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Queen's speech analysis

Enterprise culture may encourage rogue traders

Several key areas of reform were highlighted in the Queen's Speech yesterday, most of which will have a disappointingly small impact on the IT market despite Labour's promises to make IT one of their key points of discussion.

One thing mentioned that might be good news for traders but bad for customers is that Her Majesty said the government would focus on changes to the insolvency laws, to adopt a similar enterprise culture to that of the US.

"The idea is to protect businesses that have failed through no fault of their own," said Tony Northcott, spokesperson at the Trading Standards Institute. "And to impose higher [penalties] on dishonest businessmen."

Although the Enterprise Bill is in its early stages, Trading Standards said it expected the periods of bankruptcy (the period a bankrupt is eliminated from trading) would be cut.

But the implications of the bill could be worrying for consumers. In many cases consumers who have paid for goods they never received are at the back of the creditors’ queue and stand little chance of reclaiming their money.

"The consumer will be our priority before we agree to anything, but we haven't even seen the bill [which is still at the draft stage] yet," said Northcott. "Our [main] concentration is that the consumer is adequately protected."

Trading Standards dismissed worries that businesses would use the shorter bankruptcy periods as an excuse to announce themselves insolvent as soon as financial difficulties arose.

"I must stress this legislation would only be to protect 'honest' bankrupts. There must be rules to govern this from happening, but until we see the bill we really don't know."

The speech, outlining the government’s 'intended' plans for the next session, promised an addition to the controversial Criminal Justice Act aimed at stamping out paedophiles’ use of the internet.

"This is just a bill and there is little to say at this stage," said a spokesperson at the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit. "But we welcome any legislation that will make the job of catching paedophiles more efficient."

All reforms are only in draft stages with formal legislation introduced from the next session in August 2002.

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