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Topical Questions

Volume 745: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2024

We have just celebrated one year since my Department was created. In that time, we have pushed research and development funding to record levels. We have secured a bespoke deal on Horizon Europe. We have led the globe when it comes to AI safety, and we have passed the world-leading Online Safety Act 2023 and much more.

We have a plan to go even further. My Department continues to drive innovation, to create better jobs and to push economic growth. This month, we have set out our pro-innovation, pro-safety plans to regulate artificial intelligence, building on the success of the AI safety summit to cement Britain’s position as a global leader in safe and trustworthy AI. We are slashing red tape to free our researchers from pointless paperwork. We have a plan to go even further and become a science and technology superpower, and that plan is working.

Higher salary requirements and visa charges for skilled workers plus impossibly restrictive family visa rules will put the UK out of reach for many early career researchers and scientists. What is the Secretary of State doing to stand up against these crazy Home Office policies, which will make her own Department’s goals for recruiting researchers and technicians virtually impossible to achieve?

The UK has fantastic pull power, with world-leading facilities, four out of the top 10 universities and a range of routes for people to come here, including the very successful global talent visa.

T2. Recently, after some storms, residents in Hanbury and other rural parts of my constituency were without broadband for three weeks. The problem was fixed only when I, the local MP, got involved. What can the Minister do to make sure that these providers restore services much more quickly? Three weeks is a completely unacceptable delay. (901540)

I am sorry to hear of the problems that my hon. Friend’s constituents experienced. Telecommunications companies are under certain obligations to Ofcom to keep networks up and running. We are testing those resilience measures. Thankfully, gigabit broadband is a much more resilient network which, has withstood floods in York recently for example, but we hope to be able to have a much more resilient network in future.

The Government’s AI White Paper says that all jurisdictions will need mandatory reporting of frontier AI. The United States has already done it. The EU has already done it. Why is the Secretary of State waiting for a Labour Government to keep this country safe?

I will not take any lectures from the Opposition when it comes to AI. We have a plan that is working. We are leading the world when it comes to AI safety. I have spoken about the Bletchley effect. We have the world’s first ever institute doing pre-deployment testing.

T4. Parents want their children to be safe. Many parents are deeply concerned about what children are seeing on their phones. Does the Secretary of State agree that sellers of mobile phones should be doing much more to verify the age of the user? If the phone is being bought for a child, the seller should provide the parents with access to and advice on parental controls, so that parents can help to keep their children safe. (901542)

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend’s passion when it comes to online safety. We are leading the world with our comprehensive Online Safety Act 2023. This is a matter on which we both agree and I am more than happy to discuss it further with her.

T3. The area between Cockshutt and Welshampton in my constituency is one of the many total notspots in North Shropshire. Can the Minister update us on the progress she is making on total notspots? Will she meet me to discuss the progress of the shared rural network in North Shropshire? (901541)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the issue of total and partial notspots. Our amazing shared rural network programme has £500 million from industry and £500 million from Government. We are going through all of those coverage areas that are shown wanting, and we hope to make progress in her own constituency.

T5. During recess, I took part in a cross-party Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to the UN summit on conflict and security. One of the seminars was about AI security. I know the UK held the first ever summit on AI safety, with 28 countries coming together to put forward guidelines. What update do we have on bringing more countries on board to ensure that AI can be explored safely? (901543)

There is a lot of ongoing work, including my conversations with G7 partners; I know that the Secretary of State is meeting with international partners. I would welcome a meeting and an update from my hon. Friend on his conversations at the UN and what work is being done there.