British companies should not be subjected to ‘extreme’ rules when carrying out business overseas, a Law Commission commissioner told MPs and peers during a two-hour parliamentary hearing on the draft bribery bill.
Professor Jeremy Horder told a joint committee charged with scrutinising the bill that the aim of the legislation is to ‘eliminate worse practice and encourage good practice. I do not want to force extreme, rigorous rules, which would be shock tactics’.
The commission has recommended two new offences: bribing a public official and negligently failing to prevent bribery by an employee or agent. The proposals follow criticism of UK anti-corruption laws by a working group of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
At the hearing, Bruce George, MP for Walsall South, asked: ‘Are we obligated to follow what the OECD say, or do we have room to manoeuvre?’
Horder replied: ‘The OECD is not telling you how to run your legal system, but it is interested in outcomes. We are bound to ensure that business standards when dealing with public officials are sufficiently high and that there will be a level playing field.’
Desmond Turner, MP for Brighton Kemptown, said legislation would ‘provide fat fees for lawyers’. He asked if there should be limits on corporate hospitality given to public officials.
Horder said limits ‘would be difficult and unworkable’.
Oral evidence on the draft bill continued this week. The committee will report to parliament and the government by 21 July.