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Architects Act 1997 (Swiss Qualifications) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Volume 797: debated on Wednesday 8 May 2019

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, the regulations are part of the Government’s programme of legislation to ensure that, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and an implementation period, there continues to be a functioning legislative and regulatory regime.

The only date on which a no-deal exit could happen is 31 October. Although the United Kingdom Parliament has rejected leaving without a deal multiple times, this remains the legal default at the end of the extension period. As a responsible Government, we have been preparing to minimise any disruption in the event of no deal for more than two years. On 28 March, we made legislation amending the Architects Act 1997 to continue to recognise EEA architect qualifications in a no-deal scenario. The statutory instrument extends those provisions to Swiss architect qualifications and is legally necessary.

The regulations are made using powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to fix legal deficiencies in retained EU law to reflect that the UK will no longer be an EU member state after exit day. The regulations also use powers in the European Communities Act 1972 to implement EU legislation into domestic legislation—powers that are available only as long as the United Kingdom remains a member state.

As stated previously, the architectural sector is a global leader and plays a significant role in the British economy, with an export surplus of £437 million in 2015 and involvement in key global projects such as the Guangzhou Opera House in China and the Supreme Court of Singapore. This is a position that we will want to protect and enhance over the coming years by ensuring that UK architect businesses continue to have access to the brightest and best talent available.

Let me start by providing some context and background to these regulations, including a description of our previous statutory instrument amending the Architects Act in a no-deal scenario; that is, the Architects Act 1997 (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which I will refer to as the 2019 regulations. As I previously explained on 25 March in the debate on the 2019 regulations, the mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive enables the recognition of qualifications obtained in another member state. This applies to EEA and Swiss nationals and includes the recognition of suitably qualified architects. This is a reciprocal arrangement, allowing UK and other EEA or Swiss nationals the opportunity to easily register to practise across Europe and Switzerland, and allows UK practices to recruit the best European and Swiss talent.

The Architects Act 1997 sets out the specific procedures for registering architects in the UK. The recognition of qualifications of EEA and Swiss applicants is carried out by the competent authority, the Architects Registration Board, an arm’s-length body of my department. There are currently three routes to recognition for an EEA or Swiss architect wishing to register in the UK. The main route to recognition in the UK for an EEA or Swiss national architect is through an “automatic recognition” system. To qualify for automatic recognition, an EEA or Swiss national needs to meet three tests. They must have an approved qualification, which means one listed in annexe V of the EU’s mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive. They need access to the profession of architect in an EEA member state or Switzerland, and a statement from their home competent authority confirming that they are fit to practise.

A second route, known as “general systems”, provides for recognition for EEA or Swiss nationals who do not have an approved qualification. The applicant is offered compensation measures, such as the opportunity to undertake additional training to make up any differences in qualification. This is a long and costly process which on average only four people across all these countries pursue annually. The third route facilitates the temporary or occasional provision of service. This allows EEA or Swiss professionals to work in the UK in a regulated profession on a temporary basis while remaining established in their home state. Typically, fewer than 20 EEA and Swiss architects pursue this option at any one time.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive will no longer apply in the UK. The 2019 regulations, which were made on 28 March, ensure that UK architect practices can continue to recruit the best European talent and maintain their global reputation as world leaders by preserving the main route to recognition. The mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive was extended by what is commonly referred to as the free movement of persons agreement between EU member states and Switzerland, allowing Swiss nationals to benefit from the recognition routes described. Due to the requirement of the European Communities Act powers to include Swiss qualifications, which exist only as long as the UK is a member state, we assessed that there was a substantial risk that all EEA-qualified architects wishing to register in the UK would be without legislative cover if the 2019 regulations were not made before 29 March. However, the extension to exit day has allowed us extra time to lay legislation to provide parity between EEA and Swiss-qualified architects in a no-deal scenario, as exists currently.

The policy intention is to provide the sector with confidence that all applicants can register in the same way after exit day as currently. This is the approach favoured by the sector, which recognises the skills brought by EEA and Swiss architects as contributing positively to the UK’s reputation as a world leader in architecture. The approach of continued recognition also received support in debates for the 2019 regulations. The instrument allows applications made before exit day to be concluded under the current system as far as possible. For future applications, it will freeze the current list of approved qualifications in the EU’s mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive. As a result, after EU exit in a no-deal scenario, an individual holding an approved EEA or Swiss qualification will be able to join the UK register of architects if they have access to the profession of architect in their home state. Through this legislation, this process will be open to anyone with a Swiss qualification and access to the profession in Switzerland, regardless of their citizenship.

We will remove general systems as a route to registration, as this is a long and costly process and is not utilised often. It places significant, unnecessary burden on individuals and the Architects Registration Board. Applicants without an approved qualification will therefore be able to register via the route utilised currently by third-country nationals.

This instrument does not change any part of the 2019 regulations; it simply extends the provisions to include Swiss qualifications. Although the number of Swiss architects registering in the United Kingdom is low—only 77 over the last 10 years, less than 1% of total recognition decisions via this route—we felt it was imperative to preserve the rights that Swiss-qualified architects currently enjoy and to provide parity between EEA and Swiss-qualified architects.

In summary, these regulations—alongside those made on 28 March—serve a very specific purpose: to prioritise stability and certainty if the United Kingdom leaves the EU without a deal or an implementation period by ensuring that EEA and Swiss-qualified architects can continue to register and practise in the United Kingdom. These regulations ensure that the United Kingdom continues to have access to Swiss talent after we have left the EU, thereby helping to maintain the UK’s reputation as a global leader in architectural services. Thereafter, they provide a stable basis for Parliament to change the law where it is in the United Kingdom’s best interests to do so.

In conclusion, this instrument is necessary to ensure that the Architects Act continues to function appropriately if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and an implementation period. I hope colleagues will join me in supporting the regulations; I commend them to the House.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction of these regulations to the House and his explanation of their content and purpose. It is certainly very important indeed that we make sure that international professionals currently qualified by virtue of their training in the EEA and Switzerland have the opportunity to come and support our construction industry, which—as the Minister has rightly pointed out—is a major export earner for this country. To that extent, I very much welcome the fact that this is being brought forward. The Minister might have been slightly glossing the specifics of this statutory instrument, which—as I understand it—is a consequence of Switzerland being left off the original document and therefore becoming a late runner in this race.

My broader point is that this is just another deckchair being rearranged on RMS “Titanic”—the no-deal option. The Prime Minister and Parliament themselves have repeatedly said that this will not happen, and therefore we are misusing our time in the House this afternoon. I do not want to take long contributing to that process, simply to say that if we had spent some time instead dealing with homelessness, fire safety or climate change, it would have made a much bigger contribution to the well-being of our country than this statutory instrument.

The Minister has made it quite clear that this is effective only if the UK leaves without a deal; it does nothing more and nothing less. In Part 2 of the supporting documents, entitled “Statements required when using enabling powers”, the final sentence of paragraph 5.2 says that,

“in order to allow for the continued recognition of Swiss qualified architects, this Statutory Instrument needs to be made before exit day”.

It was not made before exit day. It has come in time only because exit day has been extended to 31 October. It can of course come into force only provided that the original accession Act remains in force, which it would not do in the event of no deal. I would like to hear from the Minister confirmation of that point and, bearing in mind that a no-deal exit has been ruled out, some explanation of why we are spending time on this and not on homelessness, climate change or fire regulations, all of which are urgent, pressing issues that we should spend some time on.

I would be grateful if the Minister would check with his private office how many legislative proposals, consultation responses and consultation launches that have been previously announced as coming “shortly”, “in the spring”, or “by the summer” are currently outstanding and queueing for the attention of this House, while we spend our time—waste our time, I say—on statutory instruments dealing with a fantastical no deal that we all know is never going to happen.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for explaining to us the purpose of the regulations before us today. I do not intend to detain the House for very long, and I am very happy to support the regulations as far as they go. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that there are many other pressing issues that he and I are keen to get on with. There are many issues—in the department of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and in others—that we desperately need to get on to. Having said that, I have no particular questions for the noble Lord on the regulations before us. As far as they go, I am content with them.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords who have responded to this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, took quite a long while to tell us that he thinks we are wasting our time dealing with this; that was uncharacteristically churlish of him, if I may say so. These regulations are important. This affects only about seven people a year in Switzerland, but it is important that we recognise that there is considerable interest in the United Kingdom in making sure we regularise this position. I am not going to enter into the pantomime knockabout of Brexit. On behalf of my department, I am doing what is responsible for an important sector of the UK economy. We do not want a no-deal scenario, as the noble Lord knows. However, if, God forbid, that happened, and we had not protected these Swiss architects, I would feel very guilty.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked why we are not spending time on fire safety. As a Government, and in my department, we have spent an awful lot of time on that. We are in the process of implementing the Hackitt review—I make no apologies for that—and we answer questions on it and debate it. He mentioned homelessness. On Friday, we announced extra money for homelessness, and I answered a Question on it on Thursday. He mentioned climate change. My noble friend Lord Henley, who is present, answered a Question on that yesterday. We are, quite rightly, always answering questions in these very important areas. In spending a short time on this issue, we are not detracting from the importance of those others. We are doing something rather important.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his positive response and responsible position. We need to ensure that architects are able to act, and this will be mutually in our interest too: British architects will be able to operate in the EEA countries and in Switzerland.

We have, I think, not taken too long on this important legislation. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.