The speech made by Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, in Manchester on 3 October 2023.
Thank you, Conference.
It is an honour to be here, speaking as the UK’s first ever Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology.
The department that is working with industry and research to create the opportunities of tomorrow.
I want to start by thanking my amazing ministerial team.
Our ever-zestful science superpower, George Freeman.
The tireless tech titan, Paul Scully.
The Baron of Broadband, John Whittingdale.
And our in-house entrepreneur, Viscount Camrose.
And of course, my brilliant PPS Paul Bristow.
When the Prime Minister created DSIT, some questioned why this department was a priority.
But they weren’t saying that when our tech sector worth over one trillion dollars was under threat in February,
When the UK arm of Silicon Valley Bank stood on the brink of collapse, putting thousands of British tech businesses and jobs in danger.
But in the space of just three days, my department helped secure the sale of the bank, saving those businesses, protecting those jobs.
And Conference, we have continued to prove them wrong.
We’re utilising science, technology and innovation to help us all live longer, healthier, easier, happier lives with the people we love.
In the last eight months, over two million homes have been connected to gigabit broadband. By the time I have finished this speech, 71 more will have.
Around 53,000 people have got new jobs in 31,000 new British tech businesses.
And we’ve agreed a bespoke new deal to join Horizon.
And, we will protect 14 million British children thanks to the Online Safety Bill.
But these aren’t the only changes that have happened – We’ve crowned our new King, Labour have appointed another Shadow Cabinet and I welcomed my baby boy in May.
And yes, there have been plenty of late night tantrums, incoherent screaming and dummies being thrown out of the pram.
But, I am told this is perfectly normal behaviour from a Labour shadow cabinet.
Now, they’ve flip-flopped on everything from the EU, to schools, to housing, to ULEZ.
In contrast, with your Conservative government making long term decisions for a brighter future.
And we have an opportunity to make this Britain’s great tech century.
As Conservatives, our job is to make sure that this transformation remains a positive one for the British people, improving all our lives.
Let’s not forget it was British inventors who gave us the telephone, the television, the jet engine, antibiotics, the world wide web, and the first vaccine, the list goes on.
But for too long, Britain has been a challenger nation to the US and China…
We’ve seen too many great British ideas sold off to help foreign companies, rather than creating jobs here in the UK.
But Conference, we have a plan.
By the end of this decade, Britain will become a science and technology superpower.
I want this to be a country that becomes energy independent, that flies the first electric commercial plane and even discovers cures for cancer.
Because, when we double down on the things that put the Great into Britain in the first place,
Our talented people, our entrepreneurial spirit, our ability to problem solve,
We will lead the world with new inventions and keep the jobs they create on our shores.
Because to me, that is what being a Conservative is all about – aspirations and ambition for our nation and putting the British people and British values first.
Conference, just look how our game changing Online Safety Bill. How it put you back in the driving seat for what you see and do online – allowing adults to take control over their own social media accounts.
When I took over this Bill a year ago, many of us were concerned about the implications for free speech.
It was stuck in deadlock over the issue of ‘legal but harmful’,
And I didn’t think it went far enough to protect our children.
So, I injected some common sense.
I said, that we should not create a quasi-legal categories, where something is legal offline to say to someone’s face, but where the state clamps down on it online.
Because if we think something should be illegal, we should have the courage of our convictions to make it illegal.
So that’s what we did, with cyber-flashing, with intimate image abuse, with the promotion of self-harm.
Whilst standing up for free speech and choice and removing legal but harmful
Illegal content should go yes, companies should stick to their own terms and conditions yes, and not treat different parts of society differently.
But fundamentally, I believe adults should have more choice over what they see – not the state and not tech executives million miles away.
Because we are the party of free speech and we should stay that way.
When I took over this bill, people also said it was impossible to strengthen it to protect children.
Do you know that the average 9-year-old has a social media account, and the average 13-year-old has seen porn online ?
I said, enough is enough.
Now the bill will protect children from online porn.
It ensures that children under 13 cannot access social media platforms.
And tech executives will face jail time if they turn a blind eye.
But as we protect our children from harms online today, we are, of course, also preparing for a future enhanced by Artificial Intelligence.
Britain is leading the way on AI safety.
AI does have enormous opportunities to cut down our NHS waiting lists, to support teachers so they’ve got more time to teach and less time to do admin, and to revolutionise our public transport and much more.
But to seize these opportunities we have got to grip the risks.
Next month, Britain is organising the world’s first Global AI Safety Summit – bringing together world leaders so we can better understand the risks of AI and put in place the guardrails to protect the public – whilst also reaping the benefits and fostering innovation.
With the Prime Minister, I set up the world-renowned Frontier AI Taskforce – modelled on the fantastic Vaccine Taskforce – with some of the leading minds on AI to ensure Britain leads the world on AI safety.
Because the stakes are simply too high, and the technology is developing too fast not to act on a global scale.
Conference, I believe we should be proactive not reactive.
I believe, we are at a crossroads in human history, and to turn the other way would be a monumental, missed opportunity for mankind.
Already, AI is being used to detect breast cancer earlier, the capability exists to prevent over 90% of road collisions and it’s being used to detect heart disease 39 times faster – and that’s just name a few examples.
The opportunities in the future really are limitless.
But we won’t make them a reality unless we have the skills and then we can truly seize these opportunities.
To ensure that the next generation of the world’s AI entrepreneurs are Britain’s best and brightest,
I am today announcing an £8million increase to the number of AI scholarships we are funding.
Giving 800 more people the opportunity to excel in AI and cementing our place as leading the global conversation on AI safety.
But as Conservatives we also must ensure the opportunities of technology are spread right across the country – from Folkestone and Falmouth to Hartlepool to Holyhead.
Why shouldn’t an entrepreneur in a rural village be able to start a new business from home?
Why shouldn’t British farmers be able to use state of the art agri-tech and have fast, stable internet connections to sell their produce to more customers online?
Well, we believe they should have those opportunities, and what’s more, I am today taking action to ensure they do.
I am announcing that in the coming months, we will be giving access to very hard-to-reach rural homes and businesses to get state-of-the-art satellite broadband to unlock the potential in these rural areas.
I am also announcing a new £60million pound Regional Innovation Fund, a cash injection that will be felt almost immediately.
We will back our world class universities to support local businesses, to grow local economies and support opportunities across our country.
Right here in the North West, almost £9million will deliver new jobs, faster growth and real benefits for local communities.
And we will be increasing our overall investment in great British research and development to £20 billion by next year.
This is record breaking funding.
We are backing British scientists, backing British businesses and driving investment into all corners of our United Kingdom.
This investment will open the door to the opportunities of tomorrow.
And British scientists are consistently advancing the frontiers of knowledge, with groundbreaking discoveries that are reshaping our world.
Did you know, we are first in the world for producing the top medical science publications?
We’re second in the world for R&D into healthcare,
And unlike countries like the USA, China and Germany, we are a net exporter of pharmaceuticals .
British scientists are the bedrock of our great economic power.
When I was first appointed to this role, I was reminded of Margaret Thatcher’s scientific legacy.
Now, I am not talking just about her legendary role in the invention of soft scoop ice cream…
I am talking about her wise words as Prime Minister – when she described science as humanity’s attempt to “cast a light ahead… so that we may move forward, step by step, in the right direction”.
She was right.
Conference, we are the party of facts, we are the party of evidence, we are the party of scientific rigour – and I will stand up for these core values.
But increasingly, thanks to the slow creep of wokeism, this guiding light that Thatcher referred to is under attack.
Now, Keir Starmer has said these issues don’t matter to the public.
He thinks that the legitimate concerns of the scientific community and of millions of Britons don’t matter.
Well Conference, I think it does matter.
I think it matters when scientists are told by university bureaucrats that they cannot ask legitimate research questions about biological sex.
And I think it matters when Scotland’s chief of stats issues guidance stating that data on sex can only be collected in exceptional circumstances.
And I think it matters when the ONS has to be taken to the High Court because its census guidance said it was possible to change your biological sex.
I think it matters that in 2021 Police Scotland announced that a male rapist who self-identifies as a women will then be recorded statistically as a female rapist by the police.
Now, any credible scientist will tell you that gender and sex are two different things…
To suggest otherwise is not only scientifically illiterate, it actually damages scientific research and statistics in everything from population studies to medicine to sport.
And unlike Comrade Keir, we will not sit idly by and watch an intolerant few stifle the light of science that leads us in the right direction.
So today, Conference, I am launching a review into the use of sex and gender questions in scientific research and statistics – including in public bodies – which will produce robust guidance within six months.
Conducted by Professor Alice Sullivan of UCL, who will produce a report for my department and also to Cabinet Office.
The review will leave no stone unturned in the effort to protect scientific integrity and let our world class scientific community accurately get on with their jobs.
So, to those who think they have the right to impose this utter nonsense on science,
Let this message go out from this conference hall.
We are safeguarding scientific research from the denial of biology and the steady creep of political correctness.
We are making a stand before it suffocates British very identity and our values entirely.
That is why we are depoliticising science, because science is the most extraordinary force for good – from curing disease to growing our food – we’ve got to keep it that way.
Science must be based on facts.
Now, finally Conference, delivery and outcomes are my focus.
Last month I announced a bold new deal to join Horizon – the world’s biggest scientific collaboration.
During the negotiations, Labour called on us to take the first deal we were offered.
They told us ‘Bite the EU’s hand off because 0 Little Britain couldn’t get a better deal’.
They talked our country down, trying to score a quick political win.
And what did we do? We got an even better deal.
And that says it all really.
While Labour act in self-interest, when they sneer from the sidelines and say it can’t be done,
We are busy taking the long term decisions and delivering.
They said we couldn’t leave the EU and secure a better deal on Horizon – we did it.
They said we couldn’t create a bespoke, common sense, British version of GDPR that cracked down on endless cookie pop-ups – we did it.
They said the Online Safety Bill couldn’t protect free speech for adults and do more to protect children online – we did it.
And we achieved these because we never lost sight of what it means to solve difficult problems in an unapologetically, common-sense Conservative way.
I believe in the individual, in opportunities and hard work, in the family.
While others want to smash the foundations of Britain down, I believe that we as Conservatives have a duty to build Britain up.
Now, that’s what my department is all about, and that is what this government is all about.
Consistency in our values.
Long term commitment to opportunity.
Driving us forward, to deliver a better today, and for our children’s future tomorrow.