Construction firms face losing out on billions of pounds of overseas work when new bribery legislation comes into force, lawyers have warned

The Bribery Bill, which began its final passage through parliament this week and is expected to be made law before the general election, will make three significant changes to legislation, including outlawing bribes to public and private officials and banning “facilitation payments”, which US law still allows. A third clause will mean contractors found guilty of bribery that do not have a compliance programme in place could be barred from public work in the EU.

Claire Shaw, senior associate at lawyer Pinsent Masons, said: “People are getting worried about this. Most construction companies work in high risk emerging markets like China, India and the Middle East, where corruption is part of the system. The Serious Fraud Office has said that it wants to make corruption in the construction sector its priority. Firms will have to be brave to enter these jurisdictions.”

Meanwhile Jeremy Cole, partner at Lovells, said firms could face greater competition from EU counterparts. “The key issue is how different countries enforce their own anti-corruption laws.”