Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620-631)


14 MAY 2008

  Q620  Chairman: Can I just pursue Mr Farrelly's point slightly? The money that the DCSF and other departments are spending is welcome but CEOP is doing the most important task. You have been full of praise for CEOP and I have to say that we were extremely impressed when we went there, so when we said to Jim Gamble about whether he was satisfied, he replied "Do we have sufficient funding? No. Are children being put at risk? That is a very difficult question for me to answer. I have said we do not have sufficient funding; the reality is that there was no new money." Given the extent to which more and more people are going on-line as technology is increasing, the number of reports is growing, should we not be increasing CEOP's budget dramatically?

  Mr Coaker: If CEOP come to us with a case for more money—my understanding at the moment, and I will correct this if it is wrong, is that there is no bid into the Home Office for additional money for CEOP, but of course if there were to be that bid we would have to consider it.

  Q621  Chairman: It sounds like a bid to me: "Do we have sufficient funding to be able to do it? No."

  Mr Coaker: Not formally into the Home Office. Jim Gamble, as I have said, is fantastic and CEOP is fantastic and we would always consider any bid that we get from them with respect to this. There are other issues that I mentioned with respect to Mr Keen about law enforcement with images other than child abuse images and enforcement of the law there. There is also an issue about how we—if you look at the annual report of CEOP they said they actually facilitated a number of arrests for police forces around the country, so there is also the work that we do with respect to individual forces to increase their awareness of this and develop that link between police forces and CEOP as well. As I say, we will always consider, because we regard it as a priority, if particular bids come in for money—as one came in last year where we made an additional amount of money available. We will always consider it.

  Q622  Chairman: You would be pretty sympathetic to a bid in this area.

  Mr Coaker: I am always sympathetic to CEOP and always sympathetic to Jim Gamble, of course, but that does not mean even in this area that you can say to people automatically if they bid for money they will get it.

  Margaret Hodge: The point I was urging my colleague to make to the Committee is that actually CEOP works with secondees from various other Government departments.

  Kevin Brennan: Including from us.

  Margaret Hodge: And also from charities; therefore, rich as the Home Office is, it does not necessarily just fall on them, there are other ways in which if CEOP needs strengthening they can approach that.

  Q623  Alan Keen: Better information and education on e-safety, and rightly so, is quite prominent in the Byron Review. I would also like to hear about education in schools afterwards but can I say first of all that we are hearing, week in and week out, that the problems in society are all to do with lack of parental responsibility. If parents knew as little about hot water in kettles and road traffic dangers as they know about the internet their kids would be disappearing in their thousands. How are we going to get through to the parents who have no idea most of the time what is going on—and most of the parents have no idea all of the time what is going on on the internet, although a lot of parents obviously do. How are we going to educate parents so that they can actually warn their children?

  Kevin Brennan: That is a very good point and, as I said earlier on, there is that information deficit with only 25% of parents saying they are confident that they can advise their children on safe use of the internet, and the only way we can achieve that is through a massive information and education and media literacy campaign. Byron quite clearly showed that there is a lack of understanding that the internet is not just a matter of looking up some pages, it is actually something on which young people in particular interact and share ideas, swap photographs, swap information, create films and do all sorts of things. I was personally surprised as a parent when I was talking to my daughter who posts her Harry Potter tribute videos on YouTube and I said "Why don't you make some other sort of videos?" and she said "I have to think of my subscribers." I said, "What do you mean, your subscribers?" She said, "I have got people who subscribe to my videos" and I said, "Let me have a look at that" and one of her videos had been viewed by over 100,000 people. I said "Can I have a penny for every one?" but there is a whole world out there so that we as parents suddenly have the scales fall from your eyes and you suddenly realise. I looked at the comments people had made on her videos and one of them said "Your videos are very good, how old are you?" and she had written in response, "It is not my policy to reveal my age." I thought, that is what we are trying to do; as Tanya Byron says in her report you can build the swimming pool, you can put a fence around it, you can employ a lifeguard but you have got to teach people how to swim. Parents have got to understand what kind of technology we are talking about and that needs a massive education and information campaign, with the industry helping and with Government as well, but we have also got to give our children the wisdom to be able, just as if they were walking down the street and came across a situation, to know how to cope with a situation when they arrive at it. It is a big, big challenge but this report really shows us a way forward.

  Q624  Alan Keen: Have you got any plans, have you got any ideas in your mind as to an information campaign?

  Kevin Brennan: I would not say I am a communications expert but we do need—

  Q625  Chairman: Is there a budget for it?

  Margaret Hodge: There is some from industry. Can I just add one other thing which is that it is partly about information and it is also about the ease of the controls, which we have talked a little bit about, so if it is easier to block or filter or lock-off or whatever you want to do, that makes your life as a parent a heck of a lot better, so it is a mixture of trying to use every bit of expertise and PR funded by government and the industry and us getting the technology right.

  Kevin Brennan: We are also in the process of developing this one-stop shop. You have to be able to use a computer to get to it, but the one-stop shop on-line place is where people can go and be directed to all the appropriate places including CEOP or the correct charity and so on, because parents say most of all they are confused and they do not know where to go. This will be a government thing so if you go to this government information website that page is there that will direct you to the right place and, hopefully, provide some clarity from the fog that parents say they feel about it at the moment.

  Mr Coaker: There is a real fog about parents and the need for information but it is also help and support with what Margaret Hodge was saying, and this debate about filtering and whether you have pre-installation of filtering mechanisms. That in itself then causes a problem because, as the evidence shows, sometimes they cause so many problems with the children going back to the parents and saying what is happening, the parents switch it off or it creates a false sense of security that there is a filtering mechanism on it, therefore you do not have to worry. Then the kids themselves find out how to do it et cetera, et cetera, so there is that debate about that but alongside that, as you will know, one of the other things the Home Secretary's taskforce has done is developed with children's charities, the industry and others a BSI kitemark which can be made available, and that kitemark can be put onto filtering software so that alongside the purchase of the computer there will be in due course a kitemarked piece of software which parents will then be able to use to put onto the computer in a proportional way. It seems to be the case that if parents do it themselves that is more likely then to be used and controlled than if it is put in in a pre-installation fashion, but I know there are different views on that.

  Kevin Brennan: Tanya Byron's recommendation is that you take it out of the box and you switch the computer on and it asks you the question straightaway about the levels of safety you want to set. It does not preset it for you, but it says what levels of safety there are. I think that is the right approach.

  Q626  Alan Keen: If you want to get through to the fathers at least Madonna, Kylie and Tanya Byron would have a dramatic effect.

  Kevin Brennan: I would not dare to respond to that, Chairman.

  Q627  Philip Davies: A point that Adrian was on about was video games; everybody has legitimate concerns and everybody wants to see something done, but just on a note of caution about this, the video games industry is an increasingly global industry and the people representing the games developers in their submission said: "Canada and other countries have recognised the importance of this industry, offering modern, high value-added employment and skills, but if in the UK policymakers and politicians continue to blame the industry for the ills of society we will lose yet another great British invention." I just wondered to what extent you across Government were concerned that if you were to have additional burdens of regulation on the industry it might encourage that industry, which we might want to encourage in this country, to base itself in other parts of the world where there was less regulation.

  Margaret Hodge: The video games industry is hugely important. In fact, when you look at the way in which we define the creative industries probably over half of the GDA which comes to the UK from the creative industries comes through the video games industry. We are fourth; we were third but Canada then offered a whole load of tax incentives which I do not think you would approve of.

  Q628  Philip Davies: I certainly would; I would approve of tax incentives, I always approve of tax incentives.

  Margaret Hodge: You would approve of intervening in the market with—

  Q629  Philip Davies: Lower taxes, I always approve of lower taxes.

  Margaret Hodge: These are actual interventions in distorting the market which we are considering whether or not are appropriate for consideration by the WTO.

  Kevin Brennan: Negative subsidy.

  Q630  Philip Davies: That is different, subsidies are different.

  Margaret Hodge: I would be amazed if you approve of them but if you do maybe you can explain that to me outside this room. It is a hugely important industry and something we lose when we have these sorts of debates—Kevin said it earlier on in his remarks—the power of what is happening in information, in the whole of information, is hugely important, fantastically life-enhancing, very important for education and skills—there are endless ways in which it is important. Video games, which do often get a bad name, for all sorts of reasons, and we had two very long Friday debates in which some of us in this room participated, on whether or not we should further regulate the games industry. We do tend to emphasise the bad and we do not talk about the good and, actually, in my own constituency when I first became the MP 14 or 15 years ago and I walked into primary schools and saw the very low levels of literacy and lack of comfort in dealing with numbers, I now walk in and it just is honestly transformed. One of the mechanisms that many of them use is individual PCs on which they play educational video games which support learning. We never hear enough about that. There is a very good lab in Bristol which is doing important work, probably funded in part by the DCSF, to use that technology to support educational outcomes and raise educational standards. I completely know, therefore, where the games industry is coming from. Finally—I could babble on and on about this endlessly—it is because we do not want to go down the statutory regulatory path that we are working so hard across government on all these issues to try and get voluntary agreement in the interests of protecting children from the harm but enabling them to exploit the massive potential right across that spectrum.

  Kevin Brennan: There are great games for kids out there and only 5% of the games that are produced are rated 18; you would not think that if you followed the debate about it. What is important, as ever in these matters, is to empower parents to be able to take informed decisions and having a consumer-facing system empowers parents who are involved in accessing those games that were not designed for them. I think that is the key to this, and that is what has been drawn out very powerfully in the report.

  Q631  Chairman: Thank you very much for giving up so much of your time; that is all we have.

  Mr Coaker: Thank you very much.

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