UK poised to ditch plans to empower tech regulator, FT reports

  • Powers for new competition unit not in Queen's speech - FT
  • Competition regulator wants new laws to toughen oversight
  • Govt declines to comment on timing of new powers

May 3 (Reuters) - Britain is poised to shelve plans to provide statutory powers to a new technology regulator, in a blow to global efforts to curb the dominance of internet companies including Google (GOOGL.O) and Facebook (FB.O), the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

The government's new legislative programme is not expected to include a bill to provide statutory underpinning to the digital markets unit that is based within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the FT reported, citing people briefed on the situation.

The government said it needed to respond to a consultation concluded last October on its new competition regime for digital markets, and it could not comment on timelines for any future legislation.

"Our pro-competition regime will change the conduct of the most powerful tech firms and protect the businesses and consumers who rely on them right across the economy," a spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said.

The FT said Prime Minister Boris Johnson's deputy chief of staff David Canzini had told colleagues to scale back demands for new legislation. It quoted one unnamed official as saying: "He's told us that Conservative governments don't legislate their way to prosperity and growth."

The digital markets unit was announced in 2020 to bolster Britain's competition regime to prevent Google and Facebook from using their dominance to push out smaller firms and disadvantage consumers.

It started work a year ago, and was tasked initially with seeing if a code of conduct could improve the balance of power between tech platforms and news publishers.

The CMA however wanted it to be underpinned by a legally binding code of conduct, with penalties including fines of up to 10% of turnover, as well as enhanced merger rules.

The CMA declined to comment on the timing of any legislation on Tuesday.

The government's legislative programme for the coming year, due to be outlined in the Queen's Speech on May 10, is not expected to include a bill that would provide the unit with statutory powers, the FT reported.

($1 = 0.7985 pounds)

Reporting by Shivam Patel in Bengaluru and Paul Sandle in London; Editing by Richard Pullin, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jan Harvey

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.