King's Speech 2023: Comments on the Automated Vehicles Bill and Economic Activity of Public Bodies Bill

King's Speech 2023: Comments on the Automated Vehicles Bill and Economic Activity of Public Bodies Bill

Press releases | 07 November 2023

London, 7 November 2023 - Commentary on the Automated Vehicles Bill and Economic Activity of Public Bodies Bill. 

Commenting on the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, Owen Robinson, legal director, Public Law and Policy, said: "This relatively short Bill seeks to prevent public bodies from taking account of the overseas origin when making decisions about procurement and investment, in a way that indicates political or moral disapproval of a foreign state. The aim is to stop public bodies from imposing their own boycotts against foreign countries (often in response to lobby groups), that may not align with the central UK Government’s position. This Bill takes on particular additional significance given the war in Gaza.

"Importantly, the Bill applies not just to public bodies but also to private bodies carrying out public functions. For example, privatised utilities or private hospitals carrying out NHS work. Public bodies should expect to see the limits of this new enforcement regime being tested in the courts. This will not just be in relation to who may have “sufficient interest” to bring legal challenges, but also how the courts interpret the key prohibition, which is whether the public body’s decision “would cause a reasonable observer of the decision-making process to conclude that the decision was influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”.

"The key impact of this Bill on public bodies will therefore be to introduce another layer of accountability that will need to be clearly demonstrated as part of its decision-making processes."

Commenting on the Automated Vehicles Bill, Telha Arshad, senior associate, said: "The King’s Speech included a commitment to introduce “new legal frameworks to support the safe commercial development of… self-driving vehicles”. The Government’s background notes to the King’s Speech provide some insight into what that new legal framework will look like. 

"A standalone Automated Vehicles Bill is planned, which appears set to implement recommendations from the Law Commission and put the UK at the forefront of regulating in this area. Given much of the thinking has already been done on what a new framework might look like, the draft Bill may be ready relatively soon and play part of Government’s bid to put innovation at the centre of its vision for the future of the UK. 

"The announcement will be the start of a legislative path to answering complex and untested questions about responsibility, liability and standards, with the primary legislation expected to set the broad parameters and the technical detail to be contained in secondary legislation and guidance. Our top-ranked public law and policy team, backed by our specialist knowledge of regulation in the technology and transportation sectors, are uniquely placed to guide affected businesses through engaging with Government and Parliament on the draft legislation and the regulatory implementation."