Thursday 9 November 2023
Higher Education update
My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Baroness Barran, has made the following written ministerial statement.
Today I am announcing the introduction of regulations to allow plan 2 (undergraduate), plan 3 (postgraduate) and plan 5 (undergraduate) student loan interest rates to be capped automatically each month, where they would otherwise exceed comparable prevailing market rates. This ensures ongoing compliance with requirements in primary legislation and removes the need to lay time limited regulations, as has previously been the case, whenever student loan interest rates would otherwise have exceeded comparable prevailing market rates.
I am also announcing a change to the calculation of the overseas fixed instalment repayments for plan 1 student loans—available to new borrowers from 1998 to 2012. Fixed instalments are due by student loan borrowers residing overseas who fail to submit their income details to the Student Loans Company (SLC) with the result that income-contingent repayments cannot be made. The amended fixed instalment rate will increase, and will now be equivalent to the monthly repayments of a plan 1 student loan borrower earning twice the median working age graduate salary in England. This removes a perverse incentive whereby higher earning borrowers residing overseas may have chosen not to submit their earnings information to the SLC in order to reduce their monthly payments.
Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill
The Government introduced the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill in the House of Lords yesterday, as committed to in the King’s Speech at the start of this parliamentary Session.
Building on the recent statutory report published by the Home Secretary on the operation of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA) since it came into force— https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/report-on-the-operation-of-the-investigatory-powers-act-2016 —this Bill will make urgent and targeted amendments to the IPA to ensure that our security and intelligence agencies have the right tools at their disposal to keep the country safe.
The key elements of the Bill include:
Making changes to the bulk personal dataset regime, which will improve the security and intelligence agencies’ ability to respond with greater agility and speed to existing and emerging threats to national security.
Expanding the oversight regime to support the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to effectively carry out their role, including putting more of their functions on a statutory basis. This will maintain the robust, transparent, and world-leading safeguards in the investigatory powers regime.
Reforming the notices regimes, which will help the UK anticipate the risk to public safety posed by the rolling out of technology by multinational companies that precludes lawful access to data. This would reduce the risk of the most serious offences, such as child sexual exploitation and abuse or terrorism, going undetected.
Updating the conditions for use of internet connections records to ensure that these can be used effectively to target the most serious types of criminal activity and national security threats without a corresponding increase in levels of intrusion.
Increasing the resilience of the warrantry authorisation processes which will allow for greater operational agility for security and intelligence agencies, as well as for the National Crime Agency, in its investigations and support it to tackle the most serious national security and organised crime threats.
These new measures will:
Update the IPA to reflect that the world has changed significantly since 2016. Technology has rapidly advanced, and the type of threats the UK faces continue to evolve.
Enable the security and intelligence agencies to keep pace with a range of evolving threats, against a backdrop of accelerating technological advancements that provide new opportunities for terrorists, hostile state actors, child abusers and criminal gangs.
Ensure that the security and intelligence agencies can develop the necessary tools and capabilities to rapidly identify intelligence insights from vast quantities of data, allowing them to better understand and respond to threats to the UK.
These limited and targeted reforms to the IPA do not create new powers but, instead, recalibrate elements of the current regime to ensure that it remains fit for purpose to respond to modern threats.
This Bill has been developed in close partnership with the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office. The measures being taken forward have also been driven by the recommendations made in the Home Secretary’s review and the independent review by Lord Anderson KBE KC which was published in June 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-review-of-the-investigatory-powers-act-2016--2
Death of Jalal Uddin: Statutory Inquiry
Today I am announcing the establishment by the Home Office of a statutory inquiry, under the Inquiries Act 2005, to investigate the death of Mr Jalal Uddin on 18 February 2016 in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
The inquiry will be chaired by His Honour Edward Thomas Henry Teague KC, Chief Coroner of England and Wales.
In accordance with the provision of section 3(1)(a) of the Inquiries Act 2005 His Honour Judge Teague will sit alone as chair.
I am establishing a statutory inquiry after careful deliberation and on the advice from the Chief Coroner that this is necessary to permit all relevant evidence to be heard.
The formal setting up-date of the inquiry is today. I will place a copy of the terms of reference for the inquiry in the Libraries of both Houses.
The direction of the inquiry’s investigation will be a matter for the chair. As the sponsoring Department, the Home Office will provide support and ensure that the inquiry has the resources needed to fulfil its terms of reference.
Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
Intergovernmental Relations Quarterly Transparency Report: 1 April to 30 June 2023
Today, the Government published the second of 2023’s quarterly reports summarising our engagement with the devolved Administrations on gov.uk.
This report covers a period of engagement between the UK Government, Scottish Government, Welsh Government, and Northern Ireland Executive from 1 April to 30 June 2023. During this reporting period the Administrations worked together on a number of key areas, such as ways to tackle the cost of living, supporting the NHS, and marking key milestones such as the 25th anniversary of the Belfast agreement. The report highlights that through our collective work we demonstrate a stronger ability to face and tackle big changes and challenges.
The report is part of the Government’s ongoing commitment to transparency of intergovernmental relations to Parliament and the public. The Government will continue with publications to demonstrate transparency in intergovernmental relations.
Leasehold Reform: Ground Rent Consultation
The Government are committed to promoting fairness and transparency in the residential leasehold sector, and giving homeowners a fairer deal.
Today we have published a consultation on capping existing ground rents. It cannot be right that leaseholders can be required to make payments that require no service or benefit in return, have no requirement to be reasonable, and can cause issues when people want to sell their properties.
Today’s publication builds on the success of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022, which put an end to ground rents for new, qualifying long residential leasehold properties in England and Wales as part of the most significant changes to property law in a generation.
There are nearly 5 million leasehold homes around the country and 86% of owner-occupier leaseholders report paying a ground rent. Historically, ground rents were typically small sums, even a peppercorn. But in this century, we have seen an increase in these rents, often rising at frequent intervals. This can blight people’s homes and lives, leaving them facing ever rising costs yet unable to sell the property easily due to these charges.
Service charges offer a way for freeholders to charge leaseholders for legitimate expenses. The measures we are bringing forward as part of our leasehold reforms will make them transparent to leaseholders and make it easier to challenge unfair or unreasonable charges.
We know that there are ways to manage buildings effectively without exploiting leaseholders—many free- holders are already effective, responsible building owners; others need help in adjusting their business models so that they are fit for the 21st century, and I want to hear views from all interested parties on how we can help them do that.
I understand that this is a complex area, with many different interests including leaseholders, freeholders and investors, and I want to hear those views through this consultation to inform our decision.
In this consultation, I outline five options to reform ground rent for people who already pay it. We must make sure that leaseholders are better protected from some of the egregious examples of poor practice we have seen in recent years. This Government believe that all leaseholders should be treated fairly and equally, with greater confidence about the costs of managing property. Where they pay money, they should receive something in return.
Through this consultation we want to understand better the challenges these options may present. This includes understanding any blockers to moving towards a fair and transparent model of charging for legitimate expenses through the service charge, and how we can address them.
Subject to this consultation, we will look to introduce a cap through the leasehold and freehold reform Bill.
Science, Innovation and Technology
AI Safety Summit
I am providing the House with an update following the UK’s AI safety summit on 1 and 2 November 2023 at Bletchley Park—the birthplace of computer science.
As the Prime Minister set out in his speech on 26 October, the world stands at the crossroads of a technological revolution, and if we are to seize the benefits of AI, we must tackle the risks. AI is developing at an unprecedented speed, driven partly by greater computing power and innovations in model design. The capabilities of powerful AI systems will only increase, with profound economic and societal consequences, bringing unprecedented opportunities and risks. I am proud to share what the UK has achieved at this defining moment.
The summit was a first-of-its-kind event that has firmly established the UK as a global leader on AI safety. We brought the world’s leading powers, and major AI industry, academia and civil society organisations together to build a shared understanding of the risks and opportunities of frontier AI; to acknowledge the need for action; and to agree to work together to address these in the interest of all humanity. These common goals and shared principles were encapsulated in the Bletchley declaration, signed by 28 Governments representing not only the current world leaders in AI development, but also a majority of the world’s population and economy.
Over the two days, an unprecedented range of attendees agreed a raft of measures to support those objectives. These included:
A joint agreement for frontier AI models to be tested for safety both before and after they are rolled out;
A shared ambition to invest in public sector AI capability, to ensure that Governments can both steward industry effectively and directly scrutinise from a technical standpoint;
A “State of the Science” report, led by one of the “Godfathers of AI” Yoshua Bengio, which will collate and distil the latest insight from across the global community help build a shared understanding of the capabilities and risks posed by frontier AI.
The UK also used the leadup to the summit to gather feedback and insights from hundreds of UK stakeholders, and work with and encourage leading frontier AI organisations to publish their safety policies. We also launched the world’s first AI safety institute, which will build public sector capability to conduct safety testing and research into AI safety, in partnership with countries around the world.
I am pleased to share more details of the Bletchley declaration and our work against each of our summit objectives.
The Bletchley declaration by countries attending the AI safety summit
The landmark Bletchley declaration agreed an initial, mutual understanding of frontier AI, and the risks associated with it, and set out that countries will work in an inclusive manner to ensure the deployment of responsible, trustworthy, and human-centric AI that is safe. It committed countries to further collaborate on establishing a shared scientific and evidence-based understanding of the relevant risks.
Objective 1—a shared understanding of the risks posed by frontier AI and the need for action; and
Objective 2—a forward process for international collaboration on frontier AI safety, including how best to support national and international frameworks.
Informed by demonstrations from the UK’s frontier AI taskforce and a discussion paper on the capabilities and risks of frontier AI, summit attendees learned of the impact and urgency of the key risks from frontier AI. They recognised that potential harms from misuse, loss of control, and the potential for leaps in capability were particularly pressing.
Attendees engaged in substantive discussions on the impact of AI on wider societal issues, including potential harms caused by disinformation and the amplification of existing inequalities. Participants expressed a range of views on which risks should be prioritised, noting that addressing risks at the frontier of AI is not mutually exclusive from addressing existing AI risks and harms.
With the speed of technological change, participants affirmed the importance of continued collaboration and agreed on the urgency of establishing a shared international consensus on the capabilities and risks of frontier AI. In order to maintain public trust, attendees agreed that future decisions on AI safety must be underpinned by appropriate evidence, and recognised the necessity of fast, flexible and collaborative action by all actors, in particular Governments and frontier AI developers, to further understand those risks and ensure effective oversight.
All countries in attendance welcomed the UK’s initiative to deliver a first-of-its-kind state of the science report on frontier AI. Building on the commitment for scientific and evidence-based collaboration as set out in the Bletchley declaration, the report will facilitate a shared science based understanding of the risks and capabilities associated with frontier AI. The UK has commissioned Yoshua Bengio, a pioneer and Turing award winning AI academic, to chair the delivery of the report. He will be supported by a group of leading AI academics and advised by an inclusive, international expert advisory panel made up of representatives from participating countries.
Objective 3—appropriate measures that individual organisations should take to increase frontier AI safety; and
Objective 4—areas for potential collaboration on AI safety research, including evaluating model capabilities and the development of new standards to support governance.
As set out in the Bletchley declaration, no single part of society can address the impacts of frontier AI alone; delivering on the potential of AI requires sustained attention of Governments, businesses, academia, and civil society, with a particularly strong responsibility for actors developing frontier AI capabilities.
Ahead of the summit, the UK published an overview of emerging frontier AI safety processes and associated practices to share best practice on how such AI systems can be developed in a safe manner. The UK was, therefore, pleased to see leading frontier AI organisations (Amazon, Anthropic, Google DeepMind, Inflection, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI) respond to this by publishing their own AI safety policies. This formalises their own position on AI safety to enable public scrutiny of their outputs and encourages all frontier AI developers to consider how they can build trust through the further development and publication of such policies.
Building on this, countries and leading AI companies agreed on the importance of bringing together the responsibilities of Governments and AI developers and agreed to a plan for safety testing at the frontier. Participating countries committed, depending on their circumstances, to the development of appropriate state-led evaluation and safety research, while participating companies agreed that they would support the next iteration of their models to undergo appropriate independent evaluation and testing.
As an initial contribution to this new collaboration, the UK detailed its launch of the world’s first AI safety institute, which will build public sector capability to conduct safety testing and research into AI safety. In exploring all the risks, from social harms including bias and misinformation, through to the most extreme risks of all, including the potential for loss of control, the UK will seek to make the work of the safety institute widely available. The UK welcomed commitments from companies in attendance to work with the institute to allow for pre-deployment testing of their frontier AI models and commitments to work in partnership with other countries’ institutes, including the US.
Objective 5—showcase how ensuring the safe development of AI will enable AI to be used for good globally.
Attendees together recognised a shared ambition to unlock the significant potential of frontier AI, which has the ability to transform economies and societies for the better.
Participants welcomed the exchange of ideas and evidence on current and upcoming initiatives, including individual countries’ efforts to utilise AI in public service delivery and elsewhere to improve human wellbeing.
The UK will continue to be a leader on AI for good, and I welcome the announcements of our new £100 million fund for an AI life sciences accelerator mission to bring cutting edge AI to bear on some of the most pressing health challenges facing society, and a £32 million philanthropic partnership to shape the future of our best-in-class UK biobank. AI also has extraordinary potential to support teachers and students, which is why the Government are investing £118 million into the AI skills base, including postgraduate research centres, a new visa scheme, and postgraduate AI scholarships.
Many participants at the summit set out that for AI to be inclusive, it must also be accessible. I was pleased to announce that the UK, with Canada, the United States of America, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other partners, announced £80 million for a new AI for development collaboration, working with innovators and institutions across Africa to support the development of responsible AI.
Keeping up momentum
With the frontier of AI constantly moving, the ambitions of the Bletchley declaration and the summit discussions cannot be rooted in a single moment.
I am pleased that the Republic of Korea has agreed to co-host a mini virtual summit on AI in the next six months, with France to host the next in-person summit a year from now.
The summit would not have had this level of success without the engagements we had in the weeks leading up to it. Ministers and senior officials led an inclusive public dialogue on international safety. These substantive, practical discussions not only informed and enriched our conclusions and conversations at the summit, but also allowed a range of voices to be heard in shaping the key policy decisions.
We will continue these conversations with key stake- holders, to ensure that we build on the conclusions reached at the summit and ensure that international agreements are underpinned by a robust domestic regulatory framework for AI.
We will be publishing the AI regulation White Paper response by the end of this year to further set out our next steps on our approach to this fast-paced and transformative technology.
Channel Incident of 24 November 2021: Inquiry
On 24 November 2021 there was a tragic mass-casualty incident, resulting in at least 27 fatalities, from a small boat attempting to cross the channel. Our thoughts are with the loved ones of those who died, and with those who responded to an extremely distressing event.
Incidents such as this continue to demonstrate the danger inherent in illegal crossings and underline the importance of putting a stop to them.
When events such as these occur, there is a legal obligation to investigate. While this would normally be the remit of a coroner, in this case the bodies of the deceased were recovered to France, and this does not allow for a coroner’s inquest. Therefore, I am announcing the establishment of an independent, non-statutory inquiry into this incident.
The inquiry will be modelled on a coroner’s inquest and will allow a full and independent investigation into the circumstances of the deaths to take place, following the Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s report published today.
The inquiry will focus on investigating this individual incident, with the aim of ensuring that the rights of those affected are upheld and allowing the survivors and family members of the deceased to be heard. Crucially, it will also examine the circumstances in which the deceased lost their lives and what lessons can be learned to prevent incidents like this in the future.
The Department for Transport is working at pace to finalise the appointment of the chair and the terms of reference, both of which I will announce in due course.
It will be for the chair, in due course, to make decisions concerning the inquiry’s processes and procedures. In particular the chair will consider the most effective way to establish what happened and make recommendations for the future.