The speech includes proposals for a new Digital Charter to ensure the UK is the “safest place” to be online
Electric vehicles, smart meters, commercial spaceflight, critical infrastructure as well as the Digital Charter all featured in today’s scaled down Queen’s Speech which saw the British monarch arrive by car rather than carriage and eschew ceremonial dress.
Against the backdrop of continued discussions between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party to secure a parliamentary majority, the speech sets out the measures and laws that ministers hope to pass over the next year.
As expected, Brexit took centre stage with the Repeal Bill which will deliver the UK’s exit from the European Union. Behind the headlines though, the speech recognised the increasing importance of digital and emerging technologies to the UK economy, its businesses and citizens.
The Digital Charter
Proposals for the new Digital Charter will be brought forward. The Charter has the dual aim of ensuring the UK becomes the “safest place to be online” as well as “the best place” to start and run a digital business. The government will work with technology companies, charities, communities and international partners to develop the charter and says it will be “underpinned by an effective regulatory framework”.
While strongly supporting “a free and open internet”, as in the offline world the UK wants “freedoms online” to be balanced with protections to ensure citizens are protected from the harmful online behaviours and harmful online content.
In 2015, the digital economy contributed £118bn to the overall economy. The speech set out how Britain aims to build its future prosperity on its technical capability and creative flair. Through the Modern Industrial Strategy and digital strategy, digital companies will be helped at all stages of their growth. This means supporting access to finance, talent and infrastructure required for success and also making it easier for companies and consumers to do business online.
Automated and electric vehicles
Also key to building a strong economy is the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill. The legislation aims to ensure the UK remains a world leader in new industries including electric cars and the purpose of the Bill is to allow “innovation to flourish” and ensure the next wave of self-driving (automated) technology is “invented, designed and operated safely” in the UK. It also wants to improve the nation’s national charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.
Elements of the Bill will include the extension of compulsory motor vehicle insurance to cover the use of automated vehicles. It will also allow the Government to require the installation of charge points for electric vehicles at motorway service areas and large fuel retailers as well as require common technical and operational standards so charging points can be conveniently accessed across the UK.
High speed rail
The High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill aims to “provide the powers” to build and operate the next stage of the High Speed Two (HS20 network which would allow cities in the north of England and Scotland to enjoy the increased capacity, reduced journey times and economic benefits. The line between Fradley and Crewe is scheduled to open in 2027.
The main elements of the bill are powers to compulsorily acquire the land required for the railway and deemed planning permission to deliver the scheme. Details of planning will be developed on a “site-by-site basis” in coordination with the local planning authority.
The Space Industry Bill aims to make the UK the “most attractive” place in Europe for commercial spaceflight. The speech set out the main benefits of this which includes the use of commercial spaceflight to support the Modern Industrial Strategy and to generate jobs as well as put British business and engineering and science at the forefront of the technology.
With the UK space sector growing 8 per cent annually, the Government wants to secure a 10 per cent share of the global space economy by 2030.
It believes the Bill will help generate new business opportunities in developing local spaceport and spaceflight technology, offer small UK satellite companies new options for low-cost access to space. Significantly, it also wants to create new opportunities for UK scientists to undertake research “in a micro-gravity environment” and enabling them to launch from UK soil.
The Government wants to make the UK’s data protection framework suitable for the digital age and to give citizens better control of their data. It wants to build a “world-class regime” for protecting personal data and this includes giving people new rights “to require major social media platforms” to delete information held about them at the age of 18.
The main elements of the bill will seek to establish a new data protection regime for non-law enforcement data processing and replace the 1998 act, modernise and update the regime for data processing by law enforcement agencies and update the powers and sanctions available to the Information Commissioner.
A new Smart Meter Bill will enable the Government to continue to support the smart meter roll-out and realise the £5.7 bn net benefits delivered by them as well as enable the “continued secure provision” of the national smart meter infrastructure.
Included in the Bill is an extension by five years of the Government’s ability to make changes to smart meter regulations as well as the introduction of a Special Administration Regime to provide insurance for the national smart meter infrastructure in case a company responsible for it was to become insolvent, though unlikely.
Critical national infrastructure
The Government plans to bring forward proposals to “consolidate and strengthen” its powers to protect national security. Proposals will make sure the Government has the information it needs to assess threats and act on them but it wants to remain “an open and liberal international trading partner and global champion of free trade and investment.
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