Government must implement pornography safeguards
Failure to implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act will cause more harm to our most vulnerable citizens, children, and compound degrading attitudes towards women and girls.
Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act would require pornography sites to ensure that users are over the age of 18 before gaining access to content. It would also appoint a regulator with powers to take robust action against any sites which host the most violent form of illegal pornography, ‘extreme pornography’, which normalises violence against women. I say “would” because Part 3 of the DEA has never actually been brought into force.
The legislation was a key Conservative party 2015 manifesto commitment. The government quite rightly introduced Part 3 and all the attendant secondary legislation and clearly intended to implement it until October 2019, when it performed a spectacular U-turn, announcing that it was going back to the drawing board to develop entirely new legislation.
Ministers claim the forthcoming online harms bill now renders Part 3 redundant. But the truth is, even if the Online Safety Bill was introduced tomorrow, it would still be some years before children would be protected from pornographic websites. The failure to implement Part 3 in 2019, has already needlessly denied children the protection that Parliament has afforded them for an extra 18 months and there is no way the new primary and secondary legislation can be developed passed and implemented with a new regulator for at least another three years and probably longer.
Given this situation, I have felt it necessary to introduce the Digital Economy Act (Implementation Part 3) Bill, which requires that Part 3 must be implemented no later than June 2022. Ministers have sought to argue - very unconvincingly - that implementing Part 3 would take a couple of years. In truth, it does not need to take anything like that long if the government re-designated the British Board of Film Classification as regulator and had them act as regulator in the interim period until the new legislation is ready.
I am but one voice calling for Ministers to change course and implement Part 3 of the DEA. In May, a letter to the Prime Minister led by the indefatigable children’s champion, Baroness Floella Benjamin, signed by numerous Peers and groups including Barnardos, the PSHE Association and the Women’s Aid Federation of England, said that in the context of societal concern about women’s safety and given the growing body of research demonstrating a clear association between pornography consumption violence against women and girls, the failure to implement Part 3 has become “unsustainable”.
Scottish Parliamentarians, led by Rhoda Grant MSP, also recently added their voice to the fray. A motion at Holyrood backed by 14 MSPs expressed “concern” about the UK government’s failure to implement Part 3 and urged Ministers to “implement Part 3 of the 2017 Act without further delay, so as to ensure that children and women in Scotland and throughout the UK are protected”. As someone who lives in Northern Ireland, I can assure Ministers that the concerns of Scottish politicians are echoed across the Irish Sea.
In addition, a judicial review of the non-implementation of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act has been initiated by Ava Vakil, an inspiring student activist involved in raising the issue of sexual violence among teenagers and Ioannis Dekas, a father whose young son was damaged by his exposure to pornographic web sites.
The government should stop opposing its own manifesto commitment to protect children from pornographic web sites and move to immediately implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act. A failure to do so will only cause more harm to our most vulnerable citizens, children, and compound degrading attitudes towards women and girls.
Lord Morrow is a DUP peer.
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