Cyber risk at the heart of new UK legislative agenda

The government has made tackling emerging cyber threats one of the key planks of its new legislative agenda.

The Telecommunications (Security) Bill is set to be one of the central components of the new parliamentary session, which began yesterday in traditional (if pared down) fashion with the Queen outlining the government’s priorities for the year ahead.

The bill introduces a number of powers specifically designed to boost the UK’s cybersecurity, including new legal duties on telecoms firms to increase security across the entire UK network.

It means companies like BT and Virgin Media will be legally obliged to improve nationwide cybersecurity.

The Government will also receive new powers to place controls on the use of services and equipment from certain companies, with Chinese tech firms Huawei and ZTE both been named as “high risk” by the National Cyber Security Centre.

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom will also have new responsibilities to monitor the security of network providers, with the ability to impose fines of up to 10% of turnover or £100,000 a day to networks that fail to meet the required standards.

Other key components of the government’s proposed new legislative agenda of relevance to the emerging risks sector include the following:

Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) Bill

Legislation will introduce the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) as a new statutory corporation to fund high-risk, high-reward R&D, the government said. The government said it would help cement the UK’s position as “a global science superpower”.

The government has said it plans to invest £14.9 billion in R&D over the next year, building towards its target of 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product being spent on R&D across the UK economy by 2027.

High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill

The High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill will “bring our biggest cities closer together”, the government said, adding that this would be “a key component to levelling up”.

The Bill will provide the powers to build and operate the next stage of the HS2 network from Crewe to Manchester. The government said HS2 is “at the heart of our plans to build back better from Covid-19”. As part of the plans, the government says journey times between London and Manchester will be cut by almost an hour from 2 hours 7 minutes to 1 hour 12 minutes.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

The government says it will put forward proposals to extend 5G mobile coverage and gigabit-capable broadband in the UK. It said the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill will ensure that smart consumer products, including smartphones and televisions, are more secure against cyber-attacks. It will support faster and more efficient deployment of telecommunications networks, “to keep pace with the growing demand for fast, reliable, resilient connectivity from homes and businesses across the UK”.

Building Safety Bill

The government said the Building Safety Bill will strengthen the regulatory system for building safety and “change the industry culture”. The government said it would introduce rigorous safety standards for construction products and a clearer path to redress for homeowners. It added that the Bill would ensure “the lessons from the Grenfell Tower tragedy are learnt” and that residents feel safe in their homes. The Bill would establish the Building Safety Regulator and a new stringent regime for buildings 18 metres or more, or 7 storeys or more. A system of Accountable Persons and Duty holders – who will be responsible for making and keeping a building safe – would also be established. It would also make provisions to support the removal of unsafe cladding, including through a financing scheme to pay for costs and a levy to ensure the development industry pays towards costs of remediating unsafe cladding.

A draft Online Safety Bill will contain new requirements on tech giants to tackle harmful and illegal content online.

The Environment Bill will introduce new post-Brexit rules on protecting nature.

Huw Evans, director general at the Association of British Insurers, was broadly positive in his comments on the agenda.

“Legislation outlined in today’s Queen’s Speech has the potential to address urgent challenges facing the UK,” he said,

“These include ensuring a building control system that is fit for purpose, taking firm decisions on social care funding and pushing forward progress on climate change. We also welcome that the insurance and pensions sector will be included in the dormant asset scheme to ensure that an estimated £2.1bn of unclaimed assets can be made available to good causes with the asset owners having the right to reclaim their funds at any point. It is disappointing to see no reference to tackle the rapid rise of online financial scams and we hope this is something the Government will address in the Online Safety Bill.”

“As we focus on the recovery from the pandemic insurers and long-term savings providers have a vital role to play in all of these areas and we will work with the Government on behalf of our world-leading sector to deliver the best results for our customers, wider society and the UK economy.”

“Legislation outlined in today’s Queen’s Speech has the potential to address urgent challenges facing the UK,”

Huw Evans, ABI