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The UK Bribery Bill Passes through Committee Stage

March 26, 2010

Last week we reported on potential challenges to the smooth passage of the UK Bribery Bill from the Tory Party. Happily, after constructive debate in Committee, amendments that in the opinion of Clair Ward, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, would have ‘driven a coach and horses through the policy objectives of the bill’ were withdrawn and the bill passed to the report stage at a date to be announced. With the report stage, a third reading in the house and debate of amendments between houses still to come, there is a good chance that the Bill will be passed before the next election, although it is fair to say that Tory opposition has not entirely melted away.

Part of the debate centred on proposed amendments that would allow facilitation payments that were ‘reasonable in amount’, ‘customary in the situation’ or the ‘only reasonable alternative in the situation’. The latitude for subjective interpretation of these phrases is clear and the amendments were sensibly withdrawn. In this respect the UK bribery bill is tougher than the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which allows small ‘facilitation payments for routine government action’.

The rejection of the proposed amendment is likely to ensure the Bribery Bill is taken very seriously, not just by UK companies, but, crucially, by individuals representing those companies.

In the recent past I transited through a Latin American country in order to return to London. My incoming flight was delayed, leaving me just a few minutes to make my outgoing flight. I was asked by an airport official to pay $30 cash for an ‘express exit visa’. Not wishing to spend the night in the airport I complied; under the FCPA that would, I believe, be OK. Under the UK Bribery Bill it would, very probably, be an offence. Such events are, I think, pretty common for international business travellers and as such the UK Bribery Bill becomes very personal.

Although I don’t believe the UK authorities will be interested in pursuing such relatively petty events, the fact that the bill makes individuals in business think before they act is surely welcome, even if it does mean occasional inconvenience.

This blog was written by Alan Holroyd.

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