All 6 contributions to the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

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2nd reading
Tuesday 25th May 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

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.

--- Later in debate ---
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.

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

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.

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

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.

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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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

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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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.
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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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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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)
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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.

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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.
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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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

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Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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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.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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.

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Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, before I address the important amendments in this group, may I clarify something in relation to the previous group, about consultations with the officials of the devolved Administrations? I am informed that a working group of officials across all devolved Administrations was set up as long ago as last August. I would not like the House to think that my comments about the timing of when I saw the Bill meant in any way that there had not been massive consultations before that, so I am pleased to have clarified that point.

On the amendments before us, noble Lords have spoken eloquently about engaging with a range of interested parties before making regulations, and said that the Government should continue to consider the impact of the Bill after it comes into force. I agree that these are important considerations. However, with the utmost respect, I believe it is unnecessary to add those specific requirements to the Bill.

Amendments 14, 25, 36 and 38, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, would introduce duties on the appropriate national authority to consult people it deemed appropriate before introducing regulations under Clauses 1, 3, 5 and 6. The Government are absolutely committed to working in partnership with regulators, devolved Administrations and other interested parties when regulations are made under the Bill, and of course, consultations are bound to form part of that.

Amendments 19 and 29, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, focus on consultation with consumer representatives. Few would disagree that regulators must have the interests of consumers of services—be they customers, patients, or students—at the heart of their approach to regulating professions. That is an incredibly important point. I appreciate the intention of her amendment to Clause 4, but I can reassure the noble Baroness that any recognition agreement would still have to meet the regulator’s existing standards and duties around public protection—that would not be diluted in any way. Regulators rightly guard their autonomy to decide who is fit to practise a profession, to ensure that only the best candidates can do so. So I think we can expect that regulators will continue to ensure high standards to protect consumers.

Amendments 52, 53, 54 and 55 require the Government to report to Parliament on the impact of the Bill in a range of areas. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, proposes two reports. The first would be on the costs to regulators and applicants. Many regulators already operate in line with the framework set out in the Bill. Therefore, we believe that the anticipated costs to regulators and applicants will be modest. The second report would be on innovation. Innovation is an important feature in the Government’s wider ambitions, and I have carefully noted the sensible points made by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Patel, about this. However, because the Bill is not about immigration, I am not entirely sure about its relevance to the recognition of professional qualifications. However, I will of course consider it carefully.

We should note that a primary objective of the Bill is to allow an appropriate national authority to take action to help enable a profession to meet demand by ensuring that there is a route to recognition for individuals with overseas qualifications and experience. This should help to attract the talent needed from around the world to provide services in the UK—and, on a reciprocal basis, allow our professionals, who provide such a valuable export service to the UK, to practise overseas. I have no doubt that an indirect result of this would be to add to the pool of skills and experience in a profession, which in itself may help to drive forward innovation. However, the primary purpose of the Bill is to help enable service provision.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, made a very good point on the impact on SMEs. Through my work chairing the Professional and Business Services Council and my regular engagement with this sector, I am well aware of the importance of professional qualifications for services exports.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, tabled an amendment that proposes a report to consider the Bill’s impact on skills shortages, how the Bill relates to immigration, overseas development and skills training, and skills demand in the health professions. Of course, these are all very important points, but I humbly suggest that this would speak to several policy areas beyond the Bill. The Government’s skills strategy, visas and immigration, international development, and how demand for skills is being met in health and social care are, I would say, outside the scope of this Bill. Publishing reports in each of these areas is not a necessary component to assessing the impact of the Bill.

A number of noble Lords were concerned about the impact of regulations brought forward under the powers in the Bill. This will also be considered in line with the Government’s better regulation framework.

I trust that this gives reassurance on the checks and balances that we have carefully built into the Bill. I hope it demonstrates that there is no need to specifically provide for further measures. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, it appears that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, wishes to speak after the Minister.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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Thank you. I did send an email—it is probably lurking in the system. Coming back to the Minister’s assessment that the costs would be low, I am again looking at one of my noble friend’s favourite documents—the impact assessment. It is limited in scope but does have estimates of costs. The Government’s best estimate—this has the Minister’s signature on the front, so I assume that he agrees—is £18.2 million, the majority of which will be absorbed somewhere in the regulatory system. I suggest that that is not a small amount of money for the regulatory sector. Can the Minister calibrate what he just told us or explain how these two numbers meet up?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for that question. I do not think that I can really add to what is in the impact assessment. Those costs are incurred over a number of years, but I think the impact assessment was carefully prepared and that those are the costs.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, in one of his better interventions earlier, this is a mixed bag of amendments and probably represents skilful grouping by the Government Whips’ Office. As a result, we have had a very wide-ranging debate.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill—an area I know very well, by the way, but that is another story—that I agree with him. Although he did not deal with the devolved Administrations, he made some very good and useful points. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned all the reports and very sensibly suggested that they might be looked at and consolidated or reorganised in some way on Report. I hope that that will be considered.

I also thank my noble friend Lord Lansley—he is getting more on my side every day—for his support on a statutory duty to consult. As I said in my introductory remarks, it is important to make it a statutory responsibility, otherwise it is so very easy for Governments —of all shades—to forget that they have a responsibility to consult widely.

Having said all that, in light of the helpful reply from the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this group of amendments, and to reflect on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Patel. He has reminded us of the complexity and sensitivity of these issues, with his example of medical practice in America. It is a country— the richest in the world— with the very highest medical standards, but it does not have the guarantees of high standards, perhaps, that we rightly want to take for granted in this country. I think he has pinpointed an important sensitivity on this issue.

I welcome these amendments, especially the emphasis on consultation, since I am very worried about the lack of awareness of this Bill beyond this Chamber. I think it is right to say that some of us in this Chamber have woken up only gradually to the huge complexity of the Bill. The Minister himself expressed some surprise at it, and the more that can be done to raise awareness among regulators and among the professions affected the better.

I have one very specific comment: I was struck, on reading the impact assessment, on how narrow the Government’s consultations with regulators were prior to the laying of this Bill. Out of 150 professions and 60 regulators, only a dozen were involved in some of the consultation. They were asked questions about the costs and, in one case, there were replies from only three of them. The costings we have been given on an expensive new policy are based, in some aspects, on replies from three regulators, and they could hardly be regarded as a representative cross-section. There is a real worry for us about a lack of understanding of the complexity of the Government’s policy.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, for her amendments and I note that the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, are supporting them. These amendments introduce a duty to publish, in draft form, any proposed regulations where they relate to the professions listed, and to consult on these regulations before they can be made under Clauses 1 and 3—the powers to provide for individuals to be treated as having UK qualifications and the implementation of international agreements respectively. I have spoken at some length about the commitment to engagement on both clauses but let me provide some further reassurance specific to these amendments.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the Government, through this Bill, will not and cannot bring forward regulations that affect the autonomy of regulators or the standards that they set. With the greatest of respect to noble Lords, I sometimes feel that they think there is more to this Bill than meets the eye. There is not. This is a Bill which, at its heart, is about the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. It is not, and could not be, a Trojan horse for the Government to somehow choose to undermine the autonomy or the standards of regulators. It would be the height of foolishness for any Government, not just mine, to do so. I suggest that a little injection of reality about what this Bill is about should creep into some of our debates, and I say that with the greatest respect to noble Lords.

I turn first to Amendment 15 to Clause 1, which would mean that, if one of the listed professions were deemed to meet the demand condition in Clause 2, and regulations under Clause 1 were justified, there would be a three-month period of consultation with their regulators before regulations relating to those professions could be made.

I recognise that the professions and regulators specified by the noble Baroness are primarily those supporting our important public services. It is of course essential that any regulations made under the Bill support the delivery of public services and complement regulators’ existing practices. However, there seems little merit in listing, in primary legislation, a set of priority professions —my noble friend Lady Noakes put this very succinctly —which would be subject to change as demand changed. To do so could unduly restrict the ability of the Government, or the other national authorities, to respond quickly and efficiently to the needs of the professions on the list when they were deemed to have unmet demand.

Moreover, let us remind ourselves of what Clause 1 does. It requires regulators to have a route to consider applications from these people. It does not tell them that they have to accept these people or that there has to be a diminution of standards in relation to them; it requires regulators to have a route to consider them. This in no way undermines the carefully constructed architecture that our regulators have put in place to protect patients, consumers and other users of regulated services. Decisions under the Bill will be informed by careful engagement with professions and their regulators, and not introduced without warning. I agree that regulators will need to be involved from the outset, and have time to prepare for changes.

Amendment 27, which relates to Clause 3, seeks to make a similar requirement to publish and consult on draft regulations, with the same regulators and professions, in relation to implementing parts of international agreements on the recognition of professional qualifications. As I have explained previously—and will no doubt have to continue to do—a key concern for the Government in all negotiations is ensuring that the autonomy of regulators within these trade agreements protects UK standards. That applies to all regulators and professional bodies which may be within the scope of an international agreement, not just the ones specified in this amendment.

Through the Department for International Trade the Government engage with a range of stakeholders, including regulators, to understand their priorities and inform the UK’s approach to trade with future trade agreement partners. We have several forums to inform these negotiations, including the trade advisory groups, which hold strategic discussions to help shape our future trade policy and secure opportunities in every corner of the UK. We also hold many ad hoc consultations with interested parties. BEIS also organises regulator forums that provide updates on the negotiations and the terms of trade deals.

In addition, to consult before making regulations at the point at which the international agreement being implemented has already concluded would, frankly, be too late to meaningfully impact the substance of the agreement. That is why in May this year we launched a public call for input as we prepared for trade negotiations with India, Canada and Mexico. I encourage all those with an interest, and of course that includes all regulators and professions, to respond. Why would we not want to know what people think before we embark on the negotiations? To think that we should consult them after the agreement has been effectively finalised, when it is being prepared for parliamentary scrutiny, seems, with great respect, to be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

On Clause 3, it is important for the UK Government to be able to meet our international obligations on professional qualifications, to support UK professionals and trade in professional services, and to do so in a timely fashion. I know that on a later group of amendments we will come back to further examination of this clause.

I trust that this gives reassurance to noble Lords on the engagement of professions, including the professions cited in the amendments but of course all others, before any changes are enacted through regulations through Clauses 1 and 3. I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, there is a problem in what the Minister said. He talked about consultation and a call for input, but that is very passive. As I mentioned on an earlier group, unless you know that the Government are going to be looking at your profession, who would think to input at the beginning? On a later group we will come to the need to have a negotiating mandate, because at that stage that might stimulate people to think, “Oh gosh, that’s my profession.” If the Government would like architects, surveyors or whatever to be covered then they may start talking about it, but just putting out a call does not actually tickle the trout; people do not know that they should be involved. What the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said was interesting: people do not even know that the Bill exists, so the idea that they are following the situation and will keep looking at websites just in case their profession is affected is not going to happen.

There is an issue, not just about the Bill but about all sorts of measures, of the Government’s consultations consisting of, “We hope you’ll hear what we’re doing and will come and tell us about it.” The Minister has talked about the trade advisory groups. I am sorry to go on about this again, but there are no consumers on any of those groups. Again, the users of those professional services, be they clients of City lawyers or whoever, will not actually sit on those trade advisory groups so are not part of that inner circle that is kept close.

The Minister has basically said, “You can trust us. The Government wouldn’t bring forward regulations that affected the independence of regulators. We would never think to abolish a regulator.” The problem is that he was not in this House—quite a few of us who are here today were, including my noble friends Lord McAvoy and Lord Foulkes—when we had the Public Bodies Act. Do noble Lords remember that? It abolished 32 public bodies with a skeleton Bill and then by statutory instrument. The poor noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has to put up with me all the time because the National Consumer Council was abolished under that Bill; had it not been, I probably would not have had so much cause to be here because there would have been a statutory body on the formal list that the Government have to consult, and a lot of the stuff that I come in on at a very late date probably would have been dealt with before. So we have previously had a Bill on the basis of “Trust us, we won’t go round abolishing things”, and now here we are: we have no National Consumer Council any more. There is history here that predates the Minister, and that is why we would like a little more evidence in the Bill.

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Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has withdrawn from this group of amendments, so I call the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, for their proposed amendments. They cover reciprocal recognition arrangements, the charging of fees and information sharing between UK regulators respectively. I will discuss each amendment in turn.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, again raised the DHSC consultation on medical professions, and I admire his deep knowledge of this. I would like to be able to respond fully to the points he has raised, so, if I may, I will write to him and put a copy of my reply in the Library. I also noted his point about EEA citizens’ withdrawal agreement rights. I will try to obtain the number and include that in the same letter.

Let me start with the amendment to Clause 1 from my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I fully recognise the benefit of reciprocal arrangements for the recognition of professional qualifications. I completely understand why my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seek this. I do not think I can put it better than my noble friend Lord Lansley succinctly did, in that it takes two to tango.

We have had the benefit of the great knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, on the negotiating stances within the EU agreement. I was not a member of the Government at that time so I cannot comment on the detail of that. I think it is now, frankly, a matter of history. The noble Lords may frown, but I think it is a matter of history and we have gone past that. I will see if I can glean any useful information to send to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, but I am not entirely confident I will able to.

As the Committee will know, reciprocal recognition agreements can be secured through international agreements and through agreements between regulators. The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement includes a mechanism for agreeing UK and EU-wide recognition arrangements. I say in reply to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that the first meeting of the partnership council is taking place this very day. I believe that a number of committees will start to meet after that. My information is that one of those committees will include services within its remit.

Regulators have the option to use this process if they wish. Some have indicated they might find it rather cumbersome and so may prefer to conclude arrangements outside this framework. Clause 4 of the Bill will support that. As we know, it provides powers to enable regulators to enter recognition arrangements with their counterparts in other countries. Of course, in reply to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, I say that some already have this power and have used it, and I thoroughly welcome that. Sadly or unfortunately, others do not have the power at present or have doubts about whether they do. One reason why we are bringing forward Clause 4 is to be able to give the power to all regulators that wish to have it. If they then use that power, nobody would be happier than me.

To help them to pursue this route, we are taking action to support regulators in securing such arrangements. For example, the Government recently published guidance to support regulators in agreeing recognition arrangements, including mutual recognition agreements with their counterparts in other countries. However, these arrangements are of course completely distinct from the purposes of Clause 1. As noble Lords have heard, Clause 1 concerns enabling the demand for the services of professions in the UK to be met without undue delay or charges. Clause 1 does not relate to mutual recognition arrangements. However, there is of course nothing in Clause 1 that would act to inhibit reciprocal recognition agreements being agreed where regulators wished to do so. Moreover, recognition agreements are, frankly, demand-led processes, and it is for regulators themselves to decide whether to enter into one and to decide the terms between themselves. That is a feature of the regulators having autonomy. Requiring national authorities to seek out reciprocal arrangements for certain professions would, I suggest with the deepest respect, reduce regulators’ autonomy. I know the importance that noble Lords attach to not doing that. I agree that it is appropriate for the Bill to support regulators’ ability to enter into such recognition agreements, and I hope that noble Lords will agree this is adequately addressed elsewhere in it. No doubt we will come back to this later.

I turn to the amendment to Clause 3 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock. The current provision on the charging of fees makes sure that regulators can be enabled to cover any additional cost burden from administering any systems established under international recognition agreements. Of course, this may also be necessary if an agreement references fees. This will help to make sure that regulators are no worse off due to the UK implementing international recognition arrangements. It allows them to cover costs that will arise from implementing and operating processes to recognise professional qualifications from a trade partner’s territory. Some international agreements include commitments about the charging of fees. For example, in typical language, this would be that they are reasonable or proportionate. This power is necessary to implement such measures.

On the specific question of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, about why Clause 3 departs from precedent on the charging of fees, I noted the Law Society briefing on this point and understand its interest in hearing us place on record the reasons for the difference between the approach taken in this Bill and that in the 2020 future relationship Act. Clause 3 is a power created with the future needs of international agreements on the recognition of professional qualifications in mind. The requirements and concerns to be considered for this clause are distinct from more general implementation powers that deal with entire free trade agreements and all their different chapters, as is the case with the powers under the future relationship Act.

Clause 3 is also designed to be flexible and to ensure that the UK Government can implement the UK’s precedent-setting policy on professional qualifications, as well as more traditional mutual recognition agreement frameworks and other provisions. If the noble Lord would find it helpful to have a further discussion with me about that, of course I would be delighted. The debate that we come to later will turn to the detail of Clauses 3 and 4 and reciprocal arrangements, so with noble Lords’ permission I shall not go further into the detail of those clauses here.

I now turn to Amendment 47, which concerns Clause 9. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for their amendment. Clause 9 relates to information sharing between UK regulators. The amendment seeks to create a defence if a disclosure made under the duty in Clause 9 contravenes data protection legislation. This clause places a duty on UK regulators, where requested, to provide information to another regulator in the UK relating to individuals who are, or have been, entitled to practise the relevant profession in another part of the UK. It ensures that regulators have the information, when an individual applies for entitlement to practise, necessary to assess that individual’s entitlement to practise the profession in that part of the UK. This necessary information is limited to information held by the UK regulator about the individual.

Clause 9 also specifies how the provision interacts with the data protection legislation. Where the new duty relating to the processing of personal data applies, it does not require the making of any disclosure which would contravene data protection legislation. This approach—I think that my noble friend Lord Lansley recognised this—and similar wording has been adopted in other recent Bills, some of which are now Acts, such as the Pensions Schemes Act 2021 and the Agriculture Act 2020.

Let me provide reassurance on the concern which appears to underpin this amendment that regulators may face legal challenges in complying with Clause 9. The clause specifically requires disclosure only when it does not contravene data protection legislation. There is therefore no defence needed. I hope that that reassures the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock. The clause is also clear that the duty to share information can be taken into account in determining whether improper disclosure has occurred.

We will return to the important issue of data protection in our wider debate, and I look forward to continuing this discussion. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and amendments. I hope my explanation of the Government’s objectives in relation to reciprocal arrangements, my agreement to write to noble Lords and the rationale for including provisions to charge fees and consideration of how the Bill requirements interact with data protection have been helpful, and that on that basis my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all who have spoken in this little debate. I hate to disappoint my noble friend Lord Lansley, but this amendment was entirely my own work—it was not from the Law Society of Scotland. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for the work that he put in to prepare for this group of amendments. To add to his comments on paragraphs 92 and 93 of the impact assessment, they do not record the loss of reciprocal rights for those lawyers who might otherwise have gone from this country, along with other professions such as dentists and doctors, to work in other European and EEA countries.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his full reply—especially the acknowledgement that the partnership council met for the first time today. For the first time, we hear that it is hoped that the committees will meet shortly after that. I believe that we should make this a priority, so that all professionals have reciprocal arrangements. I am grateful to my noble friend for spelling out the implications of Clause 4 in this regard, as well as Clause 3. I shall follow that extremely closely. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to probe this matter, and I shall continue to monitor it during the progress of the Bill. For the moment, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, Clause 1 enables regulations to be made—as we have heard, they are never overturned—to require a specific regulator to put in place a procedure for assessing whether to treat overseas qualifications as if they were UK ones. However, we still do not know how many of the 60 actually lack such a power. The Minister wants this Bill; he says that it is necessary. Could he please list those regulators which, if circumstances required extra skilled professionals, could find that their statutes were insufficient and thus that they would need to be mandated, by law, to introduce a new process? Because, frankly, if there are no regulators that need this power, we do not need a law to give it to them.

If the regulator wanted to introduce such a process, and had the statute, why would it have to be mandated to do it? If the regulator does not want to introduce such a process, how autonomous is a regulator if it can then be told by a Government that it must do so with the force of law? It may, as the Minister has said, be just a process that they have to introduce, but we are, nevertheless, talking about the Government mandating a regulator to do something that it does not want to do—because if it does want to do it, it will just do it.

So the Minister needs to list the regulators who do not already have the power to adopt such a process. I understand that there may well be some, but it would be nice to know which ones they are. If the regulator has such a power, but does not want to introduce a process to assess whether somebody’s qualifications should be agreed, how does he justify mandating the regulator by law to do that?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I have previously set out the need for a framework for the recognition of overseas professional qualifications. The Government are proposing one that focuses on addressing unmet demand for professional services in the UK. The intention of Clause 1 is to bring in that framework. It means that regulations can be made which require regulators to have a route in place to determine whether or not to recognise overseas qualified professionals from around the world. The framework that the Bill introduces will replace the interim system for the recognition of professional qualifications that was put in place as the UK left the EU.

Clause 1 sets out the substance of the new recognition framework. I stress that these conditions cannot be amended by regulations under the Bill. Where regulations are made under this clause, they would require a regulator to make a determination as to whether an individual with overseas qualifications or experience has substantially the same knowledge and skills, to substantially the same standard, as the UK qualification or experience. As I have said previously, these regulations would not alter the standards required to practise professions in the UK. They could not alter such standards, and regulators would still decide who can practise. No regulator would be forced or pressured into accepting qualifications that did not reach UK standards. Any other appropriate regulatory criteria, such as language proficiency or criminal records checks, must also continue to be met before a regulator may give access to a profession.

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So we have the entire list of the shortage and the expanded use of defining what the demand is going to be but, as the Government say, there are 90 regulators of 140 professions that will not be covered in the framework. I do not know how the Government intend to meet the demand in those areas. If you add the combination of the new restrictive measures of the Home Office for EEA staff, plus the fact that 90 of those are not going to be in the framework, can the Minister confirm how we are going to meet the demand?
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town and Lady Finlay of Llandaff, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and others—and my noble friend Lady Noakes, of course, for tabling these amendments.

I am very conscious that noble Lords have dug very deep in this debate and that my answers, particularly at this time of the evening, will not necessarily do justice to the questions that they have asked. Where that is the case, I shall be writing to noble Lords as soon as possible after this debate.

I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for reminding me that “never” should never be used by a Minister. I have learnt in my time in your Lordships’ House that it is always wise to take the advice of the noble Lord—so I will do so and, with permission, substitute “hardly ever” for “never” in that instance. I am particularly indebted to him for having invented the “Grimstone rule” in our many debates on the Trade Bill.

Amendment 17 seeks to change the condition set out by Clause 2. Noble Lords do not need me to repeat yet again the purpose of the clause. Demand for the services of a profession includes, but is not necessarily synonymous with, a skill shortage. For example, it could allow consideration of whether consumers can access a service without a long wait or having to pay unreasonably high fees. I completely and utterly endorse the idea that the Bill is not a shortcut to addressing skills development for the UK and does not replace work to boost domestic skills. I endorse the importance that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, attaches to that. The Government have published a Skills for Jobs White Paper and introduced the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to provide the legislative underpinning to those reforms. Alongside those reforms, it is appropriate that Clause 2 uses a broader condition. The amendment also relates to the implementation of international agreements. However, those powers are already provided by Clause 3. I fear that a reference to them in Clause 2 risks conflating two different issues: trade and skills shortages.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, has set out the purpose of the report proposed in Amendment 21. In determining whether Clause 2’s condition is met, decisions will be informed by much of the information suggested in that amendment, where available. There is a requirement in Clause 8 of the Bill for regulators to publish information, including the number of individuals who have become entitled to practise the profession. I hope that this satisfies the need to have such information on record. While I value the outcomes that these amendments seek to deliver, they are not necessary. Therefore, I would ask that they be withdrawn or not moved.

I turn to Amendment 20, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, has explained fully, and I will not repeat that here for brevity. As I have said in relation to earlier questions from noble Lords, I am committed to ensuring that regulators and other interested parties are fully engaged on any regulations brought forward as a consequence of the Bill. I recognise and support the objectives of the amendment. However, there is already engagement planned in determining which professions meet the condition set out in Clause 2. In answer to the specific question the noble Baroness asked, I have already met the Bar Council once, but I am happy to do so again following this debate. I can also confirm to her that the shortage test is granular and is therefore at the level of the speciality, as opposed to some kind of overall definition of medical professions.

Amendment 22, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, would place requirements on the Government around consultation on international agreements that involve provisions on professional qualifications. These include publishing negotiating objectives, consulting regulators, and reporting and producing impact statements on the professional qualifications provisions and their effects at certain stages. In all negotiations, a key concern for the Government is ensuring the autonomy of regulators within those international agreements and protecting UK standards. I have already spoken about my commitment to engagement, so let me put on record some examples. The Government have recently launched public calls for input on trade negotiations with India, Canada and Mexico; and they engage widely through the trade advisory groups and the BEIS-organised regulator forums.

The Government are committed to a transparent and inclusive trade policy. This includes through consultations on proposed new FTAs. Before negotiations commence, the Government publish economic scoping assessments on the impacts of FTAs. Indeed, we recently published pre-negotiation information notes on India, Mexico and Canada. Before any final deal, impact assessments considering the impact on different sectors and bodies will be published and laid before Parliament prior to ratification, as with the UK-Japan agreement.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I say that the Trade Act 2021 provides for the implementation of provisions for the recognition of professional qualifications included in UK trade agreements with countries with which the UK signed agreements as of 31 January 2020. However, it provides for the ability to amend primary legislation in respect of these agreements only if it is retained EU law. Additionally, those powers may expire after five years, whereas it is anticipated that, for example, MRAs formed as part of trade agreements may need to be implemented well beyond this limited period—especially in light of the lengthy timeframes that MRAs typically take to finalise.

In response to my noble friend Lord Lansley’s point about how scrutiny processes should work in relation to these agreements, I have to say that he and I generally see eye to eye on the sequences of these scrutiny arrangements and how they should operate. I understand the interesting point that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, makes about CRaG coverage. I will look into that and write to him. I believe that the additional requirements set out in this amendment are disproportionate, as their objectives are being delivered already. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Finally, I turn to Amendments 26 and 28 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and my noble friend Lady Noakes. As I have mentioned previously, I strongly support regulator autonomy. However, ensuring the preservation of that regulator autonomy to determine who should practise is best achieved through the agreements themselves. Clause 3 will simply implement those agreements. The limit of the Government’s ambitions on professional qualifications is well illustrated in the recent agreement with the EEA EFTA states. Although ambitious, it respects the key priority of regulatory autonomy to assess applicants and determine who should practise. Under that agreement, the autonomy of regulators and national authorities to set standards and reject applicants who do not meet them is maintained.

For most trade partners, we are more likely to agree mutual recognition agreement frameworks. I am concerned that these amendments could create issues if a regulator wishes to enter into a binding recognition agreement that, for example, required the contracting regulators to recognise specified qualifications. In this circumstance, the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Noakes, although no doubt well intentioned, would render implementation through regulations made under Clause 3 impossible. Meanwhile, the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, would result in uncertainty on this point, depending on whether this was construed as undermining regulator independence or autonomy. These amendments could therefore undermine regulator autonomy, rather than preserve it, by restricting what agreements reached by regulators could be implemented under Clause 3. On that basis, and in conclusion, I ask the noble Baronesses not to press their amendments.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

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Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for that point. I think that I can answer the first point immediately because it comes back to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. She wondered whether it would be at the level of, say, the medical profession rather than at the level of a specialty within that profession, such as anaesthesia. On letters, we will do our best to get them out quickly. It is slightly irritating that we have our next day in Committee as quickly as next Monday, but we will certainly do our best.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that. On letters, I know that he is backed by many civil servants and colleagues. He is looking at the whole of my office at the moment—me—so could he not expect us to go to the Library and find things? When he is writing to one person who has asked a question, can he automatically circulate the letter to us because I am afraid otherwise we have no way of seeing it? That would be very kind.

I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate, which I have found really useful. The Minister is not going to like what I say, but there you are. The comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will help in the redrafting, but I think it is only fair to say to the Minister, nice try, but he can be fairly sure that three groups will be brought back on Report. One will be about the autonomy of regulators. They should not be forced to something. It has to be said somewhere that no trade agreement can underpin them. We can take advice on where it goes.

On the second one on skills, we will want some assurances that other things are going to be done and this will not be the immediate device for filling skills. I think that is in Amendments 20 and 21. We definitely want to look at this again. On skills, I very much welcome the clarification about granular. If I understood what the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said earlier, specialists —be they specialist registrars or consultants or members or fellows of the royal colleges—are awarded the specialisms by the medical royal colleges. I get a nod from across the Committee. The colleges are not the regulator, that is the GMC. I am going to keep out of that and leave it for the specialists. I am sure the Minister will need to discuss that with the medics. It is welcome that he says it will be granular, but then it will not be a regulator which is able to do that because, I think I am right in saying, the medical royal colleges are not regulators in this sense.

The third element was international agreement, which was covered by Amendment 22. Although we may want to look at the detail of that, I think that putting the Grimstone rules into this piece of legislation will be important. For the moment though, having said thank you for the answers but we will be still back, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

I believe the Minister’s intention on this, and I am very pleased. We also had a welcome meeting a few weeks ago. He has understood the mood of the House and the concerns raised by noble Lords across all sides of the House, and has come back with an amendment that I think we can all get behind. My noble friend Lady Hayter will not test the opinion of the House on Amendment 15.
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 will speak first to the amendment in my name on regulator autonomy and then respond to my noble friend Lord Lansley’s amendment and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town.

As your Lordships know, I am a great advocate of the autonomy of our regulators. I have no doubt that regulators are best placed to determine who is fit to practise in their professions. The consequence is that to interfere with this could undermine public confidence in those who provide important services.

The Bill absolutely will not undercut regulators’ ability to make determinations about individuals with qualifications, experience or skills from overseas. I have previously given this assurance to your Lordships. However, picking up the point from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I began to realise that the mood of the House was not to rely on assurances in this area. No matter how eloquently I argued the case for assurances, it would not cut the mustard. I absolutely recognise the continued strength of feeling on this issue. That is why I am proposing to make the protection of regulator autonomy clear in the Bill, and to do so specifically for Clauses 1, 3 and 4.

Protecting the autonomy of regulators is particularly relevant to these clauses, because this is where regulations made under the Bill will most directly intersect with regulators’ existing powers. This could be through empowering regulators to assess individuals with overseas qualifications, enabling them to enter into recognition agreements or placing substantive obligations on them.

These clauses also attracted particular interest from the DPRRC, and your Lordships rightly asked for more assurances. The amendment in my name places two conditions on regulations made under Clauses 1, 3 and 4. The first condition is that the regulations cannot remove regulators’ ability to prevent unfit individuals practising a profession. The second is that the regulations cannot have a material adverse effect on the knowledge, skills or experience of individuals practising a regulated profession. To put it simply, regulations cannot lower the required standards for an individual to practise a profession in the UK or, importantly, part of the UK. Taken together, these two conditions will make sure, enshrined in statute, that regulators will retain the final say over who practises in their profession and that the standards of individuals practising professions are maintained.

I also reassure your Lordships that this does not ask regulators to change expectations where they differ between different parts of the UK with good reason. In the case of devolved regulators, such as the General Teaching Council for Scotland, this would mean the requirements of a regulator for part of the UK.

As I said, in framing this amendment I have drawn inspiration from contributions made in this House and from discussions with regulators. Indeed, I am particularly pleased that it has been recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, who has chosen to put his name to this amendment. I hope that this will be the first of many amendments that I bring forward at the Dispatch Box that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, will feels able to do that to going forward.

I turn now to Amendment 11. Of course, I recognise that my noble friend wants safeguards around how powers that could modify primary legislation are used. That is entirely reasonable. But I hope that my explanation of the regulator autonomy amendment in my name provides reassurance that the Government have listened to both noble Lords’ and the DPRRC’s concerns that regulations made under the Bill will be an appropriate use of the powers in Clauses 1, 3 and 4.

In particular, I know that some noble Lords have questioned how regulator autonomy will be safeguarded in trade deals. First, I repeat what I have said previously: in all negotiations, a key concern for the Government is ensuring the autonomy of UK regulators and protecting UK standards. Now, of course, the regulator autonomy amendment in my name ensures, in statute, that this concern is reflected in any regulations made under Clause 3.

I come to the point that my noble friend Lord Lansley made in asking for an assurance that primary legislation will be used to implement any consequences of free trade agreements that affect professional qualifications. I am not able to give that assurance because, by this Bill making it statutory that we cannot undercut the autonomy of UK regulators and diminish UK standards, it is appropriate that secondary legislation will be used to implement those aspects of future trade deals.

This new clause that I am putting forward means that Clause 3 cannot be used, for example, to require the automatic recognition of overseas qualifications—it would not be possible to do that. Before regulations are made, the Government will engage extensively with regulators on trade negotiations. Earlier today, I spoke about how I have formalised that in the new regulated professions advisory forum, which provides regulators with a mechanism to inform UK objectives for trade negotiations and the implementation of commitments that we make in them. If I have learned anything from the Bill, it is that regulators will not shy away from telling the Government when they have concerns about their autonomy.

Should any of your Lordships remain in doubt about whether powers in the Bill should be used to modify primary legislation, I remind the House that the relevant sector-specific legislation can be primary or subordinate legislation. Why we have these differences is lost in the mystery of time, but there is no consistency at all between professions in this matter. For example, the qualification and experience requirements to be a doctor or vet are set out in primary legislation. By contrast, the requirements for pharmacists or social workers are set out in subordinate legislation. That is why regulations made under the Bill may need to amend both primary and subordinate legislation in order to work for all regulated professions.

To give a further example, Clause 4 ensures that regulators can be authorised to enter into regulator recognition agreements with overseas counterparts. Many regulators already have this power; however, not all do. The Architects Registration Board and the General Dental Council are examples of regulators which do not have this power and may therefore benefit from Clause 4. But their powers are set out in primary legislation, so my noble friend’s amendment would prevent them being authorised to enter these agreements under Clause 4 if necessary. To give a further assurance, of course the Government envisage that regulations made under Clause 4 would be made at the request of the regulator. It would seem unfair to prevent them entering into recognition agreements simply because their powers are set out in one type of legislation rather than another. There frankly is no rationale or sensible reason for this difference. I hope that I have provided the House with the necessary reassurance that we have taken seriously the concerns about the use of delegated powers. For this reason, I ask for the amendment to be withdrawn.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for speaking to Amendment 15, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for her contribution. My amendment addresses the same core concerns as Amendment 15. Both amendments —I understand that the noble Baroness’s amendment was very well intentioned—ensure that the Bill does not require regulators to allow those whom they determine to be unfit to practise and that the Bill cannot lower professional standards. Amendment 15, however, would further specify the protection of regulators’ autonomy regarding flexibility in assessment practice. The ability of regulators to make assessments as is most appropriate is already accommodated in the amendment in my name to Clause 1.

Finally, Amendment 15 also seeks to prevent anything in the Bill affecting a regulator’s ability to determine to make a regulator recognition agreement. This point is unnecessary. FTAs—such as the UK’s current deal with Canada—often contain frameworks for agreeing regulator recognition agreements. However, there is no obligation on regulators to enter into these agreements in any deal the UK has entered into. I am concerned that specifying this in legislation could unhelpfully suggest that the Government are unsupportive of such agreements. The Government are keen to support regulators agreeing them, where they wish to do so. In view of my own amendment, I formally ask the noble Baroness not to press her own.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I thought that my noble friend gave an extremely helpful response to the debate and explanation of the relationship between the Government’s new clause in government Amendment 12 and Clauses 1, 3 and 4. Regulators in particular looking at this debate will, I hope, look at subsections (2) and (3) of the Government’s proposed new clause and share their view with us. If that holds, it provides a central piece of protection for regulators in future, in relation to all the substantive powers made available through the Bill. I am grateful for what the Minister has brought forward, and what he has said this evening. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 11.

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Moved by
12: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—
“Regulations: protection of regulator autonomy
(1) The appropriate national authority may make regulations under section 1, 3 or 4 only if satisfied that the conditions in subsections (2) and (3) are met. (2) The condition in this subsection is that the regulations do not remove the ability of any regulator of a regulated profession to prevent individuals who are unfit to practise the profession from doing so.(3) The condition in this subsection is that the regulations will not have a material adverse effect on any regulated profession in terms of the knowledge, skills or experience of the individuals practising it.(4) The reference in subsection (2) to individuals who are unfit to practise the profession is a reference to individuals who are unfit to practise the profession by reason of their character, a lack of knowledge, skills or experience or otherwise.(5) A reference in this section to practising a profession includes a reference to undertaking activities that comprise the practise of the profession or using a title associated with the practise of the profession.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment prevents the appropriate national authority making regulations under section 1, 3 or 4 unless satisfied that the conditions in subsections (2) and (3) of the new Clause are met.
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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I think no one has had a bigger headache on this list than the Minister himself and the department, but it was a headache, frankly, of their own making.

I am with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on this: I think it should be a separate schedule. We proposed a mechanism in Amendment 19 by which this schedule might be created and maintained. The noble Baroness, Lady Blake, talked about keeping it updated: if it had not been for the scrutiny of your Lordships and the constant harrying of the Ministers, this list would not have been nearly right now. I suspect there are still amendments to go into it. For that reason, we think Parliament should hold on to a regulatory process and, through a statutory instrument, that schedule can be updated.

What we have sought to do in Amendment 19 is not to second-guess where the list is now—because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, pointed out, that is like catching a knife—but to give the Government a process by which a definitive list may be created, put in a schedule and updated easily and, I would say, flexibly through a statutory instrument. Why? Because this is not just a list of organisations on a website: there are rights and responsibilities that come with being on this list and, indeed, not being on this list. Which professions are going to be scrutinised to see whether demand is met or unmet? This is a really important issue that Parliament should continue to maintain scrutiny over.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, talked about the responsibilities of those organisations, but also the rights—which ones have the autonomy that the Minister’s amendment has granted and which are not part of this list? Furthermore, when the conversations are being had with the devolved authorities, a list gives weight to those discussions and gives a very clear indication of which professions are in and which are not. So, one way or another, putting it in the schedule is really important, as is a way in which that can be flexibly maintained, whereby Parliament maintains its ability to scrutinise that process; because without that scrutiny, where would we be now?

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake of Leeds and Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Fox, for their amendments. These amendments return to the debate about the regulators and professions to which the Bill applies, a topic which has covered me in embarrassment at various stages during the Bill’s passage. I admit that it was not our finest hour. Noble Lords rightly asked that the Government fully and precisely articulate who meets the definitions in the Bill.

The Government too, of course, and the regulators want to be clear about who the Bill applies to. It was for this reason that I asked my officials to carry out a comprehensive exercise to determine all those regulators and professions that meet the definitions in the Bill. My officials worked closely throughout the summer with other government departments, devolved Administrations and regulators. I am grateful to all those who contributed. Every regulator that meets the definitions in the Bill has been directly contacted by my officials, and is aware that the Bill applies to them. My officials have also contacted those regulators that we no longer consider the Bill applies to. I have written to my counterparts in the devolved Administrations to confirm the professions and regulators that operate in those parts of the UK. I am pleased to report that they have fully co-operated in this exercise. This extensive engagement culminated in the drawing up of a list of regulators and professions affected by the Bill, which we published on GOV.UK on 14 October. This exercise has provided the additional clarity rightly demanded by this House. The Government remain absolutely committed to regularly updating a list of professions and regulators to which they consider the Bill applies, and to keeping that list in the public domain.

I have also asked my officials to ensure that the assistance centre will also publish the list and will signpost professionals to all the professions and regulators identified on it. This will be part of our future service requirements and our contractual requirements for the assistance centre. Building on our work with regulators to prepare the list, my officials will continue engaging with this network of regulators through a variety of avenues to ensure they are kept updated on our work in this area. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, I say that it would not be sensible to use the new forum that we are setting up as a means for doing this. The forum would be so large that we would probably have to go to Rome to use the forum there for its meetings, and it would frankly be unwieldly to have a forum of that size. That forum is going to have a cross-section of all the regulators on it. We will refresh that cross-section from time to time to make sure that all regulators from all parts of the UK have a chance to put their views. Of course, we will have other networks where we will engage through a variety of avenues to ensure that regulators are kept updated on our work in this area.

Perhaps picking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I say that the regulators will of course want to know that they are on this list, because a regulator who is covered by the definition gets the benefit of regulatory autonomy. There is therefore a positive reason for a regulator wanting to be included.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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On that note, in the event that I happened to be the chief executive of a regulator that was not on that list, it would help to know what the process was by which one sought to join the list or, indeed, to be taken off it. If we are not going to have a schedule as we discussed, the process by which a regulator puts itself in the frame or seeks to put itself in the frame would be really important, as well as publishing the list. Discussing that process would be useful.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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Of course, the interesting thing is that this process derives entirely from the legal definition of a regulator that is governed in law. It is not a matter of grace and favour to say whether a regulator is included or not; it is a matter of fact as to whether the regulator statutes make it a regulator engaged in law.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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It is more about having to draw attention to the fact that they believe that they are within the law. I cannot imagine that the department will have enough resources to continually trawl the horizon and find them, so individual organisations may find themselves asking how they go about getting on the list.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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I think the simple answer is that they should write either to the Minister responsible, whoever that is—if it is me, of course, I will attend to that—or to the senior officials within the department or within the devolved Administrations. This will obviously be something that officials will monitor and keep up to date.

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel
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That the Bill be now read a third 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, before we progress with Third Reading of this Bill, I would like to make a short statement about our engagement with the devolved Administrations. My officials and I have worked closely and collaboratively with the devolved Administrations throughout the passage of this Bill. We are continuing to discuss the requirements for legislative consent with the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government. I am grateful for their continued engagement on this issue. I beg to move.

Bill read a third time.
Moved by
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I start by thanking your Lordships for the constructive approach that has been in evidence throughout this Bill. We have had robust discussions and debates and the Bill is all the better for that. In particular, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town and Lady Blake of Leeds, and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Fox, for the time—sometimes a deservedly hard time—that they have given me.

The Bill will achieve four key outcomes for the UK. First, it will end unequal EU-based arrangements for the recognition of professional qualifications. Secondly, it will help to strengthen the UK’s ability to negotiate and deliver ambitious deals on the recognition of professional qualifications with international partners. Thirdly, it will help professionals to enter new markets. Finally, it will provide smooth working arrangements for recognition of professional qualifications across all four nations of the UK.

I recognise that the Bill did not enter your Lordships’ House in the good state in which it leaves. The experience, diligence and practical knowledge of noble Lords have moulded this Bill into what it is today. Enshrining on the face of the Bill the concept of regulator autonomy in regard to preventing unfit individuals from practising is a landmark event.

I was gratified that the government amendments, the stakeholder engagements and the supporting documents prepared over the summer between Committee and Report were well received. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lady Noakes for the expertise that they demonstrated throughout our discussions. I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Bruce of Bennachie, for the constructive nature of the conversations that we have had on this legislation. I also thank my ministerial counterparts in the devolved Administrations and their predecessors, whom I have met on five occasions and written to nine times this year concerning the Bill. I remain optimistic and hope that they will give legislative consent to the Bill.

I thank all the regulators to which this Bill applies. We have engaged with them through a variety of avenues, including seven round tables that I hosted. They, other professional bodies and the government departments with which we have engaged have helped to shape and improve this legislation as it has moved through your Lordships’ House and we are extremely grateful for their constructive involvement.

My thanks also go to the officials who have worked so hard to get us to this position. I give particular thanks to the policy team, led by Tim Courtney, who not only overcame the challenge of compiling the list of regulators but, with his partner Cathy, welcomed the birth of their daughter, Penelope, just 12 days ago. On behalf of your Lordships’ House, I wish all three of them the very best. Tim was ably assisted by Hannah Riches, Nick French, and Sarah Mackintosh, while the Bill team was led superbly in shipshape fashion by Jamie Wasley and Jennifer Pattison. I would further like to thank my private secretary, Zack Campbell, for his sterling service on the Bill, and of course the office of the Leader of the House and the Whips, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the clerks in this place. Last, but certainly not least, I thank my Whip, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for going the extra mile to put the Bill in the state in which it is. His statement today on his continuing engagement on legislative consent with the devolved Administrations is particularly welcome. In paying tribute to him, his Bill team and my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, I urge him to ensure that we see some fruit from the common frameworks and recognise their importance in implementing what is in not just this piece of legislation but other forthcoming legislation as well. I am personally grateful to him.

I thank the Law Society of Scotland, in particular Michael Clancy, at what has been a very difficult time for him through his illness. I also thank the Faculty of Advocates, of which I am a non-practising member, for its engagement in the round table hosted by my noble friend. I warmly thank my noble friend for all that he has done and I hope that the Bill will have a safe passage through the other place.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of a profession, albeit one which is not mentioned specifically in the Bill. I still have some residual concern that, although we welcome the list, the way the Bill is drafted could incorporate professions not listed, because of some obscure entry in other pieces of legislation which have not been picked up. However, my main question is that a lot of work arising from the Bill remains to be done and the UK-EU Partnership Council has an important role to play. I am a keen follower of the Partnership Council, I look at its minutes and its meetings, and this issue, even though it has been identified as a priority, does not appear to have been discussed. Perhaps the Minister can reassure me that the matter will be dealt with with utmost haste.

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

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their comments and thanks, particularly to my officials and the Bill team. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds, that no one would have known that this is the first Bill that she had worked on, and I am sure that it is the first of many in which she will successfully participate. I have noted the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, and, if I may, I will write to him about where this stands in relation to the Partnership Council. I beg to move.

A privilege amendment was made.

Professional Qualifications Bill [Lords]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
2nd reading
Wednesday 15th December 2021

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
2nd reading Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 36-I(Corrected) Marshalled list for Report - (8 Nov 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Services are a critical part of our economy, our trade and our lives. UK-qualified professionals in sectors including architecture, law and medicine, among many others, are at the forefront of their fields globally. It is a testament to their success that the UK is today the second largest exporter of services in the entire world. Good regulation is essential in providing the confidence that the market needs to grow. Good regulation is essential in providing the confidence that the market needs to grow. The Bill supports that endeavour so that services can not only thrive but provide excellent jobs in the future.

Margaret Greenwood Portrait Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The British Dental Association has warned that the Bill could water down the standards required to practise. What are the Secretary of State’s thoughts on that? What assurance can he give the House that standards will be maintained?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I assure the hon. Lady that many such issues were rightly addressed and debated at great length in the other place. I have seen the concerns of some of our professional bodies. I feel that the Bill gives a measure of support, and I feel strongly that it is proportionate. It is on that basis that I am introducing the Bill and begging leave for it to be read a Second time.

I turn to the Bill’s elements—perhaps through these remarks the hon. Lady may get some reassurance. First, the Bill will revoke the current EU-based approach, temporarily retained from the end of the transition period, which often gives unreciprocated preferential access to holders of European economic area and Swiss qualifications, and put in place a new system that is global in outlook and can be tailored to the UK’s needs. The Bill is not a rejection of the valuable skills offered by EU professionals. On the contrary, it will ensure fairness and put them on an even footing with applicants from around the world. Professionals who have already had their qualifications recognised and work in the UK can continue to do so provided that they meet any ongoing practice requirements.

The Bill will also enable the Government and devolved Administrations to act promptly where shortages in services may occur and where consumers may well face unreasonable delays and charges. That is particularly important for regulated professions in the public sector. For example, in a 10-year period, just under a quarter of all UK recognition decisions were for secondary school teachers alone. Let me be clear, however, that the Bill is intended to complement, and not simply to replace, the Government’s ambitious domestic skills agenda.

The Bill will also support our trade agenda and boost UK businesses exporting services all over the world—in short, it will help spread our skills, innovation and expertise abroad. It will ensure that the UK can implement professional qualification provisions in the future trade deals that we all anticipate with enthusiasm. It will also ensure that UK regulators can be empowered to strike deals on recognition with their overseas counterparts while taking full advantage of provisions in such future trade deals. Finally, it will help professionals, both at home and from overseas, to access global markets.

We are working collaboratively with the devolved Administrations and devolved regulators, and I very much hope that we will come to a resolution on legislative consent by the time that the Bill leaves the House. Of course, our regulators’ expertise underpins all our professions, and that is the very reason why the Bill has the protection of regulator autonomy at its very heart. Regulators agree that that is the right approach, and in general they have voiced hearty support for the Bill.

This Bill is about ensuring that the regulation of professional qualifications works for the whole of the country’s interests. It is about fairness, ensuring that wherever professionals may come from, they have an equal opportunity to practise their professions; and it is about making access to professions more transparent, as well as supporting our own UK trade agenda. On that basis, I commend it to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah). I thank everybody who has spoken during the debate. [Interruption.] Yes, all the people in this extensive debate.

This Bill will support trade through allowing regulations to implement trade agreements and allowing our own professionals to enter new markets. It will also support our work to meet domestic need, such as addressing national shortages, while ensuring that professional standards are maintained and regulator autonomy is protected.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly noted the relevance of the Bill to supporting international trade for our world-leading services sectors. Provisions on the recognition of professional qualifications can make it easier for UK professionals to provide services overseas—for example, by making it easier for regulators to agree recognition agreements with overseas counterparts. With trade partners, the Government would look to agree provisions that could require regulators to operate routes to recognition. Our deals with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, for example, include this type of measure. But I can reassure the House that in any agreement regulators’ existing autonomy to set standards and assess them against these deals would be maintained. Regulators are not obligated to enter into recognition agreements with counterpart regulators overseas.

Turning specifically to the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement, this secures continued market access across a broad range of key services sectors, including professional and business services. It also includes the framework to agree professional-specific arrangements on the recognition of professional qualifications. BEIS has established a recognitions arrangement team that provides advice and support to regulators if they pursue these arrangements. The hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) talked about legal services, in particular. The TCA with the EU secures continued market access across a broad range of key services sectors, but on legal services we negotiated unprecedented provisions for UK lawyers to practise in the EU using their UK title in both UK and international law.

The UK proposed ambitious arrangements on professional qualifications with the TCA, but regrettably the EU did not engage with them. However, on legal services we do, as I say, have unprecedented provisions. The Bill is also consistent with our other international commitments, including the common travel area with Ireland. The Bill does not alter the Government’s determination to uphold our CTA commitments. The Government are also working closely with the Irish Government and regulators to ensure that UK and Irish professions have continued routes to recognition.

The hon. Member for Sefton Central, and others, talked about skills and skills shortages. I thank him for his point on that. However, it is important to be clear about how the Bill fits into the Government’s overall skills strategy. The Bill allows regulations to be made requiring a regulator to be able to receive applications, assess individuals’ qualifications and experience gained overseas, and decide on whether to treat them as if they had the required UK qualifications or experience. That can be done only where there is a clear unmet demand for the services of a regulated profession.

Separate from the provisions of the Bill, the Government can, when necessary, consider short-term measures to deal with skills shortages, as they have in the case of HGV drivers. The Bill also plays its part in making sure that aspiring and qualified professionals can find the information they need to access professions, including transparency requirements for regulators to have clearer information online, and it provides for an assistance centre to help professionals directly.

But neither the Bill nor such short-term measures take the place of our domestic skills strategy. Our lifetime skills guarantee will enable anybody to acquire the skills to do those jobs wherever they live and whatever the stage of their life. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill currently going through Parliament will set up the country for success by giving people the skills and the education they need for work. It puts employers at the heart of the skills system to make sure that local skill provision meets local needs, so that people can thrive where they live.

I will respond to the points raised by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) on concurrent powers in the Bill and securing legislative consent motions for the devolved Administrations. I want to reassure the House that the Bill has been carefully designed to respect the devolution settlements. The inclusion of concurrent powers ensures that professions that fall within devolved legislative competence but are regulated on a UK-wide basis can be dealt with efficiently and appropriately under the Bill by the relevant and appropriate national authority.

The UK Government are working hard to seek common ground with the devolved Administrations. The devolved Administrations rejected our previous proposal of a formal duty to consult before regulating in areas of devolved competence, but we have now offered to place on the face of the Bill a stronger duty to consult. The amendment would require the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor to consult with devolved Administrations before making regulations under the Bill that contain provisions that could be made by devolved Administrations themselves, and then to publish a report on the consultation to be agreed with those devolved Administrations.

We have also offered to table an amendment to carve the Bill out of schedule 7B of the Government of Wales Act 2006, allowing the Senedd to remove UK Ministers’ concurrent powers if they deem that to be necessary. The Welsh Government will still be required to consult with the UK Government on the removal of those powers.

The Government’s approach demonstrates our commitment to transparency and scrutiny, and to preserving the balance of the devolution settlement while maintaining a coherent approach across the UK. Let me make it clear: it is not the Government’s intention to make regulations in relation to matters on which the devolved Administrations could legislate without seeking their views.

I hope that hon. Members from across the UK can support the Bill. We will continue to work in collaboration with the devolved Administrations and devolved regulators to ensure an approach that works for all parts of the UK. I look forward to discussing the Bill in Committee, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

Professional Qualifications Bill [Lords] (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Professional Qualifications Bill [Lords]:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 20 January 2022.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Andrea Jenkyns.)

Question agreed to.

Professional Qualifications Bill [Lords] (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Professional Qualifications Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:

(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by a Minister of the Crown; and

(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Andrea Jenkyns.)

Question agreed to.

Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Resolved,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:

(a) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State, and

(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Tom Pursglove.)

Question agreed to.

Professional Qualifications Bill [Lords]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Authority by whom regulations may be made (No. 2)—

“(1) In this Act ‘appropriate national authority’ means as follows.

(2) Where the regulations—

(a) contain provision relating to England only,

(b) apply to the United Kingdom as a whole, or

(c) contain provision which is not within the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru, the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly,

the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor is the appropriate national authority.

(3) The Welsh Ministers are the appropriate national authority in relation to regulations under this Act which contain only provision which would be within the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru if contained in an Act of the Senedd (ignoring any requirement for the consent of a Minister of the Crown).

(4) The Scottish Ministers are the appropriate national authority in relation to regulations under this Act which contain only provision which would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament if contained in an Act of that Parliament.

(5) A Northern Ireland department is the appropriate national authority in relation to regulations under this Act which contain only provision which, if contained in an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly—

(a) would be within the legislative competence of the Assembly, and

(b) would not require the consent of the Secretary of State.

(6) The consent of a Minister of the Crown is required before any provision is made by the Welsh Ministers in regulations under this Act so far as that provision, if contained in an Act of Senedd Cymru, would require the consent of a Minister of the Crown.

(7) In this section ‘Minister of the Crown’ has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975.”

This new clause is intended to replace the current Clause 16. It would mean that the Secretary of State would only make regulations under this Act if they relate to England or the whole of the UK, or are outside the legislative competencies of the Devolved Administrations.

New clause 3—List of regulators and regulated professions—

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish a list of all regulators of regulated professions and the associated professions.

(2) The list must be updated on a regular basis.”

New clause 4—Guidance and assistance concerning mutual recognition—

“Upon the request of a regulator, the Secretary of State must provide guidance and all reasonable assistance on how to make the most of the provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement.”

New clause 5—Consent of the devolved authorities—

“(1) Before making regulations under this Act, the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor must obtain the consent of—

(a) the Senedd, to the extent that the regulations contain provision which could also be made by the Welsh Ministers by virtue of section 16(2) (ignoring any requirement for the consent of a Minister of the Crown under section 16(5));

(b) the Scottish Parliament, to the extent that the regulations contain provision which could also be made by the Scottish Ministers by virtue of section 16(3);

(c) the Northern Ireland executive, to the extent that the regulations contain provision which could also be made by a Northern Ireland department by virtue of section 16(4).”

Amendment 2, in clause 7, page 5, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making the arrangements, the Secretary of State must consult the devolved authorities on the functions and operations of the assistance centre.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to undertake consultation with the Devolved Authorities on the functions and operations of the Assistance Centre before it comes into being.

Amendment 3, page 5, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making the arrangements, the Secretary of State must ensure there are representatives from each of the devolved nations on the board of the assistance centre.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to ensure there are representatives for each of the devolved nations on the board of the Assistance Centre.

Amendment 4, page 11, line 28, leave out clause 16.

Government amendment 1.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am today proposing two amendments in relation to the devolved Administrations. New clause 1 would place a duty on the Secretary of State or Lord Chancellor to consult the devolved Administrations before making regulations under the Bill that contain provisions that could be made under the Bill by the devolved authorities themselves. The new clause would also require the Government to publish a report on the consultation. Amendment 1 seeks to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006 so that a Minister of the Crown’s consent is not needed for Senedd Cymru to remove the Secretary of State’s and the Lord Chancellor’s ability to make regulations under the Bill that are within the Senedd’s legislative competence.

I know that hon. Members across the House have shown strong interest in the issue of concurrent powers and devolved competence. To underline the Government’s commitment to a collaborative approach on this issue, I am introducing into the Bill, through the new clause, a new duty to consult devolved Administrations. The duty includes a requirement to publish a report in advance of any regulations being made by the UK Government that would be within devolved legislative competence. That report should set out the consultation process, and whether and how the representations made by the devolved Administrations during the consultation have been taken into account.

My officials and I have engaged extensively with the devolved Administrations during the passage of the Bill and, although we strained every sinew to reach agreement on securing legislative consent, it is a great regret that, unfortunately, we have exhausted all available avenues. Lord Grimstone and I have held eight meetings with our devolved Administrations’ ministerial counterparts. Baroness Bloomfield and Lord Grimstone have held nine industry roundtables, including two specifically for devolved regulators. There have also been weekly official-level meetings during the Bill’s passage and numerous exchanges of letters.

The amendments were originally offered to the devolved Administrations in December 2021, in exchange for support for legislative consent motions from their respective legislatures, but that offer was rejected. But the UK Government are committed to delivering effective policies that work for the whole of the UK, so, to underline that commitment, I am now introducing those amendments without any conditions attached. I strongly believe that, if both Government amendments are accepted, the Bill represents the best outcome for both the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, without impinging on the UK’s ability to act where necessary.

The regulation of professions often falls within devolved legislative competence. For that reason, the Bill gives powers to both UK Government Ministers and devolved Administration Ministers. Some of the powers may be exercised concurrently to allow UK Government Ministers to make UK-wide regulations where appropriate. The most likely use of concurrent powers would be to implement international agreements on professional qualifications that are negotiated on a UK-wide basis. It is vital that the UK Government are able to implement such agreements across the UK in a timely and consistent manner, as failure to do so could jeopardise the UK Government’s credibility and ability to secure ambitious provisions to support UK services exports with global trade partners.

Amendment 1 would allow for an Act of the Senedd to remove UK Ministers’ ability to use powers in the Bill to make regulations that would be within Welsh devolved legislative competence, without the need to first obtain the consent of a Minister of the Crown. The Welsh Government would still be required to consult the UK Government on the removal of powers. That was a key ask from the Welsh Government. It is in line with similar approaches taken by the Government on the Environment Act 2021, the Fisheries Act 2020 and the Agriculture Act 2020.

In introducing those amendments, I hope that Members can see the UK Government’s determination to work collaboratively and transparently with all devolved Administrations and devolved regulators on the provisions of the Bill and on wider regulated professions policy.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the shadow Minister want to come in straightaway or shall I go to somebody else?

--- Later in debate ---
Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will speak to new clauses 3 and 4 tabled in my name, then briefly come back to the Government amendment and to amendment 3. During the progress of this Bill through the Lords, it became clear that it had been thrown together in a completely unsatisfactory way. The Financial Times described the way in which the Government introduced it as a

“chaotic handling of a post-Brexit regime for recognising the qualifications of foreign professionals”.

Remarkably, the Government admitted introducing the Bill to Parliament without knowing which professions were in scope. We argued in the Lords that we had to know who and what was in the scope of the Bill. It stands to reason that the relevant regulators and professions need to be aware of these changes. Having initially listed 160 professions and 50 regulators that would be affected by the legislation, the Government twice published a revised list, ultimately increasing the numbers to 205 professions and 80 regulators. Due to do the increased number of regulators in scope, the Government also had to publish an updated impact assessment, with the total cost to regulators increasing by almost £2 million. That is hardly the way to inspire confidence that the legislation will help businesses or skilled workers.

The Government were criticised from all sides in the Lords, including by those on their own Benches. Baroness Noakes said that the legislation had

“all the hallmarks of being a Bill conceived and executed by officials with little or no ministerial policy direction or oversight…we learn that the Bill was drafted with a far-from-perfect understanding of the territory that it purports to cover. This is no way to legislate.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 June 2021; Vol. 813, c. 149.]

How can regulators and regulated professionals know where they stand when the Ministers responsible for the Bill do not even know themselves? When I raised this in Committee, the Minister responded that he had

“reservations about enshrining a list in the Bill.”

This was because of concerns about not knowing which professions were ultimately covered. He went on to say that the Government had committed to

“maintaining a list of regulated professions and regulators to which they consider the Bill applies, and to keep that list readily accessible and in the public domain.”––[Official Report, Professional Qualifications Public Bill Committee, 18 January 2022; c. 30.]

It is of course encouraging that the Minister has made such a commitment to maintaining a list. I am not asking Ministers to place a list of regulators on the face of the Bill, but for the certainty that regulators and professionals need to be able to operate with confidence, it is important that they now know whether they are within the scope or not, and that means maintaining the list that Ministers have agreed to keep in the public domain. Web pages can be deleted, links can be lost, and without an amendment requiring the maintenance of a list, there will be no legal duty on Ministers to do so. Indeed, if they decided on the day following the granting of Royal Assent to this Bill that they no longer wanted to publish the list on the gov.uk website, they could remove it. This amendment, which I will not be pressing to a vote, is a reminder that the Secretary of State and the Minister need to maintain the list in the public domain, as promised, for the benefit of the professions and professionals who need certainty. This should not be a controversial point, and I hope the Minister will confirm that that is indeed what will happen.

Turning to new clause 4, the Bill provides a framework to allow mutual recognition of professional qualifications between regulators and professional bodies in the UK and the equivalent organisations overseas. The provisions in clauses 3 and 4 will allow for the implementation of regulator-to-regulator mutual recognition agreements and of the recognition arrangements in new international trade agreements. As the Law Society tells us, the Bill will enable the mutual recognition agreement provisions in the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement to be implemented. However, the Law Society also says that the provisions for mutual recognition agreements in the TCA are largely based on the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement—CETA—but that in fact no mutual recognition agreements have been signed between the EU and Canada using the provisions in CETA in the three years since CETA came into force. The failure to use the provisions on which the Government are relying raises the concern that the provisions are not sufficient. To remind ourselves, this legislation, if applied effectively, might well help to address shortages in a multitude of professions, including the chronic shortage of nurses and vets.

In Committee, I asked the Minister how his Department would put in place the additional support, co-ordination and guidance needed to make the most of the provisions in the trade and co-operation agreement, especially if they are to form the benchmark for future free trade agreements. There is real concern that the model on which the provisions in the legislation are based will not deliver results. That is why I tabled new clause 4, which would oblige the Secretary of State to provide guidance to regulators on how to make the most of the provisions in the TCA.

The Minister has written to me since the Committee stage to say that BEIS has engaged with 20 regulators of professional bodies. It will be important to see that such engagement leads to the delivery of mutual recognition agreements using the template on which the Government are relying. The Minister referred in Committee to a limited pilot recognition arrangement programme. I would be grateful if he could explain how effective that pilot has been so far, and how he foresees its leading to the successful implementation of new regulations.

I shall turn now to what the Minister said about new clause 1. In Committee we tabled two amendments to address the concerns raised by the devolved Administrations. We asked for consistency from the Government in the way they approach this Bill. The consistency we asked for in one of the amendments involved a similar amendment to that included in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. I see from new clause 1, having read it a number of times, that it is consistent with what is in the internal market Act and I thank the Minister for listening to the concerns that we raised, even though the Government voted against our amendments in Committee.

The Minister has addressed the concerns about those matters on which the devolved Administrations can make recommendations. That is an improvement on the more “flexible” approach to consultation that he talked about in Committee. That informal approach would have left no formal consultation mechanism. We have heard reservations expressed by a number of hon. Members on that, and I trust that the Government will still seek consent, in the spirit of new clause 1, when applying the regulations that are relevant to the devolved Administrations.

Briefly, I can tell the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) that we will be supporting amendment 3. Representation of the devolved Administrations on the board is an important principle, and something that we return to again and again in legislation. We believe that, in the interests of the devolution settlement, that is entirely appropriate.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Members who have taken part in this important debate. I will whip through each amendment in turn, starting with new clause 2.

I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) for tabling new clause 2, and I wish her well as she recovers from covid. I thank the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) for speaking to the amendment. I remind the House that clause 16 sets out the definition of an appropriate national authority for the purposes of the Bill. It also sets out the concurrent powers for making regulations in areas of devolved competence.

These powers could be used by the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor if, for example, a profession falls within devolved competence but is regulated at UK level. I understand the strength of feeling about the concurrent powers in the Bill, but I have been clear that any regulation made by the UK Government that falls within devolved legislative competence will be limited in scope and will always be made in consultation with appropriate Ministers from the devolved Administrations. The Government listened carefully to the concerns raised in both Houses, undertook extensive engagement with the devolved Administrations and negotiated in good faith in relation to those concerns. I am grateful for the devolved Administrations’ constructive and well-spirited engagement.

--- Later in debate ---
19:07

Division 211

Ayes: 210

Noes: 296

Clause 16
--- Later in debate ---
Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This Bill is an important piece of legislation that will change our approach to recognising professional qualifications in a way that works best for UK professions and supports our status as an independent trading nation.

It is disappointing that, despite the UK Government’s best efforts, the devolved Administrations have not felt able to recommend the granting of legislative consent to their respective legislatures. However, the UK Government remain committed to the devolution settlements, and I trust that the amendment made to require the Government to consult the devolved Administrations before they regulate in areas of devolved legislative competence underlines that commitment. The Government will continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations on this and future legislation.

It gives me great pleasure to thank everybody who has supported the Bill’s progress. I recognise the good work of Members from all parts of the House, as well as in the other place, who have engaged closely with the Bill, and the constructive way in which the Opposition have engaged with the Bill. I pay tribute to my private office, my officials and, in particular, the Bill team for their work over the past few months—I thank Matt Leech, Jamie Wasley, Jen Pattison, James Banfield, Monique Sidhu, Haddeka Taj, Jack Palmer, Nick French, Raegan Hiles, Tom Corker, Alpa Palmar, Hannah Marshall, Ben Clifford, Funmi Olasoju, Aneesa Ahmed and Tim Courtney.

I recognise the commendable work of parliamentary counsel, the House authorities, parliamentary staff, Clerks and Doorkeepers. I thank the members of the Public Bill Committee, under the excellent chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), for their swift but in no way less thorough scrutiny of the Bill, which I commend to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
19:26

Division 212

Ayes: 295

Noes: 39

Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments.