HC Deb 24 March 2003 vol 402 cc17-8
14. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

What steps he is taking to protect children from paedophiles operating on the Internet. [104120]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)

Through the work of the taskforce on child protection on the internet, we have recently introduced measures in the Sexual Offences Bill to combat paedophile "grooming" both online and offline. We have also run a public awareness campaign, providing £2.5 million worth of supportive material for parents and children to increase awareness of the potential risks. Along with the internet industry, the taskforce has also published a good practice guide—a model for the internet industry which should help to provide safer online services for children.

Helen Jones

While acknowledging what has been done so far, I think most Members believe that the sentences given to those who operate through the internet are still far too low. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking not just to track down those who use the internet for purposes of paedophilia, but to ensure that when they are caught they are severely punished as a deterrent to others?

Mr. Blunkett

I hope that with the wholehearted support of all parties in this House and the Lords, and without prevarication or delay, we will be able to introduce addition al sentences, including a sentence of up to life imprisonment for paying for sex with a child and a 14-year sentence for causing or inciting a child to become involved in prostitution or pornography, for introducing a child to prostitution or involving them in pornography, and for arranging or facilitating child prostitution or pornography. The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 increased to 10 years the maximum sentence for possession and distribution of child pornography. All the new measures will be combined with existing ones to ensure that the message is clear and enforcement rigorous.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

A constituent recently drew my attention to the availability of software packages that are designed to enable internet users to conceal their identity. Is the Home Secretary aware of the availability of such software, and has he considered, or had discussions with colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about, ways in which access to such software can be restricted and the software removed from the market altogether?

Mr. Blunkett

Yes, protection is required, and it is crucial that server providers help to ring-fence entry to the internet. I shall ask the taskforce, under the direction of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), to consider that software, and I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman provided my hon. Friend with details.