Robert's Weekly Column - 10th March 2019

The internet has many uses and can be a great learning resource, but for far too long, online companies have not done enough to protect users, especially children and young people. There have been some tragic cases, such as Molly Russell, the 14-year-old girl who took her own life after viewing disturbing content on social media, so I am glad that the Government has listened to campaigners and parents, and are putting a legal duty of care on internet companies to keep people safe online. 

This week, the Government has published an Online Harms White Paper, unveiling tough new measures and setting out action which will make the UK a world pioneer in protecting children online.  Balance is needed between protection and free speech, which is why this consultation has been launched.

A range of harms will be tackled as part of the Online White Paper, including inciting violence and violent content, encouraging suicide, disinformation, cyberbullying and children accessing inappropriate material.

In the first safety rules of their kind, an Independent regulator will be appointed to enforce stringent new standards. Social media companies and tech firms will be legally required to protect their users and face tough penalties if they do not comply. This will include a mandatory “duty of care” which will require companies to take reasonable steps to keep their users safe and tackle illegal and harmful activities on their service. Companies will also be made to respond to users’ complaints and act to address them quickly.

Children’s charities including the NSPCC, have praised the Government’s hugely significant commitment and the balanced approach being taken, which recognises that the Internet can be a tremendous force for good and that technology will be an integral part of any solution. 

I am glad that the Conservative Government has balanced the clear need for tough regulation with its ambition for the UK to be the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business, and the new regulatory framework will provide strong protection for our citizens while driving innovation by not placing an impossible burden on smaller companies.

I attended the second Honda Task Force Meeting here in Swindon last week.  The meeting took place as Business Secretary, Greg Clarke, launched a £16 million Government programme to help UK automotive suppliers.  The Honda supply chain companies were among those who attended the latest meeting, which brought together civic leaders, Honda workers, Unite and sector representatives.

All of us on the Honda Swindon Taskforce are determined to keep pressing the case for Honda to remain in the UK, while at the same time continuing to promote Swindon globally as a leading region for advanced manufacturers to invest in, with the expert companies in Honda’s supply chain a key part of Swindon’s offer.

Finally, millions of people across the UK, including here in Swindon, are set to benefit from the increase to the personal tax allowance and higher rate threshold this month, as the Chancellor delivers on a Conservative Manifesto Pledge one year early. Britain’s workers will also benefit from the biggest increase to the National Living Wage since it was introduced, rising by almost 5% to £8.21 per hour. A fuel duty freeze for the ninth year in a row will also go towards helping families here in Swindon with the everyday cost of living,