Children are being exposed to violent online pornography 'at an alarming scale', Hull MP warns
In a debate on online harms, Dame Diana said the type of pornography children were being exposed to would not only be illegal to sell to young people offine, but that it would be illegal even to sell to adults unless purchased in a licensed sex shop.
And she said: “This is a child protection disaster happening now, and the Government could and, I hope, will act now.”
Conservative MP for Don Valley Nick Fletcher said: “We should waste no time in introducing age verification as soon as possible to ensure that our children can use the internet in a safe way, and not come across content which would expose them to content which they are far too young to see.”
He said the Conservatives stood on a manifesto promise to introduce statutory age verification checks for pornographic websites.
And that age verification “would ensure that our young people's development is not threatened, and children are allowed to be children”.
He added: “This really matters and the public seem to believe so as well.”
Dame Diana said: “Children are being exposed to online pornography at an alarming scale, and during the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that the figures will have increased even more with children more often having unsupervised online access.
“The issue is the widespread availability and severity of online pornography accessible at home. It is no longer about adult magazines on the top shelf in the newsagent.
“Contemporary pornography is also overwhelmingly violent and misogynistic, and it feeds and fuels the toxic attitudes that we see particularly towards women and girls.”
Dame Diana said Parliament passed legislation in 2017 which would prohibit commercial pornography websites from making their content available to under 18s, as well as creating a regulator and an enforcement mechanism.
But the Government announced the age verification measures would no longer go ahead last year, with legislation instead planned to tackle wider online harms, such as terrorist propaganda, fake news, cyberbullying and child abuse.
This could require firms to take responsibility for their users and their safety, as well as the content that appears on their services.
Mr Fletcher added: “Statutory age verification checks for pornographic websites is what we promised and there should be no doubt that as Conservatives, this is what we must deliver.”
He urged ministers not to conflate the issue with porngoraphic material appearing on social media which he said was also important, but not what was promised in the manifesto.
He said that “as a family man and committed Christian” he felt it was “crucial that the Government reconsider this decision and act on the wishes of the electorate”.
Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “Platforms can and must do more to protect those users in particular children from the worst of the internet, which is sadly all too common today.
“The Government will ensure that they set out clearly what legal content is acceptable on their platforms, and ensure via a powerful and independent regulator that they enforce that consistently and effectively.”
He said: “The Government is committed to ensuring children are protected from accessing inappropriate harmful content online, and this includes online pornography.”
He said he was restricted in what he could say due to a judicial review progressing on age verification, but he said: “Tackling online harms is a key priority for this Government, to make the internet a safer place for all of us.”