Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

UK competition authorities to be given 'more powers'

Out-Law News | 19 May 2016 | 4:54 pm | 1 min. read

Competition authorities in the UK are to be given new powers to combat anti-competitive behaviour, according to plans set out in the Queen's Speech on Wednesday.

The measures will be set out in a new Better Markets Bill that the UK government intends to bring before parliament within the next year.

According to background notes to the Queen's Speech (85-page / 898KB PDF), published by the government, the purpose of the Bill will be to "open up markets, boost competition, give consumers more power and choice and make economic regulators work better".

Measures to be introduced through the Bill will "give the competition authorities more powers to take on anti-competitive behaviour" and seek to "speed up the decision making process for competition investigations and make the whole process easier for businesses and better for consumers", it said.

Among the other elements of the Bill will be provisions designed to "increase competition and consumer choice in the energy market", it said. The Bill will also look to promote consumer switching between rival providers and remove or simplify regulatory barriers to market entry.

A recent European Commission consultation prompted support for competition authorises across the EU to be given more power to effectively enforce antitrust rules.

Commission proposals include giving national authorities tools to detect and sanction violations of EU competition rules; encouraging companies to come forward to national authorities with evidence of illegal cartels, through 'leniency' programmes; and safeguarding the independence of the national authorities while ensuring they have the staff and resources they need.

In March the CMA announced that it will review the way it conducts market investigations. Its announcement followed criticisms contained in a National Audit Office report in February. The NAO raised concerns about both a relative lack of CMA enforcement action compared to other competition authorities in Europe and the speed with which it undertakes investigations.

The NAO said that the UK government should step in to help improve the "flow of enforcement decisions" in the UK if action the CMA is itself taking does not result in a "significant" increase in the number of enforcement decisions issued.  The government should consider "removing any legislative or institutional barriers" that are the cause of the low flow of cases, it said.