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Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Volume 816: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2021

Third Reading

Moved by

My Lords, before we progress with Third Reading of this Bill, I would like to make a short statement about our engagement with the devolved Administrations. My officials and I have worked closely and collaboratively with the devolved Administrations throughout the passage of this Bill. We are continuing to discuss the requirements for legislative consent with the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government. I am grateful for their continued engagement on this issue. I beg to move.

Bill read a third time.


Moved by

My Lords, I start by thanking your Lordships for the constructive approach that has been in evidence throughout this Bill. We have had robust discussions and debates and the Bill is all the better for that. In particular, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town and Lady Blake of Leeds, and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Fox, for the time—sometimes a deservedly hard time—that they have given me.

The Bill will achieve four key outcomes for the UK. First, it will end unequal EU-based arrangements for the recognition of professional qualifications. Secondly, it will help to strengthen the UK’s ability to negotiate and deliver ambitious deals on the recognition of professional qualifications with international partners. Thirdly, it will help professionals to enter new markets. Finally, it will provide smooth working arrangements for recognition of professional qualifications across all four nations of the UK.

I recognise that the Bill did not enter your Lordships’ House in the good state in which it leaves. The experience, diligence and practical knowledge of noble Lords have moulded this Bill into what it is today. Enshrining on the face of the Bill the concept of regulator autonomy in regard to preventing unfit individuals from practising is a landmark event.

I was gratified that the government amendments, the stakeholder engagements and the supporting documents prepared over the summer between Committee and Report were well received. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lady Noakes for the expertise that they demonstrated throughout our discussions. I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Bruce of Bennachie, for the constructive nature of the conversations that we have had on this legislation. I also thank my ministerial counterparts in the devolved Administrations and their predecessors, whom I have met on five occasions and written to nine times this year concerning the Bill. I remain optimistic and hope that they will give legislative consent to the Bill.

I thank all the regulators to which this Bill applies. We have engaged with them through a variety of avenues, including seven round tables that I hosted. They, other professional bodies and the government departments with which we have engaged have helped to shape and improve this legislation as it has moved through your Lordships’ House and we are extremely grateful for their constructive involvement.

My thanks also go to the officials who have worked so hard to get us to this position. I give particular thanks to the policy team, led by Tim Courtney, who not only overcame the challenge of compiling the list of regulators but, with his partner Cathy, welcomed the birth of their daughter, Penelope, just 12 days ago. On behalf of your Lordships’ House, I wish all three of them the very best. Tim was ably assisted by Hannah Riches, Nick French, and Sarah Mackintosh, while the Bill team was led superbly in shipshape fashion by Jamie Wasley and Jennifer Pattison. I would further like to thank my private secretary, Zack Campbell, for his sterling service on the Bill, and of course the office of the Leader of the House and the Whips, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the clerks in this place. Last, but certainly not least, I thank my Whip, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for going the extra mile to put the Bill in the state in which it is. His statement today on his continuing engagement on legislative consent with the devolved Administrations is particularly welcome. In paying tribute to him, his Bill team and my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, I urge him to ensure that we see some fruit from the common frameworks and recognise their importance in implementing what is in not just this piece of legislation but other forthcoming legislation as well. I am personally grateful to him.

I thank the Law Society of Scotland, in particular Michael Clancy, at what has been a very difficult time for him through his illness. I also thank the Faculty of Advocates, of which I am a non-practising member, for its engagement in the round table hosted by my noble friend. I warmly thank my noble friend for all that he has done and I hope that the Bill will have a safe passage through the other place.

My Lords, this has been the first Bill I have taken part in since I joined your Lordships’ House. While I originally thought that it was going to be an important, if not straightforward, Bill, the legislation has been much more of an eye-opener than I was expecting. For example, I did not expect that simply asking who the Bill related to would result in such confusion from the Government and months of delay. Securing a list of regulators and professions in scope of the legislation has been important work. I recognise the effort that the Government have put in to compile the list, although I again suggest that perhaps it could have happened before the Bill was published.

It has been fascinating and enjoyable and I am glad that my first Bill has been so important both for British citizens who want to work abroad and for workers who want to bring their expertise to the UK. Our public services would not function without them and our communities are richer when they decide to make the UK their home.

Ultimately, I have seen first-hand how this House can really scrutinise and improve legislation. I am sure that the Minister will agree, as he has stated, that this is a better Bill now than when it was first introduced to Parliament. From the start, we on these Benches said that it should not undermine the independence and autonomy of regulators due to their important function of setting standards and protecting consumers. There was widespread concern from inside and outside the House that Clause 3 in particular could force regulators to lower standards due to what Ministers had agreed in the free trade agreements.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for working cross-party on this important issue. That is why the Government’s amendment to protect regulatory autonomy is such a welcome addition to the Bill. This is a big change and, while not perfect, it should protect domestic standards across 205 regulated professions. I pay tribute to all the regulators which have engaged so constructively with us.

As this was a skeleton Bill, we also pushed the Government repeatedly to consult regulators and devolved authorities on regulations. The Government’s amendment making statutory provision for consultation with regulators, including departments in devolved Administrations, is a good step forward.

However, although I welcome the statement made by the Minister, there is a belief that there remains much work to do on the Bill in relation to devolved authorities. Just last week, the Minister promised to continue to explore amending the Bill to alleviate the justified concerns of the devolved Administrations. We look forward to discussions on this matter in the other place.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, for the courteous and professional manner in which he has conducted himself throughout. From these Benches, we also express our gratitude to the Bill team, the clerks and the staff of the House. I thank especially my noble friend Lady Hayter for her unfailing support and guidance to me and I wish her every success in her new role. My thanks go also to my noble friend Lord Kennedy for stepping into the breach for the final sessions of the Bill’s progress.

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.

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.

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.

On the assumption that there are no more professions that would wish to thank the Minister, I shall do so. I am pleased that he is continuing to work on legislative consent, which is important. Too many Bills are starting to come through your Lordships’ House where legislative consent is not given. Given the nature of this Bill, it is important that the devolved authorities are working with it 100%, so I thank the Minister for his statement and associate myself with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about the role of frameworks.

It is something of a cliché to say, “The Bill leaves this place a better Bill”, but in this case the cliché is true. The Minister set out his view on that and other noble Lords have been more specific about its shortcomings. I will not go into them, but I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, who has had an ear to this issue from the beginning and took the very worthy decision to put the Bill on holiday over the Recess and come back with something that we were all better able to support, with some reservations from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, whose whiply eye stared across at us when she thought we had talked for too long.

The Bill team has had a particularly rough ride on this, and I thank it for its work, as I thank the wider community that has fed into the Bill. I thank the ever-changing Opposition Front Bench for its engagement and work. Finally, I thank my colleagues, my noble friends Lady Randerson, Lady Garden, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill and Lord Purvis, as well, of course, and without whom we could not have survived, Sarah Pughe, our legislation administrator who drove us through all of this.

The Bill has a lot to achieve in that it needs to set out a structure for how the Government engage with the professions in future. It was quite clear that that engagement had not existed in the past, and perhaps this can be a stepping stone to a wider engagement between the Government and these regulatory authorities.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of a profession, albeit one which is not mentioned specifically in the Bill. I still have some residual concern that, although we welcome the list, the way the Bill is drafted could incorporate professions not listed, because of some obscure entry in other pieces of legislation which have not been picked up. However, my main question is that a lot of work arising from the Bill remains to be done and the UK-EU Partnership Council has an important role to play. I am a keen follower of the Partnership Council, I look at its minutes and its meetings, and this issue, even though it has been identified as a priority, does not appear to have been discussed. Perhaps the Minister can reassure me that the matter will be dealt with with utmost haste.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their comments and thanks, particularly to my officials and the Bill team. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds, that no one would have known that this is the first Bill that she had worked on, and I am sure that it is the first of many in which she will successfully participate. I have noted the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, and, if I may, I will write to him about where this stands in relation to the Partnership Council. I beg to move.

A privilege amendment was made.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.