Amid the pomp and ceremony of the State opening of parliament, the Queen announced 20 Bills and four draft Bills that the government hopes to enact over the next 18 months.
She said the government had set priorities for the next parliament of ‘economic stability and investment and reform in public services leading to a more prosperous and inclusive society’. The government will continue to secure low inflation and sound public finances, she added.
The well-trailed Enterprise Bill will see a ‘radical reform’ of the competition regime to end anti-competitive behaviour, with the sanction of criminal penalties. In addition it will include reform of insolvency laws.
With this legislation the government hopes to de-stigmatise failure and support entrepreneurs who have failed through bad luck rather than acting dishonestly.
But insolvency practitioners have already sounded a warning saying that reducing the bankruptcy period for ‘honest’ bankrupts from three years to 12 months will have a detrimental effect on returns to creditors.
According to the association of business recovery professionals, R3, it will have the reverse effect of making bankruptcy more appealing to directors than individual voluntary arrangements.
With the Enterprise Bill, the government also hopes to test future mergers on competition grounds rather than the current public interest criteria and remove ministers from the decision-making process. And there are other competition measures too.
The government plans to make operating a cartel a criminal offence and allow consumer organisations more power to appeal to the Office of Fair Trading.
After Monday’s big announcements on the Bill, it would seem it is near the top of the government’s legislative programme. This will please the Confederation of British Industry, which yesterday welcomed the Bill.
Deputy director-general John Cridland said: ‘We welcome the drive to enhance competition and the principle of measures to deal with rogue traders and reform insolvency law.
‘The proposals on competition policy are many and various and we will closely scrutinise them to ensure they tackle real problems in a proportionate way. That is especially true for the proposed criminal penalties for operators of cartels, which could be premature.’
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As expected, the Queen also said the government would be addressing the problem of money laundering.
‘A Bill will be introduced to increase powers against money laundering, establish a Criminal Assets Recovery Agency, and make it easier to recover the proceeds of crime and drugs,’ she said.
The Proceeds of Crime Bill was introduced in draft form at the last Queen’s Speech. The government said it would increase state powers to fight money laundering and establish a Criminal Assets Recovery Agency with operational powers including ‘powers to assess the tax liability of persons in possession of suspected criminal assets’.
If passed, the Bill will give the agency the ability to recover assets through the civil courts. It will also ‘unify and clarify the offences of money laundering’ and give the Financial Services Authority enhanced powers to police compliance with Money Laundering Regulations.
The government was accused of further complicating tax legislation with plans for a Tax Credit Bill.
Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Matthew Taylor said: ‘What is really needed is a simpler, fairer tax system that raises funds from those that can best afford it for investment in health, education and pensions.’
Other measures announced by the Queen include Bills tackling health, education, work, crime and welfare reform were also announced.
Read more about the proposed insolvency reforms here.