A Bill which seeks to protect children from the dangers of online pornography has had its second reading in the House of Commons.
The Government’s Digital Economy Bill would require commercial providers to set up “robust age verification controls for online pornographic content in the UK”.
This would be supplemented by a regulatory framework, using civil sanctions to “enforce compliance with the law”.
The Bill also proposes that the Government work with payment providers, such as Visa, MasterCard and Paypal, to “enable them to withdraw their services from infringing websites”.
It has received cross-party support, including from Labour MP Sarah Champion, who said: “The scale of online abuse and exploitation, and the proliferation of pornography and violent sexualised imagery among children, has reached endemic levels.
“This Bill presents us with an opportunity to offer protection to all children, and I urge this House to do so.”
Tory MP Fiona Bruce welcomed the “ambitions of the Bill to make online access to pornography harder for young people” but said that she had some “reservations”.
Highlighting the proposal to impose monetary sanctions on sites which do not comply with the regulations she noted that in 2014, “23 of the top 25 adult entertainment sites were based outside the UK”.
She questioned how a regulator would “fine a pornographic website targeting the UK if it is owned by a company located in Russia, for example”.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) also raised concerns that the proposals “do not go far enough”.
In an article for the Huffington Post last week, Chief Executive of the group Peter Wanless warned that “the penalties will be shrugged off by companies that breach the legislation”.
He urged the Government to “compel credit card firms to cut off income to porn sites that continue to allow children access” and demand that internet service providers block such sites as a last resort.
“If action isn’t taken”, he added, “a generation of children will have been stripped of their childhoods by seeing often extreme and violent porn online”.
The Digital Economy Bill will be considered by the Commons Public Bill Committee in the coming weeks.