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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 06:57 GMT
Price fixers to face prison
Cartel chiefs could face prison
The UK government will today reveal the most radical shake-up of competition policy in decades when it unveils the Enterprise Bill.

Under the new government proposals, price fixing will become a criminal offence that would see unscrupulous chief executives end up behind bars.

And politicians could be removed from the merger approval process, giving trade watchdogs the ultimate say over such decisions.

But Digby Jones, head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), says some of the changes will be harmful to British industry.

Disadvantaged UK

The CBI fears that the UK will be subjected to tougher new laws while its European competitors are still allowed a freer rein.

"It will not be a level playing field," Mr Jones told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

The CBI is particularly concerned about the power given to consumer bodies to launch law suits, fearing that a US-style suing culture will become more prevalent.

The Consumers' Association says cartels are theft and should be treated as such.

The anti-cartel measures are similar to those operated in the US and are designed to crack down on price fixing.

Political influence

But the CBI does welcome the changes in the decision process over mergers and approvals.

The transfer of powers for merger approval from the government to the Office of Fair Trading and an independent Competition Commission is designed to promote consistency in decision-making.

Critics have complained that the current system allows politically-sensitive factors, such as job cuts, an undue influence over merger clearance decisions.

The new bill is aimed at driving competition into the economy and creating a true enterprise culture.

Leaders from the CBI and the Trades Unions Congress (TUC) will meet with Gordon Brown over breakfast to discuss the UK's productivity.

See also:

31 Jul 01 | Business
Price fixers to face jail
20 Jun 01 | Business
Clampdown on price fixers unveiled
19 Jun 01 | Business
Government drive on competition
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