment that was completely uncalled for. In the last part, amendments had to be withdrawn that were incorrect. I hope that the proposals are properly examined in the Lords and that this is not a recurring theme throughout future legislation that this Government introduce. It is very disappointing to see the lack of preparation for this Bill.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con)
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady is doing a marvellous job for her Front-Bench team, but having sat through several Bill Committees, I assure her that this situation is not particularly unusual. What is important is getting the Bill absolutely right and making sure that we use this opportunity to scrutinise it. We should proceed in the spirit of us all wanting the best thing and stop taking pops at the drafting team.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am assured by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West that this was not common practice under the last Labour Government, and I am horrified to hear that it has been common practice over the past couple of years.

Digital Economy Bill (Eleventh sitting) Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Digital Economy Bill (Eleventh sitting)

Claire Perry Excerpts
Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 1st November 2016

(7 years, 7 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Digital Economy Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 1 November 2016 - (1 Nov 2016)
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise the strength of feeling across the Committee on this matter. I will certainly do the bidding of the hon. Member for City of Chester and pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty, who is a long-standing supporter of live music and has made his case. Last week, he introduced me to Josh Franceschi in the House of Commons, who was able to make his plea very directly.

I match my hon. Friend’s Green Day ticketing problem and raise him my Paul Simon ticket problem. I had a similar experience when buying tickets to see Paul Simon next week at the Royal Albert Hall, to which I am looking forward enormously. I had to pay an eye-watering amount for the tickets—much higher than the face value.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con)
- Hansard - -

If even the Minister cannot obtain tickets, given the strings he can pull, what hope is there for the ordinary punter?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I stress that I bought my tickets to see Paul Simon completely off my own bat, as a fan. My wife and I are enormously looking forward to going. I am prepared to pay the very high price because it will be such an amazing concert, but it would be far better if I could pay the face value or something close to it. I went online immediately the tickets were released and a huge number had gone already. Secondary ticketing sites were the only way that I could get the tickets. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty, I was bent over my laptop pressing the button trying to get the tickets as quickly as possible. I only say that to explain to the Committee that I feel the pain of all those who end up having to pay far more than face value because of automated bots.

The Committee will know that we asked Professor Michael Waterson to review secondary ticketing. His very good independent report makes a number of points relevant to the new clause. The offences set out in the Computer Misuse Act 1990 have broad application and the Waterson review concludes that unauthorised use of a computerised ticketing system to avoid ticket volume constraints may give rise to breaches of that Act. Such breaches need to be reported, investigated and case law then established.

Having said that, I recognise the very clear sense in the debate that there remains a problem to be solved. I reiterate the words of the Secretary of State, who said last week that

“the advice has always been that the Computer Misuse Act applied. I want to look carefully at that and see how best we can get to a robust position on this matter”.

She proposed to convene a meeting of all interested parties. If we can get it scheduled, we will have that meeting within a month; if not, I commit to holding it before Christmas.

Digital Economy Bill Debate

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Claire Perry

Main Page: Claire Perry (Conservative - Devizes)

Digital Economy Bill

Claire Perry Excerpts
3rd reading: House of Commons & Legislative Grand Committee: House of Commons & Programme motion No. 3: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Monday 28th November 2016

(7 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Digital Economy Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 28 November 2016 - (28 Nov 2016)
Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to speak to new clauses 10, 32 and 7, which stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends, the Government new clauses, which the Minister has outlined, and new clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), whom the Minister mentioned. I will also refer to some of the other amendments in the group.

In Committee, Labour Members, and indeed the hon. Lady, made it clear that we could not see how age verification could operate without a backstop power to block sites that failed to comply. In Committee, the Minister resisted that strongly. He said:

“The powers are not a silver bullet; sites that were actively trying to avoid the Bill’s other enforcement measures would also be able to actively avoid these measures. It is questionable how much additional enforcement power they would bring, given those downsides.”

He went on to say:

“I think the Bill has ended up with the correct balance.”[Official Report, Digital Economy Public Bill Committee, 20 October 2016; c. 209.]

Clearly, the Secretary of State disagreed with him on that. She has now overruled her junior Minister by tabling new clauses 28 and 29 in her name, as we can see on the amendment paper. The new clauses tabled by the Secretary of State, who unfortunately is no longer in her place, represent significant changes at quite a late stage in the passage of the Bill in the Commons, confirming our contention that the Bill as published was not ready to leave home when it was allowed to do so.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con)
- Hansard - -

As the hon. Gentleman knows from his ministerial experience, it is the job of junior, middle-ranking Ministers to do all the work and Secretaries of State to take all the credit. In this case, I assure him that the ears of all the Government Front Benchers were open to the changes that he and I wanted to make.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for that intervention. All I can say is that I have just given the Secretary of State credit for the change, as the hon. Lady suggests I should.

The new clauses introduce significant changes at this late stage in the consideration of the Bill. We support blocking, but concerns have been raised in the press that the new clauses go beyond a backstop power to block sites to under-18s and could be used in practice to extend internet censorship to adults. The Government need to be clear whether that is the intention of the new clauses.

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George Howarth Portrait Mr Howarth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. Earlier today I waded through schedule 1, after which I was no wiser about its relevance to my argument. He, as a Member with a reputation for having an eye for the fine detail of legislation, will have spotted that in rather less time than it took me.

According to Virgin Media, it costs a communications service provider—Virgin Media or any other—150% more to put in infrastructure than it costs a water company, and 66% more than it costs an electricity company. I do not want to steal the thunder of the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr), although I condemn him roundly for not using new clause 27 as an opportunity to resolve the problem—that is not a criticism, really—but I ask the Minister to consider this problem before the Bill gets to the House of Lords. I have a handy amendment available if he wants one, but if he does not, I shall try to persuade somebody in another place to table it so that the issue can be more thoroughly debated there.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
- Hansard - -

As the House knows, I welcomed part 3 of the Bill on Second Reading, but I did raise, as did many other right hon. and hon. Members, the question of enforcement. We considered the possibility of internet service providers being asked to block sites that disregarded the Government’s requirement for age verification, and I tabled a series of amendments on that point in Committee. I disagree with the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) because I think that Ministers absolutely were in listening mode about a manifesto commitment that they were clearly keen to deliver. Against that backdrop, I am delighted to speak on Report by welcoming new clause 28 and Government amendments 35 to 42, which address this critical concern.

The Government had argued for rather a long time that it was disproportionate to make provision for statutory IP blocking because that had been dealt with on a voluntary basis for child pornography—we are all aware of the wonderful work done by the Internet Watch Foundation—and with reference to terrorist material. There was perhaps a hope that internet service providers would voluntarily get involved in blocking sites in the absence of age verification. Many right hon. and hon. Members campaigned for years for the voluntary introduction of family-friendly filters by internet service providers. We have led the world by working across industry and across the Government to produce a sensible set of provisions. We now have online filters that are introduced—in some cases automatically—by ISPs and others on a voluntary basis, and they seem to be working well.

There were, however, significant problems in assuming that ISPs would operate voluntarily. It was not just me and other colleagues in the House who were concerned. Bodies such as Christian Action Research and Education, the Children’s Charities Coalition for Internet Safety, the NSPCC, the British Board of Film Classification, which is now the regulator, and the Digital Policy Alliance were concerned that this sensible provision for age verification would not stick unless there was a more robust enforcement regime.

I am delighted that new clause 1, which I tabled, has been co-signed by 34 colleagues from seven political parties. That demonstrates that although we might like to stand up and shout at each other, our best work is done when we work together on such vital issues. It is a testament to the power of this place that we can work together so effectively to get this done. I know that this is a difficult argument; we have only to look at some of our Twitter feeds to see that. I am no longer on Twitter, but we know from other parts of the internet how difficult these conversations are because they go right to the heart of issues surrounding the regulation of the internet, which grew up, very properly, in a regulation-free environment, and in many respects that environment contributed to its growth and its glory.

Are we asking Governments and companies to restrict legal material for adults? I would argue strongly that the new clause is not about censorship or the restriction of legal access for adults; it is about proving that those who are consuming the material are indeed over 18. The new clause simply puts in place the sort of Government regulation and advice, and corporate socially responsible behaviour, that has been seen in many other industries. Example of that include the watershed in broadcasting, the fact that adult content often sits behind PINs on online media, and restrictions on what children can buy on the high street.

There is also a sense that the argument in relation to child sex abuse images and terrorist material is really not relevant. There is a strong global consensus that images or movie materials relating to neither of those things should be tolerated, so there is no need for statutory compulsion. However, the sites we are talking about, which offer material defined as pornographic, are quite different, because they provide a product that it is generally entirely legal for adults to access, and in many cases entirely reasonable, as there is no sense in which this is a kind of anti-pornography crusade. In that context, it is completely unsurprising that the ISPs made it clear they would not block pornographic sites without statutorily defined age-verification checks. Indeed, in evidence given on 25 October to the Communications Committee in the other place, the director of policy at Sky said of IP blocking under part 3 of the Bill:

“If there is a desire for ISPs to be blocking access to those sites, then legislation is required…If you want ISPs to block, I think they will struggle to do so, unless they are compelled to, and not because they do not want to but because they would probably be breaking the law.”

Indeed, Ofcom gave the Committee a similar message a week later, saying:

“If ISPs were to take any action blocking non-compliant sites, they would do so on a voluntary basis…I think you…have heard from ISPs about the legal difficulties they…would face if they were to undertake voluntary blocking…it would raise issues in relation to net neutrality.”

The second point, which has been widely raised among colleagues, is that there is overwhelming support among the majority of the British public for introducing these age-verification measures robustly. Eight out of 10 people absolutely support this very good manifesto commitment and want it to work. Indeed, the BBFC, which the Minister has chosen to be the regulator—I think all of us absolutely support it as a trusted brand in the space; it is not me or anyone else deciding what is over-18 material, because that will be based on the BBFC’s tried and tested guidelines—said itself that it felt that the regulator needed this power if it was effectively to carry out its work.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
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My hon. Friend says that this power is consistent with the guidelines that the regulator uses already, but my point was that it is not. Its powers are far more broadly drawn with regards to adult material over and above simply pornography.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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I do have great sympathy with the provisions my right hon. Friend has tabled; she is absolutely right to keep pushing on the issue. We defined the manifesto commitment and the Bill very tightly in terms of the online pornography space, and I wanted to achieve that first before we moved to broader definitions which, as she will be aware, quickly throw up many more questions about the scope of regulation. As she and I both know, there is a great desire in this space to make the perfect the enemy of the good, and with almost every advance we have made, we have been told, “Back off,” because something is not absolutely perfect. She, I and many other Members think that this is a process of iterative steps forward, and the Government are doing a great job in that respect.

The final argument for putting such blocking on a statutory basis is the precedent for IP blocking in the case of copyright infringement under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It would seem perverse for the House to argue that it was legal to instruct people to block sites that infringe copyright, but not those that infringe a legal requirement for age verification. It would be quite wrong for us to suggest that child protection is less important than protecting the interests of often very large commercial businesses.

I have two other quick points to make about why the case for change is so compelling. The first is that the BBFC has said that it will focus primarily on offshore sites, which are the main source of much of this material. Of course, as we know, it will be very difficult to enforce fines outside the UK jurisdiction. Secondly, we know that many sites are not reliant purely on financial transactions coming through the sorts of sites discussed in the Bill, given that there are systems such as Bitcoin and other forms of revenue generation.

I am absolutely delighted that the Government have tabled new proposals. I will not press my new clause and I will support their measures wholeheartedly. However, I want to probe the Minister—perhaps he will answer this question in a moment—about who will actually enforce the Bill. My understanding is that the BBFC does not currently have the enforcement powers required by new clause 28, which was why many of us assumed that Ofcom would be the enforcer of choice, as was set out very explicitly by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse). We would therefore be keen to hear who will actually enforce the Bill, because we know that, without robust enforcement, there will be little incentive for websites to implement age verification, despite these new powers, and I think almost the whole House will support me in saying that we want this to be a great success.

--- Later in debate ---
John Whittingdale Portrait Mr Whittingdale
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I start by making it clear that I fully support the provisions in the Bill to require age verification to access pornographic sites. As I observed on Second Reading, it is just as well, since my name is on the front of the Bill.

I would like to introduce an element of caution. Unlike a lot of other material online that has been discussed—child pornography, racist material, hate speech, extremist encouragement and copyright breaches—we are talking here about legal content. Like it or not, the sites we are discussing are visited by millions and millions of people every day. They are some of the most popular sites on the entire internet.

As I have said, I support the idea of age verification to ensure that only those who can appropriately view this material do so, although there are concerns. I have yet to see exactly how age verification is going to work. We have seen examples of existing content access control systems through things such as credit cards, or mobile phones that have been verified as belonging to an adult. It is, in my view, asking a lot to ask people who want to access legal content to hand over their credit card numbers to pornographic website operators. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) was absolutely right to flag up the data protection concerns about that. I hope that Ofcom will look very carefully at how the CAC systems work.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the main ways in which young people are now exposed to pornography is through social media such as Twitter, and I do not really see that the Bill will do anything to stop that happening. That is not to say that we should not take action against pornographic sites. The original Bill contained a number of quite significant enforcement measures, such as requiring payment providers, website hosting companies and advertisers to stop dealing with websites that had been identified as not complying with the law under the Bill. There are already signs that a number of the big providers are going to comply. MindGeek, which is probably the biggest operator, has said that it will introduce age verification systems, although it wanted others to do so as well. I hope that it will happen.

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

John Whittingdale Portrait Mr Whittingdale
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If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I am very conscious of the Deputy Speaker’s strictures.

I was not persuaded of the necessity of introducing ISP blocking. It represents a considerable infringement of the civil liberties of individuals who want to access material that, as everybody has recognised in this debate, they are perfectly entitled to access. At a time when we are very concerned about the growth of censorship online, and when certain countries would like to take this as a precedent for saying, “It is fine to block content that we do not particularly like,” I think that it is a dangerous road to go down. I hope that the measures originally in the Bill will prove sufficient, that operators will introduce age verification and that we will pause before taking the next step and introducing ISP blocking. To that extent, I rather hope that this Digital Economy Bill is like the Digital Economy Bill that we debated in 2010. That Bill provided for the Government to intervene and require ISP blocking, but the measure was never introduced.