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Topical Questions

Volume 750: debated on Wednesday 22 May 2024

This Government have a plan to ensure that technology works for our people, not against them. Right now, the Secretary of State is in South Korea for the AI Seoul summit. She is building on the progress we have made and on the UK’s leadership at Bletchley Park last year to tackle the risks of artificial intelligence. Whether it is AI, quantum, life sciences or the next generation of advanced telecommunications, we are making the UK a science and tech superpower, backed by the highest ever level of spend on research and development. Our plan is working, and our scientists and entrepreneurs cannot afford to go back to square one with Labour.

The UK Research and Innovation chief executive has announced that they are stepping down in June next year. The recruitment process normally lasts eight months, yet the Government are speeding up that process. Is that because they are worried about the outcome of a general election?

This Government are focusing on delivery every single day, and I make no apologies for cracking on with the process of making sure that our brilliant research institutions have the finest leadership that the best and brightest in the world deserve.

T3. In recent years, Government policies led by the Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure have resulted in a big improvement in broadband and mobile connectivity on the Welsh borders, both in my constituency of Clwyd South and across the border in neighbouring North Shropshire, but there are still some poor areas of connectivity. Could the Minister outline what further steps she is taking to ensure that all homes and businesses on both sides of the Welsh border see better broadband and mobile connectivity? (903033)

Please allow me to say welcome back to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). What an appropriate way for the new bionic MP to walk in: on science questions.

To answer the question about broadband, my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) has been a fantastic champion for connectivity on the border. There will be contracts covering North Shropshire and parts of Wales as we get the Type C off the ground, so I hope for better connectivity very soon for his constituents.

It is good to see the hon. Member for South Thanet back in his place.

Last year, the UK hosted the AI safety summit and set up the AI Safety Institute. However, since then, developers of frontier AI have refused to share information with the Safety Institute, leaving it toothless. Labour has repeatedly called for binding regulation to support safety. With the Secretary of State discussing the future of AI this week, is it not high time for the Government to finally agree to binding regulation?

I do not agree with that categorisation. The truth is that the Bletchley summit was a world-leading summit. We took a front-foot approach and we are co-hosting the Seoul summit, which is bringing together AI nations, AI companies and top experts in academia and civil society. We have always been clear that we will ensure that our regulators do the job that they need to do, and of course at some point we will legislate. We have a plan, and our plan is working. The Labour party cannot tell us what it would legislate for. It does not have a plan.

T5. Does the Minister agree that the large sums of taxpayers’ money channelled to organisations such as the Arts and Humanities Research Council for woke-driven projects should be spent on other high-tech projects such as, for example, the tagging of illegal migrants in this country so that we can quickly locate and deport them, starting in Dudley? (903035)

Funding councils must be accountable for their own individual decisions. My hon. Friend no doubt reflects the concern of his constituents, who expect, in return for our record expenditure on research, the discovery of life-saving medicines, or groundbreaking technology; that is what they expect in return for hard-earned taxpayers’ money.

T2. A representative of the World Economic Forum told the audience at Davos that “we own the science”. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that scientific research in the UK is impartial, objective and ethical, regardless of who is funding it? (903032)

That is absolutely right. It is intrinsic to the scientific method that research is impartial, and that it is challenged, public, transparent and open. That is always our commitment, but it is also to fully fund research and to turn this country into the science and technology superpower that it deserves to be.

Before we begin Prime Minister’s questions, I am sure the whole House would like to join me in welcoming back our colleague and friend, the inspirational hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay).

Craig, it is so good to have you back among us. You are the man of the moment. I met your daughter, whose birthday is tomorrow. I say to you and your family that you are an inspiration to the people in this country who have suffered with sepsis. You have shown us the way forward. Thank you for everything—[Applause.] That is the only time I allow clapping.

May I also just mention that we have the Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament and the Premier of the Cayman Islands with us today?