All 6 Baroness Noakes contributions to the Professional Qualifications Act 2022

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Tue 25th May 2021
Wed 9th Jun 2021
Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]
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Mon 14th Jun 2021
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Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Baroness Noakes Excerpts
2nd reading
Tuesday 25th May 2021

(3 years ago)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I am very glad to speak to my Amendment 18 in this group.

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

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

“without unreasonable delays or charges”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“met without unreasonable delays or charges.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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Before inviting the Committee to consider the withdrawal of the amendment, I call the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who was attempting to come in after the Minister.

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It is our ambition to attract world-class research and innovators to the United Kingdom in order to maintain the UK’s status as the best place for science. We have hitherto had free movement from the EU, while people from other countries came under the Immigration Rules. With our new immigration rules, the impact of this Bill may in fact be negative in terms of recruiting people at lower grades for innovation. The UK economy needs a productivity boost from innovation and the diffusion of new frontier technologies to support growth. How are we going to achieve that? Will Bills such as this have a negative impact? Despite Brexit, 54% of our PhD students come from overseas. That is good news and we need to maintain it, but there is a risk that the cumulative effect of various legislation, including this, will have a negative impact on innovation in this country.
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I put my name down in this group in order to speak to Amendments 19 and 29, but I shall say a few words first on Amendments 52 to 55. Normally, I do not support Report amendments, which are a slightly lazy way of trying to open up a debate on wider issues, but in this case I think they have a point.

The Government’s impact assessment is, to use a tactful term, pretty light. It certainly does not analyse very much impact, probably because the Government do not have a clear idea of what they are going to do with the powers in the Bill. If that is not clear from the Bill itself, it is certainly clear from the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Poor impact statements are a widespread problem and we will not solve that for this Bill, but it is incumbent on the Government to be transparent about the impact of a Bill once it becomes law.

I shall therefore be listening carefully to what the Minister says, because it may well be that some or all of Amendments 52 to 55 will need to be considered again on Report. Alternatively, as my noble friend Lord Lansley suggested, we could legislate for post-legislative scrutiny; after five years might be an appropriate time for a report. However, it is very important that we monitor the Bill’s impact.

If the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has one defining characteristic, it is her determination to get the consumer interest felt, and she frequently finds all kinds of surprising ways to do that in Bills, but I want to explain why in this instance she is wrong to try to get the Bill amended with her Amendments 19 and 29. I was particularly struck by a briefing from the British Dental Association that commented that this Bill appears to focus on services, consumers and trade. Those are inappropriate concepts to describe the healthcare professions, which are certainly one of the major reasons given for this Bill being enacted and are cited as the professions likely to be covered by the regulations under Clause 1.

Those terms may well be appropriate for other professions which qualify and oversee professionals who trade their services, though I am not sure that “consumers” is always the right description for those other professions. For example, I do not really know who the consumer is in relation to regulated auditors, who are covered by this Bill via the Financial Reporting Council. The healthcare professions are focused on safety rather than on what consumers want or need from the profession, and we should never lose sight of that.

I do not think that either the consultation requirement in Amendment 19 or the board membership requirement in Amendment 29 fit well within this Bill, given the focus on the healthcare professions that is likely to follow once the Bill becomes law. I completely get that regulated professions and their regulators must not be focused on their own narrow interests but bear the public interest in mind. But that is usually achieved through regulators being independent of the professionals they regulate, and they often have independent members comprising some or the majority of their boards. If they are not on their boards, they are certainly well entrenched in their disciplinary processes. That aspect, the independent characteristic of the regulators, is what we should focus on in this instance, rather than the consumer interests.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, especially after the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I support Amendment 55 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

This amendment takes a broader view about the nature of skills shortages and human consequences from the recognition of professional qualifications. There are many reasons for this Bill, and one is the failure of the United Kingdom to produce skilled labour, and the relative absence of any coherent government strategy to produce the desired skilled labour force. The problems have been well documented. For example, in 2000 a report published by the National Skills Task Force said that there were

external skill shortages, that is, recruitment difficulties due to an excess of demand over supply of required skills in the external labour market”.

Examples included

“highly-paid occupations requiring specific technical qualifications such as engineers and technologists and health and related occupations … and craft and technician vacancies in the engineering industry”.

It also referred to internal skills shortages—that is,

“skill deficiencies among existing employees”.

Similar skills gaps were identified in the 2019 report by the Industrial Strategy Council, which said that about 21 million workers—two-thirds of the workforce—might

“lack the basic digital skills”

that employers will need in 2030.

Some businesses have responded to skills shortages by renting talent from external partners—for example, through outsourcing partnerships. Of course, that creates its own logistical and organisational problems. Nevertheless, in the absence of a coherent strategy, neither the Government, the industry nor universities have been able to address the perennial problem of skills shortages.

Finding appropriate PhD students, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned, is also highly problematical. It is simply too costly for many individuals to undertake a PhD in the UK. In supervising PhD students for nearly 30 years, I can only recall about one or two indigenous British students who came to do a doctorate in accounting, business or finance. It is so rare.

At the moment, the Government and industry are not even connecting the dots. The spate of hiring and rehiring workers on inferior pay and working conditions will not address skills shortages and will have a negative effect on attracting new local talent to crucial industries. After all, if the wages and working conditions are poorer, why would somebody want to go into that industry?

The Government’s strategy so far has been to enrol and recruit foreign workers to fill the gaps. That is especially evident in the National Health Service. Brexit has added new dimensions because it has alienated many EU workers residing in the UK. Their departure and the unwillingness of many other EU citizens to work in the UK have deepened and widened the skills shortages.

The Government are now looking to recognise foreign qualifications to address the local skills shortages. The aim, as always, is to poach skilled persons from abroad. The traffic will predominantly be one way from developing countries to the UK. I doubt that many Brits will actually want to go and work in countries such as Ghana, Zimbabwe or Nigeria, where the wages may be lower and the working conditions may not be comparable.

This ability to poach workers from other places will inevitably dilute the pressure on the UK to develop its own institutional structures to address the skills shortages. That development is highly necessary, and we need a government strategy. Therefore, it is absolutely right that Parliament must monitor the impact of this Bill on the management of strategies for addressing skills shortages, as has been extremely well articulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

To be clear, I am not against mutual recognition of qualifications, as this increases opportunities for individuals, but I am very concerned about the negative consequences for developing countries. They spend millions of pounds to educate and train engineers, doctors, surgeons and other skilled persons, but will never see the full benefit of their social investment. It can take more than a decade to train a skilled doctor or surgeon and, at the end, having developed those individuals, the developing countries will be unable to receive the benefits. There are also other consequences. To put it another way, if the UK started to see its highly educated citizens leave on a scale already observed in many developing countries, it would find itself with a smaller and less educated workforce. Such changes would coincide with a more rapidly ageing population due to the fact that emigrants tend to be younger adults.

For a long time, the UK has taken the cream of the skills from developing countries with absolutely no compensation. This brain drain retards the development of local economies and social infrastructure. It results in a huge transfer of wealth from poorer countries to the UK, while they suffer from a lack of sufficiently skilled personnel in both the public and private sectors. With a loss of skilled labour, poorer countries cannot offer universal healthcare to their citizens. That is just one example. The only appropriate redress is a bilaterally managed scheme of direct reimbursement of the value lost to each of the countries affected by migration of skilled labour. I sincerely hope that the Minister will give such an undertaking and, in due course, bring legislation to provide further details and make the compensation to developing countries a reality.

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

My Lords, in moving Amendment 15 I will speak to Amendment 27, both of which are in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, my noble friend Lord Hunt and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope.

These amendments are here for two reasons. One is that the regulators listed already have the power to recognise professionals from other jurisdictions, so they are somewhat at a loss as to why they should need to be covered at all. The other is that the maintenance of their standards is particularly crucial to the lives of patients—be they human or animal—pupils and clients. If there is any chance that they will be mandated to open up their approval system further than it is already—because they already have one—at the behest of the Government, then there must be the most thorough consultation and agreement. This really is too important to leave to chance. We need a legal commitment to consult in the Bill for the priority professions listed in the amendment.

In answer to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, during our debate on an earlier amendment, the Government had a list—the Minister sent it in a letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes—of all the regulators covered, but this group of healthcare and personal care professionals already have the ability within their statutes to do the necessary for international. So there is this two-way reason why we put them in the amendment: their clients or patients are particularly vulnerable if standards fall, and they already seem to have this power. Therefore, for the Government to take a power to ask them to do something outwith what they want to do seems to require a particularly high level of consultation. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I will be brief. The requirement in these amendments for regulations to be published in draft form and consulted on is sensible, for the reasons that the noble Baroness has given. I just do not see why they are confined to this so-called priority list, because any profession that could be brought within the ambit of Clause 1 or Clause 3 should be treated in the same way. While we can sympathise with the medical professions and vets being priority groups over such mundane things as auditors and farriers, in practice any profession that might be impacted by these sorts of regulations, and could therefore have its standards impacted, ought to be covered in a consultation process.

I do not think the consultation process, as drafted in these amendments, should be confined to the regulators, because it is not just the regulators themselves that would be impacted by any regulations made under these clauses; so would the professionals operating in those regulated professions and all the other groups affected by them. I support consultation being in the Bill because of the unusual nature of the powers the Bill is taking, but I do not think it should be confined to the so-called priority groups.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 27, which is principally in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town. There is a lot to be said in this particularly obscure Bill for the publication of regulations in advance of their being made, so that people can see them in draft and consider them before they take effect. Regulators themselves would of course be consulted if this amendment is passed, but publication gives the opportunity for the wider public to scrutinise them, and no doubt inform this House and the other place, before the crucial point comes when the regulations are made. So I support this particular amendment.

There is a lot of force in the point just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that to confine this provision to the priority professions perhaps misses the point. Perhaps there should be a requirement across the board. There are other important professions that are not in this list. I am not claiming this particularly for the legal profession, as there are certainly other professions that are absent from this list, given the enormously long list of people who are within the purview of this Bill. The amendment may be a starting point but, for what it is worth, I support it.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am using the stand part debate on Clause 1 to raise my general concern about the extensive power given to Ministers without adequate justification or explanation.

On Second Reading I referred the Minister to the recent report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which during the course of the year has

“become increasingly concerned about the growing tendency for the Government to introduce skeleton bills, in which broad delegated powers are sought in lieu of policy detail”.

The committee went on to say that

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

Unfortunately, the Minister and the rest of the Government have chosen to totally ignore that in bringing this Bill before us. Not surprisingly, that has drawn a critical response from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. A number of noble Lords have quoted extracts from the committee’s report today. It drew three powers to the attention of the House, and in relation to each it noted

“a failure to provide adequate explanation in the Memorandum. This is particularly disappointing given that (a) as the Government have acknowledged, most of the substantive changes to the law envisaged by this Bill are to be made through delegated powers rather than the Bill itself, and (b) these are Henry VIII powers”.

On Clause 1, the committee commented:

“It is a Henry VIII power, as it includes power to amend primary legislation and retained direct principal EU legislation … The power can be used to make provision about a wide range of matters”—


which we have discussed comprehensively today. As the committee says, the Explanatory Memorandum

“provides two justifications for the delegation of power. The first is that the use of the power ‘is to be demand-led’ and ‘demand will naturally change over time and so it is not possible to achieve the policy through provisions on the face of the Bill that apply to a fixed set of professions’”.

If we accepted that argument, we could justify dealing with almost every piece of legislation in that way. As the committee said,

“that does not explain why all of the changes within the scope of the power—across so many professions and including changes to primary legislation—should be a matter for secondary rather than primary legislation”.

Nor did the Government respond to concerns that Clause 1

“could allow such requirements—and other comparable requirements in primary legislation relating to other professions—to be watered down by statutory instrument if Ministers considered this to be necessary to enable demand for the services of the profession in question to be met without ‘unreasonable delays’”.

The committee continued:

“The second justification given for the delegation relates to the existing legislative provision covering a wide range of different professions and regulators: ‘the professions that are in scope of this power have pre-existing legislative frameworks governing how each is regulated. It is not feasible to provide, on the face of the Bill, for an approach that would interface with each of these various frameworks and their different approaches to the recognition of professional qualifications, or to address them individually’”.


Well, as the committee expressed itself:

“We are surprised and disappointed that neither the Memorandum nor the Explanatory Notes … give any examples of circumstances in which the power might be exercised and changes that could be made in such circumstances; or … explain why Ministers will have no duty to consult before making regulations.”


We have discussed that in some detail. This

“makes it difficult to understand how significant the changes that could be made in exercise of this power could be, particularly given the proliferation of existing legislative schemes that could be amended; and gives rise to uncertainty as to whether there may be aspects of the law relating to recognition of overseas qualifications that the Bill would allow to be provided for in regulations … but which should instead be subjected to the much greater Parliamentary scrutiny afforded to primary legislation.”

I hope the Minister will explain why the Explanatory Memorandum is so scanty on such an important matter. Will he justify the extraordinary powers he and his colleagues are taking to themselves? Does he accept that some of the mistrust he complained about two groups ago on the part of Members towards the Government perhaps rests on the cavalier approach the Government themselves have taken to this House and Parliament by the unsatisfactory nature of the drafting of this Bill? I beg to move.

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn from this group, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

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Amendment 26 would mean that regulations made under Clause 3 could not implement any internationally recognised agreement that undermined the independence and autonomy of a regulator. This would provide a very welcome additional reassurance of the independent status of regulators, which the Minister assures us is the Government’s intention. However, I draw attention to paragraph 32 of the report by the DPRRC, which makes the point that a basic principle of the UK constitution is that international agreements that impact on UK law require an Act of Parliament, and in the committee’s view Clause 3 of the Bill departs from that basic principle. I would welcome the Minister’s response to that particular point.
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I have Amendment 28 in this group, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has added her name. I have sympathy with many of the other amendments in this group, particularly those that affect Clause 3. I think that, in one way or another, we are all struggling with how to make sense of this rather dirigiste Bill and trying to turn it into something that is oriented around the regulated professions rather than around what the Government want the professions to do.

Specifically, Amendment 28 would make it clear that Clause 3 could not be used to force a profession or its regulator to recognise overseas professionals. The power created by Clause 3(1) is very broad. The national authority can make whatever changes it likes in order to implement an international recognition agreement. I recognise that the Government have said they do not intend to use trade agreements to recognise professions directly but will work through mutual recognition processes. However, the fact remains that they could do so because, if Clause 3 becomes law, it will give them that power and nothing else in that clause or anywhere else in the Bill stops them. For example, they could agree to Indian chartered accountants being recognised as auditors in the UK even though existing recognition processes have thus far not determined that those qualifications are sufficient either for the purposes of chartered accountancy in general or for the specific purposes of the regulated audit profession. That is just not acceptable.

I said at Second Reading that this measure could drive a coach and horses through the ability of professions to guard their standards and quality. My noble friend the Minister said in response that the Government have not forced the professions to accept anything in treaty negotiations to date and that basically we could rely on the Government to do the right thing. However, giving a Government powers to do things on the basis that they will not actually use those powers is a dangerous approach to legislation, and one that the House should rightly reject.

I believe that recognition of regulator autonomy on the face of this Bill is essential, and no amount of Dispatch Box reassurance can make good the problem of giving the Government too much power.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes—I so agree with her. At the moment, Clause 3 gives Ministers a blank sheet to do whatever they wish, and I am afraid that ministerial assurances are not sufficient. One way or another, we need to amend Clause 3.

My principal reason for speaking is to support my noble friend in her Amendments 20 and 21 on skills shortages. It is surely important that any regulatory change is only considered before consultation with the relevant regulators, in the context of how the national body is undertaking work and investment in the domestic sector in order to help alleviate those shortages.

I am particularly interested in workforce issues in the health service and social care. I remind the Minister of a report by the King’s Fund in February this year which said that NHS hospitals, mental health services and community providers were reporting a shortage of nearly 84,000 full-time equivalent staff. Key groups, such as nurses, midwives and health visitors were severely affected. General practice was under strain, with a shortage of 2,500 full-time equivalents, with projections suggesting that this could rise to 7,000 during the next five years if current trends continue.

The regulator for health and social care, the Care Quality Commission, has highlighted workforce shortages as having a direct impact on the quality of care. NHS waiting time standards have been routinely missed for a number of years, which the consequences of Covid will exacerbate.

The Health Foundation, another respected independent institute, says that the UK ranks below the average of high-income OECD countries for the number of practising nurses and the annual number of new nurse graduates relative to its population. Further, about 15% of registered nurses in the UK are trained outside the country—more than double the OECD average.

Workforce shortages are not new in the NHS. They have been a recurring and enduring feature during its 70 years or so. The reasons are complex. A historical reliance on international recruitment may be part of the story. A bias in the UK towards focusing on the Exchequer cost of training doctors and nurses—which is expensive—but not on the cost associated with the failure to train enough staff is another factor. More broadly, workforce shortages are totemic of the short-termism that dominates national policy-making under this Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Patel, will speak at the end of this debate. I hope he mentions his House of Lords committee report from 2017. It argued that the absence of any comprehensive, national, long-term strategy to secure the appropriate skilled, well-trained and committed workforce that the health and care system will need during the next 10 to 15 years represented

“the biggest internal threat to the sustainability of the NHS.”

Amendments 20 and 21 post the way for a national authority to be required to publish a report on how skill shortages are being met and how we are investing domestically to address this shortage and upskill existing staff. I hope the Minister will be sympathetic.

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Baroness Noakes Excerpts
We are talking about people’s lives and safety and the quality of our professional services, and I urge your Lordships’ House to back the call that Clause 3 not stand part of the Bill.
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, in last week’s Committee, we emphasised the need for the Bill, and not just the Government’s fine words, to recognise the autonomy of the regulated professions. If the Government really do intend to respect the independence of the regulated professions, it is quite difficult to see why Clause 3 is required.

If the Government sign a trade treaty that includes the recognition of qualifications, and if they do respect the autonomy of the professions, it is difficult to see why we need Clause 3 in addition to Clause 4. Many regulators already have powers to enter into recognition agreements for overseas regulated professions, and if they do not have them, Clause 4 is there to empower them to do so. As such, they either have the powers already or can acquire them by using an order under Clause 4, which seems to me to make Clause 3 redundant if—and only if—the Government do actually mean what they have been trying to tell us: that they respect the autonomy of the professions.

Put another way, there is no evidence before the House that Clause 3 is needed. When faced with an unnecessary clause, the right thing to do is remove it. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which other noble Lords have referred to, was highly critical of the Government’s taking of Henry VIII powers in the Bill, particularly in relation to Clause 3. There is very good reason for the Committee to agree with the DPRRC that Clause 3 should not stand part of the Bill.

I looked very carefully at my noble friend Lord Lansley’s Amendment 56 in this group, but I am not convinced that the existing distinction between what is in primary and what is in secondary legislation is sound. It means accepting that the EU’s use of regulations versus directives, and the use of statutory instruments to implement the EU law coming into our law as we left the EU, is a good basis going forward for determining the degree of parliamentary scrutiny that is required for any changes. Because of this, I cannot support my noble friend’s amendment.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As we are starting the second day of Committee, I declare my interest again as a member of the GMC board, although clearly, I am not speaking on its behalf.

I put my name to the noble Lord’s clause stand part Motion, and I was happy to do so, although I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has given a different and interesting perspective. Equally, I remind noble Lords that I have a sunset clause that we will debate next week. All of us are trying to get to grips with the same problem. The Minister brought some very welcome amendments last week and made some very welcome remarks about the Government’s wish to protect the autonomy of regulators. The issue is that, on any reading of the Bill, Clause 3 would seem to be able to override those protections. This is where we get to the heart of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Davies was absolutely right: we have seen how the farmers are being dealt with over trade agreements, and it is pretty clear that the Government are willing to ditch a great deal in order to get a trade agreement. That is why it is no good having legislation that does not protect the professional autonomy of regulators. Does the Minister accept that, notwithstanding the warm words he has used, in the event of a trade agreement it will be perfectly possible to use this clause to override any of the protections in Clause 1?

If, as I think the Minister has to say, it will be possible, the question posed by noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, then comes back: why do we have to have this clause at all? If we do have to have it, why is there not some protection within it that says that, notwithstanding the trade agreement, it cannot override the protection given in Clause 1? One way or another, before the Bill leaves your Lordships’ House, we have to tackle this head on.

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Lansley.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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I will raise just two topics. The first is trust; the Minister regretted that the Committee did not trust the Government on this. We have to remember that when very wide legislation is placed on the statute book, it can be used by a later Government to its full extent, whatever the current Government intend—in this instance, in relation to regulator autonomy. We have plenty of examples of that; the most glaring at the moment is the legislation being used to cover the hundreds of statutory instruments on coronavirus restrictions. Very clear statements were made to both Houses of Parliament when that legislation went through about the circumstances in which it would be used. That has been completely ignored to cover the biggest deprivation of civil liberties in peacetime, for circumstances that the legislation was never intended to be used. The Committee is entitled to be entirely sceptical about very broad expressions in statute.

My second point relates to letters. I received one letter, yesterday at 5 pm, so I have not seen many of the letters which have been referred to. It is extremely difficult, when letters come out at 5 pm on a Sunday and we start the next Committee day the following working day, to have any chance of tracking down whether any letters have been issued. As far as I understand it, the Library does not operate in real time and there is no real-time way to interrogate how things are laid there—even if these letters were laid in the Library, which I have no idea about.

The reason Ministers write letters in Committee is that they have failed adequately to deal with an issue at that stage. When the Minister handled the last group of amendments last Wednesday, he said that he would answer it very briefly, as it was getting late, and would write. Whomever he addresses the letter to, when he writes, he is writing to the whole Committee, and it is only right and proper—and this always used to be the case—that all other Members taking part in the Committee get a copy of it. It is additionally laid in the Library so that the rest of the House has access to it.

We have lost sight of how to conduct our business properly—partly because hybrid proceedings make it more difficult for us to run things down completely in Committee, but there are always cases where you cannot run things down in Committee and have to rely on subsequent correspondence. The way the Minister’s civil servants are operating this letter-writing procedure is depriving the Committee of its ability to operate effectively.

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

I thank my noble friend for those two comments and the spirit in which they are offered. I realise that my point about trust is not a personal matter in relation to me but the more general point my noble friend makes. On letters—I will not dwell on this too long—I think the short gap between the two stages of this Committee, and this Committee being on a Monday, was a particularly difficult practical point. The officials have literally been working day and night on this; that is why not all the letters were available until the end of Sunday. We copied all of them to Front-Bench spokesmen, but I take my noble friend’s point that in future, as well as putting them in the Library, it would be convenient for noble Lords if letters were copied to them—albeit sometimes, when there is such a restricted period between the two days of Committee, they may arrive later than any of us would wish.

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Moved by
30: Clause 4, page 3, line 25, at end insert—
“(1A) Regulations made under subsection (1) may not require a regulator of a regulated profession to enter into a regulator recognition agreement.”Member’s explanatory statement
This is a probing amendment in connection with the extent of the rule making power.
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 30 is a probing amendment on the abiding theme in our debates on this Bill, namely regulator autonomy.

Clause 4(1) says that regulations can be made

“for the purpose of, or in connection with, authorising a regulator … to enter into regulator recognition agreements.”

That seems pretty straightforward. Authorising a regulator to enter into a recognition agreement should not involve any element of compulsion, but I have learned to be wary of wide regulation-making powers.

My Amendment 30 seeks to make it clear that Clause 4 cannot be used to compel regulators to enter into recognition agreements. With this probing amendment, I am asking one simple question: are there any circumstances in which the power in Clause 4 could be used to force a regulator to enter into any recognition agreements?

Since tabling my amendment, I have seen the Government’s response of 3 June to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, where they state that the power cannot

“be used to provide regulators with the ability to enter into regulator recognition agreements where they lack sufficient abilities”.

If my noble friend the Minister confirms today from the Dispatch Box that nothing in Clause 4 could compel a regulator to do anything it does not want to do, we will be able to dispense with my amendment fairly straightforwardly.

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

My Lords, I am very pleased to speak in support of this amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. This issue is the crux of the independence of regulators. The situation is that not all regulators are equal: they do not all have the same legal powers; they do not all have the same clout; they do not all have the same capacity. For example, in the years between 2007 and 2016, the Nursing and Midwifery Council issued 46,257 decisions on international regulation, whereas the General Chiropractic Council issued 29. We are obviously not talking about a group of organisations that are equal in terms of their ability to withstand not just the letter of the law, but the thrust of government policy. Pressure from the Government can be a very powerful thing for an organisation. We also have to take into account the fact that some of the countries with which these international trade agreements will be signed will have regulators that are only now properly developing. Not only are all our regulators not equal, but in other countries, not all regulators are equal.

I draw the Minister’s attention to a set of statements in the impact assessment. He has often emphasised the independence of regulators, so can he therefore explain the contrast between two of its paragraphs? Paragraph 111 of the impact assessment says:

“The Bill contains a power to enable regulators to negotiate and agree Recognition Arrangements (RAs) with their overseas counterparts. The Bill does not require the negotiation of RAs”.


In paragraph 118, however, it says:

“The Bill contains a power to make regulations to implement the recognition of professional qualifications (RPQ) components of international agreements. These regulations could include the ability to bind regulators to implement the RPQ chapters of IAs as appropriate.”


Paragraph 111 says that they cannot be bound, whereas Paragraph 118 says, just as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, suggested, that regulations might trespass on the independence of regulators. I simply ask the Minister for clarification.

In his letter to me this weekend which, in the spirit of proceedings here, I read just after midnight, the Minister said that MRAs

“would not place obligations on regulators and instead encourage them to develop MRAs.”

Which is it? Are regulators to be truly and, in a wholesale way, independent and not subject to pressure, either direct or indirect, or are they to have their wings clipped potentially by regulations?

This amendment clarifies beyond doubt what I believe, from the Minister’s previous statements, is his favoured interpretation: that regulators would always be independent.

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

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Noakes for this amendment to Clause 4. It is worth reminding ourselves of the essential difference between Clause 3 and Clause 4. Clause 3 provides a power for the Government to implement international agreements, including the professional qualification elements of free trade agreements and bespoke agreements on professional qualifications. These are agreed between the UK Government and international trade partners. Clause 4 provides a power for national authorities to authorise regulators to enter regulator recognition agreements. These are often bilateral agreements between UK regulators and their counterparts in other countries on professional qualifications that make it easier for professionals to obtain recognition in their respective jurisdictions. I think the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred mainly to Clause 3, when she looked at the impact assessment, rather than Clause 4, which of course is the subject of this amendment. Also, it is always a pleasure to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I welcome his comments.

I agree with the sentiment behind my noble friend’s amendment. Regulators must continue to have the ability to act in the best interests of their professions and the consumers of professional services. Clause 4 as introduced—I say this categorically—cannot be used to compel regulators to enter into reciprocal recognition agreements. It can only authorise them to do so, not oblige or compel. No circumstances can change this. I hope that reassures the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and others. It is not the Government’s policy to force regulators to enter into regulator recognition agreements. The decision to enter such an agreement must sit squarely with the regulators themselves. They are best placed to determine which recognition agreements would be most beneficial and to decide the terms of any agreements which they may enter.

I am sure that your Lordships recognise the value of recognition agreements and the importance of their creation being demand-led, regulator-led processes. Therefore, while I agree with the sentiment behind the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Noakes, I believe that the clause as drafted meets the objectives of it. With this reassurance, I hope that my noble friend feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment. I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, say that not all regulators were equal. That clearly is true, particularly in relation to overseas regulators. She highlighted that some were less well developed. There are some which simply come nowhere close to the standard which would induce a UK regulator to enter a mutual recognition agreement, and that is what we really need to protect. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, for his support on this occasion. I hope that we may find lots of other opportunities in future to agree.

I think that my noble friend the Minister has given an unequivocal statement that this clause cannot be used to compel a regulator. That is what I was seeking to establish. I thank him for that and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 30 withdrawn.
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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I am glad to have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, introduce her amendment. We both tabled our amendments in light of the British Dental Association’s comments, but we ended up drafting them rather differently. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, was drafting hers so that it would have to be approved by the UK regulator, rather than by the overseas regulator. I think that we are on the same page, and that my drafting is probably slightly more accurate, but let us not go there. It so confused those in the Public Bill Office that they tried to claim that there was a conflict between our amendments, and that we had to invoke something in the Standing Orders. I said that no, they were not in conflict, and could exist side by side perfectly well, but I now see that they are trying to address exactly the same issue.

The noble Baroness is right that a number of countries have a multitude of individual qualifications, some of which are good for the purposes of the regulated profession, and some which are not. There is a good example in this country: lots of bodies recognise accountants, but not all of them can be recognised as registered auditors; and there will be lots of examples beyond that. It is that point which we are trying to ensure is properly identified when dealing with Clause 4 and the position of the overseas regulation in relation to particular qualifications, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look on one or both of these amendments favourably.

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

My Lords, Amendment 32A, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Garden, would require the appropriate national authority to consult with higher education institutions and other training providers before making regulations under this clause. I declare an interest as chancellor of Cardiff University.

I asked a Written Question, answered by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, in which I asked Her Majesty’s Government

“why higher education institutions and other providers of training for professional qualifications are not listed as stakeholders affected in the impact assessment for the Professional Qualifications Bill; whether higher education institutions or others …were consulted on the proposals in that Bill, and … what plans they have to consult such providers in the future.”

The Answer stated:

“The proposals in the Bill do not affect the UK qualifications or experience required to practise a profession. The Government ran a Call for Evidence on the recognition of professional qualifications … between August 2020 and October 2020, which was open to anyone with an interest in professional qualifications”,


and that there were, among others,

“26 responses from educators who provide training and higher education institutions.”

The Answer continued:

“Officials have met representatives from Universities UK to discuss proposals in the Professional Qualifications Bill and will continue to pursue an active programme of stakeholder engagement.”


So, having told me in the Answer that this Bill has no impact on HEIs and other trainers, the Government went on to say that the HEIs and trainers identified themselves in the public consultation as being concerned by, or interested in, this Bill. Following that, the Government have been in discussion with Universities UK at least. Will the Minister clarify whether the Government have also spoken to other training providers, not just the representatives of universities?

I have had correspondence from Universities UK, which says that, although its contact with the Government has been fairly constructive so far, it would be helpful to require the Government to consult with higher education providers as they strike regulator recognition agreements, given the importance of these agreements to certain sections of higher education. The potential impact on onshore recruitment of EU students on relevant courses should be monitored. Clearly, that is of importance because if you are doing away with the EU-established system, there will be an impact on the number of EU students coming to this country, potentially some of them afresh as they will want to get their qualifications here, but also on the top-up courses that our HEIs provide. It also says that it would be helpful to have frequent consultation and analysis-sharing between the Government and higher education providers to help ensure that the Bill benefits the range of bilateral agreements that could increase recruitment to higher education, rather than have a detrimental effect.

It is not the case that this Bill does not affect HEIs. It affects the number of foreign students applying to the UK on top-up courses, and, crucially, what the HEIs and other training providers teach. Depending on what they teach, it affects who they employ and how many of them they employ, so this has a deep impact on them. I urge the Minister to consider this very reasonable amendment. The Government have recognised the legitimate role of higher education—I hope they have consulted other trainers as well—so what reason could they have for rejecting such a sensible and modest amendment?

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Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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Amendment 34 is in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayter, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, for signing it. The amendment would make changes to the Companies Act 2006 to allow the Financial Reporting Council—the current statutory regulator for audit—greater control and discretion over the acceptance of foreign auditors and foreign audit qualifications in the UK. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has said that these changes would fix a historic problem, as comparing and recognising qualifications between countries has been very difficult for the FRC. This is due to Section 1221 of the Companies Act 2006, which is highly prescriptive in terms of the degree of identity required between the UK standard and the foreign one. The ICAEW states that, in the last 30 years, the UK has recognised only two non-EU qualifications for audit and, post mergers in those countries, neither is the current version any more. Does the Minister think that this needs to change? Can she explain, without the amendment, exactly what changes the Government will propose?

Can the Minister also update the House on audit reform? In March the Government recommitted to a new authority and stated that

“legislation is needed in many areas to complete the task of remodelling the regulator and to establish the FRC’s successor body, the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority (ARGA).”

However, this legislation was not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech and we are wondering why. When will it be brought forward? Will the changes suggested in Amendment 34 form part of the new Bill? I beg to move.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I support the thrust of Amendment 34 and it is good to see the Benches opposite getting involved in the exciting world of chartered accountancy and auditing. I remind the House that I am a member and former president of the ICAEW.

The wording of Section 1221 of the Companies Act 2006 is rather black and white. I understand that the Act is still the longest Bill that your Lordships’ House has ever considered, and I bear the scars of weeks and weeks in Grand Committee considering hundreds, if not thousands, of amendments. Despite all that effort, from memory I think that we did not focus on the wording of Section 1221, which is clearly a major failure of your Lordships’ legislative scrutiny.

I turn to the amendment. Section 1221 gives little scope for judgment where an overseas qualification is largely the same as a UK one for audit purposes but is not exactly the same. We heard that that has led to relatively few uses of that power. That contrasts with this Bill, where the formulation in relation to overseas qualification is “substantially the same”. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, who is not in her place, queried the use of “substantially” on our first Committee day, but it seems to me that it gives an important element of flexibility to the Bill. Something like that would probably give an element of flexibility in the context of Section 1221 of the Companies Act 2006; indeed, I wonder whether a better formulation for that would be to use “substantially”—that is, to mirror the kind of wording that is used in respect of recognition of overseas qualifications in this Bill. The noble Baroness may like to consider that if she chooses to bring forward this amendment again on Report.

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Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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I have received a message from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who wishes to speak.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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Could my noble friend the Minister explain why, in Clause 1, which we know will be applied largely to the medical professions—we are therefore dealing with patient safety—it is adequate for medical professions if

“a specified regulator of the specified regulated profession has made a determination that the overseas qualifications … demonstrate substantially the same knowledge and skills”,

but, somehow, a different standard is implied when the much more mundane activity of auditing is involved? I do not quite understand how the Minister can have one view of the medical professions and another of what happens in the accounting profession. Can she explain that contradiction?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I do not agree that that is a contradiction. This would have the effect of weakening the standards in audit reform, which we are keen to prevent—so I do not agree with the premise of my noble friend’s question.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I will speak to two of the amendments in this group in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley. My understanding is that the first, Amendment 34A, is already covered by most of the professions, which require people to take out professional indemnity and insurance before allowing them to practise. So I wonder why this amendment is required—although I understand it is a probing amendment. But there we are—I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say.

I have some sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal. My understanding is that many practitioners, particularly legal practitioners, who work outside UK jurisdictions actually relate to English language clients, so the problem does not arise—but again, I look forward to hearing what my noble friend says in summing up.

My greatest concerns relate to Amendment 60A in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley, and an incident which many in the Chamber may recall took place in the 1980s and 1990s, in which a gynaecologist, Richard Neale, was allowed to practise in this country, first in the Friarage Hospital, Northallerton, and then in other hospitals as well, even though he had been struck off the register in Canada, where his last known employment was. I took up the case with the GMC at the time and was assured that this would never happen again. But, as we have the Bill before us this afternoon, and as we have Amendment 60A as a probing amendment, I will ask the Minister: does he accept the assurance given by the GMC at that time? Can he put my mind at rest that this case could not happen again? I found it extraordinary that a gynaecologist—or indeed any medical professional—could be recruited without even a cursory phone call, ideally, or email to the last known place of work, which I think any diligent employer would undertake as minimum due diligence. Can my noble friend reassure me that there are provisions—if not in the Bill, then elsewhere—to ensure that this situation simply could not arise again?

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lansley has hit upon some important issues with his Amendments 34A and 60A. I am not 100% convinced by the drafting of either amendment, but the underlying issues are very important. On Amendment 34A, many regulated professions require indemnity insurance to be held by a professional, but I am not sure whether all regulated professions must have indemnity insurance. For example, I am not certain that farriers are required to have insurance. It is clearly sensible for any professional offering their services to have indemnity insurance, but it may not actually be required. My noble friend’s amendment rather implies that every single regulated professional has to have indemnity insurance.

Fitness to practise is rather different: it is a cornerstone of professions, in that only those of good standing are allowed to practise. Fitness to practise can be determined by a number of factors—some straightforwardly, such as criminal convictions, to which my noble friend referred in connection with the Disclosure and Barring Service. Others crucially depend on often quite subtle judgments within the context of particular professions: for example, whether an individual has the right degree of scepticism or can demonstrate that they exercise the right degree of professional care when undertaking their profession. These are really quite difficult areas of judgment. I could not see exactly how that fitted naturally into the scheme of this Bill. It would be difficult to say that there should be a condition relating to the judgment around fitness to practise. But I shall be interested in what the Minister has to say in response to these amendments.

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Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD)
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My Lords, I have two very small amendments in this group, both taking us back to my unfavourite word, “substantially”. When we were discussing this last week, my main objection was that “substantially” always implies that something is missing. Last week it was applied to standards, and my argument then was that you cannot water down standards so should not use “substantially”. With these two amendments, my argument is that the word is completely unnecessary. In “substantially corresponds to”, “substantially” is a modifier and “corresponds to” is a modifier; you do not need them both, so I simply put this forward to ask if we can please neaten up the Bill by two words and take out “substantially” in both contexts.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I speak on Clause 7 standing part of the Bill, rather than on the detailed amendments in this group. We had a brief discussion about the advice centre on our first Committee day, when the Minister told us that the current UK Centre for Professional Qualifications does not cost very much, although he would not tell us how much. The UK set up the Centre for Professional Qualifications because it was required to by the EU, so I do not understand why BEIS has not looked long and hard at whether it needs to carry on funding it now that we have left. Just because people have occasionally found an item useful is not a sound rationale to carry on spending money on it. There has to be a demonstrated need, and nothing in the documents on the Bill has established this.

Until I got involved in the Bill, I had not heard of the centre. I have since visited the website and am doubtless going to be included in its statistics on hits next time it reports to the Minister how successful it is. I did not find it useful at all. I first wanted to know how I could come to the UK to practise as a registered auditor, but the website gave me no information at all. It does not have a global search facility, so I could not even work out whether the information was hidden somewhere on the website. When I said that I was a UK professional accountant seeking to practise abroad, again it had absolutely nothing to tell me.

I suspect that, if the centre disappeared from the web tonight, no one—but no one—would miss it. Most of what is on the website can easily be found with a search engine and a couple of extra clicks. It is not a treasure trove of information; it is very minimalist. The best thing that could be done with it is to put it to sleep, which is why I do not believe that Clause 7 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I am delighted to speak in support of Amendment 39 from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and I commend the remarks of my noble friend Lady Noakes, because it takes a brave person to say what she did. I look forward to hearing my noble friend Lady Bloomfield’s response from the Front Bench. I do not know whether I have the temerity to try the same, as a non-practising advocate, but I am tempted.

Amendment 39 is particularly important given the reasons that we debated in the short debate on Clauses 5 and 6 standing part of the Bill. Those reasons were raised again by the Law Society and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who so eloquently moved Amendment 39: we need a tool to remove all barriers, or any whiff of a barrier, that might be in this place. It is important to take this opportunity to do that. I hope that my noble friend enthusiastically endorses Amendment 39 as a small but essential tool to enable those who might consider applying for their chosen profession to work in the United Kingdom to do so.

Another reason for this was given by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in summing up the last debate, who mentioned that we now have a Canada-style agreement. The briefing I have from the Law Society of England and Wales is rather discouraging:

“This model is yet to deliver a single MRA between the EU and Canada in the three years since it came into force … We feel Government impetus is necessary to achieve MRAs.”


Clause 7 is an essential part of the Bill. It is extremely important that we have an assistance centre and I welcome the fact that it is already up and running. It is even more important that it passes the Noakes test—that it is easy to use, fit for purpose and will embrace Amendment 39.

I am not going to speak at length, but I take this opportunity to support the amendment in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, on disclosure. I look forward to my noble friend’s response on that and to Clause 7 stand part.

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Baroness Noakes Excerpts
Moved by
45: Clause 8, page 5, line 35, at end insert—
“(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to a regulator of a regulated profession if—(a) the regulator oversees the regulation of a regulated profession carried out by another person or persons,(b) the regulator is satisfied that the information required by this section is available on the website of that other person or persons, and(c) the regulator’s website states where the information may be found.”Member’s explanatory statement
This makes provision for a regulator which does not regulate a profession directly but oversees the regulation carried out by other professional bodies.
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 45 I will speak also to Amendment 46 in my name. I shall also speak to Amendments 63 and 68 in this group, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, to which I have added my name.

Amendments 45 and 46 both deal with the position of regulators that oversee the regulation of a regulated profession but do not carry out that regulation themselves. This typically arises where a regulator oversees a number of professional bodies, each of which provides qualifications for, and regulate those who practise, the profession. An example of this is the Financial Reporting Council, which oversees regulated auditors, but wholly or partly through the work done by several professional accountancy bodies. Those professional bodies qualify and regulate the accountants within their membership, not all of whom are regulated auditors. I will not attempt a technical description of the medical and dental professions, but the General Medical Council and the General Dental Council sit over the top of various other bodies and medical colleges to which individuals belong, and I suspect that similar issues arise.

Clause 8 requires the regulator to publish information on requirements to practise. My Amendment 45 is intended to ensure that, if the information is displayed on another website, the regulator need not gather and load up that information on its own website but can signpost where to find it. For example, the FRC could signpost information on the websites of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the corresponding bodies in Ireland and Scotland, as well as the other bodies which have recognised audit qualifications. Anything else is just bureaucracy for the sake of it and is inefficient.

Clause 9 places a duty on a regulator to provide information to a regulator in another part of the UK. My Amendment 46 says that if someone else holds the information, they should seek to get the information provided by that other person. A regulator may have information about individuals in relation to the particular regulated profession but may not have information relating to the broader context of an individual’s membership of a professional body—for example, a full disciplinary or complaint record. Gathering information only for the purpose of sharing it with another UK regulator would again be duplicative and inefficient.

Since the amendments in this group were tabled, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and I have received an extraordinary letter from the Minister that is relevant to all the amendments in this group. This was one of my noble friend’s Sunday missives, which we have all learned to love during the passage of this Bill. Noble Lords may recall that I initially asked for a list of the bodies covered by the Bill. I received a letter, dated 23 March, listing 160 regulated professions. The Minister said at the time that this was a list of the regulated professions that BEIS considered fell within the Bill’s definition. Last Sunday’s letter claimed that the earlier list was “indicative”—although he did not say that at the time—and a new list was attached. The new list has over 250 professions and nearly 60 regulators.

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Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. Of course, it goes without saying that I always listen to the noble Baroness’s comments very carefully and take them away for consideration. The best advice I can give her about what this Bill is about and what is covered is to refer her to the Explanatory Memorandum on the Bill.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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Well, my Lords, that rather took my breath away—and doubtless the breath of everyone else involved in this Committee. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will want to reconsider his advice to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on that point and perhaps write to her.

I certainly want to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has been an extremely important one. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Moynihan for his ingenuity in bringing forward the very real issues related to British ski instructors under BASI, but I do not think that they quite fit in this group of amendments. Nevertheless, it was good to have those issues raised again.

I will deal with my two amendments first. My noble friend said that the amendments were not necessary. I do not think he was listening to what I said about the accountancy, auditing and other related professions such as insolvency practitioners, what the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said about the medical profession, or what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said about the legal profession in Scotland. People who understand about professions think that this is important.

My noble friend said that this is not necessary. Of course, it is not necessary: the burden of my argument was not that this is necessary but that it is not desirable to require regulators who do not, by the nature of what they are doing, hold lots of information, to duplicate that information within their systems and on their websites. I hope that my noble friend will look carefully at what other noble Lords have said. I am happy if he ignores me, but if he would listen to what other noble Lords have said on these issues, he will see that there are some very real problems in there. The fact that a regulator might need to point to what is on a professional regulator’s website or to information that a professional body has, rather than the regulator, does not seem to me to be an impediment, nor does it muddy up his precious concept that this Bill applies only to professions regulated by law. I therefore hope he will think about that again before we get to Report, because otherwise I think I shall probably bring these back at that stage.

We obviously had a lot of discussion on the list, and it is clear that it is still very much a work in progress, as my noble friend the Minister has said. I was really quite surprised to find the concept of some form of regulation being equal to professional qualifications. I never thought that this Bill was about an activity being regulated, but that now seems to have come within the purview of this Bill. It has changed for me the concept of what this Bill is supposed to be about.

I do not think the list is complete. For example, under “Professional business services and administrators of oaths” the only regulator that is cited is the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. Actually, I did not know that chartered accountants were administrators of oaths, but I will bet you a penny to a pound that there are many other professional bodies that are regulated for the administration of oaths and it is not just the ICAEW. So we might say that even this latest list is perhaps not worth the paper that I have printed it out on.

It is not just about the completeness of the list; it actually goes to the heart of this Bill. BEIS did not consult on this Bill or any policy proposals. All it did was issue a rather strange call for evidence, some of the replies to which were really rather thin, and it then worked out its own policy and put out a statement of policy at the same time that it published the Bill. We have been aware for some time that a number of the professional bodies have been behind the pace on whether they are covered by the Bill and how it will affect them. Some are not even particularly well aware of it. My noble friend said that his officials were now reaching out to all these other bodies that they are now starting to bring within the net of the Bill, but that does not take the place of proper consultation on what is in this Bill, how it applies to a number of professional activities and whether we actually have a solution that is robust and deals with all the practical issues that arise with respect to professional bodies. As we have heard, each of the major professions has its own set of idiosyncrasies, and that is quite likely to continue.

My own view, and I think that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is that we will need a list on the face of the Bill for all the reasons that she said a few minutes ago. It is not enough to have a definition-based approach, and I was glad that my noble friend said that he would consider that further. We will return to all of these issues again at Report, but for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 45 withdrawn.
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Along with the other questions I have posed, I ask my noble friend to look favourably on the suggestion that we all have an opportunity to meet face to face under his chairmanship with the regulators in question, in order to have an idea of where we are heading with Clause 9 and how it relates to the rest of the Bill.
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.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, we started Committee with an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Fox. It sought to establish at the very outset of the Bill the principle that nothing in it would have a negative impact on the autonomy of our regulators. I am glad that we are able to say—well, not quite “We told you so”, but certainly the fact is that we have learned little in Committee that has meant that the case is not even stronger, so reassurance needs to be provided in the Bill.

The powers in Clause 1 could be extensive when it comes to individual applications. The powers in Clause 4 could be forced on a regulator. The powers in Clause 3 could implement elements of trade agreements on regulators in all four parts of the United Kingdom with little scrutiny or accountability. In reverse order, on the trade side, during the debate on the previous group, the Minister sought to give the impression that the regulatory powers were needed to implement trade agreements and the professional qualifications elements of those agreements because, without those powers, we would not able to implement international agreements and therefore may need to act urgently. Clearly, I have not been following in Committee because, by definition, these regulators are statutory. If the Government’s statement that a treaty would be implemented by primary legislation is correct, that would be the vehicle—when that treaty is being implemented—to make changes to any of the legislation of those regulators. I simply cannot understand why a Henry VIII power is necessary for that.

On forcing the regulators to enter into mutual recognition agreements, if the Government are saying that this measure is purely enabling, there is a degree of merit in that. However, in Committee, we have heard that such enabling could go beyond and add extra pressure. In Clause 1, the powers on the application process are extensive. Whether we have a declarative statement at the outset or the protections that would be brought about by this amendment, there will have to be protections. If the Government genuinely want to avoid a situation where this Bill either must be paused or does not progress at all—my understanding is that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is absolutely correct that Bills starting in this place are not subject to the Parliament Act and that the Minister therefore has to be nicer to us—they must provide reassurance. That can happen now only through much greater detail about the organisations and regulators that will be impacted by this, as well as about certain areas of draft regulations along the lines of what the Government would really want to use these powers for. Without meaningful reassurances, this Bill has significant difficulties.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I need to say very little, other than that I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, have said. I know my noble friend has heard the strength of feeling in Committee, about the importance of regulator autonomy. I think there is agreement in Committee, though not necessarily yet with my noble friend the Minister, that something needs to be in the Bill to recognise that.

I hope that by the time we get to Report, if indeed there is a Report stage on this Bill, the Government will have taken ownership of the issue, because I am afraid that if they do not the House will.

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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.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, my sister is not a chartered accountant, but she is an accountant. I do not know whether that is an interest to declare, but I should note that.

Unsurprisingly, I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said. In fact, when the noble Lord first raised the possibility of this with me, I was really interested, but we were both quite surprised that somebody actually wanted to be regulated. As someone who has worked very much on the consumer side, I have tried to get people regulated and on the whole they have resisted. However, that falls apart, because we have now discovered in the letter that the ICAEW will be there.

Earlier, I read out the note that I had had from the ICAEW as a result of the Minister’s letter on Sunday, saying that it seemed as if the Government were “rushing through the legislation”. I did not quote this, but I will say it now:

“Between this Bill’s conclusion in the House of Lords and it beginning to go through the lower chamber, it is vital that BEIS take stock of this legislation, review its intended – and unintended – consequences, and engage with those regulators and professional bodies in scope to iron out any remaining concerns.”


As I said on the previous group, I hope that we will use the time between now and Report, rather than between now and when the Bill arrives in the other House, but it sounds as though the ICAEW and the other accountancy bodies have not yet had a discussion with departmental officials. I hope that that can be put in hand. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm, although maybe not at this moment, that those meetings have taken place so that, as the ICAEW says, any intended or unintended consequences are fully understood and any problems can be ironed out. I look forward to hearing from the Minister that that will take place.

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Baroness Noakes Excerpts
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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On the subject of Amendment 11, I have full sympathy with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. If my noble friend Lord Purvis were to speak, he would remind the Committee that at the outset we were promised primary legislation for trade deals, and I am gratified that at least two noble Lords will be keeping an eye on the overall process.

In Committee, back in July, the very first amendment that we discussed, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Purvis, was very similar to Amendment 15. Its purpose from the outset was to protect the autonomy of the regulators. In that respect we are both delighted that the Minister has listened and, through the process of discussion, has come up with Amendment 12. It does a lot of the heavy lifting in dealing with what I referred to earlier as the Trojan horse of suspicion.

In protecting regulatory authorities from Clauses 1, 3 and 4, the amendment very much creates a situation where they are allowed to go about their business in the way that we want. It is for that reason that I took the unusual step—at least, unusual for me—of countersigning the Government’s amendment, which clearly indicates our support from these Benches for what we see as a welcome and important addition to the Bill.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, throughout our consideration of the Bill I have been critical of my noble friend the Minister and the Government for riding roughshod over regulatory autonomy, so I very much welcome Amendment 12 in his name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

I have a residual concern. While this protects the autonomy of regulators over whom they may admit to practise in their profession, there may still be a concern that significant costs will be loaded on to regulators from having to comply with the obligation to consider individuals or institutions overseas, because that is what has been negotiated as part of a trade treaty, which would result in a considerable cost for the predictable outcome of not approving those individuals or institutions, and those costs would inevitably be borne by UK professionals because there is nowhere else for costs to go. To some extent, therefore, I was unhappy with the formulation of Amendment 12. However, taking it in combination with the amendment that we have already considered relating to consultation with regulators, I have to hope that the Government would never proceed with regulations that imposed unreasonable burdens on UK-regulated professionals in the pursuit of something that would not be achievable, in terms of the recognition of individuals within an overseas profession. I think that taken together those amendments are okay, but I have a residual concern that burdens might end up on professionals.

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I still think my schedule should be on the Bill, as it would be the best way of keeping it up to date, but I can tell the Minister that I will not push this to a vote. I will be asking at the end for permission to withdraw my amendment, so he need not go into great depths about why it is absolutely not necessary. However, I do ask for assurances that the list will be not only published but included as an agenda item for meetings of the forum and, importantly, that every organisation on that list will be invited to his forum. That would be a way of holding a grip over the list. I beg to move.
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I think it was in the briefing before Second Reading that I first asked which regulators were covered by the Bill—one of those naive questions where you are often surprised by the answer that you get. My noble friend the Minister said he would write to me, which he duly did, and it was a surprise to other members of the committee when we got the letter—and things sort of went downhill after that. We had another version of the list, with more regulators on, and then a more definitive version that appeared more recently and is on the website.

For me, this struck at the competence with which the Bill was put together, and nothing that has happened has made me change my view that it was not put together in a competent way. But I am satisfied that the Government have done a very considerable amount of work to try to establish the scope of the Bill and to whom it applies, and are committed to keeping an updated list on the website. So I am happy with where we have ended up—but, my goodness, it has been an extraordinary journey.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I think we can all congratulate Members on their persistence on this issue and I have to tell noble Lords that my vocabulary has expanded at an enormous rate by being involved in the Bill. I have never heard the expression, “I am not assuaged” quite so often, but it clearly shows that we are moving in the right direction. As we have heard, there are still concerns and, given the lateness of the hour, I just want to add that with Amendment 18 we really feel that we would like to see statutory protection to ensure that the list is regularly maintained and updated. That is the question we have: we have achieved so much through the debate here, but how can we be reassured that the list will be kept updated and maintained, and how often will it happen? Because of our experience, we need a reassurance that the list will not be removed once the Bill has received Royal Assent. I will listen very carefully to the Minister’s reply.

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Baroness Noakes Excerpts
I know that I speak for all of us when I express our gratitude to Dan Harris for his unending patience and excellent, detailed advice throughout the proceedings. I look forward to watching carefully the next steps being taken in the important areas that we have covered in this Bill.
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, while it is undeniably true that this is a better Bill leaving the House than when it arrived, in particular because of the addition of Clauses 14 and 15, it was never clear to me what problem the Bill was seeking to address and whether indeed it was necessary. My noble friend claimed that four benefits would flow from the Bill. If ever there was a case for post-legislative scrutiny to see whether those benefits in fact accrue, this is one of them, because I am less than clear that the considerable effort that my noble friend has had to put in to turning the ragbag of a Bill that arrived here into something that resembles a meaningful contribution to the area of professions was a good use of his time and that of his officials. As I say, I am quite clear that it is a better Bill, but whether the Bill was ever necessary is an open question.

Lord Moynihan Portrait Lord Moynihan (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of the British Association of Snowsport Instructors and all the winter sports organisations, which have taken a very active role and interest in the passage of this Bill, I thank the Minister for his consistent, collaborative and close support for the British winter sports federations, particularly with the newly-formed contacts in UK embassies, addressing issues such as work permits, local regulations and overt protectionism. We have taken one step forward as a result of the Bill being before this House, but that one step has been very much as a result of the efforts of my noble friend, for which many thanks.