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Boris Johnson has insisted new internet safety laws will impose “criminal sanctions with tough sentences” on those responsible for allowing “foul content” on their platforms.

The prime minister sounded the warning to social media giants as he told MPs the online harms bill would make progress in the Commons before Christmas.

The legislation is expected to force the biggest tech firms, such as Facebook and Google, to abide by a duty of care to users, overseen by Ofcom as the new regulator for the sector.

Johnson was pushed by the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, to use the “inescapable desire” of MPs, in the aftermath of the killing of Conservative Sir David Amess, to “clamp down on the extremism, the hate and the abuse that festers online”.

But Starmer said closing down anonymous accounts would not have “saved Sir David” nor prevented other attacks, adding that “arrogant” social media firms should be made to take responsibility for their platforms.

The pair agreed to work together on the issue when it was raised at PMQs.

The Conservative former minister Mark Francois earlier this week called for the bill to be toughened up as he proposed “David’s law” in memory of Amess.

Speaking in the Commons, Starmer said: “It’s three years since the government promised an online safety bill but it’s not yet before the house. Meanwhile, the damage caused by harmful content online is worse than ever.

“Dangerous algorithms on Facebook and Instagram, and Hope Not Hate have shown me an example of violent Islamism and far-right propaganda on TikTok.”

He called on the PM to “commit to bring forward the second reading of the online safety bill by the end of this calendar year”, adding: “If he does, we’ll support it.”

Johnson replied: “The safety of MPs, indeed of all public servants, everybody who engages with the public is of vital importance. The online safety bill is of huge importance, it’s one of the most important tools in our armoury.”

He added: “What we’re doing is ensuring that we crack down on companies that promote illegal and dangerous content and we’ll be toughing up those provisions.

“What we’re also going to do is ensure that the online safety bill does complete its stages before this house – before Christmas – rather that we do bring it forward before Christmas in the way that he suggests.”

Starmer questioned why directors of platforms failing to crack down on extremism would not face criminal sanctions under the government’s plans.

Johnson later said: “I’ve already said that we are willing to look at anything to strengthen the legislation, I’ve said that we will bring it forward to second reading before Christmas.

“And, yes, of course we will have criminal sanctions with tough sentences for those who are responsible for allowing this foul content to permeate the internet.

“What we hope for also, is that no matter how tough the proposals we produce, that the opposition will support it.”

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