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Written Statements

Volume 704: debated on Monday 29 November 2021

Written Statements

Monday 29 November 2021

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Horizon Europe

The Government are announcing today a guarantee to provide a financial safety net for successful UK applicants to Horizon Europe, while we push to formalise our association as soon as possible.

We agreed terms for association under the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement. When the TCA was agreed in December 2020, the UK and EU signed a joint declaration on participation in union programmes and access to programme services. This sets out the parties’ shared commitment for the UK to associate to Horizon Europe alongside Euratom R&T, Fusion for Energy and Copernicus at the earliest opportunity. The Government remain committed to securing this outcome so that research collaboration can continue, and we stand ready to formalise our association, but disappointingly there have been persistent delays from the EU, which has led to uncertainty for the UK sector and their European partners.

UK and EU researchers and businesses have a long history of successful collaboration. As Europe’s leading R&D and science centre with world-class universities, scientists and innovators, the UK will bring a significant amount to the programme. Further delays will benefit neither the EU nor the UK.

The Government’s priority remains association to Horizon Europe. UK researchers, businesses and innovators have been able to apply to calls as “Associated Candidates” since early 2021. So to provide reassurance to UK-based applicants, the Government have decided to guarantee funding for the first wave of eligible, successful applicants to Horizon Europe who have been unable to sign grant agreements with the EU.

The guarantee is a short-term measure intended to address the continued delays from the EU to formalise the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. The funding will be delivered through UK Research and Innovation, which will publish details on how the guarantee will work including eligibility, scope and how to apply in the coming weeks.

The Government have always been clear that our priority is to support the UK’s research and development sector and we will continue to do this in all future scenarios. As announced in the 2021 spending review, in the event that the UK is unable to associate to Horizon Europe, the funding allocated to Horizon association will go to UK Government R&D programmes, including those to support international partnerships.

The Government looked at the practicalities of handling such a situation in 2020 and developed a detailed set of alternatives plans, which included continued support for international research, innovation collaboration and domestic research support. This work is being refreshed and we remain ready to implement these plans should they become necessary. I have written an open letter to the sector to set out my early thinking on the policy priorities should we be unable to associate, and will be inviting their views over the coming weeks.

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Cabinet Office

Standard for Algorithmic Transparency

My noble Friend the Minister for Efficiency and Transformation (Lord Agnew Kt) has today made the following written statement:

The Cabinet Office’s Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) has today published a cross-Government standard for algorithmic transparency. This move makes the UK one of the first countries in the world to make progress on developing a national algorithmic transparency standard. The CDDO was established in January 2021 as the new strategic centre for digital, data and technology for the Government.

Several leading organisations in the field, such as the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), Ada Lovelace Institute and Alan Turing Institute, as well as renowned academic and international institutions, including the Oxford Internet Institute, AI Now Institute and OECD, have called for greater transparency to help manage the risks associated with algorithmic decision making, bring scrutiny to the role of algorithms in decision-making processes and help build public trust.

In the National Data Strategy, the Government committed to working with leading organisations in the field to explore what an effective mechanism to deliver greater algorithmic transparency would look like. It reiterated this commitment in the response to the National Data Strategy consultation, and announced that it was developing a public sector algorithmic transparency standard in the National AI Strategy.

While designing the first version of the standard, CDDO has worked closely with the CDEI. It has convened stakeholders from across Government, civil society and academia, and conducted a deliberative public engagement exercise with the CDEI and BritainThinks, to ensure that a diverse range of views have been taken into account.

Proactive transparency in this field is a natural extension of the UK’s long-standing leadership in data ethics and open data. Several public sector organisations will trial the standard in the coming months, and provide user feedback to CDDO. CDDO is also seeking further feedback from stakeholders outside of Government. Following the pilot, CDDO will iterate the standard based on feedback gathered and seek formal approval from the Data Standards Authority in 2022.

This development comes after the Government have consulted on a proposal to introduce transparency reporting on the use of algorithms in decision making for public authorities, Government Departments and Government contractors, as part of the wide-ranging consultation on the future of the UK’s data protection regime. It sought views on the role that such reporting would play in building public trust, as well as what the key contents of mandatory transparency reporting should be and whether any exemptions should apply.

I have deposited a copy of the standard and accompanying guidance in the Libraries of both Houses, and published both on www.gov.uk.

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Treasury

Financial Conduct Authority Mortgage Review

The issue of mortgage prisoners is one of my key priorities. I recognise the difficult position these borrowers are in and understand the stress that many experience as a result. I remain committed to examining what further can be done to assist borrowers and this is why I asked the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to conduct a review on mortgage prisoners to provide the further detail necessary to continue this important work. The Mortgage Prisoners Review [CP 576] has today been laid in Parliament.

The review identifies that there are now around 47,000 mortgage prisoners—these are borrowers who are up to date with payments, who are unable to switch, and who could potentially benefit from switching if they were eligible for a new deal. Most mortgage prisoner loans originate from prior to the financial crisis, when lending standards were looser, and this means that many affected borrowers struggle to switch as a result of not meeting post-financial crisis risk appetite.

The report is clear that the underlying reasons mortgage prisoners are unable to switch are complex, and it is therefore crucial to understand the facts and data around this issue in order to consider our approach. The FCA’s review provides important insight into the mortgage prisoner population which the Treasury will now examine to determine if any further practical and proportionate solutions can be found for affected borrowers who struggle to obtain a new mortgage deal.

More widely the review shows that the number of borrowers with inactive firms has materially decreased since the FCA last collected data in this area in 2019. This partly reflects the ability of many borrowers in closed books to switch to an active lender if they so choose. I would encourage all mortgage borrowers to examine their switching options to ensure they are on as competitive a rate as possible for their circumstances.

I am also encouraged to see that the interest rates paid by almost all borrowers in closed books are less than the rates they signed up to when they took out their mortgage, with a third paying at least 3.5 percentage points less.

However, it is clear that challenges remain in addressing this issue. While there is evidence that some mortgage prisoners have switched as a result of significant regulatory interventions made to date, it is also clear that the number of borrowers who have benefited is small. This new report also makes clear that the reasons borrowers struggle to switch are complex and varied, and that there are no simple solutions to increase the number of borrowers who are able to switch to better rates with active lenders.

Nevertheless, I remain committed to this issue, and am grateful for the work undertaken by the FCA on this review which provides the crucial insight necessary to consider any further action. I am also grateful to the industry partners who have committed to continue to work together on this issue and look forward to further engagement with them.

With the data from this review, the Treasury will now target our work to determine if there are any further practical and proportionate solutions for affected borrowers, including consideration of means through which we can help borrowers better position themselves to meet lender risk appetite. While I am approaching this further piece of work with appropriate ambition and optimism, I am also keen to manage borrower expectations by emphasising that any solutions tabled must avoid the potential for significant risk of moral hazard to consumers in the wider mortgage market or those who aspire to obtain a mortgage and must be value for money for the taxpayer. Any announcements on this will be made when the Treasury has had sufficient time to examine the review’s findings and consider any options available to address this complex issue.

Copies are available in the Vote Office and at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mortgage-prisoner-review.

Home Department

Biometrics Commissioner: Annual Report

My noble Friend the Minister of State, Home Department (Baroness Williams of Trafford) has today made the following written ministerial statement:

I am pleased to announce that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary (Priti Patel) is today publishing the annual report of the Biometrics Commissioner, together with the Government’s response.

The Biometrics Commissioner is an independent office holder, who is appointed by the Home Secretary under section 21 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. This is the first report submitted by the Commissioner, Professor Fraser Sampson, who was appointed earlier this year.

The report covers the exercise of the Biometrics Commissioner’s statutory functions over the reporting year, a large proportion of which fell to his predecessor.

I am grateful to Professor Sampson for this report, which we have published in full.

Copies of the report will be available from the Vote Office. The Government’s response will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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