HC Deb 16 July 2002 vol 389 cc229-31W
Lawrie Quinn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many times the Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet has met since it was set up last year; what progress has been made; and if he will make a statement. [70809]

Hilary Benn

The then Home Secretary (Mr. Straw) announced the establishment of the Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet on 9 May 2001. Since then, the full Task Force has met four times and most recently on 3 July 2002. The work of the Task Force has been taken forward by a number of Sub Groups which have met regularly and have been looking at the criminal law, law enforcement, child protection measures, public awareness, training and further developing co-operation between the industry and others on reporting and handling child protection issues.

Members of the respective Sub Groups have given freely of their time to support the aim we set last year: to make the United Kingdom the best and safest place in the world for children to use the internet, and to help protect children the world over from abuse fuelled by criminal misuse of new technologies.

The Task Force has developed, run and now evaluated a successful national awareness campaign. Research had confirmed two key gaps: first, that parents are ill-informed about their children's use of the internet and chat rooms, and second that young people give out their personal details without considering the consequences. Two campaigns were designed, one to target 14 to 16-year-olds and the other parents/carers of 11 to 13-year-olds. The media used included press advertising, cinema, radio, on-line and viral marketing from December 2001 until spring 2002. Independent evaluation of the campaigns shows significantly improved awareness of the key messages in both target audiences. The Task Force is now considering that evaluation and how to build on the momentum created.

The Task Force has also developed proposals for a criminal offence to tackle the "grooming" of children by paedophiles online or offline. This is intended to allow prosecution at an early stage when children are being groomed, before an existing sexual offence has been committed. In addition, the proposals include the creation of a new civil protection order relating to behaviour towards a child for an illegal or harmful sexual purpose.

Practical online child protection measures have been drawn up in a draft good practice document for service providers which deals with chat, instant messaging and web services. These encourage, among other things, clear and accessible safety messages and advice and user-friendly ways of reporting abuse. The drafts are being considered by the wider industry through the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) and the London Internet Exchange (LINX).

Work is also in hand to develop a shared matrix for reporting and handling child protection issues, and developing good practice for dealing with law enforcement requests for information from Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This is being taken forward, with the oversight of the Task Force, by the Internet Crime Forum.

The Task Force will continue to work in partnership with the industry to: consider the extent to which the criminal law currently covers unsuitable material being sent to children and all forms of indecent representations of children; assess the new challenges posed by

development of 3G mobile phones; and develop basic training materials for child protection staff on children's internet use.

In parallel with the Task Force, the United Kingdom has played a leading role in the development of a G8 strategy for protecting children from sexual exploitation on the internet. The strategy, which is not yet finalised, will cover issues such as: victim identification; intelligence gathering and sharing; location of suspects; enforcement tools and training; awareness building and prevention; and police working with industry and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).