The UK government set out its plans for a new legislative programme via the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2022.
This article summarises the key bills which will be of interest to lawyers dealing with technology and commercial matters.
Readers should be aware that some bills have been carried over from the last parliamentary session, including the Online Safety Bill and the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill.
Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill
This Bill will implement the government’s response to its consultation on consumer and competition law. The key elements of the draft Bill are:
- Giving the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) the power to decide (without requiring a court order) when consumer law has been breached, and to issue monetary penalties for those breaches.
- Tackling so-called subscription traps by requiring businesses to provide clearer information to consumers and to send reminders before a contract auto-renews.
- Updating the rules on unfair commercial practices to prohibit commissioning fake reviews, offering to provide fake reviews, or hosting consumer reviews without taking reasonable steps to ensure reviews are genuine.
- Providing stronger protections for consumers using Christmas savings clubs and other similar schemes. Such schemes are not currently regulated.
- Updating and simplifying regulations for package travel, so more businesses comply with the law, non-flight packages are better protected, and the quality of information and guidance for consumers is improved.
- Improving the quality and oversight of services offering dispute resolution, so consumers have more, and better, alternatives to going to court.
- Providing the Digital Markets Unit (currently acting in shadow form within the CMA) with the powers to designate a organisations with a significant amount of power in sectors such as social media and online search, with Strategic Market Status. Such organisations will be subject to legally enforceable rules and obligations to ensure they cannot abuse their dominant positions at the expense of consumers and other businesses.
- Giving the Digital Markets Unit powers to proactively address the root causes of competition issues in digital markets. It will be able to impose interventions to inject competition into the market, including obligations on tech firms to report new mergers and give consumers more choice and control over their data.
The main elements of the Bill are:
- Ensuring that public service content is prominent, available, and easily accessible across a range of platforms.
- Updating the public broadcasting framework to better facilitate the delivery of public service broadcasting through digital platforms and promoting the production and distribution of “distinctively British” content.
- Ofcom will have new powers to draft and enforce a Video-on-Demand Code with the aim of ensuring that services targeting UK audiences are required to comply with stricter rules protecting UK audiences from harmful material.
- Facilitating the conversion of Channel 4 from a statutory corporation to a new corporate structure that could be sold, and other changes concerning Channel 4’s obligations and remit.
- Updating the public service remit of S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru), the Welsh language television service, to include digital and online services. Removing the current geographical broadcasting restrictions so that S4C can broaden its reach and offer its content on a range of new platforms in the UK and beyond.
- Repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which would (if commenced) require new publishers to pay the costs of any court judgment if they were not a member of the approved regulator, regardless of the outcome of the court judgment.
Electronic Trade Documents Bill
The main elements of the Bill, which follows a Law Commission project, are:
- Modernising long-standing statutes such as the Bills of Exchange Act 1882 and the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992.
- Removing the legal obstacles to the use of trade documents in digital form, and ensuring that such documents have the same effects as paper counterparts.
- Allowing the adoption of new digital solutions which bypass the need for paper and wet ink signatures.
- Ensuring that trade documents in electronic form meet certain criteria designed to replicate the key features of paper trade documents. These criteria include: ensuring that an electronic document is subject to exclusive control (only one person, or persons acting jointly, can exercise control over it at any one time) and once transferred the previous holder should no longer be able to exercise control over the document.
Data Reform Bill
This will reform the UK GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018. The main elements of the Bill are:
- Ensuring that UK citizens’ personal data is protected while enabling public bodies to share data to improve the delivery of services.
- Designing a more flexible, outcomes-focused approach to data protection that helps create a culture of data protection, rather than “tick box” exercises.
- The outcome of the recent government consultation and draft Bill have not yet been published, so the exact details of these proposals are as yet unknown, although it has been widely reported that cookie banners will be part of the reforms. However, the European Commission is likely to consider any changes and assess any adverse effects any new laws could have on the adequacy decision granted to the UK last year.
Among other things, this will introduce new laws that safely enable self-driving and remotely operated vehicles and vessels, and will support the roll-out of electric vehicle charge points. This follows the Law Commissions’ joint report from earlier this year.
Modern Slavery Bill
This Bill aims to strengthen the requirements on businesses with a turnover of £36 million or more to publish an annual statement detailing the steps taken to prevent modern slavery in their supply chains. It will require certain reporting areas to be covered, involve publication of the statement on a government-run registry, widen the reporting requirements to public bodies and introduce civil penalties for non-compliance.
Other Bills carried over
The Speech also referenced the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill and Online Safety Bill, which are carried over.
We will follow these Bills and provide updates where applicable.