I do not know what the Government’s view is. Is it to have a European-wide system of agreements or is it, as this Bill says, to have economic value from not having that? Which is it?
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The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has withdrawn from this group of amendments, so I call the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone.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.

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, on the face of it, Clause 1 does seem innocuous, but at its heart there is a power for the Government to interfere in the way that regulated professions recognise people who have qualified abroad. I am far from clear that a case has been made for government intervention. I have not seen any evidence of the regulated professions dragging their feet when it comes to recognising overseas professionals. I recognise that our country has a demand for some professionals, notably those related to healthcare, which may well outstrip the numbers who qualify here, but there is still a big step before saying our UK professions need the Government to tell them what to do.

I have no problem with giving the regulators additional powers if their current rules make it difficult to accommodate the recognition of overseas professionals and they need legislation to change that—but that is not what this clause is about. The clause covers many regulated professions that already have effective provisions for the recognition of overseas applicants, but the Government have not excluded them from the scope of Clause 1. I believe the clause would be better expressed in terms of a power to be exercised by the Government at the request of regulated professions or with their consent. The Government do not know best when it comes to the professions, but the Bill does seem to be predicated on that belief. I hope it is not too late to reshape how this Bill interacts with regulated professions.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn from this group, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for putting this amendment forward, and I commend him on the forcefulness of his speech. I am not going to repeat things he said, but I agree with his points. During the opening group, I touched on this issue and outlined the powers that are being taken into this clause, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, referred just now. I am still trying to understand what the Government think they are going to improve by doing this.

In essence, because of Brexit, the simple reality is that we are losing access to a considerable source of professionals. That is a problem, or potentially a problem. There is absolutely no certainty that we can replace them in another way, but there is also no certainty—indeed, possibly the opposite—that these clauses are going to help that to happen. So the idea that “We are from the Government and we are here to help you recruit people” seems to be unfounded.

There are two problems with Clause 1. One is that it seems to be a misguided effort. The other, which was front and centre of the points the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made, is that this is the Government overstretching themselves in taking powers upon themselves and grabbing secondary legislation opportunities. We know that there is virtually no chance to amend—there have been very few examples in my lifetime where secondary legislation has actually been turned down. So it is with that that we on these Benches are supporting this amendment, and, of course, similar arguments will be put forward later on in the evening.

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Clause 1, as amended, agreed.
Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
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My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 17. Anyone who wishes to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.

Clause 2: Power conferred by section 1 exercisable only if necessary to meet demand

Amendment 17

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