The controversial Equality Bill, which could pose a threat to religious freedom, may be dropped by the Government because of the extra costs it would entail for struggling businesses.
The Institute of Directors (IoD) says the Government has put the estimated cost to UK businesses of its planned new employment laws at £1 billion per year, with £70.9 million spent on implementing the Equality Bill.
But the IoD has warned this is an underestimate, and says the Government has also exaggerated the potential benefit to the economy.
Business secretary Lord Mandelson has suggested the Government sacrifice any planned laws that would be expensive for businesses in light of the financial crisis.
Observers predict that Lord Mandelson’s suggestion to drop the Bill, which has been championed by senior ministers like Harriet Harman, will create tension in the Cabinet.
According to The Times, a confidential memo has asked ministers to “advise on a moratorium on legislation and legislative announcements made but not yet implemented that will entail additional costs for businesses”.
This is thought to include the controversial Equality Bill, which survived a recent ‘cull’ of planned laws and was expected to be rushed through Parliament early this year.
Disgruntled employers were showing signs of “legislation fatigue” after having to contend with successive new laws introduced by the Government, it emerged late last year.
The Christian Institute has raised concerns about how the Bill may impact religious liberty.
If it becomes law, the Bill will place a duty on public bodies – like the police and local councils – to promote homosexual and transsexual equality.
It will also allow political parties to use all-women shortlists for candidates until 2030. Some homosexual activists are pressing for all-homosexual shortlists to also be allowed.
Employers will be allowed to increase diversity by choosing to appoint people based on their sex or ethnic background.
Politicians say they want the Equality Bill to “de-clutter” existing discrimination laws. But a survey suggested that more than a third of employers did not think the move would make things clearer.