Amendment 107

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 2nd November 2020.

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Lord Callanan:

Moved by Lord Callanan

107: Clause 25, page 19, line 24, at end insert—“(d) in relation to any part of the United Kingdom, the profession of patent attorney or trade mark attorney.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would add patent attorney and trade mark attorney to the list of legal professions the regulation of which is excluded from Clause 22.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My Lords, Amendments 107 and 108 in my name aim to clarify the scope and application of the professional qualification clauses of the Bill. Amendment 107 adds patent attorneys and trademark attorneys to the list of legal professions excluded from the application of the automatic recognition principle in Clause 22. As well as work related to trademarks and patents, trademark and patent attorneys may carry out broader regulated legal activities which require an understanding of the underpinning legal system in the part of the UK in which they practise. Accordingly, we are bringing them into line with the other legal professions to ensure that they are not caught by the automatic recognition provisions of the Bill. These exclusions ensure that access to these professions is not affected in any way by the recognition provisions of the Bill.  Part 3 will not affect how these professions are regulated, nor will it change what activities trademark and patent attorneys are able to perform.

Amendment 107A has been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, in response to this government amendment and seeks to probe the effects of the amendment in respect of authorised reserved legal activities under the Legal Services Act 2007. In respect of this amendment, I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, that nothing in the recognition provisions of the Bill, or in the government amendment, changes how reserved legal activities are authorised under the Legal Services Act 2007, and her amendment is therefore unnecessary.

Amendment 108 is a technical amendment to provide clarity on the type of qualifications and experience requirements to which Clause 22 applies. It ensures that where qualification requirements are attached to specific activities, those requirements are disapplied by automatic recognition only if they apply to activities that are essential to the practice of the profession in question—in other words, if they amount to a barrier to access to the profession as a whole. This will ensure that Clause 22 does not apply to qualifications or experience requirements for activities which are not essential to the practice of the profession, such as optional service activities which professionals may choose to offer.

I recommend that government Amendments 107 and 108 be accepted, as they provide clarity on the scope and application of automatic recognition principles. I regret, however, that I am unable to support Amendment 107A, for the reasons I gave earlier. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able not to press her amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am a retired patent attorney, which is what made me curious about Amendment 107. I guess that is an interest of some kind, though no longer pecuniary.

In this group I have tabled Amendment 107A, which is intended to clarify what has become a confused situation. It can accurately cover all the legal professions named in Clause 25, although the confusion relates only to patent and trademark attorneys. Essentially, it says—as I think the Minister agreed—that there is no change to the status quo under the Legal Services Act 2007, which was the Government’s intention all along.

The background to this is that patent and trademark attorneys may be in the unique situation of being regulated and qualified on a UK-wide basis, while, through their sectoral professional qualifications, also engaging in four specific English and Welsh reserved legal activities, no matter where in the four nations of the UK they qualified, reside or practise. They do this as patent attorneys or trademark attorneys, not as lawyers.

The purpose of that unusual provision is, broadly, to enable conduct of litigation for all in the specialist England and Wales Patents Court, and for associated matters such as deeds and oaths to be dealt with. That unique construct does not fit within the definition of Clauses 22 and 23 for the professions when they are identified as patent attorneys or trademark attorneys because you cannot work it out so that there is a relevant part and the other part. Noble Lords are welcome to try—it takes quite a few pieces of paper. The point is that it is the same for all patent and trademark attorneys, wherever they are.

However, somewhere the niggling thought arose that perhaps it was confusing, or that the mutual recognition would apply notwithstanding that Clause 22 did not apply and would somehow extend the enjoyed England and Wales reserved activities to Scotland or Northern Ireland courts, deeds or oaths. Amendment 107 has, therefore, been proposed. It has the effect of defining patent and trademark attorneys as a legal profession in Clause 25, thereby putting them into Clauses 23 and 22 and simultaneously taking them out again. This hokey-cokey amendment was meant to stop confusion. It has, however, also created its own confusion, perhaps best illustrated in an explanation from the Ministry of Justice that said:

“If trademark and patent attorneys were not excluded from the UKIM bill, then one of your practitioners authorised to conduct litigation in Northern Ireland, for example, could potentially argue that under the automatic recognition principle IPReg must also allow them to conduct litigation in England and Wales without meeting the normal IPReg authorisation requirements for doing so”.

However, that does not fit the present circumstances that I have just explained. The patent or trademark attorney in Northern Ireland is qualified to conduct litigation in England and Wales but, actually, not to conduct litigation in Northern Ireland—and that is not the only wrong explanation that has been offered. Indeed, a few moments ago, the Minister referred to attorneys being qualified in respect of the part of the UK in which they practise. There is no such provision for patent and trademark attorneys. They just have that extra bit of add-on, no matter where they practise, which relates to being able to access the England and Wales Patents Court. That is quite fundamental, because that is where you would see appeals from the comptroller and so on.

I believe that a true analysis of the facts ends up as I have said, that these particular professions were not in the original construct, but some people might have been confused. Now they are defined as in and out again but, unfortunately, this leads to other confusions, suggesting divisions in the profession that do not exist but which have just been replicated in the words of the Minister. If the Minister and an MoJ official can get it wrong, who else might? A wrongful accusation, no matter that it can be refuted, is still damaging. My amendment clarifies that the status quo is maintained. It neither adds nor subtracts anything, other than giving clarity—something to point to on the same page as the confusing hokey-cokey.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, in probing the effect of these two government amendments. As a well-known supporter of a well-functioning IP profession, right across the United Kingdom, I have to say that I am still confused. It seems to me that, in the UK single market, the rights of these various attorneys should be fully reciprocal. Can my noble friend confirm that that is the intention? Will he further kindly reflect on whether it is the effect and, if they are not reciprocal, whether that is justified? Indeed, is there any read-across to the problems that we have encountered on the lack of reciprocal rights for EU and UK attorneys? We have discussed this elsewhere. I know that the department has had a rethink, but are we quite there?

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the next speaker on the list, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has withdrawn. I call the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury.

Photo of Lord Smith of Finsbury Lord Smith of Finsbury Non-affiliated

My Lords, first, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Intellectual Property Regulation Board—IPReg—which regulates all patent and trademark attorneys. It is fair to say that, when the Government’s amendment first appeared, there was considerable alarm among the profession as to what exactly the impact would be of including patent and trademark attorneys in the list in Clause 25. There had, sadly, been no prior consultation with the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys or, indeed, IPReg.

Since the publication of the amendment, the Government have assured us that there is no intention to change the status quo. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us clear confirmation this afternoon, on the record, that this is indeed the case. There are two things to say. First, intellectual property, its protection and the facilitation of its creation are crucial for our nation’s economy. IP will be fundamental to our economic recovery in the years ahead and we should do nothing to damage it. Secondly, patent and trademark attorneys are not just any other lawyers. Many start off with a scientific background and skill set. Their legal training is bespoke and rigorous, and they are, rightly, regulated separately from the general mass of solicitors.

The current situation across the UK works well. No matter where someone is based or where they trained, they can secure the necessary qualifications, apply to IPReg to go on the recognised UK register, and thereafter practise generally across the UK and undertake specific reserved legal activities in England and Wales. The wording of Clauses 22 and 25 and the impact of the Government’s amendment are, I have to confess, a bit impenetrable. It is difficult to understand exactly what the impacts are. Will the Minister therefore please confirm that the current position as I have outlined it, for UK-wide regulation and applicability, for both reserved and unreserved activities, is endorsed by the proposed wording of the Bill and not in any way endangered?

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Digital) 2:45 pm, 2nd November 2020

My Lords, I declare a possible interest as a solicitor qualified in England and Wales and I share all previous speakers’ support for IP professionals, who ensure that we have the necessary intellectual property protection in the UK. I strongly support my noble friend Lady Bowles’s Amendment 107A and share her confusion, not to say bafflement, at Amendment 107. She has drawn attention to the obscurity of the drafting. Why are patent and trademark attorneys included and then excluded?

My noble friend has been, if anything, very kind to the drafters of the government amendment. Not only is it obscure but, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Smith, there seems to have been no proper consultation with the professional bodies and regulators such as CIPA, CITMA and IPReg before it was tabled. This is all compounded by the use by both officials and the Minister of the term “automatic recognition” in communication with my noble friend, when we should be talking about qualifications.

Why has automatic recognition, from which exemption is needed, been introduced? As an interloper on this Bill, perhaps I can ask the most fundamentally naive question: why do we need not just Clauses 22, 23 and 25 but Part 3 in the first place? Are these the emperor’s new clothes? Even the Explanatory Note is rather obscure in its rationale, saying:

“There is currently no overarching system or consistent approach for the recognition of professional qualifications between the nations making up the UK internal market. Therefore, if professional divergence increases across the UK, professionals could have greater limitations on their ability to practise across the UK than exists currently.”

What professional divergence is threatened or envisaged? There is the continuing need for professionals covered in this part to be suitably qualified, but why do we need a new piece of legislation simply to preserve the status quo? I am sure the Minister has the answer at his fingertips.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, it is a little disappointing that, in a Bill that is vital for the future of our country, there seems to have been some misunderstanding; somehow or other the key role of patent and trademark attorneys has been misunderstood. They are vital to the future of our country because, as it happens, we are quite good at producing ingenious new products, processes and systems of manufacture that are patentable. Equally, we are good at marketing products that require trademarks. Here is an area where we really are at the forefront of Europe’s activity—and, many would say, the world’s—so this is crucial, and we need to be clear that it is going to operate properly without any hiccups.

In my judgment, we need to defend some of our trademarks in particular. When we are marketing on our own outside the EU, I believe that we will get challenges. I have worked overseas and seen it happen there, and I do not see why it might well not happen here in the UK. As we move forward on that challenges dimension, I recall that, as I think one or two of my colleagues know, I worked in south Asia for two years. When I was in India, there was a system of mutual recognition for trademarks in certain categories of products. I wonder whether that is an element of the new deal we have done with Japan.

On my final point, I declare an interest in that I have a son, a lawyer, working in the Cayman Islands—in other words, the Overseas Territories. Given the confusion that we have had today, I am not entirely clear whether in the Overseas Territories a qualified patent lawyer or trademark attorney, who is a UK citizen qualified in the law and in whatever elements are needed for such attorneys, is able to operate although they are not actually in a part of the UK.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, intellectual property lawyers, patent agents and attorneys are incredibly important for the future. I thoroughly endorse the remarks made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Neville-Rolfe, and my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury.

Honestly, confidence in this Bill was weak to start with. That mess-up just then on patent attorneys was appalling, and it made me look at the rest of Part 3. Could the Minister first of all identify what the problem is that Part 3 is dealing with? We had a clue between 11.30 pm and 11.45 pm on Wednesday evening when the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, who sadly is not in her place, said the following:

“The purpose of the professional qualification provisions in the internal market Bill is to ensure that professionals can, in most cases, access their profession in all parts of the UK, by ensuring that there is an overarching system for recognition.”—[Official Report, 28/10/20; col. 375.]

Clause 22 says that where you are qualified in one place, you can be qualified in another, while Clause 25 says that Clause 22(2) does not apply to existing provisions. Let us be clear what is happening here: the Government are saying that we are not making any change to the existing position in relation to professional qualifications, and as far as I am aware—and this is nothing to do with the EU—there is absolutely no problem about the current position. The effect of Clause 25(3) is that these provisions do not apply to any change in the future. Am I right about that? They are making no change for the past but they are bringing in these provisions in relation to the future. Why is that, when there is no problem about the past or the future? The Government are causing problems everywhere with this. I ask them to explain to the House and the wider public why on earth they are doing it. They have messed up the one area that we have looked at so far. Why should anyone have any confidence in this Bill?

On a separate point, I refer the Minister to what the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop—on the government side—said on day one in relation to this matter:

“The timetable for the Bill appears to be predicated on the end of the transition period on 31 December this year, but what is the real risk of regulatory divergence between then and the completion of the common frameworks process in 2021? The House is aware that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 already confers on Ministers so-called Section 12 powers to freeze devolved competence in relation to EU retained law.”—[Official Report, 26/10/20; col. 88.]

So, if there is any problem about this, it can be dealt with by the Government’s Section 12 powers. That applies not just to this but to wider issues.

Why are the Government bringing forward such an obviously unthought-out Bill that is doing damage to what—and I say this with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby—even the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, thinks is a mess-up, and he is a supporter of the Government’s Bill? Why on earth are they messing everything up like this? Could they please give an answer to what the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, said on day one? Is he right? If so, the urgency goes.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate on this important subject. I shall start by replying directly to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who spoke about Part 3 and why we felt the need to bring these proposals forward. The Bill is intended to ensure that divergence in professional regulation between the four nations of the UK does not increase barriers for professionals living and working in different parts of the UK. As our economy continues to develop and new sectors emerge, it is possible that new regulated professions will be created and there may be changes to existing qualification requirements that could make it more difficult to access the profession in another part of the UK. These new professions may well be crucial to the UK’s economic future. As in other areas, we do not want barriers to trade across the UK in these sectors. Internal market provisions will apply where part of the UK regulates a new profession, access to which is limited to those holding certain professional qualifications or experience. The provisions will also apply to existing professions where there are changes to the requirements for the qualifications or experience needed in order to access the profession concerned. Currently, while the recognition of professional qualifications between the four nations can and does occur, there is no overarching framework that ensures that it does. The Bill creates such an overarching framework to guarantee that recognition of qualifications between the four nations will be possible and barriers will be minimised.

I am happy to give the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe the specific assurance they asked for: nothing in the recognition provisions of the Bill, including the exclusion, affects the current situation. IPReg will continue to be able to decide whether and how trademark and patent attorneys should be allowed to carry out the regulated legal activities that it is designated to regulate in all the different parts of the UK.

The government amendment aims to bring patent and trademark attorneys in line with other legal professions and to place them outside the scope of the recognition provisions of Clause 22 of the Bill. Legal professionals have been excluded from the scope of the provisions on the recognition of professional qualifications in acknowledgment of the different legal systems that exist in the UK. This will ensure that the regulation of and access to these professions, including trademark and patent attorneys, are not affected in any way by the mutual recognition provisions of the Bill and will be completely unaffected. That is why we need Amendments 107 and 108.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees 3:00 pm, 2nd November 2020

I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Attorney General

The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, referred to the idea of new professions being invented. If this happened, there would be a professional body that would need government recognition in some form. Could he give us an example, perhaps, of a new profession emerging without a professional body in relation to which there is a substantial risk? If there is no such example or evidence, it is incredibly unconvincing. The second and separate example he gave was an existing profession giving rise to a particular requirement that would create a barrier to entry in one part of the United Kingdom for another. Could he give an example of when that has happened in the past?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

By the very nature of it being a new profession or qualification, it is quite hard for me to give examples of what might happen in the future. There are all sorts of new technologies; even in the noble and learned Lord’s legal profession, there may be new technologies, ideas and proposals that will come forward. There is the whole world of artificial intelligence or gene editing—there is a massive range of new and potential professional areas, bodies and qualifications that may come forward. That is the point: we want the current situation in many of these professions to be unaffected, but, in the case of new professions, it is entirely possible that the individual nations of the UK might seek to regulate them differently, and we want no new barriers to trade to emerge.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

I have also received a request from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, but I first call the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My Lords, with all due respect to the Minister, I am sure he understands how unsatisfactory that answer was. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford talked about the gobbledegook of future-proofing, and this is gobbledegook. First, could the Minister tell your Lordships’ House what past examples lead the Government today to this conclusion? Secondly, why is there a problem with bringing any future issues to the Government and your Lordships’ House bespoke in the event that the Minister proves correct and something turns up? To seek to produce a Bill that covers all of the unknown unknowns that are going to happen in the history of time seems overambitious.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I think we are just going to have to differ on this one. We do not want to be returning to the House to create unnecessary difficulties and disagreements in the future; we want to ensure that, before any of these difficulties arise, we have put in place, as in the rest of the Bill, a framework that covers the whole of the United Kingdom to regulate how we will manage and control these issues in the future. That is all we are seeking to do. I understand the points that noble Lords are making. There are differently regulated professions in some parts of the UK already; we accept that and that the status quo is there, but we think that, in future, these things are best regulated on a UK-wide basis, and we want no new barriers to trade to emerge.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade)

My Lords, this has nothing to do with powers repatriated from the European Union; it has everything to do with our internal United Kingdom approach. When was the last time that a professional body regulated by law was established where the Government considered there to be major barriers across the United Kingdom?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The noble Lord will be well aware that there is European directive on this subject, and mutual recognition of professional qualifications, so, even in the EU law space, it is accepted that the nations of the EU have different ways of recognising different professional qualifications. I commend Amendments 107 and 108 to the House.

Amendment 107 agreed.

Amendment 107A not moved.

Clause 25, as amended, agreed.

Clause 26 agreed.

Clause 27: Interpretation of Part 3