King's Speech pledges regulation for autonomous vehicles, new system to award oil & gas licences

Wed 08 November 2023 View all news

The King's Speech has set out the Government's priorities for the final Parliamentary session before the next general election. The programme includes an Offshore Petroleum Licencing Bill to extend oil and gas licencing for the North Sea and an Automated Vehicles Bill to establish a legal framework for self-driving vehicles.

The speech included 21 bills, of which six have been carried over from the previous session, and two which had been previously published in draft form.

The Government says that the measures in the King’s Speech will "build on the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy, safeguard our energy independence, ensure the UK is fully securing the benefits of Brexit and build the most competitive and supportive environment for businesses to capitalise on new technologies".

Early in the speech, the King outlined Government plans to enable new oil and gas licences in the North Sea. Under the plans, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) will invite applications for new production licenses on an annual basis. 

Each yearly licensing rounds will only take place if key tests are met that support the transition to net zero. The first test is that the UK must be projected to import more oil and gas from other countries than it produces at home. The second is that the carbon emissions associated with the production of UK gas are lower than the equivalent emissions from imported liquefied natural gas. If both these tests are met, the NSTA will be required to invite applications for new licences.

Following the approval of the Rosebank oil and gas field in September, it has long been rumoured that the Government would push for further licences.  Although the full extent of the Bill is not yet known, there have been reports that the Prime Minister has asked DESNZ officials to work up options to be able to increase extraction, proposing the removal of requirements for environmental assessment or reducing the amount of time for public consultations on changes to environmental regulations. Department officials have said that key environmental tests would be met and have reportedly warned the Prime Minister that any radical deregulation of environmental standards could breach international law.

The King's Speech also mentioned attracting new investment for renewable energy sources as well as strengthening grid connections. There was also a pledge to lead action on tackling climate change and biodiversity loss while supporting developing countries with their energy transition.

The Automated Vehicles Bill implements the recommendations of the four-year review of regulation for self-driving vehicles carried out jointly by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission.

The policy scoping notes set out current thinking on how the Government intends to exercise the delegated powers in the Automated Vehicles Bill. They cover the policy intent and the possible content of secondary legislation, which will be subject to consultation. However, the final policy position may differ from the scoping notes.

Image: Dan Johnston from Pixabay


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