Business groups back Bribery Act

By Hannah Brenton

The Bribery Act will clampdown on corruption without being 'burdensome' to business, the government has said.

Leading business groups welcomed the revised government guidance on bribery published today, following a consultation period.

Businesses will now be able to make adjustments before the Act comes into force on July 1.

The Ministry of Justice said it will "reinforce the country's reputation as a leader in the global fight against corruption".

The Act was passed into law last year and will make it illegal to offer or receive bribes either at home or abroad and introduce a corporate offence to prevent bribery on behalf of a business.

Anyone convicted of bribery would face from seven to ten years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke said combating bribery was good for business.

"Some have asked whether business can afford this legislation – especially at a time of economic recovery. But the choice is a false one," he said.

"We don't have to decide between tackling corruption and supporting growth. Addressing bribery is good for business because it creates the conditions for free markets to flourish."

Business groups lined up behind the government's policy on bribery.

Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy and external affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, welcomed the government guidance but cautioned against discouraging businesses from moving into foreign markets.

"Business needs real clarity and certainty when it comes to implementing the Bribery Act. We are encouraged by the government's recent efforts to make the Act clearer, especially for small- and medium-sized companies," he said.

"The new guidance highlights that common sense, rather than bureaucratic procedures, should lie at the heart of smaller companies approach."

"We must avoid creating a situation where companies choose not to trade in fast-growing overseas markets because they are afraid it of getting it wrong."

Katja Hall, Confederation of British Industry (CBI) chief policy director, said the organisation 'strongly supported' the guidelines.

"We strongly support the principles behind the Bribery Act and welcome this much-improved final guidance," she said.

"The government has listened to concerns that honest companies could have been unwittingly caught out by poorly-drafted legislation and has clarified a number of important areas.

"Businesses now need to use the next three months to revise their anti-bribery policies ready for the Act's implementation."

But Labour criticised the guidelines and Rob Flello, shadow justice minister, accused the government of 'watering down' the Act.

"I am pleased that the Tory-led government have finally published the guidance and that now the Bribery Act, passed by the last Labour government with cross-party support, will soon be implemented," he said.

"However, the Act is only as strong as its implementation and it is therefore crucial that the guidance is used in the spirit in which the Act was intended. There must be no watering down of the scope of the Act.

"If there is, it will be British companies and Britain's reputation that suffers."