For energy and transport the Queen’s Speech was a little light. However, this is unlikely to come as a huge shock for sectors that are awaiting key policy decisions (Industrial Strategy, Low Carbon Growth Plan, Air Quality Plan, and National Productivity Investment Fund) rather than new legislation. Equally they may welcome that their futures are not tied to legislation in a hung Parliament.
AUTOMATED AND ELECTRIC VEHICLES BILL
The most obvious Bill that deals with transport is the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which looks to make the UK a global leader in technology in electric and automated road vehicles. There is very little controversial about wanting to creating a viable future for the UK automotive industry meaning this Bill is likely to receive cross-party support.
Fundamentally, this is the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill (VTAB) that reached Commons Committee stage in the last Parliament. The Bill’s passage had been relative plain sailing and so we shouldn’t be surprised if the same is true of the updated version. The VTAB was merely a framework bill and the majority of the detail was going to be worked out at secondary legislation. It will be interesting to see if the Government look to consult further on the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill and explore some of the issues, such as grid security or picking winners, in a bit more detail. This means the BEIS Committee inquiry into electric vehicles takes on a new level of importance.
What is noticeable about the new Bill is how all the measures related to civil aviation, including Air traffic services and flight providers, have been stripped out. It is difficult to ascertain whether the Government had underestimated the impact of Brexit on the aviation industry and needs more time to think this through, or whether the aviation industry has called for more time.
NUCLEAR SAFGEGUARDS BILL
The departure from the EU necessitates the UK leaving the Euratom Treaty, whose provisions cover aspects of nuclear safety and the delivery of nuclear fuels. In order to remain compliant with international rules, which the UK would not be party to outside of the EU, the Government is providing additional powers of oversight to the Office of Nuclear Regulation.
ENERGY PRICE CAP
For the energy industry the biggest drama was the ‘will she, won’t she’ on the energy price cap. In the end it was much ado about nothing. There is no legislation to introduce an energy price cap; the Queen’s Speech just reiterates what was announced in the Spring Budget. They will publish a Consumer and Markets Green Paper, which will examine uncompetitive markets, including energy. In order to protect vulnerable energy consumers “we [Government] are considering the best way to do this – whether through action by the regulator or legislation”. This hints that May could stick to her Manifesto pledge to conduct an “independent review into the Cost of Energy”. A review would be an attractive option for the Prime Minister because she doesn’t have to renege on her promise but can also kick the issue, which is not popular with factions of her party, into the long grass.
SMART METER BILL
The only piece of legislation that is directly related to the energy industry is the Smart Meter Bill, which aims to facilitate and improve the failing smart meter rollout. The Bill will allow industry to give their views and put forward ideas and solutions on how the roll out and keep up with fast paced technological improvements. The Government is making a clear statement of intent that it wants to get on with Smart Meter roll out and to make a success of it. Consultations and Committee inquiries will follow shortly. The question will be, is this going to hinder or help the roll out, the deadline for which some have suggested may be pushed back to 2025.
CRITICAL NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE
Early on in May’s premiership she conducted a review into Chinese involvement in Hinkley Point. Scrutiny over Foreign Direct Investment is set to increase, although there is not specific legislation, as the Government only says it “will bring forward proposals to ensure that critical national infrastructure is protected to safeguard national security”. Exactly what these proposals will be, remains too been seen and will probably be subject to consultation. BEIS is the department responsible for developing these proposals and listening to industry, therefore any Foreign Direct Investment in transport or energy will need to run by Greg Clark’s department.
Unsurprisingly Brexit legislation dominated the Queen’s speech with eight separate bills. The two immediate Brexit issues that impact the energy sector free movement for skilled EU energy workers and energy trading with continent.
The Immigration Bill is relevant to EU energy workers. The majority of sectors in energy require some form of skilled EU workers to help build, maintain or operate energy infrastructure. Nuclear in particular has been vocal in calling for EU energy workers to be able to enter the UK. The Immigration Bill makes no reference to specific sectors but it looks like this will be the piece of legislation where the case will have to be made.
Similarly the Trade Bill and Customs Bill are two separate pieces of legislation that will look to set the legal framework for potential future trade with the EU. Neither Bill mentions any specific sector, but for those in the energy (e.g. gas trading) or transport (e.g. OEMs) who want to continue trading with the continent, they may have to engage with both Bills.