Amendment 1

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL] - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 9th June 2021.

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Lord Fox:

Moved by Lord Fox

1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Purpose of this Act(1) The purpose of this Act is to give regulators the necessary powers to ensure demand for professions can be met in the United Kingdom.(2) Nothing in this Act affects the independent process of defining the accreditation processes of the regulators.”Member’s explanatory statement This amendment underpins the principle that the process of defining the accreditation processes rests with the regulators.

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

My Lords, this amendment, I should emphasise to the Minister, is offered very much in the spirit of helpfulness. At Second Reading, the Minister said:

“The Bill will allow action to be taken in the public interest if it is judged that a shortage of professionals has arisen in a profession, but that action in no way restricts regulators’ ability to take decisions about individual applicants; it merely requires them to set up a route through which people can seek entry to a profession.”—[Official Report, 25/5/21; col. 971.]

In other parts of his speech, the Minister reiterated the view that it was not the Government’s intention to interfere with regulators’ roles and responsibilities. Yet he also said:

“I emphasise that we want this new framework for recognition of professional qualifications to complement regulators’ existing practices.”—[Official Report, 25/5/21; col. 909.]

It is because of the need to clarify how the Bill complements the regulators that I am putting forward this amendment with the support of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed.

This Bill is backed up by secondary legislation that we have yet to see and which will define the true nature of this Bill. There are genuine concerns that the Bill creates potential for central government to intervene in a manner that cuts across the Minister’s assurances. This amendment seeks to clarify and delineate the purpose of this Bill. It does no more than the Minister has repeated in meetings and on the Floor of the House.

I make no apology for repeating that the overwhelming proportion of the reach of this Bill is yet to be seen. All we have is the skeleton. We know from the Minister that we should expect a deluge of secondary legislation, and it is in that where we will see reflected the true purpose of the Bill. I would add that, unfortunately, level of scrutiny of such secondary legislation sometimes falls below the level of the scrutiny by your Lordships of primary legislation, which is another danger.

Why should we be suspicious and, indeed, are those suspicions restricted just to these Benches? For the first time, but not the last, I refer your Lordships to the report of the DPRRC, published on 27 May, which addressed this Bill. In that report, the issue is clear. At the outset, the committee categorises Clause 1 as

“a Henry VIII power, as it includes power to amend primary legislation and retained direct principal EU legislation” and goes on to say:

“The power can be used to make provision about a wide range of matters relating to applications to practise a profession, including ‘detail on the approach to be taken in assessing … qualifications’, requirements for regulators to have regard to guidance when determining applications to practise, the information to be included in such applications, fees to be paid and appeals.”

We have yet to see this potentially very far-reaching legislation. This takes this Bill to a place that is somewhat beyond what the Minister has outlined its role to be. Of course, those Henry VIII powers are qualified, but the scope of those qualifications is broad and will be discussed later.

As well as the mutability of Clause 1, the nature of Clause 3 has confirmed the need for this amendment. I was grateful that the Minister met me and colleagues this week. During that discussion, he confirmed that in relation to the purpose of the Bill, Clause 3 is explicitly needed in order to implement trade agreements where mutual recognition of qualifications is included. In fact, the Minister considers it vital for the Government to use this clause to make sure that the regulatory authorities enact the terms of a future free trade agreement. Of course, it is not needed for that. The Government could bring each trade deal to Parliament for approval, which would be a way of getting primary approval of such clauses within a free trade agreement. In that case, Clause 3 would not be required, and we can have that debate later. This is all about the creeping remit of the Bill, which is why I refer to it in this amendment.

The amendment clearly upholds the aim of giving all regulators the powers to regulate international professionals. Importantly, it also underpins the independence of the regulators—independence that the Minister so obviously treasures, but which this Bill, as drafted, so obviously threatens. In the Minister’s own words at Second Reading,

“the regulators are the experts in their respective fields and they ensure that high professional standards are maintained. Regulators must continue to have the ability to act in the public interest, including in the best interests of their professions and the consumers of professional services.”—[Official Report, 25/5/21; col. 971.]

We say prove that by accepting Amendment 1 and putting it in the Bill. I expect the Minister to say that he agrees with the text, but disagrees with putting it in the Bill. If indeed that is the Minister’s response, I would appreciate him explaining why he disagrees with putting it in the Bill. What is wrong with putting it in if that is the purpose of this Bill?

This is a skeleton Bill—another skeleton Bill—and this amendment tries to make clearer what this Bill is for, explicitly guiding what the Bill will do when the body of secondary legislation is added. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

I call the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord is looking at an out-of-date list of speakers.

Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I am rising rather surprised. We have heard my noble friend Lord Fox elegantly put the reasons why the Bill needs to be slightly tidied up, if nothing else. The amendments in this group do all they can to allow overseas qualifications to be treated as acceptable in the UK. The amendment in my name seeks to deal with a situation where the qualifications and experience are held to fall short; the Bill does not talk about what happens then. In many spheres, what happens is that there is some bridging measure to bring the applicant up to the required standard.

Amendment 12 in my name seeks to give the regulator relief from bringing the applicant up to the required standard if this would involve unreasonable cost, time and be a resource burden on the regulator. My noble friend Lord Fox said that the regulator will be independent. We must not add the cost of providing bridging training if people do not come up to standard.

As has been said, this is a skeleton Bill. We need to make it clear on whom the duty falls to provide the additional training or experience to bring it up to standard. The Bill does not say, but it must not be down to the independent regulator.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

I now invite the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, to make her intervention.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, I asked the Government Whips’ Office to order the speakers as is normal in the Chamber when we do not have lists—that is to say, those who have tabled amendments are allowed to speak before those who simply wish to comment on them. I was advised that the list was issued late this morning.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, may recall that I do not like purpose clauses. I believe that a Bill should be written in clear language and that its scope and impact should be readily understandable on its own terms. This Bill fails to meet that test, but I do not think that a purpose clause is the answer. Instead, we should focus on making sure that the Bill itself is fit for purpose. We have tabled a number of amendments aimed at doing this.

I also have a minor quibble with the drafting of Amendment 1. Subsection (2) refers to

“the independent process of defining the accreditation processes of the regulators.”

I believe that the independent processes which this Bill should protect go beyond mere definition of accreditation processes. We do not want any form of interference in the independent processes of regulators. This should be an enabling Bill which should unblock legal impediments to the recognition of overseas qualifications. It must steer clear of all the processes operated by regulators, not just of those defining accreditation.

I put my name down to speak because I recognised the Institute of Chartered Accountants’ provenance of Amendment 12 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. That is why I was keen for him to speak first. Amendment 9 in my name, in a later group, is slightly simpler, but on the same basic point. I realised a little too late that perhaps I should have asked to add my amendment to this group. The essence of Amendment 12 is to ensure that inappropriate burdens are not placed on regulators, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has explained. I will not repeat those arguments. I will explain my own amendment when we reach it later.

This is a very real issue. The Government need to look at it again to ensure that their approach is reasonable in the context of what regulators could be compelled to do by the provisions of this Bill. As far as we can, we should seek to avoid any possibility that they could be compelled to do anything unreasonable, burdensome or otherwise inappropriate to their profession.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee)

My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of Amendment 1. Subject to the clear statement of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, it would be desirable to try to focus much more of this wide-ranging Bill. If that is not done, a provision to make clear that the independence of regulators is not in any way affected is of vital concern. The regulation of professions should be set by the structure ordained by Parliament—not by the Executive and then left to the regulators. If more precise provisions cannot be incorporated, Amendment 1 would have this vital effect of making clear the independence of the regulators.

In the case of the legal profession, it is convenient at this stage to raise two points about independence. First, the independence of the courts depends on the independence of lawyers, with their ability to challenge the powerful, particularly the Government. This can only be safeguarded by independent regulation within a structure set by Parliament. Given the position of the Executive in relation to the courts and the legal profession, it should not be the Lord Chancellor’s role to be involved in this in any shape or form. It is difficult to see, given the scope of the Legal Services Act, why these wide-ranging powers need to be given to the Lord Chancellor.

The second point concerns the UK legal services market. As this House knows well, this is very valuable to the UK economy, particularly because of the international work it services, both in the UK and by those qualified as English lawyers in overseas countries. It is often important for people to be qualified as English lawyers, given the prevalence of English law in international agreements and standard form contracts. Thus the position of the legal profession, particularly under the Legal Services Act, gives the regulators wide and extensive powers, leaving them to balance the necessary interest involved, particularly the consideration of reciprocal arrangements. It is important that none of these powers is constrained. Can the Minister clarify why recognition of overseas legal qualifications cannot be left to the regulators without the need for the extensive powers in this Bill? If they are needed, they should be very narrowly confined by primary legislation and not left to these sweeping Henry VIII powers.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour 1:45 pm, 9th June 2021

My Lords, as we are at the start of the Committee stage, I declare my interest as a board member of the GMC, although I am speaking on the Bill in a personal capacity.

I support Amendment 1. We have a real problem with the skeletal nature of the Bill and the extensive use of Henry VIII clauses. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, whose powerful intervention illustrated some of the problems. The power in Clause 1 could be used to make provision about a huge range of matters relating to applications to practise a profession. Extensive powers are delegated to Ministers. As the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has pointed out, neither the Explanatory Memorandum nor the Explanatory Note gives adequate reasons for the extensive use of Executive power. I will come back to this during Committee, but the Minister should at least have a shot at explaining why Executive powers are needed to this extent. So far, we have not heard a reason.

The Delegated Powers Committee illustrated the example of the dentistry profession. Dentistry is one of the professions for which regulation is provided in primary legislation. The Dentists Act 1984 includes a provision to recognise overseas qualifications. Holders of overseas qualifications who wish to qualify for registration as dentists in the UK must not only have a recognised overseas diploma but, as a starting point, they must sit an examination to satisfy the regulator that they have the requisite knowledge and skill. They must also satisfy the regulator as to their identity, good character, good health and knowledge of English. The committee says that Clause 1 appears to allow such requirements and other comparable requirements in primary legislation relating to other professions to be watered down by statutory instrument, if Ministers considered this necessary to enable demand for the service of the profession in question to be met without unreasonable delay. I do not need to remind the Minister that the dentistry profession is under acute pressure.

My reading of the Minister’s amendments in Clause 1, which are welcome, is that some protection is provided, because regulations can specify additional conditions for a professional’s overseas qualifications to be met. But, of course, that depends on the Minister taking the necessary action. It also appears that Clause 3 could be used to implement an international agreement that encompassed an override in respect of the actions of a regulator. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, referred to this, and, again, we will come back to Clause 3 later today.

So there is a need to safeguard and protect the integrity of the regulators and uphold the public interest in high standards among the professions covered by the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, has attempted to draft such protection, and I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic. If not, he needs to realise that the current construct of the Bill will simply not do, and the House would be right to insist on further protections.

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

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, raised her consistent point, for which I give her respect, about declaratory statements within legislation. My noble friend Lord Fox, in bringing forward his amendment, which I had the pleasure to cosign, is justified in this instance, given what other noble Lords have said within this group. The Government have not provided the level of detail about the potential use of the extensive Henry VIII powers under this legislation in particular. Therefore, a statement that these powers should not be used to impact upon the independence of our regulators is of great importance.

That has been not endorsed but reflected in the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report. As has been my wont over many years in this place, I have taken great joy in reading Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee reports—I did not have grey hair when I came into this place. It is rare that a committee report such as this can be so clear. On the Trade Bill, the Minister was given great credit when the committee cited support of the Government and raised no issues, but in this area, it could not be clearer. So the calls of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend Lord Fox for greater clarity are important.

The committee, in paragraph 8, said of the fact that no adequate explanation was given:

“This is particularly disappointing given that … as the Government have acknowledged, most of the substantive changes to the law envisaged by this Bill are to be made through delegated powers rather than the Bill itself.”

Therefore, a statement such as this amendment is clearer. So we agree with the committee that a much fuller explanation of the provision to be made in regulations under Clause 1, and the justification for that provision, is required.

The Government did not need to go down this route, as their own impact assessment indicated. The impact assessment started, under the Minister’s signature on the opening page, by giving reasons for the alternative approaches, and included:

“For recognition of overseas qualifications: a fixed (one size fits all) approach; and a risk/benefit system.”

I think there would be common ground between most of us on these Benches and the Minister on risk/benefit systems usually being best. But no, the Government have opted for “one size fits all”.

The impact assessment goes on:

“For regulators and international recognition agreements: arrangements for specific regulators.”

As we will no doubt hear in other groups, specific regulators have specific legislative underpinning for their own purpose and require scrutiny on a case by case basis. But the Government rejected it. And they rejected for information transparency a non-legislative guidance-based approach. So it is the Government’s choice to go down this route, which opens up a lot of areas where they should be much clearer in indicating the intent behind the regulation-making powers they want.

The Minister said on Second Reading that this Bill, while a framework, was the result of a considered view from reflecting and consulting with regulators as well as more widely with stakeholders. So I was frankly amazed to read that there is currently, for the healthcare professions, a live consultation on regulatory reform. It started on 24 March and closes a week today; it has not even closed yet. That consultation, Regulating Healthcare Professionals, Protecting the Public, touches on governance, the operating framework, fees, education and training, registration and fitness to practise. At paragraph 10, on the governance and operation framework, it says that the Government are

“proposing to devolve many of the decisions about day to day procedures to the regulators themselves, whilst ensuring that they continue to meet their overarching objective to protect the public.”

But this Bill provides the Government with Henry VIII powers to do exactly the opposite when they choose. So I ask the Minister: which is the Government’s intent—the one in the Bill we are scrutinising at the moment or the consultation that has not yet closed?

Paragraph 17 says that the regulators

“are accountable to the Privy Council … and the PSA provides oversight of how they carry out their regulatory functions. The Privy Council has default powers to direct most of the regulators if they fail to deliver their objectives. However, this does not apply to the GDC and GPhC. We propose that the GDC and GPhC are included within the Privy Council’s remit.”

So the Government, in their consultation, are seeking to expand the role of the Privy Council with its default powers, while this Bill is going in the opposite direction. So could the Minister explain what the relationship will be between the regulation-making powers in this Bill and the Professional Standards Authority? Can these powers be made to change the Professional Standards Authority’s legislative standing and how it provides oversight to the regulatory bodies it provides for? And what is this Bill’s relationship with the Privy Council? The Privy Council, as the Government say in their own live consultation at the moment, is the body these regulators are accountable to.

Paragraph 23 says:

“The proposals set out in this document aim to give regulators greater flexibility to determine how they set standards for, and quality assure, education and training.”

But the powers under this Bill will provide—in a way the Government have not yet provided information on—Henry VIII powers to completely determine what they are for the set purposes. So restrictions on the Government’s ability to use those powers which will impact upon this legislation are necessary.

The element of the consultation I thought was quite extraordinary is that the Government themselves say that when it comes to regulation of the medical professions they will go down a different route to change the legislation. The Government’s consultation says:

“We intend to implement … changes for each of the healthcare professional regulators through secondary legislation made under Section 60 of the Health Act 1999.”

There is no reference to any mechanisms under the Professional Qualifications Bill, so what is the Government’s intent for the Henry VIII powers under this Bill, with their already publicly stated intent to use the Health Act for medical?

Finally, the Government’s consultation closes with this:

“While we are required to hold a public consultation on all draft secondary legislation made using the Section 60 powers, we are taking this opportunity to seek views on the proposals that will, in due course, apply to all the professional regulators and all regulated healthcare professionals.”

On Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made a very valid request of the Minister, which was to see some draft regulations about the intent before we conclude our scrutiny of this Bill in this House. The Minister refused her.

The Government’s consultation says that they are

“required to hold a public consultation on all draft secondary legislation” when they change the regulation of health professionals, so what is the Government’s position on this? The Government say, in paragraph 407 of that document:

“We also intend to commission a review of the professions that are currently regulated in the UK, to consider whether statutory regulation remains appropriate for these professions.”

Clearly that is not the case, because the Government have decided so, as I said at the start of my contribution. Can the Minister tell us what the status of this consultation is, if so many issues have been pre-decided by the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues) 2:00 pm, 9th June 2021

My Lords, I slightly have the feeling that the back of an envelope was used for the drafting of the Bill. I could be quite wrong, but it has that feel about it.

I actually really welcome the “purpose” framing of the Bill—and here, unusually on this Bill, I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes—because I think that such framing is extraordinarily useful when one later comes either to court cases, which have in the past occasionally been involved in determining what the purpose of a Bill was or what it meant, or to looking at statutory instruments. I like the idea of setting out what a Bill is for and what it is trying to achieve. Therefore, I welcome Amendment 1, although I have a question about one part of it.

What seems to me really important about Amendment 1 is the second part:

“Nothing in this Act affects the independent process of defining the accreditation processes of the regulators.”

As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, this statement is of great importance. It clearly underlines many of the concerns raised with us—and, I am sure, with others around the House—by regulators, that somehow the Government will tell them how or when to accept the qualifications or experience gained under other jurisdictions so as to allow an individual to practice here. Indeed, this concern is reflected in Amendment 12, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, which emphasises that regulators should be able to rule on whether someone meets their standards.

As I said at Second Reading, regulation is all about protecting the public and the consumer or user interest. It is why we restrict when someone can call themselves a lawyer or a doctor. The comfort that gives to a client or a patient is obvious: it is shorthand for saying that someone has trained them up, someone has tested them, and someone knows they are fit to practice. For consumers, that is a really important purpose of regulation. It is why we have set up, in law, independent regulators to be able to decide whether somebody meets the recognised standards. They do of course do more than that—they look at CPD, at discipline and at various other issues—but for the purpose of this, it is about setting a standard and ensuring that someone can meet that standard before they practice, to protect users of the service. That part of Amendment 1 is really important.

What I am querying is the other bit, which says that the purpose of the Act—and as I said, I like the idea of a purpose of an Act—is to

“give regulators the necessary powers to ensure demand for professions can be met in the United Kingdom.”

Of course, that does not describe the Bill as it is at the moment; that is only one arm of the Bill. Indeed, the regulators who have been in touch with us say about the part I have just quoted that they can do it anyway, and ask why we are passing a Bill to give them powers that they already have. None of the regulators has been clamouring for these powers. Nobody, while we were in the EU, came to us and said, “Look, outside the EU we would love to have lawyers, doctors, vets”—I forget who is on the long list now—“from another country, but we are not able, because of our statutes, to have a process to take them in”. So this has got nothing to do with leaving the EU; either they had those powers before and they were not used, or they did not have them before and never felt the need of them. Nobody is asking for these powers. It is quite extraordinary that the back-of-an-envelope drafting managed to drop that bit in. Basically, that is what the regulators have been telling us.

We have also had the noble Lord, Lord Trees, telling us, from the veterinary surgeons’ point of view, that they have been able to do this. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, knows that the GMC has been able to recognise doctors’ qualifications and experience from around the world. None of the regulators needs this, so it is very hard to understand why it is being dropped in.

Of course, partly it is being dropped in because the purpose of the Bill is not simply to look at where there may not be sufficient professionals here. The Government say that they want to do trade deals, and, as part of those, want to be able to sell—or is it offer or swap?—the rights of professionals from other jurisdictions to come here. Actually, I think that that is what the Bill is about. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Fox, deliberately did not put it in the purpose of the Bill as he knows we are coming later to try to delete Clause 3 because we have our doubts about it.

It seems to me that we need to be clear whether we need the first bit. I will ask the Minister later—I have given him notice—which of the 160 regulators in the letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, do not already have the powers. If there are three of them, are we really passing a Bill for three regulators that cannot do it and probably do not want to do it anyway? I think that broad question needs to be asked. We will come on to that.

There is a big issue around whether the Government should be asking a regulator to do something it does not want to do. If a regulator wants to put in a process for recognising qualifications from another country, it has probably already done so anyway. We are therefore looking only at situations where it does not want to do it, and the Government are saying, “Nevertheless, we want you to”. We are going to come back to ask whether it is right that that should happen.

Going back to the second part of Amendment 1, the Minister has said in a letter to me—and to others too, I am sure; I do not think I get special words from him—that he

“fully recognises that the autonomy of regulators in assessing standards is key to protecting consumers and public safety and … in all negotiations a key concern for the government is ensuring the autonomy of UK regulators and protecting UK standards”.

If he is willing to put that in a letter to me, I see no reason why he should not put it in the Bill, so I hope he will at least accept the second part of Amendment 1.

Photo of Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Lord Grimstone of Boscobel The Minister of State, Department for International Trade, The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Fox, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, for their proposed Amendments 1 and 12. These amendments would enshrine a purpose for the Bill and seek to avoid unreasonable burdens on regulators. I think we all recognise that, although this is a short Bill, it is a very complex one, as any Bill dealing with a landscape composed of more than 50 regulators and more than 160 professions was bound to be.

Many of the points raised in the debate, which I listened to very carefully, relate to the detail of subsequent clauses. So I propose, and I hope this is acceptable, to deal with these points later, in the order in which they come up in the Bill, rather than attempt to deal with all the points now. I have to say that I am very optimistic that, when I come to these points later, I will be able to deal with and assuage the anxieties expressed by noble Lords.

Coming back to the amendments in this group, I start with Amendment 1, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Purvis of Tweed. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, was trying to be helpful, as he always is, in tabling his amendment. The proposed new clause contains two provisions, and I will take them in turn.

First, the amendment states that

“The purpose of this Act is to give regulators the necessary powers to ensure demand for professions can be met in the United Kingdom”.

I am in firm agreement with the noble Lords’ intent. Indeed, one of the core purposes of the Bill is to give regulators the powers they need to enable demand for the services of professions in the UK, or part of it, to be met without unreasonable cost or delay. In essence, that is the purpose of Clauses 1 and 2. It is unnecessary to state one of the core purposes of the Bill separately, as it is already contained in Clause 2.

The Bill’s objectives, however—I think that this is clear to all of us—are wider than the purpose expressed in this proposed new clause alone. Do the noble Lords intend to limit the Bill only to responding to demand for services? That would be an opportunity missed. I will outline other important objectives of the Bill. It gives UK government Ministers and devolved Administrations powers to implement the professional qualification provisions of international agreements, and to empower regulators to enter into their own recognition agreements. These support the UK’s trade agenda. Having these powers has the knock-on benefit of helping to address demand for professions. Taken alone, however, these clauses are about international agreements and not demand for professions.

The Bill also has an important objective in relation to targeted steps for good regulatory practice. The clauses on transparency and information-sharing will support regulators in operating efficiently and individuals in entering professions. They are not necessarily about the demand for professions. I hope that the noble Lords recognise that these are also worthy purposes of the Bill.

The second provision in the proposed new clause outlines that nothing in the Bill affects the independent process of defining the accreditation process of regulators. As we all know, that process is important in maintaining professional standards in the UK. Once again, I find myself in firm agreement with the noble Lords’ intent. The Government are committed to upholding the autonomy of our regulators.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, spoke with great knowledge of this in the context of the legal profession, and I completely agree with his views about the need for the independence of the profession to be maintained. Let me say at the outset—I am sure that this is common ground across the Committee—that our regulators are the experts in their fields. They make sure that high professional standards are maintained. The core of the Bill supports the autonomy of regulators and their freedom to determine whether an individual with overseas professional qualifications is fit to practise in the UK.

Furthermore, and importantly, I am pleased to say that the regulators I have spoken to—I have spoken to a great number of them—agree that the Government are not interfering with their independence in the Bill. I add that I agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes about purpose clauses, especially when, as in the Bill, they serve no useful purpose. I am not therefore convinced of the need to set out the importance of the independence of regulators’ processes in an additional clause in the Bill, when the autonomy is manifest already. That autonomy, I beg to suggest, runs like a golden thread throughout the whole Bill.

I know we will come back to delegated powers when we debate individual clauses, but I appreciate the point raised by noble Lords that, with many powers contained in the Bill, a statement enshrining the purpose of the Bill would offer reassurance. I repeat, however, that those principles are delivered through the substance of the Bill, and I will offer arguments on the necessity of the powers later in the debate. I hope that they will assuage the fears of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Purvis of Tweed, and others.

I listened carefully to the points made about Amendment 12 by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. It seeks to ensure that regulators are not required to offer bridging measures to applicants that would lead to unreasonable burdens for the regulator. Nothing in the Bill obliges the regulators themselves to offer any necessary bridging measures. They may, for example, simply identify a course provided by another body or institution which the individual must pass before they can practise. To put it simply, if an applicant’s English skills are not good enough, it is not the regulator that will provide classes for him or her to improve their language skills.

We will come back to many of these points during Committee. I conclude by thanking the noble Lords for their amendments and I hope that they have found my response helpful and reassuring. I therefore ask the noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:15 pm, 9th June 2021

My Lords, I have requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Purvis of Tweed. I call the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, not having participated in this group, I am prompted by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, on the regulation of healthcare professionals, to which I do not think my noble friend responded. I have here the Law Commission report of April 2014—my noble friend will be aware of it—on the issues referred to by the noble Lord, which included the recommendation that Section 60 of the Health Act 1999, and indeed the powers of the Privy Council, should be substantially removed from the regulation of healthcare professions. What is the Government’s intention on the regulation of healthcare professionals? Do they intend to implement the Law Commission report seven years later, or do they now intend to proceed without any reference to it?

Photo of Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Lord Grimstone of Boscobel The Minister of State, Department for International Trade, The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My Lords, if I may, because it is a point of some detail, I will write to my noble friend and place a copy of my letter in the Library.

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

I say to the Minister respectfully: he did not assuage my fears, because he did not address them. Can he reassure me now, from the Dispatch Box, that none of the Henry VIII powers in the Bill will be used to impact the accountability of the medical professions vis-à-vis the Privy Council, or—whether in response to demand or otherwise—to impact any of the powers or the relationship between the professional standards authority and any of the regulators that it has responsibility for?

Photo of Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Lord Grimstone of Boscobel The Minister of State, Department for International Trade, The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I did not believe that my comments on this group would assuage the noble Lord’s fears, but I am sure that as we progress through the Bill my comments on this matter in later clauses will do so.

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

My Lords, this has already been a more interesting debate than I had anticipated. The response of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on the subject of such clauses was not unexpected, but I emphasise that—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, noted—this is a twin-track approach.

We would like at the end of this to have a Bill such that, in the Minister’s words, we all exit the Chamber assuaged. In the event that we do not, however, something along these lines is needed as a safeguard. I am not parti pris about the wording on this—I will take full advantage of the wisdom of others in the Committee, not least that of the Minister himself, if his department chose to engage to offer reassurance. He admits that such a clause would offer reassurance, and then says that the Government do not want to offer reassurance. The opposite of reassurance is something that I would not have thought the Government wanted to be spreading around, but clearly I am wrong.

On the chances of our being assuaged, there are two clear problems. First, while there has been some engagement with the medical profession, we have already had accountants, dentists and lawyers paraded as professions that have issues. I suspect that if there were experts in your Lordships’ House on many of the other professions, they too would express problems. So, while there has been consultation, it seems to me that more of that could be done.

That takes us to the other point, which is the back-of-the-envelope comment that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made. I knew what my noble friend Lord Purvis was going to say, and I was still shocked when I heard him say it. There has been no reference by Her Majesty’s Government to this parallel exercise, and there would have been no reference to it had the diligence of my noble colleague not come to bear. It seems unthinkable that Her Majesty’s Government would bring a Bill such as this—a complex Bill, in the words of the Minister—without acknowledging a parallel exercise that is going on. The Minister does not seem to be prepared to answer the direct questions, but perhaps he could tell your Lordships’ House if Her Majesty’s Government are aware of any other parallel exercises going on in other departments at the moment. It would be helpful if they were all brought to light at this point rather than surfacing later.

It seems that assuaging us is going to take an awful lot of application from the Front Bench opposite. That said, we will wait and see how the debate goes today and on other days. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Clause 1: Power to provide for individuals to be treated as having UK qualifications