Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
Consultation with devolved authorities
“(1) Before making regulations under this Act, the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor must consult—
(a) the Welsh Ministers, to the extent that the regulations contain provision which could also be made by the Welsh Ministers by virtue of section 16(2) (ignoring any requirement for the consent of a Minister of the Crown under section 16(5));
(b) the Scottish Ministers, to the extent that the regulations contain provision which could also be made by the Scottish Ministers by virtue of section 16(3);
(c) a Northern Ireland department, to the extent that the regulations contain provision which could also be made by a Northern Ireland department by virtue of section 16(4).
(2) The Northern Ireland department which is to be consulted in accordance with subsection (1)(c) is such Northern Ireland department as the Secretary of State or (as the case may be) the Lord Chancellor considers appropriate having regard to the provision which is to be contained in the regulations concerned.
(3) Before making regulations under this Act in relation to which the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor has consulted a devolved authority (or more than one devolved authority) in accordance with subsection (1), the Secretary of State or (as the case may be) the Lord Chancellor must publish a report on the consultation.
(4) But the Secretary of State or (as the case may be) the Lord Chancellor may not publish the report unless either—
(a) the devolved authority concerned (or, if more than one, each of them) has agreed to the description included in the report for the purposes of subsection (5)(a), or
(b) there is no such agreement but the period of 30 days, beginning with the day on which a draft of the report was first sent to the devolved authority concerned (or, if more than one, the last of them), has expired.
(5) The report on the consultation must include—
(a) a description of—
(i) the process undertaken in order to comply with subsection (1), and
(ii) any agreement, objection or other views expressed as part of that process by the devolved authority (or devolved authorities) concerned, and
(b) an explanation of whether and how such views have been taken into account in the regulations (including, in a case where the Secretary of State or (as the case may be) the Lord Chancellor proposes to make the regulations despite an objection, an explanation of the reasons for doing so).
(6) The duty to consult in subsection (1) does not apply in relation to any revision of the regulations which arises from the consultation; and, for the purposes of subsection (4)(b), the draft report need not be identical to the published report for the period of 30 days to begin.
(7) In this section ‘devolved authority’ means the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers or a Northern Ireland department.”—(Paul Scully.)
This new clause requires the Secretary of State or Lord Chancellor to consult the devolved authorities before making regulations under the Bill that contain provision which could be made under the Bill by the devolved authorities themselves and to publish a report on the consultation.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Authority by whom regulations may be made (No. 2)—
“(1) In this Act ‘appropriate national authority’ means as follows.
(2) Where the regulations—
(a) contain provision relating to England only,
(b) apply to the United Kingdom as a whole, or
(c) contain provision which is not within the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru, the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly,
the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor is the appropriate national authority.
(3) The Welsh Ministers are the appropriate national authority in relation to regulations under this Act which contain only provision which would be within the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru if contained in an Act of the Senedd (ignoring any requirement for the consent of a Minister of the Crown).
(4) The Scottish Ministers are the appropriate national authority in relation to regulations under this Act which contain only provision which would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament if contained in an Act of that Parliament.
(5) A Northern Ireland department is the appropriate national authority in relation to regulations under this Act which contain only provision which, if contained in an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly—
(a) would be within the legislative competence of the Assembly, and
(b) would not require the consent of the Secretary of State.
(6) The consent of a Minister of the Crown is required before any provision is made by the Welsh Ministers in regulations under this Act so far as that provision, if contained in an Act of Senedd Cymru, would require the consent of a Minister of the Crown.
(7) In this section ‘Minister of the Crown’ has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975.”
This new clause is intended to replace the current Clause 16. It would mean that the Secretary of State would only make regulations under this Act if they relate to England or the whole of the UK, or are outside the legislative competencies of the Devolved Administrations.
New clause 3—List of regulators and regulated professions—
“(1) The Secretary of State must publish a list of all regulators of regulated professions and the associated professions.
(2) The list must be updated on a regular basis.”
New clause 4—Guidance and assistance concerning mutual recognition—
“Upon the request of a regulator, the Secretary of State must provide guidance and all reasonable assistance on how to make the most of the provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement.”
New clause 5—Consent of the devolved authorities—
“(1) Before making regulations under this Act, the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor must obtain the consent of—
(a) the Senedd, to the extent that the regulations contain provision which could also be made by the Welsh Ministers by virtue of section 16(2) (ignoring any requirement for the consent of a Minister of the Crown under section 16(5));
(b) the Scottish Parliament, to the extent that the regulations contain provision which could also be made by the Scottish Ministers by virtue of section 16(3);
(c) the Northern Ireland executive, to the extent that the regulations contain provision which could also be made by a Northern Ireland department by virtue of section 16(4).”
Amendment 2, in clause 7, page 5, line 16, at end insert—
“(1A) Before making the arrangements, the Secretary of State must consult the devolved authorities on the functions and operations of the assistance centre.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to undertake consultation with the Devolved Authorities on the functions and operations of the Assistance Centre before it comes into being.
Amendment 3, page 5, line 16, at end insert—
“(1A) Before making the arrangements, the Secretary of State must ensure there are representatives from each of the devolved nations on the board of the assistance centre.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to ensure there are representatives for each of the devolved nations on the board of the Assistance Centre.
Amendment 4, page 11, line 28, leave out clause 16.
Government amendment 1.
I am today proposing two amendments in relation to the devolved Administrations. New clause 1 would place a duty on the Secretary of State or Lord Chancellor to consult the devolved Administrations before making regulations under the Bill that contain provisions that could be made under the Bill by the devolved authorities themselves. The new clause would also require the Government to publish a report on the consultation. Amendment 1 seeks to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006 so that a Minister of the Crown’s consent is not needed for Senedd Cymru to remove the Secretary of State’s and the Lord Chancellor’s ability to make regulations under the Bill that are within the Senedd’s legislative competence.
I know that hon. Members across the House have shown strong interest in the issue of concurrent powers and devolved competence. To underline the Government’s commitment to a collaborative approach on this issue, I am introducing into the Bill, through the new clause, a new duty to consult devolved Administrations. The duty includes a requirement to publish a report in advance of any regulations being made by the UK Government that would be within devolved legislative competence. That report should set out the consultation process, and whether and how the representations made by the devolved Administrations during the consultation have been taken into account.
My officials and I have engaged extensively with the devolved Administrations during the passage of the Bill and, although we strained every sinew to reach agreement on securing legislative consent, it is a great regret that, unfortunately, we have exhausted all available avenues. Lord Grimstone and I have held eight meetings with our devolved Administrations’ ministerial counterparts. Baroness Bloomfield and Lord Grimstone have held nine industry roundtables, including two specifically for devolved regulators. There have also been weekly official-level meetings during the Bill’s passage and numerous exchanges of letters.
The amendments were originally offered to the devolved Administrations in December 2021, in exchange for support for legislative consent motions from their respective legislatures, but that offer was rejected. But the UK Government are committed to delivering effective policies that work for the whole of the UK, so, to underline that commitment, I am now introducing those amendments without any conditions attached. I strongly believe that, if both Government amendments are accepted, the Bill represents the best outcome for both the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, without impinging on the UK’s ability to act where necessary.
The regulation of professions often falls within devolved legislative competence. For that reason, the Bill gives powers to both UK Government Ministers and devolved Administration Ministers. Some of the powers may be exercised concurrently to allow UK Government Ministers to make UK-wide regulations where appropriate. The most likely use of concurrent powers would be to implement international agreements on professional qualifications that are negotiated on a UK-wide basis. It is vital that the UK Government are able to implement such agreements across the UK in a timely and consistent manner, as failure to do so could jeopardise the UK Government’s credibility and ability to secure ambitious provisions to support UK services exports with global trade partners.
Amendment 1 would allow for an Act of the Senedd to remove UK Ministers’ ability to use powers in the Bill to make regulations that would be within Welsh devolved legislative competence, without the need to first obtain the consent of a Minister of the Crown. The Welsh Government would still be required to consult the UK Government on the removal of powers. That was a key ask from the Welsh Government. It is in line with similar approaches taken by the Government on the Environment Act 2021, the Fisheries Act 2020 and the Agriculture Act 2020.
In introducing those amendments, I hope that Members can see the UK Government’s determination to work collaboratively and transparently with all devolved Administrations and devolved regulators on the provisions of the Bill and on wider regulated professions policy.
I do not intend to detain the House for long, but it is a pleasure to rise to speak in support of Plaid Cymru’s new clause 5, which would require the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor to obtain the consent of the devolved Governments when acting in areas of devolved competence. Although I will not be seeking to divide the House on that, I hope that the new clause, alongside the repeated interventions of the devolved nations, will encourage the Government to reconsider their approach.
In its current form, the Bill represents an example of the Government legislating in devolved matters without having first secured the consent of Wales’s Parliament or, indeed, consent from any of the devolved nations. It betrays a blatant disregard for the constitutional framework of the UK, and further obscures the regulatory regime for workers, businesses and professional qualification providers.
Hon. Members should not mistake these concerns as mere trivial matters; they speak to the growing chasm of distrust between the Governments of the British Isles. Indeed, just last week, the Welsh Labour Education Minister accused the UK Government of acting in a manner that breaches the Sewel convention. Let us consider, for a moment, the implications of that statement: a Government Minister from one nation is accusing the Government of another of tearing up the constitutional convention that has been so instrumental in ensuring good governance and positive intergovernmental collaboration across our isles. That is what this Government and this Prime Minister are doing to the UK and that is why this Bill needs to be amended to respect the devolution settlement.
As I said, I will not be pushing our new clause to a vote tonight, but we will be supporting amendment 3 if it is put to a Division. I hope that Opposition Members as well as Government Members will acknowledge the seriousness of these constitutional concerns and accept the amendment as a first step towards government by consent, rather than imposition.
I rise to speak to amendment 3, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain). I am sorry to say that she is ill with covid, so I am here in her place.
The Bill allows UK Government Ministers to legislate on areas that would normally be under the authority of devolved Administrations. As it stands, there is no protection in place to allow the Scottish or Welsh Governments to revoke or amend these measures if needed. The entire reason we have devolved powers is to allow Ministers to make bespoke decisions that better reflect the needs of the local people and local economies.
The Minister’s statement that the purpose of the Bill is to ensure qualified professionals within the UK can work anywhere within the four nations clearly undermines the devolution settlement. We saw that with the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and we see it again here. Without the appropriate safeguards, the Bill further erodes both the powers we have in place in Scotland and in Wales, and the trust between our Governments. On many issues, the UK has subsumed EU law into UK law with a view to gradual divergence over time. We are concerned that this Bill takes a clean slate approach and may put the UK at a disadvantage when trying to fill vacancies at a time of acute shortages in some sectors. The Bill provides inadequate detail regarding its full intentions and scope, leaving provision open to interpretation. The Government must commit to ensuring the highest standards of professional qualifications are maintained and are not bartered away as part of any trade agreement.
Clause 7 would mandate the Secretary of State to set up an assistance centre for people looking to enter a qualified profession in the UK or people with UK qualifications looking to practise overseas. Regulators would be required to provide information to the assistance centre to allow it to carry out its functions. We welcome the provisions relating to a centre to provide advice on and assistance with entry requirements for those seeking to practise a profession in the UK, or those with UK qualifications seeking to practise overseas. The obligation to make arrangements for the assistance centre lies with the Secretary of State. Amendment 3, which we will be pressing to a vote, would require the Secretary of State to ensure that there are representatives for each of the devolved nations on the centre’s board.
The Law Society of Scotland has urged the Government to seek the consent of the devolved Administrations when setting up the assistance centre. We therefore think it imperative—this reflects the acknowledgement of the role of the devolved Administrations in earlier clauses in the Bill—for them to be consulted on the arrangements for its creation, and to be represented on its board.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker—rather more swiftly than I expected.
It seems as though, week in week out, Members on this side of the Chamber in particular are shouting into the wind. Whatever legislation is put before us, we suggest amendments in good faith, only to have to rinse and repeat our previous arguments when the legislation returns to us with none of our proposed changes taken into account. We are therefore used to this Government doing hee-haw, but in this case they have actually made the Bill worse than it was before, disrespecting the devolved Governments and undermining the constitution over something that should not have been controversial.
The Scottish National party fully welcomes the principles behind the Bill, which will facilitate cross-border recognition and regulation of professional qualifications. Building an integrated system of transfer of professionals from abroad is particularly significant to smaller countries such as Scotland which seek to attract the skills and expertise of their neighbours. For example, the world-leading Scottish food and drink industry, and indeed that of the whole UK, has traditionally relied heavily on the services of vets qualified in the EU. Those vets were then able to bring their skills to Scotland under the terms of the EU’s rules on mutual recognition of professional qualifications. We are all for the idea of recognising consistency in qualifications; it is not controversial. However, the Government have managed to make it controversial: in fact, they have managed to create a constitutional stooshie out of thin air.
When I last spoke on the Bill, I raised concerns about its impact on devolution. The whole Bill obviously applies to Scotland, although certain professions and qualifications are reserved to this place.
The hon. Member is right to say that it is correct for professional qualifications to be transferable across the United Kingdom, but in the past the Scottish Government would have had no say in any of this because it all fell under the European Union. There was no concern about devolution rights in that case. Why the sudden concern about devolution rights now that it rests with this Parliament?
The right hon. Member tempts me, but, as I was about to explain, we have a number of qualification areas in which these are devolved matters and not reserved to this place. Under the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, the UK Government are now overruling devolved competences that were formerly in place.
The Bill does not make separate provision for devolved and reserved professions, so it applies to all regulated professions active in Scotland, whether reserved or devolved. It follows from this that, for those aspects of the Bill that affect the devolved nations’ areas of competence, special provisions should have been made to require devolved consent, which was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake). It was the case then and it is still the case now.
Clause 16 ensures that any power conferred on the appropriate national authority in devolved areas can be exercised by UK Ministers. There is no requirement for UK Ministers to seek the Scottish Government’s consent when exercising such powers. A Secretary of State making regulations under those powers would therefore be subject to procedure in this place rather than the Scottish Parliament, or any of the devolved Parliaments. Here we have a Bill that alters the executive competence of Scottish Ministers by enabling the Secretary of State to act in devolved areas without having consent to do so. That is entirely unnecessary, and undermines the good faith agreement between the Scottish and UK Governments on the principles of the Bill.
I listened to the Minister, and I welcome the fact that so much engagement took place, but it is clear that, despite all that engagement, there was still a lack of any willingness to shift in any way to take account of the positions of the devolved Governments. That is why I suggested that the Government take up the Scottish Government’s proposal to introduce an amendment to clause 16 to require devolved consent before UK Ministers dabbled in devolved areas. Not only have the Government rejected that perfectly reasonable proposal; they have fabricated a convenient reason to do so, arguing that the devolved Governments
“might undermine the implementation of provisions in international agreements on recognition of professional qualifications.”
That is utter havers. Scottish Ministers have to comply with international agreements: it is in the ministerial code. I know that in this place that does not always mean very much, but it is a big deal north of the border. On top of that, the Scotland Act 1998 gives UK Ministers powers to ensure that Scottish Ministers comply with treaty obligations. So the Government’s stance is essentially that they cannot let the devolved nations govern in devolved areas because they might do something that they literally could not do if they tried. It is absolutely nonsensical, but that is where we are.
We should be finding areas of agreement in this Bill, but instead the Government are fabricating excuses to legislate without devolved consent. Under the Sewel convention, this Parliament will not normally legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. The key word here is “normally”. What is abnormal about this Bill that justifies overriding the Sewel convention?
I am not quite clear about the hon. Member’s logic. If he is saying that the Scottish Government would feel obliged to abide by any international agreements, there would not be any leeway for them to act independently anyway. What point is he trying to make? What independence is he seeking for the Scottish Government, or the Northern Ireland Assembly, or the Welsh Government?
I think the key word in that intervention is “agreements”. The Scottish Government, or within the European set-up the UK Government, would agree these frameworks with Europe. In this situation, the Scottish Government, and the Governments of Northern Ireland and Wales, have no say in what is imposed by this Westminster Government.
The truth is that there is nothing exceptional or even particularly noteworthy about a requirement for UK Ministers to seek such consent. It has been requested by the relevant Committees of the Scottish Parliament, confirmed by a vote of the Parliament as a whole, and raised multiple times in this place. It is not worth overriding the Sewel convention—something extremely serious which has happened on only four occasions, all of them directly related to major EU exit legislation. That makes one wonder if the Government are content to undermine the Sewel convention to the point at which it is no longer even a convention. Seeking consent would constitute little more than recognising devolved responsibilities and respecting the UK constitution, so the Government have some serious explaining to do to the Scottish Parliament if they go ahead with overriding Sewel yet again.
This farce has brought the Scottish Government to a point at which they simply could not recommend that the Scottish Parliament give the Bill its consent, and that should not be taken lightly. That said, I am heartened that we have a new clause before us—tabled by the hon. Member for Ceredigion, albeit not to be pressed to a Division—that could deal with the issue. It changes the consultation requirement to a consent requirement, and removes the procedure by which the Government could ignore devolved views and simply report to the House on why they did so. I sincerely hope that the Government will look at the new clause seriously. This is not political point-scoring; it is about protecting the constitution as it currently exists. That is evidenced by the fact that the Law Society of Scotland supports the argument that I am advancing today. The Government have assured us time and again that they have no intention of overriding devolution, so why not put it in writing instead of relying on a pinkie promise?
The Bill falls into a pattern of power grabs and disdain for consent, from Brexit to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, and little wonder, because it comes from a Government led by a man who called devolution a disaster. This disdainful attitude to UK-Scottish relations damages the UK Government’s claims that they welcome early engagement on the Bill. It also severely undermines their commitments to recently agreed intergovernmental arrangements. I hope that the Minister will reflect seriously on the unnecessary damage that the Bill will do to devolution in its current form.
On the point about the damage that the Bill could do, is there not a point of principle at stake? This Government appear to be putting administrative utility ahead of devolved democratic considerations enshrined in various bits of Scotland Act legislation that should not be overridden lightly, particularly on matters such as professional qualifications.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I absolutely agree. Of all the things to pick an argument over, why create this situation over something on which we broadly agree and are actually on the same page? It is not too late. My right hon. Friend is not pressing his amendment to a vote, but the Government could still accept new clause 5 so that we could fix this situation and deal with it. I sincerely hope that the Minister will prove my concerns wrong.
I will speak to new clauses 3 and 4 tabled in my name, then briefly come back to the Government amendment and to amendment 3. During the progress of this Bill through the Lords, it became clear that it had been thrown together in a completely unsatisfactory way. The Financial Times described the way in which the Government introduced it as a
“chaotic handling of a post-Brexit regime for recognising the qualifications of foreign professionals”.
Remarkably, the Government admitted introducing the Bill to Parliament without knowing which professions were in scope. We argued in the Lords that we had to know who and what was in the scope of the Bill. It stands to reason that the relevant regulators and professions need to be aware of these changes. Having initially listed 160 professions and 50 regulators that would be affected by the legislation, the Government twice published a revised list, ultimately increasing the numbers to 205 professions and 80 regulators. Due to do the increased number of regulators in scope, the Government also had to publish an updated impact assessment, with the total cost to regulators increasing by almost £2 million. That is hardly the way to inspire confidence that the legislation will help businesses or skilled workers.
The Government were criticised from all sides in the Lords, including by those on their own Benches. Baroness Noakes said that the legislation had
“all the hallmarks of being a Bill conceived and executed by officials with little or no ministerial policy direction or oversight…we learn that the Bill was drafted with a far-from-perfect understanding of the territory that it purports to cover. This is no way to legislate.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 June 2021; Vol. 813, c. 149.]
How can regulators and regulated professionals know where they stand when the Ministers responsible for the Bill do not even know themselves? When I raised this in Committee, the Minister responded that he had
“reservations about enshrining a list in the Bill.”
This was because of concerns about not knowing which professions were ultimately covered. He went on to say that the Government had committed to
“maintaining a list of regulated professions and regulators to which they consider the Bill applies, and to keep that list readily accessible and in the public domain.”––[Official Report, Professional Qualifications Public Bill Committee, 18 January 2022; c. 30.]
It is of course encouraging that the Minister has made such a commitment to maintaining a list. I am not asking Ministers to place a list of regulators on the face of the Bill, but for the certainty that regulators and professionals need to be able to operate with confidence, it is important that they now know whether they are within the scope or not, and that means maintaining the list that Ministers have agreed to keep in the public domain. Web pages can be deleted, links can be lost, and without an amendment requiring the maintenance of a list, there will be no legal duty on Ministers to do so. Indeed, if they decided on the day following the granting of Royal Assent to this Bill that they no longer wanted to publish the list on the gov.uk website, they could remove it. This amendment, which I will not be pressing to a vote, is a reminder that the Secretary of State and the Minister need to maintain the list in the public domain, as promised, for the benefit of the professions and professionals who need certainty. This should not be a controversial point, and I hope the Minister will confirm that that is indeed what will happen.
Turning to new clause 4, the Bill provides a framework to allow mutual recognition of professional qualifications between regulators and professional bodies in the UK and the equivalent organisations overseas. The provisions in clauses 3 and 4 will allow for the implementation of regulator-to-regulator mutual recognition agreements and of the recognition arrangements in new international trade agreements. As the Law Society tells us, the Bill will enable the mutual recognition agreement provisions in the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement to be implemented. However, the Law Society also says that the provisions for mutual recognition agreements in the TCA are largely based on the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement—CETA—but that in fact no mutual recognition agreements have been signed between the EU and Canada using the provisions in CETA in the three years since CETA came into force. The failure to use the provisions on which the Government are relying raises the concern that the provisions are not sufficient. To remind ourselves, this legislation, if applied effectively, might well help to address shortages in a multitude of professions, including the chronic shortage of nurses and vets.
In Committee, I asked the Minister how his Department would put in place the additional support, co-ordination and guidance needed to make the most of the provisions in the trade and co-operation agreement, especially if they are to form the benchmark for future free trade agreements. There is real concern that the model on which the provisions in the legislation are based will not deliver results. That is why I tabled new clause 4, which would oblige the Secretary of State to provide guidance to regulators on how to make the most of the provisions in the TCA.
The Minister has written to me since the Committee stage to say that BEIS has engaged with 20 regulators of professional bodies. It will be important to see that such engagement leads to the delivery of mutual recognition agreements using the template on which the Government are relying. The Minister referred in Committee to a limited pilot recognition arrangement programme. I would be grateful if he could explain how effective that pilot has been so far, and how he foresees its leading to the successful implementation of new regulations.
I shall turn now to what the Minister said about new clause 1. In Committee we tabled two amendments to address the concerns raised by the devolved Administrations. We asked for consistency from the Government in the way they approach this Bill. The consistency we asked for in one of the amendments involved a similar amendment to that included in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. I see from new clause 1, having read it a number of times, that it is consistent with what is in the internal market Act and I thank the Minister for listening to the concerns that we raised, even though the Government voted against our amendments in Committee.
The Minister has addressed the concerns about those matters on which the devolved Administrations can make recommendations. That is an improvement on the more “flexible” approach to consultation that he talked about in Committee. That informal approach would have left no formal consultation mechanism. We have heard reservations expressed by a number of hon. Members on that, and I trust that the Government will still seek consent, in the spirit of new clause 1, when applying the regulations that are relevant to the devolved Administrations.
Briefly, I can tell the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) that we will be supporting amendment 3. Representation of the devolved Administrations on the board is an important principle, and something that we return to again and again in legislation. We believe that, in the interests of the devolution settlement, that is entirely appropriate.
I thank the hon. Members who have taken part in this important debate. I will whip through each amendment in turn, starting with new clause 2.
I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) for tabling new clause 2, and I wish her well as she recovers from covid. I thank the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) for speaking to the amendment. I remind the House that clause 16 sets out the definition of an appropriate national authority for the purposes of the Bill. It also sets out the concurrent powers for making regulations in areas of devolved competence.
These powers could be used by the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor if, for example, a profession falls within devolved competence but is regulated at UK level. I understand the strength of feeling about the concurrent powers in the Bill, but I have been clear that any regulation made by the UK Government that falls within devolved legislative competence will be limited in scope and will always be made in consultation with appropriate Ministers from the devolved Administrations. The Government listened carefully to the concerns raised in both Houses, undertook extensive engagement with the devolved Administrations and negotiated in good faith in relation to those concerns. I am grateful for the devolved Administrations’ constructive and well-spirited engagement.
Rather than causing a stooshie, as the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) said, the Sewel convention envisages situations in which the UK Parliament might need to legislate without consent, and those situations are clearly exceptional. We will always seek legislative consent from the devolved legislatures when introducing Bills at Westminster that legislate within areas of devolved competence.
The constructive approach we have shown is underlined by the Government’s amendments, which offer an enhanced statutory consultation duty for all devolved Administrations and, for Wales only, an amendment to carve out the Bill from the requirements of schedule 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006.
Taken together, this package ensures that the Bill can operate effectively in all parts of the UK and that those professions that fall within devolved competence but are regulated on a UK-wide basis can be dealt with appropriately and efficiently by the relevant national authority.
The related amendment 4 would remove clause 16, which could limit the Secretary of State’s ability to use concurrent powers to deal effectively and efficiently with those professions. I emphasise that it is crucial that the Bill can operate effectively across the United Kingdom, which can be best delivered through the Government amendments.
I thank the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) for tabling new clause 3, which at its heart is about the need for clarity on who meets the definition set out in the Bill. I appreciate that, and I assure him the Government have worked extensively to provide that clarity. Last year, BEIS officials carried out a comprehensive exercise across Government, and with the devolved Administrations and regulators, to determine to whom the Bill applies. A list of regulators and professions affected by the Bill was published on gov.uk on 14 October 2021. That list, which is in the public domain, will be maintained and updated as necessary, so we have already met the commitment to publish a list of regulated professions and the associated regulators. A new legislative requirement is therefore not required. As I outlined in Committee, the Government have committed to keeping the list up to date and readily available in the public domain.
On new clause 4, since the end of the transition period EU member states are no longer obligated to offer routes to recognition for UK-qualified professionals. Professionals with UK qualifications are now subject to the relevant rules in individual EU member states. Article 158 of the TCA provides a framework for the UK and the EU to agree arrangements to facilitate the recognition of professional qualifications. Under that framework, UK and EU regulators and professional bodies can provide joint recommendations for potential recognition agreements to be developed and adopted under annex 24 of the TCA, which contains guidelines that will help to do this. We have had discussions with the European Commission to agree a detailed process for delivering recognition agreements through that framework.
Last year, BEIS established a dedicated recognition agreements team to provide guidance and support to regulators and professional bodies seeking to agree such arrangements. That includes arrangements agreed using the TCA process and those outside the TCA process. We have provided limited, targeted financial support to regulators seeking to achieve recognition agreements. The team has already provided guidance and support to regulators and professional bodies, both proactively and at their request, and it has published technical guidance on gov.uk on how regulators and professional bodies may seek recognition agreements, including through the TCA framework, and it will update the guidance to reflect the detailed process for the framework agreed with the Commission. I hope the hon. Member for Sefton Central is assured that we share the priority highlighted by new clause 4.
Although the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) is not pressing new clause 5, I will answer his points. New clause 5 would require the Government to seek the consent of the devolved Administrations when making regulations under the Bill that are in devolved legislative competence. As I said, the most likely use of concurrent powers would be to implement international agreements on professional qualifications, including relevant parts of trade deals that are negotiated on a UK-wide basis. This amendment could limit the UK Government’s ability to implement provisions promptly and consistently on the recognition of professional qualifications in international agreements, which could jeopardise the Government’s credibility in seeking to secure ambitious agreements with global partners to support UK service exports.
I know there is no intention to diverge but, none the less, it is important that we keep to our international obligations in our timing and approach. We do not want to fall foul of those obligations inadvertently. Our approach is proportionate in addressing the devolved Administrations’ concerns and demonstrates the Government’s commitment to consultation and transparency.
Finally, on amendments 2 and 3, the assistance centre must work for the whole UK. The current service, the UK Centre for Professional Qualifications, has been successfully provided by a third-party supplier and offers support on a UK-wide basis. The devolved Administrations have never raised concerns about the service. The existing contract for the centre comes to an end in 2022, and we will work closely with our counterparts in the devolved Administrations as we consider provisions for a future service.
It is important to recognise that the service may continue to be provided by a third party, but legislating for the structure and make-up of the board of any future service would represent a degree of overreach. I do not believe there is a need to have such requirements in legislation. In fact, a statutory requirement could add unnecessary delays to the process of making provision for a future assistance centre, including any potential commercial process to tender for a future service at the expiry of the current contract. I hope the hon. Member for Richmond Park will accept my assurances on the Government’s intentions and approach and will not press the amendments.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Amendment proposed: 3, page 5, line 16, at end insert—
‘(1A) Before making the arrangements, the Secretary of State must ensure there are representatives from each of the devolved nations on the board of the assistance centre.”—(Sarah Olney.)
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to ensure there are representatives for each of the devolved nations on the board of the Assistance Centre.
Authority by whom regulations may be made
Amendment made: 1, page 12, line 7, at end insert—
“(7) In Schedule 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006 (general restrictions on legislative competence of Senedd Cymru) in paragraph 11(6)(b) (exceptions to restrictions relating to Ministers of the Crown)—
(a) omit the ‘or’ at the end of paragraph (vi), and
(b) after paragraph (vii) insert ‘; or
(viii) the Professional Qualifications Act 2022’.”—(Paul Scully.)
This amendment means that the Secretary of State’s consent is not needed for Senedd Cymru to be able to remove the powers that the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor have under the Bill to make regulations that are within the legislative competence of the Senedd.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
This Bill is an important piece of legislation that will change our approach to recognising professional qualifications in a way that works best for UK professions and supports our status as an independent trading nation.
It is disappointing that, despite the UK Government’s best efforts, the devolved Administrations have not felt able to recommend the granting of legislative consent to their respective legislatures. However, the UK Government remain committed to the devolution settlements, and I trust that the amendment made to require the Government to consult the devolved Administrations before they regulate in areas of devolved legislative competence underlines that commitment. The Government will continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations on this and future legislation.
It gives me great pleasure to thank everybody who has supported the Bill’s progress. I recognise the good work of Members from all parts of the House, as well as in the other place, who have engaged closely with the Bill, and the constructive way in which the Opposition have engaged with the Bill. I pay tribute to my private office, my officials and, in particular, the Bill team for their work over the past few months—I thank Matt Leech, Jamie Wasley, Jen Pattison, James Banfield, Monique Sidhu, Haddeka Taj, Jack Palmer, Nick French, Raegan Hiles, Tom Corker, Alpa Palmar, Hannah Marshall, Ben Clifford, Funmi Olasoju, Aneesa Ahmed and Tim Courtney.
I recognise the commendable work of parliamentary counsel, the House authorities, parliamentary staff, Clerks and Doorkeepers. I thank the members of the Public Bill Committee, under the excellent chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), for their swift but in no way less thorough scrutiny of the Bill, which I commend to the House.
The Bill is much improved following its passage through the Lords and the scrutiny carried out in this House, not least by the addition of new clause 1, which was tabled by the Secretary of State on Report and addressed at least some of the concerns expressed about the devolution settlement.
It is vital that there is a robust regime so that our professionals can operate effectively here and overseas and we can to address shortages in many of the occupations covered by the legislation, including those of nurses and vets, as we have discussed many times throughout the Bill’s passage. I plead with the Government to give the guidance to the regulators, the professional bodies and the professionals, so that the system that the Bill sets up is effective in creating mutual recognition agreements that will make a difference to the professions, with the resultant impact on the economy. The legislation will affect 205 professions and 80 regulators. It is vital that there is certainty as to who is included and that the list of who is covered is up to date, to the benefit of professionals and the economy.
I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks about the role of all those involved in getting the Bill through both Houses. My thanks go to the Clerks and my office for their help in the construction and tabling of amendments and support in respect of my speaking notes. With that, I thank all who have taken part in our debates.
I will be brief. The comments that I made earlier still stand. We have not seen any movement at all to recognise the genuine concerns of the devolved Parliaments of these nations, without which we cannot support the Bill as it stands. Pinky promises and “We might not do this” or “We wouldn’t intend that to happen” simply are not enough. That completely undermines the devolution we have, and on that basis we will oppose the Bill.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments.
Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)
That the Order of 18 January 2022 (Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:
(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.
(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.—(Jo Churchill.)