Clause 1: Power to provide for individuals to be treated as having UK qualifications
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 9, at end insert—
“(3A) For the purposes of subsections (1) to (3)—(a) a condition may be specified under subsection (1) whether or not it is connected to the specified UK qualification or specified UK experience concerned, and(b) a determination mentioned in subsection (2)(b) or (3)(b)(i) may be made—(i) on the basis only of the overseas qualifications or overseas experience concerned, or(ii) on such other basis as the specified regulator considers appropriate (such as on the basis of the overseas qualifications or overseas experience concerned together with the results of any test or other assessment given by any person).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes provision about the additional conditions that may be specified in regulations under subsection (1) of the Clause and makes provision about the basis on which a determination mentioned in subsection (2)(b) or (3)(b)(i) of the Clause may be made.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be back debating the Professional Qualifications Bill on Report. I thank noble Lords for continuing to meet my officials and me over the Summer Recess, and I think we shall see the fruits of those meetings as we progress through this stage of the Bill today.
May I also take this moment to wish many happy returns to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who I understand is celebrating his birthday today? We all find our pleasures in different ways, but I can think of no better way to celebrate one’s birthday than on Report on this Bill.
I thank noble Lords for their careful consideration of this Bill and for the positive reception accorded to the previous iteration of this amendment in Committee. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for his careful and helpful consideration of the government amendment in Committee. I also thank him for his own amendment to Clause 1.
As I have said on a number of occasions, regulator autonomy is crucial to maintaining our world-class professional standards and high-quality services, and the public’s confidence in them. This includes, of course, making sure that regulators can take into account all relevant factors when considering applications for recognition. Since Committee, my officials and I have engaged extensively with regulators and have taken legal advice on how to best articulate this in Clause 1. There was consensus from Peers in Committee, and regulators throughout our engagement, that the amendment I previously proposed was helpful. However, there was recognition—and I am happy to acknowledge this—that we could make it yet clearer. I am therefore presenting a new amendment that provides three important clarifications.
First, the amendment would add to Clause 1 a new subsection (3A)(a) stating that other conditions, which could, for example, include regulatory criteria required to practise, can be specified in regulations under Clause 1(1). This is regardless of whether those criteria are connected to the specified UK qualifications or experience. These criteria must be satisfied before an individual is treated as if they had the specified UK qualification or experience.
Secondly, the amendment would add to Clause 1 new subsection (3A)(b). This changes how the conditions in Clauses 1(2) and 1(3) are interpreted. It provides legislative assurance that when regulators are obligated to put in place a process to assess individuals under Clause 1, they can assess applicants’ knowledge and skills on whatever basis they consider appropriate.
Thirdly, the new placement of the word “only” in new subsection (3A)(b)(i) makes it clear that a regulator can consider only overseas qualifications or experience, or—this is important—on any other basis it considers appropriate. This could, for example, include both overseas qualifications and experience, and the results of any test or assessment carried out in the UK. To avoid ambiguity in how this amendment is read, an illustrative example is also now included in brackets in proposed new subsection (3A)(b)(ii).
As I set out in Committee, regulators, including the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council, welcomed the previous clarificatory amendment to Clause 1 tabled in my name. I have continued these discussions in recent months and tested this revised amendment with them. They appreciated the clarifications that this amendment provides.
I have also carried out extensive engagement with other regulators. For example, I met with the Bar Council to discuss Clauses 1 and 2. I am happy to reiterate that the power in Clause 1, taken alongside the condition in Clause 2, does not act so as to remove powers from regulators where they already have them. I also met with representatives from the Education Workforce Council to discuss the Bill. I would like to reassure them that it is highly unlikely that the council would be specified in regulations under Clause 1. This is because, quite simply, as I understand it, they already have a global route in place to recognise overseas qualified teachers, underpinned by express legal powers in Welsh legislation, to help meet the demand for the services of their profession.
Clauses 1 and 2 are not intended to affect the existence or scope of any existing powers of a regulator in relation to recognition of overseas qualifications or experience. They are not intended to, and do not, constrain in any way a regulator’s ability to recognise overseas qualifications or experience derived from any other legal source.
Taken as a whole, this means that the amendment provides legislative assurance that the Bill will equip regulators with the tools that they need to make a thorough and rounded assessment and that, in so doing, the UK’s world-class professional standards will be maintained. I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for his input, and I beg to move.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his introduction to his amendment and for speaking to this group, and for his very kind words about our very constructive discussions. I reciprocate by saying how much I have appreciated the discussions he and I have had and the support of the Bill team in bringing forward a number of amendments on Report which respond directly to the debates that we had in Committee. And government Amendment 1 is exactly such an amendment.
As my noble friend quite rightly said, we had general agreement that there was a need for the national authority, when making regulations under Clause 1, to do so in ways that enabled somebody with overseas qualifications and experience to be brought into the UK profession on the basis of those or other relevant qualifications or experience, or other factors.
The difficulty with the original Amendment 10, if colleagues can remember back to Committee, was the nature of the word “only” in that context, which ran the risk of being interpreted as meaning that it would either be on the basis of overseas qualifications and experience or on the basis of other relevant and appropriate factors. We did not want that to be the case; we wanted what my noble friend has put into Amendment 1, which says at proposed new subsections (3A)(b)(i) and (3A)(b)(ii) that it will be
“on the basis only of the overseas qualifications or overseas experience … or … on such other basis as the specified regulator considers appropriate”.
That is clarified with the words:
“(such as on the basis of the overseas qualifications or overseas experience… together with the results of any test or other assessment given by any person).”
To keep it simple, if, for example, a language requirement needed to be specified, it could be specified as an additional requirement by the regulator and then be combined with the overseas qualification or the overseas experience to give, in total, the appropriate basis on which to be admitted to the UK profession. For my part, I am very happy that the Government have brought forward the amendment in this form.
The purpose of my Amendment 2 is to make it clear that a UK regulator may have requirements for entry to a profession which extend beyond the relevant UK qualifications and experience. So while somebody from overseas might have something that is directly comparable to that qualification or experience, that is not the sum total of the professional requirements to be on many professional registers. Many regulators also examine people’s background, experience and suitability, and they look to fitness to practice requirements. We do not need to dwell on this at length, just to say that there is potentially a gap between qualifications and experience in a formal sense and fitness to practice in its total sense. If regulators need that gap to be filled, Amendment 2 says that they should be able to do so; the conditions should be specified in a way that enables that to happen.
Looking at it, I am content that, as long as the appropriate national authority consults the relevant professional regulators when making regulations, the power none the less exists in Clause 1 to make the condition one that extends beyond qualifications and experience into all the fitness to practice requirements that might be applied by a regulator in this country. That being the case—and we have the benefit of the consultation requirements that we are going to come on to later, which give us further assurance on this—I think we are in a position where the conditions in Clause 1 would be wide enough without the benefit of my Amendment 2.
In my own defence, I tabled Amendment 2 back in early July, so I am slightly defending Amendment 2 in the light of having not, at that point, seen all the amendments that are coming forward, not least from my noble friend. That being the case, I think we can be fairly confident that Clause 1 will be robust enough if need be, so I have no intention of pressing Amendment 2.
My Lords, I too support Amendment 1. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who has urged and pushed, with perhaps a little more oomph than we could have done from this side. We are very grateful for what he has been able to do there.
I think the Minister will be thanked by quite a few people in the next couple of hours, though there may still be one or two people with a “please” in there for him. He knows that, right from the introduction of the Bill, we were worried about the ability of independent regulators to decide who is fit to practice. The words that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, used are useful ones around being fit to practice and whether the ability of regulators to decide that could be undermined by a government diktat to set up a new system to recognise overseas practitioners wanting to come here, and therefore potentially lowering standards to meet a government view that there is a homegrown shortage in the relevant profession.
That was a concern not just to us but to the users of regulated service providers. Their confidence in professionals stems very much from the high standards and, indeed, from the enforcement that our independent regulators are able to give in the interests of consumers. But the Government have heard these concerns.
When most of us were away during the summer, the Minister spent a lot of time in meetings, and that is reflected in Amendment 1, which confirms that the regulators can apply their chosen standards as to who should practice in this country. The Minister has already referred to some regulators, and we know that the Nursing and Midwifery Council, for example, and others, have signified that they are content with the amendments. It clearly has to be for a regulator both to determine standards and to make a judgment on who has actually achieved those and therefore can be let loose on consumers or users in this country. So on this amendment, it is a “thank you” from me, and it does not require a further “please”.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for having met with me and for having, as I know, consulted extremely widely on the Bill. I seek a tad of reassurance from him on his Amendment 1, fully accepting the comments that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made on the issues around fitness to practise. It would be very helpful if the Minister could confirm that the ability of any regulator to determine fitness to practise and other issues will be up to that regulator, and that that consultation will extend across the four nations of the UK.
There may be differences with some disciplines—a classic is the use of the Welsh language—but that could be taken account of in regulation and would not be overridden by this amendment. So I personally would like some reassurance on this in his summing up. But I would like to thank him and I recognise that my own regulator—I should have declared at the beginning that I am registered with the General Medical Council and so have a vested interest—is much happier than it was when the Bill first came to us.
My Lords, I first apologise for arriving a tad late; I was at the Economic Affairs Select Committee and had to sprint down the Committee Corridor when I saw the Bill coming up.
When this Bill went on its holiday in July, after Committee, I think we were all pleased that there would be a moment of reflection—and it has come back a much-refreshed Bill. The Minister did not go on holiday but worked with us across the Floor to help the refreshing process. We see evidence of that in both this and later amendments. At the beginning, we on these Benches shared the same suspicion that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, had: Clauses 1 and 2 looked as though they might have been Trojan horses for something far more dangerous to the system than the Minister wanted us to believe. This amendment works very well in dispelling that suspicion, so we are very supportive of it.
Briefly, on Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, I agree with him that the combination of government Amendments 1 and 12, which will come later, do a good job in handing over the role that he envisaged to the regulatory authorities. In that respect, we believe that it is no longer necessary. So we welcome government Amendment 1 and look forward to rest of this debate, in which we will continue to make a few comments on outstanding issues.
My Lords, I first thank the Minister for his kind wishes on my birthday. Where else would I want to be but at the Dispatch Box responding to the debate? This will be my only appearance on the Bill today. I did think when I became Opposition Chief Whip on 1 June that the House had earned a rest from listening to me speak at the Dispatch Box. People will have had views as to whether that was a good or bad thing, but it does not seem to have worked out that way; I am still here.
I feel at a bit of a disadvantage, having looked back at the debates and seen the quality of the contributions of Members who have spoken with vastly more experience than I have on these matters. At this point, I particularly want to pay tribute to my noble—but also dear and good—friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town for all her work for the Opposition on this Bill and as Deputy Leader of the Labour Lords. We have been involved in several battles over the years—always on the same side, I am pleased to say—and I look forward to her work in her new role as chair of the International Agreements Committee.
Government Amendment 1 seeks, as we have heard, to address the concerns that we raised in earlier debates and which, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, he put into his amendment. In that sense, we as the Opposition are very happy with what has been proposed by the Government and we look forward to the next steps. In particular, I saw the point he made about the need to address those important clarifications—to ensure that we give legislative assurance to regulators that they will have the tools they need to ensure that overseas qualifications are effective, recognised and appropriate for the work that people do in our jurisdiction. I will leave it there, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is even more of a pleasure to do this Report with the debate having started in such a positive way. I thank noble Lords for that and say unreservedly that the scrutiny and discussions that I have had with noble Lords over the last few months have improved the Bill to the point that it has reached today.
It is a great pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, back to the Front Bench, perhaps for the last time, and, of course, I have not seen the last of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town; I look forward to dealing with her in her role as chair of the IAC. If I may say so, I have never seen the noble Baroness lacking oomph in any way whatever, and I am sure that will be the case in her new role. I thank, in particular, my noble friend Lord Lansley for his input into this amendment. The eagle-eyed scrutiny that my noble friend gives to the legislation in front of this House always ends with improvements being brought forward.
I can completely reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, that fitness to practise sits absolutely with the regulators—we will be reaffirming this perhaps even more strongly when we discuss regulatory autonomy later on—and that all four nations will of course be considered on their merits. There is no desire whatever to impose any form of uniformity where it does not exist. With that, I thank noble Lords for the comments that have been made and beg to move my amendment.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 2, line 27, at end insert—
“(5A) Regulations under this section relating to a regulated profession may not be made unless—(a) they have been published in draft form, and(b) the relevant regulators have been consulted on them for a period of three months beginning with the day on which they are published.”
My Lords, we have moved faster than I anticipated. I rise to move Amendment 3 but give notice that I will in due course want to withdraw it in favour of government Amendment 13 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone. It is in one way so obvious that regulators must be consulted that we would have hoped not to have to write it into the Bill. However, the Bill was published without even a complete and correct list of the affected regulators, and some were, as we have already heard, very worried at the start about their position. We also know that the Government have been a little tardy in consulting with the devolved authorities. This is about consulting regulators, so it is in a sense due to the experience of a slight lack of consultation—not in the Minister’s work over the summer, it is true, but prior to that—that we felt the need to write this on to the face of the Bill.
So it is partly because of that history, but it is also good for Parliament that this consultation must take place. It means that the regulators will be doing some of our job. They will be consulted, and they can alert your Lordships’ House and, indeed, the Commons, should they see any problems arising in this regard. Since they will have to be consulted, they will in a way be our eyes and ears over the implementation of the Bill and will alert us should anything be done contrary to the great reassurances that we have had. I am sure that that will not be the case, but it gives comfort to know that this consultation will have to happen. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her amendment and on her appointment as chair of the IAC. I too welcome and congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing forward his government Amendment 13. I also thank him and his officials in the Bill team for the meetings that I have had since we originally discussed this and other parts of the Bill.
I would like to put one question before we come to discuss later amendments of mine in relation to a later clause. Why have the Government limited their Amendment 13 to apply only to Clauses 1, 3 and 4 when there are other, even more—or just as—important parts of the Bill that I think would benefit from the amendment? We can come on to discuss this, but only Clauses 1, 3 and 4 will benefit from the amendment. I would be very interested to know why it has been limited to those clauses, for reasons that we will come on to discuss later.
I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Bruce, for co-signing Amendment 4 and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his support. We are hoping to require the national authorities to consult on draft regulations under the Bill. I am sure my noble friend would agree that the measure contained in this clause is important and wide-ranging and affects a considerable number of professions—I think it is 160, as stated in the Explanatory Notes. Governments across the UK cannot be expected to have the in-depth knowledge of all these professions to enable them to legislate without pre-legislative consultation.
Let me repeat the remarks made by my noble friend the Minister in responding to a similar amendment I moved in Committee:
“I fully agree that it is important for the relevant national authority to engage with a range of stakeholders before making regulations. Because of the complexity of these matters, it would be the height of foolishness not to do that.”
I agree entirely. Does he therefore agree that in making the regulations, the range of interested parties should include the professions and others? I know that he had hoped—I think this is in connection with these amendments—that there would be agreement from the devolved Assemblies, and it would be interesting to hear why they were unable to agree legislation to put in place in this regard.
Amendment 7 is voiced in similar terms. Clause 3 grants a power to Ministers to amend legislation to put into effect provisions negotiated in free trade agreements, or other types, relating to the regulation of professions, such as the recognition of professional qualifications. We are seeking to introduce a similar requirement to consult before regulations are laid to implement international agreements under Clause 3. To quote again from my noble friend’s comments in Committee:
“In all international negotiations relating to professional qualifications, a key concern for the Government has been ensuring the autonomy of regulators and protecting UK standards, as I said earlier. In light of the Government’s concern, and the importance that we attach to this point, there are already extensive engagement mechanisms for consulting before and during these negotiations … I hope my noble friend is reassured that the Government, of necessity, would have concluded extensive engagement ahead of this point in order to actually create the free trade agreement in the first place.”
We would like an assurance from my noble friend the Minister this evening that there will be an obligation to consult, not just an intention to consult. There can be lots of good intentions, but they are never actually brought to fruition. It would also act as an aide-memoire for the Government to engage with those bodies and individuals who might be affected by the implementation of the international agreement.
Noble Lords will see that there is a theme here. Clause 5 looks at the revocation of the general EU system of recognition of overseas qualifications, and Amendment 8 seeks to pin down what will be a very wide regulation-making power. Accordingly, I ask my noble friend to agree that there will be a proper consultation. Amendment 8 introduces a requirement to consult before laying regulations that make consequential amendments following the revocation of the existing EU-derived recognition system.
In Committee, my noble friend the Minister said:
“I envisage that these enactments would be very limited in scope. They are necessary purely to tidy up the statute book after revoking the existing EU-derived system, for example by removing cross-references to the current system in other regulations. Given that these are primarily small fixes, it would be disproportionate to consult on them. The Government will, of course, work closely with interested parties to ensure that there are no unintended impacts of bringing forward these consequential amendments.”—[Official Report, 9/6/21; col. 1500.]
These amendments have come from the Law Society of Scotland, for whom I hold no brief. However, as a non-practising Scottish advocate—a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates—we always look to solicitors to give us instructions at the best of times.
Amendment 8 looks at the revocation of the bulk of retained EU law. Is my noble friend the Minister really saying that, when the noble Lord, Lord Frost, has undertaken to commit a full revocation of retained EU law, there are no circumstances whatever in which he would envisage that there would be a consultation, not just of the professions but of the devolved Administrations? Amendment 9 is in the same vein, looking at Clause 6 on the revocation of other retained EU recognition law.
I accept that my noble friend has come forward with a form of words in Amendment 13 that goes so far; it is great so far as it goes, but I would like to understand the background of why we have fallen short of a full consultation with the devolved Assemblies. This is really just following up the conversation that we had, and I pay tribute to my noble friend for all the contacts he has had. But perhaps he could put a little bit of flesh on the bones this evening as to why the devolved Administrations felt they were unable to come forward with a legislative consent Motion in this regard.
I would like to raise a couple of concerns from the Law Society of England in connection with this group of amendments. I think that it very much approves of what the Government have achieved through the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and hopes that this will form the benchmark for future FTAs. However, I would like to quote from one part of its brief:
“We are concerned that legal services asks can too easily be dropped from current and future negotiations, especially if the going gets tough. Legal services are central to the export and investment agenda, as an enabling sector supporting their clients in their international strategy. If we cannot be there to support our clients, they will find it more difficult to realise the opportunities of the government’s work on international trade.”
There is a very real concern among the professions that, like we have lost free movement, we are not going to enjoy the mutual recognition and the right to practise that we had in the past. I state for the record that I have been very privileged to have worked in two law firms in Brussels some years ago, so I benefited from free movement and the right to establish myself and practise law in another jurisdiction.
I think my noble friend has to have regard to the well-documented importance of legal services to the whole of the United Kingdom, and I hope he will give me an assurance this evening that we can also look forward to making sure that this is the case in future trade agreements and co-operation agreements. Perhaps he can give us a concrete indication of how the legal service provisions will play out in those agreements that have been agreed, for example with Australia and New Zealand.
With those remarks, I ask my noble friend to look favourably on these amendments. Even if, at the end of the day, we prefer the contents of government Amendment 13 this evening, I have severe reservations as to why we are not in a position to consult with the devolved Administrations in the clauses to which the amendments I have just spoken to refer.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, having co-signed three—and I probably should have co-signed four—of the amendments she has tabled. I will not repeat what she has said but I hope the Minister will answer her questions about why his amendment does not cover all the sections and exactly why the devolved Administrations are hesitant at this stage. However, I see from the report in the Scottish Parliament that it has acknowledged that amendments not yet passed might alter the position. Does the Minister have any intelligence as to whether the Scottish and, indeed, the Welsh authorities might be a little more inclined to recognise it? He acknowledged in Committee that consultation was effectively necessary, so it needs to be in the Bill.
There are one or two Scottish aspects where the professional standards are distinctively different, particularly in relation to teaching and, obviously, to law. It is probably worth commenting on the very disappointing decline in standards of education, particularly Scottish secondary education, in recent years. That is in no way attributable to the quality of training or the performance of the teachers, but because of the dysfunctionality of the curriculum and its failure to interact effectively with the exam authority, which of course is in the process of being abolished because of its proven long-term incompetence that has done so much damage to Scottish education.
This is not a question of pretentiousness or exceptionalism and saying that somehow Scotland has got it right. It is about recognising that Scotland is proud of the fact that it has pioneered an all-graduate teaching profession and certainly would not wish it to be eroded. It is also true that Scotland has had rather variable performance in recruitment and retention of teachers. Some years it has trained too many and not been able to absorb them, and in other years not as many have come out as are needed and it has had to recruit from Ireland and Canada. There is no suggestion that there is not scope for importing a professional qualification but there is a perfectly legitimate reason to say that, if the UK Government were minded to allow for them, they should take full account of Scottish circumstances and allow the Scottish authority to be consulted and indeed to comment on and shape things.
Similarly, Scots law—criminal law, land law and other aspects—is distinctively different. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, will know much more than I do about that. There are areas of law that are similar and areas that are clearly different. I would find it bizarre if a Secretary of State who is effectively in an English department felt able to pass legislation that affected practising law in Scotland without consulting the relevant body. The question quite simply is: would it not be better to make it clear on the face of the Bill that consultation would be a statutory practice, rather than something that is there for a matter of good will?
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, also mentioned European qualifications. There was an aspect of the trade agreement—the Brexit agreement—where it appeared that the potential for professional qualifications to be better recognised in future than they have been in the past was in the offing. It may still be in the offing. However, for that to be secured, it clearly requires a highly delicate determination of professional qualifications in the context of the single market and other aspects of trade negotiations that the Government will be pursuing.
I finally say to the Minister that it would be good to have reassurance that, in pursuit of these amendments, the Government will recognise that they have to take account of all aspects of professional qualification recognition both with the EU that we have left and with the other countries with which we are trying to engage, and not trade the one off against the other. Professional bodies that represent these qualifications in the UK need to be consulted in advance of that, rather than being presented with a fait accompli that may damage both the ability to recruit people to meet the UK’s needs and UK-qualified people having the opportunity to practise abroad. If we lose one because it is traded off against the other, that is not a win-win; it is a lose-lose.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie—if I have got the pronunciation right. Bennachie is a wonderful part of Scotland but he reminds me that maybe I should declare an interest. I am a proud father in that my daughter is a teacher and therefore registered with the General Teaching Council. I am just as proud that my granddaughter is training to be a nurse so she will come into one of these categories as well. I am not sure that I really have to declare that interest, but it is nice to say that anyway, is it not?
I am also pleased to be one of the three signatories to some of the amendments; in other cases, I am one of four signatories, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. That makes for all-party support for the amendments, most of which are the brainchild of our mutual friend Michael Clancy of the Law Society of Scotland, for whom we have to give many thanks and wish him well, at the moment particularly. I was thinking that not only is it an all-party amendment, but that the route from Pickering to Bennachie via Cumnock would be a wonderful trip for Susan Calman. I hope you all watch that wonderful programme where she drives a little campervan called Helen, named after Helen Mirren. I am not sure if that is a compliment or not, but it is certainly a very good programme. I am probably running off the topic a little. Fortunately, the Chair does not have the same powers here as I used to suffer from in the other place when I was drawn to—
Oh! I will see the noble Baroness later; I thank her for drawing my attention to that.
I wholly support what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has put forward. This is the only speech I am going to make today although I support a number of other amendments. I want to make two points. I take every appropriate opportunity to criticise the UK Government. I did so earlier today at Question Time, so no one can accuse me of not being critical when it is appropriate. However, today I join in with what others have said to the Minister. From all that I have heard from the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Hayter, and from a number of others, the Minister has been really helpful in taking account during the summer of all the representations, and all credit to him for that.
My second point is that sometimes I feel in some areas—not in all—the UK Government are a bit better than the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government are not good at consulting. They do not consult local authorities. They do not devolve powers in the way that they should in Scotland. Scotland is a third of the land area of the United Kingdom. It is a big country. Scotland is not a unified, homogenous country. It is a very diverse country. The highlands are very different from Glasgow, which is different again from the borders, which are different again from Edinburgh and different again from Dundee. They are very different and I am afraid that the current Scottish Government do not seem to fully recognise those differences and take account of them from time to time. I am very pleased that we are suggesting two things today. One is that they should consult all the appropriate regulatory bodies; I agree with that. That is what we are talking about today in these amendments; I am in order now. Also, later we should consult with the devolved authorities in areas where they have competence and an interest. It is right to do that.
Sometimes we talk about treating them as equals; I have heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others do so. I do not want to disagree with those noble Lords, but they are not equal. We should treat them with total respect, but they are not equal to the UK Government. The UK Government are the sovereign Government of the UK, and devolved authorities are devolved. There is a big difference between devolution and separation. The SNP tries to forget about that and elide the two, pretending that one just moves into the other, but it does not. Devolution is power devolved from the UK Government. There ought to be more power devolved in England; that is where the democratic deficit is.
So we should make sure that the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive are consulted appropriately, but we should not say that they are exactly the same. The word “equal” can be misconstrued. We should treat them with total respect; we should respect them in relation to all the devolved powers, give them control and indeed encourage them to take control over those. In fact, I wish they would do that more often; sometimes in Scotland they want to pass powers back to the UK because they are not able to exercise them properly.
As I say, this is the only time that I am going to speak, and I am grateful to the Whips for allowing me to wander over the topic a bit. I support the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the work that she has done on these amendments and on the others, which I fully support.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has drawn attention to the fact that I have not put my name to these amendments, although I have done so to Amendment 10. It was an accident; it was just that at the last moment we were trying to gather together who was to sign up to what. I fully support these amendments, just as I do Amendment 10. In some respects, the case for consultation is stronger in the case of these amendments because they are talking about regulations, not just advice, which is what Amendment 10 is talking about. It is particularly important when one is drafting regulations that complete information is obtained before regulations are finalised.
To pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, I want to mention that Craighead lies north-east of Cumnock and is a convenient way to get to Bennachie, so we are all part of the same bit of geography.
The noble Lord made the point about Scots law being different from English law, which of course it is. There are two important aspects of Scots law that are very different from English law, apart from land law, and are much more frequently encountered: family law, which is entirely different, and criminal law, the procedures and much of the substance of which are very different too. That is just a reinforcement of the point that the noble Lord was making about appreciating and understanding the differences before the regulations are finalised.
I support entirely the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in introducing this group. She mentioned a point that I want to pursue, which is the question of whether the Welsh and Scottish Administrations were willing to support a consent Motion. I am a member of the Constitution Committee, and one of the advantages that I have had of doing that—I am waiting for the Minister to listen to this because it is rather important—is that we took the opportunity to go to Wales to meet members of the equivalent committee in the Senedd and to Scotland to meet members of the committee in the Scottish Parliament. One point that came across in both meetings was grave disquiet about the way that the legislative consent process is being handled.
The worst example that was quoted frequently is what happened in the case of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. I would be grateful if the Minister would say a bit more about the process with which he was involved in consulting with the Welsh and the Scots with a view to obtaining consent to this measure. Among the points made was that they were consulted too late, they were not given enough information to be able to form a view and, when changes were made to the Bill, they were not fully informed about what those changes were in time for them to rethink and reconsider.
I know I am pressing the Minister to a point that he may not be fully prepared for and, if so, perhaps he would be kind enough to write to me to explain what went on. I am speaking on behalf of the Constitution Committee when I say that we would be very interested to know from the perspective of the UK Government about how the process was handled. Did they give the Government enough reasons for not wanting to give consent? Was there enough of a dialogue to enable the disagreement to be flushed out and see whether it could be resolved? These are very important issues that extend well beyond this Bill, and any help that the Minister can give about how the process was handled would be extremely helpful.
My Lords, I hope noble Lords will forgive me, but I want to intervene briefly in the debate. I am Lord Lansley, of Orwell, which is nowhere on the route that has been mentioned; it is not even between the locations in Scotland and Boscobel. You could not even go via Orwell to get to Boscobel, which is where I hope we are going to end up.
I shall say just a couple of things. First, I was interested in what the noble and learned Lord was saying about the Constitution Committee and the legislative consent Motion process, but I have to say, in relation to this Bill, that we completed Committee stage at the end of June and I tabled my amendments in the early part of July. We are now in November. There has been no lack of opportunity for the devolved Administrations to see precisely what the Bill is intended to do, what the remaining issues of controversy might be and what the intended outcome looks like. Frankly, they have had every opportunity to consider a legislative consent Motion and to have passed one, so if they do not then I do not know why not.
Secondly, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady McIntosh. She was looking at why we are consulting with regulators over the powers to make regulations in Clauses 1, 3 and 4—that is in Amendment 13, which I support—but not other clauses. As it happens, I agree with my noble friend, or at least I hope I do, that Clauses 5 and 6, in so far as they are about tidying up the statute book, are not really appropriate for consultation processes; they are essentially just working out the legal statute-book consequences of the Bill.
However, I suddenly realised that there is a regulation-making power in Clause 10 that the Government are not intending to consult upon. I thought, “Hang on a minute, I thought I agreed with the Government because I tabled an amendment at the beginning of July to press the Government on the question of consultation with regulators”, so I looked back at it. Of course I subsequently withdrew it when the Minister tabled his own amendment, but when I looked at it I realised that what I said originally was, and I quote myself:
“Prior to making regulations under this Act, other than those made under sections 5, 6 and 18”—
that is, Clauses 5 and 6 relating to retained EU law and Clause 18 on commencement—
“the appropriate national authority must consult such regulators of regulated professions as appear to the authority to be likely to be affected by the regulations.”
So my amendment would have included consultation on the regulation-making power in Clause 10, which relates to the duty to make information available to overseas regulators. I freely confess that I had not noticed the difference and that gap. While I very much support what the Minister has tabled in Amendment 13—I very much endorse it because it largely achieves what I was hoping for in the amendment that I tabled way back in July—I ask him to explain the process of thinking by which Clause 10 has been left out.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Bruce in his questions. As other noble Lords have indicated, this is an opportunity for the Minister to give a clear position on the situation regarding legislative consent Motions. If the Government are not able to provide an assurance that there will be LCMs during the passage of the Bill, we will be in the uncomfortable position of now having a number of Acts where there have been no LCMs and the Government will have considerable regulation-making power over devolved regulators if the Westminster Government believe that the devolved Government are not acting. This could create those sensitive areas where there are devolved regulators which will then be instructed under regulations to change their procedures for areas where the UK Government will have considered that there is unmet demand but the devolved Administration may not, and there is no vice versa equivalent. Therefore, if there is no LCM process, and the Government will be acting over the top of the devolved Administrations, this will be a potentially problematic area, not least in those professions that are not likely to be exempted under these areas. So transparency will be helpful, if the Minister could give that indication.
Regarding consultation, this will be a consistent theme that the House will return to time and time again. We did so on the Internal Market Bill, and here, and, until the common frameworks are in a state of readiness—and I understand that they are quite far away from such a state—we will have to press the Government on how operations will cover the whole of the UK. Could the Minister give clarity on that?
My Lords, the Opposition have been clear through the passage of the Bill that regulators need statutory protections to ensure that they are consulted on the regulations made under it. That is why my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town tabled Amendment 3. Other amendments in this group, Amendments 4, 7, 8 and 9, seek to achieve the same thing. I had a very positive meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, a couple of weeks ago, and was happy to see a copy of his Amendment 13, which we support. It is welcome. The Government have listened, as the amendment requires the appropriate national authority to consult the regulator of a regulated profession before making regulations under Clauses 1, 3 and 4. We are happy to accept that, and my noble friend has no intention to divide the House on her Amendment 3.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, made some very important points on consultation with the devolved Administrations. I very much agreed with those, and with the comments of my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock that we must always treat the devolved Administrations with respect for their mandate and the work they do. Equally, the United Kingdom Government is on a different level, and we are all proud citizens of the United Kingdom. I support the comments he made, and of course enjoyed his speech very much. I hope on his trip he will pop down to the London Borough of Southwark, a wonderful borough with historical connections to Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Michael Faraday, John Ruskin and many others.
Yes, absolutely. But if he cannot, I know that he knows it is a wonderful place and I enjoyed his speech very much. I also agree with the key points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that it is different in Scotland. We recognise that. So I am very pleased with the amendment from the Government Front Bench and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I will speak first to the amendment in my name on consulting with regulators, and then respond to the other amendments in this group. A later group deals specifically with consulting the devolved Administrations, and I will leave the points raised by noble Lords in relation to that and to LCMs until then, which is the appropriate place. That would include the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who spoke from the perspective of the Constitution Committee. I will write to him as he requested, but I do not recognise at all the description he gave of the process I have undertaken with the devolved Administrations. I will come back to this, but nobody could have reached out more than I did, or held more meetings with my counterparts in the devolved Administrations. The schedule of the meetings that my officials have held with the devolved Administrations runs to several pages, and I will make sure that I give that information to the noble and learned Lord when I write to him.
I am proposing an amendment to place a duty on appropriate national authorities to ensure that regulators are consulted before certain delegated powers in the Bill are used. This was a matter we dealt with extensively in Committee. I listened carefully and I am pleased that the amendment I put forward today seems to cut the mustard. I thank your Lordships, who over the course of these debates have highlighted the need for transparency and scrutiny, and the importance of regulators being involved in shaping any regulations made under this Bill.
Noble Lords have also challenged the Government on the use of delegated powers in this Bill, particularly in Clauses 1, 3 and 4. In reply to my noble friend Lady McIntosh as to why these three clauses were chosen, it is very much that they are the guts of the Bill which either will most affect regulators by placing substantive obligations on them regarding recognition, or for which there has been clear challenge in this House about the use of delegated powers.
Others in this Bill, such as regulations under Clauses 8 or 10, are highly unlikely to do so, as they would result in minor updates only. Regulations under these clauses would place only a very limited burden on regulators, as set out in the impact assessment. Indeed, consulting could place more burden on regulators to respond to the consultation on those clauses than the regulations themselves. It would be disproportionate to attach a duty to consult on them—but that is not to say for one moment that we will not keep closely in touch with regulators as the Bill is implemented, as I hope it will be in due course, and of course we will listen to regulators when we have those consultations with them. But I draw a distinction between the statutory duty to consult and the consultation that we always do in the normal course of business with regulators.
I appreciated during our debates in Committee that noble Lords were raising valid concerns. While I have repeated at the Dispatch Box my commitment to ensuring that appropriate consultation takes place, I understand that this House requires greater certainty. That is why I am introducing this new clause, which places a duty on the appropriate national authority to consult with regulators prior to making regulations under Clauses 1, 3 and 4. I have described why those clauses have been chosen. Regulations made under these clauses will interact very directly with regulators and their powers, for example through empowering regulators to assess overseas qualifications under Clause 1, placing obligations on them under Clause 3, or enabling them to put in place recognition agreements under Clause 4. These clauses also attracted particular interest from the DPRRC. We have therefore listened and responded with this amendment, and I will be talking later to my amendment about regulators’ autonomy, which will further reinforce this point.
As noble Lords have heard, my officials and I have engaged extensively with regulators over the summer, and I am pleased to say that they have consistently welcomed the inclusion of a provision of the sort I have tabled. Of course, as I said earlier, the inclusion of a statutory provision does not mean that the department’s regular and existing engagement with regulators will stop.
My amendment includes provision for consultation on regulations made under Clause 3, used to implement international agreements. I emphasise that I understand the importance of engaging with regulators on the negotiation of those agreements before such regulations are made. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and I share exactly the same sentiments on this. That is why I have also established the new regulated professions advisory forum, a dedicated forum for the Government to discuss with regulators the negotiation and implementation of provisions in trade deals and for regulators to advise on their priorities in relation to these agreements. I chaired this forum’s first meeting in September and look forward to continuing to engage with its members and chairing future meetings as and when appropriate.
I hope this amendment will give the House the reassurance it needs about the scrutiny of any material actions following the Bill that would affect regulators. Regulators support the amendment, and I hope your Lordships will too.
I turn now to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town. I recognise the strength of feeling in this House in relation to the need for appropriate scrutiny of regulations made under the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for recognising that my amendment will ensure that where a regulator might be affected by regulations, there will be appropriate consultation. I consider that this more than meets the breadth of consultation set out in the noble Baroness’s proposed amendment.
I gave careful consideration to the point in the amendment about a three-month period of consultation ahead of regulations being made, but the amendment tabled in my name ensures that consultation periods can be flexible, rather than requiring a specified time period. Consultation will naturally take into account the nature and impact of the proposed regulations and will therefore be proportionate to the regulations being made. I therefore believe there is no need to specify a fixed time for consultation. It risks forcing a consultation exercise that may be inappropriate to the regulations in question. For example, it could drag out consultations where the regulations have been drafted in collaboration with the regulator prior to the formal consultation. Equally, it could inappropriately cap the time needed for consultations on regulations that are complex and may require longer than three months to complete.
I believe that the best way forward is to adopt a broad and appropriately flexible duty to consult, as set out in the amendment tabled in my name. I am grateful for the noble Baroness indicating that she may withdraw her amendment.
I turn now to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and supported today by the noble Lords, Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Foulkes of Cumnock—I am very much joining him on his journey and would welcome his daughter coming with us, if he felt it appropriate. These amendments seek to introduce a duty on the appropriate national authority to consult such persons as it deems appropriate before introducing regulations under Clauses 1, 3, 5 and 6.
I stress again that the amendment tabled in my name requires the appropriate national authority to consult affected regulators and any other appropriate regulators before making regulations under Clauses 1, 3 and 4. I believe that this is a stronger commitment in relation to the consultation of regulators than the one suggested by my noble friend in her amendments. Referring explicitly to regulators “affected by” regulations, as well as those the national authority considers appropriate, ensures that consultation is targeted to those impacted or likely to be impacted by proposed regulations, while still providing the ability to consult other regulators.
Regulations laid under Clauses 1, 3 and 4 are those most likely to directly affect regulators, and that is why my amendment applies to them. I understand, though, that the amendments being discussed now are designed to cover a broader range of interested parties and apply to a different set of clauses than the amendment in my name. I assure your Lordships again that while my amendment specifies consultation with regulators, the Government will continue to work closely with all other interested parties.
I turn to the final two clauses that these amendments would introduce a duty to consult on, Clauses 5 and 6. I do not believe that adding a duty to consult to these clauses is appropriate. They revoke the interim measures put in place to retain elements of EU law beyond the end of the transition period, which was always intended to be temporary. I can assure the House that legislation would not be revoked or modified under Clauses 5 or 6 until any necessary new regulations were made under Clause 1, and that those regulations would be subject to consultation under the government amendment tabled in my name. I also note that the DPRRC reported that the delegated powers for Clauses 5 and 6, and the procedure chosen to use them, were satisfactorily set out in the memorandum for the Bill. Indeed, the need for regulations under these clauses is already agreed, and I believe the House has noted the vital purpose of this part of the Bill.
The Bill provides an opportunity for Parliament to revoke and modify retained EU recognition law and to scrutinise the Government’s plans regarding a domestic regime for the assessment of individuals with qualifications and experience obtained overseas. I listened carefully to the arguments put by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, but I believe this is no longer a matter for consultation; I really think it is a matter for action.
I hope that my noble friend and the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Bruce of Bennachie, who supported these amendments, agree that the amendment I am proposing for a duty to consult ensures that regulators’ voices will be heard under relevant clauses in the Bill.
My noble friend asked about the read-over of this to some matters in the Australia and New Zealand free trade agreements. With great respect, I suggest that the time to debate that will be when the full texts of those agreements are available to the House, as they will be in due course.
Having listened carefully to the points made today, I ask my noble friend and the noble Baroness not to press their amendments.
Before my noble friend sits down, will he permit me to pursue the issue raised in a more general regard by the Law Society of England? It is concerned that legal services can be dropped too easily from current and future negotiations. I used Australia and New Zealand as a model, but can he give us an assurance that, in his view, that will not happen?
My Lords, I am absolutely happy to give that assurance to my noble friend. Legal services are a very valuable part of the export of services from the UK. This is something we absolutely seek to protect and extend in free trade agreements, rather than in any way seeking to curb. I am very happy to give my noble friend that complete assurance.
I thank the Minister for his reply, and my noble friends Lord Foulkes and Lord Kennedy, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the noble Lords, Lord Bruce, Lord Lansley and Lord Purvis, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for their comments. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and my noble friend Lord Foulkes both mentioned the Law Society of Scotland, and I think my noble friend mentioned Michael Clancy. Maybe those of us who know him can do a shout-out for his return to full health.
The Minister is right to say that we will discuss the main part of consultation with the devolveds in a later group, but we should point out two things. First, the government amendment will automatically mean that the relevant devolved regulators would be consulted, but also, in response to my noble friend Lord Foulkes’s comment about the Scottish Government not always being willing to consult, it will require them to consult with their relevant regulators. Maybe that is why they are withholding their consent Motion—I am not sure.
The problem I still have is why the government amendment does not cover the regulations in Clause 2—or actually Clause 10, which I had not noticed before. Clause 2 is quite important. In responding, the Minister used the words—I hope I got them down correctly—that it would be a duty to consult regulators “shaping any regulations made under this Bill.” He did not use the words “shaping regulations under certain parts of this Bill”, but “shaping any regulations made under this Bill”. However, his amendment does not do that. My concern is that, if there is no duty to consult, then there might be no consultation.
The Minister then said, “Oh, well, it doesn’t really matter because they may be very minor”—those were not quite his words; they were far more correct than that. Actually, if you read his amendment, it is a requirement only if
“the regulator is likely to be affected by the regulations”.
So if it was such a minor regulation that did not affect a regulator then it would be excluded from the duty anyway. I am slightly worried about that.
I wonder whether the Minister would agree to some further discussions about Clause 2 and why there is no consultation on it. Perhaps he might even be willing for us to bring this back at Third Reading if it looks as if it is actually an error and there is no good reason to exclude regulations made under Clause 2, which is the big one for some of the regulators—this is the one about whether there is a shortage of professionals. I do not know whether the Minister could indicate assent to some further discussions, so that we could clarify this at Third Reading.
I believe the reason why we are not consulting on Clause 2 is that it has no regulation-making powers in it. The regulations dealing with the whole question of shortages are made under Clause 1, where there is a duty to consult. I stand ready to be corrected if anybody wants to look at the text of the Bill, but the regulations that would relate to Clause 2 are made under Clause 1, and there is a duty to consult on that clause. I hope that completely answers the noble Baroness’s question.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would be looking at me now and saying, “Any good barrister knows not to ask a question to which you do not know the answer”—I just broke that rule. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
Clause 2: Power conferred by section 1 exercisable only if necessary to meet demand
5: Clause 2, page 2, line 39, leave out “without unreasonable delays or charges”
This group has two amendments, which do indeed relate to Clause 2, in my name and, for Amendment 6, that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town. I am grateful for her support.
Noble Lords who were involved in Committee will recall that this clause, as my noble friend just explained, sets out the conditions under which the power to make regulations in Clause 1 might be used. To quote subsection (2):
“The condition is that it is necessary to make the regulations for the purpose of enabling the demand for the services of the profession … to be met without unreasonable delays or charges.”
Quite understandably, the central question is: what constitutes unmet demand? The discussion in Committee was around what we mean by “unreasonable delays or charges” in this context, and how people are to have sufficient clarity about the circumstances in which the national authorities concerned would deem it necessary to make regulations.
Noble Lords will recall that some of what the Government have outlined in the policy framework that we saw early on, and which has been amplified most recently in the fact sheets issued last week, sets out in some detail the process of thinking about what constitutes unmet demand for a profession. An illustrative scenario set out in the fact sheet enables those who want to explore this to see how it might work in practice. It includes consulting with regulators. The illustrative scenario includes talking to relevant professional bodies. It includes looking at costs and, interestingly, at value for money—the implication being that unreasonable charges are ones that do not constitute value for money. It includes vacancy rates, which are mentioned in Amendment 6, workforce statistics and modelling—again mentioned in Amendment 6—and whether an occupation is on the shortage occupation list.
I take comfort from the fact that the description the Government have given of the process by which a national authority would look at whether there was unmet demand corresponds with a set of factors that we set out in Amendment 6. I am comforted and glad that is the case, because they derive from the Government’s own explanations. It is just that I am afraid that I still do not think, even today, that Clause 2 in the form it is written tells people that that is the case. The guidance, the fact sheet and the policy framework tell people how it is to be done, but it is not all set out in the clause itself. What I set out to do in Amendments 5 and 6 is take out the offending words “unreasonable delays or charges” and incorporate all these factors into Amendment 6—which is, I take it, why the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, signed it, because she felt that it served the purpose.
How do we proceed? Do we do so simply by taking the Government’s approach? It is not for me to make their argument; they might well say that we do not need to put all this in the Bill, because when people look at what constitutes unmet demand they will be able to look at the fact sheets and the guidance, and all these factors will be there. I am looking for the Government either to say that we do need to make a change, or to be sufficiently clear about the factors that will be brought into account, that they correspond directly to what we have set down in Amendment 6, and that we and other people can rely on them in future and look to what is said today as a basis for understanding how this process is to proceed.
In passing, let us just think for a moment about resting on the question of delays and charges alone. Charges in professional services are not necessarily always the product of the availability of professionals. Sometimes it is very much to do with the scarcity of specialisation within professions. So, trying to deduce that higher charges in a profession are necessarily the consequence of a lack of overseas practitioners is a difficult judgment to make. Many of the professions we are talking about are clinical professions, conducted, in the most part, in the National Health Service, where delays are the product, as we all know, of many factors, not just the availability of professionals, and where charges are very often irrelevant—they do not exist. I am afraid the idea that one can arrive at a conclusion about the necessity to bring overseas professionals into some of these clinical professions on the basis of delays and charges in the NHS is somewhat moonshine.
We need the other factors—workforce modelling, shortages in the occupational list, vacancy rates and all these other issues—to be there. We just need to make absolutely certain that they are there, and I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to give us the assurance that we are looking for today to enable me to withdraw Amendment 5 in due course. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, I have added my name to the second of the amendments in this group. There are two parts to the Bill, as we know. One arises from the trade talks, where the Government may want regulators to talk to their opposite numbers in relevant third countries. The other, which is what we are looking at now, is about enabling—or maybe requesting—regulators to process overseas qualified people where there is deemed to be a shortage here. Unmet “needs” is the word used. That is where I and some of the regulators have some concerns.
In many sectors, such as nursing, it already happens. Structures are in place and there is no need for the Government to intervene. The powers are there, everything is fine at the moment. However, there are two serious questions that need answering. First, is there any danger that consumer interests are at risk if underqualified people practise here because the Government say, “We have not got enough of that particular profession”? I do not need to go into why that is a risk; it is fairly obvious.
Secondly, which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, covered, is how the shortage is to be defined. He already referred to why high fees are not always an appropriate measure. Sometimes, there are high fees because there is an international shortage; the price is set on an international market and therefore bringing in more of that profession would not solve anything. Or will it be defined by users or consumers who need those services? Amendment 6 sets out some far more objective criteria, which is why I was happy to support it.
Since we are on this bit, I should raise the other concern of the Law Society, which was not raised earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. It does not expect to be covered by Clauses 1 and 2, but were they to be applied to it, and should the SRA get involved in such discussions, the Law Society wonders whether this would jeopardise the perceived independence of the legal profession as seen abroad by foreign Bars. Clearly, the consultation is very important, but—I am not saying that it said this because it was high fees—I think it would have a concern if there appeared to be any interference by the Government that would in any way question the independence of the legal regulators, which I know is so important for our international reputation in the world of law. For the moment, the main issue is the definition of where there is unmet need and whether the assurances will cover what we have set out in Amendment 6.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness and to agree very substantially with what she said and of course, the noble Lord, who made a strong case. I, too, commend the Minister because, as we have indicated in previous groups and as my noble friend said, the Bill may have had a pause, but the Minister did not. He and his officials have worked hard in engaging with us and with those who will be affected by it.
Therefore, government Amendment 13, which we will debate soon, which guarantees the autonomy of regulators, has alleviated some of the concern when it comes to regulations being put forward for the regulators when there has a been a determination of unmet demand. However, there is still an area of uncertainty about how the Government will make the determination that there is unmet demand.
In October, when I was watching the Prime Minister on the telly, he said that the solution to labour shortages in this country is not to pull a lever to bring people from overseas into this country. We then got fact sheets from the department which said, “Let’s pull the lever to make it easier for foreign workers who we don’t have a mutual recognition agreement with to fill unmet demand.” Somewhere, both must be right, and this Minister has a much more nuanced position and his department has a greater view of reality that where there is demand for services part of the solution for that will be from those who have the same qualifications from overseas.
So, I agree with him, and it will be helpful, because every time that I am told that I am a remoaner who wants to open the floodgates, I will simply refer to the Professional Qualifications Bill and the methods within it. However, there is still an area of dissonance between what the Bill indicates and what the Home Office will be indicating for the shortage occupation list and the visas that will come with that. In the government fact sheet, which I commend the Minister for bringing forward, as he said he would, there is still no reference to the visa regime or the other elements that could be taken into consideration for determining unmet demand.
For example, and these may be two extreme cases, I had a look at the shortage list and there is an unmet demand for Gaelic teachers—the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is not in his place—we do not necessarily need to take a day trip into the Highlands, but there is unmet demand for Gaelic teachers. I am not necessarily saying that that will be filled by those coming from afar, but, more tellingly, there is also an unmet demand for paramedics across all of the UK, and paramedics are on one of the shortage lists. Certainly, where I live, north of the border, the lack of paramedics is a critical issue at the moment. It is literally a life and death situation in Scotland.
I cannot understand why the Government cannot have a straightforward situation so that professions under a legal regulator can be consistent with the shortage occupation list as far as visas are concerned. Unless the Government and the Minister are willing to say that they are going to bring this together, one part of the Government is saying, “We will put you on a shortage list to allow you to get an emergency or a specific visa to come and work here, but you are not necessarily on the list that says that we will recognise your professional qualification”, and vice versa. In many cases, it would just make absolute common sense if one part of the Government says that there is unmet demand.
Of course, there are other elements, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Baroness indicated, such as geographical factors and market conditions, as far as demand is concerned, and it would help if the Government were able to indicate what they may be. It is not too late for the Government to do so, and it would be very helpful because this inevitably will be a high-profile and potentially controversial area when it comes to regulations being brought forward to allow those from overseas to work in the domestic market.
When the factsheet on unmet demand says that
“there is insufficient provision of the services of a regulated profession and consumers have to wait longer or pay more for those services”
without there being any clear definition, many consumers will say that pretty much all their services at the moment fit into those categories. If you are a consumer having to wait longer for your energy provider, or any others, and are having to pay more for those services without there being baseline information or a proper market assessment, ultimately the free hand of government to make the decisions about what is unmet in that consideration is very broad. The case for these amendments, which on one hand remove some of the specificity, in that of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, but also add a degree of clarity, in the second amendment, have merit. I hope that, at this late stage in the Bill, the Minister is able to give more clarity from the Dispatch Box.
My Lords, I am conscious of the time, so I will not speak for long. A number of important points were raised in this short debate. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made a clear and compelling case for his amendment and I hope that the Minister takes up his challenge and sets out very carefully and clearly the reasons why it will not be necessary to test the opinion of the House. Amendment 6, in the names of the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, sets out, in proposed new paragraphs (a) to (f), points that are absolutely right and need to be taken into account. I will leave my remarks there, and I hope the Minister will respond carefully so that the noble Lord will not need to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for his amendments, which would alter the unmet demand condition in Clause 2(2). First, I give a complete reassurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, that the amendment I will bring forward later about regulator autonomy absolutely preserves the independence of the legal profession and prevents any dilution of standards. That amendment, if accepted by the House, completely puts the determination of standards in the hands of regulators and is not something the Government can override in any way.
My noble friend’s amendments require the appropriate national authority to consider a specific set of factors to determine whether the unmet demand condition is met. I completely agree that the appropriate national authority should be transparent when determining whether the unmet demand condition is met. I find it hard to disagree with the factors set out in the amendments, because they are likely to form part of a sensible basis for making this determination for many professions. Your Lordships will have seen the recent publication referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, explaining how the unmet demand condition might be determined. That factsheet sets out that this assessment should be tailored to the circumstances and context of each profession.
Appropriate national authorities are best placed to determine which factors to consider, according to the individual circumstances of a profession. For example, a devolved Administration will be best placed to determine the factors relevant to assessing whether there is unmet demand for a profession in an area of devolved competence, and it is important that they are able to decide how best to make such determinations and form their own views on which factors are most relevant to their own situation. Indeed, I absolutely agree that some of the factors proposed by my noble friend are good practice, although they may not be essential in every case to understanding unmet demand. For example, the views of professional bodies and workforce modelling may or may not be relevant, but it should absolutely be for the appropriate national authority to take those matters into account if it so determines. Having to work through, in a statutory sense, every factor on this list could cause delays and unnecessary administrative burden when there is an urgent need for regulations and the condition, as drafted, is clearly met.
However, I hope that it gives my noble friend complete reassurance when I say that the Government plan to publish guidance to support appropriate national authorities in their determination of unmet demand, and I undertake that the factors in his amendment will be included and explained in any such guidance. That answers, at least in part, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. I note that one of the factors listed by my noble friend includes whether the profession is on the occupation shortage list; that will be covered in the guidance.
Immigration is a different matter from the recognition of professional qualifications. The Government have introduced a new skills-based immigration system which treats people from every part of the world equally. I hope that a skills-based immigration system would properly recognise the quality of professionals seeking to practise their profession, but it is outside my remit to go further into the immigration system, as I hope the noble Lord appreciates.
I think these are both looked at from different perspectives, so I do not think it is a question of which trumps which; the question is “What is the appropriate decision to come to?”, looking at it from the perspective either of immigration or of considering professions or occupations where there are shortages.
I think, on immigration matters, the Home Office is the primary decision-maker.
I believe that including these factors in the guidance will improve the clarity of decision-making by appropriate national authorities that my noble friend’s amendment seeks to achieve. I am grateful for the considerable thought that he has put into this.
Finally, my noble friend has questioned whether it is appropriate for a national authority to consider whether delays and charges are unreasonable. After consideration over the summer, and I have thought about it a lot, I believe that this is a useful qualifier. Retaining “unreasonable delays or charges” in the unmet demand condition ensures that a national authority considers whether there is consumer detriment—this was a matter that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, was concerned about—as a result of the delays and charges to access a profession’s services. I hope that your Lordships can agree that while there is merit in the factors set out in the amendment, it is not desirable to fetter, in a statutory sense, appropriate national authorities’ discretion by enshrining these in the Bill. As I have said, these are sensible factors to take into account, but it is more appropriate to include them in guidance, and I commit to do this. As such, I ask for the amendment to be withdrawn.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and other colleagues who participated in this short debate. We do not necessarily need to change the legislation for people to be able to look at our debates and what my noble friend has been able to say from the Dispatch Box by way of clarification and, in due course, to look at the guidance to understand the nature of decisions being made. I hope it will be clear to people in future that delays and charges are an important factor but not the only factor; other things may go to help construct it. If we were starting the drafting process again, we might draft it slightly differently but, given that we are where we are and with the assurances that my noble friend has been able to give, I certainly beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Amendment 6 not moved.
Clause 3: Implementation of international recognition agreements
Amendment 7 not moved.
Clause 5: Revocation of general EU system of recognition of overseas qualifications
Amendment 8 not moved.
Clause 6: Revocation of other retained EU recognition law
Amendment 9 not moved.
Clause 7: Assistance centre
10: Clause 7, page 5, line 1, at end insert—
“(1A) Before making arrangements under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must—(i) consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, and(ii) following that consultation, seek the consent of the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers and a Northern Ireland Department.(1B) If consent to the arrangements is not given by any of those authorities within the period of one month beginning with the day on which it is sought from that authority, the Secretary of State may make the arrangements without that consent.(1C) If arrangements are made in reliance on subsection (1B), the Secretary of State must publish a statement explaining why the Secretary of State decided to make the arrangements without the consent of the relevant authority.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate and seek the consent of the devolved administrations prior to making arrangements for the assistance centre.
My Lords, in a brief meeting with my noble friend Lord Grimstone earlier this week, he made a very good point, which was elaborated on by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, a moment ago. My noble friend had met the devolved Administrations and had some success with the Northern Irish devolved Assembly, but was disappointed that the Welsh and Scottish devolved Governments were not prepared to agree to a legislative consent Motion. Now that we have come to what I think is the appropriate moment, I should be very interested to understand a little more about why that is the case.
In this little group, Amendment 10 is grouped with Amendments 10A and 14, which I will leave the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, to speak to. I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for lending their support to my amendment, and apologise if I was precipitate in attributing support from the noble and learned Lord for my earlier amendments, for which I apologise. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has not started the road trip without us; perhaps he has just gone to make it warm, comfortable and hospitable for our arrival.
It may be asked why I am pushing Amendment 10 in connection with Clause 7, which relates specifically to the assistance centre. The reason I think that is appropriate is that, in the fact sheet that was issued recently, the Government labour the importance of the assistance centre to encourage foreign professionals to come and practise their profession here and our home professionals to go and practise their professions elsewhere. That makes the case for me why I am introducing Amendment 10. It requires the Secretary of State to seek the consent of the devolved Administrations prior to making arrangements for the assistance centre—which is in place, but which, I understand operates under a different name.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, I would like to namecheck Michael Clancy for his help in preparing this and my other amendments this evening, and we indeed wish him well and a return to his normal good health. He has been enormously helpful in many Bills, not least the internal market Bill and this one.
The Law Society of Scotland welcomes
“the provisions regarding the assistance centre to provide advice and assistance about entry requirements to those seeking to practise a profession in the UK or to those with UK qualifications seeking to practise overseas.”
It further notes
“the obligation on regulators contained in subsection (2) to provide the designated assistance centre with any information it may need to carry out its functions.”
I argue that that is entirely appropriate in the circumstances.
Why am I asking for consent to be given? Because the obligation to make arrangements for the assistance centre lies on the Secretary of State. However, the assistance centre will provide advice and assistance covering the whole UK. It is entirely appropriate, and important, that the Secretary of State should consult such persons as he considers appropriate before making the arrangements and, having consulted, seek the consent of the devolved Administrations. This last approach reflects that contained in Sections 6, 8, 10, 18, 21 of, and Schedule 3 to, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. I further argue that consulting appropriate persons and seeking the consent of the devolved Administrations is important where the assistance centre may be providing advice relating to professions which are within the devolved sphere, and reflects the acknowledgement of the role of the devolved Administrations in earlier clauses in the Bill.
If the consent of the devolved Administrations is not provided within one month of being requested, the Secretary of State can proceed to make the arrangements without that consent. That addresses the specific point raised on amendments we debated earlier this evening tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley. We should hear from my noble friend Lord Grimstone in response to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, as to why the devolved Administrations—in particular, in this case, the Scottish and the Welsh—have not come forward with a legislative consent Motion. I have regard to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in relation to an earlier group of amendments about how regrettable a position it would be if legislative consent Motions were withheld.
For all the reasons that my noble friend and the Government have set out in the fact sheet for the specific importance of the role of the assistance centre, and because I am mindful that my own profession of law is so different in Scotland from England, it is very appropriate that they consult and seek the consent of Scottish and Welsh Ministers and the Northern Ireland department in this regard.
I hope that my noble friend will take this opportunity to set out in more detail why Amendment 13 does not apply to Clause 7, which I argue it should, and why, in his view, an LCM has not been forthcoming from the Welsh or Scottish Ministers. I echo the remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. It is incumbent on the Government to be very clear and as helpful as possible in the spirit of co-operation with the devolved Administrations and Governments. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, hit the nail on the head: we in this place are the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom. The devolved Administrations are very conscious that they are devolved, but they hope to have as much advance notice of any changes to legislation in draft as possible, so that they can prepare their views.
I look forward with great interest to hearing the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, when she moves her amendment relating to common framework agreements, which have already been alluded to this evening but, with those few remarks, I look forward to hearing from the Minister and I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to intervene, as I am sure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, will, and he may be able to comment on what I am about to say.
The noble Baroness has explained quite clearly what the purpose of the amendment is, and I do not need to repeat that, but we are engaged with the interaction between the Bill and the internal market Act. That is the nub of where the suspicion has arisen. I take account of the fact that the Minister has explained the consultations that have taken place, but they did not take place for the internal market Act, and that has led to a legacy of suspicion which has not gone away. This is where the problem arises. The Minister will clearly want to say that things have moved on, but he needs to reassure the devolved Administrations that that is genuinely the case if we are to secure their consent, unless there are other valid reasons that we have not heard about.
In answer to an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the Minister previously said that immigration is one thing and professional qualifications are something else—but they all impinge on each other. We all know that the Government are out in the world looking for all kinds of agreements, post Brexit, which they feel will liberate the UK and create huge opportunities, whether it is exporting skills or importing skills. Yet professional bodies are saying, “Is this going to threaten our standards?”, and the devolved Administrations are saying, “Are our specific circumstances going to be overridden by those priorities?” I contend that that is the nub of the problem.
I have signed this amendment, as have others, because I believe it is trying to put in the Bill a requirement that would categorically state that the concerns of the devolved Administrations and their politicians would not be justified if the consultation was statutorily required and the particular safeguards were in there. That still allows, of course, for the Secretary of State to override the devolved Administrations, but not without going through a clear, spelled-out process of both consultation and explanation, as and when and if an override is likely to be applied.
I am not sure I need to say more, other than that I think the Minister has acknowledged that he is suffering from a legacy that was not of his making. But it is there and, if it is not addressed, it will poison the Bill.
My Lords, I put my name to this amendment because it is crucial that the arrangements that are made under Clause 7 are designed to give accurate and complete advice and assistance. The people who are seeking that advice and assistance are of course coming with at least a rather imperfect knowledge of the systems and the professions which they are seeking to engage with, and it is crucial that the advice and the assistance is well founded. I am quite sure that that is what the purpose of Clause 7 is, but this amendment is intended to reinforce that.
I hope that what I said in the earlier group, about the way in which the legislative consent process was handled by the Minister, was not thought to imply a criticism of him or the way in which he was handling it. If there was any such implication, I absolutely withdraw it. I am quite certain that he handled the discussions with the care which has characterised his handling of the Bill, at all stages in this House. We have appreciated greatly the depth of knowledge which he has brought to bear and the care and consideration which he has given to every issue that has been raised. I am certain that the discussions will have been conducted with the same courtesy as we have enjoyed in this House. It was not meant to be a criticism of the noble Lord at all.
I was searching for information; it is very unusual for us to be able to refer to the absence of a legislative consent Motion while we are in the course of a debate during the passage of a Bill. That is perhaps one of the shortcomings of our procedures; we do not know what is going on, and the Constitution Committee is in ignorance of what is going on. The purpose of my intervention on this point was to seek information to balance out the rather depressing impression we have been given by the devolved Administrations—including Northern Ireland, I should have said. If there is a balance to be struck, the information that the noble Lord will give me in the letter will be important. I hope he will allow me to share his letter with the Constitution Committee, because it would be extremely interested to know what he has to say.
While I am on my feet, I offer my support for Amendment 10A. It is important that the common framework on professional qualifications, if there is one, is not in any way impeded by other legislation, to any degree at all. These frameworks are operating independently, and the system which is operated for the discussion of frameworks could be rather distorted if there was to be any such interference. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness is very well placed.
Before I sit down, I add my own words of good will towards Michael Clancy, in his present situation, that he may be restored to good health. I also thank him for the work he has done on the Bill, as he has done on so many others, to inform our discussions.
My Lords, I do not normally intervene where devolved matters are concerned but I was so surprised to see the amendments tabled in this group that I felt I had to make some observations.
To start with Amendment 10 and Clause 7, I was very critical of Clause 7 in Committee, in that it was setting up an advice centre which I could not see the real need for. Nevertheless, if one is going to have one, it should be complete and accurate; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, has referred to that. The existing advice centre under EU law, which will be migrated into the one under this Bill, is certainly not complete and is therefore not accurate.
While I believe that the arrangements being made would benefit from scrutiny, I am not sure what the purpose of adding on a consent mechanism would be. The arrangements should be between BEIS and whoever is providing this advice centre to have complete and accurate information, and I do not think anybody needs to consent to that at all, because that is perfectly obvious. While I do not see any need to have that additional mechanism, it is good to have scrutiny on the centre’s input, but that can be done by informal means; it does not need the seeking and giving of consent.
Similarly, in the case of Amendment 10A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, I could not see anything in Clause 9 which could possibly be incompatible with a common framework agreement for professional services, if and when one emerged. All it says is that if somebody in one part of the United Kingdom wishes to practice in another part of the United Kingdom, the regulators in the two parts have to give each other information about that individual. It seems that there would never be any circumstances, under any form of common framework, where that would not be an essential part of it.
Lastly, on Clause 14 and Amendment 14, I was also mystified, because Clause 14 seems to respect the devolution settlements. It specifically creates the national authority’s powers in relation to things that are within the devolution settlements, so I could not see what would be added by the arrangements that Amendment 14 seeks. I could not think of any tangible, practical reason for the devolved Administrations to want to get involved in those areas in the way in which this is drafted. For me, this is something of a mystification. It may be partly explained by the bad feeling left by the internal market Act, but I genuinely do not see an issue of substance here that noble Lords should be getting excited about.
My Lords, the noble Baroness put her finger on it when she referred to the bad feeling engendered by the internal market Act. That has undermined confidence between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government. But there are also good, practical reasons why they need to be consulted. I support these amendments because it is absolutely crucial that, at the centre of this, the assistance centre truly represents the whole of the UK and can provide accurate information.
The history of this Bill is that the whole thing is a lot more complex than the UK Government originally thought. I think that the Minister would acknowledge that. The noble Baroness has played her part in pointing that out to the Government. It is not just a courtesy to seek consent. Things are different in different parts of the UK. I speak in this debate from the perspective of Wales, where our difference is partly underlined by language issues of significance. If you are looking at the clinical professions, or teaching, language is important in the delivery of those qualifications.
However, there is a key issue here in the interaction between this Bill and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, which was designed to undercut devolved powers and which, despite some amendments, still has the power to do so. The UK Government deal internationally with what I am sure they see as the interests of the whole of the UK but, to give one example, the international trade deal with New Zealand provoked dismay in Wales because of the impact that it will have on Welsh sheep farmers. That may not be of direct relevance to this Bill, but it underlines the fact that, just because the UK Government are intending that it should benefit the UK, that does not mean that it will actually benefit the whole of the UK. The same applies with professional qualifications and the terms in which there could be an impact from an international trade deal on those qualifications.
The lack of legislative consent Motions is a symptom of the problem. Common frameworks are there and should be there to ensure harmonious working, but those of us speaking in this debate who are members of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, my noble friend Lord Bruce and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who was here earlier—know that common frameworks have been applied so far in a fairly haphazard manner in some situations, and therefore we cannot entirely rely on them yet. I am very pleased to see the amendments that relate to them, because that reinforces their importance in improving relationships between the Governments within the United Kingdom. Therefore, I support these amendments.
My Lords, I start by saying a personal thank you to my noble friend Lady Hayter for her wonderful support over the past few months. We go back many years and we have worked on some very difficult issues, so it has been a great pleasure. I thank my noble friend Lord Kennedy for stepping in as a result of the very positive news of my noble friend Lady Hayter moving on to pastures new. I know that she will continue to bring all her enormous knowledge to bear.
I also thank the Minister for his unfailing patience and his recognition of the complexities of this Bill that were not fully appreciated when it first came forward for our consideration. There have been some extraordinary contributions from all sides of the House that exposed the original drafting, which have been incredibly important.
Her Majesty’s Opposition believe that a role for the devolved authorities has been overlooked in the drafting of this Bill and recognise that there is strong concern from them, as we have heard in this debate, about the legislation. Perhaps it is not an enormous surprise, given the Government’s track record, because the experience of the devolved Administrations is that they have been excluded too many times, going right back to the Brexit negotiations, as we have heard, and the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, with UK powers imposed over devolved competences. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said very clearly something which struck home very forcefully: there is a legacy of suspicion. We would all do very well to remember that.
We also remember when it came to light that the devolved authorities only saw this Bill a week before it was published. Either the Government forgot about them or something else was happening, but again that growing suspicion has permeated the discussions that we have had throughout.
The importance of their engagement was underlined in the Government’s factsheets on the Bill, which were published at the end of last week and stated that professional qualifications and experience can vary across the four nations—surely in itself a reason for this concern. As we have heard, the concern is shared across the House, as demonstrated by Amendment 10, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Bruce, which we strongly support.
This was the formula for the engagement of the devolved authorities, which the Government accepted with the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. It would oblige the Minister to seek the consent of the devolved authorities but would allow them to proceed, albeit with a published explanation if no consent is received within a month. It is not an absolute veto, but it starts on the assumption of working towards consent. Her Majesty’s Opposition recognise the strength of feeling from the devolved authorities and, again, as has been so eloquently expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that is why we have tabled Amendment 14, which would apply this consult, seek and UK Government backstop formula to all regulation-making powers in the Bill.
Why are the Government against taking this approach with this Bill, which they accepted in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill less than a year ago? Surely at the very least we need some consistency across post-Brexit legislation. Amendment 10A also seeks to ensure that the Bill does not impact on the development of a common framework on this issue. Can the Minister confirm that this will be established and in operation by the end of the year? As I understand it, there is still some confusion about departmental responsibilities on common frameworks post reshuffle, so can he also confirm which Minister and department are now responsible for them? We accept that the mood of the House has, with some exceptions, coalesced around Amendment 10, and we strongly support it, as I have said.
I would like to hear clear commitments from the Minister that the Government remain committed, first, to continuing engagement with the devolved authorities to find a way through on this issue, and, secondly, to amending the Bill as appropriate to reflect the devolved authorities’ concerns. As the Bill starts here in the Lords, the Government have ample time to bring forward amendments in the other place. If the Minister is not able to say this today, I will seek to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 14. I will be listening very closely to his reply.
My Lords, before I start, I will thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for the courtesy of his comments. I assure him that I took no offence at the words that he used in the earlier group. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds, for her Amendment 14, which I will address first. I unreservedly agree with the noble Baroness that the Bill has been greatly improved during its passage through the House, and I commend and thank noble Lords from all sides of the House for the work that they have done.
This amendment from the noble Baroness provides for the Secretary of State to consult appropriate persons. It then requires the Secretary of State to seek, on a time-limited basis, the consent of all the devolved Administrations before making regulations under powers in the Bill. If that consent were not forthcoming within one month, the UK Government could proceed to make the regulations without it, but would be obliged to publish a statement setting out why they had proceeded without consent.
I appreciate that this amendment recognises that there are occasions when the Government may need to make regulations without consent. It is a best-efforts approach, which requires the Government to evidence that they have made these efforts. However, as I have set out previously, it is absolutely not the Government’s intention to make regulations in relation to matters on which the devolved Governments could legislate without seeking their views. I have put this assurance on record many times, including in correspondence with my ministerial counterparts in the devolved nations. Perhaps because I am relatively new to the House, I was not tarnished by some of the discussions on the internal market, and I think I have maintained good and constructive relations with my counterparts in the devolved Administrations.
I am not convinced that the proposed amendment is preferable to the Government’s own, more flexible, proposals. However, I agree that working with the devolved Administrations is the way to make this Bill operate best for all our UK nations. That is why I wrote to my devolved Administration ministerial counterparts ahead of Report, offering to put a duty to consult with devolved Administrations on the face of the Bill. The offer was made to them and it also included a commitment to publish a statement setting out whether and how the regulations take account of any representations made in response to the consultation. I can give the House an assurance that we will continue to engage with the DAs, and if securing the LCMs, which is something that I would very much like and feel committed to do, means that we need to amend the Bill, this is something that we could consider. I am happy to give that assurance to the House.
Noble Lords will also be aware that the amendment tabled in my name on a duty to consult with regulators extends to regulators in the devolved nations; so, in addition to the consultation we would normally expect to undertake with the devolved Administrations, whenever appropriate we will be engaging directly with those in the devolved Administrations who are closest to the issues before making regulations.
I will continue to engage with my counterparts in the devolved Administrations to persuade them of the merits of the Government’s approach. If noble Lords from all sides of the House wish to join me in trying to convince them of this, I would very much welcome that. A Bill such as this, which provides benefit throughout all four nations of the United Kingdom, would be best dealt with on a consensual basis between the devolved Administrations.
I am very interested in what the Minister said, and the House will welcome his initiative. In order to help that process, would the Minister consider placing his letter to the devolved Administrations in the Library, along with any reply that comes? Then we would at least know what the current situation is—but I welcome the Minister’s initiative.
I thank the noble Lord for his welcome. Let me consider that: I am not prepared to agree to that right away, because these letters, of course, contain a number of matters that are the stuff of correspondence between one part of the United Kingdom and another. There is nothing suspicious about my saying that, but, if I may, I will just review the letters to make sure that I am not breaking any confidences with the devolved Administrations before agreeing to do that. I repeat, however, that I will continue to engage with my counterparts in the devolved Administrations to persuade them of the merits of the Government’s approach.
I turn now to the next amendment, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. This seeks to place a requirement to consult relevant persons and then seek the consent of the devolved Administrations before making arrangements for the assistance centre. With all respect, I believe that this is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The Government will, of course, ensure that provisions for the future assistance-centre service work for all four nations of the UK, and the service will be designed to complement the roles of regulators and professional bodies. No issues have arisen from the approach taken by the UK Government in providing a single centre operating across the whole of the UK to date. This centre has been in operation for well over a decade, and these issues have never arisen during the course of the last 10 years. Of course, it would not be in line with normal practice—it would not be expected—for the UK Government to seek the consent of the devolved Administrations before tendering for, or launching, a support service. The Government regularly consult devolved Administrations on these things in the course of business, but I fear that introducing this as a statutory requirement here would create a significant and frankly unnecessary precedent.
Much interest was shown in the assistance centre in Committee. I have often felt at times that the interest shown in the assistance centre was out of kilter with the actual, rather restricted body that it is. As I have said previously, it will offer a very modest, targeted service, similar to that already provided by the UK Centre for Professional Qualifications. A heavy-handed consent requirement therefore feels disproportionate for this. Many regulators and professional bodies already have productive working relationships with the current assistance centre and have welcomed its continuation in the Bill.
I turn now to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake of Leeds, on common frameworks. This amendment seeks to ensure that nothing in the information-sharing requirements under Clause 9 will prevent the establishment or operation of a common framework agreement relating to professional qualifications. Noble Lords will recall that this issue was raised in Committee. Again, I say without reservation that I share the House’s firm commitment to effective common frameworks.
I previously explained that there had been a hiatus in the development of the recognition of professional qualifications common framework while work paused during the election period in Wales and Scotland, but I am very pleased now to be able inform the House that, since Committee, officials across all four UK nations have made very good progress on a common framework on the regulation of professional qualifications to ensure a collaborative approach on powers that have returned following our exit from the European Union and that intersect with devolved competences. This has included two workshops and correspondence that focused on co-design, with officials from all the devolved Administrations, following which my officials continue to drive development of the framework, in line with these discussions.
In addition to co-operation in relation to returning EU powers, the Government have offered, if the devolved Administrations would find it helpful, to include proposals on consultation and collaboration on the operation of the Professional Qualifications Bill, once enacted, in that framework. Let me be clear, in answer to the noble Baroness’s concerns and those expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that the provisions of the Bill in no way cut across the establishment or operation of a common framework. This is a separate process. As the common framework will be non-legislative in nature—a proper consensus developed with the devolved Administrations—I worry that referencing the common framework in the Bill may be confusing and could hinder rather than help the development of the common framework.
The development of the common framework is a collaborative process, not one that the Government can or should impose. However, as I have outlined, this process is now reinvigorated, and I am confident that the professional qualifications common framework can be agreed in provisional form by the end of this year. I will of course keep noble Lords in touch with this to make sure that those who have spoken in the debate in relation to this are kept properly informed of its progress. I hope that I have been able to address the concerns of this House in relation to this, and I ask that this amendment is withdrawn.
I am grateful to my noble friend for his response and to all those who have spoken. I am a little concerned, because we have not really got to the nub—unless I have missed it—of why there is no legislative consent Motion from the devolved Administrations, so that is still a source of concern. It leaves open the question whether, if my noble friend was minded to bring forward a government amendment in connection with Amendment 14 in this group, the Government would be minded to do that in the other place after the Bill has left this House. That would be a concern.
I am a little disappointed that the Minister said that it would set an “unnecessary precedent” to consider accepting Amendment 10 in my name and those of others. I argue that it would not set an unnecessary precedent, and it is certainly not seeking to introduce a layer of complexity or bureaucracy. The Government’s fact sheet says:
“Professionals and businesses can find it difficult to navigate the UK’s regulatory landscape. They need clear and accessible information about how professional qualifications can be recognised. Improved transparency and information-sharing between regulatory counterparts, where appropriate, will support better decision-making and more informed use of the framework.”
That is precisely why I argue that Amendment 10 is needed in this regard, because if you are not going to consult and seek consent from the devolved Administrations, at which point will the regulatory counterparts and the devolved Administrations have the right to make their case?
I listened very carefully to what my noble friend Lady Noakes said about her hesitation over the assistance centre. The Minister, my noble friend Lord Grimstone, went on to say that it has been in existence for 10 years. In that time, it was probably not needed, because if I was able to find out how to practise in another European country, many of my kinsfolk—Scottish advocates, Scottish lawyers, English lawyers, English nurses or whatever—were probably likeminded to do so too. But we have now left the European Union and are no longer covered by that umbrella of free movement.
So I will not press my amendment this evening for the simple reason that, if the House is going to take a decision on an amendment, the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, may well cover the same clause that I seek to cover because it would cover all clauses for which regulations are required. So, at this stage, I thank my noble friend for the reassurances that he has given. I hope that he commits to bringing forward a government amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment 10.
My Lords, I beg leave to answer one of the points made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh. If she wishes to find out why LCMs have not been granted, I suggest that she addresses that question to the devolved Administrations, because I have been trying. I repeat what I said earlier: we will continue to engage with the DAs, and if securing the LCMs means that we need to amend the Bill, this is something that we could consider.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Clause 9: Duty of regulator to provide information to regulator in another part of UK
Amendment 10A not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.50 pm.