King Charles III has made his first Kings Speech as monarch setting out the government’s legislative agenda for the next parliamentary session. I will be getting involved in three significant pieces of legislation – the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which are both carried over from the last session, and the newly announced Media Bill.
Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill
It’s a big bill – 386-pages in total – covering two large topics: digital markets and proposed competition law reforms; and proposed reforms of consumer law enforcement and new consumer rights.
A key focus is the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the UK’s principal competition and consumer protection authority.
Proposals in Part 1 of the Bill would give the CMA new powers to designate powerful tech firms as having “strategic market status” which would then make them subject to tough new rules governing their conduct and mergers. Significantly, the CMA would also be empowered to impose penalties including fines of up to 10% of a firm’s global turnover for breaches.
Part 2 would reform aspects of competition law by amending existing UK law on merger control, market inquiries and the cartel offence. The Bill would also make amendments to enhance the investigative and enforcement powers for the UK’s competition regime.
Part 3 would create two separate regimes – one court based and one through additional powers to the CMA- for the civil enforcement of consumer protection law to protect the “collective interests” of consumers.
Part 4 would revoke the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPR) (retained EU law) and recreate their effect, with minor amendments, prohibiting unfair commercial practices in business to consumer relationships. It would also introduce measures to protect consumers participating in saving schemes and tackle “subscription traps” by introducing new rules to impose duties on traders.
Data Protection and Digital Information Bill
Another big bill that has already made good progress through parliament after being introduced in March. Presented as a “benefits of Brexit” bill it has 6 parts sets out to reduce data protection burdens now Britain is outside the EU.
Part 1 would make a number of changes to the existing UK data protection regime set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation. Changes include: the definition of personal data; the processing of data for “legitimate interests”; subject access requests; automated decision-making; scientific research; the obligations of data controllers and processors; international transfers of personal data; and intelligence service and national security processing.
Part 2 would regulate the provision of digital verification services through the creation of a trust framework, a register of providers, an information sharing gateway, and a trust mark.
Part 3 would allow data sharing to support the delivery of public services which benefit businesses or other organisations.
Part 4 would increase fines for nuisance calls and texts under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). It would introduce a new opt-out model for cookies to reduce the need for users to click through consent banners on every website they visit. Part 4 would also update the way births and deaths are registered, moving from a paper-based system to an electronic register used by officials and make it easier for elected representatives to process general personal data where necessary for the purposes of democratic engagement activities.
Part 5 would abolish the Information Commissioner’s Office and transfer its functions to an Information Commission. Part 5 would also make changes to the regulation and oversight of biometrics, CCTV, and the National DNA Database.
Part 6 contains final and procedural provision including powers for making regulations.
This is a new bill – not yet published – although according to the Secretary of State for DCMS speaking on the draft Bill in March, it will reform broadcasting law to enable the UK’s public service broadcasters to better compete with global companies. In detail the bill aims to: deliver a new public service remit for TV while making sure public service broadcasters continue to service audiences across the UK with universally available, high-quality programming, make sure public service broadcast content is always carried and easy to find for UK audiences on connected devices and major online platforms, bring video-on-demand services like Netflix under UK regulation, giving Ofcom powers to investigate and take action if they consider it appropriate. Radio also comes under the Bill’s remit; both to reduce regulatory burdens and costs on commercial radio stations which are no longer needed due to the decisive shift towards digital listening, while also strengthening protections for the provision of national and local news and local information for listeners. Also, to introduce measures to protect the position of radio accessed via smart speakers (for example ‘Alexa’ devices) by ensuring listeners are able to find the content they expect in an unaltered format, without additional or substituted advertisement. Finally, the measure that will be most popular with editors is the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which would (if commenced) force news 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.
An interesting year to come in the Lords – plenty to work on.
This collection of legislation offers great potential: boosting retail consumer protection, regulating Big Tech, streamlining data protection and privacy for citizens, ensuring data can be utilised for public good, bringing public service broadcasting and radio in the digital era. I would have liked to have seen a Bill on Digital ID – although I think there is potential to bring that discussion into the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill debates.
I’m interested to know what more you would wish to see in these Bills and also what you would have liked to have seen in the King’s Speech that isn’t there, not least in terms of new technologies and fintech.