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Baroness Rawlings: I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is so worried that this clause will place such a heavy burden of costs on business. I wonder why he and his party are not opposing the terrible costs that the Social Chapter would impose on business.
Baroness Blatch: Touche! These amendments would place statutory requirements on the Home Secretary to assess the early effects of Clause 8 on business costs and the employment of people from the ethnic minorities.
It is right that these areas should be of particular interest. But I should say at the outset that we do not think it would be necessary or helpful to have statutory requirements of the kind proposed. I expect that it will be helpful to review the operation of the whole scheme, including the costs to business and the impact on employment opportunities, at some point in the future. But the Government's view is that it would be preferable not to put detailed requirements in statutory form.
Let me turn to the first of these amendments. It would place a statutory requirement on the Secretary of State to make an estimate of the cost to business of implementing Clause 8 during the first 12 months of its operation; and to lay a report before Parliament detailing those costs within 18 months of the clause coming into force.
One of the prime considerations in developing the proposals currently contained in Clause 8 was to ensure that the burdens on business were kept to the minimum. That reflects this Government's strong long-term commitment to supporting business.
A compliance cost assessment for Clause 8 was made available to interested parties. It was sent out to all those who were sent or asked for a copy of our consultation document and has, I understand, become widely available. In our compliance cost assessment we estimated that the total non-recurrent compliance costs would be £13.5 million, representing less than £11.30 for each employer; and that total recurrent compliance costs would be £11.5 million, representing less than £10 per employer per year.
We are currently considering whether that assessment may require some amendment in the light of comments received from business. Some responses forecasted minimal compliance costs, whereas others were less optimistic. It may well be that the different views expressed were the result of the different recruitment practices currently adopted by employers. We will make a revised assessment available during the passage of the Bill.
We accept, of course, that making an assessment of compliance costs before a provision is implemented will never be an exact science. It will clearly be important to listen to anything that employers have to say once the proposal is implemented, including comments on actual costs. If a formal estimate of costs to business seems called for at an early stage we will make one, but we do not need a statutory provision to this effect.
On the second amendment here, I understand the very genuine anxiety which lies behind it, which is that the provision might adversely affect the employment opportunities of people from the ethnic minorities. We have, however, provided reassurances on this point and have given a commitment to provide clear guidance to employers on the operation of this clause, which must be fair.
At the outset I would like to make clear again the great importance which we attach and place on maintaining and developing good race relations in this country and to ensuring that all groups are treated equally.
We would be concerned if we thought that employers would pick out any particular group for discriminatory treatment on the basis of their colour or race simply because of this clause. We have considered this aspect very carefully indeed. But we do not share the fears which have been expressed. We believe that ethnic minorities will be able to compete for jobs on merit alone, and that our proposals will not affect this.
We have, however, acknowledged that it will be crucially important to ensure that employers have available appropriate guidance and advice about what they might need to do under the arrangements proposed
There will undoubtedly be research undertaken on the effect of Clause 8 on employment opportunities for those from the ethnic minorities. It is right that that should be the case, but it does not mean that a statutory requirement to this effect is necessary. We understand the intentions behind these amendments and believe them to be rather narrow. I hope that they will not be pressed.
Lord Dubs: Perhaps I may respond briefly to the Minister's comments. There is a clear difference of opinion about whether the provisions will be discriminatory in their effect. Perhaps I may give a couple of quotations. Mr. Adair Turner of the CBI said recently:
If that was not clear enough, in a joint letter to The Times the TUC joined with the Institute of Directors, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Management and the Institute of Personnel and Development in saying:
I understand what the Minister said and that the Government are anxious that the effect of the provisions should not be discriminatory. I welcome the advice that is to be given to employers. I hope that the Government will feel that they have a responsibility to assess the workings of the legislation because it is only proper that new measures should be assessed to see how well they are working. To that extent, I hope that, in an informal sense, the Minister accepts the amendments in spirit as something that the Government will have to keep under review. However, I draw comfort from the fact that this Government will not be in office when that day comes. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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