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Topical Questions

Volume 729: debated on Wednesday 15 March 2023

DSIT was created with a single mission: to drive innovation that will deliver improved public services and new, better-paid jobs and grow the economy. Our Department will do things differently and will be a model for how modern Government Departments should run.

We have hit the ground running. Within just a few weeks of setting up, we have set out a comprehensive framework for science and technology, announced £370 million in new spending and introduced the Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill. We have worked with the Chancellor to take decisive action to facilitate a deal to save the UK arm of Silicon Valley Bank, protecting hundreds of jobs. That is an extraordinary amount for any Department to achieve, let alone in just five weeks, and it is just the start of a constant drumbeat.

I was thrilled that my verification campaign to tackle anonymous abuse was successful with the Government, but I have always been clear that whether someone is verified needs to be made obvious on social media. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is important to social media users? How is the Online Safety Bill progressing through the Lords?

The Bill will soon be in Committee in the House of Lords, and we are committed to ensuring that it is passed before the end of the current Session. I pay tribute to the excellent work that my hon. Friend has done in this regard. As she knows, we are committed to dealing with abuse, and the Bill places a duty on the largest online services to give adult users the option of verifying themselves.

Three weeks ago, the Secretary of State said that the use of TikTok on Government devices was “a personal choice”. At the weekend, it was reported that there was to be a review of TikTok, and this week the Prime Minister said that he was considering a ban. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether this is indeed a personal choice, or whether TikTok on officials’ devices poses a security risk?

The security of UK data is a priority, and our experts continue to monitor the threats that are posed to that data. The Government’s security group, led by the Cabinet Office, is reviewing the evidence base for action on Government devices. Let me add that what I actually said was that, in terms of the general public, it is absolutely a personal choice, but because we have the strongest data protection laws in the world, we are confident that the public can continue to use it. That is very different from what the hon. Member reported.

T3. In communities such as Cheriton and Bramdean in my constituency, there are people who have not been able to take part in the broadband voucher scheme because they are connected to a different cabinet from their neighbours, which in some cases is only a few metres from their door. Can my hon. Friend assure me that those communities will be able to benefit from the new procurement as soon as possible? (904151)

I am pleased to say that premises in Meon Valley are included in our live gigabit procurement for Hampshire, and we expect to award the contract in June this year. We have paused the applications for vouchers to avoid doubling up on public subsidy, but we are happy to look into any specific cases that my hon. Friend wishes to raise via Building Digital UK.

T2. During the last Horizon Europe funding round, researchers, scientists and universities in London received nearly £2 billion, but the Tories have overseen two years of uncertainty, delay and broken promises, harming researchers and businesses in my constituency and across the capital. When will the Secretary of State do what Labour would do, and secure association to the world’s biggest science funding programme? (904150)

Over the last two years, not only have we continued to negotiate in good faith to see through the agreement that we made to join Horizon, Copernicus and Euratom, but we have continued to fund the sector—with just over £1.2 billion, including £370 million this week and £480 million before Christmas—and we look forward to discussing the European associations shortly.

T5. The Government have announced that they are to create a wonderful new nuclear fusion centre at West Burton. This is the technology of the future, and West Burton is not five miles from the town of Gainsborough, so will the Government rename the research centre West Burton Gainsborough to celebrate our wonderful town? (904153)

My right hon. Friend has made an excellent point. It is a very exciting facility, which will see this country lead in the industrial deployment of fusion connectivity to the grid.

T7.   Will the Secretary of State meet Councillor Abi Brown and me to see the power of Silicon Stoke that is ready to be unleashed, alongside our fantastic gigabit broadband roll-out, our world-class university, Staffordshire University, and, of course, the digital T-levels that we already have on display, so that we can truly create those fantastic new jobs of the future? (904156)

I would be delighted to do so. My hon. Friend is a great ambassador for his constituency, always pushing and promoting the great work that is being done.

According to Tech Nation, Slough, which is the silicon valley of the UK, has experienced a 536% increase in the formation of digital start-ups in the last decade. Given that artificial intelligence is of strategic importance to the UK, why have the Government cut research and development tax credits for small and medium-sized enterprises?

The hon. Gentleman will know that a review of R&D tax credits is being conducted. The Chancellor will be speaking later, but because of Tech Nation and the work that has been done over the last decade, we have a great tech ecosystem to build on.

A year ago, the Department announced that Penistone had been chosen for the UK’s first trial to deliver high-speed broadband through water pipes. The fibre in the water project, which is happening in partnership with Yorkshire Water, is of huge interest to my constituents as it promises the opportunity for rural areas to access high-speed broadband without the cost and inconvenience of major infrastructure works. Will the Minister update me on the progress of the project and tell me how quickly my constituents might see the benefits?

Fibre in the water has been a fantastic and innovative project. We expect to complete the research in May, and I hope to be able to update my hon. Friend, who has been doing fantastic work on this.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I point out that live subtitles and the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings are available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.