European Qualifications (Health and Social Care Professions) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 7th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 1:00 pm, 7th March 2019

My Lords, I trust that the House heard with great pleasure the Minister’s comments on how major an advantage this whole arrangement in the European Union has been to us. We should not be discussing any of these SIs without reminding people that our membership of the European Union has been a huge advantage to us, and that what we are doing at the moment is picking apart something which is to our advantage, for reasons which are increasingly difficult to understand. We should not allow any of this to go past without constantly reminding the Government that they are leading this country into a position in which it will be poorer and less advantaged than when they came to power. A historic responsibility will lie on their shoulders, and we should remind them of that constantly.

My concern in this whole debate is that we are being asked to discuss this SI under a double falsehood. The first is the argument that we need it because we might crash out of the European Union, but that we need not be too worried because we will not crash out. The second difficulty is that, if we do not crash out of the European Union, we are legislating for a series of things which will be there in the course of further negotiations. Even if what is referred to at the moment as the Prime Minister’s “deal” were to be accepted—and it is manifestly not satisfactory—it is not a deal at all. It is an agreement to go on discussing to get a deal. During that period of time, what we are discussing here will be there in the background. There have been a number of occasions on which Opposition spokesmen have rightly pointed out that the trouble with these things is that if they are in the background while we are negotiating, they have a real effect. We have to take this very seriously.

Nor should we pass over the problem we are presenting ourselves with. We are saying that, to get the best advantage out of this ludicrous foot-shooting activity, we are going to make sure that every European Union national can come to this country to do what we want them to do without there being any difficulty. Of course, we cannot do any of the things that have made that particularly valuable in addition; we are not going to share the information both ways, which is what the European Union enabled us to do. Rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, I have a real concern that the IMI system will not continue. The idea that you can happily forget about it because it happens to be convenient, and do the things you can do because they happen to be convenient, seems to me an abnegation of responsibility which I find extremely difficult to accept.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, rightly referred to the additional matter of the electronic alert system. We will not be alerted to the very professionals we most want to know about, because we will have decided that, because Britain is so ultimately different from everywhere else, we will not have this association. I know it is not the fault of the Minister, who is having to defend the ridiculous situation in which we find ourselves, but it is for this House to remind people all the time of what this really means.

Then we go on to the fact that these regulations are in conformity with the withdrawal Act, which says that we are not going to use it to create any new legislation, but merely take into national legislation things that would not be in it if we left the European Union without any agreement. The trouble is that this is not actually possible, because we have to have regulators making decisions. They are now going to make decisions under a new regime—in that sense it is a new regime—and I very much want to hear the response to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on how we make sure the regulators make, roughly speaking, the same decisions across the whole range, and how we make sure that those regulators do not make decisions that extend or change the position we are in now. The latter would be contrary to the undertakings given by the Government.

However, the word that I very much worried about when the Minister used it was “flexibility”. She said that no longer being in the European Union would give us a flexibility on the establishment of professional qualifications which we did not have up until now. I do not think that flexibility can possibly be accepted within this SI, because that genuinely changes the position from what it was before. It may be that it is convenient for the Government to talk about flexibility as an advantage. I find it pretty difficult to see what that advantage would be. What would be the point of being flexible in changing our arrangements in such a way that they were out of line with the arrangements of our neighbours, when we rely upon those neighbours for such a high proportion of our professionals? It seems to me that flexibility is one of those convenient words used by the Government and those who believe in Brexit to suggest that there are some advantages hidden here which we have not yet got hold of. I do not think that there are, or that it would be legal for us to use flexibility under this SI, because it is specifically not supposed to introduce into our legislation anything that we have not had up to now.

I am afraid I will move on to something that I constantly say; that there is no impact assessment here. Why is there not? This is the real reason I say to the Minister that this is unacceptable. The reason there is no impact assessment is that the Government want us to believe that there is no impact. It is very inconvenient for the Government to say that the impact is that we will no longer have the advantages we had before leaving the European Union. They ought to be listing those advantages and explaining what the impact on us will be. But they are not doing that, because that would make more and more people aware of the lunacy of the measures we are now taking, and the ridiculous position in which Brexit places us.

But then there is another question. If you do not have an impact assessment, you also do not appear to have any idea about how much it will cost. I am afraid that I am a Conservative, and I am always interested in costs—I like to know how much it costs. I know that that is a disadvantage in the whole Brexit discussion, because the one thing we never get is the cost. It is amazing, is it not? We have a Conservative Government who never talk about the costs of Brexit, which is an absolutely ludicrous position for us to be in. Let us ask ourselves—I repeat the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton—“What burden? What resources? What cost?”

One of my difficulties is that I have had the misfortune to have had to sit through a large number of these SIs, and every time you ask about the cost, the Minister concerned explains—charmingly, and with considerable aplomb—that the costs are negligible.