All 9 contributions to the Professional Qualifications Act 2022

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Wed 9th Jun 2021
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Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]
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Thu 28th Apr 2022
Royal Assent
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Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

1st reading
Wednesday 12th May 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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First Reading
12:55
A Bill to make provision relating to entitlement to practise certain professions, occupations and trades; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

2nd reading
Tuesday 25th May 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Second Reading
13:40
Moved by
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for International Trade (Lord Grimstone of Boscobel) (Con)
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My Lords, I start my remarks by recognising the wealth of professional experience that is in your Lordships’ House and will no doubt be on full display in today’s debate. Our regulated professions are a national asset, and the professionalism of our services sector is part of the UK’s offering to the world. Good regulation and the expertise of regulators underpin that professionalism.

The purpose of the Bill is to revoke the EU-derived system for the recognition of overseas professional qualifications in the UK following the post-Brexit transition period. The Bill replaces this system with a new framework, global in outlook and tailored to the needs of the UK. The Bill will allow action to be taken in the public interest if it is judged that a shortage of professionals has arisen in a profession. It also makes sure that regulators have the tools they need to strike agreements with their international counterparts on the recognition of professional qualifications, creating more opportunities for UK citizens to work globally. These agreements will be a key facilitator of services trade, creating opportunities for UK-based professionals to work and provide services abroad. I can reassure the House that the Bill does not restrict the independence of the UK’s regulators. It fully respects regulators’ autonomy to determine who can practise in the UK.

I begin by describing the constituency of the Bill. Across the UK, over 160 professions are regulated by law by a network of over 50 regulators. The Bill will apply to all professions regulated by law. This means areas where there are restrictions in legislation on pursuing the activities of a profession, such as for doctors. It also includes restrictions on using a professional title, such as for architects. These restrictions usually require individuals to gain a qualification, carry out specialised training or demonstrate their professional experience.

Typically, an individual is required by law to register with a regulator to practise that profession. Many of these regulators are established in legislation, operating independently of the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. The Bill also encompasses bodies established by royal charter, but only if they have functions under legislation in relation to a profession regulated by law. However, the Bill does not apply to professions regulated on a voluntary basis. For example, it does not apply to chartered professional titles that are voluntarily regulated, such as chartered accountants, although it includes auditors and chartered engineers.

Some professions are regulated on a UK-wide basis, and the regulation of others is entirely devolved. The Bill will apply to the entirety of the UK, while of course respecting the devolution settlements by allowing the devolved Administrations to make regulations within their devolved competence.

As I hope your Lordships can appreciate from my description, the regulation of professions comprises a complex regulatory landscape. It has resulted from the differing needs of professions and from legislation being introduced over a long period. That is why the Bill establishes a framework. It sets out a permissive approach, under which regulations could be made to provide tailored solutions for specific professions if and when required. It needs this flexibility because we cannot anticipate future professional shortages or the terms of future international agreements.

I emphasise that we want this new framework for recognition of professional qualifications to complement regulators’ existing practices. For this reason, the Government have engaged closely with a wide range of regulators. I can assure the House that I take their views very seriously. Indeed, following further consultation with the GMC and other healthcare regulators since introduction, the Government intend to table an amendment to Clause 1 in good time before Committee. This is to address concerns raised by regulators such as the GMC to ensure that the flexibility and autonomy of healthcare regulators and others is preserved in the event that these powers are used.

I turn now to the main elements of the Bill. Its core purpose is to update the regulatory framework for recognising professional qualifications and experience gained overseas. Through Clauses 5 and 6 we would revoke the EU-derived system, which places obligations on our regulators to offer preferential treatment to European Economic Area and Swiss-qualified professionals compared to those with qualifications from other parts of the world.

This system was always intended to be temporary, and it has not been reciprocated by the EU. We need to replace it with a new framework in line with our status outside the single market and our global Britain ambitions. We want our regulators to recognise professionals from around the world, considering the skills and knowledge they offer, not just where they came from. The Bill will ensure that regulators can be given the legal ability to recognise overseas qualifications wherever they were granted, if they deem it appropriate to do so.

Through Clause 1, UK Government Ministers and the devolved Administrations can require regulators to have a process to recognise professional qualifications from all around the world where the individual meets UK standards. This would be implemented through secondary legislation.

Clause 2 limits the use of this power to professions where demand is not being met and the resultant shortage could be addressed by opening up this new process for professionals with qualifications from overseas. This condition provides reassurance that UK Government Ministers and devolved Administrations can act only when there is a clear public interest in so doing. For the professions where this power is used, regulators will have flexibility in the way they assess individuals with professional qualifications and experience gained overseas without, I stress, compromising their rigorous standards. Where Clause 1 is not exercised, regulators will of course be free to continue recognising qualifications from overseas in line with their existing powers.

Noble Lords will be aware of the value of services exports in our economy. Indeed, the EU Services Sub-Committee issued a report on the future UK-EU relationship on trade in services in March this year. The report acknowledged the role of the mutual recognition of professional qualifications in services trade for many sectors. With that in mind, the Bill also includes two measures that support us as we seize opportunities for professionals in overseas markets and encourage talented professionals to work in the UK.

Clause 3 will enable UK Ministers and devolved Administrations to implement the recognition of professional qualifications elements of international agreements. In Clause 4, we propose a power to make regulations that would empower regulators to enter into recognition agreements with their overseas counter- parts. We would use this power only where regulators do not already have the ability to do so. That includes mutual recognition agreements agreed in accordance with trade agreements that the Government are striking around the world. It can also include individual agreements with overseas counterparts pursued at regulators’ discretion.

To be frank, we acknowledge that these powers are broad, but I reassure your Lordships that in our international negotiations on the recognition of professional qualifications, we have always sought to preserve the UK’s autonomy to set its own professional standards and determine who is fit to practise here. It is for this reason that the recognition of professional qualifications chapters of trade agreements often encourage the parties’ autonomous regulators to negotiate mutual regulation agreements without dictating how they should do this.

The Bill also contains several measures to provide support to professionals and regulators. These build on the good practices of many regulators. Clause 7 will maintain the legislative underpinning for an assistance centre, which provides advice to professionals interested in working in the UK or overseas. Clause 8 will require regulators to publish details about entry and practice requirements for their professions. Many regulators already do this, but we want this to be comprehensive to make information about careers more accessible.

Clause 9 will give a legislative underpinning to sharing information between regulators operating in different parts of the UK. Such information is often shared on a voluntary basis, and this can help inform regulatory action—for example, if there is evidence of malpractice. Clause 10 proposes that UK regulators be required to provide certain information to overseas regulators about UK professionals at the request of the individual. This would enable those overseas regulators to decide on UK professionals’ entitlement to practise.

Finally, in Clause 11, the Bill will introduce a new system for recognising all architects who qualified overseas. This profession is addressed specifically in the Bill because this is an area where we need primary legislation to move away from bespoke EU-derived obligations as soon as possible. This will expedite new international entrants to the Architects Register in the UK while requiring them to demonstrate an understanding of the specific UK landscape. Our proposals will make sure that UK demands can be met by architects from all around the world and improve the Architects Registration Board’s administrative processes.

To conclude, this Bill removes outdated legislation from the UK’s days in the EU. It replaces it with a new framework that upholds the great strength of the UK’s professionalism while protecting regulators’ autonomy. It makes sure that regulators can put in place the arrangements we need to recognise professionals from all over the world. It empowers regulators to secure arrangements that promote our world-leading services exports. I am sure that it will form the basis of a great partnership between government, regulators and professionals. I commend it to the House, and I beg to move.

13:54
Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear introduction and positive engagement so far. This has certainly helped ease me into my first speech at Second Reading, and I hope that this constructive approach can continue, not simply for my benefit but to ensure that we end up with an improved Bill. Although I may still not know my way around the House or fully appreciate its quirks and traditions, what is clear to me is the benefits that will flow from recognising professional qualifications for public services and the wider economy.

Enabling regulators to recognise qualifications drives up standards of practice, gives confidence to UK employees and consumers and improves contracts for workers. It also allows people to move to the UK to fill gaps in our labour market and enrich our communities. As a former board member of NHS Leeds, I know how much the NHS, for example, depends on those workers. Last year, those who were non-British included 169,000 NHS staff in England—about 14% of all staff—122,000 staff on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s register and 247,000 staff in social care. We are hugely grateful to those key workers, especially for their efforts during the pandemic. This support would not have been possible without the recognition of professional qualifications. The Bill also facilitates the recognition of UK qualifications in other countries so that British citizens can seek to work abroad.

I remind the Minister of the Government’s central promise in their Explanatory Notes that

“nothing in the Bill prevents, qualifies or otherwise impacts the ability of those with existing recognised qualifications from continuing their areas of practice in the UK”.

We will be holding him to that throughout the Bill’s passage. We cannot clap for carers today, then strip them of qualifications tomorrow. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will outline some of the concerns raised by the GMC and others on drafting that covers asking regulators to assess qualifications to be “substantially the same” as UK qualifications. I acknowledge the Minister’s intention to bring forward amendments in this area.

This legislation is needed to replace EU law so that we can ensure that we have the skills to keep our economy going. This new framework replaces the interim system which was set up for EEA and Swiss professions. We recognise that this is the next step in our departure from the EU. Although we will be seeking quite a few clarifications and assurances, Labour’s approach to the Bill will be broadly threefold.

First, regulators must remain independent and autonomous—nothing in the Bill must undermine their standing. Their independence is essential to maintain UK standards—for example in health, public safety and consumer protection. Their expertise allows the right calls to be made when approving qualifications and recognising when more training is required, and their decisions must be accepted and respected. We cannot get into a position where the Government pressure bodies to accept professional qualifications to, for example, clinch a trade deal with Australia.

This independence could also be threatened if regulators are not properly supported. The impact assessment states that most costs will fall to regulators, and the Government estimate the cost to regulators of transition and the new framework to be about £2 million per year, as well as additional costs for new transparency requirements. Therefore, will the Minister answer the following initial questions? Can he confirm that regulations created under the Bill, especially Clauses 1 and 3, can never force regulators to accept specific qualifications? Could FTAs put regulators under undue pressure to do so? Do regulators need additional funding and resources, or will they pass on all costs to professionals and businesses?

Secondly, on delegated powers, we need more meat on the bones of this skeletal Bill. The Government’s own report on delegated powers states that

“the substantive changes to the law envisaged by this Bill will be made through delegated powers rather than the Bill itself.”

That approach fits in with the wider pattern of this Government whereby Ministers often run scared of scrutiny. We understand that national authorities need flexibility to bring forward regulations as and when agreements are struck and shortages identified. Therefore, we accept that it is impossible to provide full clarity now but we are in the dark at the moment. The Government have identified priority professions in their impact assessment; for example, healthcare professionals, social workers, vets and teachers. Therefore, we are calling on the Government to publish draft statutory instruments on priority professions before Report in the Lords. Can the Minister commit to that?

Thirdly, on skill shortages, while attracting talent to the UK is essential for public services and the wider economy, the recognition of overseas qualifications is not a silver bullet for ending our current skills shortage. We believe that the skills agenda must be at the heart of our economic strategy. The agenda is essential to supporting new and emerging businesses, and is vital for the post-Covid recovery and tackling the climate emergency head on. However, after, sadly, a decade of Conservative neglect in many different sectors and professions, we are seeing shortages, including of 84,000 NHS workers in England, 112,000 social workers and 3,000 teachers. The Government’s Queen’s Speech briefing document also states that shortages account for 36% of all construction vacancies and 48% of all manufacturing and skilled trades vacancies.

We believe in a high-skill, high-wage economy, which is why we are often dismayed at the Government’s approach; for example, their lifetime skills guarantee is not guaranteed for everyone because people cannot use it if they are already qualified to level 3, unless they are getting a qualification that the Government have decided is valuable or if they need maintenance support while they are learning. We need to do much better than that. Therefore, we will be arguing that when a skills shortage has been determined under Clause 2 the determination should be published, along with details of how the appropriate national authority is investing in skills domestically. Can the Minister explain how that determination will be compiled; for example, will it be determined by the Government or the regulators? What sources and modelling will be used?

My noble friend Lady Hayter will be touching on other areas on which we will seek clarification, including on how the Bill relates to the EU-UK TCA, whether it allows for bilateral regulatory agreements with EU member states, where the assistance centre will be based and how it will be funded.

For now, I end by stressing how we want to promote opportunity, trade and standards through the recognition of professional qualifications. We must do it in a way that maintains regulatory independence, ensures parliamentary scrutiny and does not replace skills investment at home. In those key areas, we remain to be convinced.

14:05
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, to her position on the Labour Front Bench and look forward to working with her in her new role. She has already demonstrated a grasp of this issue and I am sure that her role in offering scrutiny to the Bill will enhance our proceedings. I warn her that whenever the Government say that a trade Bill or a Bill associated with trade is merely a technical measure, framework or tidying-up, we are here for quite a long time. However, she will add to that. The Minister, as ever, is open and in advance of this legislation he has been receptive to those who have wished to engage with him. I know that that will carry on. His record until now has demonstrated that.

I wish to apologise to noble Lords. The European Affairs Select Committee on which I serve is currently taking evidence on UK citizens’ rights in Europe and European citizens’ rights here, and I will have to leave the debate for a short period in order to question some of our witnesses. However, that is linked to some of the considerations in the Bill. I mean no discourtesy to the House.

My noble friends will raise many issues that have been outlined by the Minister. I will focus on some of trade elements, some of the underlying reasons why the Bill is necessary, some aspects of devolution and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, indicated, concerns regarding the wide-ranging nature of some of the regulatory powers, including the Henry VIII powers included in the Bill.

The Minister’s signature is on the front page of the impact assessment on the Bill. It states that the best estimate of the Bill’s costs are an additional £18.2 million but possibly a staggering £42.82 million. I have to say to the Government that their slashing of ODA to the world’s poorest while being happy to find up to £43 million for new bureaucracy shows that their priorities are all wrong. The Minister’s introduction goes on to state that the net long-term negative social value of the Bill is £11 million. I am pleased that the Government have at last recognised that the cost of the lack of an agreement in the TCA on mutual recognition of professional qualifications is going to cost us a great deal—a net negative value of £11 million, just with the Bill alone.

I turn first to the trade impacts. Paragraph 92 of the impact assessment contains curious language. It states:

“Professional qualification recognition requirements can act as a non-tariff barrier to services trade. If UK professionals’ qualifications are recognised in European countries this could be an enabler in bidding for, winning and providing traded services by regulated professionals.”


That is a good thing. However, bizarrely, the Government think that erecting new service trade barriers is a good thing. The paragraph continues:

“By ending unilateral recognition for certain professions, UK regulators may be in a better position to negotiate mutually beneficial and reciprocal recognition arrangements with our EU counterparts.”


Using the EU regulated professions database cited by the Government in their papers associated with the Bill and the impact assessment, in 2019-20, the UK had 6,093 citizens’ qualifications recognised automatically by EU member states for work. We recognised 9,436. If one takes out the seasonal recognition of workers from Spain, the figures are broadly similar. Now we have to get agreements separately on a new application process for each country, with no real negotiating strength. I am not sure about the basis of the assumption that that is good for services trade.

This is for each country and each profession. The maths can be quite straightforward using the figures in the impact assessment but, if the current trend for the recognition of qualifications carries on, next year we will require more agreements by our regulators of other European regulators than we will for the people we actually regulate for the certification of qualifications. That is why the cost—of up to £42 million—is ridiculous, given the fact that this will require more agreements than the people whose qualifications it is meant to recognise.

Paragraph 84 of the impact assessment states that Home Office modelling on the new skilled worker visa system could result in a 70% reduction in EEA long-term worker inflows—70% less is not exactly a negotiating incentive for Europe. It is not just a poor negotiating hand; we have chopped it off entirely. The number of people whose qualifications have been recognised has already fallen by nearly 50% since 2018, so we are in a situation of serious concern for professional labour shortages, which I will turn to in a moment.

I had to read this next paragraph twice, as I could not quite believe it. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is in her place, because I am sure that she will be interested to learn of this too. It states that:

“A reduction in the recruitment of EEA and Swiss-qualified professionals could reduce competition in the market for services, to the benefit of UK-qualified professionals in the UK. EEA firms may be less able to provide services involving regulated professions to UK customers, which may benefit UK businesses.”


I think I read in the press at the weekend that this is a free-trade Government: that is quite extraordinary—I must have been mistaken. The reason we have this Bill, as the Minister said, is to make it easier for foreign workers to be recognised because we have shortages. But the impact assessment says that the very fact that we have shortages is a good thing for UK businesses. Which is it, Minister?

What of the shortages and demand—the central element of Clauses 1 and 2? We were told that there would not be shortages in qualified workers because of Brexit, but the Government have deliberately refused to carry out an impact assessment of the TCA, so we must use this one instead. If it is not all about deemed shortages, what is it about?

This morning, I reviewed the Government’s list of shortages in skilled professions. The list, which is on GOV.UK, was updated on 6 April, and it is worrying, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, said. It is no surprise that it includes all musicians, all artists and all choreographers, proving the point that my noble friends on these Benches have been raising about this sector as a result of the TCA. The list also includes “Veterinarians —all jobs”, “Mechanical engineers—all jobs”, “Electrical engineers—all jobs” and all jobs in health and social care. I have quoted from one list but there is a separate list for health and education. Similarly worryingly, all business analyst and web designer jobs are included. This list is depressing for our economy. In one of the areas where we had relied heavily on highly skilled EEA workers, a

“70% reduction in EEA long-term worker inflows”

will have an additional impact on such services. Will this Bill help? Its bureaucracy and costs simply will not.

One reason the Bill will not help is the lack of interaction with this Government’s immigration and skilled workers policy. Look at the starting salaries of these so-called high-skilled workers, I wonder whether they meet the threshold of the immigration laws. Even if these workers coming from abroad—from outside the EEA, of course—have their professional qualifications fast-tracked or with less fees attached as a result of this Bill, their starting salaries do not match even the lowest threshold of the skilled worker points system, which has been set at £25,600. The Minister talked about looking at opening up opportunities. If you are in an FTA with a newly qualified midwife on a fast-track, low-fee application, recognised through the regulations in this Bill, the salary starts at £24,907. It does not meet the immigration points system threshold anyway. A registered teacher in England and Wales starts at £18,169; a Scottish social work graduate can expect an average starting salary of £23,000. Even with the shortage list and the points system, there is no proper interaction with what the regulations in this legislation will outline.

That is one issue with it, but noble Lords must read paragraph 86 of the impact assessment, which says that

“62 of the 88 professions likely to be included in the new framework are associated with occupations on the Shortage Occupation List.”

This new sledgehammer of a Bill seems to crack only two-thirds of the nuts. What about the remaining 26 professions?

The Minister said that this legislation is empowering. Well, paragraph 68 states that 90 regulators that regulate 140 professions are not included in the new frame- work, but can offer preferential access anyway. Do the Government feel that they will be allowed to do that? The Minister said that this is an enabling Bill. Will he insist on the independence of the regulators for those remaining 50 professions?

There are two final areas: interaction with the common travel area with Ireland, and devolution and trade agreements. The December 2020 guidance on the common travel area with Ireland makes specific reference to the route to work for service providers from Switzerland. In essence, to paraphrase, service providers from Switzerland can allow, for the purposes of that agreement, a Swiss national effectively to be considered a UK national for work in Ireland. This is intended to carry on until 2025. Is it the Government’s intention that it will do so? Will it allow for the other 50 of the 140 professions that I mentioned?

Is it the Government’s intention in future agreements to replicate our agreement with Switzerland to bypass the common travel area, effectively creating a route to work in the European Union via the common travel area? The last thing we need is yet another area of concern involving a professional barrier or border in the Irish Sea. I hope that the Minister can offer reassurance on that point.

What about future trade agreements? We were told repeatedly during the passage of the then Trade Bill that, for new trade agreements, if there were gaps in legislation, primary legislation would fill them. The Minister’s predecessor said that on a number of occasions. It now seems not to be true. The Government want to use the regulation-making powers in this Bill to implement key elements of FTAs. For example, if mutual recognition has been part of the EU-India trade discussions that are now under way, this should be done through primary legislation, not regulation now.

It is interesting that the justification for the use of delegated powers in this area is in paragraph 30 of the delegated powers memorandum, which states:

“The power is necessary to ensure commitments made by the UK under international agreements can be met. Since the power will be available in relation to international agreements concluded in the future, and the terms of those agreements are not known, it is not possible to deliver the necessary changes on the face of the Bill.”


Well, that is blindingly obvious—it is why we have legislation when we require it, and why we do not give the Government full-scale powers now to implement any agreement under any circumstances in future. That is an explanation of the use of delegated powers, not a justification for it.

On devolution, there is concern about the use of concurrent powers. In effect, the Government are saying, “If the devolved countries do not use the powers, we will”. I hope that the Minister can give us the up-to-date position on consultation, the request for legislative consent memorandums and implementation.

Finally, after stating categorically that this Bill protects the autonomy and independence of regulators, the Minister helpfully indicated half way through his speech that the Government will bring forward an amendment to do exactly that. Why is an amendment to protect the autonomy and flexibility of health regulators necessary before we have even started Committee stage? However, it is welcome, and I hope that the Government’s approach to the sensible amendments that will no doubt be brought forward by my noble friends on these Benches will be equally as receptive as their approach to the health professions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, indicated, we will do our work to strengthen this Bill and improve it.

14:20
Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Portrait Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I sit on the board of OSCR, the Scottish charity regulator. Although it is not concerned with regulating professions, it is still a regulator, and I am aware therefore of the unintended consequences that legislation can have in some areas, and that there are moments when more than one regulator can potentially be involved in service delivery. Also, as chief executive of Cerebral Palsy Scotland, I am involved with the employment of regulated allied health professionals, who are highly specialist in their field and, while not employed by the NHS, are still key. As chair of the Scottish Government’s National Advisory Committee for Neurological Conditions, I have looked at the specific workforce needs for the provision of neurological health and care services in Scotland.

It is vital that we ensure a robust scheme for recognising competent professional qualifications for those from across the world in this country, and vice versa for UK professional qualifications to be reciprocated. I therefore wholeheartedly support the general provisions of the Bill. The regulated professions are indeed a diverse group and the regulatory landscape is far from uniform. Therefore, I welcome the Government’s approach in establishing a framework under which profession-specific provisions can be made. Regulators must be able to set the standards and make autonomous and independent decisions. The Bill is needed and is important, and I look forward to supporting its passage through Parliament.

However, instead of looking at these matters in the context of trade and trade deals, I am looking at the Bill through the lens of health and social care, and as such I am not convinced that the regulation framework will achieve the stated desired results of improving service provision. To ensure public confidence that professionals are appropriately regulated, recognition of professional qualifications from overseas should be based on the equivalence of the standard and content of an overseas qualification rather than solely on reciprocity.

I have three general observations to make at this stage. First, qualification and registration alone are not sufficient. Qualification, whether from within or outside the UK, does not necessarily make an individual proficient to carry out their profession, and the regulatory process must be robust enough to ensure competency as a very minimal standard. What makes an individual truly competent is rigorous supervision from senior and experienced fellow professionals, access to ongoing professional development, and the opportunity for postgraduate and specialist training. We need these to be requirements so that the workforce has the skills to be swift and to adapt to the changing needs of service users. Regulators must make due consideration for experience, supervision and CPD, and see that benchmarks are set and met.

Secondly, we need specialist skills, not just generic skills. There is indeed a skills shortage throughout the health and social care workforce, but we must ensure that we are attracting the right professionals with the right specialist skills. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, said, just registering more people will not necessarily resolve vacancy issues. More and more is being expected of individuals who have the bare minimum of skillsets. We see this with health visitors in the expanding early years workload, and in schools, where classroom assistants and teachers are expected to support children with very complex disabilities, with a monitoring visit by a qualified paediatric therapist perhaps only once a term. The identification of “priority professions” in the Bill therefore must recognise that not all registered professionals are the same. In my own charity we employ Bobath-trained therapists—that means that, while being physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists, they have very specific qualifications to support people with cerebral palsy. Improvements in service provision will depend on being able to distinguish between those with the experience and specialisms that we require to develop sustainable services, and the rest.

Thirdly, we cannot rely on professionals from overseas to improve services. Evidence from the regulated allied health professional bodies that I have consulted suggests that professionals who come from overseas perhaps do not stay long, and therefore service provision is not necessarily benefiting. It is perhaps for another time to discuss how we can support and invest in the domestic workforce pipeline, but how can we then support regulation and regulators within this framework to support the retention of qualified professionals?

Notwithstanding these points, there are many aspects to be welcomed in the Bill: the commitment to sharing information across all parts of the UK with, I hope, the public, rather than just professions or employers; recognition that the Bill is not limited to specific professions, but concerns devolved and transferred matters; the establishing of an assistance centre; and the requirement for published information for entering and remaining within a profession. I trust that these requirements may take some heed of my earlier reservations and I look forward to supporting the further progress of the Bill.

14:26
Lord Bilimoria Portrait Lord Bilimoria (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the UK services industry accounts for 80% of our economy, and the UK is the second largest services exporter in the world. It is quite remarkable how well respected our services industry is, and our UK professional qualifications are, frankly, the most well regarded in the world in many cases, whether for our lawyers, our accountants or our doctors.

The Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech on 11 May, making provisions relating to the recognition of professional qualifications in the UK. It obviously follows a lot of consultation by the Government which ran through the autumn of last year and which created a number of regulation-making powers designed to implement a new framework for the recognition of overseas professional qualifications in the UK. That would replace the EU law in the area, including the interim provisions that have been in place since the end of the transition period, making provision for international agreements on the recognition of professional qualifications, for any powers to authorise regulators to enter into regulatory recognition agreements with regulators overseas, and the sharing of information between regulators. The Minister also mentioned amending the Architects Act 1997.

Over 160 professions are regulated by legislation in the UK, and there are more than 50 regulators. The Government have explained that they seek reciprocal agreements on the recognition of professional qualifications as part of their trade agenda. I congratulate the Government, and Liz Truss and the Department for International Trade, on the fantastic job that they have done in rolling over more than 60 bilateral EU trade agreements, and on the work that they are doing on the new trade agreements. The Australian one is imminent. The enhanced trade partnership with India will lead to an FTA, I hope. The American trade agreement is in the offing, I hope, and joining the CTPPP will be a fantastic £110 billion of trade.

On top of that, we are now making the 60-plus agreements that have been rolled over from the EU into super-duper bespoke deals between the UK and the other countries, starting with Mexico and Canada. This is great news. Professional qualifications will be a key part of all these trade agreements. The Bill is equipping regulators to pursue agreements with their counterparts in other countries where they want to do so, and the Government say that they

“want to facilitate the continued strong reputation of UK professional qualifications, which will support export opportunities, including education exports and the recruitment of international students.”

The Government have stated that the feedback from the consultation and other stakeholders indicated that the regulatory landscape that had developed for professions was complex. That is something we have to accept. The UK’s current framework for recognising professional qualifications gained overseas is derived largely from EU law. The interim system has provided certainty for UK businesses and helped to maintain workforce supply for professions, including nursing and teaching. The Government have said that many of the professions within the scope of the regulation-making powers in Clause 1 have pre-existing legislative frameworks governing the way they are regulated. While the ability to allow for an overseas qualification to be treated as though it was a specified UK qualification is set out in the Bill, along with the conditions, it is necessary for this to be implemented in a manner that is tailored to each profession by the appropriate national authority.

We then have the regulator recognition agreements—RRAs—between the UK regulators and international counterparts on the recognition of professional qualifications. The recognition of professional qualifications and the regulation of professions is of huge significance to the UK’s world-leading services providers, which rely on this provision to sell their services abroad. Following the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the loss of automatic recognition adds levels of complexity and administrative challenges for companies. Businesses are looking for clarity on the recognition of qualifications and what it means in practice for UK-based firms’ continued provision of services in the EU.

As president of the CBI, I can say that businesses welcome the pathway provided in the TCA to establish recognition agreements and are ready to engage with government and regulators. Across the UK, companies are clear that the recognition of professional qualifications and the regulation of professions is an essential aspect of how they operate their businesses.

I look back to the 10 business priorities for UK-EU trade after Brexit that the CBI laid out when it identified

“10 immediate practical actions both sides can take to stabilise relations and strengthen cooperation”.

One of them was to secure the recognition of professional qualifications. The automatic mutual recognition of professional qualifications has now ended between the EU and the UK but, according to the CBI,

“the TCA creates a pathway for future agreements being struck between the UK and individual EU member states via the Partnership Council—although the exact process is still to be confirmed.”

Perhaps the Minister could shine some light on this. The CBI continues:

“The loss of automatic recognition adds significant levels of complexity and administrative challenges, particularly in the professional services sector. Newly qualified individuals in regulated sectors will not be … allowed to work or to deliver services in the EU without this recognition, leaving UK professionals and businesses losing business to EU competitors”


and other competitors. It continues:

“The CBI welcomes the steps that have already taken place by the UK government in supporting regulator to regulator recognition across the UK and Ireland, with 10 agreements already made in various sectors. But the pathway for more agreements, as set out in the TCA, should be established as quickly as possible to support the trade in services on both sides.”


Does the Minister agree with this, and that

“The EU should work constructively with the UK to facilitate this dialogue through the relevant governance mechanisms”?


I am proud to be a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. I would go so far as to say that it is the most highly recognised and finest accountancy qualification in the world. I say that with pride, and I am sorry that I am boasting. The ICAEW welcomes the passage of the Bill and a new UK framework for recognition of professional qualifications from around the world. It says that the Bill confirms that the UK does not give preference to any one nationality or country. It is a global recognition system, no matter where you work and qualify. This is positive, as it will make processes of recognition simpler for regulators to administer and demonstrates the UK’s global outlook—totally in tune with global Britain.

This is a rare opportunity to propose much-needed amendments to sections of the Companies Act 2006, such as Section 1221, which deals with the Secretary of State’s powers to recognise foreign qualifications for eligibility to become a UK statutory auditor. Select changes to the Act would enable the UK to enter more freely into audit recognition agreements with other countries. The Bill establishes transparency by setting rules and criteria for all professionals and for all potential applicants wishing to practise a profession in the UK.

Clause 16 of the Bill says that a regulated profession

“means a profession that is regulated by law in the United Kingdom or a part of it”.

Does the definition of a regulator in the Bill includes chartered bodies, or is it the profession’s statutory regulator? In the case of the accountancy profession that is the FRC/ARGA. I assume that it is the FRC/ARGA for audit, but for accountancy the ICAEW is considered the regulator. The Bill does not define clearly which regulator will be responsible. Perhaps the Minister would like to explain.

Clause 4 dictates the contents of a regulator recognition agreement. The ICAEW has agreements with accountancy bodies around the world. Will it, as a professional body, continue to retain autonomy over the formation and content of recognition agreements with other countries, or will this become the responsibility of the FRC/ARGA, or of the department for business? Will it gain new powers to intervene in ICAEW decisions? Will the Minister respond to that?

Finally, Clause 3 requires regulators of professions in all parts of the UK to publish information on the entry and practice requirements of their profession. We welcome these transparency measures, but any additional measures and obligations should be proportionate. The Bill could lead to a major work and cost burden for professional bodies if, in the interests of transparency, they were obliged to implement customer service standards for applicants that go beyond what is currently required, such as website redesign, process times for applications, fee caps, and so on. Do the Government agree?

The Solicitors Regulation Authority supports the overall aims of this Bill, including encouraging a diversity of talent and skills into the UK, and maximising opportunities for trade in professional services by providing an easily navigable regulatory framework. It is pleased that the Government’s approach is underpinned by the need for public confidence that professionals are appropriately qualified. Regulators must be able to set the standards and to make autonomous and independent decisions. Do the Government agree?

There is already an established system for recognising overseas legal professional qualifications that is targeted and proportionate, with mechanisms in place for candidates to qualify with appropriate exemptions based on an assessment of equivalence. The Solicitors Regulation Authority was very clear in responding to last year’s call for evidence. It said that recognition of professional qualifications in the legal profession should be based on the equivalence of the standard and content of an overseas qualification, assessed on a case-by-case basis, rather than solely on reciprocity. This approach would ensure that all providers of legal services in England and Wales have the knowledge and skills to practise safely and competently, and that any restrictions are targeted and proportionate. It is pleased that the Bill supports this approach and that it is underpinned by the need for public confidence that professionals are appropriately qualified. The SRA says it is essential that regulators can set the standards and make autonomous and independent decisions. This is key for it as an organisation exercising statutory regulatory functions in the public interest. Do the Government agree?

The UK is hugely fortunate to have the finest professional services in the world. They are a jewel in our crown, and I hope that the Bill does everything to strengthen their reputation, of which we are very proud.

14:39
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister. I declare an interest as a member of the GMC board, although I will be speaking in a personal capacity on the Bill. I welcome my noble friend Lady Blake to the Front Bench and congratulate her on an excellent opening speech.

There are three points that I want to make about the Bill. First, I want to ask the Minister about its core purpose. We have been told that the Bill

“creates a new framework for the recognition of professional qualifications and experience gained overseas and takes steps to reform regulators’ practice. It will revoke and replace the interim system for professional qualifications that derives from the UK’s membership of the EU.”

We have also been told that the Bill

“is part of the Government’s plans to exercise the UK’s new regulatory flexibility”.

What is less clear is how is it to be done. We are in the dark, as my noble friend Lady Blake said.

The Minister also said that we need to remove outdated legislation. Is it the Government’s intention to streamline the approval process for professional qualifications? How does this fit with immigration law and the remit of the Home Office? The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, made some very interesting points about this and the perversity of Her Majesty’s Government’s position in relation to skill shortages.

The Bill aims to ensure the safety of service provision, provide consumer confidence and help maintain professional standards, but if they are to be maintained in the post-EU world is there a trade-off between these different objectives? In the closing remarks of his introduction to the Bill, the Minister referred to the determination of the Government to allow the autonomy of regulators to continue. That is very welcome, but how does that stand beside the Government’s wish to reform regulators’ practice? Will the Minister clear up that point?

My second point concerns the use of secondary legislation in the Bill. This is a very small Bill of 14 pages and 19 clauses, and it is littered with regulation-making powers. The core of the Bill is contained in Clauses 1 3, 4, 5 and 6, which relate to the “Power to provide for individuals to be treated as having UK qualifications”, the “Implementation of international recognition agreements”, the “Authorisation to enter into regulator recognition agreements” and the “Revocation of general EU system of recognition of overseas qualifications”. All these clauses are subject to a series of regulation-making powers. Then there is Clause 13, which is a Henry VIII clause par excellence. It essentially gives Ministers power to modify through regulations any piece of primary legislation. This has not been justified by the Government. All we have been told is that it is necessary because

“Changes would need to be integrated into the existing legislative scheme for given profession because a single approach covering all affected professions would not be ‘practicable’.”


That is not good enough.

I refer the Minister to the recent report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which during the course of the past year has become increasingly concerned about the growing tendency of the Government to introduce skeleton Bills in which broad delegated powers are sought in lieu of policy detail. As a result, in September, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee wrote to Michael Gove and Mr Rees-Mogg raising their concerns. The committees said that, even taking into account the exceptional circumstances of withdrawal from the EU and the pandemic,

“the bills which have been introduced into Parliament in response to them have been extraordinary in terms of the extent to which they have permitted a shift of power from the legislature to the executive. … It is a constitutionally fundamental issue, not only in terms of the relationship between Parliament and the executive but also more widely in terms of the relationship of trust between government and the public at large. Without substantive provision on the face of the Bill, Parliament is being asked to pass legislation without knowing how the powers conferred may be exercised by ministers and so without knowing what impact the legislation may have on members of the public affected by it.”

Mr Rees-Mogg acknowledged that, “as these are exceptional times”, such Bills,

“do not necessarily provide a model example of how Parliament would like to see legislation brought forward”

and that

“Bills with substantial powers, though sometimes essential, should not be a tool to cover imperfect policy development.”

The implication of the use of skeleton legislation is that the instruments made under it may contain substantial policy changes which would be more appropriately subject to the greater scrutiny afforded to primary legislation.

Reflecting the conclusions of its correspondence with Mr Rees-Mogg, the scrutiny committee urged the Government

“ ‘to bring forward bills that contain clear policy intention instead of broad delegated powers’ and to ensure that ‘Departments do not use the exceptional powers given to them by Parliament as an expedient in the context of the pandemic as a cloak for effecting longer term, post-pandemic changes which would more properly be included in primary legislation.’ ”

Quite. It will be interesting to see what the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has to say about the Bill when it reports shortly. In advance of its forthcoming report, I suggest to the Minister that either the Government flesh out the policy details in the Bill or the case for a sunset clause becomes very clear. I support my noble friend Lady Blake’s argument for draft statutory instruments to be published before Report.

I now turn to my third point, which is of specific concern to the GMC and other health regulators. Clause 1 gives power to the appropriate national authority—in this case, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care—to draft regulations and introduce a process that would require the GMC and other regulators to assess whether someone has a particular overseas qualification that is “substantially the same” as a UK qualification. In the case of the GMC, a person so deemed would then be eligible to practise as a doctor in the UK. This is because the GMC does not require those with UK qualifications to do anything further to demonstrate that they have the necessary knowledge and skills for registration. This could give automatic entitlement to practise to international medical graduates on the same basis as UK graduates.

Currently, the GMC has a very rigorous process for assessing whether international medical graduates are safe and fit to practise in the UK. Under this Bill, that rigorous assessment could be completely lost. It would be very difficult for an agency such as the GMC, given that it has more than 10,000 international medical graduates applying for registration each year, and it would be impossible to assess the number of qualifications from countries as diverse as India, Pakistan, Nigeria, UAE et cetera and their many medical schools. This could also affect postgraduate qualifications and the potential for those qualifications to be captured by the Bill and subsequent regulations. There is concern that the Bill as drafted could force health professional regulators to accept professionals into UK practice in a way that compromises patient safety and could have an impact on workforce supply by requiring them formally to assess thousands of qualifications in detail in order to allow professionals to practise in the UK.

The Minister said the Bill does not restrict the autonomy of regulators, although, as I have already pointed out, in the documentation accompanying the Bill the Government say it

“takes steps to reform regulators’ practices”.

We need to know what exactly the Government mean when they say that the autonomy of regulators will not be impacted. Today, the Minister said he would table an amendment before Committee to deal with this. That is welcome and I look forward to seeing that amendment, but I hope that the Minister will be able to answer on some of the more substantive issues in relation to the Bill.

14:49
Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank the Minister and the Bill team for their briefings. I recognise that this Bill is needed in the light of our leaving the EU and the arrangements made for professional bodies within that, but parts of the Bill are still a bit of a mystery. After listening to previous speakers, I am glad I am not the only one who feels that. Doubtless the scales will fall from our eyes as we progress.

I am chary of the assistance centre and wonder how welcome it will be and how relevant the additional duties, so I look forward to more briefings from the professional bodies affected by the Bill. It was most helpful to have the list of those within the Bill’s remit, and I note that those with royal charters are outside that remit. Royal charters are powerful barriers against interference, including from Governments, but I ask how useful this Bill is if so many prestigious professional bodies are not within its remit. I have a feeling that the august institution of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, is outside the Bill’s remit, and it may be easier to be enthusiastic about a Bill if you are not directly affected by it.

I remind the House of my interests as a vice-president of City & Guilds, an organisation for which I worked for some 20 years. Nearly all that time was spent running the senior awards department, set up in 1990 to look after the top level of vocational awards. Now renamed the Professional Recognition Awards, they are recognised by Ofqual and attract funding.

Part of my remit was to persuade universities and professional bodies that those who had reached our high work-based standards also had the knowledge and skills for entry to university programmes or professional membership. The Minister’s list named 160 professional bodies. I had a very small team, so this was something of a herculean task, even without the universities, which in those days were loath to consider anything not profoundly academic. Vocational degrees had not really been invented and, although many professional bodies insisted on an academic degree for membership, by and large universities did not reciprocate by recognising professional expertise for their programmes.

I naively thought that if I could convince the Engineering Council, all the engineering institutes would immediately fall into line; I was very rapidly disabused. The civils, mechanicals, electricals and all the many other engineering bodies each fiercely upheld their autonomy. Of course, many of them were royal charter bodies, which would make them outside the powers of this Bill.

My brush with professional bodies, royal charters and limited entry qualifications was as nothing compared with an EU project called LangCred, to which I was rapidly appointed chairman. The aim was to compile a directory of all work-based qualifications across the countries of the EU, so that qualifications obtained in one country could be readily matched to similar-level qualifications in another. Again, the team was pitifully small: two people from most contributing countries and one delegate from smaller ones. Our remit was to cover from level 1 upwards. From memory, I think our highest level was 9. Across all work disciplines, we certainly covered the most senior professional and managerial roles. If I tell noble Lords that even after two generous tranches of EU money, we failed to produce this comprehensive directory, I do not think they will be surprised. This work was later taken up as mainstream EU work, with rather more resources, and was rather more of a success than our minimal team could achieve.

As chairman of LangCred I had the distinction of being the very first person to wind up a European economic interest group, which was not exactly the highlight of my career but an interesting experience none the less. When the Bill talks cheerily about overseas qualifications, I am taken back to those happy European days. I joined LangCred a year into the programme and, at the first meeting I attended, the two German delegates arrived, declared that they would continue to attend as observers but let us all know that Germany would never recognise qualifications not awarded by Germany. European harmony was alive and well even when we were members of the EU, and I can imagine only that it will not have improved since Brexit.

It rapidly became obvious that however professionally proficient someone was, without a comparable language proficiency their expertise would be less than welcome or useful. For an engineer, financier or caterer to work in Portugal or Poland, knowledge of the professional language, let alone the social language, would be essential. As the Minister said, they could not work and provide skills overseas if they could not communicate.

Unless I have missed it, nowhere in any of the literature we have been sent is there a reference to languages, not even to the need for good English to practise in the UK. Putting on my linguist’s hat, it is highly regrettable that the study of modern foreign languages at schools and colleges has been allowed to diminish in the way it has. Now that we have left the EU, the other European countries no longer have to pander to our insistence on English as the universal language, so it is more important than ever that we can converse in the languages of our former colleagues. Perhaps this Bill could be another peg on which to hang the vital importance of modern foreign languages. Can the Minister say what thought has been given to language proficiency in discussing the overseas parts of this Bill, or indeed the importance of good English for those from overseas who wish to work in the UK?

I look forward to the continued scrutiny of the Bill. I can hope only that our professionals will be able to continue their high standards and be joined by those from other countries with equally high standards, just so long as we can all agree on what those standards are and can understand the languages we speak. I can feel some amendments coming on in Committee, but meanwhile I hope this Bill will become increasingly clear as discussions progress.

14:55
Lord Ribeiro Portrait Lord Ribeiro (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to speak at Second Reading. I declare my interests as listed on the register.

We are dealing with more than 160 professions regulated by legislation and surely cannot accept a one-size-fits-all approach to these professions. The General Medical Council, mentioned previously by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was founded in 1858 and produced its first registration of doctors in 1859. We established processes for registering doctors 160 years ago, so the process for assessment and registration of doctors is now well established. For such organisations, unlike in other sectors, there are existing powers within legislation to do the majority of what this Bill seeks. To the medical profession and its regulators, given the long-standing history of overseas recognition and registration, this Bill seems unnecessary and risks cutting across these established processes. One might ask: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

The consultation on the Bill found evidence that, while the regulatory landscape can operate smoothly,

“there is considerable diversity of approaches and expectations, which can be difficult to navigate.”

The desire for enabling approaches to the recognition of professional qualifications that meet the needs of all parts of the UK should not be used as a means to achieve uniformity in the regulation of professional bodies. Medicine requires strict regulations and standards, because patients’ lives may be at risk without them. Any dilution in standards, in a mistaken attempt to achieve uniformity, may have unintended consequences.

For this reason, the GMC—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, noted—and other medical bodies have concerns about Clause 1(4), which could force health profession regulators to accept professionals into the UK to practise, in a way that compromises patient safety. It also has implications for the workforce we need, as it would require medical regulators to assess thousands of applications to allow medical professionals to practise in the UK. This seems unnecessary, given the well-established methods we currently have through the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board, which the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, mentioned in her speech.

PLAB, as we know it, is taken in two parts. Part 1 is a multiple-choice examination with 180 single best answers, and it lasts for three hours. Part 2 consists of an objective structured clinical examination, OSCE. While part 1 may be taken in overseas centres, part 2 is undertaken in the UK and consists of 18 clinical stations, each lasting eight minutes, with two minutes of reading time added. This is a rigorous assessment and is set at the level of competence of a foundation year 2 doctor, so why is there a need for an assistance centre? Do the Government not trust the GMC to undertake this task, given its long track record, which I have detailed? Why is there a need for another layer of bureaucracy between the regulator and the applicant?

I am also concerned by the use of “substantially the same” in Clause 1(2)(b). Clause 1(1) gives international professionals an entitlement to practise on the basis of their overseas qualifications or experience that are “substantially the same” as or equivalent to UK qualifications or experience. In the interest of patient safety, the GMC quite rightly believes it has the obligation to assure itself that professionals seeking registration have the knowledge, skills, and experience to practise safely in the UK. So I ask: is “substantially” 95%, 85% or 75% of the same knowledge and skills in order to be “substantially the same standard”? How is this standard to be tested? What guarantees can be given that this equates to the standards required to practise in the UK at the present time?

For example, in my discipline of surgery, patients are potentially at risk every time they undergo a surgical operation. As president of the Confidential Reporting System in Surgery, CORESS, I see reports of near-misses in surgery in the UK by professionals trained in the UK. This may be more apparent in locum doctors who may be unfamiliar with equipment or hospital practices and occasionally may misinterpret the labelling on packages. Language matters, and merely accepting qualifications is no guarantee that the practitioner has the language skills to work in the UK.

What assurances can the Minister give that these professional standards will be maintained? We do not accept an ill-defined criterion of “substantially the same”. The GMC believes, and I agree, that the wording of Clause 1(2) could result in secondary legislation that would prevent the GMC from interpreting qualifications or experience in a way that enables it to assess knowledge and skills through robust written and clinical tests like the PLAB I described earlier.

Although this may not be the intention of the Bill, it is important to spell this out clearly and make explicit provision in the Bill that regulators may put processes in place to determine appropriate knowledge and skills over and above the qualification as a necessary step towards registration. Without these assurances, the implications for patient safety are great. Coupled with the inevitable workforce shortages after leaving the EU, this could lead to a lowering of standards to fulfil the workforce needs.

My questions for the Minister are these: first, can the Government insert an explicit provision in Clause (1)(2) of the Bill that regulators are able to determine appropriate knowledge, skills and experience in any way they see fit? Secondly, regarding the use of “substantially the same” as UK qualifications or experiences, can the Government insert a provision into Clause (1)(2) of the Bill to clarify that the nature of an assessment of an international qualification is to be determined by each regulator and does not supersede the assessment of knowledge, skills and experience?

This Bill covers over 160 professions. It is important that the healthcare professions are protected from any unintended consequences. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that healthcare professional regulators with well-established routes to their registers will not have these compromised by the provisions of this Bill? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s replies.

15:03
Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, and my remarks will chime closely with his. I speak as a veterinary surgeon and my remarks will apply to the regulation of and qualifications for veterinary medicine and practice, which is regulated by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. I declare my interest as a fellow and former president of that college. I emphasise that I am speaking in a personal context. I would sum up the response of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to this Bill as “concerned curiosity”. As one official at the college said to me, the Bill appears to be “a solution in search of a problem”.

The RCVS currently has full powers to enter into mutual recognition agreements, which it has done with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. For countries with acceptable and comparable accreditation systems, it can accept graduates from vet schools which have satisfied those accreditation processes, such as certain vet schools in the USA and some EU countries. Finally, it has a process for all other graduates from any school in any country in the world, who must take and pass the royal college’s own exams.

Collectively, this ensures a level of competence in the individuals allowed to register as MRCVS and hence practise in the UK. Above all, it gives the public an assurance of professional competence and it ensures that our animals can be treated only by those who have satisfied the RCVS standards, which apply, of course, to those who graduate from the accredited UK vet schools. All of this means that this Bill adds nothing to the powers and capabilities that already exist for the veterinary profession. I realise that all regulators do not have the same powers, but, if not, why not just give all regulators such powers and leave it at that?

An underlying concern is the ability conferred on government by this Bill in Clause 3 to

“implement international agreements … that the UK strikes … so far as they relate to the recognition of professional qualifications.”

I confess I am not quite sure what that really means. But it is not unreasonable to fear that government pressure, as a result of commitments they make in a desire to achieve FTAs, will pressure regulators to relax standards.

In agreeing FTAs, the Minister is aware of concerns about relaxing standards regarding, for example, animal welfare on the importation of products of animal origin, or about relaxing environmental standards relating to the production of all manner of products. It is not unreasonable to ask if this is the thin end of the wedge to relax the standards of competence that we currently expect from professional personnel. This pressure will undoubtedly be exacerbated in professions where we have skill shortages, as are specifically included in this Bill. The vet profession is one such profession.

If we need more vets or more of any other profession, we should ask why we cannot produce more to our standards rather than trying to make up the numbers by imports—the standards of which it is, practically and realistically, impossible to assess without a great cost. How can a body like the RCVS, which charges a very modest retention fee to current members of £364 per year, possibly accredit or ensure appropriate in-country accreditation of, for instance, the 24 vets schools in Brazil, the 52 in India or the 20 in Mexico?

The reason we have a shortage of vets is not a lack of student applications but is, to a large extent, due to a shortfall in the recovery of the full cost of veterinary education. The income to vet schools comprises the maximum allowable student fee plus the government grant to universities for band A clinical subjects, which include medicine, dentistry and veterinary science, and is £10,990 per year for 2021-22. For clinical veterinary education, virtually all the clinical training—the hospitals, clinics and associated equipment and many of the clinical teaching staff—has to be provided from this total income. This is in marked contrast to clinical medical training, where there is a very substantial subsidy through the NHS budget.

The reality is that the real cost of the education of vet students, which has been estimated at around £27,000 per year per student, substantially exceeds the band A allocation plus the maximum student fee. The difference is about £7,000 per student per year. With a relatively modest uplift in band A grants for vet students, for what is in a national context a moderate number of students—currently about 1,000 graduates per year, this problem could be addressed. The schools could expand the intake of UK entrants to vet schools who would contribute as graduates to the UK market.

In conclusion, to return to my major concern in this Bill—namely that, as a result of trade negotiations involving international recognition agreements, regulators will be pressurised into relaxing professional standards—why is Clause 3 necessary? Will the Bill in effect debar a regulator, such as the RCBS, from requiring certain applicants where no regulator recognition agreement has been agreed, to sit that UK regulator’s own examination or assessment procedures?

15:10
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, the Minister explained that the Bill applies only to professions regulated by law. At his helpful briefing meeting last week, he undertook to let me have a list of the bodies covered by the Bill as I found it a bit difficult to work out what was covered and what was not. I am most grateful that this list arrived over the weekend—at 5.30 pm on Sunday afternoon, to be precise, which demonstrates real commitment by the Bill team.

I have a particular interest in whether the Bill applies to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, of which I am a non-practising member. It is a body governed by royal charter and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, might like to know that it is not on the Minister’s list. Many chartered accountants act as auditors and the ICAEW is a recognised professional body and a recognised supervisory body for those members who wish to practise as auditors. The Financial Reporting Council, which is on the Minister’s list, oversees the regulation of auditors rather than carrying it out itself. I believe a similar approach applies to insolvency practitioners. Hence the Bill is rather complicated in its scope, certainly for chartered accountants and, I imagine, for other professions as well.

To turn the Bill itself, there is one very good thing in it, one rather dodgy thing and some other things which I am on the whole puzzled about. The best things about the Bill are Clauses 5 and 6. As my noble friend explained, these clauses allow us to remove some more EU-retained law from our statute book and thereby remove the obligation to recognise EEA and Swiss professional qualifications. I support any legislation which allows us to frame our laws in a way which suits the UK. Even though I support Clauses 5 and 6, however, I am not convinced that the Henry VIII powers are accompanied by sufficient parliamentary oversight. The EU’s distinction between primary and secondary legislation is not necessarily a good guide to determining how our Parliament should be involved. This concern applies throughout the Bill and not just to Clauses 5 and 6. I believe we are still waiting for the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and I shall reserve final judgment until I see it.

The dodgy bit of the Bill is Clause 3, which allows the Government to override existing approaches and procedures for the recognition of non-UK qualifications if they have been covered in a trade treaty. This is explicitly presented in the Government’s policy paper as strengthening the UK’s ability to negotiate international trade treaties. It is some time since I was president of the ICAEW, but the recognition of overseas qualifications was a thorny issue then and I expect it still is. In addition, the landscape has changed and become more complicated since my day, with the arrival of the FRC to oversee the regulation of auditors.

Many countries have chartered accountancy qualifications which simply do not match the UK’s. Sometimes that is due to the technical coverage of the qualifications, at other times to the areas of practical experience and ethical training, and sometimes to all three. The Bill must not try to ignore that fact. Let us suppose that our enthusiastic and energetic Secretary of State for International Trade negotiated a trade treaty with one of those countries for which recognition had not been granted already in the UK. That might be in relation to chartered accountancy in general or for audit purposes. Clause 3 might allow the Government to tell the ICAEW or the FRC to recognise those qualifications, even if they would not be prepared to do so themselves because of the factors I mentioned. Clause 3 does not seem limited to telling the regulator of a regulated profession what to do; it seems capable of applying to both the ICAEW, which is not on the list, and the FRC, which is. This would drive a coach and horses through the ability of professions to guard the standards and quality of their qualifications, and I do not think that this concern will be confined to chartered accountants or auditors; I expect other professions will have similar issues.

My noble friend may say that we can rely on the CRaG processes to stop the Government doing stupid things in trade agreements, but he will know that CRaG is basically a rubber-stamping process, with only the blunderbuss of a weapon of the other place refusing to approve a whole agreement. Alternatively, either House might use the nuclear weapon of refusing to agree any regulations made under Clause 3. In the context of a major trade treaty, these are wholly unsatisfactory safeguards and unlikely to protect UK professions. That is why we need to look again at the power in Clause 3.

I shall briefly cover three puzzling areas. First, I am far from convinced that the new assistance centre set up by Clause 7, which is a reincarnation of an EU requirement, is necessary or that the costs are justified. The costs are borne by the taxpayer and we need to see a stronger case made for it than has appeared in the documents so far. Secondly, Clause 8 requires the regulator of regulated professions to publish a load of information. Not all professions are covered by the Bill, so it could create an unbalanced universe, with some but not all professions needing to comply. It also seems quite onerous on those bodies, such as the FRC, which oversee regulation but do not themselves do the detailed regulation. Why should the FRC gather and publish all the information already available at the ICAEW? That will serve only to increase costs. I have yet to see any explanation for the need for this clause. Are there any real concerns that regulated professions hide information about how to access membership? Who, if anyone, is policing this and what are the penalties for non-compliance? More profoundly, is this a solution in search of a problem, to which the noble Lord, Lord Trees, referred in the context of the veterinary profession?

Lastly, Clause 9 covers the exchange of information by regulators and seems a helpful provision underpinning the UK’s internal market in services, but I ask the Minister to reflect on whether its scope—largely excluding the chartered professions—makes it fit for purpose. In my specific example of the FRC and the ICAEW, it would seem largely ineffective, since the FRC will not hold data relating to individuals. A similar criticism appears to apply to Clause 10 as well.

I would like to be enthusiastic about the Bill, but I fear that it is creating a new division between professions covered by the Bill and those which are not. I also dislike its focus on a big government solution to a series of relatively minor problems in a few professions, which is all that the call for evidence actually revealed. On that basis, it is not a very Conservative Bill, and encouraging the Benches opposite to view it in that light may be the best help that I can give my noble friend in getting the Bill through.

15:19
Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as chancellor of Cardiff University. Like other universities, Cardiff trains and educates a large number of the professionals to whom this Bill applies. I also have an interest in the subject in general, having spent decades of my professional life working within further education and trying to understand international qualifications and advise students on that basis.

I recognise the need for this Bill in the new post-Brexit situation in which we find ourselves, but I join in the general thumbs-down that speakers so far have given it, because I have some serious concerns and specific questions about how the system will operate and the basis of government policy. It is a deceptively slim Bill—which means, of course, that it is simply a shell and an avalanche of regulations will follow in due course. The circumstances differ considerably from one profession to another and, indeed, across the four nations of the UK, so it is essential that, when these regulations come to us, they are subject to the full and automatic scrutiny of this House specifically to allow practitioners in each of the professions to have their concerns heard in this place.

The Government’s policy is deceptively simple too: to allow and encourage regulators to assess qualifications available in other countries, to establish equivalence, to recognise those qualifications and, hence, to address shortages. In practice, those shortages have got decidedly worse in many professions because EU citizens have gone home in considerable numbers. There is concern that the Government’s starting point in this process is to dismantle the existing legislation based on the EU system of equivalence.

In most matters, across the board, the UK has subsumed EU law into UK law, with a view to gradual divergence as and when we feel we need it. For professional qualifications, however, this is not to be. The Government are instead taking the clean slate approach, apparently because of the apparent preference given to EU citizens and EEA nationals if we keep the current basis. We are putting ourselves at a huge disadvantage in this regard. There will be a gap, because the process is very lengthy, as the EU discovered when it set out on it. There will be a huge gap when we are trying to fill vacancies in Britain; and, of course, we want our professionals and companies to be able to go and work in the maximum possible number of countries in the world. So, why we are pulling out the rug from under the current system, I am not clear.

Because the Bill is a shell, it gives no glimpse into the huge complexity of this issue. Many noble Lords sitting here will be too young to be aware of the years of tortuous negotiation that lay behind the EU system. My noble friend Lady Garden gave us a glimpse into it. The single market, we thought, would open up the gates and people would be able to go freely from one country to another. It took years to sort it out. As I said, I was a lecturer in further education at the time. I taught a subject called European business and foolishly set my students a case study to follow—the development of the single market in relation to qualifications. It went way beyond the available timescale—and, indeed, their concentration spans.

Many noble Lords will also be unaware of the lack of confidence in foreign qualifications that existed before the EU system was established. Such lack of confidence upsets public trust in professions. Why is it all so complex? You start with the building blocks. For example, you might have a BSc in biology, but one BSc in biology is very different from another, and the whole approach to qualifications is different in some other countries. In the UK we emphasise underpinning skills and knowledge, whereas in Germany, for example, it is all task-centred. That makes equivalence difficult to evaluate.

The Bill applies to 60 regulators and 150 professions, but not all regulators are equal. They are not all equally well resourced or experienced in what they have to do. I am concerned about the ability of some of them to withstand government pressure to establish equivalence in order to follow on from a trade deal. In the EU, the organisation that delights in the name of CEDEFOP—the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training—brings together policy-makers, employers, trade unions, training institutions, trainers and learners. This Bill does not do that; it takes an ad hoc, piecemeal approach. Admittedly, BEIS is working on a common framework, but there is also a role here for the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, and complex issues may emerge from that.

So, what is driving all this? The Government want to address shortages but there is also specific mention of government direction to regulators as a result of trade deals; I share other noble Lords’ concerns about this. I also have real concerns that trade deals could force the recognition of equivalence from the top down where, in reality, that equivalence does not exist. There are real dangers in reciprocity. I am concerned that recognition is to be driven specifically by shortages. What about individuals applying to work in the UK who need their qualifications to be recognised? Perhaps a university wishes to employ an eminent medical practitioner from a country where the qualifications have not yet been recognised. How will individuals be dealt with?

I am also very concerned about the total lack of reference to higher education institutions. They are the suppliers of so much of the training and are, therefore, essential partners, producing teachers, doctors, architects, social workers and so on. Where is the co-ordination to make sure that regulators’ decisions are made on a firm ground of knowledge about the background of qualifications that people have in their field? What requirements will there be to co-ordinate, and how will this ad hoc approach ensure that that co-ordination takes place? Have higher education institutions even been consulted on this? I share concerns about the lack of reference to English language. Excellent professional skills do not necessarily mean excellent English skills. Universities require a certain level of English. That is essential for trust. How will that be dealt with?

I emphasise that this is a dynamic process. Qualifications change over time, and they do so very rapidly in the modern world. What is equivalent this year may not be next year. We have a topdown approach, driven by shortages and government trade deals. How will they recognise changes in the actual qualifications?

The devolved Administrations have a great deal of power in this field and in the large majority of professions. In many cases, they have their own regulators, with distinctly different requirements. Clearly, they have to be part of this and not subject to last-minute requests for legislative consent Motions—that will not work. Given that this is driven by UK Government trade deals, how will they be brought into a true partnership on this issue and not just consulted as an afterthought?

Finally, a shortage in one country is not necessarily a shortage in another. This will require the Government to look across borders and recognise the needs of different countries. At the same time, if you come to the UK as an immigrant, your profession may not be recognised.

The Bill will challenge us and certainly the Government, and it will establish issues and problems for the future. I recognise the need for it, but the Government have probably underestimated the problems and challenges that they face.

15:31
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who expertly outlined the complexity contained within this apparently simple Bill.

It is also a pleasure to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds, who is not currently in her place, to her new role. I share the concerns that she expressed about the situation of EEA and Swiss citizens who are already here and practising their professions: they are established and their skills and experience are proven, and we need to ensure that they are able to continue without stress, worry or fear. Some of the experiences that we are already seeing with the settled status scheme, at borders in particular, is a great cause for concern.

I share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and many others about the risk of professional bodies coming under pressure to tie trade deals together with recognition. I particularly note the dangers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, of that whole approach to, and model of, reciprocity.

While sharing many of the concerns that noble Lords have expressed about the Bill, I welcome the fact that it gives us a chance to really think about professional skills and how this whole area of issues relates to immigration, education and our skills agenda. We can learn and think about three things in this debate. First, this is a chance to assess where we are with Brexit. Secondly, this is a chance to debate that intersection between immigration policy, professional recognition and overseas development assistance, which I will come back to. Thirdly, we need to think about the nature of professions in a fast-changing world. There was a reference to one of our professional bodies dating back to the 1850s, and we have organisations that have been set up over many decades. Are our current structures and arrangements fit for the 21st century?

On the first point about the state of Brexit, the Bill is further reminder that it is not done; it has barely even started, in terms of dealing with the fallout. It is interesting that, as we debate, there is the woe of the laborious swapping of the EU-based CE markings for the post-Brexit British-based UKCA markings, involving the retesting of thousands of construction products, many of which the professionals that we are talking about will have to use. We have recently seen the Government acknowledge that they need to extend the period for that because of the complexity, which illustrates our current situation. That complexity has been well highlighted in this debate.

The Government outline how the Bill is intended to replace the EU approach with one that is focused on enabling professional bodies to make bilateral agreements with bodies from other countries. I was going to expand on this point, but the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, very successfully outlined the sheer complexity and volume of what we are talking about, so I will not go over that ground again.

We need to know what the Government mean when they talk about opening up global Britain to new trade opportunities in services. That is very much related to how we treat people wanting to come here, which is where immigration rights become particularly relevant. If we create barriers to people coming and providing services here—I am looking at immigration rather than qualifications—then those same barriers will be put up to our service providers when they go to other places. The concept of reciprocity can be very much employed against us if we are draconian in our approach.

We have rightly had a lot of discussion in your Lordships’ House, which I very much support, about the problems that musicians are experiencing in relation to operating within the EU. We should not forget that lots of these problems have been masked by the pandemic, and, as the pandemic becomes less of an issue, we hope, and travel opens up, a lot of these issues will become very much more evident.

I will pick up a few specific points and then come to a general discussion. I think I heard the Minister correctly when he talked about Clause 8 as a potential way of opening up professions and promoting skills development. This caused me to go back and have another look at Clause 8, because I had not really thought of it in those terms. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me on this point: putting a formal, technical publication on a website will not address our issues around the need for access to professional development, particularly for young people but for all people in the UK.

This is the first chance that I have had to mention an issue that ties with some that the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie, raised about professionals needing to work in the UK to confirm their qualifications, reach a certain level, and demonstrate that level. Visa changes in 2010 trapped students coming across for 415 STEM courses and 222 vocational, education and training courses. This meant that for immigration purposes, they were no longer classified as students but instead as workers. The case study that I know most about in this case concerns becoming a RIBA-qualified architect in the UK; students have to work in an approved practice for two years after they have completed their studies and then do a final exam. I have worked with students who were hit extraordinarily hard by that and who simply could not secure the immigration status and therefore a qualification they had paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for, in some cases. I will be asking the Minister whether the Government have really looked at that and how it will relate to the nature of the Bill. It is a complex area.

Another specific point is the relationship with the devolved Administrations. A government document states:

“We will not normally make regulations under these powers in devolved areas without the agreement of the relevant devolved authority.”


Some noble Lords will remember the wrestle that we had with the internal market Bill over the need to protect the independent regulation of teachers on these islands, in relation to the attempt to enforce automatic recognition. In Committee, the Government resisted any claim that there was an issue with that—and then, on Report, they acknowledged that there was a problem and brought in an amendment.

Given what happened with the internal market Bill, I have a direct question that I hope the Minister will be able to answer now: under what abnormal conditions would the Government be likely to impose on the devolved Administrations rules that they opposed?

Very briefly, I share the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and others about the extensive nature of the Henry VIII powers here. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred to the avalanche of regulations likely to result from this, and I had a picture flash in my head, as I expect many noble Lords did, of that Grand Committee Room in which so many of us have spent so many hours, either physically or virtually, over the last year or so. However, we must also acknowledge how thinly populated, whether physically or virtually, that Grand Committee very often is. We are looking at issues of great complexity and specialist knowledge. There was reference in Oral Questions to the number of Members of your Lordships’ House, but it seems we still do not have enough to fill the Grand Committee Room.

I come now to a couple of broader issues, which tie back to what we have now—the transitional arrangements, particularly those for teaching and nursing, and preferential treatment for Swiss and EEA citizens. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred to the way in which, over decades, relationships were established across the European Union when we were a member, through knowledge of courses and training systems in different countries. People coming from those countries are now a known quantity. I am particularly concerned about the pressure likely to be put on the professional bodies to deal with a global circumstance—to deal with that level of global complexity. I am particularly concerned, again, about the pressure that might be put on some professions. I am thinking here of the veterinary profession, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Trees. I know and hear reports about the difficulty in filling positions relating to meat inspection that require veterinary qualifications. These are very skilled and important jobs, crucial to public health. Are we going to see pressure to let people in with skills that we perhaps cannot quantify and do not know about, just because of the need to fill those?

I come now to the philosophical approach, which is where I perhaps most differ from most other noble Lords who have spoken. A lot of the discussion is about Britain’s competitive advantage—how we are better at this than anyone else and how we can sell this to the world. The thesis I would put to your Lordships’ House is that we have a complex, difficult world, with a climate emergency and huge public health dangers, in which what we need are a great many more professionals—trained people in every country on this planet, able to help the human race deal with the challenges we face. So I really want to challenge this approach of competitiveness—of competing with others. I ask the Government again, though perhaps not now, really to consider how we might use these changes being brought in to help professional bodies in other nations, particularly, perhaps, in the global south, to develop their own skills and be able to operate effectively in their own environments. That is in all our interests.

I come back to Covid—no one is safe until everybody is safe. We need good-quality professionals in every country in the world, and we have a gross shortage at the moment. That is perhaps of relevance to our position as chair of COP 26. In the earlier debate, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, talked about the importance of green finance, a fast-developing professional area in which we are likely to see new qualifications and new demands put on existing qualifications. How will the Bill contribute to and assist with all that?

What we need, really, is not an overarching policy that seeks to encourage a brain drain from other nations. We have to acknowledge that young people, and older people, often want to travel, to experience the world and learn from different countries and systems, so that they become better, more skilled professionals from that experience. I come back to immigration policy and taking approaches that do not just say, “We’ll try to nab the best from around the world and get them here, working for us”, but says, “We can take professionals of all different levels of experience and skill, perhaps giving them some experience here, and our professionals can go to other countries and gain experience”. That is a better way forward.

I come to my final two points. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that she had seen a list of what is covered. Will the Minister share that list with all the participants in this debate? It would be useful to all of us. My particular interest is the position of chartered environmentalist, which I do not believe will be covered but is a formal qualification organised by the Society for the Environment. We come back here to my issue about needing new skills, new professions and new ways of looking at the world, particularly looking at world systems thinking. I would like to see many more chartered accountants who are also chartered environmentalists. We need to see that kind of cross-fertilisation of ideas, and that requires movement. I was having a discussion about this and we were looking back, not just to our time in the EU but further back. Some of the most magnificent structures in the UK—some of our magnificent old churches and cathedrals—were of course often built by teams of masons who came from around Europe. If we think about environmental issues, the quality of our building, Passivhaus and better standards, those things need exchange of skills and knowledge.

Finally, I am very much looking forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, who will be speaking in a few slots’ time. He will raise this with far more detail and expertise than I can offer. We have heard a lot of talk about how good UK regulation is but, particularly in the financial sector, we have some very serious questions to ask when we look at the issue of financial scandal after financial scandal, which has been the reality of life in the City of London. Members of your Lordships’ House who took part in debates on the Financial Services Act will very much reflect on that. Is this Bill an opportunity to really think about how we can deal with professional qualifications, thinking about not just competence but also ethics and fitness to practise?

15:48
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I declare my interests as a registered nurse and the work outlined in the register that refers to my use of that qualification.

As the Minister explained, the Bill will create a new framework for the recognition of professional qualifications gained overseas and steps to reform regulatory practice in the UK. I acknowledge that the current system for professional regulation, derived from membership of the EU, requires revision and I support the concept that it is necessary to create a new framework that will apply globally, while also recognising many of the challenges that other noble Lords have outlined in relation to successfully achieving the outcome the Bill outlines. Government would be provided with a set of powers that enable agreements with regulators to recognise professional qualifications and to maintain an assessment centre, with which regulatory bodies must co-operate to provide advice and guidance to the public on standards for any profession. UK regulators would also be required to provide overseas regulators with reciprocal information regarding UK-qualified registrants, and to provide information on entry, exit and practice requirements for the professions they regulate, particularly, as other noble Lords have referred to, academic qualifications. Where devolved Administrations within the UK have separate regulators, reciprocal information will need to be supplied between the four countries.

There are 160 professions and more than 50 regulatory bodies that would be covered by the Bill. I intend to use nursing as an optic to illustrate the need to amend the Bill to ensure that public safety and fair terms of employment are maintained when the Bill is enacted.

The Bill is part of the Government’s plans to ensure that lack of information is not a barrier to entering and practising professions, of which nursing and midwifery are examples. However, just knowing what is expected and conducting a digital application against the published criteria for registration is not enough. To maintain public safety and deliver individualised, compassionate care, it is necessary to demonstrate practical competence in nursing skills and a full comprehension of the English language, including technical terms and mathematical concepts; for example, to estimate and safely deliver oral and injectable medication.

At the very minimum, the Bill needs to make explicit provision that regulators may put in place processes to measure competence to determine knowledge and skills over and above the stated qualification as an additional step to gain UK registration. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that such an approach will be required reciprocally by most countries. It certainly will be in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will support any such amendments so that the Bill safeguards patient protection and that only professionals who are safe and fit to practise are able to join UK health professional registers, including those for nursing and midwifery?

Finally, we know that there are many professions in the UK in which we have acute and long-term skills shortages, particularly in nursing. Clause 2(1) and (2) make provision for an “appropriate national authority” to speed up recognition of overseas qualification recognition where skills shortages occur—or at least this is my understanding; perhaps the Minister can clarify the situation. The Bill contains nine delegated powers and is being presented to the House prior to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House making a full assessment of its effects. Can the Minister confirm that time will be made for all relevant committees of this House to review the Bill before enactment to ensure that public safety is protected?

Globally, there is a severe shortage of nurses, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The UK needs to educate and retain UK-qualified nurses through excellent training at degree level and good terms of employment. To deliver health and social care the UK must not return to an overreliance on recruiting overseas nurses but welcome those who wish to come and register in the UK and enable our own nurses to have reciprocal opportunities to work in other countries. I remain very uncomfortable that we are recruiting nurses from India with the state of the pandemic there at the moment.

The recruitment of nurses and other health professionals from lower- and middle-income countries, where terms of employment are often poor, must not result in artificially low terms of employment for UK health professionals. Can the Minister assure the House that this is not a hidden intention within the Bill and that ongoing monitoring of terms of employment will be conducted by the Government to ensure that the Bill does not have that unintended consequence?

15:53
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock. I declare my interests as set out in the register. I thank my noble friend Lord Grimstone for setting out the principles of the Bill so clearly. At its most simple and straightforward, its purpose is clear: to provide for recognition of qualifications from around the world, which will help to ensure that the United Kingdom has the qualifications and the staff that it needs.

Previously, of course, reciprocal recognition of professional qualifications was based on the European Union (Recognition of Professional Qualifications) Regulations 2015. As others have said, outside the EU a new system is clearly required, and I support that. We adopted an interim system providing recognition for professionals from the EU, Swiss and EFTA states but this was not reciprocated, and we need a broader base to provide for recognition of individuals from other countries. I certainly support that, provided there is no dilution of professional standards.

I wish to highlight several areas at this stage; in concluding the debate my noble friend may be able to comment on some of them, to which other noble Lords have also referred.

The first refers to the regulation-making powers and delegated powers—the Henry VIII clauses; term them what you will. Obviously, the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee is awaited; reference was made to this by my noble friend Lady Noakes. I understand the Government’s approach but obviously there is a very real concern about extensive delegated powers. Can my noble friend comment on when we can expect the report so that we can use this in debating the Bill as it goes through Committee and beyond? Clearly, the sooner, the better.

A second area, relating to Clause 3, has also been referred to by many noble Lords in the debate. The possibility of the overriding of provisions in the context of international trade is bound to cause concern. Of course, trade is important but it should not trump professional standards. There is also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned, a devolved dimension here. How will we ensure that the devolved Administrations are brought in here with regard to trade matters as well as professional standards? Once again, can my noble friend comment on this and give some indication of the Government’s approach?

More generally, on the issue of the devolved authorities, I can well understand, and indeed approve of, the accommodation of the different nations of the United Kingdom, where there of course is separate consideration of professional standards and qualifications. This will therefore mean separate provisions for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as indeed the Bill made makes clear. Can my noble friend update the House on the position on the legislative consent Motions? I think the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made reference to that. It is anticipated that there will be legislative consent Motions from the devolved Administrations. I assume that there will be no difficulty with these, but perhaps my noble friend could give us a taster as to what progress has been made in this area. Can he also update us on the position on common frameworks to co-ordinate work on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications with the devolved Administrations? Clearly, that is an important area.

Finally, I refer to the assistance centre created under Clause 7, providing assistance and advice to individuals who seek to practise a regulated provision in the United Kingdom. It seems that the Government regard this as central. Can my noble friend give us some indication of exactly how this will operate: what the costs and benefits are, and so on? Reading about it, I do not quite see how it fits into the scheme of providing that necessary advice and assistance. This has been referred to by other noble Lords in the debate.

As I say, I recognise the importance of the Bill and can quite see the need for it in the present situation. I have concerns—apparently, like other noble Lords—about some areas of the Bill. I look forward to the Bill proceeding and being subject to the detailed scrutiny that will no doubt follow in Committee and beyond.

15:59
Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure and honour to join this debate, and I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for raising the issues that she has.

We are all conditioned to place trust in professionals; after all, no one would willingly let an unqualified surgeon operate on them. However, there is a darker side to professional qualifications and trade in professional services, whether at home or abroad, and the mono- chromatic approach of the Bill pays little attention to that.

Professionally qualified bankers have crashed banks and the economy and are implicated in HBOS, RBS and other frauds. Professionally qualified accountants and lawyers are often the masterminds behind money laundering scams and ingenious tax avoidance schemes that plunder the public purse and condemn millions to go without decent healthcare, housing, education, pensions and social infrastructure. Professionally qualified insolvency practitioners unnecessarily prolong insolvencies to collect mega fees. Too many auditing firms, often licensed by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, are complicit in accounting scandals and tax avoidance. On a number of occasions, the courts have concluded that the tax avoidance schemes marketed by accounting firms are unlawful. Despite that, not a single accounting firm whose scheme has been judged to be unlawful has actually been disciplined by the ICAEW, and that is wrong. So my question is this: through this Bill, what will we actually be exporting and importing through mutual recognition of professional qualifications and work experiences?

The faith in professional qualification and regulation is double-edged; it also blocks the emergence of new professions. The Bill does not establish any universal norms or benchmarks for professional education—for example, the principle that professional qualifications must prioritise public welfare and not promote anti-social practices.

Consider the case of accounting and wealth creation. We all know wealth creation requires co-operation among a variety of stakeholders. Shareholders provide finance and get a return in the form of dividends. Employees provide brains and brawn and get a return in the form of wages and salaries. Society provides education, healthcare, security and a legal system, and gets a return in the form of taxes. However, in professional accounting education, payment of wages and taxes is considered a cost, while payment to finance capital in the form of dividend is considered a reward. The self-serving logic is that efficiency depends on cutting costs, so armies of auditing firms and accountants working in those firms are available to squeeze labour, cut wages and design tax-dodging schemes. No professional is ever hired to advise on how to reduce return-to-finance capital.

Alternatives to conventional accounting logics are available but never find their way on to the professional accounting education syllabus adopted by the ICAEW and other bodies. They continue to inculcate individuals into class warfare. This Bill does not check the worst of professional qualifications by establishing principles of good professional education.

I would welcome some clarity from the Minister about Clause 10, which is headed

“Duty of regulator to provide information to overseas regulator”,


and its link with broader regulatory issues which inevitably arise from reliance placed on professionals. Consider the case of Barings Bank, which collapsed in February 1995. Its audits were conducted by Coopers & Lybrand and Deloitte in the UK and in Singapore. The accounting qualifications of some of the Singapore staff were recognised in the UK and enabled them to become members of the UK bodies. However, this did not give the then banking regulator, the Bank of England, access to that staff and the audit firm’s working papers in Singapore. Paragraphs 15 and 153 of the Bank of England’s 1995 report titled Report of the Board of Banking Supervision Inquiry into the Circumstances of the Collapse of Barings said:

“We have not been permitted access to C&L Singapore’s work papers relating to the 1994 audit of BFS [Baring Futures (Singapore) Pte Limited] or had the opportunity to interview their personnel. C&L Singapore has declined our request for access, stating that its obligation to respect its client confidentiality prevents it assisting us … We have not been permitted either access to the working papers of D&T or the opportunity to interview any of their personnel who performed the audit. We do not know what records and explanations were provided by BFS personnel to them”.


I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about the interaction between mutual recognition of qualifications and regulatory co-operation. Would a foreign national enjoying membership of a UK professional body but not resident in the UK be required to co-operate with the Financial Conduct Authority or equivalent? Under reciprocal arrangements, UK citizens would be required to co-operate with foreign regulators.

The Bill applies to 160 professions that are regulated by legislation and a network of more than 50 regulators. This multiplicity of regulators results in duplication, waste and obfuscation. For example, we have four professional accountancy bodies, known as the recognised supervisory bodies, or RSBs, dealing with external auditing. They are overseen by the Financial Reporting Council, soon to become the audit, reporting and governance authority or ARGA. However, there are five recognised qualifying bodies, the qualifications of which are recognised for auditing purposes. In addition, there are four recognised professional bodies, RPBs, dealing with around 1,300 insolvency practitioners. The Bill does not streamline the regulatory maze and says nothing about the autonomy or powers of various regulators. If a qualification is recognised by just one recognised supervisory body or recognised professional body, would others be forced to do the same? Is there a pecking order of the professional bodies? I strongly urge the Government to streamline the regulatory arrangements and eliminate the powers of all the accountancy bodies and transfer them to the FRC or its replacement, ARGA.

The 160 professions covered by the Bill need to be seen in a broader light. The reason is that each profession erects barriers to entry, which erodes competition and the quest for higher quality. For example, UK law requires that only an entity under the control of individuals licensed to carry out an audit can conduct audits, so 51% of the partners of a firm or 51% of shareholders of a company conducting the audit must hold a licence to audit. This is unlike any other market. For example, there is no requirement that a pharmaceutical business must be under the control of qualified pharmacists. The recognition of professional qualifications and the monopolies built around them prevent others, such as technology companies, from entering the audit market to facilitate much-needed change. So the recognition of professional qualifications has consequences, leading to monopolies, lack of competition and inevitable failures. The Government’s impact assessment shows no awareness of such impacts or how the social closure around predetermined qualifications facilitates failure and prevents the emergence of new professions.

The protection of the audit market also has implications for which qualifications get mutual recognition. Many IT qualifications will not be recognised, even though they are useful for audit purposes.

Mutual recognition of qualifications is part of a brain drain which encourages doctors, nurses, engineers and others to migrate from developing and emerging economies to the UK. Despite making a huge investment in social infrastructure and individuals, the home countries will not be in a position to receive the benefits of that investment. This is a huge transfer in not only skills but wealth from poorer nations to the UK. Will the Government compensate poorer countries for the loss of their wealth and human resources, and on what scale? If the UK continues to entice people from poorer countries, what incentives will it have to develop its own education and related infrastructure?

Can the Minister explain the link between mutual recognition and the Government’s immigration policy? Will anyone holding a recognised qualification get priority in securing a work permit and possible settlement in the UK, even if they earn less than £25,600 a year? Also, the Bill does not put any time limit on mutual recognition of qualifications. How will that be addressed? Will it be a once-and-for-all decision?

Finally, the Bill permits specified regulators to recognise foreign qualifications. Thus, the regulators have a clear statutory and public role. Despite this, the Bill does not place all regulators and relevant professional bodies within the framework of freedom of information legislation; these are public bodies and should be within its scope so that ordinary people can ask questions and hold the bodies to account.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill.

16:11
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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My Lords, in a debate on professional qualifications, I need to declare that I am yet another fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, although long retired from general practice. I compliment the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on their very interesting comments. I hope that, during the passage of the Bill, we can develop those comments, as I think there is room for co-operation on amendments. The noble Baroness said that this is not a Conservative Bill; I think there will be a number of noble Lords who would like to deny parentage of it as presently drafted.

First, I maintain that the professional and business sector provides high-value and good-value jobs. The UK is a major exporter in this sector, as sadly we are no longer the industrial giant of past years. I well remember being delighted, as a partner in a professional firm of chartered accountants, on the fairly rare occasions when a new client actually manufactured anything—most were pushing pieces of paper around from one place to another.

What are the priorities on the recognition of professional qualifications? It must be a flexible approach. I see this as giving UK professional bodies autonomy and flexibility over who they admit as members and on what terms. An authoritarian Government are not needed.

The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, was less than complimentary about the accountancy profession. I did not really recognise his description of what is happening; every profession has things about which some of its members say, “I wish some members of my profession did not do that—or they should not.” The noble Lord spoke about audit; there are a lot of conversations within the accountancy profession about audits and who should do them, and about the fact that large company audits are the province of a very small group of firms. I know that professional bodies are very interested in this, although it is outside the scope of this legislation.

The role of the UK Government is actively to promote professional mobility and recognition by striking recognition agreements with other Governments, particularly our major trading partners and—after the unnecessary Brexit—EU member states. UK professional bodies, without interference from the Government, should be free to recognise incoming professionals where they—not the Government—deem the level, scope and content of their qualification to be equivalent. But they should not be obliged to provide a bridging aptitude test where they do not reach that equivalent.

The experience of my professional body is that there will be times when the UK Government’s involvement will be necessary for agreements between UK and non-UK professional bodies, as happens. Reluctantly, I note that government involvement might be needed, as a recognition agreement may need approval by that profession’s regulator. For accountancy, as has been mentioned, this is the Financial Reporting Council, which controls access to UK audit rights.

As we move beyond Second Reading, we need to consider conflicting forces in any approach to recognition agreements. We will want to be seen as open for business with the EU, despite Brexit, and open to the rest of the world, thus replacing what has been lost by exiting the single market.

However, there will be professional concern to recognise only those who have met all legal requirements. Audit, as has been mentioned, is a relevant case. I am informed that many overseas professional institutes want deals that include UK audit rights, but to date only two non-EU qualifications have ever been accepted by the Financial Reporting Council, both of which are no longer available to new students.

Of course, there are multiple professional bodies. I understand that, for instance, the Engineering Council—mentioned by other noble Lords—has been involved, with other professional regulators, in round-table talks with BEIS. Clearly, the issues will vary by profession: chartered accountants are not dentists, and dentists are not accountants. The requirements will be different, and very often known by the professional bodies and not so much by government departments. I get the impression that some UK professional bodies have been more involved with the Government than others, but with a basic requirement that the Bill covers both inbound and outbound professional qualifications.

The Bill has powers to amend primary legislation with secondary legislation; on Clauses 5 and 6, the Library briefing states that it expects a “large number”—that is an understatement—of amendments to a wide range of Acts. It has been argued that it seems “prudent” to take a power rather than to capture all the amendments in the Bill. Others might well say that it smacks of a half-baked pudding. It suggests we will get a number of SIs which will need careful parliamentary scrutiny. Indeed, the memorandum available this morning from BEIS has an overview of the Bill in sections: the first is to “revoke”, the second to “introduce”, the next to “enable”, the next to “maintain”, the next to “create”—then there is another “create”, another “create” and another “facilitate”. That is only the tip of the iceberg of the statutory instruments that will be needed in the course of this Bill. We have an albatross here, which the Government do not seem to be dealing with.

On grandfathering, the briefing also reports that the Government have said that revocation of the 2015 regulations will not affect the status of qualifications already recognised and that applications could be completed. Can the Minister say whether there could be a discrepancy in qualifications after a certain date if that procedure takes place?

16:18
Baroness Verma Portrait Baroness Verma (Con)
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My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. I thank my noble friend the Minister for the way he introduced this Second Reading. He laid out very clearly that this Government will be forward-thinking after coming out of Europe and that we will make sure that, instead of excluding professionals from countries we are currently limited to, we will welcome them. We will work closely with them through our regulators to ensure that we do not dumb down but collectively make our own country stronger through professional services and work closely with regulators, mutually, across those countries with which we will have trade agreements. That is right and proper, and it is important that, rather than constantly looking backwards, we look forward as a country with confidence.

I had a different set of notes; I changed them after listening to noble Lords because I was getting rather down in the mouth thinking that, rather than us all being optimistic about how we can make our country really strong and great, working with developing nations that are racing ahead, we should look at immigration, migration and all the challenges that we have collectively faced with the pandemic. We should see the opportunities to share best practice and make regulators—not in other countries but our own regulators—stronger and much more independent. They need to be able to look both at where there are jobs currently and at the jobs that do not actually exist. We should look at how we are going to future-proof ourselves.

I am glad that the Bill is here. When I first took the papers home, I thought it was a very small document. I agree with noble Lords that there will be a lot of scrutiny. That is what this House is really good at: scrutinising and making sure that we get the best outcomes, not just for our country but for the partners that we will deal with. I hope that, by being critical friends but also constructive contributors, across this House we will be able to use the collective expertise and experience that this House affords us to come out with something that is not only a game-changer for the professional bodies but a gold standard for those regulators with which we will no doubt be making these bespoke arrangements.

Sometimes I get rather depressed when I look at competency in English and the ability to communicate. Of course those are important issues, but we have failed ourselves by failing to address competency in language in our country for decades. It is only right and proper that we address that issue now and make sure that, as people come to this country, the competencies of speaking, reading and writing in English are there. This also applies when we engage with our partners across the waters. I do not know who mentioned India but, if I may say so, Indian workers tend to have absolutely accurate, precise English. They are taught it grammatically and they come to this country with a very high level of competency. Unfortunately, we have also allowed lower-skilled workers to arrive on our shores and huddle in communities where they do not bother to engage in learning English. That is something that we as a country should address instead of blaming migrants who come to this country.

I also hope that my noble friend the Minister will see to it that, as we come out and look at the work that the Secretary of State for International Trade is doing—I must congratulate her on her progress—we look at ourselves as a country that embraces the new world, where developing, emerging economies will play a large part in the generation of global wealth, and not look at ourselves as rule-makers without being rule-takers. I hope that these short comments have set out my position: I hope that I will be constructive to the Minister, but I will also take time to scrutinise every single line that the Bill presents.

16:24
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interest in the register as a fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.

I thank my noble friend Lady Blake of Leeds for her introductory speech, which set out many of the points of real concern. I agree with what she said about the Bill. I wish to raise three points of concern, then a more general issue.

First, we are told that the Bill will replace existing EU law in this area. It will create a number of regulation-making powers designed to implement what is described as a new framework—that is, a new framework for the recognition of overseas professional qualifications in the UK and the authorisation of regulators in the UK to enter into recognition agreements with regulators overseas. I see that as the crux of the Bill.

However, we do not yet know how these powers will be exercised. We are provided with some general principles. Thus the Government emphasise in today’s speeches and the supporting documentation that they wish to adopt a permissive approach. They also refer to having a flexible approach. They declare their objective to complement existing provisions. There is also reference to the need to recognise their “global Britain” ambitions. Those principles are all well and good, but they are also vague and aspirational. We have no real guidance on what they mean in practice, and we have no real assurance that the wide-ranging powers in the Bill will be exercised only in accordance with these aspirations. The Bill itself provides no guarantees. Other speakers have dealt with this at length; I certainly share their concerns. We need greater clarity, presumably in Committee, on what the Government mean when they say that the Bill establishes “a new framework”. What is new, other than removing the links with the European Union?

One thing that might help to clarify what is in the Government’s mind in what they admit is a complex regulatory landscape is where they tell us that

“there are over 160 professions … regulated by legislation across more than 50 regulators”.

When we had a conversation with the Minister, I asked for a list. I very much hope that we get it by Committee. Seeing the breadth of what is involved would be useful for all of us. Also, some precise examples would be really useful. Where will these powers be exercised and how do the Government anticipate them being exercised?

Secondly, there is the issue of trade agreements, touched on by a number of speakers. Whether the Government like it or not, there is a widespread lack of trust. Given their approach and the way in which trade agreements have become trophies that they are all too desperate to declare, there is an inevitable fear that powers for professional recognition will be exercised for the wrong reasons.

My third concern, which goes into more detail, is what is meant in Clause 16(3) by a profession that is

“regulated by law … by reason of legislation”.

I fear that this definition is far too wide and unclear. I can claim detailed expertise only in my own narrow area, but I am aware of many references to actuaries in legislation that might be caught by such a definition. In some cases, for example, an actuary is anyone recognised as such by the Secretary of State. Clearly such a case is a regulation by law by reason of legislation, but it would be unreasonable to include those with what the Government have in mind. I am sure we will pursue those three points of concern in Committee.

Finally, I make no apology for mentioning some thoughts for the Government that have been expressed by my own profession and which I share. There is a concern that, historically, Governments have not always fully appreciated the value of professional bodies to the economy and social fabric of the UK, as well as the role that they play in the international trade in services that is so crucial to the UK’s economic future.

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries is an exemplar of a professional body that is an exporter in its own right for its international membership. Many actuaries across the world, not just in the UK, regard membership of the UK’s professional body for actuaries as important in its own right, even when they do not practise in the UK and have no intention of doing so—it is often, increasingly, alongside a local qualification. This benefits everyone. The individuals concerned and the profession as a whole benefit from the training and examining that is provided to those from abroad who achieve UK qualification and registration. There is also considerable mutual benefit from the accreditation of foreign universities, training organisations, the publications that are produced and the specialised projects, including professional regulatory standards.

We want the Government to recognise that not just actuaries but other professional bodies have this important role through their global membership and we hope that, in introducing this legislation, that has been taken into account so that it does not interfere with this important role. Will the Minister commit the Government to championing the UK professional standards offered by UK-based professionals, particularly as global standard setters?

16:31
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure for a lawyer to follow a speech by an actuary. My concern is about the way the Bill will affect the legal profession in Scotland. I must declare an interest as I am a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates. At a previous stage of my career, when I was Lord President of the Court of Session, I had some responsibility for the regulation of the solicitors’ profession in Scotland and before that, when I was Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, for the regulation of members of the Scottish Bar.

The new framework which this Bill seeks to create is needed and, in principle, it is to be welcomed. The current interim system for the recognition of professional qualifications and experience from overseas derives from the UK’s membership of the EU, so what we need now is a new framework that will meet the demands for professional services within the UK in the future, which is what Clauses 5 and 6 are about. Qualifications and experience gained outside the UK need to be recognised here where there is a demand that cannot otherwise be met without unreasonable delays and charges. We must be able to implement new international agreements about the recognition of professional qualifications that will enable us to do that. The broad aim of providing regulators with a consistent set of powers that will maintain standards is to be welcomed too.

However, regulation of professions is a complex business. As many noble Lords have said, the Explanatory Notes tell us that there are more than 160 professions in the UK and that they are regulated by a network of more than 50 regulators, and there is a range of other professions that are regulated voluntarily. This is a huge canvas. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, was not overstating matters when he referred to icebergs and albatrosses. The centralised systems which this Bill seeks to create will work only if the diversity that exists across the UK is fully respected. I use the plural word “systems” because, while the regulation of architects, auditors and most health professionals, but not social work and social care, is a reserved matter under the devolution systems, the regulation of many others is devolved. The need to recognise diversity does not end there. The variety of regulatory systems across the professions within the devolved Administrations needs to be fully recognised and respected too.

I suggest that consultation with the professions will be essential before the regulation-making powers are exercised. The Bill is remarkably silent about this. There is no mention of consultation anywhere in the Bill, or in the Explanatory Notes either, so far as I can see. I hope that the Minister can explain why that is so. If consultation is expected, why does the Bill not say that consultation is required?

As regulation of the legal professions in Scotland is wholly devolved, the appropriate authority in their case will be Scottish Ministers. It will be for them to decide whether the test which Clause 2(2) sets out is met—that is, to enable demand for legal services to be met without unreasonable delay or charges. That does not seem to be the situation at present. It is difficult to know how readily that test will be met in future in the case of legal services, so we must assume that that matter will arise sooner or later. Annexe A to the Explanatory Notes tells us that a legislative consent Motion will be sought from the Scottish Parliament. I suspect that that is in the future because there has been an election and the Scottish Parliament has only recently resumed its work. So far so good, but we need to be sure how the system that is being created will work for the legal professions in Scotland before that stage is reached.

The Law Society of Scotland already has in place a system of regulations made under the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 for the recognition of international candidates seeking to requalify in Scotland to practise as solicitors. It is likely that they will need some amendment if they are to give full effect to the provisions in Clause 1. The process for amending regulations made under that Act is lengthy, and it requires the concurrence of the Lord President. As I understand the definition in Clause 16, he is a regulator for the purposes of the Bill. One would want to be sure that he would at least be consulted before the power in Clause 3 to implement is exercised, in view of the overriding responsibility that he has over that branch of the legal profession and the highly sensitive nature of this clause, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has drawn our attention. Then there is the question of who would be the specified regulator for the purposes of Clause 1. I hope that it would be the Law Society of Scotland itself, which handles the day-to-day detail, not the Lord President, as the other regulator. The provisions in Clauses 8(4) and (5) seem to support this approach. Does the Minister agree with that?

The Faculty of Advocates, to which all practising members of the Scottish Bar must belong, has a different system. Regulation of the faculty is provided for by Section 120 of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010. It states that the Court of Session is responsible for prescribing the criteria for admission to the faculty but that its responsibilities are exercisable on its behalf by the Lord President or the faculty. Here, too, one would want to be sure that this rather complex system is fully respected by the Scottish Minsters before the power in Clause 3 is exercised. Consultation with the Lord President and the faculty must surely be a prerequisite, as they seem to be regulators within the meaning of Clause 16. Here, too, is the question of which of them will be the specified regulator for the purpose of Clause 1. I do not expect the Minister to provide a conclusive answer to that question, although any comment he might feel able to offer would be very welcome, but the Scottish Minsters will certainly have to answer it, and they would be wise to consult before the power is exercised.

I have one or two other short points. I welcome the provisions about the exchange of information in Clause 9, which will be of particular interest to the legal professions in the various jurisdictions in the UK, and the provisions in Clause 10. As for Clause 7, on the assistance centre, it would be helpful if the advice and assistance that is to be provided could be extended to providing information about visa and work permit requirements as well as entry requirements for the profession. Also, as this is to be a UK body, should the devolved Administrations not be consulted on the arrangements that are being made before it is set up? We must assume that at least some referrals for its help and guidance may come from the devolved nations.

Clauses 7(5), 9(4) and 10(7) state that the duty these clauses impose can be taken into account in determining whether any disclosure would breach the Data Protection Act 2018. This, as worded, does not seem to be much of a protection. Would it not be better to say that the existence of that duty is a defence?

Overall, this is a necessary Bill, but I suggest that more thought needs to be given to how it will work in practice.

16:40
Lord Moynihan Portrait Lord Moynihan (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests in sport, as set out in the register. I thank my noble friend the Minister and his officials for their respective briefings. The Bill, in particular Clause 7(1)(b)(i), is important to the sporting community and the future contribution that British ski instructors and mountaineers will make internationally, not least in the alpine ski resorts of France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland, to name just some of the key historic markets in which the UK has played a prominent role in the development of the ski industry and the present high-level qualifications of the ski instructor community.

At the heart of this is the importance of ensuring that our qualifications are aligned worldwide, and that acceptance of our professional qualification recognition can be applied in all markets. It is an essential step towards labour mobility and permit-free seasonal work. In the United Kingdom, the British Association of Snowsport Instructors—BASI—continues to take the lead through its recent work. In its alignment with the International Ski Instructors Association—ISIA—the world body for the protection and promotion of the interests of professional ski instructors, BASI’s qualifications are globally recognised. BASI, with ISIA, has been an active contributor to the agreement and development of international quality standards across national associations, rather than working rights—although some countries such as Japan choose to link ISIA-aligned qualifications with protecting working rights.

The current position is bleak for our ski instructors. Qualification recognition is complex. In some countries, the profession of snowsports instruction is regulated by law—but not in others. In the EU, there are regions within countries where this also varies, bringing yet greater complexity. Austria, France and Italy, for example, are currently not members of ISIA. Because ISIA has no legal powers to enforce its quality standards and because the trade and co-operation agreement between the UK and the EU allows member states to pursue their discretion as to whether they recognise third countries’ qualifications, it is essential and urgent that the Government ensure that there is ongoing recognition of BASI qualifications which, prior to the lost Covid season, historically led British ski instructors to play an important supportive role in, for example, the French Ecole du Ski.

The British ski industry has funded the growth and success of many ski resorts across the Alps, yet there are those who would ignore this contribution and fail to link it to allow qualified British ski instructors the opportunity to join their French counterparts who seek employment in the sector. Ski tourism from the UK involves 1.76 million holidaymakers, producing a total spend of £2.9 billion in ski holidays alone over the course of a full season. However, instead of embracing this spend, the reality is different. There are more closed shops in the mountain resorts of France, where numerous parochial mayors are only too ready to take the British spend and then exercise their authority and ban or do their utmost to discourage the French ski school under their influence and power from hiring outstanding British ski instructors, many of whom have provided significant added value to the profession and are there to satisfy the choice of British ski holidaymakers—especially those families with young children in the mountains who are more comfortable with their children being taught by a fluent English speaker. At the same time, the British Mountain Guides association is butting up against those delivering services in EU countries to be established as workers in those nations.

Remedying that market distortion will require strong commitment from the Government to stand full square behind our ski instructors and assist BASI with bilateral and multilateral negotiations to deliver continued opportunities. It is perhaps unrealistic to think that professional bodies such as BASI, the BMC or BMG are sufficiently resourced to manage negotiating with their counterparts in all 27 EU states, let alone to address any protectionist working-rights policies that might exist at either a federal or regional level. Whether skiing from Zermatt in Switzerland to Cervinia in Italy, or from Ischgl in Austria across to Samnaun in Switzerland, or traversing the 400-mile Portes du Soleil ski domain, which spans 13 resorts in France and Switzerland, British ski instructors now face a plethora of employment hurdles and obstructionist tactics to deter them.

Today, in the Swiss canton of Valais, which includes the resorts of Crans-Montana, Saas Fee, Verbier and Zermatt, a letter has been sent to the directors of ski schools setting out ways in which hurdles must now be put in the way of hiring British ski instructors by linking the recent decision with the UK’s departure from the EU and placing a raft of bureaucratic protectionist hurdles in the way of highly qualified British ski instructors who seek ongoing employment. There is now, for example, a requirement that federal government acts as an appellate body and local ski schools sign off the ski instructors they employ as qualified “teachers” without defining the Swiss qualifications required for such teachers as opposed to “ski instructors”. Much urgently remains to be done on that. Negotiations are essential to address the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, which in this case are regulated by law in the alpine countries and, of course, add to the work permit issues and growing barriers of entry in the world of ski protectionism, which equally need to be addressed.

We conceded the widespread advantages of EU membership during the exit negotiations. If one is a British citizen, regardless of what association one is a member of, one is not permitted to enter the common training test, formerly known as Eurotest. A BASI member with an EU passport is also not permitted to enter the CTT.

Sadly, the news for snowboarding is even worse. In 2006, BASI negotiated a bilateral agreement with France—the Satolas protocol—over the recognition of snowboard instructor qualifications. As a French snowboarder, if one wants to teach snowboarding, one must complete the Diplôme d’Etat de Ski moniteur national de skialpin qualification with ENSA, meaning that one needs to be both a top-level alpine skier as well as a top-level snowboarder in order to be able to teach snowboarding. The UK has been told by the French that they will no longer recognise the BASI snowboard level 4 ISTD qualification.

My noble friend the Minister might be tempted to take this opportunity to intervene, if that were permitted in this House at the moment, and say that this Bill is only framework legislation and that ski instructors are not regulated by law, unlike many of their international counterparts, and that this is a narrow Bill confined to the 160 professions that are regulated by law in this country. However, as my noble friend will know, Clause 7 does not restrict support to regulated professions but covers the work of the UK Centre for Professional Qualifications, the existing assistance centre, which is open to all British professionals, including ski instructors. It is here in Clause 7 where the Government could provide a public-facing service for advice and assistance to professionals on the application of their professional qualifications overseas.

After all, the BEIS-regulated professions team leads on the international-facing elements of the recognition of professional qualifications policy, which includes our ongoing work on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, working with the DIT on the RPQ elements of FTA negotiations and the Government’s work to support regulators—and, I assume, UK unregulated but internationally regulated professional bodies such as BASI—to agree recognition arrangements with their overseas counterparts. That supports UK-qualified professionals seeking to practise overseas and UK professionals intending to work in other countries. The contracted-out UK CPQ can provide guidance, officials have informed me, on how professionals can gain recognition of their qualifications by overseas regulators and professional bodies. That is an excellent initiative and the envy of many countries, and I welcome it being included in the Bill as a legally binding requirement.

I therefore ask my noble friend to confirm that the Government will first assist with bilateral negotiations for international recognition of BASI standards through the UK CPQ, while simultaneously working on a master agreement. The UK CPQ can help CTT-qualified British ski instructors work abroad and navigate the systems with other countries through mapping qualifications and providing support on the ground. Within the department, the assistance centre and the recognition arrangement team will, I hope, help BASI with its overseas counterparts on both bilateral and multilateral deals to protect British ski instructors. That should see bilateral progress made at the same time as preparing for an application for an EU 27-wide mutual recognition agreement, deliverable with Foreign Office backing, to cover British mountain guides and snowsport instructors. I hope that it can be negotiated and one day annexed to the free trade agreement.

I hope the scope for taking forward these negotiations can be agreed with BASI and with government support. We may need to seek to strengthen the Bill to ensure that the future of British instructors is not to be a bleak one and that a legally binding commitment on the Government to report back to Parliament on work under Clause 7 is considered in Committee, covering negotiations of mutual agreements and replacement of the scheme under which the highest-level British qualifications—BASI level 4 for snowsports instructors—is recognised throughout the EU and beyond. Such mutual recognition should include access to the CTT, enabling ski instructors and mountaineers to apply for jobs in alpine countries, with pre-agreed high-standard professional qualifications as well as advice and help to navigate restrictions on the freedom to work, the need for work permits and movement within Europe. I fully agree with the strong representations of my noble friend Lady Fraser. This falls within Clause 7 and is not excluded as a consequence of ski instructors and mountain guides not being regulated by law in this country. In general, save for the extensive Henry VIII powers in the Bill, I fully support the measure.

16:50
Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I wish to speak mainly about how the Bill will affect recognition of qualifications of healthcare professionals and in particular medical doctors from overseas. I am a medical professional. Previously I have been involved with assessment of overseas qualified doctors and been a member of the General Medical Council, and I was chair of a regulator responsible for assessing the qualifications and experience of specialist doctors, a role now in the remit of the General Medical Council. However, I am currently not involved in the work of any healthcare regulator.

The Bill places obligations on regulators to establish a framework for recognition of professional qualifications from around the world and to share this information with similar bodies overseas, being transparent about entry and practice of regulated professions. The General Medical Council, the regulator of doctors in the United Kingdom, already has the powers, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said, to do the majority of things that the Bill describes. It also has a long history of a well-established system of recognition of medical professionals’ qualifications and experience prior to granting entry to the register. In this context, this Bill is not only unnecessary but will lead to more confusion and unintended consequences unless amended.

Clause 1(1), granting international professions entitlement to practise based on either qualifications or experience, will undermine patient safety. Clause 1(2) runs the risk of replicating the EU directive on mutual recognition of professional qualification—the so-called MRPQ directive—the shortcomings of which were highlighted in the past as the directive related more to recognition of medical qualifications and less to competences, including language skills, a skill not applicable to some professions. I hope that the Minister can clarify, particularly in relation to medical professionals, the policy intent behind the proposals in the Bill, and give an assurance that he understands the potential issues that could affect the current and future registration process of healthcare regulators.

I acknowledge that this is framework legislation covering more than 160 professions, but, as drafted, it runs the risk of unintended consequences that would impact negatively on patient safety and on workforce shortages in medicine. The current well-established processes of recognition of qualifications are on demonstration of knowledge, skills and experience in a variety of well-tested processes, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro. They go a long way to making sure that doctors from overseas have the necessary qualifications and experience, as well as language competences, before gaining entry to the medical register. The wording referring to “overseas qualifications” and “overseas experience” in Clause 1(2) would prevent regulators using their current system of assessment, and that cannot be right. I understand that that might not be the policy intent—the Explanatory Notes imply that—but in this area the Bill needs amending.

Unusually—in fact, uniquely—in his opening remarks the Minister indicated that he recognised the unique and well-developed processes of the General Medical Council for recognising qualifications of overseas doctors and intended to amend the Bill. I welcome those remarks. I would like to think that his change of mind was because he had sight of my speech, but I doubt that; it was probably more to do with briefing to his department from the General Medical Council. I am grateful to him for indicating that the Government will amend Clause 1(2), and I look forward to that—but I am sure that if the Government do not, I and others will be keen to do so in the spirit of improving the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

16:55
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend and congratulate him on so ably introducing the Bill. At the outset, I raise two points and will press him on his opening remarks. One is in relation to offering preferential treatment, which we understand is now historic, to EEA countries and Switzerland, which he said was not reciprocated by the EU and was always intended to be temporary. However, we were told that that was a matter for negotiation at various points of the legislation.

There are many quotes I could give. I asked a Written Question of the Department for Exiting the European Union, and my noble friend Lord Callanan replied on 16 March 2018 to the effect that:

“The Government is firmly committed to the agreement in December and we are working with the Commission to agree how they should be translated into legal form in the Withdrawal Agreement. We are committed to turning the Joint Report into legal text as soon as possible and it remains our shared aim to reach agreement on the entire Withdrawal Agreement by October.”


More recently, in the debate on legislation for the withdrawal agreement, again in response to a question from me, my noble friend Lord Callanan replied:

“With regard to lawyers … the existing professional qualifications were recognised as part of the withdrawal agreement for existing citizens. The future recognition of qualifications, after the end of the implementation period, is a matter for negotiation. It is in the White Paper. It is something that we want to agree and we think it mutually desirable, but it has not yet been agreed.”—[Official Report, 24/7/18; col. 1673.]


I agree that it was desirable, and it is my fervent wish that we can go on and negotiate this, albeit not with the EU collectively but with individual member states.

I take this opportunity to refer to my interests on the register. In particular, I am a graduate in Scots law, where there is a proud tradition whereby we marry aspects of Roman law, private international law and UK constitutional law. I was one of the cohort of the first ever Scottish undergraduates who undertook a six-month compulsory course on European Community law, as it then was. I am a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates and endorse entirely the comments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I pay tribute to all his contributions, not least to those in his earlier life as dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

I speak very much from the focal point that I had as beneficiary of the free movement of lawyers and the right to establish legal services for those from this country in other European Union countries while we were members of the European Union. I accept that we are now in a different situation, but I would like to think that those up and coming advocates will benefit from similar experiences to those that I had. I press my noble friend again on the reciprocity of recognition of qualifications and the mobility for professions and the right to practise—my noble friend said “globally” but I would say perhaps a little closer to home.

The remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, struck a chord. We are very poor in this country at speaking other languages. I am fortunate to be able to speak a number of other languages and, indeed, studied in Denmark and did some translations for the European Commission in that language. I regret that our knowledge of European languages and foreign languages generally in this country has gone down since we left the European Union.

I take this opportunity to celebrate the distinct nature of legal services across the United Kingdom and to echo the view expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that it is essential that these are recognised and respected—as they are in the Bill through the devolution aspect as regards the mutual recognition of qualifications. So too is the fact that the regulation of the legal profession, among others, is devolved.

I have a specific question for my noble friend. Can he explain how the regulations—as a framework Bill, the regulations are multiple; other noble Lords have referred to that aspect—are to be adopted under the Bill and how the distinct nature, certainly of Scots law, will be reflected in this? The helpful briefing note prepared by the House of Lords Library for today’s debate refers to the ongoing work in the common frameworks and the fact that the MRPQ and services frameworks are a matter for discussion and negotiation under the common frameworks. It would be very helpful if my noble friend could give us an update. If he is able to do so, can he also address the issue that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, raised—that consultation should be with the professions as well as the regulators and the devolved assemblies?

The very helpful briefing from the Law Society of Scotland highlighted a number of clauses, in particular Clause 3 on implementation of international recognition agreements, Clause 5 on the revocation of the general EU system of recognition of overseas qualifications, and Clause 7 on the assistance centre. It is believed that the devolved Administrations should be consulted on the arrangements for the creation of the assistance centre. It would be helpful if my noble friend could set out precisely what form the consultation will take, and at what stage. The noble Baroness, Lady Blake, asked for publication of the regulations in advance; that would be very helpful indeed.

I welcome the fact that the Bill’s focus is to facilitate cross-border recognition and regulation and to ensure an integrated system of the transfer of professions, so far as the Immigration Rules will permit. Given the wide regulation-making powers under the Bill, I ask the Government to give a commitment to consult on any draft regulations, as I have addressed. I add a personal plea for an assurance that the arrangements will be reciprocal, as regards not just the mutual recognition of professional qualifications but the right to establish legal services in other countries on a similar basis.

Preparing for today, I also received a helpful briefing from the Law Society of England and Wales. On the mutual recognition of qualifications, it has asked for it to be made obviously clear that foreign lawyers can provide legal advice on home-state law and international law, as well as English and Welsh law, with the exception of the six reserved activities. The Law Society goes on to say that it believes the UK should seek to obtain equivalent rights for England and Wales solicitors operating in foreign markets—I would argue for Scots lawyers too—and that it is vital that legal and other professional services are at the forefront of the forthcoming trade negotiations, for the reason that other noble Lords have given—the economic importance of the sector. It also asks that the specificities of market access for the legal sector are recognised. MRPQ does not necessarily have the same importance for lawyers as for other regulated professions, in the sense that the difficulty for trade and legal services generally lies in behind-the-border barriers.

In his opening remarks, my noble friend referred specifically to Clause 11 and the work of architects overseas. I am slightly concerned that he is underestimating the difficulty in relation to architects, of whom I understand there is a shortage. It took 21 years for 12 EU countries to agree the mutual recognition of architects’ qualifications. I hope it will not take that long for my noble friend to be able to negotiate those agreements.

To conclude, I ask my noble friend specifically that, as the Bill proceeds through Parliament, it will recognise the distinct nature of legal services in the United Kingdom, that consultation with professions as well the devolved Administrations will be secured, and that reciprocal arrangements on the recognition of qualifications will be sought within individual countries and in the shortest timeframe possible.

I look forward to examining and scrutinising the Bill as it proceeds through its legislative stages in this House.

17:05
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. This is an important Bill. Having lost the EU framework, we clearly need robust processes for the recognition of professional qualifications and experience gained overseas. In particular, it will be important to ensure that we are able to maintain standards across our professions.

The issue I want to flag up today relates to the wholesale delegation of powers in this Bill, to which many noble Lords have already referred. I am prompted to speak having read the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s counsel’s opinion and the government memorandum on the Bill. I emphasise, however, as a member of the committee, that we have not yet discussed the Bill—we are actually discussing it tomorrow. I am therefore speaking in a personal capacity rather than in any way representing the views of the DPRRC. I know that if we want to propose amendments in Committee, it is etiquette in this House to flag up one’s concerns at Second Reading, hence my short—I emphasise short—contribution today.

I realise that to write into the Bill precise detail relating to 160 professions and more than 50 regulators would indeed present problems, as several noble Lords have said. The issue is whether there is sufficient detail to enable Parliament to scrutinise the proposals and ensure that standards are adequately safeguarded in future.

As the Government’s memorandum says, “with some exceptions, the substantive changes to the law envisaged by this Bill will be made through delegated powers rather than the Bill itself”. That is not some peripheral detail, it refers to the substantive changes. Those delegated powers are Henry VIII powers. They enable Ministers to change laws through regulations—which, as we know, do not provide for the level of parliamentary scrutiny applied to Bills. There are two important conditions set out in Clause 1, which, I emphasise, limit the delegated powers to an important degree. These are indeed welcome—the question is whether they are sufficient.

One of the conditions is that the relevant regulator for any profession must be satisfied that the overseas qualifications or experience demonstrate “substantially the same” standard as is demonstrated by the relevant UK qualification or experiences. How does the regulator do that? What is meant by “substantially the same”? That is crucial. We do not want a drop in standards. Would it be wise to include in the Bill a provision that holders of overseas qualifications will be required to undertake appropriate assessments to demonstrate parity of their qualifications and the UK equivalent? It would then be left to regulations to modify that requirement where appropriate. That feels to me to be the way round, with a general principle that regulations might modify and Parliament could have a debate about it, at any rate. It may also be appropriate to include in the Bill a provision that candidates will generally be required to undertake an assessment of their character and suitability for the profession in question.

Another point we may want to pick up in Committee, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Watkins of Tavistock, is the lack of any reference in the Bill to the quality of English of a holder of an overseas qualification. In some professions, that is fundamental. For example, I worked in mental health for many years—try speaking to a psychotherapist, or a therapist of any kind, who is struggling with their English. Other issues will be proof of identity and, perhaps, a clear criminal record.

As the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries points out, it will be important that barriers to entry to this country are consistent and not too onerous. We can benefit also from the requirements of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. No doubt its assessment processes will inform debates in Committee and on Report.

The House will want to take note of the Constitution Committee’s comments in its report on the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Act, that it is

“a long-standing convention of the constitution … that outside the exceptional case of making provision for EU law, international legal agreements that make changes to UK law are given domestic force by an Act of Parliament”.

In this context, are the early clauses of this Bill an inappropriate delegation of power?

I do not want to say more at this stage because it would be inappropriate ahead of the DPRRC discussion on the Bill tomorrow, but I hope I have said sufficient in case I want to pursue any of these issues as the Bill progresses through the House.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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The next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, has scratched, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Moylan.

17:10
Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who makes important points about delegated legislation. No doubt we will return to them.

I declare my interest as an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. I assure noble Lords that this does not qualify me in any way to practise architecture—quite the reverse—but I mention it because Clause 11 of the Bill is devoted to the architectural profession. Although RIBA is not a professional regulator—noble Lords will note from the text of the Bill that this role is reserved by statute to the Architects Registration Board—none the less the clause may affect its members. In that respect, it is a matter of regret that the consultation that the Government have been undertaking on changes to the Architects Act has not been published in time for consideration in this debate. I understand that it is expected imminently. It is a pity that it is not available today, but I hope my noble friend the Minister can give some assurance that this response will be available before Committee. It is necessary, and would at least be extremely helpful in addressing Clause 11 if we could understand the context of policy in which the Government see this whole question, going forward.

I broadly welcome the Bill. In many ways I share the enthusiasm of my noble friend Lady Noakes for the scrapping of EU legislation but, like many other noble Lords, I am somewhat confused by the Bill. In some ways, this is not helped by the order in which its clauses are written. There is a degree of randomness about them. The start of the Bill is really Clause 4; that is the heart of the whole thing, and it is a permissive clause which allows the professional bodies in the scope of the Bill to enter into agreements with corresponding organisations in other countries. There cannot really be an objection to that. The only question, as hinted at by certain noble Lords, is why in a free society such permission from the Government is necessary. None the less, it cannot be objected to.

However, having addressed Clause 4, we must turn back to Clause 1, which makes a very important point. In effect, it says that there may be cases where the public interest requires the Government to intervene to ensure that those professional regulators are undertaking, or at least creating, a route by which those mutual recognitions can be put in place. The assumption is that there is a recalcitrance or a failure on the part of the professional organisations to carry out what they are permitted to do by Clause 4, and I do not object to that as such. Of course, in many cases, there may be reasons of public interest why the Government might want to act to make something happen, but it is not a very strong clause. Out of respect for the professional bodies or professional regulators, all that the clause does is require them to put in place a route whereby such applications can be processed. There is nothing in the clause mandating them to approve anybody or to ensure that something is coming through the envisaged pipeline. Therefore, it is rather weak as a measure for addressing what would have been an identified public interest.

A public interest is a very broad thing. One can imagine a public interest that covers a whole range of matters in which the Government could quite properly want to take an interest to ensure that action by the professional bodies would occur. But then we turn to Clause 2, which does something else. It says that there is only one public interest that the Government will contemplate that will allow and authorise them to take steps under Clause 1, which is a lack of supply, if noble Lords see what I mean, to meet something called demand in the domestic workforce. We are now going to say that, having taken this reasonable power—not a very strong power, but a reasonable one—to act in the public interest, the Government will limit themselves to using it only where there is a demonstrated demand.

This is the part of the Bill that causes me the most concern. Here I am repeating to some extent things that other noble Lords have said or hinted at. The first is that it seems to limit the sense of public interest unnecessarily tightly. I have made that point. The second is, as some noble Lords have indicated, that it will lead to endless debate about footling questions that are in many cases bound to end up the subject of judicial review: what is the right number of tax accountants for Wales? What is the appropriate number of lawyers or advocates in Scotland? There is no right answer to these questions, but this is the substance of a debate that the Government are inviting upon themselves every time they seek to exercise the powers. I say the Government—here, of course, I mean the national authorities, because it will not necessarily be this Government who exercise the power. Every time the national authority seeks to exercise this power, it will walk straight into this quagmire. I simply do not see any reason for it.

The third thing is that it links the Bill to immigration. A great deal of the debate we have had this afternoon has been not really about the recognition of professional qualifications but about the right to work in the United Kingdom. The Bill, although it stretches into the world of immigration, has no immigration effects. Simply having this qualification, even if there is a demand for it, does not necessarily give you the right to work here; no work permit flows from this. One is treading into the world of immigration policy without actually having an effect on it. That complicates the Bill very unnecessarily.

As background to my remarks—this will not necessarily be welcome to the many professionally qualified people who have spoken in the debate; I hasten to add, in case there was any doubt, that I have no professional qualifications at all, so I am not among them in any sense—although I do not share the caustic view of the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, of the professional bodies in his own sphere of activity, I come with a certain sort of scepticism and suspicion that professions often seek to limit entry into their profession with a view to generating a scarcity premium. Criticise me if you like, but I have to say that many regulators end up being captured by the professions they seek to regulate.

My worry about connecting this to immigration is that it puts the debate in the wrong place and gives to the regulators the notion that they are there as an arm of the immigration system, whereas we want them to carry out as objectively as possible the accreditation of foreign qualifications to the standard that the Bill requires—although that standard might change in the course of further stages. That process ought to have no consequence or connection to immigration at all. All that made me think that the Bill might be better without Clause 2 at all.

All that can be tested later and I hope I have laid out what I see to be the main issues. I must end by saying how grateful I am to my noble friend the Minister for the time he gave me to discuss these issues and explain them to me. While I feel that I understand the Bill better as a consequence, it may be that he has yet more to teach me, that I may not understand it well, and that he may win me over to his point of view entirely. We have opportunities to pursue that over the coming weeks and I look forward to them.

17:20
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
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My Lords, other noble Lords have spoken of concerns over the Bill, recognising the need for it while expressing a wide range of concerns. I will focus my remarks principally on the risks to medical registration and declare that I am registered with the General Medical Council.

For some years now, the GMC has been keen to speed up its processes and be more flexible, particularly in how it assesses the competence of international doctors when registering them. The current Department of Health and Social Care consultation, Regulating Healthcare Professionals, Protecting the Public, has wide-ranging proposals to reform professional regulation and include the regulation of physician associates and anaesthesia associates. However, the proposals in the Bill risk undermining the principles behind those reforms, so can the Minister explain how the two departments are working together? He may wish to write to me to clarify whether the proposals in the DHSC plans can be implemented via secondary legislation using Section 60 of the Health Act 1999 to modify professional regulation in the Medical Act 1983 via an Order in Council.

In the Bill, regulators will be obliged to establish a framework to recognise professional qualifications from around the world, with international agreements to ensure greater transparency of information. Yet the GMC and other health professional regulators already have powers and many years’ experience in overseas recognition and registration, making the Bill unnecessary for the health professional regulators—as the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, and my noble friend Lord Patel have explained.

I am relieved to hear that the Government will bring forward amendments to Clause 1. Without amendment, Clause 1(4) would inadvertently compromise patient safety and decrease workforce supply. Time spent formally assessing thousands of qualifications in great detail will not meet the policy objective of maintaining existing levels of public and consumer protection. Take the example of a trauma surgeon with 25 years’ experience in the field. The surgeon’s original medical school curriculum, surgical exams and grades provide no indication of current competence and skills. It is an up-to-date skills assessment that is crucial to safe practice, and in which the GMC has a wealth of experience.

Without the Government’s heralded amendment, Clause 1(2) would prevent the GMC from interpreting “qualifications or experience” in a way that enables using written and clinical tests of knowledge and skills to continue. Its well-established processes currently register over 10,000 doctors annually. The Bill needs amending to explicitly support assessment of appropriate knowledge and skills over and above the original qualification.

The safe registration of healthcare professionals is more complex than simplistically focusing on baseline qualifications. Every international medical graduate must have an acceptable overseas qualification and demonstrate that they have the knowledge, skills and experience to practise in the UK, usually through a test of competence with evidence of relevant clinical experience. This is far more meaningful than trying to see whether each international qualification is “substantially the same” as UK qualifications.

I hope that the Minister, in responding, will explain the policy intent behind these proposals that cover over 160 professions, and how the Bill will be amended to avoid unintended compromise of current processes that work well and will allow flexibility in the future. I know he referred to it in his opening remarks, but we are seeking more clarity.

Finally, I declare that I am president of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and ask the Minister to confirm that the competencies assessment will continue to apply to allow reciprocity because, for example, respiratory physiotherapy is a core skill in the UK but not taught in some other countries. Currently, the society supports physiotherapists going through the Health and Care Professions Council registration processes. Overall, can the Minister confirm that where processes are well refined they will not be compromised, as the current proposals in the Bill will increase regulators’ workload without evidence of improvement? Can he also confirm that healthcare professional regulators will not have to establish a new stage in their application procedures for international professionals to individually assess each qualification presented by an applicant, but that they can instead undertake this assessment through their existing procedures, such as tests of competence?

17:26
Lord Bhatia Portrait Lord Bhatia (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, being almost the last speaker in this debate, I will not read out the speech I had prepared. I largely agree with what many noble Lords have said, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Patel, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma, Lady Meacher and Lady Finlay. Will the Minister confirm that all professionals, particularly doctors, must have the skills to speak perfect English, and that patients who do not understand English must have access to the services of a skilled translator?

17:27
Baroness Gardner of Parkes Portrait Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con) [V]
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My Lords, when the Second World War ended and the Australian troops came home, they were eligible to attend universities and many of them became dentists. I myself became a dentist, but I was straight from school. Then the surplus of dental graduates in Australia was so high that there was no work except for digging the Snowy River scheme or the roads, and after a short time they discovered there was this need for dentists in the UK and huge numbers came here at that time, as I did myself. I welcome the Bill in helping to recognise professional qualifications gained abroad where they meet UK standards.

I came from Australia in 1956, having recently qualified as a dentist from Sydney University and having heard of the shortage of dentists here. My qualification and training for the National Health Service was really to be able to say that I was able to practise dentistry and make my life here in England. The rest, as they say, is history. All I had to redo of my training on arrival in England was to register: the standards of teaching were accepted. I doubt I would have stayed too many years more if more study had been required without any earnings, not to mention the costs one would have to incur. Today we still often need more skilled people than we can train here, and people move to the UK and bring their skills with them, which we can put to good use. Similarly, it is useful in this global economy for our professional skills to be recognised abroad, for exactly the same reasons.

When looking through the draft Bill, I found myself wondering about the merits of the proposed assistance centre. I fear this looks like something with the potential to be a costly and resource-intensive body, when it merely needs to be something that directs people to the relevant regulators of the professions. In this day and age, it could in fact be a website run by a government department at a low cost. I hope to hear more from the Minister as to what is envisaged for the assistance centre. In particular, I seek assurance, that it will not become the regulator to the regulators.

17:30
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, given the United Kingdom’s position on the G7, we should in fact be a net skills exporter rather than an importer. It is to be regretted that this is not within the scope of the Bill and not the discussion that we are having, because that is at the heart of the reason that many of these clauses are in place. I have less regret that I will not be talking about accountants or auditors.

There is more than a smack in this Bill of, “I’m from the Government and I’m here to help you.” As pointed out by the last speaker and by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, the very existence of the assistance centre rings alarm bells to some extent. We have to examine how—if indeed the Government are to help—the Bill will cause things to be better. It is very difficult to tell. I am not in the Minister’s address book. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I did not receive the important letter that revealed all about this Bill. There are so many unknowns, not least because its ultimate operation is masked in the cloak of invisibility as given by the upcoming secondary legislation that we have yet to see. This is a skeleton Bill. I welcome the comments of others on this subject, particularly those of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I hope that the spirit of his words will be turned into actions by Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition as we get further through the Bill.

No one denies—and the Government seem to have to assert—that there is an advantage of diversity contributed by professionals brought in from overseas, but I would refute the idea implicit in the Bill that EU and EEA membership inhibited our international recruitment aims. As was so eloquently acknowledged by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, you have only to look at the non-European professionals and the roles they play in the National Health Service to see that it was perfectly possible within the past regime to bring many international non-European professionals into this country.

However, it is not clear what effects the Bill will have on the future recruitment of healthcare professionals. Indeed, the Government themselves have acknowledged that the healthcare sector may need a transition period to phase this in. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain: first, why is that necessary? Secondly, is the mysterious and rapid change already coming to the Bill aimed at helping that? And, thirdly, if it is affecting the healthcare sector, why will it not affect other core sectors to come?

My noble friend Lord Purvis brought up the common travel area, particularly the Swiss agreement around that. More generally, the Government have stated:

“The revocation of the 2015 Regulations does not affect commitments under the CTA”


—the common travel area. However, I observe that the Government also said that the Northern Ireland protocol would not help to create a border down the Irish Sea, so we have to be careful about what we take from this.

In the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, the Government say:

“both the UK and Irish governments have agreed to ensure there are adequate routes to recognition for qualified professionals across the UK and Ireland.”

What is the nature of these routes, when might we see them emerge on a road map and how will this be taken forward? There are real questions about professionals who get recognised in countries that are not recognised in the EU; how will they be able to practise in Ireland? Could the Minister give a detailed response to that particular question, perhaps by letter?

The Government have said that the interim system has to go because it was perceived as offering preferential treatment to professionals with Swiss and EEA qualifications. As such, to handle this perception, the Bill rounds down access, rather than rounding it up: it knocks back market access and throws away the potential services of many highly skilled EEA people before it has established a positive route from other countries. I suggest that this is not in the best interests of United Kingdom citizens.

From my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lady Garden, we heard how hard it is to implement reciprocal arrangements—it is enormously difficult. We only have to look at the numbers of different professions and countries, and multiply them, to see that there are thousands of potential negotiations. I am very keen to hear how the Government see the current flow of professionals. Will the list that my noble friend Lord Purvis talked about get longer—will more professions be added to it?

We then talk about trade the other way. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, sandwiched, between his enthusiasm and his advocating for the accountancy profession, a really stark warning for the Government. He warned clearly that the service sector in this country cannot operate if it does not establish recognition of the professional qualifications of the people who deliver the profit in it.

When the Minister very kindly met with me and colleagues, I asked about that mutual recognition process: why, I asked, would a particular organisation in a particular country let in more professionals to compete? This follows the suspicions that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has on the subject of some professionals blocking out others. The Minister’s view was that, by removing this reciprocal arrangement, we will encourage the Europeans to negotiate. First, I was interested in, and appreciated, the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, because we were told that we were already having those discussions, but it seems that we were not. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that issue: have we actually discussed with our former European colleagues how we could have mutual recognition? If not, why not—because the Minister in charge said that we were?

Looking forward, the Government are of course not leaving things to chance on the supply side. We have heard that they are taking on powers to create a demand-led approach to the issue of a shortage of professionals in this country. I am interested in the words “demand-led”, and I wonder why they were used. I am suspicious that it is to try to allay the fears of people who associate this with immigration—I note the conversation earlier—and that this is designed to ameliorate the fears of people who feel that this will lead to mass migration. This a folly and not needed. We need to talk properly about what skills we need in this country.

The Government are deciding to take on themselves the ability to assess demand for professionals. We have heard from other speakers that that is a very fraught route. There are known knowns: we know that if the Government are to allow hundreds of thousands of houses to be built in the British shires, we will need more quantity surveyors. But there are unknowns—for example, the fintech industry. The fintech industry was built by people who were here before there was a fintech industry. If there had been a quota for fintech people, there would have been no fintech. There is an innovation-stifling nature within the centre of the Bill. For a Government who have abandoned industrial strategy to start to look at demand management of skills is really quite ironic.

I call on the Minister to address what, in reality, the Government can do about demand. It is not clear what the reaction of the Government would be if the regulators failed to deliver sufficient professionals of the nature that the Government had decided that demand required. I had a response from the Minister that said that if they did not do this, they would be breaking the law. But did not do what? Meet a quota or put the right words on a website? We need much more clarity around what the Government can really do about changing the flow of professionals. My sense is that this is overreaching and will underdeliver, and that it might be better to limit the ambition early. It is interesting that a Government, particularly fronted by a Minister who has so obviously thrived in an open and international market, should look at how skills are delivered in this micromanagement-centred and government-centred way. I would be interested in his personal view on this.

Many Ministers have mentioned the cavalcade— I think my noble friend Lady Randerson used “avalanche”—of secondary legislation. The contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was very helpful, and we look forward to the committee’s full report. The Government will have to think again, and we will obviously play our part in helping that thought to emerge.

My noble friends Lord Purvis, Lady Randerson and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill have all raised other important points. If the Minister is hearing some of these arguments multiple times, it is because the same issues were thrown up on the then Trade Bill and internal market Bill. They are an inevitable consequence of the route we have been forced down by the trade deal we have with the EU. I have said on many occasions that free trade is facilitated by the ability of people to ply their services globally. I have proposed amendments that would cause that to happen. To be fair, the Minister and the Bill use the language of free trade—dare I say, liberally—but in reality, when this Bill gets assent, it will establish a system that offers less free trade, less mobility and more associated paperwork. If the Government are here to help, perhaps the Minister can explain, in detail, how this really helps British business and citizens live their lives in this country.

17:43
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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First, I also welcome my noble friend Lady Blake to our Front Bench, where she has immediately made an impact and demonstrated the impact she will continue to make. Ministers, beware.

As the Minister foretold, the debate has heard experience from across the architectural, medical, veterinary, accounting and even the sports, dental and legal worlds, raising various issues, but interestingly, one first raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes: why do we need this Bill? She said it in the meeting we had before this all began, and that made us start thinking. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, mused that the Bill was

“a solution in search of a problem”,

adding nothing to the powers that already exist—in his profession, to recognise vets from other countries that the college wants to recognise. The noble Lords, Lord Ribeiro and Lord Patel, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the GMC, the BMA and the Professional Standards Authority all question whether the Bill is needed in their sector, given that health regulators have a long history of overseeing regulation, and they are worried that the Bill might jeopardise that system and risk patient safety.

As we have heard, the Bill does not define which regulators will be covered, although the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has been sent the list. We are delighted but, like the noble Lord, Lord Fox, we have not seen it; I am sure that it is on its way to us. The Minister said that the Bill is about only regulators set up in legislation and not those set up by a royal charter. The ICAEW would therefore not be covered, although it sounds as if the FRC and the new ARGA would be. Can he confirm that? Also, will it cover the Law Society, the SRA, the Faculty of Advocates and some others? We need to know what this Bill covers.

I should be clear, because I have some questions about it, that there are many pluses in the Bill, enabling statutory regulators, where they so desire, to enter mutual recognition agreements. As noted by the SRA, this could maximise opportunities for trade in professional services, while the Law Society said that it could assist in regulator-to-regulator reciprocal agreements by going rather beyond what a precedent-based FTA could do.

As has been said many times, legal services are central to our exports and investment. They enable their clients to make the most of opportunities across the globe. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, the Law Society hopes that legal services will be at the forefront of forthcoming trade negotiations so that we can ensure that our lawyers operating overseas can carry out a range of functions, including as arbitrators, and partner locally based lawyers. A similar point was made by my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton in relation to actuaries. There is potential there to help some of our crucial export services. However, there are questions. I think that they cover four areas: skill shortages; trade deals; standards and the independence of regulators; and parliamentary scrutiny.

On skills shortages, while attracting overseas talent has been vital to our public sector, it would be wrong to continue to depend on importing qualified staff where we should be building up our own skill base to correct any shortage. We do not want to see this Bill used as a substitute for the Government investing in professional training. If we lack vets or nurses, we should train up our own—with the adequate resources to do so—rather than steal from other countries, as the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, mentioned.

There is also a question of how the Government will decide whether there is a shortage. What involvement will there be with the professions and service providers? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, touched on that point and mentioned the need for consultation on both this and broader issues. Will the Government undertake to publish the data, modelling and forecasts that they use when deciding whether they think there is a specific skills shortage? Will that definition be for a whole profession or just a particular specialism, as was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser? Furthermore, do we risk amending our regulation system for a short-term skills shortage, because we will be using legislation rather than individual cases to make up for any shortfall?

The Bill gives powers to Ministers to compel regulators of specified professions to offer unilateral recognition routes for all countries, subject to meeting the requisite standards. I will return to that power shortly.

Turning to trade deals, Clause 3 is a major concern, as we have heard. It requires a supposedly independent regulator to set up a process for authorising people from other jurisdictions to practise here—not because the regulator thinks it is the right thing to do, nor because we need more professions to fill a skills gap, which is dealt with in a different part of the Bill, but as a consequence of an international trade deal. As the SRA says, we must retain public confidence that professionals are appropriately qualified, with regulators able to set standards and make autonomous, independent decisions. As we have heard from a number of speakers, recognition will need to cover knowledge, skills and experience—not simply qualifications.

The Law Society has raised the specific question that the Bill could allow foreign Bars to challenge the independence of UK solicitors and barristers by possibly allowing the Government to make decisions on equivalence—the grounds for challenge from foreign Bars, because it would be regulated by the Government rather than independently. We trust that dialogue with the SRA and the BSB will produce an amendment to safeguard against this.

In addition to whether regulators should be obliged to enter into agreements with countries designated by the Government is the question of whether, for example, as with the GMC, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons could be forced to recognise vets from India or Mexico—I think those were the examples given. Each country has dozens of vet schools, every one of which would have to be assured if this is not being done by requalification in this country, as it could not give blanket coverage to a whole country’s independent vet or medical schools.

Surely we must agree that no regulator should be forced, because of pressure for a trade deal—we see those pressures in what is happening to farmers in trying to get a deal with Australia—to extend its recognition beyond what it wants, with a consequent risk of reduction in standards. IPReg, for example, is very happy to recognise qualifications from countries of its choice but would not want to be forced to enter into reciprocal agreements with any particular country decided on by the Government. Which future trade agreements that the Government are already looking at are expected to contain MRPQ clauses with specific routes for professions or an obligation on regulators to instigate a route to recognition? If the Minister cannot answer today—which I would understand—I hope he can write to all Members participating so that we know what they are likely to be looking at.

Might it be better to leave any new mutual recognition agreements just to separate, stand-alone, bilateral, regulator-to-regulator recognition agreements, perhaps in parallel to, but not as a requirement of, an FTA with a third country? Forcing regulators to be covered by an international agreement carries significant risks, not least to standards and consumer protection—the very purpose for which statutory regulation takes place.

We note that there is a recognition arrangements team in the department to help regulators pursue agreements with overseas counterparts. That sounds helpful, but can the Minister assure us that that team does not amount to pressure on a regulator to keep the DIT happy?

While the Government have the admirable objective of maintaining existing levels of public and consumer protection and professional standards, how does this sit alongside their objective of using this to support the international trade agenda? Those two may be in conflict rather than in harmony. To reassure us, will the Minister undertake—we might even seek to have this written into the Bill—to ensure that the Department for International Trade will consult with relevant regulators, at the very least before it finalises a trade deal, but hopefully at the point it sets its objectives for one?

This brings us to standards and to the independence of regulators. We will seek certainty that nothing in the Bill undermines high standards of health, public safety or consumer protection and that language can continue to be tested. It is vital that regulators remain independent, as the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, and others stressed, and that the Government do not force them to accept professional qualifications. Indeed, we might even look to see whether the Bill could strengthen the independence of regulators. It will not be a surprise to some people in the House to learn that I would like to add a requirement that user or consumer representatives should be added to the councils of the various regulators. I will give it a try.

As we have heard, the medical world has specific concerns. The BMA stresses that patient safety must be prioritised over mobility, and certainly over the Government’s desire for trade deals. It worries that the Government’s emphasis on paper qualifications overlooks ensuring that doctors have the right skills and relative and up-to-date experience before they work here.

As my noble friend Lord Hunt said, the Bill allows the Secretary of State to require the GMC to assess whether someone with a particular overseas qualification is “substantially the same” as a UK qualification, and thus able to practise here. As we have heard today, that means that international medical graduates would have an automatic right to practise on the same basis as home graduates, without any further checks that they are safe to practise. This is clearly unacceptable, but we very much welcome what the Minister said in opening and his undertaking that the Government will bring forward an amendment to Clause 1. We trust that it will cover all the points of worry. We hope that it will be agreed and, if you like, signed off by the GMC before it comes to us.

I turn to parliamentary scrutiny. Along with my noble friend Lord Hunt, the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, we are concerned that substantial changes to the law will be made through delegated powers rather than in the Bill. I rather thought we had gone way beyond this in how we make law. We put up with a lot of it when we were coming out of the EU because of the rush; I do not think there is any excuse for this now. At the very least, we ask the Minister to commit to publishing draft or pre-draft statutory instruments covering the priority professions before Report. This will be as important for the devolved authorities and devolved regulators as for all the other related regulators and Parliament itself.

With regard to the devolved authorities, because work is already ongoing on this, can the Minister confirm that Clause 9 does not undermine the framework work going on? Can he respond to the Law Society of Scotland’s call for more forthright commitment to respecting the distinct nature of legal services, perhaps linking what is in the Bill with the policy statement?

It is clear that parts of the Bill are necessary and welcome, and we endorse the objective of maintaining consumer, public and patient safety. We want to see our legal and accountancy professions trade for Britain, and we want our UK professionals to be able to work abroad, but this does not mean we will sweep the Bill straight through Committee. There are changes we will want to see made and improvements to be considered. We look forward to working with the Minister on this over the coming weeks, and in the meantime would be grateful for a letter responding to any of the points raised that he does not have time to cover now.

17:59
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate for their excellent contributions. In particular, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, to the Front Bench. She spoke both eloquently and convincingly, and I look forward to working closely with her as this Bill progresses through its parliamentary stages.

We have heard a great deal today about the professionalism of our regulated professionals and the expertise of our regulators that exist in this country. I strongly agree with and endorse all these points.

The extensive experience on display in this House will be invaluable in helping us put in place arrangements that meet the needs of professions. I was pleased to hear support for the broad objectives of the Bill from a number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie and Lady Verma, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I also very much welcomed the support in principle of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.

Noble Lords have raised many detailed points and questions. Almost without exception, these points have been erudite and excellent. I will deal with some of them now, but many will be best dealt with in Committee. I will write to noble Lords who have raised specific points of fact and other matters in the debate.

Before I turn to the points made by noble Lords, to give some context to my responses I will briefly return to the Bill’s objective. Let us remember that the purpose of the Bill is to revoke the EU-derived system for the recognition of overseas professional qualifications in the UK. The Bill will replace this system with a new framework that is global in outlook and tailored to our needs. The Bill will allow action to be taken in the public interest if it is judged that a shortage of professionals has arisen in a profession, but that action in no way restricts regulators’ ability to take decisions about individual applicants; it merely requires them to set up a route through which people can seek entry to a profession.

As the Government pursue their global Britain ambitions, we know that recognition of professional qualifications is a key facilitator of services trade, so the Bill will make sure that regulators can have the tools they need to strike recognition agreements with their international counterparts. It will allow the Government to implement those parts of trade deals concerned with professional qualifications. We have heard today that some regulators have these tools now, but some do not. Of course, if regulators have these tools they will not need to make use of the powers under the Bill. The Bill allows us to take action where necessary, while fully respecting the excellence of our professions and the autonomy of regulators to determine who can practise in the UK. Nothing that the Government do will in any way seek to undermine this.

As I have said, this has been a broad debate and I will strive to respond to as many points as I can. As always, my door is open and I am happy to follow up any individual points of particular concern in meetings.

I will begin with the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. I welcome her acknowledgement of the benefit that the recognition of professional qualifications can provide, including to public services. I of course share her gratitude, as I am sure the whole House does, for NHS key workers, many of whom gained their skills and qualifications overseas.

I was very pleased to hear the noble Baroness and many noble Peers, including my noble friend Lady Noakes, raise the important issue of regulator independence. This is a point where I believe we share some common ground. I must underline again the point that this new framework will fully respect regulators’ autonomy as to who practises in the UK. Why is that? It is quite simply because the regulators are the experts in their respective fields and they ensure that high professional standards are maintained. Regulators must continue to have the ability to act in the public interest, including in the best interests of their professions and the consumers of professional services.

This respect for regulator autonomy has been upheld in our approach to trade deals; I have some experience of this from my role in the Department for International Trade. None of the trade deals or recognition agreements that we have made so far or which we are negotiating will force our regulators to compromise their world- leading standards or to accept professionals who do not meet them. It would be the height of foolishness for the Government to seek to do that. In many cases these agreements merely establish application routes. And of course, in setting our negotiating parameters, we consult widely, including with the regulators themselves.

I remind noble Lords that the provisions of treaties implemented under the Bill would of course have already undergone parliamentary scrutiny, either through our committees or on the Floor of the House, as outlined in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. I hope that all noble Lords will recognise the commitments that I have made from this Dispatch Box in the past about the importance of transparency and proper scrutiny of free trade agreements.

Where regulations made under Clause 3 amend primary legislation or retained direct principal EU law, they will be subject to the affirmative procedure. That will give us another opportunity to debate these important matters and will ensure that there is parliamentary scrutiny every time significant legislative change is made.

The noble Baroness’s second question was about delegated powers—an area which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, also spoke to. We have carefully considered the powers in the Bill and we believe that they are necessary and justified, given the complex regulatory landscape. We look forward to receiving the report from the DPRRC, and we will of course respond to any recommendations that it makes in a timely manner.

As many speakers have acknowledged, the subject matter of the Bill interacts with many different legislative frameworks specific to different professions and regulators. If the Government or the devolved Administrations were to add or remove duties on a particular regulator or give it further powers in pursuit of the Bill’s objectives, the changes would need to be woven into the existing legislation for that profession. I hope that noble Lords recognise that it would be unfeasible to specify detailed amendments to a potentially very large number of pieces of legislation on the face of the Bill.

Critically, we cannot anticipate what amendments might be required. We do not know now exactly what professional shortages may arise in future, nor do we know exactly the terms of future trade agreements. This Bill must be a framework with powers if it is to work. Although we do not plan to bring forward draft statutory instruments ahead of Report, I can reassure noble Lords that we will engage with interested parties in the event that we need to use the powers, and we would welcome the scrutiny that those parties will give. Indeed, as I said, Clause 15 provides that substantive regulations under the Bill that modify primary legislation will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

The third question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, related to our commitment to the skills agenda. A number of speakers, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Garden of Frognal, and my noble friend Lady Noakes, acknowledged the need to support access to good-quality jobs in professions and to career progression. Of course, I support that. Although the lifetime skills guarantee is beyond the scope of the Bill, in January this year the Government published a White Paper that sets out how we will reform further education so it supports people to get the skills that our economy needs throughout their lives, wherever they live. I will of course be happy to write to noble Lords about the Government’s plans if that would be of assistance.

I opened this speech by highlighting the breadth of regulated professions in the UK. Some Peers have raised issues about specific professions, including chartered accountants, physiotherapists, ski instructors and vets. Although I cannot respond on each of these in turn, I can confirm that the letter that I sent to my noble friend Lady Noakes, which has been of extreme interest to a number of Peers, was copied to the House Library and is on public record there, and that it lists the professions and regulators to which the Bill applies.

It is important that I return to the impact of the Bill on medical regulators. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Patel, and my noble friend Lord Ribeiro raised concerns about the Bill’s impact on the work of the General Medical Council. I reassure your Lordships’ House that this is absolutely not our intent. As I said when I opened this debate, that is why the Government plan to table an amendment to Clause 1 in Committee. My officials have been in regular contact with the GMC in relation to this. I fully recognise the importance of ensuring that these regulators can operate in a way that upholds patient safety.

I turn now to other issues that noble Lords have raised on the Bill’s provisions and how they will work. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for his interrogation of the impact assessment, having read it so carefully. The Bill primarily enables other legislation to be made. It does not by itself introduce significant financial implications through most of its provisions. For the majority of the Bill’s provisions, costs arise only if and when enacted by regulations. Where there could be more immediate costs, such as from the transparency measures, they are modest as they are already provided for by many regulators.

Noble Lords have shown considerable interest in how the framework for the recognition of professional qualifications and experience gained overseas would operate. In particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, asked about the assessment process that regulators will use. Under the Bill, it is for the regulator to assess and determine whether qualifications and experience gained overseas are recognised. I am happy to repeat that no regulator will be forced to recognise a qualification. The Bill simply allows an appropriate national authority, in the case of shortages, to require a regulator to have a route in place to determine whether to recognise. Of course, any other specified condition that the regulator sets as part of its normal regulatory processes would also need to be met before access to a profession may be granted by the regulator. The Bill does not provide a short cut or a short circuit to becoming a professional in the UK. The technical amendment that the Government will make in relation to the matters raised by the GMC will make this clear, and I hope it will reassure noble Lords once they have had a chance to see it and consider it.

My noble friend Lord Moylan raised concerns that the imposition of a condition could give rise to trade barriers. Generally, we consider that it is for regulators, acting within their own autonomy, to enter into recognition agreements with overseas regulators. However, as I have said, in cases where the Government or a devolved Administration determine that there is a shortage of professionals in a regulated profession, that could be addressed by requiring the regulator to have this route in place for recognising overseas qualified professionals. They can do so. In defining what is a shortage in a profession, a range of factors would need to be carefully considered by the Government and the devolved Administrations. Of course, they would consult relevant parties before introducing this requirement.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, raised the issue of consulting prior to introducing regulations under Clause 1 and elsewhere in the Bill. I absolutely anticipate that determining whether professions meet this condition would require extensive close working with a range of interested parties before introducing regulations. This will ensure that professions are rightly identified and that the introduction of regulation would assist in the alleviation of any shortages. The regulations made would complement regulators’ existing practices.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, asked about the functions of the assistance centre. The assistance centre is an existing, public-facing inquiry service that provides advice and assistance to UK and overseas professionals on their professional qualifications. There is nothing mysterious about it: it does not tell regulators what to do; it just provides advice on demand for individuals seeking information about professions. It supports professionals with overseas qualifications intending to work in the UK, and UK- qualified professionals seeking to practise overseas. The objective of the service provided by the assistance centre is, and always has been, to complement and support regulators, and of course not to replace them. I am sure that this assistance centre works in conjunction with the devolved Administrations, but I will specifically seek to confirm that after this debate.

Many noble Lords spoke about the importance of respecting the devolution settlements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. My officials have had extensive discussions with the devolved Administrations, and I have met a number of my counterparts. The devolved Administrations rightly want to ensure that they can continue to regulate in areas of devolved competence and that their regulators maintain their autonomy. As I have said many times, the Government are committed to this. The Bill will apply to the entirety of the UK and it allows the devolved Administrations to make regulations within their devolved competences. The Bill contains concurrent powers, because some professions are regulated on a UK-wide or GB-wide basis despite being within devolved competences. I am sure we can discuss this further in Committee. These powers—all the powers in the Bill—are compatible with the devolution settlements.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Bilimoria, highlighted the importance of the mutual recognition of professional qualifications to international trade. Agreements on qualification recognition make it easier for professionals to practise between countries, supporting service exports and imports. Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Moynihan, talked about the difficulties being experienced by some UK professionals seeking to deliver services in the EU after the end of the transition period.

I remind noble Lords that the UK proposed ambitious arrangements on professional qualification recognition during negotiations of the UK trade and co-operation agreement but, regrettably, the EU did not choose to engage with them. We took the horse to water but it refused to drink. Instead, UK regulators will now have to form profession-specific recognition agreements with their counterparts in EU member states, either bilaterally or across the whole bloc. I completely appreciate that this will take time and effort, but this is why the Government stand ready to help. We have already created a team in the business department to provide expert advice to regulators and help them pursue their recognition agreements, as will our posts overseas. The team has already published technical guidance to help regulators do this.

It is right that, having left the EU, we have to think bigger. To deliver our global Britain ambitions, this Government are pursuing a number of ambitious trade agreements with countries around the world, including the US, Australia and New Zealand. This Bill will help us make ambitious offers on the recognition of professional qualifications, should we choose to do so. Moreover, it allows us to empower regulators to go after their own recognition agreements if they do not have the powers already. In pursuing these agreements, as I have said before, we respect regulators’ autonomy.

In coming to an end, let me turn finally to the questions from the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Moylan, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Verma, about how the Bill relates to the UK’s immigration system. I can assure noble Lords that the Bill is quite separate in law. It is specific to the recognition of professional qualifications and experience gained overseas. The recognition of a professional qualification does not mean that an individual meets the UK immigration requirements; it confers no rights to work. If an individual needs to secure a visa to practise a profession in the UK, that condition will still need to be met through the immigration system.

In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate today. We have heard many valuable contributions, which, as I said at the beginning, is a testament to the experience in this House and the importance of professions to much of society. I look forward to the further stages of this Bill and to maintaining the excellence of our professions in all four parts of the UK, as they do business around the world. That is why we need this Bill.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Committee (1st Day)
13:30
Relevant documents: 2nd and 3rd Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask all Members to respect social distancing. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request. The groupings are binding. A participant who wishes to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in a group to a Division must give notice in debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. In putting the question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wishes their voice to be accounted for if the question is put, they must make this clear when speaking on the group.

Amendment 1

Moved by
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Purpose of this Act
(1) The purpose of this Act is to give regulators the necessary powers to ensure demand for professions can be met in the United Kingdom.(2) Nothing in this Act affects the independent process of defining the accreditation processes of the regulators.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment underpins the principle that the process of defining the accreditation processes rests with the regulators.
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, this amendment, I should emphasise to the Minister, is offered very much in the spirit of helpfulness. At Second Reading, the Minister said:

“The Bill will allow action to be taken in the public interest if it is judged that a shortage of professionals has arisen in a profession, but that action in no way restricts regulators’ ability to take decisions about individual applicants; it merely requires them to set up a route through which people can seek entry to a profession.”—[Official Report, 25/5/21; col. 971.]


In other parts of his speech, the Minister reiterated the view that it was not the Government’s intention to interfere with regulators’ roles and responsibilities. Yet he also said:

“I emphasise that we want this new framework for recognition of professional qualifications to complement regulators’ existing practices.”—[Official Report, 25/5/21; col. 909.]


It is because of the need to clarify how the Bill complements the regulators that I am putting forward this amendment with the support of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed.

This Bill is backed up by secondary legislation that we have yet to see and which will define the true nature of this Bill. There are genuine concerns that the Bill creates potential for central government to intervene in a manner that cuts across the Minister’s assurances. This amendment seeks to clarify and delineate the purpose of this Bill. It does no more than the Minister has repeated in meetings and on the Floor of the House.

I make no apology for repeating that the overwhelming proportion of the reach of this Bill is yet to be seen. All we have is the skeleton. We know from the Minister that we should expect a deluge of secondary legislation, and it is in that where we will see reflected the true purpose of the Bill. I would add that, unfortunately, level of scrutiny of such secondary legislation sometimes falls below the level of the scrutiny by your Lordships of primary legislation, which is another danger.

Why should we be suspicious and, indeed, are those suspicions restricted just to these Benches? For the first time, but not the last, I refer your Lordships to the report of the DPRRC, published on 27 May, which addressed this Bill. In that report, the issue is clear. At the outset, the committee categorises Clause 1 as

“a Henry VIII power, as it includes power to amend primary legislation and retained direct principal EU legislation”

and goes on to say:

“The power can be used to make provision about a wide range of matters relating to applications to practise a profession, including ‘detail on the approach to be taken in assessing … qualifications’, requirements for regulators to have regard to guidance when determining applications to practise, the information to be included in such applications, fees to be paid and appeals.”


We have yet to see this potentially very far-reaching legislation. This takes this Bill to a place that is somewhat beyond what the Minister has outlined its role to be. Of course, those Henry VIII powers are qualified, but the scope of those qualifications is broad and will be discussed later.

As well as the mutability of Clause 1, the nature of Clause 3 has confirmed the need for this amendment. I was grateful that the Minister met me and colleagues this week. During that discussion, he confirmed that in relation to the purpose of the Bill, Clause 3 is explicitly needed in order to implement trade agreements where mutual recognition of qualifications is included. In fact, the Minister considers it vital for the Government to use this clause to make sure that the regulatory authorities enact the terms of a future free trade agreement. Of course, it is not needed for that. The Government could bring each trade deal to Parliament for approval, which would be a way of getting primary approval of such clauses within a free trade agreement. In that case, Clause 3 would not be required, and we can have that debate later. This is all about the creeping remit of the Bill, which is why I refer to it in this amendment.

The amendment clearly upholds the aim of giving all regulators the powers to regulate international professionals. Importantly, it also underpins the independence of the regulators—independence that the Minister so obviously treasures, but which this Bill, as drafted, so obviously threatens. In the Minister’s own words at Second Reading,

“the regulators are the experts in their respective fields and they ensure that high professional standards are maintained. Regulators must continue to have the ability to act in the public interest, including in the best interests of their professions and the consumers of professional services.”—[Official Report, 25/5/21; col. 971.]

We say prove that by accepting Amendment 1 and putting it in the Bill. I expect the Minister to say that he agrees with the text, but disagrees with putting it in the Bill. If indeed that is the Minister’s response, I would appreciate him explaining why he disagrees with putting it in the Bill. What is wrong with putting it in if that is the purpose of this Bill?

This is a skeleton Bill—another skeleton Bill—and this amendment tries to make clearer what this Bill is for, explicitly guiding what the Bill will do when the body of secondary legislation is added. I beg to move.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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I call the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord is looking at an out-of-date list of speakers.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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I call the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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My Lords, I am rising rather surprised. We have heard my noble friend Lord Fox elegantly put the reasons why the Bill needs to be slightly tidied up, if nothing else. The amendments in this group do all they can to allow overseas qualifications to be treated as acceptable in the UK. The amendment in my name seeks to deal with a situation where the qualifications and experience are held to fall short; the Bill does not talk about what happens then. In many spheres, what happens is that there is some bridging measure to bring the applicant up to the required standard.

Amendment 12 in my name seeks to give the regulator relief from bringing the applicant up to the required standard if this would involve unreasonable cost, time and be a resource burden on the regulator. My noble friend Lord Fox said that the regulator will be independent. We must not add the cost of providing bridging training if people do not come up to standard.

As has been said, this is a skeleton Bill. We need to make it clear on whom the duty falls to provide the additional training or experience to bring it up to standard. The Bill does not say, but it must not be down to the independent regulator.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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I now invite the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, to make her intervention.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I asked the Government Whips’ Office to order the speakers as is normal in the Chamber when we do not have lists—that is to say, those who have tabled amendments are allowed to speak before those who simply wish to comment on them. I was advised that the list was issued late this morning.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, may recall that I do not like purpose clauses. I believe that a Bill should be written in clear language and that its scope and impact should be readily understandable on its own terms. This Bill fails to meet that test, but I do not think that a purpose clause is the answer. Instead, we should focus on making sure that the Bill itself is fit for purpose. We have tabled a number of amendments aimed at doing this.

I also have a minor quibble with the drafting of Amendment 1. Subsection (2) refers to

“the independent process of defining the accreditation processes of the regulators.”

I believe that the independent processes which this Bill should protect go beyond mere definition of accreditation processes. We do not want any form of interference in the independent processes of regulators. This should be an enabling Bill which should unblock legal impediments to the recognition of overseas qualifications. It must steer clear of all the processes operated by regulators, not just of those defining accreditation.

I put my name down to speak because I recognised the Institute of Chartered Accountants’ provenance of Amendment 12 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. That is why I was keen for him to speak first. Amendment 9 in my name, in a later group, is slightly simpler, but on the same basic point. I realised a little too late that perhaps I should have asked to add my amendment to this group. The essence of Amendment 12 is to ensure that inappropriate burdens are not placed on regulators, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has explained. I will not repeat those arguments. I will explain my own amendment when we reach it later.

This is a very real issue. The Government need to look at it again to ensure that their approach is reasonable in the context of what regulators could be compelled to do by the provisions of this Bill. As far as we can, we should seek to avoid any possibility that they could be compelled to do anything unreasonable, burdensome or otherwise inappropriate to their profession.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of Amendment 1. Subject to the clear statement of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, it would be desirable to try to focus much more of this wide-ranging Bill. If that is not done, a provision to make clear that the independence of regulators is not in any way affected is of vital concern. The regulation of professions should be set by the structure ordained by Parliament—not by the Executive and then left to the regulators. If more precise provisions cannot be incorporated, Amendment 1 would have this vital effect of making clear the independence of the regulators.

In the case of the legal profession, it is convenient at this stage to raise two points about independence. First, the independence of the courts depends on the independence of lawyers, with their ability to challenge the powerful, particularly the Government. This can only be safeguarded by independent regulation within a structure set by Parliament. Given the position of the Executive in relation to the courts and the legal profession, it should not be the Lord Chancellor’s role to be involved in this in any shape or form. It is difficult to see, given the scope of the Legal Services Act, why these wide-ranging powers need to be given to the Lord Chancellor.

13:45
The second point concerns the UK legal services market. As this House knows well, this is very valuable to the UK economy, particularly because of the international work it services, both in the UK and by those qualified as English lawyers in overseas countries. It is often important for people to be qualified as English lawyers, given the prevalence of English law in international agreements and standard form contracts. Thus the position of the legal profession, particularly under the Legal Services Act, gives the regulators wide and extensive powers, leaving them to balance the necessary interest involved, particularly the consideration of reciprocal arrangements. It is important that none of these powers is constrained. Can the Minister clarify why recognition of overseas legal qualifications cannot be left to the regulators without the need for the extensive powers in this Bill? If they are needed, they should be very narrowly confined by primary legislation and not left to these sweeping Henry VIII powers.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, as we are at the start of the Committee stage, I declare my interest as a board member of the GMC, although I am speaking on the Bill in a personal capacity.

I support Amendment 1. We have a real problem with the skeletal nature of the Bill and the extensive use of Henry VIII clauses. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, whose powerful intervention illustrated some of the problems. The power in Clause 1 could be used to make provision about a huge range of matters relating to applications to practise a profession. Extensive powers are delegated to Ministers. As the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has pointed out, neither the Explanatory Memorandum nor the Explanatory Note gives adequate reasons for the extensive use of Executive power. I will come back to this during Committee, but the Minister should at least have a shot at explaining why Executive powers are needed to this extent. So far, we have not heard a reason.

The Delegated Powers Committee illustrated the example of the dentistry profession. Dentistry is one of the professions for which regulation is provided in primary legislation. The Dentists Act 1984 includes a provision to recognise overseas qualifications. Holders of overseas qualifications who wish to qualify for registration as dentists in the UK must not only have a recognised overseas diploma but, as a starting point, they must sit an examination to satisfy the regulator that they have the requisite knowledge and skill. They must also satisfy the regulator as to their identity, good character, good health and knowledge of English. The committee says that Clause 1 appears to allow such requirements and other comparable requirements in primary legislation relating to other professions to be watered down by statutory instrument, if Ministers considered this necessary to enable demand for the service of the profession in question to be met without unreasonable delay. I do not need to remind the Minister that the dentistry profession is under acute pressure.

My reading of the Minister’s amendments in Clause 1, which are welcome, is that some protection is provided, because regulations can specify additional conditions for a professional’s overseas qualifications to be met. But, of course, that depends on the Minister taking the necessary action. It also appears that Clause 3 could be used to implement an international agreement that encompassed an override in respect of the actions of a regulator. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, referred to this, and, again, we will come back to Clause 3 later today.

So there is a need to safeguard and protect the integrity of the regulators and uphold the public interest in high standards among the professions covered by the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, has attempted to draft such protection, and I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic. If not, he needs to realise that the current construct of the Bill will simply not do, and the House would be right to insist on further protections.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, raised her consistent point, for which I give her respect, about declaratory statements within legislation. My noble friend Lord Fox, in bringing forward his amendment, which I had the pleasure to cosign, is justified in this instance, given what other noble Lords have said within this group. The Government have not provided the level of detail about the potential use of the extensive Henry VIII powers under this legislation in particular. Therefore, a statement that these powers should not be used to impact upon the independence of our regulators is of great importance.

That has been not endorsed but reflected in the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report. As has been my wont over many years in this place, I have taken great joy in reading Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee reports—I did not have grey hair when I came into this place. It is rare that a committee report such as this can be so clear. On the Trade Bill, the Minister was given great credit when the committee cited support of the Government and raised no issues, but in this area, it could not be clearer. So the calls of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend Lord Fox for greater clarity are important.

The committee, in paragraph 8, said of the fact that no adequate explanation was given:

“This is particularly disappointing given that … as the Government have acknowledged, most of the substantive changes to the law envisaged by this Bill are to be made through delegated powers rather than the Bill itself.”


Therefore, a statement such as this amendment is clearer. So we agree with the committee that a much fuller explanation of the provision to be made in regulations under Clause 1, and the justification for that provision, is required.

The Government did not need to go down this route, as their own impact assessment indicated. The impact assessment started, under the Minister’s signature on the opening page, by giving reasons for the alternative approaches, and included:

“For recognition of overseas qualifications: a fixed (one size fits all) approach; and a risk/benefit system.”


I think there would be common ground between most of us on these Benches and the Minister on risk/benefit systems usually being best. But no, the Government have opted for “one size fits all”.

The impact assessment goes on:

“For regulators and international recognition agreements: arrangements for specific regulators.”


As we will no doubt hear in other groups, specific regulators have specific legislative underpinning for their own purpose and require scrutiny on a case by case basis. But the Government rejected it. And they rejected for information transparency a non-legislative guidance-based approach. So it is the Government’s choice to go down this route, which opens up a lot of areas where they should be much clearer in indicating the intent behind the regulation-making powers they want.

The Minister said on Second Reading that this Bill, while a framework, was the result of a considered view from reflecting and consulting with regulators as well as more widely with stakeholders. So I was frankly amazed to read that there is currently, for the healthcare professions, a live consultation on regulatory reform. It started on 24 March and closes a week today; it has not even closed yet. That consultation, Regulating Healthcare Professionals, Protecting the Public, touches on governance, the operating framework, fees, education and training, registration and fitness to practise. At paragraph 10, on the governance and operation framework, it says that the Government are

“proposing to devolve many of the decisions about day to day procedures to the regulators themselves, whilst ensuring that they continue to meet their overarching objective to protect the public.”

But this Bill provides the Government with Henry VIII powers to do exactly the opposite when they choose. So I ask the Minister: which is the Government’s intent—the one in the Bill we are scrutinising at the moment or the consultation that has not yet closed?

Paragraph 17 says that the regulators

“are accountable to the Privy Council … and the PSA provides oversight of how they carry out their regulatory functions. The Privy Council has default powers to direct most of the regulators if they fail to deliver their objectives. However, this does not apply to the GDC and GPhC. We propose that the GDC and GPhC are included within the Privy Council’s remit.”

So the Government, in their consultation, are seeking to expand the role of the Privy Council with its default powers, while this Bill is going in the opposite direction. So could the Minister explain what the relationship will be between the regulation-making powers in this Bill and the Professional Standards Authority? Can these powers be made to change the Professional Standards Authority’s legislative standing and how it provides oversight to the regulatory bodies it provides for? And what is this Bill’s relationship with the Privy Council? The Privy Council, as the Government say in their own live consultation at the moment, is the body these regulators are accountable to.

Paragraph 23 says:

“The proposals set out in this document aim to give regulators greater flexibility to determine how they set standards for, and quality assure, education and training.”


But the powers under this Bill will provide—in a way the Government have not yet provided information on—Henry VIII powers to completely determine what they are for the set purposes. So restrictions on the Government’s ability to use those powers which will impact upon this legislation are necessary.

The element of the consultation I thought was quite extraordinary is that the Government themselves say that when it comes to regulation of the medical professions they will go down a different route to change the legislation. The Government’s consultation says:

“We intend to implement … changes for each of the healthcare professional regulators through secondary legislation made under Section 60 of the Health Act 1999.”


There is no reference to any mechanisms under the Professional Qualifications Bill, so what is the Government’s intent for the Henry VIII powers under this Bill, with their already publicly stated intent to use the Health Act for medical?

Finally, the Government’s consultation closes with this:

“While we are required to hold a public consultation on all draft secondary legislation made using the Section 60 powers, we are taking this opportunity to seek views on the proposals that will, in due course, apply to all the professional regulators and all regulated healthcare professionals.”


On Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made a very valid request of the Minister, which was to see some draft regulations about the intent before we conclude our scrutiny of this Bill in this House. The Minister refused her.

The Government’s consultation says that they are

“required to hold a public consultation on all draft secondary legislation”

when they change the regulation of health professionals, so what is the Government’s position on this? The Government say, in paragraph 407 of that document:

“We also intend to commission a review of the professions that are currently regulated in the UK, to consider whether statutory regulation remains appropriate for these professions.”


Clearly that is not the case, because the Government have decided so, as I said at the start of my contribution. Can the Minister tell us what the status of this consultation is, if so many issues have been pre-decided by the Bill?

14:00
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, I slightly have the feeling that the back of an envelope was used for the drafting of the Bill. I could be quite wrong, but it has that feel about it.

I actually really welcome the “purpose” framing of the Bill—and here, unusually on this Bill, I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes—because I think that such framing is extraordinarily useful when one later comes either to court cases, which have in the past occasionally been involved in determining what the purpose of a Bill was or what it meant, or to looking at statutory instruments. I like the idea of setting out what a Bill is for and what it is trying to achieve. Therefore, I welcome Amendment 1, although I have a question about one part of it.

What seems to me really important about Amendment 1 is the second part:

“Nothing in this Act affects the independent process of defining the accreditation processes of the regulators.”


As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, this statement is of great importance. It clearly underlines many of the concerns raised with us—and, I am sure, with others around the House—by regulators, that somehow the Government will tell them how or when to accept the qualifications or experience gained under other jurisdictions so as to allow an individual to practice here. Indeed, this concern is reflected in Amendment 12, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, which emphasises that regulators should be able to rule on whether someone meets their standards.

As I said at Second Reading, regulation is all about protecting the public and the consumer or user interest. It is why we restrict when someone can call themselves a lawyer or a doctor. The comfort that gives to a client or a patient is obvious: it is shorthand for saying that someone has trained them up, someone has tested them, and someone knows they are fit to practice. For consumers, that is a really important purpose of regulation. It is why we have set up, in law, independent regulators to be able to decide whether somebody meets the recognised standards. They do of course do more than that—they look at CPD, at discipline and at various other issues—but for the purpose of this, it is about setting a standard and ensuring that someone can meet that standard before they practice, to protect users of the service. That part of Amendment 1 is really important.

What I am querying is the other bit, which says that the purpose of the Act—and as I said, I like the idea of a purpose of an Act—is to

“give regulators the necessary powers to ensure demand for professions can be met in the United Kingdom.”

Of course, that does not describe the Bill as it is at the moment; that is only one arm of the Bill. Indeed, the regulators who have been in touch with us say about the part I have just quoted that they can do it anyway, and ask why we are passing a Bill to give them powers that they already have. None of the regulators has been clamouring for these powers. Nobody, while we were in the EU, came to us and said, “Look, outside the EU we would love to have lawyers, doctors, vets”—I forget who is on the long list now—“from another country, but we are not able, because of our statutes, to have a process to take them in”. So this has got nothing to do with leaving the EU; either they had those powers before and they were not used, or they did not have them before and never felt the need of them. Nobody is asking for these powers. It is quite extraordinary that the back-of-an-envelope drafting managed to drop that bit in. Basically, that is what the regulators have been telling us.

We have also had the noble Lord, Lord Trees, telling us, from the veterinary surgeons’ point of view, that they have been able to do this. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, knows that the GMC has been able to recognise doctors’ qualifications and experience from around the world. None of the regulators needs this, so it is very hard to understand why it is being dropped in.

Of course, partly it is being dropped in because the purpose of the Bill is not simply to look at where there may not be sufficient professionals here. The Government say that they want to do trade deals, and, as part of those, want to be able to sell—or is it offer or swap?—the rights of professionals from other jurisdictions to come here. Actually, I think that that is what the Bill is about. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Fox, deliberately did not put it in the purpose of the Bill as he knows we are coming later to try to delete Clause 3 because we have our doubts about it.

It seems to me that we need to be clear whether we need the first bit. I will ask the Minister later—I have given him notice—which of the 160 regulators in the letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, do not already have the powers. If there are three of them, are we really passing a Bill for three regulators that cannot do it and probably do not want to do it anyway? I think that broad question needs to be asked. We will come on to that.

There is a big issue around whether the Government should be asking a regulator to do something it does not want to do. If a regulator wants to put in a process for recognising qualifications from another country, it has probably already done so anyway. We are therefore looking only at situations where it does not want to do it, and the Government are saying, “Nevertheless, we want you to”. We are going to come back to ask whether it is right that that should happen.

Going back to the second part of Amendment 1, the Minister has said in a letter to me—and to others too, I am sure; I do not think I get special words from him—that he

“fully recognises that the autonomy of regulators in assessing standards is key to protecting consumers and public safety and … in all negotiations a key concern for the government is ensuring the autonomy of UK regulators and protecting UK standards”.

If he is willing to put that in a letter to me, I see no reason why he should not put it in the Bill, so I hope he will at least accept the second part of Amendment 1.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for International Trade (Lord Grimstone of Boscobel) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Fox, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, for their proposed Amendments 1 and 12. These amendments would enshrine a purpose for the Bill and seek to avoid unreasonable burdens on regulators. I think we all recognise that, although this is a short Bill, it is a very complex one, as any Bill dealing with a landscape composed of more than 50 regulators and more than 160 professions was bound to be.

Many of the points raised in the debate, which I listened to very carefully, relate to the detail of subsequent clauses. So I propose, and I hope this is acceptable, to deal with these points later, in the order in which they come up in the Bill, rather than attempt to deal with all the points now. I have to say that I am very optimistic that, when I come to these points later, I will be able to deal with and assuage the anxieties expressed by noble Lords.

Coming back to the amendments in this group, I start with Amendment 1, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Purvis of Tweed. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, was trying to be helpful, as he always is, in tabling his amendment. The proposed new clause contains two provisions, and I will take them in turn.

First, the amendment states that

“The purpose of this Act is to give regulators the necessary powers to ensure demand for professions can be met in the United Kingdom”.


I am in firm agreement with the noble Lords’ intent. Indeed, one of the core purposes of the Bill is to give regulators the powers they need to enable demand for the services of professions in the UK, or part of it, to be met without unreasonable cost or delay. In essence, that is the purpose of Clauses 1 and 2. It is unnecessary to state one of the core purposes of the Bill separately, as it is already contained in Clause 2.

The Bill’s objectives, however—I think that this is clear to all of us—are wider than the purpose expressed in this proposed new clause alone. Do the noble Lords intend to limit the Bill only to responding to demand for services? That would be an opportunity missed. I will outline other important objectives of the Bill. It gives UK government Ministers and devolved Administrations powers to implement the professional qualification provisions of international agreements, and to empower regulators to enter into their own recognition agreements. These support the UK’s trade agenda. Having these powers has the knock-on benefit of helping to address demand for professions. Taken alone, however, these clauses are about international agreements and not demand for professions.

The Bill also has an important objective in relation to targeted steps for good regulatory practice. The clauses on transparency and information-sharing will support regulators in operating efficiently and individuals in entering professions. They are not necessarily about the demand for professions. I hope that the noble Lords recognise that these are also worthy purposes of the Bill.

The second provision in the proposed new clause outlines that nothing in the Bill affects the independent process of defining the accreditation process of regulators. As we all know, that process is important in maintaining professional standards in the UK. Once again, I find myself in firm agreement with the noble Lords’ intent. The Government are committed to upholding the autonomy of our regulators.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, spoke with great knowledge of this in the context of the legal profession, and I completely agree with his views about the need for the independence of the profession to be maintained. Let me say at the outset—I am sure that this is common ground across the Committee—that our regulators are the experts in their fields. They make sure that high professional standards are maintained. The core of the Bill supports the autonomy of regulators and their freedom to determine whether an individual with overseas professional qualifications is fit to practise in the UK.

Furthermore, and importantly, I am pleased to say that the regulators I have spoken to—I have spoken to a great number of them—agree that the Government are not interfering with their independence in the Bill. I add that I agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes about purpose clauses, especially when, as in the Bill, they serve no useful purpose. I am not therefore convinced of the need to set out the importance of the independence of regulators’ processes in an additional clause in the Bill, when the autonomy is manifest already. That autonomy, I beg to suggest, runs like a golden thread throughout the whole Bill.

I know we will come back to delegated powers when we debate individual clauses, but I appreciate the point raised by noble Lords that, with many powers contained in the Bill, a statement enshrining the purpose of the Bill would offer reassurance. I repeat, however, that those principles are delivered through the substance of the Bill, and I will offer arguments on the necessity of the powers later in the debate. I hope that they will assuage the fears of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Purvis of Tweed, and others.

14:15
I listened carefully to the points made about Amendment 12 by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. It seeks to ensure that regulators are not required to offer bridging measures to applicants that would lead to unreasonable burdens for the regulator. Nothing in the Bill obliges the regulators themselves to offer any necessary bridging measures. They may, for example, simply identify a course provided by another body or institution which the individual must pass before they can practise. To put it simply, if an applicant’s English skills are not good enough, it is not the regulator that will provide classes for him or her to improve their language skills.
We will come back to many of these points during Committee. I conclude by thanking the noble Lords for their amendments and I hope that they have found my response helpful and reassuring. I therefore ask the noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I have requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Purvis of Tweed. I call the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, not having participated in this group, I am prompted by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, on the regulation of healthcare professionals, to which I do not think my noble friend responded. I have here the Law Commission report of April 2014—my noble friend will be aware of it—on the issues referred to by the noble Lord, which included the recommendation that Section 60 of the Health Act 1999, and indeed the powers of the Privy Council, should be substantially removed from the regulation of healthcare professions. What is the Government’s intention on the regulation of healthcare professionals? Do they intend to implement the Law Commission report seven years later, or do they now intend to proceed without any reference to it?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, if I may, because it is a point of some detail, I will write to my noble friend and place a copy of my letter in the Library.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I say to the Minister respectfully: he did not assuage my fears, because he did not address them. Can he reassure me now, from the Dispatch Box, that none of the Henry VIII powers in the Bill will be used to impact the accountability of the medical professions vis-à-vis the Privy Council, or—whether in response to demand or otherwise—to impact any of the powers or the relationship between the professional standards authority and any of the regulators that it has responsibility for?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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I did not believe that my comments on this group would assuage the noble Lord’s fears, but I am sure that as we progress through the Bill my comments on this matter in later clauses will do so.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, this has already been a more interesting debate than I had anticipated. The response of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on the subject of such clauses was not unexpected, but I emphasise that—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, noted—this is a twin-track approach.

We would like at the end of this to have a Bill such that, in the Minister’s words, we all exit the Chamber assuaged. In the event that we do not, however, something along these lines is needed as a safeguard. I am not parti pris about the wording on this—I will take full advantage of the wisdom of others in the Committee, not least that of the Minister himself, if his department chose to engage to offer reassurance. He admits that such a clause would offer reassurance, and then says that the Government do not want to offer reassurance. The opposite of reassurance is something that I would not have thought the Government wanted to be spreading around, but clearly I am wrong.

On the chances of our being assuaged, there are two clear problems. First, while there has been some engagement with the medical profession, we have already had accountants, dentists and lawyers paraded as professions that have issues. I suspect that if there were experts in your Lordships’ House on many of the other professions, they too would express problems. So, while there has been consultation, it seems to me that more of that could be done.

That takes us to the other point, which is the back-of-the-envelope comment that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made. I knew what my noble friend Lord Purvis was going to say, and I was still shocked when I heard him say it. There has been no reference by Her Majesty’s Government to this parallel exercise, and there would have been no reference to it had the diligence of my noble colleague not come to bear. It seems unthinkable that Her Majesty’s Government would bring a Bill such as this—a complex Bill, in the words of the Minister—without acknowledging a parallel exercise that is going on. The Minister does not seem to be prepared to answer the direct questions, but perhaps he could tell your Lordships’ House if Her Majesty’s Government are aware of any other parallel exercises going on in other departments at the moment. It would be helpful if they were all brought to light at this point rather than surfacing later.

It seems that assuaging us is going to take an awful lot of application from the Front Bench opposite. That said, we will wait and see how the debate goes today and on other days. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Clause 1: Power to provide for individuals to be treated as having UK qualifications

Amendment 2

Moved by
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, after “or (3)” insert “and any other specified condition”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would enable regulations to specify additional conditions that must be met by an individual in order to be treated as if they have a specified UK qualification or specified UK experience.
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 2 and to speak to Amendments 3, 6 and 10 in this group.

I have set out the need for a framework for the recognition of individuals with overseas qualifications and experience that focuses on addressing unmet demand for professional services in the UK. Clause 1 brings in an important part of that framework. It means that regulations can be made which require regulators to have a route in place to determine whether to recognise overseas-qualified professionals from around the world. Where such regulations are made under this clause as amended, they would require a regulator to make a determination as to whether an individual has substantially the same knowledge and skills to substantially the same standard as the UK qualification or experience. These regulations would not and cannot alter the standards required to practise professions in the UK, and UK regulators would still decide who can practise here. Regulations would be made by an appropriate national authority, meaning the Secretary of State, the Lord Chancellor, or the devolved Administrations where within devolved competence. I reassure noble Lords that, where Clause 1 is not exercised—it can be exercised only when particular conditions are met—regulators will be free to continue recognising qualifications from overseas in line with their existing powers and any reciprocal agreements in place.

On Second Reading, several noble Lords spoke to the concerns of healthcare regulators. They highlighted that Clause 1, as it appears in the Bill, could limit the ability of regulators to assess knowledge and skills as they see fit. I committed at Second Reading to table an amendment to Clause 1 to ensure that regulators can assess knowledge and skills as they consider most appropriate. I assure noble Lords that the Government take the views of regulators very seriously. This brings me to the detail of Amendments 2, 3, 6 and 10 in my name.

First, the amendments recognise that, where Clause 1 regulations are used in relation to a given profession, additional criteria may need to be satisfied before an individual may become eligible to practise—for example, criminal record checks to ensure public protection. As raised by a number of noble Lords at Second Reading, this could also be used to ensure overseas-qualified professionals have suitable levels of English language proficiency in appropriate cases—something that, where appropriate, could also be addressed as a compensatory measure under Clause 1(3)(b)(ii). The amendment to Clause 1(1) and the addition of new subsection (3A) would allow these additional regulatory criteria to be specified in regulations made under Clause 1. These criteria would need to be met before an individual with an overseas qualification or experience is treated as having a UK qualification or experience.

Secondly, there are of course a variety of ways that regulators may wish to assess the knowledge and skills of an overseas-qualified applicant. These might include an assessment of their qualifications or a test of competence. The amendments to subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 1 and the addition of new subsection (3A) provide reassurance that, when the power in Clause 1 is used, regulators can assess an applicant’s knowledge and skills in whatever way they consider appropriate. I hope, in my first step in assuaging the concerns of noble Lords, that that is the start of the practice.

I have been clear since introducing the Bill that we must protect regulators’ autonomy. This includes autonomy over decisions about who practises a profession and flexibility in assessment practices, in line with regulators’ own rigorous standards. The methods used to determine whether a professional qualified overseas is similarly qualified to work in the UK should rightly be identified and implemented by regulators. Through these amendments, the Government want to ensure that regulators can use a full range of approaches to make this determination. This could include making judgments only on the basis of qualifications or experience, or on such other bases as a regulator considers appropriate.

I have discussed my amendments with the General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council, who raised this issue directly with me. I am pleased to say that, in a very good discussion we had yesterday, both the GMC and the NMC welcomed these amendments to the Bill.

At this juncture, it is right to address a point I have discussed with several noble Lords and which touches on the point of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about the interaction of the Bill with other matters—in particular, the interaction between this Bill and the Department of Health and Social Care’s consultation on regulating healthcare professionals, which also touches on international recognition of professionals. I reassure noble Lords that there is no reason whatsoever why any proposals resulting from the ongoing consultation and requiring legislative changes could not be implemented through legislation led by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and his Ministers. I have no doubt that that legislation would be the appropriate vehicle for upgrades to UK healthcare regulators’ legislative frameworks. This is my second point of assuagement.

To conclude on this point, I hope that noble Lords will agree that the amendments address the challenges raised at Second Reading. The amendments will ensure that flexibility and autonomy for regulators is preserved in the event that the power in Clause 1 is used. I beg to move Amendment 2.

14:30
Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise that I was not able to be present at Second Reading, so I will not detain noble Lords with my views about the Bill in general terms. However, I hope that I will be forgiven if I have not been able to say those things previously.

Amendment 11 in my name seeks to amend government Amendment 10. My noble friend the Minister has explained helpfully and clearly how the Government have brought forward amendments even before the Committee stage to points made at Second Reading and by the regulators. That is extremely helpful, and I agree with them. There was always a risk that if there was a generic recognition of overseas qualifications or experience, an individual would be deemed to have met the required standard in the United Kingdom, but not necessarily by that individual’s experience, qualifications or other factors. My noble friend referred to things such as language assessment. When I was Secretary of State for Health, we were closely engaged in our dealings on this with other countries in the European Union. It is simply not the case that because someone undertakes qualifications that are deemed to be the equivalent of those in the United Kingdom, people are able to practise here in a way that is not impaired. We set about trying to remedy that and we need to make sure that we do not introduce legislation which would reintroduce the same kind of problem.

I encourage noble Lords to look at government Amendment 10. I understand what is intended, but I think that there is a drafting problem. The determinations set out in proposed subsections (3A) (b) (i) and (ii) state that the qualifications and experience are substantially the same or may fall short. Those determinations are to be made

“(i) only on the basis of the overseas qualifications or overseas experience concerned, or (ii) on such other basis”.

The inclusion of the word “only” means either qualifications and experience on the one hand or on another basis on the other hand, but it cannot be both. I do not see why that is the case. To me, it is transparent that we may be looking for an individual to have overseas qualifications and experience, but the regulator should have the flexibility to look at other assessments or experience. For example, I can think of someone I met while I was in hospital not so long ago who looked after me. He was a medically qualified practitioner from overseas, but he was working as a technician in the NHS because his qualification was not recognised for our purposes. However, his experience here in the United Kingdom treating patients should have been taken into account in assessing, for example, his linguistic competence and other experience.

If, for example, a regulator wanted to look at overseas qualifications and experience, as well as UK experience, why should it not be able to do that? The inclusion of the word “only” precludes such a combination on its plain meaning. That may not be the Government’s intention, and obviously I will not press this amendment, but I hope that, at the very least, my noble friend will undertake to look at this and say that leaving out the word “only” might enable this amendment to the Bill to do what he wishes it to do.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for the government amendments in this group. I want to speak in particular to Amendments 2 and 3, but having just listened to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, I can see that Amendment 11 has an awful lot to commend it.

At Second Reading, I expressed concern that proficiency in English was not a prerequisite for individuals to be treated as having UK qualifications. I was prepared to put down an amendment to that effect, but I readily acknowledge that this is a matter much better left to the regulators than put in the Bill. The addition of the words “any other specified condition” leaves this in the hands of the regulators. It is hoped that many of them will recognise the importance that anyone working in the UK should speak and understand English. It is important not only for professional but for social reasons. We are still, alas, a hopelessly monolingual country, and any overseas worker who can speak only their language will have a difficult time both with their fellow workers and with sorting out their everyday life, however brilliantly they are qualified and however much experience they have.

Clause 1 concerns qualifications and experience, but leaves it with the regulator to consider whether experience makes up for any lack of appropriate qualifications. These amendments put the onus exactly where it should be—on the regulator. We on these Benches support the amendments.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to speak to this group of amendments. My question for the Minister is why we need these amendments. I understand that he has brought them forward in part to satisfy concerns raised by the General Medical Council and those expressed in the report of the Delegated Powers Committee. My noble friend has had an opportunity to speak to other regulators—here I declare an interest as a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates—but what he is proposing in these amendments could appear to be micromanaging criteria that would best be left to the regulators.

Concern that has been expressed by the Bar Council for England and Wales that the Government are conflating two different aspects. The first is the right of the Government or the state to set out which person should have the right to enter and remain here. The second is what I believe is the right and the duty of the regulator, which is whether an individual has the right to practise a particular profession or to establish services in this country. In seeking to amend the Bill in the way the Government are doing, we are moving away from the mutual recognition basis which has served this country so well, and I do not agree with that premise. Perhaps I may repeat that I had the opportunity to practise in Brussels on European Community law on two separate occasions, so I think that the Bill before us and the regulations to which my noble friend has referred will make it much more difficult to achieve that in the future.

I refer also to a letter from my noble friend which he sent to the Delegated Powers Committee. He talks about a “generous agreement” that was sought with the European Union on professional qualifications. He goes on to state on page 12 in the third paragraph:

“However, for other trade partners, we are more likely to consider Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) frameworks, a more common precedent in international trade agreements.”


I confess to being slightly confused, because if we are moving away from mutual recognition of qualifications with the European Union, why are we seeking to establish them in international trade agreements? I look forward to my noble friend being able to clarify those concerns.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for these amendments, as I have spoken at length about the problems that would have been created for the General Medical Council otherwise. I am also grateful that he had extensive consultation with his officials and the General Medical Council. As he said, the General Medical Council is grateful to him for bringing forward these amendments.

Having said that, I would like the Minister to confirm on the record that any determination made by a regulator on whether a professional is able to join a register can be based on an assessment of the individual’s knowledge, skills and experience rather than solely on qualifications. Can he further confirm that the regulator would be able to make such an assessment using whichever method they found appropriate, including existing tests of competence and any other test they might develop in the future when it is found necessary?

I also support the probing amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. When the General Medical Council considers qualifications and experience, it takes into account the experience that the individual may have gained in his or her own country, but it also has the power to look at the experience that the individual may have gained subsequently outside their country. The amendment sought by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, seems appropriate and I would be interested in the Minister’s response, but, at this juncture, I thank him for his amendments, and I support them.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I refer to my interest as a member of the GMC board for the sake of this group of amendments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Patel, I welcome the government amendments and thank the Minister for his discussions with the regulator. I listened with great interest to the comments and queries of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about the amendments. In a sense, they reflect the generic and skeletal nature of this Bill, which means that each clause has to relate to many different professions. Frankly, I think it argues for a more detailed Bill, which would meet her issues as well as mine.

The argument that the GMC and others have put is very simple. Clause 1 currently gives power to the appropriate national authority—in the case of health regulators, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care—to draft regulations to introduce a process that will require them to assess whether someone has a particular overseas qualification that is substantially the same as a UK qualification. In the case of the GMC, a person so deemed would then be eligible to practise as a doctor in the UK. That is because the GMC does not require those with UK qualifications to do anything further to demonstrate that they have the necessary knowledge and skills for registration. This could give an automatic entitlement to practise, under the current provision of Clause 1, for international medical graduates on the same basis as UK graduates. Currently, GMC has a very rigorous process for assessing whether the international medical graduate is safe and fit to practise. Without these amendments, it would be almost impossible for the GMC to manage operationally, with 10,000 international medical graduates applying for registration each year. It would be virtually impossible to assess this number of qualifications from countries as diverse as India, Pakistan, Nigeria, UAE and many others, with hundreds of different medical schools. The concern was that the Bill as drafted could force health profession regulators to accept professionals into UK practice in a way that compromised patient safety.

The Minister was sympathetic, and I am very grateful to him. However, there remains the issue of the relationship of Clause 3 to Clause 1, which we will come on to debate. In relation to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, he clearly has a point. I hope the Minister might take this away and give it further thought.

14:45
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I declare that I am registered with the General Medical Council and I am president of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. Like others, I know that the GMC has welcomed these amendments from the Government. Indeed, they address many of the concerns that we raised at Second Reading. I have had some discussions too with the Health & Care Professions Council. It still has some concerns that I hope the Minister will be able to address.

Government Amendment 6 leaves in the phrase “substantially the same” at Clause 1(3)(b)(i), in respect of knowledge, experience and standards. Currently, the processes demand that registrants meet certain standards in order to practise. There is a concern that the phrase “substantially the same” in the legislation risks lowering this standard, potentially creating a two-tier system in which applicants from overseas would need to meet a lower standard than their UK counterparts.

It is, of course, most welcome that the Government have recognised that regulators currently make a holistic assessment: they look at education, training, commitment to CPD and, importantly, the level of experience of each applicant rather than just at something on paper from the institution from which they received a qualification at some time in the past. This focus on the situation of the individual, whether it is an overseas qualification or experience demonstrating an equivalent level of knowledge and skills, is crucial.

Our current workforce shortage is acute. We have a lot of vacancies across the UK and there seems no longer to be the incoming workforce that there used to be. We have people leaving as well, so the vacancy factor is becoming more acute with a workforce that is already feeling the strain and burnout following all the pressures of Covid. I hope that there will be a clear assurance from the Minister that there will be no dropping of standards in a rush to try to fill vacancies and that there will be a concerted effort to provide the education and training needed to make sure that we have the appropriate number of properly skilled people in our workforce.

The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, as discussed, seems to raise an important point. I think that the general tenor of the debate so far has been that we hope the Government will take their own amendment away and have another look at it, rather than expecting it to be put into the Bill today. It could come in on Report when it had been appropriately amended if necessary. It certainly would seem to need some more thought.

I am well aware from my own discipline of medicine that many drugs and conditions have remarkably similar names. It is extremely easy for people to become confused over which is which; that is how errors occur. Even if someone passes an English language test, it is actually their command of the language in the relevant discipline that becomes so important.

The other thing I want to ask the Minister before I sit down relates to those disciplines that are not yet on a professional register but will need to be. They include physician associates, anaesthesia associates and nursing associates in particular. I know that the General Medical Council will take on the registration of physician associates and anaesthesia associates, but I would welcome from the Minister confirmation that the same criteria will apply to them as will apply to those in professions that are already regulated by regulators to whom this Bill currently applies.

There is also a question about what will happen in future to some other groups that are not regulated, such as some of the psychological therapies that we discussed at length during the passage of previous pieces of legislation—for example, the Domestic Abuse Bill—when many Peers across the House expressed serious concerns about some of the standards of practice. We know that some of the schools of psychology have evolved in different countries around the world. It is important that we do not inadvertently create another problem by allowing people to come here and practise in an unregulated way.

That brings me to my last point, which is on cosmetic interventions. Currently, they are unregulated. I hope that we will see them regulated, but I request from the Minister confirmation that the same ability for a regulator to determine criteria will apply and that it will not be separate if it concerns a group coming into regulation that was not regulated previously. We know very well the number of damage cases that there are, particularly from inappropriate cosmetic procedures.

At this point, I seek those assurances from the Minister but reiterate that the government amendments are most welcome. They have demonstrated that they have listened to the representation, particularly from the General Medical Council but also from others.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I will be brief. I support the Government’s amendments in this group and the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley. Initially, I thought that his amendment was attached to the word “only”, which is often misused in the English language—most often as an inappropriate or misplaced modifier. Initially I thought my noble friend was going to say that it was a misplaced modifier. However, I listened to what he said, and he raised a very substantive concern about the drafting of the clause. Like other noble Lords, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree to take this away and look at it and, if necessary, bring an amendment back on Report to make proper sense of his new amendments.

Of course, there is a slight problem: once we have amended a Bill, we are not supposed to go back and amend it again at later stages. However, I think that if my noble friend were clear enough from the Dispatch Box today that he will look at this, it would not cause a problem.

My noble friend Lord Lansley may well have noted that, in our Conservative notes on the amendments that we are considering today, his Amendment 11 was described as an opposition amendment. I know that my noble friend has not always toed the party line—he is not alone in that—but I have never regarded him as the Opposition. I share this with the Committee in the hope that it will improve my noble friend’s street cred.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the Minister on moving quickly on this. I also congratulate the GMC and the Nursing and Midwifery Council on moving quickly in terms of raising this issue with Her Majesty’s Government. Reflecting back on some of the things we heard in the debate on the first group of amendments, it seems that there are other professional groups in regulated professions that still have outstanding issues. I hope that the Minister can confirm that his door is just as widely open for them to bring their issues forward, albeit somewhat later, so that we can clear them up.

The Minister talked about whether we were assuaged and then stated that the Secretary of State for Health could bring forward statutory instruments concerning the health profession. We knew that. What we do not know, and what has not yet been answered, is how conditions set and laws made by this Bill that reflect on the consultation—as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, set out frankly, this Bill and the DHSC consultation are travelling in highly contradictory directions—will affect the consultation and the health professions. It is that direction that we are more interested in, rather than the opposite.

I associate myself with the comments made by my noble friend Lady Garden of Frognal. These amendments are welcome. I note that, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, we expect to debate the word “substantially” later because we have some concerns around that. I also note her point about future regulators, so to speak. My assumption is that those regulators will be established by a different process somewhere else but, in order to add those additional regulators to this Bill, we will be seeing some more of the Minister’s statutory instruments in future. Perhaps the Minister can be clear about how future new regulators will be added to the terms of this Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, does not regard the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, as the Opposition, and I kind of do not, either. In this respect, I think the Minister would do well to listen to his very wise advice.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, as has been said, the changes made are welcome. However, we should reflect that there are still concerns over the powers. On 7 June, the Delegated Powers Committee produced a report on the changes. It said that the Government had still failed

“to explain what such ‘additional requirements’ or ‘conditions’ might be”

and—this is the important bit—had failed

“to explain why the amendment would leave it to Ministers to determine … whether there are to be any such conditions and, if so, what those conditions are to be.”

The committee also said that the Government had failed

“to explain why all such conditions should be a matter for secondary legislation”

rather than primary legislation—a theme to which we will continue to return.

As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, the GMC welcomes the changes but has asked for a couple of things to be put on the record by the Minister today. For example, can the decision on whether a particular professional is able to join a register be based on an assessment of that individual’s knowledge, skills and experience, rather than on just their qualification? Also, will the regulators make that assessment? As the noble Lord said, the GMC has asked for that, but I must say, as a potential patient, that I too would like an absolute assurance that it will be the regulator who says that someone is fit to start cutting me open, or whatever else anyone would do.

On the little secret we heard about in the briefing from the other side of the House, perhaps the mistake next time could be calling my amendment a government amendment, because that way we might be able to get it through without anyone noticing. I live in hope.

The issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is a good one. I also wonder whether the Bill needs an “and/or”. That seems to go to the strength of putting this amendment to one side and putting it in on Report. The Minister should not think that there is any egg on his face or anything if we ask for a pause. As I am sure he will know, it is very normal for government amendments to be put in on Report; otherwise, they have to be brought back, slightly clunkily, at Third Reading, by which time we are normally rather tired and want to leave early. So if the noble Lord could not push his amendment today so that we can deal with it on Report, that might be the best way forward.

15:00
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have given their careful consideration to the amendments in this group. It was an unusual experience for me standing at the Dispatch Box almost to feel a warm glow as noble Lords welcomed my amendments. The lesson that I learn from that is that the quicker one can amend one’s own Bills, the better, probably, in your Lordships’ House.

As noble Lords will appreciate, the Government have not brought these amendments lightly. As we have heard, they have been informed rightly and properly by careful engagement with healthcare regulators. I thank a number of noble Lords; perhaps I can single out the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, for her support and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for his comments. Without reservation, of course, my door is open to other regulators who wish to speak to me as this Bill continues its passage.

We heard again from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, on his point about consultation with the HSC. I think that group 7, which is about consultation, will be a good place to return to that and I will try to address in detail the points the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Purvis, have made.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh referred back to what, in her view, was clearly the golden age of mutual recognition with the European Union. As I said previously, we would have liked to have maintained that mutual recognition. The phrase I used at Second Reading was:

“We took the horse to water but it refused to drink.”—[Official Report, 25/5/21; col. 975.]


I hope that noble Lords will support my amendments. I believe that they protect the public interest, maintain standards and ensure that regulators have the necessary flexibility and autonomy to regulate appropriately. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for his comments, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and I am happy to give a complete reassurance standing at the Dispatch Box on the important points that were made.

In relation to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, about the use of the word “substantially”, we have a later group which is almost entirely devoted to discussing that word. If I may, I will leave comments on that until we get there and, again, I hope to assuage noble Lords’ fears when we reach that point.

On what happens if other regulators pop up in this field, the way the Bill is drafted and, frankly, one of the reasons why we have not included a list of professions—I am sure we will come back to that later as well—is because it is a moving target. Of course, any new profession that ends up being regulated by law will automatically fall within the purview of the Bill by being so regulated, and if it falls within the purview of the Bill, the standards of the Bill and the methods that we have been discussing today in relation to my amendments will also apply to those new professions.

I come to Amendment 11 in the name my noble friend Lord Lansley, who made some interesting points during the discussion which were reinforced by my noble friend Lady Noakes. I always admire my noble friend Lord Lansley’s forensic attention to the detail of the legislation before our House. I think all Front-Bench spokesmen from this side always listen carefully to the points that he makes. I will look at this again, but I hope that he appreciates that the wording of Amendment 10 is intended to provide more flexibility about how regulators make their determination. We believe that they need this flexibility and will find it helpful.

Some regulators—and this is, of course, completely a decision for the regulators—may consider it appropriate to look solely at what is demonstrated by a qualification obtained overseas, others may require an applicant to pass a separate test of knowledge and skills, while others may choose to combine the two. Regulators should have this broad discretion available to them. I believe, and I am advised, that the proposed removal of the word “only” from Amendment 10 could cast doubt on whether the first of those options is available. I will have another look at this to make sure that that is the right reading. Meanwhile, I ask my noble friend not to move his amendment.

I commend Amendments 3, 6 and 10 to the Committee and beg to move Amendment 2.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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I call the noble Lord, Lansley, and then I shall call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who has requested to speak after the Minister.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have kindly approved of the argument made in Amendment 11 and to my noble friend for saying that he and colleagues will look at it again. I think that what they suggest is not the case. As it stands, Amendment 10 allows regulators to make a determination based on overseas qualifications and experience alone, but it runs the risk, which is a different risk, of preventing them combining that with other factors and assessments and bringing them together in the determination. That is the point. The removal of the word “only” would not, in my view, prevent a regulator making a determination based solely on overseas qualifications and experience.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. If the Minister is willing not to move Amendment 10 today and to look at it again and bring it back on Report, I think that would be the best way to proceed. I think we all know what we want to achieve, which is to give the regulators flexibility. It is purely a drafting issue, and I am sure we will not need to be detained at length on Report if the draftsman, is, in the event, clear that the effect is as the Minister wishes it to be. He has not moved Amendment 10 yet, and I hope he will not move it when we reach it.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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I think I have in fact moved Amendment 10. I commended amendments to the House and begged to move.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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May I explain to the Minister that we are debating Amendment 2, with which other amendments are grouped? The debate that is taking place currently is on Amendment 2 only.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for that clarification. May I consider that point and come back to the House shortly on it?

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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If I make a slightly longer intervention than I planned, it might allow the Minister to consult the Whips in order to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in a constructive manner. Certainly, these Benches would appreciate it if the Minister was able not to move his amendment at this stage. Like my noble friend Lady Garden, I do not think that there is a large area of difference. I cannot speak for the Cross Benches—I see the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay—I am giving the Whip plenty of time here, I hope.

The Whip should not indicate to my noble friend Lord Fox for me to carry on speaking, because normally that is quite the reverse of what my noble friend asks me to do, which is to shut up. However, that said, I hope that the Minister will reflect on it. If he is able to respond positively with a nod, I will defer my actual comment until later on in the Bill—he is nodding enthusiastically to try to do that.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise for the confusion. I am happy to have another look at Amendment 10 in the light of these comments. I commend Amendments 2, 3 and 6 to the Committee.

Amendment 2 agreed.

Amendment 3

Moved by
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, leave out “overseas qualifications or overseas experience demonstrate” and insert “individual has”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the determination that must be made by a regulator in order for an individual to meet the condition in subsection (2) of the Clause so that the determination relates to the knowledge and skills of the individual.
Amendment 3 agreed.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 4. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.

Amendment 4

Moved by
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out “substantially”
Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD)
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My Lords, I wondered if I had drawn the short straw for this set of amendments. It always feels slightly lonely when yours is the only name on an amendment, but I assure noble Lords that I have the support of all my Lib Dem colleagues. I beg to move Amendment 4 and speak to Amendments 5, 7, 8 and 33—there may be more to come later; I hope that this is not a spoiler alert—to remove “substantially” from the relevant clauses. It appears so often that it is obviously a favourite word of the Bill drafters, but it expresses a qualification, uncertainty and lack of conviction which we wish to challenge, and it surely threatens to undermine the authority of the regulators. If I were having an operation, or water were flooding through my roof, I am not sure that I would be reassured to know that the surgeon or the plumber had substantially the same knowledge and skills as those required by a UK surgeon or plumber, or substantially corresponded to the practice of a profession. Surely in legislation we need to be more assured. If we are genuinely looking at a level playing field between UK and overseas professionals, let us have the courage of our convictions and assure our citizens that they are in safe hands because the regulators have done their professional job and checked that qualifications and experience match across the countries, not just substantially but in their entirety.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I support these amendments. As my noble friend has excellently explained, we are probing the use of “substantially” and highlighting what we see as its inadequacy. The Minister’s own amendments start to tackle this problem. Both the British Dental Association and the British Medical Association have concerns that the proposals focus too heavily on simple qualifications and do not adequately recognise the importance of skills and experience, as well as the vital requirement to be of good character and to put patient safety first. This is fundamental in healthcare and being of good character is of course important in teaching-related professions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, earlier outlined the concerns of the Health and Care Professions Council. The Minister may argue that the BMA, the BDA and so on are not regulators, but they represent their profession. They have a stake in the respect in which that profession is held, and they pay substantial annual fees for the recognition of their qualifications. The impact assessment makes it clear that the proposals in the Bill will be likely to increase those fees.

In some measure, the amendment encapsulates the fundamental problem with the Bill. It tries to impose a simplistic solution on an endlessly complex and dynamic situation. The Government have grossly underestimated how long it will take to replace the current structure with an adequate and comprehensive alternative. The interim recognition of qualifications is swept away on enactment of the Bill, on the grounds that it gives preference to EEA and Swiss nationals before a replacement is necessarily ready. What will it be replaced with? Another set of recognition for qualifications from countries which will then be given preference as a result of international trade arrangements.

15:15
The impact assessment goes into pages of tortuous argument about the considerable costs and lengthy processes by which the current structure will be replaced by individual regulators, including the potential reinstatement, either for individual EU countries or for the block of 27 countries as a whole. I confess that I felt an element of farce creep in when I read that. Given that background, I can be forgiven for thinking that there will be interruptions in the market and therefore a temptation to cut corners, and thus “substantially” is not an adequate insurance. A medical qualification obtained abroad may be substantially the same as the one in the UK, but if the small variation was that students were not given the same understanding of the meaning of the Hippocratic oath, that would be a fundamental problem, hence the importance of incorporating both skills and experience, and, for healthcare professions generally, of recognising patient protection as an overarching guideline.
I would have greater faith in all this if there were any reference to universities. I declare an interest as chancellor of Cardiff University. There is no reference in the Bill to universities, other higher education institutions or other training providers. They are not even listed in the impact assessment as stakeholders, so presumably they have not been consulted. In practice, the quality of all these qualifications depends on the education and training that these organisations provide, and regulators are to a large extent simply relying on the outcome of their work. Two students coming out of two different universities with degrees in biology may have studied a different range of knowledge or may have studied it to a different level of detail, so regulators have to work closely with HEIs to ensure that both scope and depth of knowledge are maintained in whatever field they need, so they need a mention in the Bill.
It is possible to imagine that, as a result of a trade deal, a UK regulator may seek an agreement with a regulator in another country where not all educational institutions or qualifications are fully accredited by that regulator. Therefore, it is essential that recognition of qualifications is only ever agreed with the regulator in each country, and the Bill must specify this too. I will take a different example: the teaching regulators. Teachers qualified and registered to teach in England are not recognised as qualified to teach in Wales. One could argue that the learning and knowledge involved is substantially the same, but the requirements on skills and experience are somewhat higher and different in Wales.
This is all so much more complex than “substantially”, and the Bill needs a significant amendment to reflect this.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, the requirement to speak Welsh in Wales is rather important.

I have some sympathy with the Minister. Later, we will get to our proposed new schedule—it is on pages 18 and 19 of the Marshalled List—to specify the regulators, again referring to the letter sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. The range of regulators covered by the Bill—and if they are covered they should be in the Bill—includes farriers, who may never have gone to university and for whom none of this might apply.

One has to be careful. Part of the problem is that we are trying to write a Bill for an enormous range of professionals. It does not include the Church—the right reverend Prelate will be very pleased—and their qualifications are probably recognised across different jurisdictions, but it includes all sorts of others, such as driving instructors. I used to call their body the DVLC, but I think it is now called the DVSA. It may well be that, in order to be able to instruct people, a driving instructor has to have five years post their own driving licence in one country but six in another. There may well be bits that are substantially the same, but I understand why we would want to include them. We are not just talking about the health service. I see the problems with that, but as a patient I would want the qualifications to be the same if not higher if we are recognising someone here.

Part of the problem is that, in writing what looks like a simple piece of law to cover the Security Industry Authority, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Highways Agency—presumably the people who check that the roads are safe; I do not know what they do but they are in here—we have ended up with a Bill that tries to ensure that both doctors and farriers, for whatever reason the latter are regulated, are of high quality. I have some sympathy, but nevertheless I see a substantial problem in allowing too much flexibility, which would not be in the interests of patients in particular and maybe of other clients in sensitive areas. I look forward, as they say, to the Minister’s response.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, for tabling Amendments 4, 5, 7, 8 and 33, which probe the use of the word “substantially” in Clauses 1 and 4, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her comments. The point is that, in the end, it is the individual who must be fit to practise, and the assessments that we make must relate to the individual. It is here where the important matter of regulator autonomy comes in, and why it is that the only people who can safely work out what is the appropriate route for a particular profession and the right mix between the individual, the skills and the qualifications seems quite properly to be the regulator. That is the key safeguard that we want to achieve under the Bill.

I turn to the amendments. As we know, Clause 1 is the “Power to provide for individuals to be treated as having UK qualifications”. If amended as the Government suggest, under Clause 1 an individual would be treated as having UK qualifications if the regulator determined that the individual had substantially the same knowledge and skills to substantially the same standard as are demonstrated by the specified UK qualification or experience. The noble Baroness asked some interesting questions about this approach and whether it undermines the freedom of UK regulators. I reassure noble Lords that the issue has been very carefully considered.

If we removed the word “substantially” from Clause 1, that would change the requirement such that individuals would need the same knowledge and skills to the same standard as demonstrated by the specified UK qualification or experience. That suggests an assumption that it is often the case that skills and knowledge gained in one country for a profession exactly match those gained in another country for that profession. It also suggests an assumption that it is often the case that a profession in one country covers exactly the same set of activities as the equivalent profession in another country. Of course, these assumptions are not necessarily valid. So while it might make it easier for UK regulators to decline applications, removing “substantially” would remove regulators’ flexibility in considering how skills and knowledge developed overseas translate into the UK profession.

In the event that regulations were made under Clause 1 as drafted, regulators would have the discretion—and I believe that is where the discretion should sit—to make appropriate judgments about whether overseas skills and experiences meet their expectations to an acceptable degree. That drives us back to the consideration of whether the individual is fit to practise in substantially the same way as a UK individual would. This does not water down expectations and is not a compromise on quality, because if a regulator felt that the quality had not been maintained then they would not want to approve that person. The individual’s knowledge and skills must be substantially the same.

Lastly, including “substantially” does not restrict the freedom of regulators to make determinations of equivalence in ways that they deem fit. We come back to a point that we discuss regularly in this debate: the importance of regulators’ autonomy in deciding exactly the right approach to take.

On the question of English language proficiency, at Second Reading the noble Baroness raised the need in certain professions for demonstrable English language proficiency in order for an individual to deliver professional services to the standards required in the UK, and for regulators to be able to consider this. The Bill allows regulators to take into account language requirements as part of an assessment of knowledge and skills. Alternatively, under Amendments 2 and 10, regulations could provide that passing a language test was an additional condition in itself.

Amendment 33 examines the definition of “corresponding profession” in relation to authorisation that can be given by the appropriate national authority to enable regulators to enter into regulator recognition agreements. The amendment would change the permitted scope of regulator recognition agreements from those with overseas professions whose activities are

“the same as or substantially correspond to”

the UK profession to those with overseas professions that are “the same as or correspond to” the UK profession. As I have explained, there are differences between professions in different countries, and differences between how they are regulated between jurisdictions. Even under the EU’s prescriptive mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive, there were differences in the qualification requirements between different EU member states. The clause as drafted reflects the reality that professions do not exactly align across different countries’ regulatory systems and standards. Some countries do not make the same distinctions as us in how they define professions—for example, England and Wales distinguish between barristers and solicitors, but that is not the case in many other countries.

The amendment would narrow the circumstances in which a recognition agreement could be made, potentially preventing recognition agreements from being made at all if professions did not directly align with one another. The Government believe this would limit the autonomy of regulators to make decisions about how similar professions are in different countries. Regulators should be free to determine for themselves where it is appropriate to enter into regulator recognition agreements with their counterparts overseas.

Many noble Lords have spoken passionately about the need to ensure that regulators can make decisions that are appropriate to their professions. I hope I have explained why the word “substantially” is an important qualifier that allows for more regulatory autonomy in these clauses, and indeed in the other clauses where it is used, and that, on that basis, the noble Baroness is able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the noble Lord, Lord Fox, who has asked to speak after the Minister.

15:30
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister, who has used words to set out why the Government want to put “substantially” in there but in no sense explained it. Again, the Minister stated the importance of regulatory autonomy for the regulators, which of course is why I proposed Amendment 1—to put it at the very beginning of the Bill, rather than in words such as “substantially”, which mean several things to different people, in the body of the legislation. I have one specific question. Can the Minister tell us what the legal judgment is on including “substantially” and opening up regulators to legal challenge? In other words, if the law says “substantially”, who determines that, and is there legal recourse for an individual who has been turned down by a regulator to use that word to make a legal case? If the Minister does not have that legal writing to hand, perhaps he could furnish it before the next day in Committee.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for that point. Much as noble Lords know, I love giving my opinion on everything, but I hope it might be safer if I write to him about that legal point afterwards.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank everybody who has spoken on this debate, which turned out to be rather more interesting than I was expecting. I can see the two uses of “substantially” and

“the same knowledge and skills”.

Perhaps “the same range of knowledge and skills” would be right, but I cannot understand why “substantially the same standard” is right, because surely we should be looking for “the same standard” throughout. I might amend some of the amendments on this point but I am not assuaged, I am afraid, by the Minister. He also did not really address the important points made by my noble friend Lady Randerson about why higher education institutions and others were not involved.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned the farriers. I believe the farriers are regulated by a livery company, are they not? I declare my interest with City & Guilds; they are likely to have City & Guilds qualifications rather than degrees in farriering. I could be wrong on that but, from memory, that is what happens. But she is quite right that the range of these professions is extremely wide. Many of them are almost crafts and trades, rather than professions, but perhaps everything is a profession these days.

On that basis, this has been a very important debate and we may need to return to it at the next tranche. And we have another load of the word “substantially” in the next half of the Bill to have fun with. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendment 5 not moved.
Amendment 6
Moved by
6: Clause 1, page 1, line 19, leave out “overseas qualifications or overseas experience fall short of demonstrating” and insert “individual does not have”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the determination that must be made by a regulator in order for an individual to meet the condition in subsection (3) of the Clause so that the determination relates to the knowledge and skills of the individual.
Amendment 6 agreed.
Amendments 7 and 8 not moved.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 9. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.

Amendment 9

Moved by
9: Clause 1, page 2, line 2, at end insert—
“(iii) that the conditions mentioned in sub-paragraph (ii) can be met without imposing unreasonable costs or other burdens on the specified regulator or on individuals who are already qualified to practise the specified regulated profession, and”Member’s explanatory statement
The amendment adds an additional determination requirement related to the costs and other burdens involved in dealing with overseas professional qualifications which fall short of the standards of the relevant UK qualifications.
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, who is no longer in his place, explained the concerns which underpinned his Amendment 12, debated earlier this afternoon: namely that regulations could impose unreasonable burdens on a regulated profession to remedy a lack of appropriate qualification or experience in overseas professionals. My amendment has the same core concern. It was drafted after reading similar concerns expressed by the British Dental Association, which highlighted the burdens that could be imposed on regulators if they are required to assess professionals or overseas qualifications, or to develop new recognition agreements, to comply with regulations under Clause 1.

Even if regulators have autonomy over individuals who can practice, the regulations under Clause 1 could well impose burdens and costs in making the regulators set up operating processes to carry out the assessments to make the decisions, including having to assess the suitability of overseas awarding institutions, as well as the nature of practical experience that comes with individuals who wish to practice. In addition, it was noted that the costs which were incurred in any such new activity are likely to end up being borne by existing members. Regulators get the majority of their income from membership fees, and asking existing members to shoulder the costs of funding a problem of having too few professionals—which is what Clause 1 is said to be for—is, at the very least, unfair. That is why my amendment refers to the impact on existing members of the profession.

Amendment 9 would add a new determination that the regulated profession must make: that the additional processes of making good any deficiency in an overseas qualification

“can be met without … unreasonable costs or other burdens on”

the regulated profession or the existing members of that profession. I have expressed this in terms of costs or burdens because a regulated profession might, for example, have a shortage of suitable individuals who could carry out the processes and who therefore could not be obtained at any cost. It would actually be imposing an unreasonable burden for the regulated profession to bear. Importantly, my amendment places the judgment in the hands of the regulated profession.

Clause 2 refers to “unreasonable delays or charges”. These are words that my noble friend Lord Lansley wishes to delete with his Amendment 18, which is also in this group. But from my perspective, it should always be the regulated profession, and not the Secretary of State or other national authority, who should make that judgment. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say about his Amendment 18, but I see the place for assessing burdens and costs, and that that assessment should be made by the regulated profession. I beg to move.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am very glad to speak to my Amendment 18 in this group.

In relation to Amendment 9, moved by my noble friend Lady Noakes, I think she has a point. Somewhere, we should be taking account of the costs that are imposed on regulators, and by extension as they are imposed on the professionals who are themselves regulated. In the previous group, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred to the material in the impact assessment on that point. Personally, I do not think Amendment 9 puts it in the right place, with great respect to my noble friend. There is a good point for putting it perhaps slightly later in Clause 1, and we may come back to this on Report. It seems that it certainly should be taken into account in the making of regulations under Clause 1; it just is not, at the moment. For example, there are things as to fees being paid in connection with an application but nothing to do with the regulations taking account of the costs on those regulated, including those who are currently regulated in that profession.

Why have I brought forward Amendment 18? The reason is that it relates to the inclusion of

“without unreasonable delays or charges”

at the end of Clause 2(2). What does that do? It is trying to define the circumstances where demand for a professional service is not being met. My fundamental problem with it is that it illustrates this by reference to unreasonable delays or charges. The implication is that this is the criterion by which one measures whether professional services are in sufficient supply.

For example, in relation to the health service, it is very hard to measure why there are delays for treatment. Sometimes they occur because of lack of workforce and sometimes for completely different reasons. It may be incredibly difficult to ascribe delays to simply having insufficient overseas applicants for a particular profession in the health service. Charges will be even more difficult since we do not charge. It may be possible to do this for dentistry but not for most other healthcare professions, since we do not charge consumers for access to services.

Interestingly, my noble friend Lord Grimstone wrote a letter to the Delegated Powers Committee—I think last Thursday—which is in its latest report, published on Monday. There is a paragraph which comes exactly to this point, in which he says:

“The Committee sought further clarification on the point that this demand needs to be met without unreasonable delays or charges. Those words make it clear that regulations can be made where the demand for the services of the profession is, strictly speaking, being met but the consumers of those services are experiencing unreasonable delays or having to pay high charges.”


Demand for those services under those circumstances is not, “strictly speaking, being met”; it is not being met. We do not need to write “unreasonable delays or charges” into the Bill for it to be evident that, in circumstances where insufficient members of a profession are providing services, there are delays in accessing those services; that is plainly the case.

As the end of the same paragraph, the Minister says, rather tellingly, that unreasonable charges and delays

“are illustrative of the considerations that the appropriate national authority would make in relation to this condition.”

“Illustrative” is not what the Bill says. It does not say “for example”, which it might well say. It says

“met without unreasonable delays or charges.”

It specifies those factors, so I think we should take them out. If unreasonable delays or high charges to consumers result from a lack of professional supply and that can be remedied by overseas applications, the appropriate national authority can make such a determination. It does not need the Bill to reference “unreasonable delays or charges” for that to happen.

I hope my noble friend will recognise that, in this respect, I am not trying to argue that delays or extra charges are not important; they are very important and may well be the principle determination one looks for in some professions. In others, one looks for other things. We should simply take those words out when the time comes—I hope we will—and the appropriate national authority will, if necessary, properly consult on what the demand for a professional service may be and the circumstances in which it is not being met.

Lord Bhatia Portrait Lord Bhatia (Non-Afl) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Explanatory Notes state about Clause 9 that

“a regulator in one part of the UK could ask an equivalent regulator in another part of the UK for information relating to an individual’s fitness to practise and, where applicable, any instances of professional sanctions. This provision ensures that regulators in all parts of the UK have access to information that helps them fulfil their obligations.”

Does the Minister agree that, in view of the duty of all regulators to co-operate with each other, it should be mandatory for all four nations to allow any professions to practise in all four nations without any hindrance?

15:45
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing forward these amendments. She is very modest and did not tell the Committee whether they are considered opposition amendments, but, if it is not too unhelpful for her, I will say that I am very sympathetic to them. We have been considering them very carefully.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, quoted the interesting response from the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone. I think it was fairly clear that the Government intend to have these powers to, if they so choose, change the ability of the regulators to set fees for applicants. The Government will take those on board and then, for international trade purposes, set the fees for applicants. That changes the responsibility of the regulator quite dramatically, especially since many regulators, under law, have to seek approval from the Privy Council or the Scottish Parliament to do so.

I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, whether she might respond to the two times I asked the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, about whether any of the regulations under this Bill will impact the oversight and accountability of the Privy Council regarding the setting of fees and the professional standards authority regarding its oversight. If the Government cannot, in Committee, offer reassurance on that point, then we are in a separate situation of considering the relationship of the Privy Council and Scottish Parliament.

If the Government intend to have the new powers now under the provisions of Clause 1(5)(e), which makes

“provision for fees to be paid in connection with an application”,

we have to look very closely at the impact assessment with regard to the impact of the Bill on fees. In their impact assessment, the Government have said that there is a high cost of this Bill of £42.82 million and a best estimate of £18.16 million. Let me be fair to the Government and take their best estimate of £18 million. The impact assessment says:

“These costs could be passed through in fee increases to professionals”.


I raised the staggering costs of this to professionals—the applicants—at Second Reading. The Minister responded that I should not be too concerned because this was not cost to the Government. It is not—it is to the applicants. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and I agree; the Government do not have money—it is taxpayers’ money, as we are always told from that side of the House. The people who will be paying £18 million for this are the applicants. The Government say they want these new powers to reduce fees, but by implementing these powers the fees are going up. What is their plan, given that one completely contradicts the other?

The Minister may be able to help me out here as I do not know, but it may be that the Government are using the Home Office forecast of a 70% reduction in applicants from the EEA and Switzerland as a result of leaving the mutual recognition arrangements with the EU. Paragraph 90 of the Government’s impact assessment says that this

“may save resources by no longer assessing applications. It should be noted however that these regulators will also no longer receive the fee revenue attached to these applications.”

We could see a 70% reduction in the foreign fee applications, with an £18 million increase in this bureaucracy, which the Government say is going to be paid by British applicants.

I hope that the Committee is following me. If it is, I will refer back to the Department of Health and Social Care’s live consultation on the medical professions, which says in paragraphs 71 and 72:

“Four regulators (the GMC, GDC, GOC and the GPhC) can set registrant fees without any Parliamentary oversight. The remaining regulators can only implement fee changes with the approval of the Privy Council and, in some cases, of the Scottish Parliament ... We propose that all regulators should be able to set their fees in rules without Parliamentary oversight. This will make regulators directly accountable to registrants for the fees that they charge.”


However, this Bill will not do that; in fact, it is completely contrary to the proposals in the consultation for the medical professions to remove parliamentary oversight. The Bill is putting it in.

If that were not bad enough, the current situation for regulators setting their fees, as paragraph 73 says, is:

“Any fee changes, including those to put in place a longer-term approach, would require consultation.”


The Government are proposing—this relates to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about where the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, could fit—to put these regulations in place, with these provisions on fees and extra costs, through the negative procedure without any consultation. The Government are not only contradicting what they are saying to the medical regulators at the moment but weakening the ability of—or the requirement for—regulators to consult on who would pay these fees in the first place.

I would be grateful if the Minister could neatly wrap all this up for me because I am really struggling to work out whether BEIS or the Department of Health and Social Care is in charge of this situation. The impression I get at the moment is that no one is.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will dwell on Amendment 18 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. As he said, delays to services may not have anything to do with the workforce, although they may. I put my hands up: I live in a cladded building at the moment, and we feel strongly the lack of specialist fire surveyors to get things going. Therefore, one may have unmet demand for all sorts of reasons. Another one—save I would not want to say it to the ex-Secretary of State for Health—might be that the Government just do not spend enough money on the health service.

The issue that I really wanted to raise is not that one—I just cannot help teasing from time to time, as the Minister will well know—but the other point that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, raised. In that letter sent by the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, on 3 June to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which is in its report of Monday, the Minister said—it has already been quoted—that, in ascertaining whether there is an unmet demand for a particular profession, “delay” could be a factor. More surprising to me to hear from a Minister on that side of the House was his reference to “high charges” charged by the profession. Normally, that side of the House in particular would stray away from any government intervention in the setting of fees by professions or indeed any other service. As a consumer representative, I have often gone to the CMA or other regulators, saying, “We’re being ripped off”, and they say, “No; as long as the consumer knows what they’re paying beforehand and has the chance to take themselves out of the contract, we or the Government do not get involved in the fees charged to consumers”. As such, I find this unusual because it sounds like the Government are saying that if they felt that lawyers or surveyors, for example, were charging “high” fees—that was the word that the Minister used in the letter, not “excessive”—they could bring in regulation to open up the profession to outsiders. I hope that I have got that wrong, but it looks to me as if that is what this says, or it could be a way of defining it.

In a later group, we will come back to how we deal with skills shortages, and we will make comments at that point about the Government’s responsibility to fill any such shortages. However, at the moment, I ask for some explanation about whether it really is possible for the Government to put themselves in a position of defining whether a professional is charging excessive fees and, if so, being more sympathetic to bringing in overseas providers. Some clarity on that would be appreciated.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Lansley for Amendments 9 and 18, which bring together two elements of the recognition framework proposed under the Bill. Noble Lords have raised some interesting points about the Bill’s potential impact on professionals and consumers of their services.

I turn first to Amendment 9, tabled by my noble friend Lady Noakes, which seeks to ensure that any cost or burden on UK regulators in helping individuals with overseas qualifications or experience to make up deficiencies in their knowledge or skills is reasonable. The amendment proposes that particular means of addressing these deficiencies should not be available if the costs or other burdens on UK regulators and existing UK professionals, including those who fund professional bodies, are not reasonable.

By way of background, I note that Clause 1 allows the regulator to specify a means for an individual with overseas qualifications or experience to make up for a shortfall in their knowledge and skills, compared to UK requirements. This is typically known as a compensatory measure, which could include aptitude tests, completion of an academic course or further experience. If Ministers in the UK Government or the devolved Administrations make regulations under Clause 1, the regulator will decide the means by which it assesses individuals with overseas qualifications and experience. It is for the regulator to specify any appropriate compensatory measures.

I agree with my noble friend that any compensatory measures to demonstrate that the professional has met this standard should not be unreasonable or burdensome on the regulator or the qualified professionals whom they regulate. This is why there is no requirement for the regulator to have to specify a means to make up shortfalls where it is not appropriate or not available. There is no requirement for the regulator itself to provide particular courses or experience to an individual to help them make up shortfalls.

In some cases, a regulator may, for example, simply specify that the individual must complete certain academic courses or obtain a certain amount of additional work experience. This would not place unreasonable costs on the regulator. I should add that compensatory measures are a commonly used approach in professional qualification recognition; it is not a new concept or practice for many regulators.

For example, if English language proficiency were required in order properly and safely to practise a profession, it would be reasonable for a regulator to require an individual with poor English to take a course and pass exams to show that their English had improved. It would not be necessary for the regulator itself to deliver that course. In conclusion, I hope that regulators would not consider that compensatory measures place unreasonable costs or burdens on them.

Amendment 18, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, who speaks with some authority in this field, seeks to remove “unreasonable delays or charges” to consumers being taken into account under the condition in Clause 2 for making regulations under Clause 1. Instead, the condition would focus solely on whether regulations would enable demand for professional services to be met.

Clause 2 limits the scope of the power in Clause 1 to a specific set of circumstances where the appropriate national authority deems it necessary to enable the demand for services provided by that profession to be met without unreasonable delays or charges. By this, I mean that the consumers of those services in the UK are experiencing unreasonable delays or having to pay high charges. An illustrative example of an unreasonable charge might be where consumers or businesses face unreasonably high fees caused by a shortage of professionals. For example, this could be the NHS—a consumer of professional services—or the general public’s consumption of them, direct from a professional. An unreasonable delay might, for example, occur if a profession was unable to deliver its services quickly enough without more professionals in the workforce. This could include, for example, waiting times for social worker support—so unreasonable delay or cost can be made distinct from demand or shortage. Without this wording, the levers that we have to take action where there is a need are narrowed.

16:00
The practical effect of this Clause 2 condition is that the requirement imposed by the Clause 1 power is targeted where the UK, and the nations in the UK, can benefit most. As I have said, our overarching approach is to respect regulators’ autonomy and leave it to them to make arrangements to meet the demand for professional services in the UK. The Clause 2 condition is something of a safeguard that the Government will act using Clause 1 only where necessary. Modifying the Clause 2 condition in the way proposed would remove these valid considerations of the impact of unmet demand from any determination made under Clause 2.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, brought up the question of fees and the cost of this at Second Reading. I shall try to allay his fears by saying that the Government would, obviously, undertake any impact assessment for fees in line with the Government’s better regulation framework. Given that, we just do not see any reason to have an obligation to do so in the Bill. All regulators can increase fees without parliamentary oversight but with consultation.
Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, asked about the four nations, their abilities and their powers in relation to the regulation of professions. We will cover all matters to do with the devolved Administrations at a later stage in the Bill. With the reassurances that I hope that I have been able to provide, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has not answered my question. She seems to have continued to say that a national authority—that is, the Government or one of the devolved Governments—can decide when a professional is charging high fees. Can she be absolutely clear that she is saying that? I would like to know on what basis that would be and whether they would go to the CMA for advice. Whether it is a farrier or anything else—or an accountant, although I think they are not covered—on what basis is a Minister going to decide that a professional is charging a high fee? Will that be challengeable in court or via the CMA? What would be the mechanism for that decision?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry that I gave that impression, but I do not believe that I did give the impression that the Government would set the fees. There would be a mechanism for oversight, which would be the impact assessment route that I mentioned in my speech.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have had a request to speak from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could the Minister repeat what she said at the Dispatch Box? She said that the regulators do not have parliamentary oversight in setting their fees. The Health Department’s consultation at the moment says that four do not but the remaining ones do. They have to secure the approval of the Privy Council and, in some cases, the Scottish Parliament. So which is it, and will any of these regulations have any impact on the relationship with the Privy Council and the Scottish Parliament when it comes to the fact that they have to approve changes of fees?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps I can clarify what I said earlier. The Privy Council is the intermediary between independent regulators and the Government; it is essential to maintaining regulators’ independence, such that regulators are able to deliver their duties impartially. There is no relationship between the council and the Bill.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for their contributions, an awful lot of which were on my amendment. Some important issues were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, none of which have been very satisfactorily dealt with by the Minister.

I turn to my amendment. I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for his support and accept his challenge to look at the positioning of my amendment if I decide to take it forward at a later stage. The Minister talked as if compensatory measures were just sitting in every regulator’s toolbox to deal with every situation that could possibly arise, but the truth is that compensatory measures will have been designed for the sort of applicants who have already been coming to the UK for assessment, and they are not going to cause any problem. We do not even need this Bill for those applicants.

We are most likely to encounter problems when other forms of overseas applicant arise, with less traditional professional qualifications and/or experience. It is that which is likely to cause the burdens on the individual regulated professions to cope with things that they are not already coping with. The question posed by my amendment was about how we avoid unreasonable burdens being placed on those regulators and, in particular, on existing members of those professional bodies who fund the regulators.

To be honest, I do not think that the Minister answered that question at all. There is a very real problem there. I can see that we are not going to progress it any further today, but I recommend to my Front Bench that all the issues raised in this debate are looked at again before we get to Report because there are some big unanswered questions arising from this debate.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before inviting the Committee to consider the withdrawal of the amendment, I call the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who was attempting to come in after the Minister.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful. I just wanted to make a point after the Minister because I think she made a fundamental error in suggesting that if we were to take out the words

“without unreasonable delays or charges”

from this subsection unreasonable delays or high charges would not be able to be considered as factors in determining whether demand is met. On the contrary, they will be considered with other factors. They would not be excluded.

We will clearly come back to this again on Report because the reply to the debate was not satisfactory, and we will have to write these things out in more detail. Will my noble friend at least just agree that removing those words does not mean that those factors are not taken into account?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The firm advice that I had from my officials was that it would.

Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Amendment 10 not moved.
Amendment 11, as an amendment to Amendment 10, not moved.
Amendment 12 not moved.
Amendment 13
Moved by
13: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, at end insert—
“(4A) Before regulations under subsection (4) may be laid before Parliament, Senedd Cymru, the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly, the appropriate national authority must undertake a formal consultation with the devolved administrations, regulators and the Lord President of the Court of Session.”
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to move Amendment 13 and to speak to Amendments 24, 35 and 40. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his support of these amendments. I shall speak also in support of Amendment 41, and look forward to hearing more detail and the thinking behind Amendment 42, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, Amendment 49, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and Amendment 57, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.

On the background to Amendments 13, 24, 35 and 40, the case was made at Second Reading, and I have now followed that up more firmly with these amendments. It is really about having regard to two distinct concepts. I come from the background of the Faculty of Advocates, albeit now as a non-practising member. There are separate jurisdictions of law in the UK, and there are sufficient differences between these legal systems to warrant an exclusion from the provisions that create greater regulatory integration of other professions between the UK’s composite parts throughout the Bill.

Secondly, as I said at the outset, it is a process of not just recognising that the distinct nature of legal services needs to be recognised and respected but also that the regulation of the legal profession, certainly as regards solicitors and advocates, is devolved. What I propose to do, and I hope that the House will support me in this regard, is to ensure that there will be a formal consultation with the relevant devolved Assemblies before any regulations are made under the provisions of the Bill as passed.

Amendment 13 relates to Clause 1, but the wording that I have used is similar in relation to Clauses 1, 3 and 5—Clause 3 relates to the “Implementation of international recognition agreements”, and Clause 5 relates to the “Revocation of general EU system of recognition of overseas qualifications”. A slightly different wording is used in Amendment 40 to reflect the fact that this relates to the setting up of an “Assistance centre”. As regards Amendment 40, I would go so far as to say that there should be a formal consultation with the devolved Administrations and regulators. I think the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and I have both been greatly assisted by the Law Society of Scotland in our preparation for this afternoon, and I thank the society most warmly for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, goes further and goes to the question of consent—that consent be specifically given. In that regard, if that consent is not given then the understanding is that the arrangements would not proceed. I think it is extremely important, again underlining the fact that the purport of these regulations —also as regards to the assistance centre—must have regard to the nature of the devolved Administrations and regulators.

Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, looks to the common framework agreement. I have just one little question here. Is that what we understand by the common frameworks? I am following this as closely as I can, albeit living in England. Is the noble Baroness referring to the existing common frameworks, or is she proposing a separate one in that regard?

I believe that it really is essential that we adopt either Amendments 13, 24, 35 and 40 or something equivalent to them. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look kindly on these amendments and go some way to assuaging my concerns that, without these amendments, we are not going to have a full consultation in advance of these regulations being laid.

With those few opening remarks, I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate on these amendments. I am grateful for the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I have taken the precaution in Amendments 13, 24 and 35 to acknowledge the fact that the Lord President of the Court of Session has a specific role to play in regulating the legal profession in Scotland.

16:15
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—who, following the revelations from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I suppose I should now call my noble friend Lord Lansley—I did not participate in the Second Reading debate, as I was not able to be here, unfortunately. I agree with many people who said on that occasion that, although this is not a contentious Bill, it is a very important one. When you think of the number of professional bodies and areas of employment that are being regulated—more than 160—it is really a very important issue. I will come back to that.

However, I have sat through now two and three-quarter hours of what purports to be a Committee stage of the Bill. I must say that it is really a very disappointing and inadequate way of dealing with a Bill. It is not proper consideration when we cannot intervene properly and ask questions when the Minister is speaking and cannot intervene on each other. I would have liked to have intervened on the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. We could have had a dialogue about the Privy Council, of which I am a member. I know nothing about any of these matters because it is all delegated to various committees of the Privy Council. We could have maybe explored that.

There are other issues. The noble Lord’s predecessor in the Chair, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, was very good and allowed the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, to come in without having to go through the process of emailing the Clerk. I think the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, managed to whisper in the Clerk’s ear. It is excellent that there is some flexibility, but it ought to be more flexible. We ought to have a proper Committee stage. The interesting thing is that most of the people participating have been here in person. There are relatively few today in this Committee stage on the screens. That is why I think that the Procedure Committee and the usual channels need to carefully consider changing the arrangements for Committee and Report stages, which are so important in dealing with aspects of Bills.

It was a fascinating exchange earlier between the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the Minister. Under normal circumstances, there would have been a different kind of dynamic arising from that exchange. It could have been much more helpful in dealing with this Bill. At the moment, because everyone has to be dealt with equally—whether they are at home, as I was on a number of occasions, or here—we cannot have a proper Committee stage. One of my colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has suggested that we do away with that equality and the Procedure Committee should say that, for Committee and Report stages, certainly, those who are present should be able to operate normally as we used to do and that people at home should accept that and understand that. If they want to participate, they should be able to come here in one way or another. I really think that, in terms of considering our legislation properly, we need to look at that. That is nothing to do with the amendment, by the way, but it is very important.

Can I also say another thing that I would have said in Committee? As my noble friend Lady Hayter said earlier, there has been a lack of investment in training of doctors and nurses—over the last 10 years, in particular —so that we do not have home-trained doctors and nurses. I worry that some of the motivation of some people in the Government behind this—not everyone—is to bring in doctors and nurses from overseas as quickly as possible to make up for the fact that they have not been training enough doctors and nurses. As someone who has been involved in overseas development for years now—I used to be Minister in that department and now we are suffering that huge cut in our overseas development assistance—I think it would be wrong for us to drag in too many people and to see this as a way of bringing in too many doctors and nurses from overseas from countries that need them equally as much as, if not more than, we do, and which need their health infrastructure strengthened. That is nothing to do with amendment either, but it gets it off my chest.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State to seek the consent of the devolved Administrations —but with qualifications, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering—prior to making arrangements for the assistance centre. We welcome the provisions regarding the assistance centre; I speak on my own behalf, but I know, as does the noble Baroness, that the Law Society of Scotland welcomes it. Like her, I am grateful to Michael Clancy and his colleagues from the Law Society of Scotland for their help on these amendments.

The centre will provide advice and assistance regarding entry requirements—we will come to other aspects of it later—to those seeking to practise a profession in the United Kingdom or to those with UK qualifications seeking to practise overseas. We note the obligation on regulators, contained in Clause 7(2), to provide the designated assistance centre with any information it may need to carry out its functions. That seems entirely appropriate in the circumstances.

The obligation to make arrangements for the assistance centre lies on the Secretary of State. However, the centre will provide advice and assistance covering the whole of the United Kingdom, not just England. Accordingly, we consider that it would be important, and reflect the acknowledgement of the role of the devolved Administrations in earlier clauses of the Bill, for the devolved Administrations to be rather more than consulted on the arrangements for the creation of the assistance centre.

What I suggest in the amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, generously said, goes further and is more radical than the amendment she has proposed. However, it would not give the devolved Administrations a veto; it says that the Secretary of State—should first “seek the consent” of the Scottish and Welsh Ministers and department in Northern Ireland; that is where I go further. If the Government do not get that consent within a month—it gives the devolved Administrations a veto or delaying power of a month—they can still go ahead. But if they do, notwithstanding the fact that they have not got approval from the devolved Administrations, they then have to publish a statement explaining why the Secretary of State decided to make the arrangements without the consent of the authority or authorities concerned. They have to explain why they have not taken account of representations before going ahead.

I say to my friend, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who knows more about the United Kingdom Internal Market Act than anyone around today, that this replicates the compromise that was agreed in that Act when we discussed it as a Bill in relation to, for example, the CMA and other aspects. Does the Minister consider that my amendment would have the same effect as the Government have already agreed in relation to the internal market Act? It is not revolutionary; it is more radical than the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, but it is something that the Government have already agreed to in terms of the internal market Act. I therefore hope that it will be considered sympathetically by the Government.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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Just for clarification, if a Member wishes to speak after the Minister and is in the Chamber, they can message the clerk; if they are online, they can email the clerk. But all requests must come through the clerk to the Chair. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I wish to speak specifically to Amendments 42, 49 and 57, which I have co-signed. They all address issues related to the interaction of UK Government powers with those of the devolved Administrations and each of the three relates to different aspects of that issue.

Amendment 42 relates to the national assistance centre. The impact assessment makes it clear that this will be a centralised facility under the control of the Secretary of State, but it will also provide information and assistance in relation to devolved regulators and where the professional qualifications are different in the devolved nations. In preparation for this debate, I went online and explored the websites of a range of regulators. They all seem to provide comprehensive advice and information services, so I am puzzled as to what the problem is. Why is it necessary for the Government to overlay the well-established structure of regulators with this additional bureaucracy with—of course—its accompanying additional cost?

Because I am of a suspicious nature, I feel that the real purpose of the assistance centre is to enable to the UK Government to override the differences between the nations of the UK and, when making trade agreements, to take the opportunity to iron out those annoying differences in qualifications in one part of the UK and another. Hence my amendment, which simply requires consultation with the devolved Administrations on the function and operation of the assistance centre before it is established.

It should not be necessary to state this basic constitutional principle in terms of an amendment to a Bill, but the Government’s approach to this Bill has been woeful so far. It has been developed at speed—the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, suggested it was on the back of an envelope—at a time when elections meant that there have been none of the usual opportunities to consult the devolved Administrations. In Wales, officials did not even see a draft of the Bill until the week before its introduction. They did not see the final version until we all saw it, when it was laid.

As drafted, this Bill confers a suite of regulation-making powers on the appropriate national authority. In Wales, the Welsh Ministers are that authority for the devolved areas, but the powers conferred on them are exercisable concurrently with the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor—hence the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor could legislate in devolved areas and would not need to obtain Welsh Ministers’ consent.

As things stand, all the devolved Administrations appear to be opposed to this Bill in its current form. In Amendment 42, I offer just a modest solution to a very small part of the problem that the Government face. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain exactly how he sees the assistance centre working, how large it will be, what it will actually do and the estimated cost.

Amendment 49 relates to the interaction of this Bill with common frameworks, an issue that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. Several noble Lords can boast that they have the T-shirt in relation to common frameworks and their interaction with government attempts to regain devolved powers. We fought several rounds with the Government on this issue during the passage of the internal market Bill. It is not at all clear how this Professional Qualifications Bill interacts with the well-established common frameworks programme.

There is a recognition of professional qualifications framework in preparation by BEIS, but it seems to have been delayed and there has been no explanation for that delay. Is this Bill designed to replace that common framework? If so, the Government need to tell the devolved Administrations, because they would much rather go ahead on the basis of a framework that involves non-legislative co-operation and a lot of working by consensus. This amendment is designed to ensure that the common framework on professional qualifications is not undermined or overtaken by any provisions in this Bill.

16:30
The noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and I are all members of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee. This week we took evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and discussed his report on the future of the union. The emphasis in that discussion was on the need to develop the strengths of working together co-operatively. There was a consensus that common frameworks are a key part of this development.
Amendment 57 would mean that the Secretary of State would make regulations under this Act, when passed, only if they related to England or to the whole of the UK, or were outside the legislative competencies of the devolved Administrations. There are an awful lot of regulatory powers in this Bill, including powers to amend primary legislation via statutory instruments. Paragraph 23 of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report remarks that not only does the Bill allow requirements based on statute to be watered down by secondary legislation, but there is not even a requirement to consult the devolved Administrations. This is just not good enough.
Amendment 57 is long and complex. It may need some tightening up on Report. I am pleased that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, is following me. He might well be able to explain in further detail how he thinks it could be improved. There are other issues to be discussed because the Senedd’s legislative competence does not always coincide with the executive powers of Ministers, which are sometimes wider. Importantly, if the Secretary of State is legislating on a UK-wide basis on an issue that involves devolved competence, there should be provision in the Bill for a requirement to obtain the consent of the devolved Administrations first. I hope that the Minister will agree that there needs to be discussion across the House and with the devolved Administrations to make substantial improvements on these issues before Report.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to all the amendments in this group. I do not wish to say anything further about the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, save to say that I warmly support them, as I do the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.

I come to the principal issue on which I wish to speak. Amendment 57 and Clause 14 demonstrate that there are two significant issues before this Parliament. The first is the extent to which we have framework legislation with Henry VIII powers—and with a vague statement that these are needed—while knowing that there is no opportunity for proper scrutiny and amendment of the powers that will be exercised in subsequent regulation. The second problem is what I would describe as the chipping away—because this is what it is becoming—of the devolution arrangements. This is being done without the consent of the devolved Governments and without putting in place a proper framework for joint agreement on how to move forward where there is a necessity for a UK solution. I fear that these issues will bedevil this Session of Parliament. They come to a head in Clause 14.

Clause 14 gives the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State power to make regulations in devolved areas. It is immensely concerning that Henry VIII powers are being used without any indication as to precisely how this is to be done and no real argument as to why they are necessary. It is difficult to understand why this area needs to be chipped away. What is the benefit for the future of the union? It would be useful if the Minister could say what he sees as the benefits and acknowledge the costs of the damage to the union.

I warmly support Amendment 57, subject to one matter I shall mention later. It is difficult to see why this problem cannot be dealt with by Amendment 57. This would leave the devolved Ministers to make decisions within their areas of devolved competence. Something like a common framework or some structure for common policy-making could then be used to resolve the differences. Using the twin devices of framework legislation and Henry VIII powers is quite the wrong way to go about our constitutional arrangements. I hope the Minister will be prepared to discuss these issues in much greater detail.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has already touched on the point I wish to make about Amendment 57. Its proposed new subsection (5) is taken from Clause 14 of the Bill as it stands, and seems a wholly unnecessary irritant. It is not constitutionally necessary. I do not understand why this Government wish to irritate people by further constraining the powers of the Welsh Ministers in a way that is wholly unnecessary. Again, a cost-benefit analysis, thinking what we are doing this for, would be a great step forward.

I hope that the difficulties inherent in the combination of the Henry VIII powers and the chipping away of devolution can be seriously discussed between those in the devolved Administrations, together with this House and the Government. I would welcome such discussions before Report to avoid what it seems is a further significant strengthening of those who wish to oppose the union for very little benefit in return.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group, particularly Amendments 13, 41, 42 and 57, which look to formal consultation with the devolved Administrations and, in the case of Amendment 41, the consent—under certain conditions—of the devolved Administrations to any regulations made under this section.

As all speakers on this group and in the debates on previous amendments have said, the Bill involves wide-ranging powers and Henry VIII clauses. These are apparently justified on the grounds that what may be required cannot be anticipated, and therefore cannot be legislated for in advance. This seems a dangerous and spurious catch-all which, of itself, is sufficient justification for requiring formal consultation with the devolved Administrations.

This all relates to trade deals yet to be negotiated. It will hinge on areas of skills shortages across and within the UK, as well as the opportunity for UK professionals to practise abroad. Professional regulation must surely be founded on ensuring that any professional is safely and properly qualified and experienced to practise in all or part of the UK. Yet this Bill and the powers within it are specifically linked to trade deals, and there is a risk that deals involving reciprocity could lead to standards being compromised. This concern has been identified by the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House.

Also, given that skills shortages vary across the UK, and by time and sector, if a devolved Administration identify a skill shortage, will the Immigration Rules also be taken into account, not just the professional qualifications regulations? Clearly, that will be necessary.

The Government have stated that they would,

“not normally make regulations under these powers in devolved areas without the agreement of the relevant devolved authority”.

Right from the very beginning of the Brexit debate, however, we have debated what “normally” means. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has pointed out, it looks like a shifting definition, and one that is not to the benefit of the devolved Administrations—or indeed to the professions in the devolved areas.

In this context we should also consider the role of the assistance centre, whose staff should surely all be thoroughly conversant with all regulators, including in the devolved Administrations. The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, would be a helpful contribution to that, because the assistance centre is a welcome recommendation, but only if it is properly qualified and its staff fully appreciate what goes on across all aspects of the UK. In areas as complex and specific as professional qualifications, that is a big ask, which must be answered. The scale and diversity of the professions that we are discussing, and the regulators that engage with them, absolutely require that any changes should be carried out only after consultation and, wherever possible, consent.

As an example of this, Scotland has long had an all-graduate teaching profession. It is sad that Scotland’s education performance has fallen down the international scale; however, that is not the fault of the teaching profession but of a curriculum and examinations set-up that is simply not fit for purpose, yet whose reform is not being tackled. We are not short of qualified teachers. Many are unable to find permanent employment, which in itself is a scandal. We certainly need to tackle education reform in Scotland. In that context there may be a role for teachers from other countries to make a contribution, but it would be regrettable if standards were compromised in a trade deal, and if those teachers were recruited while well-qualified teachers in Scotland were unable to get employment in the profession, which is where we are currently.

The UK Government say that they are working with the devolved authorities on a number of common frameworks. I also have the T-shirt as a member of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, as do five noble Lords contributing to this group of amendments. The Government say that they are working on common frameworks to help co-ordinate policy development between UK nations where powers have returned from the EU and intersect with devolved competencies. This includes the mutual recognition of professional qualifications: the MRPQ framework.

In an update covering 26 September to December 2020, the Cabinet Office said that discussions on the framework made progress during that period but that development timelines should be extended. It went on:

“Agreement was reached between the UK Government and the devolved administrations that both MRPQ and Services should be developed over extended timelines to allow for more work to be done. All administrations remain committed to working to develop and agree these frameworks.”


That is all welcome, but I hope the Minister will agree that, as I have pointed out, the range and complexity of the regulation of professional qualifications, and uncertainty over the changes that may be needed, require formal consultation to be carried out and consent secured. How will this happen if we are operating on different timelines? The Government may be out there desperately trying to negotiate trade deals while all these procedures are in the process of a long, drawn-out common frameworks negotiation. As we know, the common frameworks are well behind the schedule originally hoped for and planned.

They have clearly set out the mechanism and an arrangement—which those of us on the committee feel has much to commend it—that seeks the maximum amount of co-operation and consent, looks to have fair and balanced dispute resolution mechanisms and ought to be the model for how the interconnection and co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations is carried through going forward. It would be good if Ministers acknowledged that so much has been learned in this process that it should be applied not just to those areas that were historically part of the transition out of the EU but to all future ways of working, and the principles on which the common frameworks have been founded and developed.

16:45
This would be required not only for decisions by the UK Government but decisions by devolved Ministers, and also situations where concurrent powers have been called into play, because from the professional point of view it does not matter whether the regulations that are being changed by this Bill are coming from the UK, from the devolved Administrations or from them operating together. As professionals they would still want to be consulted and to ensure that any changes were justified and appropriate and did not compromise the professional standards that the regulators have spent their time establishing over many years—indeed, since well before the UK joined the EU. Those standards should not be set aside because we are now leaving it.
I hope the Minister recognises that very serious issues are at stake here. This Bill is very broadly drawn. It applies to a huge area of really important professional standards and qualifications and absolutely requires a framework of consultation and consent to ensure that it actually works.
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I put my name down to speak to this group of amendments—the first time I have participated in this Committee—because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, they collectively address a basic constitutional principle.

I find myself in the slightly unusual position of standing up to speak in favour of preserving current constitutional arrangements. However, I pick up on the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that what is happening here is a chipping away of devolved powers. I put it to those who wish to see the union continue that squeezing more tightly—squeezing away powers—is the way to ensure that people choose to slip out of its grasp.

I suspect that we might hear the Minister, as we have heard from Ministers in so many other debates on so many different subjects, say: “Don’t worry, we don’t mean any ill, this Government do not mean the wrong thing”. This morning, I was talking about the situation and debate around the potential Australian trade deal—about hormone-laced beef and animal welfare standards—and we said in that context, as in so many others, that words are just words. We need guarantees in a Bill.

All these amendments head in the direction that I would like to see, but I highlight in particular Amendments 41, 42 and 57. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said that his amendment was not absolutely revolutionary, although, as you might expect to hear from me, I rather tend towards the total peaceful revolution. The amendment says that there would have to be a delay before a devolved Administration could be overruled. I question whether there would be any circumstances in which it would be reasonable for a devolved Administration to be overruled. I therefore repeat a question I put at Second Reading, to which I did not get an answer: can the Minister give examples of circumstances in which the Government might feel it right and justified to overrule a ruling from a devolved Administration, where that Administration say “No, these regulations on professional qualifications you are trying to impose are not good enough for us and do not meet our needs”?

In looking at why there might be different rules in different places, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, pointed to the differences in legal systems, which is one very obvious area—a long-running historic circumstance. But there are also practical differences.

Somebody mentioned driving instructors. Driving in the highlands of Scotland may be very different from driving in most parts of England and there may be good, practical reasons why qualifications may be different in different nations, for obvious reasons, but also, of course, we are very much talking about politics. In something of an aside, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to Welsh language qualifications for teachers in Wales. These are issues of intense political debate and discussion; they are not merely small, technical issues that can be ironed out by dealing with a few technical measures. These are political decisions that have been made by devolved Administrations who have been given constitutional powers that are supposed to be guaranteed. So it is very clear that we need to see change to what we have currently in the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, highlighted something I have been puzzling over. At Second Reading, a lot of people questioned the whole issue of the assistance centre, and it is very hard to see how this all fits together for something so complex and difficult. As many noble Lords have said thus far in Committee, this really feels like a severely undercooked Bill; a great deal of work is needed. This is one area where I really believe we have to see change, and if we do not see change from the Government when we get to Report, we will be coming back to this and very much consulting with the devolved nations. We need to see that kind of consultation and involvement, and the first place where we really should be seeing consent from the nations is in their acceptance of the form that the Bill takes.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, like others who have spoken, I strongly support these amendments. I am most grateful for the most comprehensive speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who laid out clearly what the issues are, both in terms of the constitutional conflict that is in the Bill at the moment, and the consequences of it, and also the consequences for services within Wales. I think these also apply to Scotland, but I should declare an interest as someone who lives and works in Wales—that is the area of my own experience. I ask the Minister to explain quite clearly why the draft of the Bill was given to the Welsh Government only a week before it was published, and why the final version was not seen before it was laid on 12 May. To me, that does not feel like consultation or like any attempt to find a consensus agreement with devolved Administrations at all.

There is a concern that the skills shortages are being linked to the trade policy agenda, and how the new obligations on regulators could be moved and adjusted because they are driven by some trade policy, rather than by the need to ensure that we have safe and effective high-standard services for people within our nation. Although Clause 14 confers regulation-making powers on the appropriate national authority, these are exercisable only concurrently with the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor. That seems to make it possible that the Secretary of State or Lord Chancellor could legislate in devolved areas and would not be required to obtain the Minister’s consent to those regulations. I understand that the Minister stated in a letter that these powers would not normally be used, but the problem is that once this is in legislation, such assurances do not carry any weight at all, and they are not binding on this or any subsequent UK Government. So it would seem that there are really serious risks, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, outlined.

In the event that there needs to be regulatory compromise in the interests of trade—I cannot think of a specific example, but I see the confusion and conflict between these two areas—will the Minister confirm that any such regulatory compromise will be notified to Parliament, to ensure that there is parliamentary accountability for any pressure put on to compromise any standards? We have heard in this debate already about the importance of common frameworks, but I will finish by advocating that the Government look very carefully at these amendments and make sure that they do not drive a further wedge between the four nations, because the consequences really do not bear thinking about. I certainly agree with those who say that they create an additional threat to the cohesiveness of the union.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister assured the House earlier this afternoon that the autonomy of the regulators would be respected. I am sure we all take the Minister’s assurance at face value and fully understand what he is getting at, but one of the many problems that lurks within the Bill and the wide regulation-making power it creates is the risk of causing collateral damage by careless or inadvertent wording or insufficient research before the power is exercised. As I said at Second Reading, the centralised systems that the Bill seeks to create will work only if the diversity that exists across the United Kingdom is fully respected. That is especially true where the devolved Administrations are concerned.

My own experience is confined to the systems for regulation of the legal profession in Scotland, but it is a guide to how the regulatory systems among the professions may differ from each other. In my cases, they involve not just one but two regulators working together, and there are different systems for the two branches of the legal profession in Scotland. For the Law Society of Scotland, which regulates solicitors, it is the society itself, working together with the Lord President of the Court of Session. For the Faculty of Advocates, it is the Court of Session itself, whose functions are then delegated to the Lord President of the faculty. The message that these two examples conveys is that it cannot be assumed that the regulatory systems that currently exist are alike in all cases, or even in most, so great care is needed to ensure that what is being done fits the requirements and practices of the profession that is being regulated.

This brings me to Amendments 13, 24, 35 and 40, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, to which I have added my name. The point that each of these amendments is making is that prior consultation with the devolved Administrations and the regulators is essential before the regulation-making powers in Clauses 1(4), 3(3) and 5(2) are exercised. I shall say a little more about each of these subsections.

Clause 1(4), which is about providing for individuals with overseas experience and qualifications to be treated as having UK qualifications, really has to be read with Clause 1(5), which sets out a list of the many provisions that may be made in the exercise of the Clause 1 power. They are very wide-ranging. Paragraphs (f) and (g) in the list are of particular concern, as they are so wide in their scope. The words “guidance” in (f) and “other duties” in (g), which are not otherwise qualified, leave a huge amount to the discretion of the national authority.

17:00
Clause 3(3) is designed to ensure that the national authority does not require anything which would contravene data protection legislation to be done when implementing any international recognition agreement. That really must be read with Clause 3(1), which is the principal regulation-making power in this clause. Perhaps it is to that provision, not Clause 3(3), that this amendment should be directed, but the regulation-making power is very wide here too. The only controls that appear are that which Clause 3(3) itself sets out and the content of the international recognition agreement, which is unlikely to be tailor-made to the systems for regulating the professions to which the exercise of this power is directed. Clause 5(2), which gives power to modify legislation in consequence of the revocation of the EU system, is also very widely expressed.
I support the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about these amendments. Whether the Lord President of the Court of Session, who is mentioned in each of them, really needs to be consulted in every case is perhaps open to question. This could be confined to cases where the appropriate national authority is the Scottish Parliament and those where the regulations proposed relate to the legal profession in Scotland—although that is a point of detail which should not detract from the key points that the noble Baroness has made.
I add my support to Amendment 40, which relates to making arrangements for the publication by the assistance centre, under Clause 7, of advice and information relating to the entry requirements for regulated professions and overseas professions. Clause 7 gives rise to concern for various reasons that noble Lords have already mentioned, but I am concerned particularly with “must” in the first line of the clause. This is a duty to be placed on the Secretary of State to be exercised right across the board in every case, not just to fill in gaps that the professions themselves may have created in the information they provide. As it happens, the two professions for whose regulations I was responsible went to great lengths to provide that information in their own way and adapted to their own ways of working when they were working with the EU system that is now being revoked. I am sure that they will be as anxious to do the same as speedily as they can under the new system. It is hard to see how what they will produce could be improved upon by what this clause provides for, which begs the question of whether Clause 7 is really necessary. The giving of such advice and information by the assistance centre under a duty that is imposed by the word “must” could cause confusion too, unless all that the assistance centre does is simply to direct the interested party to the regulating system for the particular profession, where that advice and information is to be found. Here, too, consultation is the key to avoiding consultation. I hope the Minister will recognise the importance of that point.
I did not add my name to the other amendments in this very interesting group, but I will say a word in support of Amendment 41 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. The insistence on “consent” by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in his Amendment 41 is very well taken. I have tried on many occasions in this House, on a variety of Bills, to insist that the word “consent” is a necessary step where the devolved Administrations are concerned. I see no harm whatever in pointing out that requirement again in the context of this Bill, for the reasons the noble Lord mentioned.
As for Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, it is very interesting that five members of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee are participating in this debate: the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Bruce of Bennachie—who made a very important contribution to our discussion—the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and myself. The common frameworks system is not yet all that well understood in government, but the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, described it very well when he referred to it as a mechanism for co-operation and consent. It is now becoming a well-established system for involving all four parts of the United Kingdom to achieve a system—without going through the statutory routes which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, so rightly criticised—through discussion and co-operation, and ultimately with consent, which will be respected. Whether the system will be used widely across the professions with which the Bill is concerned is a matter for speculation, but it is very important that, should that system be recognised, the common frameworks should be respected and protected, as is provided for in the internal market Act as a result of amendments made in this House. There is great force in those additional amendments, and I offer my support for them and for the amendments which the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has tabled.
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord. To start where he left off, it is a disappointment that the Government chose not to have this Bill as a creature of the frameworks agreement, especially given the fact that recognition of professional qualifications was an area where there had been outstanding differences between the devolved Administrations. Indeed, many lengthy debates during the passage of the internal market Act led to some progress on the recognition of the frameworks, as the noble and learned Lord indicated.

My concern is added to by the fact that we persuaded the Government to have further exclusions—through government amendments—on the education and legal professions, with the exemptions in the internal market Act. However, it is not categorically stated within this legislation that we will not effectively see a back door. Because they are Henry VIII powers, the regulations that could be made under this Bill could be used—as the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Finlay of Llandaff, indicated—to implement a trade agreement which can effectively trump the internal market Act by including education and legal professions under MRA elements of trade agreements, which are excluded in the operation of the internal market Act. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that that will not be the case and confirm the principles established in the internal market Act for those professions which are considered very strong for public service. I understand that there are carve-outs for certain professions—which the Canadians in particular have had—in our Canada agreement. I would be very interested to know if that is the Government’s position.

The reason why I was slightly alarmed by the Minister’s response to the point I made in the previous group is that there are existing mechanisms—as she heard me say—under Section 60 of the Health Act for England and, as the noble and learned Lord indicated, there are certain areas where regulators have a statutory responsibility to seek approval from the Scottish Parliament for certain changes, including fees. Those mechanisms, certainly for Section 60, require public consultation and parliamentary procedures—approvals —in the Scottish Parliament, but the Minister said that there was no need for any consultation on an SI because the Government would publish an impact assessment on it. That is quite alarming, and not only because these provisions can apply across the UK. If the Government are not even committed to consulting the devolved Administrations, in addition to stakeholders, on some of these regulations, that would be contrary to many elements of what we have been told by the Government up until now about working closely with the devolved Administrations. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that that would never be the case—that regulations would never be brought forward that would impact upon the devolved Administrations without consultation. How that could apply more easily under this legislation than previous legislation was outlined clearly by my noble friend Lady Randerson and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay.

Because of the concurrent nature of the powers under this legislation, in effect, the Government seem to suggest that the Secretary of State, the Lord Chancellor, the Welsh Ministers, the Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland department are all acting equally. That is not the case when it comes to UK Ministers’ determinations with regard to the impact on the other regulators. The Scottish Parliament cannot bring forward any regulations if it believes that a demand for professions could be met from other parts of the UK or abroad. The Scottish Parliament cannot bring forward regulations to make it easier to apply from other parts of the UK to Scottish regulators. But the UK Government can do that for Scotland if it was regarding England. I do not know why that is the case, because it is not reasonable. If the powers of determining demand rest with the UK Government, they should also, as the UK Government say, rest with the devolved Administrations. But of course they do not. The Secretary of State retains the power to activate this if the Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish Ministers do not. So a concurrent power, in my mind, is always a kind of “If you don’t, we will” power, and I think it is best removed.

I speak now in support of my noble friend Lady Randerson’s amendment on the assistance centre. She and I both had difficulty finding information about the centre in the impact assessment, which goes back to the comments I made about the viability of impact assessments on consultation. But it turns out it was not there; it is in a different document, the policy paper Recognition of Professional Qualifications and Regulation of Professions: Policy Statement, coincidentally published on the same day as the Bill. The policy statement indicated a direction of travel at exactly the same time as the destination was highlighted. So we are back in the situation of there being two parallel processes.

That policy paper stated that the decision had already been made about the assistance centre, as a contract had been issued. That had not been mentioned by the Minister in his Second Reading speech, and it is not in the impact assessment. The UK Centre for Professional Qualifications, run by Ecctis Ltd, has been given the contract. I see the Minister shaking his head, but I will quote from the policy paper, if he does not mind:

“The UK has an existing contract with the UK Centre for Professional Qualifications to be the designated assistance centre.”


That is in the policy paper. If he can confirm that is not the case in his response, I would be grateful. Either the policy paper is wrong or there is not a contract. But if there is, he can make clear how much that has been issued for and provide information about that. I see the Minister nodding, so that is going to be helpful.

The final element I would like to raise—a separate concern about the necessity for consultation—is that on the medical professions consultation paper there is a clear list of 13 offences against fitness to practise. There are five Scottish offences and two Northern Irish offences and, if someone has committed or is committing one of them, they are no longer fit to practise. Because this list has the Scottish offences, but there is no reference in any of the provisions in the regulation-making powers under this Bill, I simply do not know what the interaction would be with regard to the fitness to practise offences. For example, because the Government have not made any comment about this so far, when it comes to bringing forward elements to ease applications from abroad, how do our regulators know that the applicant has not committed an equivalent offence in their jurisdiction, especially if in certain areas there are separate Scottish offences from those listed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? I hope the Minister can give reassurance that no regulations could be made to change this that would make it harder for our regulators to find out whether those who are applying will have committed an equivalent of the listed offence. If the Minister can offer reassurance on these points, I would be grateful.

17:15
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, I am going to leave the question of an assistance centre to one side. I think I have an amendment later on to delete it from the Bill. I have yet to understand why we need a statutory body and why this cannot just happen. We were told that all this is being done at the moment, perhaps by BEIS, so I really do not understand why it has to be in here. But we will come to that elsewhere.

Colleagues know we are on somewhat delicate ground with these issues, with the devolved authorities having been excluded too many times, going right back to the Brexit negotiations and then the Internal Market Bill, with UK powers imposed over devolved competencies. Since then, we have seen the Government wanting to spend the levelling up fund and the shared prosperity fund on projects in the devolved areas but also in areas where the devolved Governments would normally spend money—and where, frankly, the devolved Governments know best how expenditure should be part of their strategy. That is the background to how we are looking at this. So the Bill—as the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Randerson, said—being seen a week before it was introduced is just more of the same: them as an afterthought.

I am not going to repeat here in public what the Minister told me in private was the reason for this, although he might like to spread that a bit further if he thought others would be interested. But the second reason given was that the other Governments had been in purdah and therefore this was not possible. While that may well be the reason it could not be shown straight away, it does not explain why the Bill had to be suddenly published and rushed into this House without taking a breath. There is no reason to think that suddenly we need more doctors, nurses, vets, furriers and everything else—a sudden shortage of skilled people—and that is why we need the Bill to give powers to regulators if, as I said earlier, there are any that do not have them at the moment.

Therefore, of course, the feeling is this is being rushed through because there is some trade deal in the offing that needs this urgently. If that is the case, I think we should be told. In one of his answering letters, I think the Minister said he could not comment on current negotiations. This seems too important. If it was not shown to the devolved authorities because they were having elections but then has to be rushed into this House, it feels to me either that the Government forgot about the devolved Administrations or that there is something else going on.

The problem, therefore—and the reason why the environment in which this is taking place is important—is that this Bill replays exactly the same problems as we had with the internal market Act. At first glance, the use of concurrent powers looks like a rather deliberate, perhaps subtle, undermining of devolution because it allows the Secretary of State to amend or repeal Welsh primary and secondary legislation and regulations even in areas of devolved competence, as we have heard. Also, in the case of Wales—like the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I come from there, so I am always much more aware of the differences there—it would apply to devolved regulators such as the Education Workforce Council and Social Care Wales.

The Minister has said that these powers will not “normally” be used but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, that does not offer a lot of comfort. Nice man though the Minister is, his words are not law and are not binding on the UK Government. We very much hope that the Government will accept Amendment 41, tabled by my noble friend Lord Foulkes, which seems to strike a really good balance. As in the internal market Bill, it would oblige the Minister to seek the consent of the devolved authorities but would allow them to proceed, albeit with a published explanation, if no consent is received within a month. So it is not an absolute veto, but it starts on the assumption of working towards consent, which is really important. I am absolutely confident that my noble friend will bring that back on Report.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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I thought he might. I think he can probably expect us to support him in that.

Amendment 49, which is in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, would specifically allow the common framework approach, which we have been discussing, to trump the use of these powers in instances where the common framework procedure is developing a mutual recognition of professional qualifications framework. As we have heard, in its update covering the fourth quarter of last year, the Cabinet Office reported that discussions on the MRPQ framework had made progress, though the development timelines have had to be extended. As the Government and the devolved Administrations want the MRPQ framework to be completed, we want nothing from this Bill to be done outside of its remit.

The significance of how the devolved authorities are treated in this Bill has ramifications beyond the issue with which we are concerned today, which is the regulation of professional qualifications. I urge the Minister to engage with the relevant Ministers in the devolved Governments and do everything in his power at least to shore up, and hopefully strengthen, devolution rather than undermine it.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said that the Government are chipping away at the devolution settlement; I think that that is what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, was referring to when he talked about collateral damage. Something that happens in this Bill is chipping away at a really important part of the devolution settlement. I must ask the Minister whether he understands that. Does he understand those feelings? If so, does he feel an obligation, for the sake of the union, to amend the Bill to alleviate these concerns? I hope that we will hear a thoughtful and positive response from him on this.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments have brought about a fulsome and entirely appropriate debate about respecting the devolution settlements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the Bill continues its passage through the House.

Let me start by saying, in a direct answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that I, too, find her a very nice person, although I must say that I think she has a suspicious mind in relation to this Bill. I assure her and other noble Lords that there is nothing going on about the timing of FTAs which is driving this Bill.

On a point of fact, the Bill was seen by the Administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on 22 April. This was just eight days after I first saw it, so it was not hidden or kept in a drawer away from the DAs until the last possible moment. It was seen by them pretty much as soon as I saw it after it had been prepared.

I assure noble Lords at the outset that the Government fully respect the devolution settlements. Devolved matters should of course be, except in the most exceptional circumstances, for the devolved Administrations to legislate on. The Government have no desire for this Bill to chip away at that in any way. I can confirm that we will seek legislative consent for the Bill in line with the Sewel convention, and we do not in any way intend to use this Bill to chip away at the devolution settlements.

I can confirm for the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, that it is not part of our trade policy to compromise our standards. We have had many debates about that in this House. Free trade agreements will not compromise our standards or those of regulators. No free trade agreement will have the power to do that.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for tabling Amendment 57 concerning the authority by whom regulations may be made and concurrent powers. I suggest that it is entirely fitting that the current definition of “appropriate national authority” in Clause 14 means that Scottish and Welsh Ministers and Northern Ireland departments are the appropriate national authorities and may make regulations, provided, of course, that they fall within the competence of the relevant devolved legislature. In direct answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, let me say that the Government do not intend to disturb this in any way.

The issue is that this is a very complex landscape. As I have said before, it involves 160 professions and 50 regulators. Regulation varies between professions. Some professions are regulated on a UK-wide basis despite being within devolved competence. Some professions are also regulated across Great Britain. So the complexity of the regulatory landscape makes the use of concurrent powers important to the Bill’s operation in a purely practical sense. They are meant to be entirely practical and are not intended to undermine the authority of the devolved Administrations in any way. They make sure that professions that fall within devolved competence could have regulations brought forward across several parts of the UK by the relevant national authority. This will provide those professions with certainty and continuity.

Amendment 49, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, aims to ensure that Clause 9 does not affect the establishment or operation of a common framework. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, also made this point. I am a huge enthusiast for common frameworks to make our systems work as efficiently as possible.

As noble Lords know, the common framework on the regulation of professional qualifications is under development between the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure a common approach on powers that have returned following our exit from the European Union and which intersect with devolved competence. Although this amendment relates specifically to Clause 9, let me assure noble Lords that we are committed to ensuring that the provisions in this Bill work alongside the common frameworks programme. We absolutely will consider this as we develop the framework further. The Bill does not constrain that.

There was a hiatus in the development of this framework, while work paused during the election period in Wales and Scotland. We are very keen now to resume discussions to seek collective agreement on the timeline for delivery of the framework, including concentration on interactions with this Bill.

17:30
I now turn to Amendments 13, 24 and 35, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, that relate to consultation with the devolved Administrations and other interested parties. I fully agree that it is important for the relevant national authority to engage with a range of stakeholders before making regulations. Because of the complexity of these matters, it would be the height of foolishness not to do that.
Starting with Amendment 13, we have already spent considerable time debating the purpose and mechanics of Clause 1. In determining which professions meet the conditions set out in Clause 2, and before making any regulations under Clause 1, there would, of course, be close engagement with interested parties, including the devolved Administrations.
Amendment 24 seeks to introduce a similar requirement to consult before regulations are laid to implement international agreements under Clause 3. In all international negotiations relating to professional qualifications, a key concern for the Government has been ensuring the autonomy of regulators and protecting UK standards, as I said earlier. In light of the Government’s concern, and the importance that we attach to this point, there are already extensive engagement mechanisms for consulting before and during these negotiations. As noble Lords have perhaps heard me say before, the Department for International Trade already engages with a range of parties, including regulators and devolved Administrations, to understand their priorities and inform the UK’s approach to trade agreements with future trade partners. Under these amendments, the appropriate national authority would be required to consult before laying regulations to implement these agreements. I hope my noble friend is reassured that the Government, of necessity, would have concluded extensive engagement ahead of this point in order to actually create the free trade agreement in the first place.
Turning to my noble friend’s amendment to Clause 5, which introduces a requirement to consult before laying regulations that make consequential amendments following the revocation of the existing EU-derived recognition system, I envisage that these enactments would be very limited in scope. They are necessary purely to tidy up the statute book after revoking the existing EU-derived system, for example by removing cross-references to the current system in other regulations. Given that these are primarily small fixes, it would be disproportionate to consult on them. The Government will, of course, work closely with interested parties to ensure that there are no unintended impacts of bringing forward these consequential amendments.
I now turn to the assistance centre, to clarify some of the misconceptions that perhaps exist about this. I would like to thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their amendments. For their comments made during the debate, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and others. I think where the confusion arises is that the assistance centre is already in operation, and the contract that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to is already in existence. The assistance centre is in operation because that was a consequence of the EU legislation. When the EU legislation is no longer in operation in relation to this area, if we are to continue with an assistance centre, we need new legislative cover to do it.
Perhaps I can correct a misconception about the size and nature of this centre. It is basically a focal point —a signposting mechanism that tells people where to go to get more information about professions. I think it employs either two or three people. So I hope I can assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that this centre is de minimis and meant to be very helpful, as shown by how it is used. I looked up some statistics: it received 1,600 queries between June 2020 and May 2021. These queries can be as simple as saying, “What is the address of the place I have to write to, to find out how I become a nurse in Great Britain?” Its website received 2,000 hits in May 2021. So it is a signposting service, as opposed to the more grandiose service that I suspect some noble Lords suspect it is.
Of course, we support the aims of close collaboration with the devolved Administrations that underpin these amendments. However, we believe that, given the nature of this assistance centre, the duties as set out in the amendments introduce unnecessary, disproportionate burdens. The existing contract for the assistance centre comes to an end in 2022—this is the contract that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to. Commercial confidentiality means that I cannot give the value of the contract, but I can tell noble Lords that it is a surprisingly small sum, given the extent of the work that the assistance centre does.
I can absolutely reassure noble Lords, and give a commitment to this effect, that my officials will work closely with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations as we consider the future of this service. No new contract will be entered into without officials consulting their counterparts in the devolved Administrations. So I hope noble Lords will accept that there is no need to place this requirement in legislation, given the scale and scope of this assistance centre. Of course, my officials already engage with the devolved Administrations on this matter. They need to get contact points, to know where to refer people to who are coming to the assistance centre. Naturally, the consult with the devolved Administrations and the devolved regulators about that.
Finally, I would like to reassure the House that, as well as working closely with the devolved Administrations, the Government have engaged with regulators and professional bodies that fall within devolved competence, such as legal and education sectors, as we developed the proposals in the Bill, and we will continue to do so.
Before I conclude, I turn quickly to the question that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about the interaction between the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and this Bill. I hope I can reassure noble Lords by saying that there is no direct interaction between the framework for recognising overseas qualifications in this Bill and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. This is because the recognition framework in this Bill, as and when applied, would be limited to the recognition of professional qualifications and experience gained overseas. The principles and processes, under the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, are limited to the recognition of professional qualifications held by UK residents, and experience obtained mainly in the UK.
The question of fees was raised again by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on this group. I think it might be helpful to noble Lords if I was to write to the noble Lord, and place a copy in the Library, setting out exactly and clarifying the policy on fees, and how the various bits about fees interrelate in this Bill, so that, frankly, everybody knows what we are arguing about, as and when we argue about that.
That brings to an end my points on this group. I hope that I have managed at least in part—although I am well aware that my assurances from the Dispatch Box are not always taken with the weight that I would wish them to be—to reassure noble Lords about our approach with regard to engagement with the devolved Administrations, as well as the use of concurrent powers. I would also like to reassure once again the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that there is nothing funny going on in relation to this.
I will of course be happy to discuss these matters further. Anyone who has listened to our debate could not help but be struck by the conviction of those who have spoken about these matters. I am happy to discuss them further with noble Lords, but I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.
Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Purvis of Tweed. We will start with the noble Baroness.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response to several of the issues that I have raised. I welcome his assurances on the common framework on this issue and I look forward, along with colleagues across the Committee, to scrutinising it in due course. I also welcome the information that he has provided on the assistance centre. That is helpful, but it would have been even more helpful if it had been included in the impact assessment so that we would not have had to waste time today seeking that information.

Finally, I want to make an important point. To me, it sounds as if the Minister has been really surprised by this Bill and therefore it should not be unexpected that the devolved Administrations have been surprised by it too. Since the vast majority of the Bill touches on devolved powers, why were not the officials of the devolved Administrations, if not the Ministers, involved at an earlier stage in the development of this policy? That would have improved trust if that had happened. Perhaps I may urge the Minister to make up for lost time by having some fairly intensive discussions with the devolved Administrations over the coming days.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I accept the point made by the noble Baroness about the assistance centre. In response to her other points, many things have surprised me since I became a Minister, so I am no longer surprised by them.

I should add that my officials have been in very regular contact about this with officials in the devolved Administrations. I have pulled out the Bill date as a specific one, but of course officials have been working hard on this for some time, right back to the call for evidence that was asked for last year. A lot of consultation has been going on, but again it is the complexity of this Bill that has led to perhaps there still being some rough edges, which I think the debates in our House are helping to iron out.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I am interested in the revelation that the Minister saw the Bill only eight days before the devolved Administrations, Can the Minister tell us which Minister supervised the drafting of the Bill?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I am the Minister responsible for the Bill and the policy; I am not just the Lords spokesman on the Bill. Of course, the work that goes on before a Bill appears on one’s desk is enormous: instructions to parliamentary counsel, development of the policy and so on. I am the policy Minister in relation to this Bill as well as the Minister who has the pleasure of addressing your Lordships’ House on the matter.

17:45
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response to the points raised by my noble friend and myself about the assistance centre. I thought he might reply along those lines, which is why I have the EU directive with me. The directive has never stipulated that a member state has had to have one centre. I shall quote from recital (33):

“In particular, it does not prevent the designation at national level of several offices, the contact point designated within the aforementioned network being in charge of coordinating with the other offices and informing the citizen, where necessary, of the details of the relevant competent office.”


There has never been a requirement under EU law for there to be a single member state office, but I welcome the fact that the Government recognise that the small, efficient European office that he claims was in place has to be put, as the very first thing the Government are doing, on a statutory basis in the post-Brexit world. I think that it is worth saying to the Minister that there was never that requirement, so I look forward to further debates about why the Government are insisting that there should now be a statutory office as the single point of contact.

My question to the Minister is this: he did not quite give a reassurance about the professions within Scotland that have been excluded from the internal market. However, I heard what he said about the interaction with the internal market Bill. I welcome the fact that he will be writing to me, so perhaps he might add that element about the legal and education professions. Regardless of the reassurance, my reading of the Bill is that it could potentially bring into scope those professions which have been excluded from the internal market Bill.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for his question. As he spoke, I was reminded that I had not fully answered it and I will certainly write to him on it. I hope that he and other noble Lords will agree that having four statutory assistance centres would probably be to overegg the pudding.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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I have received a further request to speak from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, so I will call the noble Baroness now.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I return to the question that I raised both at Second Reading and in my comments today. As the amendment seeks to address, it would appear that there is the possibility of the Government here in Westminster overruling on this. There are currently no requirements to consult or to interact with the devolved Administrations, but as I say, there is a possibility that the Government could overrule—and that indeed is referred to in the guidance for this legislation. I will ask the Minister again: under what circumstances would he imagine that the Government would overrule a devolved Administration if it objected to arrangements?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Baroness for that point. Frankly, I can conceive of no circumstances in the area of professional regulation and the mutual recognition of professional qualifications where the Government would wish to overrule any devolved Administration.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to it, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.

I regret to say that I am not completely assuaged by the replies of my noble friend. I will take as an example the wording of Amendment 13, which seeks to ensure that there is

“a formal consultation with the devolved administrations, regulators and the Lord President of the Court of Session.”

I take the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that I do not expect the Lord President to be involved in every case, but I listened carefully to what he said at Second Reading and that is why this is included.

At Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, also highlighted the fact that while consultation with professionals is essential, as I think we would all agree, there is no mention of that either in the Bill or in the Explanatory Notes. I therefore remain discontent and dissatisfied. While in his summing up, my noble friend the Minister said that a lot of consultation had taken place, he did not say what form that consultation would take.

I have a further cause for concern, referring back to what the noble Lord said yesterday. I had hoped to intervene in the debate on the trade deal with Australia, but I was told that it was heavily oversubscribed. He made the point that the Trade and Agriculture Commission will only look at future trade deals literally just before they are to be signed. As we have heard in the debate on this group of amendments—and as the practice seems to have been—any consultation seems to be left to absolutely the last minute. It concerns me greatly that that is not doing justice to the complexity of this. I will look carefully at the Minister’s response before the next stage of proceedings. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 14. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 14

Moved by
14: Clause 1, page 2, line 23, at end insert—
“(5A) The appropriate national authority must consult such persons as it considers appropriate when preparing regulations under subsection (1).”
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to move Amendment 14, which would require the Secretary of State, the Scottish and Welsh Ministers, and the Northern Ireland department to consult when preparing regulations under Clause 1. A number of noble Lords have said that it is important that the UK Government consult the devolved Administrations. It is equally important that the devolved Administrations themselves consult the bodies affected. Sometimes they are quite good at that; sometimes not. It is therefore important that we make it clear that this is a requirement. At Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, pointed out the need for consultation by the appropriate national authorities when preparing regulations. Both the Law Society and I agree strongly with those comments, and on the need for consultation on draft regulations under the Bill. As colleagues have said on a number of other occasions, this is a very important and wide-ranging measure which affects a considerable number of professions—160 as stated in the Explanatory Notes and as other noble Lords have said earlier.

Government across the UK does not possess the in-depth knowledge that would enable it to legislate unless it has such pre-legislative consultation. The Minister said that he would

“anticipate that determining whether professions meet this condition would require extensive close working”.—[Official Report, 25/5/21; col. 974.]

BEIS has made it clear in its engagement with stakeholders such as the Law Society of Scotland that it agrees that it is important for the Government to engage extensively with a range of interested parties before legislating. BEIS may argue that it is already well established that Governments need to consult before making secondary legislation, including through the government consultation principles of 2018, so there is no need to legislate for this. That may be so, but I am not so sure. In a number of recent Acts, the Government have nevertheless expressly legislated for consultation duties such as these.

We certainly agree that aspects of the Bill will require close working between the Government and a range of interested parties, including the professions. However, “close working” does not necessarily include statutory consultation. We also know that legislation has a particular way of concentrating Ministers’ minds in a way which published guidelines do not. That may be why legislation as diverse as the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 have provisions which oblige the Secretary of State to consult before making orders or regulations. That statutory duty to consult is vital; it puts pressure on Ministers much more effectively than any guidelines. I therefore hope that the Government will seriously consider this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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My Lords, I apologise that what I am going to say has nothing to do with devolved Administrations, because the Bill obviously affects them greatly. The Bill is a law of unintended consequences. It has been described as having been written on the back of an envelope; that envelope has got a lot of writing all over it by now. Amendment 52, to which I have attached my name, is about how many organisations have not realised, and still do not realise, the impact of the Bill. They think: “Professional qualifications; that does not really worry us”. Many noble Lords have had consultations with large organisations, chartered organisations and the like, all of which have given us their opinion. Some have given us their opinion twice because they have changed it. However, small and medium-sized enterprises have not been consulted at all. They have probably not even known that this Bill exists and how it is going to affect them—how it is going to impact on the qualifications of their workforce and whether they are going to have problems with their workforce. When I talk about small and medium-sized enterprises, I mean those with one to 50 employees. If they have problems recruiting now, how will it be afterwards?

As the Bill seems to have been created on the hop, without thinking too much about some of the detail, we now come to trying to mop up a Bill which has not been terribly well thought out in the beginning. We have to look at how to rectify that after the Bill becomes an Act. My Amendment 52 is about the Government committing to there being a report back within 12 months of the Act being passed, particularly in relation to small and medium-sized enterprises. By then, they will have realised the impact of the Bill on the staff they have, do not have, and might have. They might then feel that they can contribute. At that stage, one year hence, perhaps we can put the then Act into a better format. At the moment, it certainly does not seem to have been thought out properly from beginning to end.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who has tabled a very useful amendment, Amendment 52, to which I was pleased to attach my name. I will speak chiefly to Amendment 55 in my name, but I will also look at the whole range of Amendments 52 to 55, which are all on variations of forms of reports. It might be useful for us to consider whether we can bring this together for Report. There is clearly a desire, coming from a number of different directions, to see a reporting and scrutiny mechanism for the Bill.

I will, however, briefly comment on and commend Amendment 19 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, which refers to consulting consumer interests. That is particularly interesting when we look back to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, at Second Reading, and the concerns about the way in which many of our professional services are failing to meet the needs both of those using them and of broader society. There is something useful in the suggestion from the noble Baroness that would be interesting to take forward.

I will now address Amendments 52 to 55, on the issue of reporting back. There has been great discussion in this Committee about the complexity of the Bill, the difficulty of fully understanding its impacts and, indeed, the fact that, with its range of Henry VIII powers, much of the detail will come in later regulation of which we have very limited or no democratic oversight.

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There is a real argument for saying that we need an assessment point, whether it is one or two years or whatever, at which this House and the other place have a chance to assess the impact of the Bill, see where problems might have arisen and how they might be dealt with them. There is an underlying issue here that addresses much more broadly the functioning of the whole UK Government. I often hear from NGOs and businesses that the Government do things and never assess the impact of what they have done or whether what they are doing should be changed. A similar complaint that we often hear is that the Government or our structures fund pilot projects and sometimes we get assessments of them but even when those assessments are brilliant, they never get rolled out. We have some real structural problems with the way in which the Government work. At least if we built into the Bill an modest assessment and reporting-back process, we could perhaps set a model—a standard, even; let us think big—that could apply to future Bills and operations of the Government.
I come to the precise details of Amendment 55 on which I shall mostly focus and shall set out why it contains the reporting provisions proposed. Before doing so, I have to offer my thanks to the Public Bill Office, which offered its expert assistance in putting this amendment together. I should say that what is listed is not by any means exactly right but I hope that it is a starting point for discussion of some broader issues.
Amendment 55 calls for a report to be made within two years and at five-year intervals thereafter. It seeks to put the Bill in the context of how professional services are provided. We heard from the Minister when he outlined the Bill that addressing skills shortages is an important part of its aims. Proposed new paragraph (1)(a) is saying, “Let’s check to see how the Bill is actually doing”. I have set out the
“medical, construction and food production sectors.”
We can argue about them. The reasons for including the medical sector have been well canvassed and discussed by other noble Lords. We are in a situation in which there are nearly 35,000 unfilled nursing vacancies. In Sheffield, we are about to lose a much-loved GP surgery because it is simply impossible to find another GP partner for it. So including the medical sector is obvious.
I should also point out that the construction industry is included, which addresses the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. I spent a great deal of time recently talking to the Federation of Master Builders, particularly in the context of the hope that we will eventually have a workable retrofitting policy greatly to speed up the work of making our housing stock fit for the 21st century and the climate emergency. That will require an enormous number of skills, and we severely lack highly skilled people. Continental Europe, where there are passive house standards, high levels of building stock and retrofitting has been happening place for decades, is where the skills often exist. The Federation of Master Builders represents many small and medium-sized builders. How will they be able to get those skilled people in? What blocks or speed-in might the Bill offer?
Proposed new paragraph (1)(b) addresses a point that I raised at Second Reading. The Bill addresses only one side of the story on professional qualifications. We find that people are qualified to work in the UK but will we let them in, even if they have jumped through the hoops to find themselves qualified? I think here of the cases that we saw, particularly before the pandemic, although some of the issues have been dealt with in the short term in the light of the pandemic. We found that physiotherapists and nurses in particular were not earning enough money to earn the right to remain in the UK, even after working here for a number of years. They were facing being forced to leave the UK, while the NHS trusts that employed them were flying people around the world to recruit more people to fill the very posts from which we were throwing people out. We were seeing a situation in which the costs of recruitment were significant, particularly international recruitment, while we were losing the skills of people who had been here for a number of years and had acquired knowledge and understanding of the roles that they were being asked to fill during that time. It is therefore important that we look at the interaction between immigration and the professional qualification rules.
Paragraph (1)(c) of the proposed new clause looks at a broader issue and questions an aspect of Government policy. We have heard often from the Government that “We want to attract the best and brightest from around the world to the UK.” We are talking about something that has been going on for decades. Thinking particularly about medical professionals, we are taking people from the global south, who have been very expensively trained in countries that are grossly short of professionals themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, referred to this in an earlier group. We are taking people and bringing them here, and not training enough people ourselves. There are two sides to this and proposed new paragraph (1)(d) addresses whether the demand for doctors, nurses and associated health professionals is being met by training in the UK. There is a very important figure there to be looked at and considered.
As a gesture of good will, I am not going to make any reference to any ongoing debates anywhere else. I am simply going to say that we surely have a responsibility, given how much we have drawn on the resources of the global south in the past, to support the training of professionals in the global south, the professionals that are urgently needed there, and some of whom we will undoubtedly continue to see working in the UK. One of the things I stress is that we need to acknowledge that professionals will want to move around the world for personal and personal development reasons. We need to train more than we need because some of the people we train will go elsewhere. Some people from elsewhere will come here. We need to make sure that enough people are being trained around the world.
In the context of this Bill, there is a question about what we are doing to support professional bodies around the world. If we think about how the Bill is going to work, if someone is registered as a professional with a professional body in another country and that body is strong, well-resourced and has good record-keeping, the process of us recognising that person here should be very simple. We could simply say to the people in that country, “What have you got registered?” If that professional body is well-resourced, has the right data and all the information we need about their qualifications, that could be a very simple process of agreement between two professional bodies.
I have outlined how I see this amendment. I am not saying it is the perfect solution. I obviously will not be moving it now, but I think a lot more discussion is needed around reporting. However, I want to raise a final point that addresses this and other debates. The Minister has often said that the Government need the flexibility of Henry VIII clauses because it is a fast-changing world. I have been thinking about the debate thus far. We have been thinking a lot—I have myself—about people moving to the UK to provide professional services. I was drawn to a case study that emerged a month or so back about what has been happening with the national tutoring programme. It emerged that tutors as young as 17, earning as little as £1.57 an hour, with an average of £3.07 an hour, were, through that national programme, providing tutoring in maths for disadvantaged primary school pupils.
We think about what has been happening in our medical services through necessity throughout the pandemic. A great deal of medical consultations are now being conducted online. There is no requirement for the person doing that; they can be literally anywhere in the world. If we start to think about what has happened to so many professionals in the UK who have seen their employment conditions subjected to casualisation and zero hours contracts—I am thinking here of a lot of university lecturers—we see that how professionals are employed has changed enormously. I suggest to your Lordships that we need to think about how that is going to play out differently in the context of this Bill.
Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. She was right to say that we will probably need to think a little further about the subsequent scrutiny arrangements for the operation of this legislation. I fear that the amendments we have at the moment probably do not do it.

Perhaps with the exception of Amendment 54, they all suffer from the difficulty of proposing subsequent scrutiny of the impact of this legislation on issues which will themselves be impacted by a wide range of other legislation, administration and circumstances. It is difficult to isolate the impact of this legislation in particular. When we re-examine it we should, if not legislating, certainly be looking to Ministers to say that we should focus on understanding how it is working after a suitable period. One of the conventional processes would be five-year, post-legislative scrutiny. That would probably be the appropriate route down which to go.

I want to say a word about the issue of consultation, which came up under the previous group. There are a number of amendments in this group, but I am pretty sure that the proposers of Amendments 25 and 29 will recognise that they do not provide appropriate consultation opportunities. If there is a mutual recognition agreement in an international agreement with another country, it will have been subject to its own consultation arrangements. To have another consultation on the regulations to implement it would be inappropriate. It is also inappropriate and unnecessary to consult on regulations simply to get rid of the existing EU directives or retained EU legislation.

Turning to Amendments 14 and 19, in both instances there is a good case for consultation. I am not sure whether it needs to be legislated for in statute, but we too often assume that there is a public law duty to consult when there is not. It may be better to have a statutory duty to consult even if it is framed, pretty much as these provisions are, in broad and general terms, just to ensure that Ministers go through the appropriate processes at the right time. I am quite supportive of Amendments 14 and 19 for these purposes, particularly Amendment 19.

We had a previous discussion about demand. You cannot look at demand for professional services without actually asking consumers, so making sure that consumers are consulted in the process would be a good approach. I hope that Ministers will at least look at whether there is a place for a statutory duty to consult on regulations under Clause 1, and on the question of demand for professional services being met.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak mainly to Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fox. I had hoped that he would speak before me, so I could hear his views on the amendment, but I support its intent. I might have some reservations regarding whether a report should be made within 12 months or a longer period, as others have mentioned. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that it is not a question of the impact on innovations of this Bill alone, but the cumulative impact of other Bills, to which this one might add. That is the issue I wish to explore.

The United Kingdom has a big ambition to be a science superpower, as has been said many times by our Prime Minister. In fact, he is the second Prime Minister, including Harold Wilson, to have mentioned science as a driving force for the United Kingdom and the UK’s leading in science. So, we have a great ambition: we are going to invest 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and, depending on the spending settlement to be announced shortly, it looks as though there will be £22 billion for R&D leading up to 2024. A significant amount of resources is being put in. So, what drives innovation? The drivers of innovation are research infrastructure; funding; importantly, career development opportunities for early-career researchers—I emphasise early-career; and collaboration and knowledge exchange through institutions in different countries working together.

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I declare an interest as a member of the UK-Israel Science Council, which identifies areas of collaboration in science research, exchange opportunities for middle-level and top-level scientists, and opportunities for visits by lower-level training scientists. Currently it is looking at science research related to ageing. Collaboration programmes such as these offer innovative training opportunities for PhD and Masters students. Regulations that recognise training in technology are therefore important, as are opportunities for PhD students to work not just in one country but sometimes in several.
It is our ambition to attract world-class research and innovators to the United Kingdom in order to maintain the UK’s status as the best place for science. We have hitherto had free movement from the EU, while people from other countries came under the Immigration Rules. With our new immigration rules, the impact of this Bill may in fact be negative in terms of recruiting people at lower grades for innovation. The UK economy needs a productivity boost from innovation and the diffusion of new frontier technologies to support growth. How are we going to achieve that? Will Bills such as this have a negative impact? Despite Brexit, 54% of our PhD students come from overseas. That is good news and we need to maintain it, but there is a risk that the cumulative effect of various legislation, including this, will have a negative impact on innovation in this country.
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I put my name down in this group in order to speak to Amendments 19 and 29, but I shall say a few words first on Amendments 52 to 55. Normally, I do not support Report amendments, which are a slightly lazy way of trying to open up a debate on wider issues, but in this case I think they have a point.

The Government’s impact assessment is, to use a tactful term, pretty light. It certainly does not analyse very much impact, probably because the Government do not have a clear idea of what they are going to do with the powers in the Bill. If that is not clear from the Bill itself, it is certainly clear from the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Poor impact statements are a widespread problem and we will not solve that for this Bill, but it is incumbent on the Government to be transparent about the impact of a Bill once it becomes law.

I shall therefore be listening carefully to what the Minister says, because it may well be that some or all of Amendments 52 to 55 will need to be considered again on Report. Alternatively, as my noble friend Lord Lansley suggested, we could legislate for post-legislative scrutiny; after five years might be an appropriate time for a report. However, it is very important that we monitor the Bill’s impact.

If the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has one defining characteristic, it is her determination to get the consumer interest felt, and she frequently finds all kinds of surprising ways to do that in Bills, but I want to explain why in this instance she is wrong to try to get the Bill amended with her Amendments 19 and 29. I was particularly struck by a briefing from the British Dental Association that commented that this Bill appears to focus on services, consumers and trade. Those are inappropriate concepts to describe the healthcare professions, which are certainly one of the major reasons given for this Bill being enacted and are cited as the professions likely to be covered by the regulations under Clause 1.

Those terms may well be appropriate for other professions which qualify and oversee professionals who trade their services, though I am not sure that “consumers” is always the right description for those other professions. For example, I do not really know who the consumer is in relation to regulated auditors, who are covered by this Bill via the Financial Reporting Council. The healthcare professions are focused on safety rather than on what consumers want or need from the profession, and we should never lose sight of that.

I do not think that either the consultation requirement in Amendment 19 or the board membership requirement in Amendment 29 fit well within this Bill, given the focus on the healthcare professions that is likely to follow once the Bill becomes law. I completely get that regulated professions and their regulators must not be focused on their own narrow interests but bear the public interest in mind. But that is usually achieved through regulators being independent of the professionals they regulate, and they often have independent members comprising some or the majority of their boards. If they are not on their boards, they are certainly well entrenched in their disciplinary processes. That aspect, the independent characteristic of the regulators, is what we should focus on in this instance, rather than the consumer interests.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, especially after the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I support Amendment 55 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

This amendment takes a broader view about the nature of skills shortages and human consequences from the recognition of professional qualifications. There are many reasons for this Bill, and one is the failure of the United Kingdom to produce skilled labour, and the relative absence of any coherent government strategy to produce the desired skilled labour force. The problems have been well documented. For example, in 2000 a report published by the National Skills Task Force said that there were

external skill shortages, that is, recruitment difficulties due to an excess of demand over supply of required skills in the external labour market”.

Examples included

“highly-paid occupations requiring specific technical qualifications such as engineers and technologists and health and related occupations … and craft and technician vacancies in the engineering industry”.

It also referred to internal skills shortages—that is,

“skill deficiencies among existing employees”.

Similar skills gaps were identified in the 2019 report by the Industrial Strategy Council, which said that about 21 million workers—two-thirds of the workforce—might

“lack the basic digital skills”

that employers will need in 2030.

Some businesses have responded to skills shortages by renting talent from external partners—for example, through outsourcing partnerships. Of course, that creates its own logistical and organisational problems. Nevertheless, in the absence of a coherent strategy, neither the Government, the industry nor universities have been able to address the perennial problem of skills shortages.

Finding appropriate PhD students, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned, is also highly problematical. It is simply too costly for many individuals to undertake a PhD in the UK. In supervising PhD students for nearly 30 years, I can only recall about one or two indigenous British students who came to do a doctorate in accounting, business or finance. It is so rare.

At the moment, the Government and industry are not even connecting the dots. The spate of hiring and rehiring workers on inferior pay and working conditions will not address skills shortages and will have a negative effect on attracting new local talent to crucial industries. After all, if the wages and working conditions are poorer, why would somebody want to go into that industry?

The Government’s strategy so far has been to enrol and recruit foreign workers to fill the gaps. That is especially evident in the National Health Service. Brexit has added new dimensions because it has alienated many EU workers residing in the UK. Their departure and the unwillingness of many other EU citizens to work in the UK have deepened and widened the skills shortages.

The Government are now looking to recognise foreign qualifications to address the local skills shortages. The aim, as always, is to poach skilled persons from abroad. The traffic will predominantly be one way from developing countries to the UK. I doubt that many Brits will actually want to go and work in countries such as Ghana, Zimbabwe or Nigeria, where the wages may be lower and the working conditions may not be comparable.

This ability to poach workers from other places will inevitably dilute the pressure on the UK to develop its own institutional structures to address the skills shortages. That development is highly necessary, and we need a government strategy. Therefore, it is absolutely right that Parliament must monitor the impact of this Bill on the management of strategies for addressing skills shortages, as has been extremely well articulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

To be clear, I am not against mutual recognition of qualifications, as this increases opportunities for individuals, but I am very concerned about the negative consequences for developing countries. They spend millions of pounds to educate and train engineers, doctors, surgeons and other skilled persons, but will never see the full benefit of their social investment. It can take more than a decade to train a skilled doctor or surgeon and, at the end, having developed those individuals, the developing countries will be unable to receive the benefits. There are also other consequences. To put it another way, if the UK started to see its highly educated citizens leave on a scale already observed in many developing countries, it would find itself with a smaller and less educated workforce. Such changes would coincide with a more rapidly ageing population due to the fact that emigrants tend to be younger adults.

For a long time, the UK has taken the cream of the skills from developing countries with absolutely no compensation. This brain drain retards the development of local economies and social infrastructure. It results in a huge transfer of wealth from poorer countries to the UK, while they suffer from a lack of sufficiently skilled personnel in both the public and private sectors. With a loss of skilled labour, poorer countries cannot offer universal healthcare to their citizens. That is just one example. The only appropriate redress is a bilaterally managed scheme of direct reimbursement of the value lost to each of the countries affected by migration of skilled labour. I sincerely hope that the Minister will give such an undertaking and, in due course, bring legislation to provide further details and make the compensation to developing countries a reality.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I am delighted to support many of the amendments in this group. Those in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, are very similar to those in my name. I notice that Amendment 38 extends the proposed consultation to Clause 6. I will limit my remarks to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and Amendment 52 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has cleverly married the concept of consultation with specifying the number of bodies that are to be consulted upon. When she comes to move Amendment 27, I would be interested to learn why she picked those specific ones. I am also interested to learn from the Minister why there is no reference in the Bill to any specific professional bodies. What was the thinking behind that?

On Amendment 52 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, obviously, a number of professional people co-operate together in partnership, but many may consider them a small firm, if you like. I see some merit to Amendment 52 in relation to what the Bill’s impact will be on small and medium-sized companies. I look forward to hearing my noble friend’s response to that request.