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Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD):
We support the amendment and, in particular, the new clause. The amendment touches a nerve among many businesses, especially small businesses, which feel that any existing
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consultation arrangements are not working very well. The new clause sets out the proposed arrangements very clearly, especially the monitoring arrangements.
I remind Members of the importance of organisations such as the Mid Wales Manufacturing Group and chambers of trade throughout Wales. I hope that the new clause will enable their views to be taken into account.
Mrs. Gillan: I hope that the Minister will tell us whether what is proposed in new clause 12 could be dealt with by clauses 60 and 70, which we have just discussed. I should also like to know whether he has any idea of the cost of the business scheme. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) has estimated the cost, the time and the number of staff involved. Would any extra staff be needed?
The recent Ministry of Defence withdrawals have affected the deep servicing base at St Athan, which has caused a great deal of concern. I hope that if the Minister accepts new clause 12 or any similar proposalwhich I doubt very much; he does not look as though he is in an accepting moodthere will be appropriate consultation with representatives of those working in such areas.
Huw Irranca-Davies: There would undoubtedly be consultation with various organisations, large and small. The hon. Lady will have noted another slight difference between the new clause and the clauses relating to the public and voluntary sectors: there is no duty to sustain. The independent nature of the business community is reflected in the slightly different wording. While the requirement for consultation is absolutely correct, I do not see the need for a duty to step in and sustain a business. I do not think that any of us would want that.
Huw Irranca-Davies: As I have said, the TUC and the CBI support the amendment and the new clause, but that proposal follows a request from them. They consider the procedure more manageable and operable than the onerous duty of publishing a report every year. They appreciate the transparency, but do not want a commitment to annual reporting.
I am grateful for that intervention. I realise that the proposal is supported by the CBI and the TUCI merely wanted to know why a period of two years is preferred to, say, three, five or 10 years, as is
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normal with a business plan. However, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response to new clause 12 in particular.
Nick Ainger: Surprise, surprise, Madam Deputy Speakerwe accept and welcome the amendment and the new clause, and I am sure that everyone welcomes that. The Welsh Assembly Government have worked closely with the business community, including the trade unions, and I expect that they will continue to do so. The new clause, which is a sensible addition to the Bill, is designed to ensure that all parts of the Welsh Assembly Government take the impact on business into account when drawing up policy. I also welcome its clarifying the position of trade unions within the business scheme.
Nick Ainger: The point is that under the terms of clauses 60 and 70, Ministers would choose whether to take such action. The new clause puts the scheme on a statutory footingan option that Ministers clearly could not exercise under clauses 60 and 70.
The extra costs involved will be minimal. The point is to ensure that regulations emerging from the Assembly are made with the involvement and agreement of all parts of industry, which is why we welcome the new clause.
Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. He says that the cost will be minimal and I presume, given that he is going to accept the new clause, that he has had a chance to calculate in detail the costs and staffing necessary to implement it. Will he agree to place in the Library of the House those detailed calculations, which would be helpful? Will he also justify to the House the two-year period, so that I can satisfy myself that another period would not be more optimal?
Nick Ainger: I am assured that the costs are minimal as most of this work is already being done by Assembly officials. All sides of business and industry have decided that they want a scheme that can be reviewed every two years. The new clause takes on board their views and I would be amazed if the hon. Lady disagreed with them.
I am very pleased to see not only cross-party support for the new clause but support from throughout the Labour Benches. The Minister has given his support not just to the principle behind the new clause, as he did on Second Reading, but to the new clause itself. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden) pointed out, there is already a good working relationship between the Assembly and business. However, the new clause will formalise the Assembly's relationship not only with
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employers' organisations, but with employees. I am grateful for such support and I thank the Minister for his consideration.
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