HC Deb 18 December 2001 vol 377 cc251-2W
Ms Shipley

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action his Department is taking to tackle child pornography on the internet. [22113]

Beverley Hughes

The Government are committed to tackling child pornography on the internet. We are determined to ensure that there are effective measures to combat this exploitation of children. In January 2001 we raised the maximum penalties for taking, making, distributing or showing indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of children to 10 years (from three years), and the maximum penalty for simple possession of such material to five years (from six months).

We have made substantial investment in law enforcement to enhance the capability of the police to investigate serious and organised crime committed via computers or computer networks, such as the internet. In April, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit was established, within the National Crime Squad, to investigate or support the investigation of such serious criminal activity, including the production and distribution of child pornography.

In March, a task force on child protection on the internet was established to identify and implement the best ways in which children can be better protected when using the internet. Within the task force, Government, industry, the police and the children's charities have come together to, among other things, scope new legislative measures specifically to tackle 'grooming' of children by paedophiles online (and offline).

We support the work of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which was set up in 1996 by internet service providers to enable members of the public, via a hotline, to report child pornography and other potentially illegal material in a newsgroup or website. If the material is considered illegal, the foundation passes details to the United Kingdom police to initiate action against the originators and asks British internet service providers (ISPs) to deny access to the sites concerned. If the originators are abroad, the foundation passes the report to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) who liaise with the enforcement agencies of the countries concerned. Since it was established, the IWF has asked United Kingdom internet service providers to remove nearly 30,000 illegal items from the internet.

Internationally, the Government actively support efforts within the European Union, and more widely, to combat child pornography on the internet. In November, we signed the Council of Europe convention on cybercrime, which will underpin co-operative action between signatory states in respect of computer-related crimes, including the making, distribution and possession of child pornography.