I was pleased to speak in the Online Harms debate yesterday in Parliament.
Please see my speech below:
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright) on securing this debate and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for it.
There is no doubt that the internet can be a force for good. Over the past few months, we have all enjoyed the fact that we can keep in touch with family and friends. We can work from home. Even some people can participate in certain parts of our proceedings, although clearly not this debate. But the internet can be used for harm. In the limited time I have I want to make just two points. One is about the impact on children and the other is about advertising online.
When I was the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, I initially took the idea to the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), that we should have an internet safety strategy. That is what has become the online harms strategy. The internet safety strategy was born out of my work in the Home Office when I was the Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime. It was so clear to me through the work that I did in particular on protecting children that the internet was being used to harm children. We have some great successes. The WePROTECT initiative, for example, which has had a real impact on removing pornographic images of children and child abuse online, is a great success, but we must never rest on our laurels. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister, who knows full well about all this, because he was with me when lots of this work was happening in the Department, to deal with the issue of age verification on pornography. I know that it does not resolve every issue. It is not going to solve every problem, but there was a message given to me by children time and again. If there was one thing they wanted to see stopped, it was access to pornography because that was what was fuelling the harm that they faced.
Turning to advertising, I will share with the House that this weekend I will be cooking a beef brisket that I will be purchasing from Meakins butchers in Leek, and I will be putting on it a beef rub. Hon. Members may ask why I am telling them that. I am telling them that because I have been mithered for weeks by my 15 year-old son, who has seen such a beef rub on Instagram. He is not getting his advertising from broadcast media. He is getting his advertising from the internet and he is desperate to try a beef rub on beef brisket, and I will therefore make sure he does so over the weekend.
We have to have a level playing field on advertising. Our broadcast media is about to face real restrictions on the way that certain products can be advertised. This will impact on our public service broadcasters in particular, but we do not see the same level of regulation applied to the internet, and I know for one that the place my children are seeing advertising is on the internet. It is, sadly, not on broadcast media in the way I picked up my advertising. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to make sure he does something on that matter as well.