Lib Dems slam Tories’ approach to online safety

Liberal Democrat peer Jane Bonham Carter has  slammed the Tories’ plans to enforce age limits for pornographic websites as “a sledgehammer to crack a nut.” She said:

In a free, democratic society the answer is not just to ban everything. This risks being another example of the Government using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

The Government are jumping on poorly thought through proposals. Popular websites could easily fall foul of new rules when it is hard to define what should be blocked and even harder to technically do it.

The Tories should look at their own track record in this area. When they introduced internet filters many LGBT websites were blocked too, cutting people off from vital information and advice.

Rather than developing a banned-by-default approach we should be investing more in sex and relationship education at school to ensure that teenagers and young adults have a healthy understanding of relationships and sex to empower them to make good decisions.

The Government’splans have already been dismissed as ineffective by industry experts.

Nobody wants young people looking at stuff that they really shouldn’t be accessing, but we live in the real world and our response should be more about building resilience and education. It’s really disappointing that the David Cameron last week blocked compulsory sex education, despite many female members of the Cabinet protesting.

The Independent report said:

According to the report, the Home Secretary Theresa May, the Business Minister Anna Soubry and International Development Secretary Justine Greening all backed the change in policy.

A government source told Ms Newman: “There’s a divide…For me it gets to the heart of why we need more women in politics. It’s not just because it should be fair, it’s just these are the sort of issues which they understand and the men don’t.”

A source close to the Education Secretary, however, told the Independent they “did not recognise any description of a row.”

It just goes to show that you do actually need more women in the room to make a difference.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Steven Mather 17th Feb '16 - 3:03pm

    Enforcing age limits on UK websites does nothing to stop kids from looking at unrestricted porn from outside the UK. It’s a total waste of time and is a pointless expense for the UK Websites concerned.

  • Make anything age-restricted or illegal and you’ll increase its appeal in the eyes of the very people you’re trying to protect.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Feb '16 - 3:38pm

    Baroness Shields , internet minister involved is a woman.Many opponents of any form of pornography, even erotica, particularly on the left , are women.Some women who are Labour M.P.S and members or supporters have every so often ,tried to ban lap dancing clubs.One of them even tried to stop Burlesque !The enthusiasts for the “nordic model”on prostitution, which criminalises clients of prostitution, not the prostitutes,are women, staunch women .

    Baroness Bonham Carter is , I would argue , right on this because she knows what she is talking about.Because her career has been in broadcasting.I am sure Lord Bragg would talk sense on this too.

  • @Lorenzo
    I’m not sure how you arrive at the conclusion that the Baroness knows what she is talking about.

    For a start, an age restriction is not really banning anything, never mind “banning everything” as the Baroness suggests.

    As usual with most debates of this nature, we’re presented with an entirely phoney dichotomy – internet filters, or sex education? The reality is that both are useful and have a place. We’re told that even thousands of primary school kids have seen hardcore porn – sometimes inadvertently. At what each do we start teaching these children “resilience” to images of rape and torture porn – and is that really a sufficient response?

  • Whilst we “slam the Tories” they take 3 seats from us on Yeovil Council yesterday!!!!!
    Perhaps, I only say perhaps, less of criticising others and more facing up to our own inadequacies and failings, only then have we got any chance of getting back on a sound footing.

  • The internet is the wild west with billions of users and millions of websites across the entire globe.. In truth it’s pretty much ungovernable and certainly beyond any real impact bans could have. The Conservative approach seems to be to pretend it’s like VHS in the mid 1980s and that they can do anything very much about it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Feb '16 - 8:48pm

    You make a very good argument.Firstly,I mean if Baroness Bonham Carter is right it is because she knows what she is talking about , rather than because she is a woman.There are many reasons to say gender is relevant in this debate ,I was making the point that meant that many women are just as likely , if more often, in fact , to be on a different side of these issues.

    Secondly,I took Baroness Bonham Carter to be making the general point that the tendency to ban , rarely works.However , I believe the governments current approach better than previously poorly thought through ideas about finger prints and the like,but it is still unworkable.I share your concern, I am a longstanding opponent of violence in all media,I do favour restrictions if obscenity is a worry, ie in mainstream media, watersheds or outright bans on a lot of content on television.


    I think because it is the wild west online,all the more need for vigilence.But what to ban I do not know?Even LDV has such a dilemma !

    The reason it may well be w

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Feb '16 - 8:53pm


    The reason it may be worth considering aspects of this in a non knee jerk way , is because as even adults get offended , whereas we have the Harm Principle as our guide for levels of robust debate or pornography, it works for all ,kids should not be part of that , and the need to protect them is vital.But how ?

  • Are the Lib Dems calling for unrestricted hardcore porn for children the same Lib Dems who used to campaign to get pictures of Twiggy banned because they were “airbrushed”? They surely are. Bizarre priorities and a hypocritical approach to freedom.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Feb '16 - 12:30am

    You know absolutely nobody in our party or any is calling for any such thing !All people are doing is what Steven and Anna , above , are trying to do , as is , I hope ,Baroness Jane Bonham Carter, try and see what is do – able. Steven above makes it clear , ban or not , company requirements or not ,any or all measures would only apply in Britain,to companies under our auspices.As many such providers of such websites , presumably are from abroad , particularly the US , where the industry is strong,no such companies would be liable.You see the fuss Apple are making, refusing to release , or even try to access ,data from the account of a mobile phone user , now deceased and a known terrorist guilty of multiple homicide !Not very likely we or any country are going to get international restrictions or policy in a hurry!

    Anna above shows something worrying but possibly true.Our other Baroness from a broadcasting background, Floella Benjamin, is scathing about the low level of mainstream entertainment kids can and do access today.She sees parental involvement as important.She has said young kids should not have computers of their own , in their own rooms , and that for youngsters the computer should be a shared experience, with the family.Again,a personal matter , as she would probably add,not something the state can do.But the issue is one thinkers are obviously getting to grips with.

  • Tony Greaves 18th Feb '16 - 1:10pm

    What a pity it can’t all just be made to go away and never come back!

    (I mean the internet!)


  • My instinct is always against censorship, and it’s worth bearing in kind that the current ISP “porn filters” filter out a lot of things other than porn, with little transparency on the blacklisting process.

    But from a practical point of view, how can this possibly be made to work? From the BBC – “Ofcom’s guidance on age checks for online video content suggest a range of options – from confirmation of credit card ownership to cross-checking a user’s details with information on the electoral register.”

    Fantastic – people will be asked to input their credit card details into dodgy web sites to “prove” their age? Or more likely, little Jimmy “borrows” his Dad’s credit card…

    And how the hell does cross-checking someone’s details against the electoral register provide any level of assurance? I know quite a few people well enough to get round that, without even looking at the register itself which is easily accessible.

    And that’s without all the free porn sites all over the world that will simply ignore UK law.

    As usual with anything internet-related, the Government simply doesn’t have a clue…..

  • @Lorenzo
    I am pleased you say that the Lib Dems are not in favour of unrestricted porn for children, but can you give any further details, since all the information I can find indicates that the Lib Dems have opposed every single measure that might restrict children’s access?

    Most of the arguments offered against filters and AV systems don’t really stack up. For example :-

    1. “The filters block sex education sites!” Nearly all reports of this kind I can find come from 2013 i.e. the earliest days of the filters. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to some that the filters might have improved since then. It was recognised from the start that over-blocking needed to be avoided, and to this end the UK Council for Child Internet Safety was tasked with looking at the development of a central whitelist. By late 2014 this plan was dropped because the youth charities who were consulted on it said it would be unnecessary, since they were happy with the steps the individual ISPs had already taken. This has not been a major issue for a while now.

    2. “The filters/AV systems will not always work!” So? Since when does something have to work 100% of the time to be worthwhile? Do we scrap the laws on sale of tobacco and alcohol to minors because some kids are known to smoke and drink? The filters will have “worked” if they reduce (hopefully significantly) the number of children watching porn. They don’t have to work all of the time.

    3. “It’s censorship!” This one is clearly false – so long as the filters/AV systems can be freely and legally bypassed by adults, there are no censorship implications.

    4. “We should be providing sex education instead!” And this has to be an either/or choice because..? Age-restricted sales of cigarettes never stopped schools educating kids on the evils of tobacco. It’s possible to do more than one thing at once.

    5. “You can’t regulate internet industries!” Yet we seem to be regulating the on-line gambling industry just fine, including robust AV checks. Sure, there will always be dodgy companies who operate outside the rules – but see point 2.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Feb '16 - 11:26pm

    It is not opposition to government regulation or protection , it is to that which does not work.No blocking can work apparently,unless the site itself enforces them , but , as I said no foreign site is stoppable by Britain if not co operating.

    I would support strong international agreement .I also am against the prevalence of extreme violence in the media , beyond the internet, in video games for example.Every time someone proposes something relating to these issues it is important to get it right.To avoid a trip to Sodom and Gommora, it is important we somehow inadvertently do not end up somewhere we also do not want to be!

  • @Lorenzo
    “No blocking can work apparently”

    This simply isn’t true though. No blocking can work 100%; but blocking can significantly reduce access to certain content below the levels it would be otherwise. Sure, we’d all (well most of us) like to reduce child access to porn by 100%, but if that’s not possible, a reduction of 50% or 25% of even 10% would be a worthwhile start that would make a real difference to a lot of people.

    Evidence that blocking can work at least partially :-

  • I am a woman and the mother of two children, a boy and a girl. I take great issue with the statement that women ” understand these issues and men don’t”. As a wife, daughter, daughter-in-law and aunt, I am surrounded by intelligent, sensitive, caring men who ” understand these things” perfectly. Some men may not, but please let us not tar all men with the same brush with facile generalisations.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Feb '16 - 2:21pm


    You only part quoted me , I did not say that in that way , I wrote

    “No blocking can work , apparently ,unless the site itself enforces them,but, as I said, no foreign site is stoppable by Britain,if not co operating”

    I think you are going down two roads, understandably.The documents that you allude to show that the industry itself needs to co operate.Then the customer or those who do not want to be customers ,need to have a way to block, or opt ins or outs, in effect. IN the first instance therefore it is a decision and requirement of the individual , to take responsibility. Adults, for themselves, and to protect , or block , access to those who are not adults.Of course that is welcome and I am fine with all that.

    The second aspect relates to it but is more difficult, and gets to the crux of the government ,and any government policy ,or attempt to do something.And that is what needs to be required of companies , co operating with governments as they must with a change in our laws if they were in fact changed, and insistence by us , in our country , those rules we apply,would not apply to any company not in this country , and , as others have said above, that is most and all the powerful and most dominant players in the market !

    Get it right and we can get something done.But we must get it right.I agree with your concern and desire to do at least something.But remember,we are talking here about legal ,and therefore , as far as their clout , legitimate ,sites, in a very lucrative market. We are not talking about illegal and evil sites most of us could not even manage to think about, and all of us,have a duty to stop. The debate here is about how to stop as much access to legal but influential sites, that might influence behaviour ,and that should be and are age appropriate and therefore age restricted.It is a complex field , precisely why it needs an effective response.

    Caricatures of party viewpoints are not helpful.Whether Baronesses, Bonham Carter,or Benjamin, and indeed former M.P., Julian Huppert, different views must be heard.I do not have anything but respect for the integrity of those engaging in this necessary decision making.

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