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General Committees

Debated on Wednesday 7 December 2022

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Product Safety and Metrology (Amendment and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mrs Pauline Latham

† Aiken, Nickie (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)

† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)

† Bhatti, Saqib (Meriden) (Con)

Docherty-Hughes, Martin (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)

† Greenwood, Margaret (Wirral West) (Lab)

† Hollinrake, Kevin (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)

† Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con)

† Mak, Alan (Havant) (Con)

† Malhotra, Seema (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)

† Morden, Jessica (Newport East) (Lab)

† Morris, Grahame (Easington) (Lab)

† Morrissey, Joy (Beaconsfield) (Con)

† Mumby-Croft, Holly (Scunthorpe) (Con)

† Russell-Moyle, Lloyd (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

† Stevenson, Jane (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)

† Sultana, Zarah (Coventry South) (Lab)

George James, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 7 December 2022

[Mrs Pauline Latham in the Chair]

Draft Product Safety and Metrology (Amendment and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Product Safety and Metrology (Amendment and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Latham. Since 1 January 2021, the UK conformity assessment mark, the UKCA, has been used alongside recognition of the EU’s CE and reversed epsilon markings. The UKCA marking applies primarily to manufactured goods that are placed on the market in Great Britain, from microwaves to laptops and from pint glasses to electrical equipment. Products requiring the UKCA marking are valued at approximately 25%, or £110 billion, of manufacturing imports.

For most product sectors, recognition of the CE and reversed epsilon markings in Great Britain is due to end at 11 pm on 31 December 2022, but we know that businesses face increasing burdens with cost of living increases and global supply chain challenges. The main objective of the statutory instrument is to provide businesses with additional time to transition to the UKCA regime and give them greater flexibility in how they can legally place products on the market in Great Britain. It is being made using the powers in section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to address deficiencies arising from EU exit. Without the measures implemented by the instrument, industry will have to meet UKCA requirements from 1 January 2023, at a time of economic hardship for many businesses. Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the UKCA marking was introduced in Great Britain to replace the EU’s CE marking. As a result of EU exit, we have the autonomy to set our own product regulations and ensure that they work for businesses and consumers throughout the country.

To place products on the market in Great Britain, manufacturers must ensure that products meet the essential safety requirements of relevant product legislation. Compliance is achieved by following a conformity assessment procedure. For lower risk products manufacturers can self-declare compliance, and for higher risk products manufacturers may need to go to a conformity assessment body for product testing.

We have engaged with businesses on the challenges that they have faced in transitioning to UKCA, and the feedback that we received led to the announcement in June 2022 of a range of measures to address key issues. Those transitional measures have been welcomed by businesses, and the SI will implement them. Officials have delivered an extensive programme of domestic and international engagement to support businesses transitioning to the UKCA regime. They have also engaged with UK conformity assessment bodies and worked closely with the UK Accreditation Service, UKAS, to ensure that the accreditation process is as smooth as possible.

Despite the work that we have undertaken since the introduction of the UKCA, industry engagement has indicated that the current economic circumstances are making it more difficult for businesses to meet UKCA requirements, hence the need for further Government action. Although we recognise that a further extension to recognition of the CE marking may raise questions about the future transition timescales for the mandatory UKCA regime, we believe that the benefits of reducing immediate burdens and costs for industry in the current economic climate outweigh the potential risk of business hesitancy to prepare. UKCA marking remains valid when placing goods on the market in Great Britain, and we will continue to engage closely with industry to provide support and understand how to take a pragmatic approach by improving regulation to the benefit of businesses and customers.

Let me explain what the key elements of the SI do in more detail. It extends the time for existing transitional provisions, allowing certain products meeting EU requirements and markings to be placed on the market or put into service in Great Britain. That will give businesses the option to choose to use the CE marking for a further two years until 31 December 2024.

Secondly, the SI provides that when a manufacturer has undertaken any steps under EU conformity assessment procedures in the period until 31 December 2024 but the goods have not been placed on the GB market, those steps will be taken to have been done under the equivalent UK conformity assessment procedures. That applies for as long as any certificate issued is valid or until 31 December 2027, whichever is sooner.

Thirdly, the SI extends the time for existing labelling easements. That will allow businesses to affix the UKCA marking and to include important information for products imported from European economic area countries and, in some cases, Switzerland on a label affixed to the product or accompanying document, rather than on the product itself. There are different rules for medical devices, construction products, cableways, transportable pressure equipment, unmanned aircraft systems, rail products and marine equipment.

To conclude, recognition of the CE marking in Great Britain is due to end at 11 pm on 31 December 2022 for the product sectors in this instrument. Its main objective is to provide businesses with the additional time to transition to the post-exit independent UK conformity assessment regime requirements to legally place products on the market in Great Britain. I am sure hon. Members will recognise that, at a time of cost of living increases and global supply chain challenges facing UK businesses, it is right that Government provide businesses with more flexibility, so I urge the Committee to approve this SI.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Latham. This statutory instrument raises yet more concerns regarding the Government’s post-Brexit preparedness and its cumulative effect on British businesses, given the continually delayed attempts to get product safety and the product safety regime right for the good of consumers across the country. Uncertainty, lack of clarity and no clear plan seem to define the Government’s approach to product safety post Brexit. I do not hold the Minister totally responsible—he is the fourth person in his position since September—but there is a serious point here: uncertainty inevitably incurs costs for businesses and reduces their ability to trade in the UK and across borders.

This is all on the back of a high-tax, low-growth economy after 12 years of Conservative Government failure. Recent research from UK in a Changing Europe has found that implementation of the UK’s new trade agreement with the EU has led to a sudden and persistent 25% fall in UK imports from the EU relative to the rest of the world. Ministers have already delayed the transitional provisions twice before. In August 2021, the implementation date was changed from the start of 2022 to January 2023. In June, the Government announced that they would delay some requirements of the scheme beyond the revised date. For a third time, we have a delay. Throughout all these delays, there is clearly no plan for what is next.

The Government have no choice but to extend these transitional provisions, and the Minister is right: it is in the interests of businesses, who otherwise face increasing costs and burdens throughout the transition. He hit the nail on the head when he said that this may raise questions about timescales, because it does. When there are questions about timescales, businesses have to deal with further uncertainty and there is a cost associated with that. My biggest concern now about the effects of the further delay is what is behind it. There does not seem to be a clear plan for how we move forward, when we will reach an end stage, and what the impact will be for business planning and for the product safety regime in the UK.

The UK’s departure from the EU has meant changes have been made to product regulations. As the Minister outlined, this includes the introduction of the UK conformity assessment marking to replace the EU’s CE marking. The UKCA has been operational in tandem with continued recognition of products meeting EU requirements and markings. As the Minister outlined, on 31 December 2022 these would cease to be recognised in Great Britain under the existing arrangements.

The statutory instrument will extend the transition period. It extends the option for manufacturers to use the EU’s CE marking to show that their products are regulation compliant until December 2024, thereby extending the provisions by two years. It also extends the time for labelling easements for products that comply with EU regulations but not UK regulations. Such products would be able to use UKCA marking until December 2027.

To be in such a position with the UK’s new regime, six years on from Brexit, is quite significant. The Government need urgently to provide clarity for the future. Clarity would minimise the uncertainty that can deter business investment—perhaps in new products, how those new products will be made or the standard those products need to meet. This is all part of how we need to lower the barriers that can impede British exports and slow down manufacturing. We want to see a regime that has the certainty to help develop and see the greater international collaboration that is necessary. It should also uphold clear standards on safety, fair trading and environmental protection, all of which command wide and deep support from the British electorate. Can the Minister shed more light on the Government’s plan and whether there will be further delay?

I would also welcome clarity about how the Minister is talking to businesses, as he referred to conversations with businesses and stakeholders. That point is important not just for these regulations, but for making Brexit work overall to support the necessary growth in the UK economy.

On news that the Government would propose the extension, the British Chambers of Commerce stated:

“BCC research carried out last year found that only 8% of business were in favour of getting rid of the current EU marking system, called CE, by the start of 2023, and 59% of businesses, affected by the decision, wanted to keep it. They see strong benefits in having a single system for testing and marking of industrial and electrical goods for business…Today’s push back is a welcome first step, but much deeper engagement with industry is still needed to devise a plan that works to avoid extra costs for both importing and exporting businesses, and consumers.”

The reason we are here, is it not, is that the Government negotiated a defective EU exit deal. We could easily have been included in the CE marking system, as Turkey and others are, and British firms could have been allowed to accredit using the CE mark, which they now cannot. If it is a British-registered marker, they have to use an EU-registered marker if they wish to export. It is the Government’s mess that has caused this and it could have so easily been different. We could have exited and still had all the benefits.

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. He highlights that the situation that we, businesses and industry find ourselves in is caused not by Brexit but by the choices the Government have subsequently made and how they have made them. I am sure the Minister will think very seriously about how we deal with these self-made barriers.

There are other examples of where the Government have failed—successive Governments, I should say. I have lost track of how many we have had since 2019—

Let alone this year. This is a really significant point. There has been a failure to be clear and decisive, to make decisions and act pragmatically, to not be led by ideology and to look at what will make Brexit work for British businesses and consumers. The SI is symptomatic of a system that is failing.

The Minister will want to respond now that he can direct some of his work as a Minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The Government must look to alleviate those issues and work with businesses much more closely, especially in their talks. It is an issue if the Minister says that he is talking to business and industry, but businesses are going out to the media and saying that deeper engagement with industry is still needed just to devise a plan, let alone to implement it.

Make UK stated in response to the extension:

“Given this is the third time this has been delayed, we need to ask why the Government is still ploughing ahead with the plans which are only adding costs and extra bureaucracy”.

In addition, a membership survey carried out by Make UK in May this year found that three quarters of respondents wanted the UK to continue to recognise CE marked goods. I would be grateful for clarity from the Minister on how we are moving forward and on what timescales. We want to see all our businesses able to manufacture their goods, to export and import them, to serve the British market and to do all that with certainty.

The Minister will know as well as I do that businesses plan ahead. They plan ahead as to what they are producing, and they must design those products. They also have to order materials. There is an even more serious situation in the supply chain, with problems affecting materials for production and so on. A year or two ahead is very much in line with what businesses need to plan. Businesses in my constituency have talked to me about the issue, including one that exports to 70 nations across the world with its fine manufacturing of steel products, and clarification from the Minister would be extremely helpful.

I want to raise a final point about product safety in general. Concerns have been raised by businesses and, in its latest report, the British Toy and Hobby Association conducted sample testing of 40 toys from third-party sellers via the marketplaces of four of the largest online platforms: Amazon, eBay, Wish and AliExpress. Of those 40 toys randomly selected for testing, 100% were illegal to sell in the UK and 90% were found unsafe for a child to play with, after failing independent safety testing against the UK toy safety regulations.

The British Toy and Hobby Association’s successive reports span four years and more than 550 toys, so that indicates an ongoing problem, showing that there is a level of non-compliance and that unsafe toys are being sold by third parties through the online marketplace supply chain. It is unacceptable. In its recent report, the BTHA has said that the current system is not working to prevent unsafe toys entering the UK market. The BTHA is calling on the Government to close that gap through legislative means before a child is seriously injured or killed by an unsafe toy.

The Government said they would publish their product safety review in spring 2022 outlining how they will regulate the safety of products sold via online marketplaces to protect consumers from harm by unsafe toys. The publication of the review has been delayed several times during the year. As well as highlighting the Government’s reckless unpreparedness for Brexit, the SI also highlights yet another moment when the Government should be taking broader action on product safety in this country, but are not. When do the Government plan to publish the product safety review, which was first promised for spring of this year?

The SI is symptomatic of a Government that are failing to make Brexit work for our businesses and the people of this country—a Government who have become complacent on the issue of product safety standards for consumers, including children. I would welcome assurances from the Minister on the issues I have raised, and answers to them. I look forward to a complete response that outlines the Government’s plans to ensure that there is clarity and a timeline for what happens as we go forward.

We have a common interest in these issues, which need to be tackled because, in the current low-growth environment, that situation does not help any of us. Anything that can be done to address the barriers to good, effective, increased and safe trade absolutely need to be addressed, and that leadership has to come from the Government.

I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution, and the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown for his intervention.

The fact that we are taking a pragmatic approach to the issue should be welcomed, not challenged. Of course, the hon. Lady is there to provide challenge, but it is important, given the current economic circumstances, that we listen to businesses, which is what she encouraged us to do. That is one of the reasons for the delay. We have engaged with and listened to the industry’s concerns and have responded accordingly.

The hon. Lady asks by what mechanisms we do that. We have regular face-to-face meetings; I have meetings and webinars, and correspond all the time with businesses, and it is quite right that we do that. This is a sensible delay, and shows that we can use our autonomy to support businesses and provide flexibility to use either marking for now—UKCA or CE markings.

The hon. Lady is probably underestimating the amount of work that was done by manufacturers in this area. It is our best estimate that 89% of UK manufacturers either had or were planning to introduce the UKCA mark by the end of this year, so it is not as if no progress has been made. It is just that we did not want to disadvantage some businesses that had not managed to make that progress. Significant progress has been made. We do not expect to have to extend the provisions further, but it is right to extend them now and take a pragmatic approach.

The hon. Lady was quite critical of the general UK approach to product standards. I have met representatives of the Office for Product Safety and Standards on a number of occasions, and I have the highest regard for them. They are hard-working, professional civil servants, who take their job seriously and do a fantastic job. She made a good point about products sold online that might not conform to standards, which is a point I raised with the OPSS when we first met: about whether there is a fair and level playing field for other UK businesses when an online marketplace selling into UK customers might not meet relevant standards, and the different responsibilities of those marketplaces. That can be challenged on the basis that they do not believe they are a distributor. We need to look into that and are doing so as part of the product safety review, and I am very interested in the outcome.

Perhaps the Minister was about to say when the Government will be publishing their product safety review due in spring 2022. That commitment was made by Ministers, not civil servants, unless he wants to tell me otherwise. I think we all respect the civil servants, who are playing their part. This is a question about the Government’s priorities and why the measures have been delayed.

It was not this Minister who made that promise, so I cannot speak to that particular commitment, but any review should be done properly and not rushed, and we need to get this right. Various things have happened over recent years that have delayed all kinds of things, as I think the hon. Lady would understand, with a pandemic followed by a cost of living crisis and, it is fair to say, some political instability, but we need to move on from that.

I thank the Minister for giving way. Given that it has been at least six months since spring 2022, will he undertake to provide a new timeline for when he expects the review to be published? Now that he is the Minister, I am sure he can get a briefing on how far away from publication we are, and he could then share with the House whether there are any further issues.

The hon. Lady will be used to the phrase “soon”, “very soon” or whichever she wants to use—

Yes. We are working to bring the review forward as quickly as possible, but as I say, we want to make sure that we do a good job and not just accelerate it to an arbitrary date, which might mean the review is not as sound as it could be. There are some other things that I have asked the OPSS to look at in my first weeks as Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business.

I will not give way any more. I want to challenge a few of the other points that the hon. Lady made that do not relate to this SI. She talked about low growth. We have had the third fastest growth in the G7 since 2010, so she needs to reflect on how she defines “low growth”. The only countries that have grown faster than the UK over the last 12 years are the US and Canada, so we have grown faster than Germany and France, for example, and she might want to reflect on that. She also mentioned high levels of tax. We have had to put taxes up to balance the books, because that is what we as a party believe in doing.

I apologise, Mrs Latham—she started it.

I do not agree that we should stick to the CE marking and not have our own product standards system, because that would miss an opportunity and we would then be locked into the EU rules. Perhaps that is what the hon. Lady would prefer, but we on the Government Benches would not; we want to pursue our own regime that better suits UK businesses and consumers.

This legislation will provide industry with additional time to transition to the post-exit independent UKCA regime requirements for most product sectors. It will give businesses greater flexibility in how they can legally place products on the market in Great Britain by allowing them to use either the CE marking or the UKCA marking until 31 December 2024. Without this legislation, from 1 January next year, businesses that do not comply with UKCA requirements would not legally be able to place their products on the GB market. That would potentially cause short-term market and supply chain disruption, which would not be desirable at all for manufacturers and could cause reduced product availability and could translate into higher costs for commercial supply chains and consumers. We will, of course, continue to engage with industry closely to provide support to businesses and to understand how to take a pragmatic approach to improving regulation to the benefit of businesses and consumers, while maintaining our commitment to higher levels of protection for UK consumers.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Architects Act 1997 (Amendment) Regulations 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Laurence Robertson

† Bacon, Gareth (Orpington) (Con)

† Baron, Mr John (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)

† Britcliffe, Sara (Hyndburn) (Con)

† Cox, Sir Geoffrey (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)

† Fletcher, Colleen (Coventry North East) (Lab)

† Foy, Mary Kelly (City of Durham) (Lab)

† Fysh, Mr Marcus (Yeovil) (Con)

† Gibson, Patricia (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)

† Howell, John (Henley) (Con)

† Hunt, Jane (Loughborough) (Con)

† Long Bailey, Rebecca (Salford and Eccles) (Lab)

† Owen, Sarah (Luton North) (Lab)

† Randall, Tom (Gedling) (Con)

† Rowley, Lee (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

† Smith, Cat (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)

† Trickett, Jon (Hemsworth) (Lab)

† Young, Jacob (Redcar) (Con)

Stella-Maria Gabriel, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 7 December 2022

[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Draft Architects Act 1997 (Amendment) Regulations 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Architects Act 1997 (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. The draft regulations were laid before both Houses of Parliament on 14 November this year. They are part of the new framework for the recognition of internationally qualified architects in the United Kingdom using powers under sections 4, 6 and 13 of the Professional Qualifications Act 2022.

I will provide a little context for the draft regulations. To provide businesses with confidence on the availability of international talent following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the Government chose to continue the recognition of EU architectural qualifications at the time, in the same way as we had been bound by the EU’s mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive. That allowed the architecture sector to continue to recruit EU-qualified architects, while the Government and the regulator, the Architects Registration Board, prepared for the recruitment of talent from elsewhere in the world.

In April 2022, the Professional Qualifications Act came into force. It introduced a new framework for the recognition of internationally qualified professionals in the UK, including supporting a new framework for this sector in the recognition of international architects. We are therefore ending the remaining alignment with EU law and allowing the Architects Registration Board to use its expertise to decide which qualifications it wishes to recognise.

The draft regulations can be considered in two parts. First, the regulations end the remaining alignment with EU law, as I indicated, under the Architects Act 1997. That means the law will no longer require the Architects Registration Board to recognise EU architectural qualifications automatically; instead, the regulator will be able to assess qualifications and decide whether it deems the recognition of those qualifications to be appropriate. The unilateral recognition of EU qualifications by the UK is intended to be replaced by a reciprocal agreement under the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement. The Architects Registration Board and the Architects’ Council of Europe have submitted a joint recommendation to the Partnership Council to receive such agreement.

Secondly, the draft regulations will enable the Architects Registration Board to enter into regulator-led recognition agreements with its counterparts in other countries. The Government recognise that the required expertise for recognition agreements at this level sits with the regulators. It will therefore be for the Architects Registration Board to seek out suitable counterparts in individual countries, and to negotiate and conclude recognition agreements with them. The ARB has done a significant amount of work in that regard and has negotiated two such reciprocal agreements: one with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards in the United States; and a trilateral agreement with the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia and the New Zealand Registered Architects Board.

The provisions made by the draft regulations will enable the regulator to maintain a supply of international talent, while scrutinising individual qualifications. That will provide the public with the reassurance that only those who are suitably competent are allowed to practise in the United Kingdom. The regulations are key to ensuring that the UK maintains its reputation as a leader in the field of architecture, that it is able to continue to attract talent to the UK, and that it is easier for UK architects to export their services to other countries. I hope that hon. Members will join me in supporting the draft regulations, which I commend to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Robertson.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this specific but important change for mutual recognition agreements with counterpart regulators in other countries, while removing any remaining provisions that continued temporary alignment with the EU’s mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive, and which were laid as transitionary measures following the EU referendum result. All these years later—indeed, three Prime Ministers later—and it seems that Brexit is not quite done yet. On the face of it, these changes are needed and we are not planning to oppose these measures, but the Opposition wonder whether there are some missed opportunities and contradictions with this change and other Government policies on this sector.

As the economy shrinks, and given that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Prime Minister have reportedly ditched mandatory housing targets, our concern is that the sector is, at best, getting mixed messages and, at worst, has little to no confidence. The Royal Institute of British Architects, or RIBA, reports that a third of architectural practices are expecting their workload to drop. The institute’s future trends survey shows that architects’ confidence continues to fall in all regions. The most pessimistic outlook is in the capital, where practices expect their schedule of work to slow down and 40% expect their workload to shrink. RIBA’s head of economic research and analysis, Adrian Malleson, explained that there is no expectation of job losses. He said:

“So far practices are, overall, seeking to keep staff.”

That is good news, but he added:

“In our post-Brexit environment, qualified, talented architectural staff are hard to recruit and retain.”

It is reassuring that RIBA has been working with the Architects Registration Board and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure that these changes work for the sector. I am sure that workforce supply and development would be key to that, but I would be grateful if, in the absence of any impact assessment, the Minister provided an estimate of the numbers of architects that are covered by existing EU law and the transitional regulations. Are those numbers likely to matched or bettered by future mutual recognition agreements with other countries? If so, does the Department have any projected figures?

The hon. Member is painting a very bleak picture and refers to Brexit. Does she not recognise that there is a global slowing of economies? People can bandy about figures relating to expectations but, when we compare our unemployment rate with those of our nearest European neighbours, we are well below their levels. In fact, we are about half the EU average. That is not as bad a picture as the hon. Lady paints.

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, but I am speaking about the specifics of architects and the numbers of architects. I will come on to the international picture for architects. Perhaps that will clarify why the picture is not necessarily a gloomy one, but one where we need to be prepared for the impacts and fallout of any changes we make.

The ARB has said that any new agreement will maintain high standards and safety, which is welcome. New applicants coming to the register via these mutual recognition agreements will have to undertake a test to measure their understanding of the UK-specific context of practising architecture. Considering Grenfell and the constant striving to do better, will the Government use the international MRA negotiations or future tests to build on our existing high standards, rather than just maintain them? We understand and welcome the fact that the ARB is in the early stages of negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, the US and the EU, but negotiations can often take longer than is expected or hoped. Can the Minister tell us the likely timeframe for the completion of the negotiations?

Architects are predicting a slowdown in their workload and there is also a shortage of architects, with even more indicating that, sadly, they want to leave the profession altogether. In a survey conducted by Bespoke Careers last year, nearly 1,000 architects were interviewed from the UK, the US and Australia. Bespoke Careers found that 47% of British architects surveyed planned to leave their job. That is up from 36% before the pandemic. The dissatisfaction was most pronounced in the US, where 61% planned to quit. Reasons cited included pay cuts, mental health and not being able to take all available annual leave. Concerns about job satisfaction and the retention of architects are not just a problem in the UK; they are also an issue in at least two of the countries with which we are seeking MRAs. Is the Minister or his Department working with international counterparts and international professional bodies on retention, as well as attracting future architects to the profession? With the new negotiations taking place, I hope that we seize every opportunity to do better and, crucially, to attract the best and brightest to this important profession. I thank Committee members for their time and I look forward to answers to the questions we have put to the Minister.

Mr Robertson, do you remember the good old days, when the UK was in the EU? We agreed mutual recognition of professional qualifications, so there was automatic recognition of European architectural qualifications—UK-trained architects could work freely in the EU, and vice versa. Today we see an end to that; instead, we have some unpersuasive and unconvincing comments about a couple of architects in Australia. We are not satisfied by that.

Brexit is increasingly closing doors, including to UK architects working in Europe, and vice versa. We have seen that as well with fishermen, artists and the creative industries. No longer do those professional people have the right to work seamlessly in the UK under the reciprocal arrangements that we had.

The UK has been a global hub for international architectural services and exports. That is increasingly threatened, as in so many other areas. We want to see more information and detail, if the Minister can give that to us. With which countries is the UK continuing to engage in dialogue on bilateral, reciprocal arrangements? What reassurances can the UK Government give that they are already in discussion with EU and European economic area countries, and indeed Switzerland, as a bare minimum?

We wish to see the same terms agreed as when we were a member of the EU. We do not want architectural business and investment in Scotland to fall through the cracks if there is any gap between the regulations coming into force and the reciprocal agreements being signed. Perhaps the Minister will set that out for us. We do not want to see global companies choosing Amsterdam and Paris as cities for their European offices, instead of Edinburgh and London, because the UK is no longer aligned with the EU on qualifications and is therefore less appealing as a European base.

This process can of course do nothing, despite our best efforts. As long as we are facing the Brexit we face, the whole process can only have a negative, adverse impact on the architectural industry. We have already seen that in the creative sector in general and across business, given the uncertainty that has been created. We need reciprocal arrangements with the European Union to be signed, because what was once a simple administrative application is now a much more complex process, with more paperwork and proofs of compliance required, which is burdensome.

The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay talked about downturns across the whole European economy, but I gently say to the Minister that it is worth noting that Ireland is a small, independent country in Europe, and its economy is expected to grow next year by 5.4%, while the UK’s economy is expected to shrink by 0.8%. We are talking about the impact on the business sector. Those using the UK as any kind of hub for any sector must bear such things in mind, and the real consequences of Brexit for our economy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Robertson. I want to make a couple of points. First, I am perhaps the only Member of Parliament who worked as a manual worker for quite a number of years in the building industry. I therefore came to know architects and the architectural profession well. I will try to keep private my prejudices given those experiences, rather than sharing them with the Committee, but I have strong views about the nature of the building industry, construction, the role of architects and so on.

We have discussed the impact of the Brexit vote on a number of matters, and today it is on the architectural profession. I do not entirely share the views of the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran, who said that the good old days were before the Brexit vote, but the way in which the Government embarked on Brexit has proven a disaster.

I do not want to say that the regulations are shoddy, because that would be disrespectful to a Minister who probably was not in post when they were drafted, but they are not a brilliant piece of work. The preliminary note on the regulations says that the Secretary of State consulted the Architects Registration Board, which is the regulator for the architectural profession, and the explanatory memorandum says that the Government have not carried out an impact assessment because there is no impact from the regulations. Those two things are mistaken.

After all, we meet in the shadow of not only Brexit, but Grenfell, and many Members will probably have in their constituencies architect-designed estates that are not fit for purpose, although people have to live on them. That has been a disaster. System build construction from the ’70s, ’60s and before was all designed by architects, so any decisions on how the architectural profession is regulated and monitored and how people are admitted to the profession of architect have a public impact.

The regulations provide a new framework to allow people to access the profession. Some architects are local, but many are international and operate internationally, so let me reflect on the consequences of Brexit for architects who either trained abroad but work in our country, or trained in the UK but provide services in America or elsewhere. There is a significant implication, so it is right that the Government introduce legislation, and the regulations are based on the Professional Qualifications Act 2022.

The preamble to the note we have says that the Government consulted only the ARB, which is the regulator, but I have done some research and sought advice from the Library. There was a consultation by the Government, dated 8 June 2021, and the consultation says that the Government consulted a wide range of bodies, including UK-based architects, internationally qualified architects, schools and students. I will not read out the whole list. Why do the regulations say that the Government have spoken only to the regulator, when the consultation was much wider? I do not understand why the regulations would make such a statement.

What is not referred to is the Royal Institute of British Architects, which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North mentioned in passing. RIBA is established by royal charter, and it plays a role, alongside the ARB, in accrediting architectural schools in the UK. It therefore helps people to gain admission to the architects register. Why has RIBA not been consulted, as apparently it has not, according to the note?

RIBA is a distinguished body that was set up by the Crown. A consultation was held by the ARB, and I note that RIBA said that it was concerned that what was being discussed by the ARB would result in

“a highly prescriptive, inflexible and expensive system, parallel to the RIBA’s internationally recognised validation programme.”

How do the Government intend to tackle the problem of there being two separate institutional frameworks that decide how people become architects and gain admission to the profession of architect? That seems to me quite an important matter.

Let me reflect on RIBA and the ARB. They are overwhelmingly white. I think I found only one person on the board who is a person of colour. There are nine members of the board of the ARB, and six of them are either architects or connected directly to the construction industry. That is the body that the regulations will empower to make decisions with respect to other jurisdictions.

A lot of theoretical work is being done on regulatory captures. Regulators tend to be captured by the institutions that they are meant to regulate. In this case, it is clear that ARB is dominated by architects. I have looked at the work it has done over the last couple of days, and ARB is focused on developing the profession, rather than regulating it. That will inevitably be the case if members of the board are architects or people who work closely with architects. Is ARB, in its present form, an appropriate body to regulate the profession, given the mistakes that the architectural profession has made over the years? Has the Minister considered that, given that the regulations effectively empower ARB to control admission to the profession? Regulatory capture is a major problem, as almost all our regulators have been captured by the professions that they are meant to regulate.

As I say, the consultation of 8 June led to the order. In that consultation, the Government proposed two options, neither of which has been adopted in the statutory instrument before us. Was there a further round of consultation? If so, it does not seem to have been conducted publicly. If there was, will the Minister draw our attention to it and say why nobody else was consulted, other than ARB, which seems to be a flawed institution?

I am grateful to all hon. Members who contributed to the debate, and I will address the points raised. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Luton North for her confirmation that she will join us in supporting this initiative and will not seek to divide the Committee. I welcome the constructive spirit of her speech, and I am grateful to the Opposition for their acknowledgement that the regulations are a necessary and reasonable step forward.

The hon. Lady outlined broader points about Brexit and the economic circumstances we are in. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay made important points about the context for those circumstances. With the Committee’s forgiveness, I will not engage in a long debate about macroeconomic or global financial policy here, as many colleagues debate those issues regularly on the Floor of the House. Instead, I will focus on the relatively narrow decision that we have to make today.

The hon. Member for Luton North asked about the numbers and the impact of the regulations. As the Architects Registration Board has indicated, the position with regards to EU access to the United Kingdom remains the same from a regulatory perspective, in that ARB will continue to acknowledge EU qualifications, and hopes that the application made to the European Union will be successful as soon as possible. The regulations extend opportunities for others to come and provide support for the United Kingdom’s economy in the future, which I hope will be welcomed.

Questions were raised about standards. There is a relatively narrow discussion to be had about ensuring we have the opportunity to bring people in, so if people want to come to this country, that can happen, and equivalent qualifications will be recognised. The issue of how the Government approach standards in the future is a broader question; as the hon. Lady said, it relates to a number of matters, including Grenfell, which we are considering, but that is not something to opine on in this Committee.

Finally, the hon. Lady asked broader questions about how the architectural sector across the world deals with recruitment and retention. While I understand the point the she is making, I gently say that that is a broader matter than the Question in front of us. There is also a genuine question for the Labour party to ask about where it thinks the role and responsibility of the state starts and stops.

I can hear that the Minister is getting to the end of his comments. Has he missed my question about the likely timeframe for the completion of negotiations with Australia, New Zealand and the US?

I will come to that question. To conclude my point on global recruitment and retention, we obviously want successful sectors, with good pipelines of people coming in and which allow people to build their careers and lives. At the same time, there has to room for individual agency and individual sector decisions, and some of the hon. Lady’s questions should probably be dealt with outside formal legislation, regulation and intervention from Government.

I turn to the question that the hon. Lady reminded me about. Ultimately, the decision in question is one for the Architects Registration Board. The board was set up in statute in 1997 for a purpose, and it will make decisions about who it wants to enter into discussions with, and how long it wants to continue those discussions for, and then it will seek to conclude them and to obtain mutual recognition as a consequence.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran, who tempts me to relitigate Brexit, which I will refrain from doing, asked similar questions about the need to sign up to reciprocal arrangements with the European Union, and about ensuring that things move quickly, and I hope my answer to the hon. Member for Luton North has explained my view. I too would like a reciprocal agreement with the European Union signed, so I hope that the EU moves quickly; that would be in its interests.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth asked a series of technical questions about the consultation that was undertaken and its impacts. He asked why the preamble to the regulations states:

“In accordance with section 15 of the 2022 Act, the Secretary of State has consulted the Architects Registration Board”,

but does not reference the broader consultation. That is because section 15 of the 2022 Act requires us to consult with the relevant regulator. The preamble confirms that we have done that, so we are responding to the requirement in the 2022 Act, rather than making a broader point about consultation. As he rightly indicates, we have consulted on this matter. The consultation ran from late 2020 until early 2021. I believe that he referred to the consultation response that the Government provided on 8 June 2021. For the record, there were over 400 responses to the consultation, including from RIBA—he had concerns that it may not have been involved in the discussion. The consultation helped us to come to a set of conclusions about how we would bring forward the change and take things forward.

Does the Minister not accept that there is a wider public interest beyond the profession in how it is regulated, given his references to Grenfell and my points about architect-led system building, which was a disaster? Why has he failed to consult the wider public, and why did he consult only the architect profession?

I am not sure that I accept the premise of the question. The Government ran a consultation between 4 November 2020 and 22 July 2021. Anybody who wanted to respond to it was able to. That consultation was obviously written in a way that made it more likely that architects would respond to it, simply because architects were more likely to be interested in it, but anybody, including his constituents, could have got involved if they wished. If he had wished to do so, he would have been more than welcome.

The hon. Gentleman made a series of points about the ethnic make-up of certain boards in the ARB, which I am not going to debate here. Ultimately, the question in front of us is whether we want to open up the possibility of other countries supporting the bringing of architects to the United Kingdom, and I find some of the points made slightly random. The reason why the ARB had primacy in this discussion is not because we are supporting one group over another; it is simply because the ARB had statutory functions and was seeking to discharge them, so that we could bring forward regulations that adhere to the law and could create legislation and regulation that works in the long term. We welcome the involvement of all architects, trade bodies, membership bodies and individuals who want get involved in those consultations. That is one of the reasons why we got 400 responses back and could bring forward the proposals today. We hope that they have broad agreement; they demonstrate that the United Kingdom will make progress in this area in the coming months and years. hope the Committee will approve the regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.