Wednesday 22 September 2021
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry
I welcome that Sir Wyn Williams, chair of the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, has today published a progress update which outlines the work already undertaken by the inquiry and the planned next steps. The Government look forward to receiving Sir Wyn’s final report by the end of 2022.
Recording and Reporting Suicides
As part of the Government’s work to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran, I am committed to ensuring that all veterans who may be struggling are able to access dedicated support. Achieving this depends on a good understanding of where support is needed, including a more comprehensive understanding of veterans who tragically take their own lives. I can announce today that the UK Government are working to develop a new method for recording and reporting cases of suicide within the veteran community. This will allow for the first publication of statistics of veterans who die by suicide each year in England and Wales, and we will continue to explore ways this can be replicated across the UK in the future.
The new method is being developed by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, the Office for National Statistics and the Ministry of Defence following consultation across HMG and our devolved Administrations to determine the best approach. As set out in the ONS census output and analysis consultation, in 2023, the ONS will undertake analysis to compare the health of the veteran population, including the number of veterans with long-term health conditions or disabilities, with the general population. This analysis will also include suicide-related deaths of veterans. In the interim, we will be working with the ONS and the MOD to conduct a 10-year look back at veteran deaths by suicide. This work will inform us about how many veterans have died through suicide and other causes including drug and alcohol misuse from 2011-21, and to estimate the number that died homeless. We anticipate publishing this look back in autumn 2022.
In the strategy for our veterans, the Government committed to improve the collection and analysis of data on veterans to inform future policy. This new work will ensure we are meeting that commitment to better understand the tragic issue of suicide, understand its prevalence, and better inform future policy and interventions in support of the veteran community. This analysis will help the Government understand how many veterans die by suicide and using this data in combination with other research will enable us to better develop and target mental health and suicide prevention measures.
We are collaborating with Departments across Government to develop this new robust method and to ensure that we can better provide for those who have protected our country. In addition, the MOD, OVA and NHSE have partnered with Manchester University to investigate the antecedents to suicide in both serving personnel and veterans focusing on the year prior to the death. The study will be using data supplied by MOD on military service, information collected as part of the confidential inquiry into suicides and coroners' reports. The study will include all suicides between 1995-2017 and will complete in August 2022.
Every suicide is a tragedy, and our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones to suicide. We urge all who may be struggling to reach out and access the support available. Those struggling to cope should call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI) or contact other sources of support, such as those listed on the NHS’s help for suicidal thoughts webpage. Support is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.
Contingencies Fund Advance
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will incur new expenditure in connection with the Government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic in 2021-22.
Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £6,000,000 for this new expenditure will be sought in a supplementary estimate for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £6,000,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
Further requests to the Contingencies Fund may be made as necessary to fund covid-19 activity delivered by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
On 7 June the Government announced that Malcolm Sheehan QC had been appointed to lead an independent review into the regulation of the Football Index gambling product and its operator, BetIndex Ltd. The terms of reference set out that the review was to provide an expert account of the actions taken by the Gambling Commission and other regulatory bodies throughout the period in which BetIndex held a gambling licence, provide recommendations as needed, and to inform the Government’s ongoing review of the 2005 Gambling Act. The independent review has now concluded, and the report has today been published on gov.uk.
I am grateful to Mr Sheehan and his team for their extensive investigation, thorough report and clear recommendations. I am also grateful to the Gambling Commission, Financial Conduct Authority and others for their co-operation with the review and their provision of evidence to support Mr Sheehan’s deliberations.
This independent expert report has been completed in such a way as to avoid prejudicing a number of ongoing processes and investigations into BetIndex Ltd. First, administration proceedings are continuing, looking at the assets and liabilities of the firm and what is owed to customers. It is likely that this process will result in some amounts being reimbursed to creditors. Secondly, the Gambling Commission is completing its separate regulatory investigation into BetIndex on which it will report in due course. Thirdly, the Gambling Commission has referred the company to the Insolvency Service to ask that it consider whether the actions of the directors prior to administration breached insolvency or fraud laws. Any comment on this matter needs to carefully avoid prejudicing any future legal proceedings.
Football Index was a novel and boundary-pushing product, and its business was materially impacted by covid-19 and the suspension of football. While the independent review focused on the actions of regulatory bodies, it did find that BetIndex did not properly notify the Gambling Commission of the nature of the product in its licence application, nor did it inform the regulator of changes to the product after launch as it was required to. This made scrutiny harder.
Nonetheless, the report identifies areas where the Gambling Commission could have been more effective in responding to the challenges raised by the novel product from its licensing to eventual collapse, including in early scrutiny, speed of decision making and action, and escalation of issues when barriers arose. By 2019 it was aware of concerns about the product and launched an investigation, but by that time Football Index had grown to such an extent that large amounts of customer money were already involved. The report helps us understand why certain decisions were made at the time and what we can learn from that.
While BetIndex Ltd was never regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, the report also looked at its role in working with the commission, identifying some areas of improvement including in speed of response to requests from the commission and consistency of messaging on regulatory responsibilities.
It is now essential that we learn the lessons from this case and ensure a similar situation does not happen again. I am pleased that the Gambling Commission is carrying out an action plan to address the issues identified. In the weeks since the draft report was shared the commission has:
Updated the frameworks for risk based regulation so that product novelty is properly considered alongside other factors in determining the level of scrutiny an operator is placed under.
Committed to consulting on tighter rules for the terminology used to describe gambling products, putting beyond doubt that gambling must be clearly described as gambling and not an investment.
Commenced a review of all remote licensees to check for issues relating to boundary pushing products.
Agreed to provide formal advice to the Government on the issue of protecting customer funds as part of the Gambling Act review. This is in addition to their current business plan’s commitment to review the existing three-tiered approach.
The commission and the FCA have also worked together to strengthen their memorandum of understanding in response to Mr Sheehan’s recommendations, including with new escalation routes and commitments on timeliness of responses to ensure regulatory impasses cannot remain unsolved. The FCA has additionally:
Nominated an Executive Director to oversee the relationship with the commission.
Continued to pursue the programme of change as set out in its July Business Plan.
The report has also raised some important questions for the Government’s ongoing review of the Gambling Act 2005 which is already taking a comprehensive and evidence-led look at gambling in this country, including a close examination of the Gambling Commission’s powers and resources. The Gambling Commission is not required to monitor the financial viability of companies on an ongoing basis. However, our Act review will consider whether the commission should require gambling companies to do more to demonstrate their ability to cover liabilities arising from long-term bets, especially if they make up a large proportion of their business. The gambling White Paper which we will publish in due course will answer this question and set out the Government vision for the sector.
A copy of Mr Sheehan’s final report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
National Artificial Intelligence Strategy
I am pleased to lay before the House the UK’s first national artificial intelligence strategy, which represents a step change in the Government approach to this transformative technology.
The UK is already a world leader in Al. From trailblazing pioneers like Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace to UK-based Al companies such as DeepMind and Benevolent Al, the UK leads the world in the fundamental research, industrial application and commercialisation of the technology.
The challenge now for the UK is to fully unlock the power of Al and data-driven technologies, to build on our early leadership and legacy, and to look forward to the opportunities of this coming decade. This strategy outlines our vision for how the UK can maintain and build on its position as other countries also race to deliver their own economic and technological transformations. This will be achieved through three pillars:
Investing in the needs of the ecosystem to see more people working with Al, more access to data and compute resources to train and deliver Al systems, and access to finance and customers to grow sectors;
Supporting the diffusion of Al across the whole economy to ensure all regions, nations, businesses and sectors can benefit from Al; and
Developing a pro-innovation regulatory and governance framework that protects the public.
Al will be central to how we drive growth and enrich lives, and the vision set out in the strategy will help us achieve both of those vital goals.
The Office for Artificial Intelligence—a joint unit of DCMS and BEIS—will publish an execution and monitoring plan to track the success of the strategy and the wider impact of Al on our economy, society and Government.
A version of the national Al strategy will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.