What the 2022 Queen’s Speech means for tech policy in the UK
by Alex Rennie on 11 May 2022
The Queen’s Speech on 10 May 2022 outlines all the Bills that the Government intends to introduce in the new Parliamentary session. It includes substantial tech policy reforms in areas in which the UK is diverging from EU policy for the first time. While there are various initiatives, they can broadly be categorised as, first, pro-innovation and pro-competition measures, and secondly, changes to improve the protection of consumers of tech. Here we take you through the main proposals.
The Government has committed to publishing a draft digital markets, competition, and consumer bill. This will implement a new ex-ante digital competition regime, the details of which the Government recently confirmed in its response to last year’s consultation on the issue. The Digital Markets Unit (DMU) will be given powers to impose conduct requirements on the very biggest digital companies with strategic market status in at least one digital activity. The DMU will also be able to intervene in digital markets to tackle the root causes of limited competition, with big fines available in the event of non-compliance. The Competition and Markets Authority’s existing powers are also being reformed to improve enforcement, and consumer rights are being updated to protect against problems such as fake online reviews and subscription traps. Since the Government has only committed to publishing a draft Bill, legislation is unlikely to be introduced until mid-2023, suggesting full implementation of the new regime could still be over two years away.
Although the Government has still not responded to last year’s consultation on reforms to the UK GDPR, the Queen’s Speech confirmed that the Government will press ahead with the proposals. The changes are intended to reduce the compliance burden on businesses and make it easier for them to use data, while still maintaining sufficient protections for personal data so that the EU’s data adequacy agreement is not jeopardised. This will be a tricky balancing act, and much will depend on the final details of the proposals and the state of the UK-EU relationship over the coming years.
A transport bill will support greater innovation and provide additional transport options to passengers. Measures will support the introduction of self-driving cars on the UK’s roads and speed up the roll-out of electric charging points, while remotely operated vehicles and vessels will be further encouraged. This bill could see a greater liberalisation of the rules governing technologies such as e-scooters and drones, but companies will need to await further details from the Department for Transport.
A new law will remove barriers to developing and marketing precision bred plants and animals by introducing a new authorisation process for food and feed products developed using gene-editing. This legislation will only apply to England since farming policy is a devolved issue within the UK.
Measures to improve the safety and security of tech
The Queen’s Speech confirmed that the Government will, as expected, continue to progress the most substantial piece of tech regulation the UK has introduced for many years. The legislation, which will introduce a new duty of care for user-to-user and search services, makes them responsible for tackling the presence of illegal content on their websites, as well as content that is harmful to children. The biggest platforms, which are still to be defined, will have additional responsibilities to protect adults from harmful content, and to defend democratic and journalistic content. The Bill is currently undergoing its Committee Stage in the House of Commons, which is due to finish by 30 June 2022. The complexity and controversial nature of the legislation mean that its progress through Parliament is likely to be slow, with February 2023 suggested as the earliest date it will be on the statute book.
Digital streaming platforms and connected devices manufacturers will have to comply with new rules aimed at ensuring UK public service broadcast content is carried and easy to find. Ofcom, meanwhile, will be given powers to draft and enforce a video-on-demand code to make sure services which target and profit from UK audiences are subject to stricter rules around harmful content.
The Government has carried over the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill from the last session. This will impose new product security standards on connected device manufacturers, importers, and distributors, while other changes will make it quicker and easier to upgrade and extend broadband networks. The Bill is currently waiting for its Report Stage in the House of Commons and is likely to be on the statute book before the end of 2022.
While this Queen’s Speech makes clear that progress in certain areas, particularly content moderation and digital competition, remains slow, it also demonstrates that the Government has begun to flesh out some of the ways in which UK tech policy will diverge from the EU’s approach. That holds both problems and opportunities for tech businesses operating in both markets, and the coming Parliamentary session promises to be the most consequential for tech businesses operating in the UK since the country left the EU.
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Written by Alex Rennie
Alex provides political analysis and monitoring for clients in the emerging technology sector, with a particular focus on drones.