Amendments 46 to 49 not moved.
Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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We now come to the group consisting of the question whether Clause 9 should stand part of the Bill. Anyone wishing to press this to a Division must make that clear in the debate.

Debate on whether Clause 9 should stand part of the Bill.
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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, while I sought to amend Clause 9 in the last group of amendments to avoid unnecessary burdens resulting from it, I could not work out why it was needed. When I searched the documents accompanying the Bill, I could not find an explanation of why it is needed. It has not been needed, to date, for people who practise within the United Kingdom and I cannot conceive of the circumstances in which it would be needed going forward.

I ask my noble friend the Minister to explain specifically why Clause 9 is needed, rather than making generalisations such as, “If a regulator needs to have information, this facilitates the sharing of it”. What problem is Clause 9 trying to solve? That is what I am trying to get to the bottom of.

The impact statement relating to Clause 9 is pretty unsatisfactory. It seems to be based on one regulator alone answering a question, with some costs and benefits then being extrapolated from three or four regulators that answered a completely different question. This borders on the absurd, and I do not know how my noble friend the Minister managed to pluck up the courage to put his signature on the front page. If he can help me by explaining how he acquired the courage to sign off on the costs and benefits that accompany Clause 9, I am sure that that would be of value to the Committee.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds, has been forced to withdraw, owing to a connection problem—I am sure that we can all sympathise with that—so I call the Minister to reply.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their contributions on Clause 9. In answer to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, we are not relying on EU data to work out the coverage. As we discussed at length earlier, the EU data is incomplete, which is why it has been necessary to go back to departments and source regulators to try to complete it. On her point about round tables, I would be more than happy to do that, and I will ask officials to work out with me what series of round tables would be useful and whom they would involve.

In answer to my noble friend Lady Noakes, I will have another look at the impact assessment to make sure that it still fully represents the situation, and I will write to her and other noble Lords if I feel that it does not.

Several noble Lords have previously commented positively on the commitment to ensuring the sharing of information between equivalent regulators in the UK. Of course, I am in complete agreement with that; that is why I believe that this clause is so important. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering has indicated that she intends to oppose this clause, but I hope to convince her to support its inclusion in the Bill.

Let us remind ourselves that the clause’s purpose is to ensure that regulators in one part of the UK provide relevant information about individuals who have been recognised in that part of the UK to regulators of a corresponding regulated profession in another part of the UK, where required. This is important. Although existing voluntary arrangements work well in certain cases, in answer to the point made by my noble friend Lady Noakes, they do not always work well, I am told, and this Bill’s provisions will ensure consistency. They will give greater confidence to regulators that they can access necessary information where required and pass it on to the corresponding regulator to ensure that a professional is qualified to practise in that part of the UK. I do not think that the fact that it may work smoothly now with some regulators takes away the need for it to be made to work smoothly with all regulators.

To put a little more context around the discussion, noble Lords have spoken a number of times during debates on the Bill about certain professions falling within devolved competence. Some of the professions have different regulators in different parts of the UK, of course. If a professional whose qualifications are recognised in one part of the UK wishes to practise in another, and his profession is one of those that falls within devolved competence, it follows that the regulator in the second part of the UK will need to consider whether that professional is rightly qualified to practise in their jurisdiction. To that end, the regulator will need to access information about the individual’s qualifications, experience, fitness to practise and, if applicable, any evidence of malpractice. This is why, during the application process for recognition but also beyond—such as if a malpractice case comes to light following recognition—these regulators find themselves needing to share information.

As I have said, I understand and acknowledge that, in several cases, this kind of information sharing already takes place, such as in the teaching profession, where the General Teaching Council for Scotland, the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland, the Education Workforce Council and the Teaching Regulation Agency all share information with each other. However, although there are existing sharing obligations in some sector-specific legislation, this differs between professions. It can even vary within professions. So, again in answer to my noble friend, this clause therefore brings consistency.

Let me be clear also that I do not believe that this is unnecessary red tape. It does not put an unreasonable duty on regulators. The information required to be shared in this clause is limited to information held by the regulator about the individual and would not require a regulator to procure information it does not already hold. The information sharing that this clause requires of regulators delivers many of the purposes of regulation that your Lordships’ House has highlighted during these debates, such as protecting consumers and public health, by making known to regulators those individuals who have not upheld our high regulatory standards.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering brought to the attention of the House that legal services and systems of course have distinct natures in the different parts of the UK. She suggested that

“there are sufficient differences between these legal systems to warrant an exclusion from the provisions that create greater regulatory integration of other professions between the UK’s composite parts”.—[Official Report, 9/6/21; col. 1481.]

I want to be clear that this clause already recognises that professions are regulated differently in different parts of the UK. Indeed, its very purpose is not to undermine this but to ensure that information flows effectively when there is a need to do this. To exclude legal professions would not only confuse the scope of the Bill but exclude from this clause the range of legal regulators that for the most part regulate separately across the UK and will therefore require information on professionals whom they do not regulate.

I hope that I can assure noble Lords completely that legal regulators will still operate completely autonomously to make decisions about who practises within their jurisdiction. My officials have engaged closely with legal regulators and the Ministry of Justice in developing these proposals. The Bar Standards Board, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives were content to be included in this clause specifically.

As my noble friend acknowledged, the Law Society of Scotland described the provisions in it as

“reasonable for the most part.”

Its specific concerns were around data protection—my noble friend Lady McIntosh reiterated that today—which we fully considered in an amendment that we debated on day 2, to the satisfaction of the House. The clause is explicit that the information required to be shared does not require any disclosures that would contravene data protection legislation. This should help the Law Society of Scotland in that regard.

The provision in the clause is required for the good reasons I have set out here, but the extent of concern around its potential impact is perhaps not. As I noted in my comments on Amendment 46—this is in direct response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh—we estimate that the number of corresponding regulators covered by this amendment is around 25.

Clause 9 will facilitate and support greater co-operation across the union and give confidence to regulators, professionals and consumers that professions are regulated appropriately and effectively across our United Kingdom. It gives a legal underpinning to co-operation that already works well in some cases but at the moment ultimately relies on good will. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her opposition to this clause standing part of the Bill.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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I have received requests to speak from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. I first call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

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Amendment 56 not moved.
Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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We now come to the group consisting of the question that Clause 13 stand part of the Bill. Anyone wishing to press this to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Debate on whether Clause 13 should stand part of the Bill.