Debates between Baroness Noakes and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 22nd Jun 2021
Mon 2nd Nov 2020
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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My Lords, it is my great pleasure to speak here in the graveyard spot on this Bill to the amendments in my name. I thank the Minister for his letter of 20 June concerning the professions and regulators to which this Bill applies. It would have been a bit more helpful to have had it earlier.

It seems that BEIS has recognised the point I made in my amendments that the ICAEW and other accountancy professional bodies are in the scope of the Professional Qualifications Bill, owing to their role as recognised supervisory bodies for the purposes of statutory audit, insolvency, probate and administration of oaths. This has been referred to by many noble Lords from around the Chamber during the course of this Bill. As this addresses the point made in my amendments regarding the rationale for including the ICAEW, of which I am a member, in the scope of the legislation, I hope that the Minister will acknowledge when he replies that it helped to review the actual impact of the Bill, as his letter helped me in making this speech.

It feels like the Government are rushing through this legislation without having thought through the detail of the Bill and its consequences. Noble Lords are now having to try to fix this. For the list of regulators and professions affected by this Bill to have changed so substantially while the legislation is being scrutinised by your Lordships’ House does not help give certainty on such an important and wide-ranging legislative measure.

Between this Bill’s conclusion in the House of Lords and it eventually beginning to go through the lower Chamber—and eventually when it comes to Report—it is vital that BEIS takes stock of this legislation, reviews its intended and unintended consequences, and engages with those regulators and professional bodies in scope to iron out any remaining concerns. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said earlier in this debate that there needs to be a pause to the Bill. There needs to be a certain something which does not just carry on as we are now.

A remaining concern—and my last words on this—is on the need for the regulation of accountants and tax advisers. At present, anyone can set themselves up to give this service—and maybe they should. I hope that the Government will consider whether any regulation in some form is required. After all, where pig farmers go, accountants should surely follow. I beg leave to move the amendment.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, has tabled these amendments, which I know were suggested by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, so I felt somewhat obligated to speak on the amendment. I know that the ICAEW is pretty keen to be included in the Bill’s scope. As the noble Lord explained, its wish has been granted to some extent, but only for certain aspects where it regulates professions. The noble Lord’s amendments would actually go considerably further by making chartered accountancy a regulated profession. Amendment 64 names the ICAEW as the “chartered accountancy regulator”, thus relegating all the other chartered accountancy bodies to also-rans. If the noble Lord was even thinking about pressing his amendment, I would strongly oppose it. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will resist it.

The inclusion of chartered accountancy is not logical. The ICAEW already enters into mutual recognition agreements, so Clauses 3 and 4 would have no relevance whatever. I cannot believe that the Government would ever make a determination under Clause 2 that there is a problem with meeting a demand for accountants’ services. There is no shortage of accountants.

The ICAEW’s rather grandiose briefing to me said that it wanted to be in the Bill so that there could be

“a debate on the role of the profession in shaping global business practice, reporting and governance”.

In other words, the ICAEW wants to be seen as important. Legislation should not be used to support the egos of anybody, let alone professional bodies.

Right at the end of his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, raised whether the provision of accountancy and tax advisory services should be regulated. That is pure protectionism and not something I would ever support, even for my own profession of accountancy. I know that the noble Lord will not press his amendments, but if he does I hope that my noble friend the Minister will strongly resist them.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 2nd November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 View all United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 135-IV Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (2 Nov 2020)
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I have added my name to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe’s amendment. Like her, I am concerned that the CMA has been chosen as the home for the office for the internal market with very little substantive discussion and certainly no proper consultation. The White Paper the Government consulted on in the summer did not even mention the CMA, and the best the Government could report in their September policy response was that

“a few respondents suggested that the UK Internal Market functions would be a natural fit with the CMA”.

When I say that I do not believe the CMA is the right home for the internal market functions, I hope that will not be taken as a criticism of the CMA. It has done good work over the years, building on that of its predecessor bodies, and its work is respected here and abroad. However, it is not a body that has won universal acclaim. The time it takes on some of its market studies and the lack of impact of some of its findings are often cited against it.

I have three main grounds for seeking a different solution, of which my noble friend’s amendment is one constructive suggestion. First, the CMA’s existing functions are adjacent to the issues that will arise in the UK’s internal market, but they are by no means coterminous. The CMA is fundamentally about competition impacts, whether through mergers and acquisitions or market behaviour. It is also about the protection of consumers. The UK’s internal market is about trade and the avoidance of unnecessary barriers to trade. These are quite different things. The danger is that the CMA could move from being a focused competition and consumer organisation to one that is more diffuse and less targeted. Many organisations have lost their way when they have sought to expand their footprint and have ended up as a jack of all trades but master of none. We cannot afford to take that risk.

While it is planned for there to be a separate panel for the office for the internal market within the CMA, it is inevitable that the functions of the office, and the resources to deliver them, will be intermingled with the CMA’s other functions. It is also clear from the Bill that it is the CMA, and not the office for the internal market itself, which will carry responsibility for the various functions set out in the Bill. We run a very serious risk of the office for the internal market disappearing into the CMA’s back room.

My second reason is that the CMA really has too much on its plate at the moment to contemplate adding such an important new area of responsibility as oversight of the UK’s internal market. There are aspects of its current workings that are not beyond criticism, as I have already mentioned. Importantly, it is about to take on a number of additional activities as we finally exit the EU at the end of the year. If anyone doubts the extent of these additional responsibilities, there are 50 pages of draft guidance on these new activities which the CMA is currently consulting on. These competition functions have already led to a very significant increase in the CMA’s resources and I believe that it was expected that overall staff numbers would increase by 40% as a result. Against that background, it would be crazy to add on significant additional responsibilities. There is only so much change that any organisation can safely accommodate in a given period.

A final reason for wanting to see the office for the internal market set up outside the CMA is to ensure that it has a real presence in our internal market as a respected source of impartial data, analysis and advice. These seem to be the things that the Government want, as set out in this Bill, but setting it up as a mere panel of a much larger, differently focused quango cannot be the right way to achieve that.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD) [V]
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My Lords, my purpose in speaking today is to support Amendment 111, which I have signed, and the detailed comments made by my noble friend Lady Bowles. Amendment 111 aims to clarify that the role of the CMA and the office for the internal market is not the resolution of disputes. We already have common frameworks; we do not need a topdown resolver of disputes.

Last week, the Minister said clearly that the office for the internal market is to provide “monitoring, advice and reports”. He said that it will

“have no direct role in dispute resolution”—[Official Report, 26/0/20; col. 70.]

which will be discussed by the Joint Ministerial Committee. There is no reference to a dispute resolution in the Bill. I hope that, for clarity, the Government will accept Amendment 111, which states clearly that the CMA and, thus the new office for the internal market,

“must not engage in dispute resolution”.

The important role of dispute resolution can realistically be achieved only by discussions and compromises between the nation states of the UK. The amendment seeks to make clear what the OIM can and cannot do. In responding to this debate, will the Minister clarify these powers, or lack of them? Clarification, along with dealing with complaints and inconsistencies, is what is needed. That is what your Lordships’ House is set up for and does so well. The various explanatory documents only confuse even further and imply some resolution powers for the CMA and OIM.

Amendment 111, which puts the CMA and its plethora of civil servants back in the box, is necessary if the Bill is to be approved. The Bill is a mistake; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, summed it up when he said that it was “unthought-out”. I support the amendment.