Amendment 13

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL] - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 9th June 2021.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering:

Moved by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering

13: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, at end insert—“(4A) Before regulations under subsection (4) may be laid before Parliament, Senedd Cymru, the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly, the appropriate national authority must undertake a formal consultation with the devolved administrations, regulators and the Lord President of the Court of Session.”

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

I am delighted to move Amendment 13 and to speak to Amendments 24, 35 and 40. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his support of these amendments. I shall speak also in support of Amendment 41, and look forward to hearing more detail and the thinking behind Amendment 42, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, Amendment 49, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and Amendment 57, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.

On the background to Amendments 13, 24, 35 and 40, the case was made at Second Reading, and I have now followed that up more firmly with these amendments. It is really about having regard to two distinct concepts. I come from the background of the Faculty of Advocates, albeit now as a non-practising member. There are separate jurisdictions of law in the UK, and there are sufficient differences between these legal systems to warrant an exclusion from the provisions that create greater regulatory integration of other professions between the UK’s composite parts throughout the Bill.

Secondly, as I said at the outset, it is a process of not just recognising that the distinct nature of legal services needs to be recognised and respected but also that the regulation of the legal profession, certainly as regards solicitors and advocates, is devolved. What I propose to do, and I hope that the House will support me in this regard, is to ensure that there will be a formal consultation with the relevant devolved Assemblies before any regulations are made under the provisions of the Bill as passed.

Amendment 13 relates to Clause 1, but the wording that I have used is similar in relation to Clauses 1, 3 and 5—Clause 3 relates to the “Implementation of international recognition agreements”, and Clause 5 relates to the “Revocation of general EU system of recognition of overseas qualifications”. A slightly different wording is used in Amendment 40 to reflect the fact that this relates to the setting up of an “Assistance centre”. As regards Amendment 40, I would go so far as to say that there should be a formal consultation with the devolved Administrations and regulators. I think the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and I have both been greatly assisted by the Law Society of Scotland in our preparation for this afternoon, and I thank the society most warmly for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, goes further and goes to the question of consent—that consent be specifically given. In that regard, if that consent is not given then the understanding is that the arrangements would not proceed. I think it is extremely important, again underlining the fact that the purport of these regulations —also as regards to the assistance centre—must have regard to the nature of the devolved Administrations and regulators.

Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, looks to the common framework agreement. I have just one little question here. Is that what we understand by the common frameworks? I am following this as closely as I can, albeit living in England. Is the noble Baroness referring to the existing common frameworks, or is she proposing a separate one in that regard?

I believe that it really is essential that we adopt either Amendments 13, 24, 35 and 40 or something equivalent to them. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look kindly on these amendments and go some way to assuaging my concerns that, without these amendments, we are not going to have a full consultation in advance of these regulations being laid.

With those few opening remarks, I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate on these amendments. I am grateful for the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I have taken the precaution in Amendments 13, 24 and 35 to acknowledge the fact that the Lord President of the Court of Session has a specific role to play in regulating the legal profession in Scotland.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 4:15 pm, 9th June 2021

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—who, following the revelations from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I suppose I should now call my noble friend Lord Lansley—I did not participate in the Second Reading debate, as I was not able to be here, unfortunately. I agree with many people who said on that occasion that, although this is not a contentious Bill, it is a very important one. When you think of the number of professional bodies and areas of employment that are being regulated—more than 160—it is really a very important issue. I will come back to that.

However, I have sat through now two and three-quarter hours of what purports to be a Committee stage of the Bill. I must say that it is really a very disappointing and inadequate way of dealing with a Bill. It is not proper consideration when we cannot intervene properly and ask questions when the Minister is speaking and cannot intervene on each other. I would have liked to have intervened on the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. We could have had a dialogue about the Privy Council, of which I am a member. I know nothing about any of these matters because it is all delegated to various committees of the Privy Council. We could have maybe explored that.

There are other issues. The noble Lord’s predecessor in the Chair, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, was very good and allowed the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, to come in without having to go through the process of emailing the Clerk. I think the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, managed to whisper in the Clerk’s ear. It is excellent that there is some flexibility, but it ought to be more flexible. We ought to have a proper Committee stage. The interesting thing is that most of the people participating have been here in person. There are relatively few today in this Committee stage on the screens. That is why I think that the Procedure Committee and the usual channels need to carefully consider changing the arrangements for Committee and Report stages, which are so important in dealing with aspects of Bills.

It was a fascinating exchange earlier between the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the Minister. Under normal circumstances, there would have been a different kind of dynamic arising from that exchange. It could have been much more helpful in dealing with this Bill. At the moment, because everyone has to be dealt with equally—whether they are at home, as I was on a number of occasions, or here—we cannot have a proper Committee stage. One of my colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has suggested that we do away with that equality and the Procedure Committee should say that, for Committee and Report stages, certainly, those who are present should be able to operate normally as we used to do and that people at home should accept that and understand that. If they want to participate, they should be able to come here in one way or another. I really think that, in terms of considering our legislation properly, we need to look at that. That is nothing to do with the amendment, by the way, but it is very important.

Can I also say another thing that I would have said in Committee? As my noble friend Lady Hayter said earlier, there has been a lack of investment in training of doctors and nurses—over the last 10 years, in particular —so that we do not have home-trained doctors and nurses. I worry that some of the motivation of some people in the Government behind this—not everyone—is to bring in doctors and nurses from overseas as quickly as possible to make up for the fact that they have not been training enough doctors and nurses. As someone who has been involved in overseas development for years now—I used to be Minister in that department and now we are suffering that huge cut in our overseas development assistance—I think it would be wrong for us to drag in too many people and to see this as a way of bringing in too many doctors and nurses from overseas from countries that need them equally as much as, if not more than, we do, and which need their health infrastructure strengthened. That is nothing to do with amendment either, but it gets it off my chest.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State to seek the consent of the devolved Administrations —but with qualifications, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering—prior to making arrangements for the assistance centre. We welcome the provisions regarding the assistance centre; I speak on my own behalf, but I know, as does the noble Baroness, that the Law Society of Scotland welcomes it. Like her, I am grateful to Michael Clancy and his colleagues from the Law Society of Scotland for their help on these amendments.

The centre will provide advice and assistance regarding entry requirements—we will come to other aspects of it later—to those seeking to practise a profession in the United Kingdom or to those with UK qualifications seeking to practise overseas. We note the obligation on regulators, contained in Clause 7(2), to provide the designated assistance centre with any information it may need to carry out its functions. That seems entirely appropriate in the circumstances.

The obligation to make arrangements for the assistance centre lies on the Secretary of State. However, the centre will provide advice and assistance covering the whole of the United Kingdom, not just England. Accordingly, we consider that it would be important, and reflect the acknowledgement of the role of the devolved Administrations in earlier clauses of the Bill, for the devolved Administrations to be rather more than consulted on the arrangements for the creation of the assistance centre.

What I suggest in the amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, generously said, goes further and is more radical than the amendment she has proposed. However, it would not give the devolved Administrations a veto; it says that the Secretary of State—should first “seek the consent” of the Scottish and Welsh Ministers and department in Northern Ireland; that is where I go further. If the Government do not get that consent within a month—it gives the devolved Administrations a veto or delaying power of a month—they can still go ahead. But if they do, notwithstanding the fact that they have not got approval from the devolved Administrations, they then have to publish a statement explaining why the Secretary of State decided to make the arrangements without the consent of the authority or authorities concerned. They have to explain why they have not taken account of representations before going ahead.

I say to my friend, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who knows more about the United Kingdom Internal Market Act than anyone around today, that this replicates the compromise that was agreed in that Act when we discussed it as a Bill in relation to, for example, the CMA and other aspects. Does the Minister consider that my amendment would have the same effect as the Government have already agreed in relation to the internal market Act? It is not revolutionary; it is more radical than the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, but it is something that the Government have already agreed to in terms of the internal market Act. I therefore hope that it will be considered sympathetically by the Government.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Deputy Chairman of Committees

Just for clarification, if a Member wishes to speak after the Minister and is in the Chamber, they can message the clerk; if they are online, they can email the clerk. But all requests must come through the clerk to the Chair. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I wish to speak specifically to Amendments 42, 49 and 57, which I have co-signed. They all address issues related to the interaction of UK Government powers with those of the devolved Administrations and each of the three relates to different aspects of that issue.

Amendment 42 relates to the national assistance centre. The impact assessment makes it clear that this will be a centralised facility under the control of the Secretary of State, but it will also provide information and assistance in relation to devolved regulators and where the professional qualifications are different in the devolved nations. In preparation for this debate, I went online and explored the websites of a range of regulators. They all seem to provide comprehensive advice and information services, so I am puzzled as to what the problem is. Why is it necessary for the Government to overlay the well-established structure of regulators with this additional bureaucracy with—of course—its accompanying additional cost?

Because I am of a suspicious nature, I feel that the real purpose of the assistance centre is to enable to the UK Government to override the differences between the nations of the UK and, when making trade agreements, to take the opportunity to iron out those annoying differences in qualifications in one part of the UK and another. Hence my amendment, which simply requires consultation with the devolved Administrations on the function and operation of the assistance centre before it is established.

It should not be necessary to state this basic constitutional principle in terms of an amendment to a Bill, but the Government’s approach to this Bill has been woeful so far. It has been developed at speed—the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, suggested it was on the back of an envelope—at a time when elections meant that there have been none of the usual opportunities to consult the devolved Administrations. In Wales, officials did not even see a draft of the Bill until the week before its introduction. They did not see the final version until we all saw it, when it was laid.

As drafted, this Bill confers a suite of regulation-making powers on the appropriate national authority. In Wales, the Welsh Ministers are that authority for the devolved areas, but the powers conferred on them are exercisable concurrently with the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor—hence the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor could legislate in devolved areas and would not need to obtain Welsh Ministers’ consent.

As things stand, all the devolved Administrations appear to be opposed to this Bill in its current form. In Amendment 42, I offer just a modest solution to a very small part of the problem that the Government face. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain exactly how he sees the assistance centre working, how large it will be, what it will actually do and the estimated cost.

Amendment 49 relates to the interaction of this Bill with common frameworks, an issue that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. Several noble Lords can boast that they have the T-shirt in relation to common frameworks and their interaction with government attempts to regain devolved powers. We fought several rounds with the Government on this issue during the passage of the internal market Bill. It is not at all clear how this Professional Qualifications Bill interacts with the well-established common frameworks programme.

There is a recognition of professional qualifications framework in preparation by BEIS, but it seems to have been delayed and there has been no explanation for that delay. Is this Bill designed to replace that common framework? If so, the Government need to tell the devolved Administrations, because they would much rather go ahead on the basis of a framework that involves non-legislative co-operation and a lot of working by consensus. This amendment is designed to ensure that the common framework on professional qualifications is not undermined or overtaken by any provisions in this Bill.

The noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and I are all members of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee. This week we took evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and discussed his report on the future of the union. The emphasis in that discussion was on the need to develop the strengths of working together co-operatively. There was a consensus that common frameworks are a key part of this development.

Amendment 57 would mean that the Secretary of State would make regulations under this Act, when passed, only if they related to England or to the whole of the UK, or were outside the legislative competencies of the devolved Administrations. There are an awful lot of regulatory powers in this Bill, including powers to amend primary legislation via statutory instruments. Paragraph 23 of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report remarks that not only does the Bill allow requirements based on statute to be watered down by secondary legislation, but there is not even a requirement to consult the devolved Administrations. This is just not good enough.

Amendment 57 is long and complex. It may need some tightening up on Report. I am pleased that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, is following me. He might well be able to explain in further detail how he thinks it could be improved. There are other issues to be discussed because the Senedd’s legislative competence does not always coincide with the executive powers of Ministers, which are sometimes wider. Importantly, if the Secretary of State is legislating on a UK-wide basis on an issue that involves devolved competence, there should be provision in the Bill for a requirement to obtain the consent of the devolved Administrations first. I hope that the Minister will agree that there needs to be discussion across the House and with the devolved Administrations to make substantial improvements on these issues before Report.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee) 4:30 pm, 9th June 2021

My Lords, I shall speak to all the amendments in this group. I do not wish to say anything further about the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, save to say that I warmly support them, as I do the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.

I come to the principal issue on which I wish to speak. Amendment 57 and Clause 14 demonstrate that there are two significant issues before this Parliament. The first is the extent to which we have framework legislation with Henry VIII powers—and with a vague statement that these are needed—while knowing that there is no opportunity for proper scrutiny and amendment of the powers that will be exercised in subsequent regulation. The second problem is what I would describe as the chipping away—because this is what it is becoming—of the devolution arrangements. This is being done without the consent of the devolved Governments and without putting in place a proper framework for joint agreement on how to move forward where there is a necessity for a UK solution. I fear that these issues will bedevil this Session of Parliament. They come to a head in Clause 14.

Clause 14 gives the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State power to make regulations in devolved areas. It is immensely concerning that Henry VIII powers are being used without any indication as to precisely how this is to be done and no real argument as to why they are necessary. It is difficult to understand why this area needs to be chipped away. What is the benefit for the future of the union? It would be useful if the Minister could say what he sees as the benefits and acknowledge the costs of the damage to the union.

I warmly support Amendment 57, subject to one matter I shall mention later. It is difficult to see why this problem cannot be dealt with by Amendment 57. This would leave the devolved Ministers to make decisions within their areas of devolved competence. Something like a common framework or some structure for common policy-making could then be used to resolve the differences. Using the twin devices of framework legislation and Henry VIII powers is quite the wrong way to go about our constitutional arrangements. I hope the Minister will be prepared to discuss these issues in much greater detail.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has already touched on the point I wish to make about Amendment 57. Its proposed new subsection (5) is taken from Clause 14 of the Bill as it stands, and seems a wholly unnecessary irritant. It is not constitutionally necessary. I do not understand why this Government wish to irritate people by further constraining the powers of the Welsh Ministers in a way that is wholly unnecessary. Again, a cost-benefit analysis, thinking what we are doing this for, would be a great step forward.

I hope that the difficulties inherent in the combination of the Henry VIII powers and the chipping away of devolution can be seriously discussed between those in the devolved Administrations, together with this House and the Government. I would welcome such discussions before Report to avoid what it seems is a further significant strengthening of those who wish to oppose the union for very little benefit in return.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland)

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group, particularly Amendments 13, 41, 42 and 57, which look to formal consultation with the devolved Administrations and, in the case of Amendment 41, the consent—under certain conditions—of the devolved Administrations to any regulations made under this section.

As all speakers on this group and in the debates on previous amendments have said, the Bill involves wide-ranging powers and Henry VIII clauses. These are apparently justified on the grounds that what may be required cannot be anticipated, and therefore cannot be legislated for in advance. This seems a dangerous and spurious catch-all which, of itself, is sufficient justification for requiring formal consultation with the devolved Administrations.

This all relates to trade deals yet to be negotiated. It will hinge on areas of skills shortages across and within the UK, as well as the opportunity for UK professionals to practise abroad. Professional regulation must surely be founded on ensuring that any professional is safely and properly qualified and experienced to practise in all or part of the UK. Yet this Bill and the powers within it are specifically linked to trade deals, and there is a risk that deals involving reciprocity could lead to standards being compromised. This concern has been identified by the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House.

Also, given that skills shortages vary across the UK, and by time and sector, if a devolved Administration identify a skill shortage, will the Immigration Rules also be taken into account, not just the professional qualifications regulations? Clearly, that will be necessary.

The Government have stated that they would,

“not normally make regulations under these powers in devolved areas without the agreement of the relevant devolved authority”.

Right from the very beginning of the Brexit debate, however, we have debated what “normally” means. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has pointed out, it looks like a shifting definition, and one that is not to the benefit of the devolved Administrations—or indeed to the professions in the devolved areas.

In this context we should also consider the role of the assistance centre, whose staff should surely all be thoroughly conversant with all regulators, including in the devolved Administrations. The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, would be a helpful contribution to that, because the assistance centre is a welcome recommendation, but only if it is properly qualified and its staff fully appreciate what goes on across all aspects of the UK. In areas as complex and specific as professional qualifications, that is a big ask, which must be answered. The scale and diversity of the professions that we are discussing, and the regulators that engage with them, absolutely require that any changes should be carried out only after consultation and, wherever possible, consent.

As an example of this, Scotland has long had an all-graduate teaching profession. It is sad that Scotland’s education performance has fallen down the international scale; however, that is not the fault of the teaching profession but of a curriculum and examinations set-up that is simply not fit for purpose, yet whose reform is not being tackled. We are not short of qualified teachers. Many are unable to find permanent employment, which in itself is a scandal. We certainly need to tackle education reform in Scotland. In that context there may be a role for teachers from other countries to make a contribution, but it would be regrettable if standards were compromised in a trade deal, and if those teachers were recruited while well-qualified teachers in Scotland were unable to get employment in the profession, which is where we are currently.

The UK Government say that they are working with the devolved authorities on a number of common frameworks. I also have the T-shirt as a member of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, as do five noble Lords contributing to this group of amendments. The Government say that they are working on common frameworks to help co-ordinate policy development between UK nations where powers have returned from the EU and intersect with devolved competencies. This includes the mutual recognition of professional qualifications: the MRPQ framework.

In an update covering 26 September to December 2020, the Cabinet Office said that discussions on the framework made progress during that period but that development timelines should be extended. It went on:

“Agreement was reached between the UK Government and the devolved administrations that both MRPQ and Services should be developed over extended timelines to allow for more work to be done. All administrations remain committed to working to develop and agree these frameworks.”

That is all welcome, but I hope the Minister will agree that, as I have pointed out, the range and complexity of the regulation of professional qualifications, and uncertainty over the changes that may be needed, require formal consultation to be carried out and consent secured. How will this happen if we are operating on different timelines? The Government may be out there desperately trying to negotiate trade deals while all these procedures are in the process of a long, drawn-out common frameworks negotiation. As we know, the common frameworks are well behind the schedule originally hoped for and planned.

They have clearly set out the mechanism and an arrangement—which those of us on the committee feel has much to commend it—that seeks the maximum amount of co-operation and consent, looks to have fair and balanced dispute resolution mechanisms and ought to be the model for how the interconnection and co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations is carried through going forward. It would be good if Ministers acknowledged that so much has been learned in this process that it should be applied not just to those areas that were historically part of the transition out of the EU but to all future ways of working, and the principles on which the common frameworks have been founded and developed.

This would be required not only for decisions by the UK Government but decisions by devolved Ministers, and also situations where concurrent powers have been called into play, because from the professional point of view it does not matter whether the regulations that are being changed by this Bill are coming from the UK, from the devolved Administrations or from them operating together. As professionals they would still want to be consulted and to ensure that any changes were justified and appropriate and did not compromise the professional standards that the regulators have spent their time establishing over many years—indeed, since well before the UK joined the EU. Those standards should not be set aside because we are now leaving it.

I hope the Minister recognises that very serious issues are at stake here. This Bill is very broadly drawn. It applies to a huge area of really important professional standards and qualifications and absolutely requires a framework of consultation and consent to ensure that it actually works.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 4:45 pm, 9th June 2021

My Lords, I put my name down to speak to this group of amendments—the first time I have participated in this Committee—because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, they collectively address a basic constitutional principle.

I find myself in the slightly unusual position of standing up to speak in favour of preserving current constitutional arrangements. However, I pick up on the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that what is happening here is a chipping away of devolved powers. I put it to those who wish to see the union continue that squeezing more tightly—squeezing away powers—is the way to ensure that people choose to slip out of its grasp.

I suspect that we might hear the Minister, as we have heard from Ministers in so many other debates on so many different subjects, say: “Don’t worry, we don’t mean any ill, this Government do not mean the wrong thing”. This morning, I was talking about the situation and debate around the potential Australian trade deal—about hormone-laced beef and animal welfare standards—and we said in that context, as in so many others, that words are just words. We need guarantees in a Bill.

All these amendments head in the direction that I would like to see, but I highlight in particular Amendments 41, 42 and 57. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said that his amendment was not absolutely revolutionary, although, as you might expect to hear from me, I rather tend towards the total peaceful revolution. The amendment says that there would have to be a delay before a devolved Administration could be overruled. I question whether there would be any circumstances in which it would be reasonable for a devolved Administration to be overruled. I therefore repeat a question I put at Second Reading, to which I did not get an answer: can the Minister give examples of circumstances in which the Government might feel it right and justified to overrule a ruling from a devolved Administration, where that Administration say “No, these regulations on professional qualifications you are trying to impose are not good enough for us and do not meet our needs”?

In looking at why there might be different rules in different places, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, pointed to the differences in legal systems, which is one very obvious area—a long-running historic circumstance. But there are also practical differences.

Somebody mentioned driving instructors. Driving in the highlands of Scotland may be very different from driving in most parts of England and there may be good, practical reasons why qualifications may be different in different nations, for obvious reasons, but also, of course, we are very much talking about politics. In something of an aside, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to Welsh language qualifications for teachers in Wales. These are issues of intense political debate and discussion; they are not merely small, technical issues that can be ironed out by dealing with a few technical measures. These are political decisions that have been made by devolved Administrations who have been given constitutional powers that are supposed to be guaranteed. So it is very clear that we need to see change to what we have currently in the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, highlighted something I have been puzzling over. At Second Reading, a lot of people questioned the whole issue of the assistance centre, and it is very hard to see how this all fits together for something so complex and difficult. As many noble Lords have said thus far in Committee, this really feels like a severely undercooked Bill; a great deal of work is needed. This is one area where I really believe we have to see change, and if we do not see change from the Government when we get to Report, we will be coming back to this and very much consulting with the devolved nations. We need to see that kind of consultation and involvement, and the first place where we really should be seeing consent from the nations is in their acceptance of the form that the Bill takes.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, like others who have spoken, I strongly support these amendments. I am most grateful for the most comprehensive speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who laid out clearly what the issues are, both in terms of the constitutional conflict that is in the Bill at the moment, and the consequences of it, and also the consequences for services within Wales. I think these also apply to Scotland, but I should declare an interest as someone who lives and works in Wales—that is the area of my own experience. I ask the Minister to explain quite clearly why the draft of the Bill was given to the Welsh Government only a week before it was published, and why the final version was not seen before it was laid on 12 May. To me, that does not feel like consultation or like any attempt to find a consensus agreement with devolved Administrations at all.

There is a concern that the skills shortages are being linked to the trade policy agenda, and how the new obligations on regulators could be moved and adjusted because they are driven by some trade policy, rather than by the need to ensure that we have safe and effective high-standard services for people within our nation. Although Clause 14 confers regulation-making powers on the appropriate national authority, these are exercisable only concurrently with the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor. That seems to make it possible that the Secretary of State or Lord Chancellor could legislate in devolved areas and would not be required to obtain the Minister’s consent to those regulations. I understand that the Minister stated in a letter that these powers would not normally be used, but the problem is that once this is in legislation, such assurances do not carry any weight at all, and they are not binding on this or any subsequent UK Government. So it would seem that there are really serious risks, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, outlined.

In the event that there needs to be regulatory compromise in the interests of trade—I cannot think of a specific example, but I see the confusion and conflict between these two areas—will the Minister confirm that any such regulatory compromise will be notified to Parliament, to ensure that there is parliamentary accountability for any pressure put on to compromise any standards? We have heard in this debate already about the importance of common frameworks, but I will finish by advocating that the Government look very carefully at these amendments and make sure that they do not drive a further wedge between the four nations, because the consequences really do not bear thinking about. I certainly agree with those who say that they create an additional threat to the cohesiveness of the union.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords), Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords)

My Lords, the Minister assured the House earlier this afternoon that the autonomy of the regulators would be respected. I am sure we all take the Minister’s assurance at face value and fully understand what he is getting at, but one of the many problems that lurks within the Bill and the wide regulation-making power it creates is the risk of causing collateral damage by careless or inadvertent wording or insufficient research before the power is exercised. As I said at Second Reading, the centralised systems that the Bill seeks to create will work only if the diversity that exists across the United Kingdom is fully respected. That is especially true where the devolved Administrations are concerned.

My own experience is confined to the systems for regulation of the legal profession in Scotland, but it is a guide to how the regulatory systems among the professions may differ from each other. In my cases, they involve not just one but two regulators working together, and there are different systems for the two branches of the legal profession in Scotland. For the Law Society of Scotland, which regulates solicitors, it is the society itself, working together with the Lord President of the Court of Session. For the Faculty of Advocates, it is the Court of Session itself, whose functions are then delegated to the Lord President of the faculty. The message that these two examples conveys is that it cannot be assumed that the regulatory systems that currently exist are alike in all cases, or even in most, so great care is needed to ensure that what is being done fits the requirements and practices of the profession that is being regulated.

This brings me to Amendments 13, 24, 35 and 40, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, to which I have added my name. The point that each of these amendments is making is that prior consultation with the devolved Administrations and the regulators is essential before the regulation-making powers in Clauses 1(4), 3(3) and 5(2) are exercised. I shall say a little more about each of these subsections.

Clause 1(4), which is about providing for individuals with overseas experience and qualifications to be treated as having UK qualifications, really has to be read with Clause 1(5), which sets out a list of the many provisions that may be made in the exercise of the Clause 1 power. They are very wide-ranging. Paragraphs (f) and (g) in the list are of particular concern, as they are so wide in their scope. The words “guidance” in (f) and “other duties” in (g), which are not otherwise qualified, leave a huge amount to the discretion of the national authority.

Clause 3(3) is designed to ensure that the national authority does not require anything which would contravene data protection legislation to be done when implementing any international recognition agreement. That really must be read with Clause 3(1), which is the principal regulation-making power in this clause. Perhaps it is to that provision, not Clause 3(3), that this amendment should be directed, but the regulation-making power is very wide here too. The only controls that appear are that which Clause 3(3) itself sets out and the content of the international recognition agreement, which is unlikely to be tailor-made to the systems for regulating the professions to which the exercise of this power is directed. Clause 5(2), which gives power to modify legislation in consequence of the revocation of the EU system, is also very widely expressed.

I support the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about these amendments. Whether the Lord President of the Court of Session, who is mentioned in each of them, really needs to be consulted in every case is perhaps open to question. This could be confined to cases where the appropriate national authority is the Scottish Parliament and those where the regulations proposed relate to the legal profession in Scotland—although that is a point of detail which should not detract from the key points that the noble Baroness has made.

I add my support to Amendment 40, which relates to making arrangements for the publication by the assistance centre, under Clause 7, of advice and information relating to the entry requirements for regulated professions and overseas professions. Clause 7 gives rise to concern for various reasons that noble Lords have already mentioned, but I am concerned particularly with “must” in the first line of the clause. This is a duty to be placed on the Secretary of State to be exercised right across the board in every case, not just to fill in gaps that the professions themselves may have created in the information they provide. As it happens, the two professions for whose regulations I was responsible went to great lengths to provide that information in their own way and adapted to their own ways of working when they were working with the EU system that is now being revoked. I am sure that they will be as anxious to do the same as speedily as they can under the new system. It is hard to see how what they will produce could be improved upon by what this clause provides for, which begs the question of whether Clause 7 is really necessary. The giving of such advice and information by the assistance centre under a duty that is imposed by the word “must” could cause confusion too, unless all that the assistance centre does is simply to direct the interested party to the regulating system for the particular profession, where that advice and information is to be found. Here, too, consultation is the key to avoiding consultation. I hope the Minister will recognise the importance of that point.

I did not add my name to the other amendments in this very interesting group, but I will say a word in support of Amendment 41 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. The insistence on “consent” by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in his Amendment 41 is very well taken. I have tried on many occasions in this House, on a variety of Bills, to insist that the word “consent” is a necessary step where the devolved Administrations are concerned. I see no harm whatever in pointing out that requirement again in the context of this Bill, for the reasons the noble Lord mentioned.

As for Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, it is very interesting that five members of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee are participating in this debate: the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Bruce of Bennachie—who made a very important contribution to our discussion—the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and myself. The common frameworks system is not yet all that well understood in government, but the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, described it very well when he referred to it as a mechanism for co-operation and consent. It is now becoming a well-established system for involving all four parts of the United Kingdom to achieve a system—without going through the statutory routes which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, so rightly criticised—through discussion and co-operation, and ultimately with consent, which will be respected. Whether the system will be used widely across the professions with which the Bill is concerned is a matter for speculation, but it is very important that, should that system be recognised, the common frameworks should be respected and protected, as is provided for in the internal market Act as a result of amendments made in this House. There is great force in those additional amendments, and I offer my support for them and for the amendments which the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has tabled.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development) 5:00 pm, 9th June 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord. To start where he left off, it is a disappointment that the Government chose not to have this Bill as a creature of the frameworks agreement, especially given the fact that recognition of professional qualifications was an area where there had been outstanding differences between the devolved Administrations. Indeed, many lengthy debates during the passage of the internal market Act led to some progress on the recognition of the frameworks, as the noble and learned Lord indicated.

My concern is added to by the fact that we persuaded the Government to have further exclusions—through government amendments—on the education and legal professions, with the exemptions in the internal market Act. However, it is not categorically stated within this legislation that we will not effectively see a back door. Because they are Henry VIII powers, the regulations that could be made under this Bill could be used—as the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Finlay of Llandaff, indicated—to implement a trade agreement which can effectively trump the internal market Act by including education and legal professions under MRA elements of trade agreements, which are excluded in the operation of the internal market Act. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that that will not be the case and confirm the principles established in the internal market Act for those professions which are considered very strong for public service. I understand that there are carve-outs for certain professions—which the Canadians in particular have had—in our Canada agreement. I would be very interested to know if that is the Government’s position.

The reason why I was slightly alarmed by the Minister’s response to the point I made in the previous group is that there are existing mechanisms—as she heard me say—under Section 60 of the Health Act for England and, as the noble and learned Lord indicated, there are certain areas where regulators have a statutory responsibility to seek approval from the Scottish Parliament for certain changes, including fees. Those mechanisms, certainly for Section 60, require public consultation and parliamentary procedures—approvals —in the Scottish Parliament, but the Minister said that there was no need for any consultation on an SI because the Government would publish an impact assessment on it. That is quite alarming, and not only because these provisions can apply across the UK. If the Government are not even committed to consulting the devolved Administrations, in addition to stakeholders, on some of these regulations, that would be contrary to many elements of what we have been told by the Government up until now about working closely with the devolved Administrations. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that that would never be the case—that regulations would never be brought forward that would impact upon the devolved Administrations without consultation. How that could apply more easily under this legislation than previous legislation was outlined clearly by my noble friend Lady Randerson and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay.

Because of the concurrent nature of the powers under this legislation, in effect, the Government seem to suggest that the Secretary of State, the Lord Chancellor, the Welsh Ministers, the Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland department are all acting equally. That is not the case when it comes to UK Ministers’ determinations with regard to the impact on the other regulators. The Scottish Parliament cannot bring forward any regulations if it believes that a demand for professions could be met from other parts of the UK or abroad. The Scottish Parliament cannot bring forward regulations to make it easier to apply from other parts of the UK to Scottish regulators. But the UK Government can do that for Scotland if it was regarding England. I do not know why that is the case, because it is not reasonable. If the powers of determining demand rest with the UK Government, they should also, as the UK Government say, rest with the devolved Administrations. But of course they do not. The Secretary of State retains the power to activate this if the Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish Ministers do not. So a concurrent power, in my mind, is always a kind of “If you don’t, we will” power, and I think it is best removed.

I speak now in support of my noble friend Lady Randerson’s amendment on the assistance centre. She and I both had difficulty finding information about the centre in the impact assessment, which goes back to the comments I made about the viability of impact assessments on consultation. But it turns out it was not there; it is in a different document, the policy paper Recognition of Professional Qualifications and Regulation of Professions: Policy Statement, coincidentally published on the same day as the Bill. The policy statement indicated a direction of travel at exactly the same time as the destination was highlighted. So we are back in the situation of there being two parallel processes.

That policy paper stated that the decision had already been made about the assistance centre, as a contract had been issued. That had not been mentioned by the Minister in his Second Reading speech, and it is not in the impact assessment. The UK Centre for Professional Qualifications, run by Ecctis Ltd, has been given the contract. I see the Minister shaking his head, but I will quote from the policy paper, if he does not mind:

“The UK has an existing contract with the UK Centre for Professional Qualifications to be the designated assistance centre.”

That is in the policy paper. If he can confirm that is not the case in his response, I would be grateful. Either the policy paper is wrong or there is not a contract. But if there is, he can make clear how much that has been issued for and provide information about that. I see the Minister nodding, so that is going to be helpful.

The final element I would like to raise—a separate concern about the necessity for consultation—is that on the medical professions consultation paper there is a clear list of 13 offences against fitness to practise. There are five Scottish offences and two Northern Irish offences and, if someone has committed or is committing one of them, they are no longer fit to practise. Because this list has the Scottish offences, but there is no reference in any of the provisions in the regulation-making powers under this Bill, I simply do not know what the interaction would be with regard to the fitness to practise offences. For example, because the Government have not made any comment about this so far, when it comes to bringing forward elements to ease applications from abroad, how do our regulators know that the applicant has not committed an equivalent offence in their jurisdiction, especially if in certain areas there are separate Scottish offences from those listed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? I hope the Minister can give reassurance that no regulations could be made to change this that would make it harder for our regulators to find out whether those who are applying will have committed an equivalent of the listed offence. If the Minister can offer reassurance on these points, I would be grateful.

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) 5:15 pm, 9th June 2021

My Lords, I am going to leave the question of an assistance centre to one side. I think I have an amendment later on to delete it from the Bill. I have yet to understand why we need a statutory body and why this cannot just happen. We were told that all this is being done at the moment, perhaps by BEIS, so I really do not understand why it has to be in here. But we will come to that elsewhere.

Colleagues know we are on somewhat delicate ground with these issues, with the devolved authorities having been excluded too many times, going right back to the Brexit negotiations and then the Internal Market Bill, with UK powers imposed over devolved competencies. Since then, we have seen the Government wanting to spend the levelling up fund and the shared prosperity fund on projects in the devolved areas but also in areas where the devolved Governments would normally spend money—and where, frankly, the devolved Governments know best how expenditure should be part of their strategy. That is the background to how we are looking at this. So the Bill—as the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Randerson, said—being seen a week before it was introduced is just more of the same: them as an afterthought.

I am not going to repeat here in public what the Minister told me in private was the reason for this, although he might like to spread that a bit further if he thought others would be interested. But the second reason given was that the other Governments had been in purdah and therefore this was not possible. While that may well be the reason it could not be shown straight away, it does not explain why the Bill had to be suddenly published and rushed into this House without taking a breath. There is no reason to think that suddenly we need more doctors, nurses, vets, furriers and everything else—a sudden shortage of skilled people—and that is why we need the Bill to give powers to regulators if, as I said earlier, there are any that do not have them at the moment.

Therefore, of course, the feeling is this is being rushed through because there is some trade deal in the offing that needs this urgently. If that is the case, I think we should be told. In one of his answering letters, I think the Minister said he could not comment on current negotiations. This seems too important. If it was not shown to the devolved authorities because they were having elections but then has to be rushed into this House, it feels to me either that the Government forgot about the devolved Administrations or that there is something else going on.

The problem, therefore—and the reason why the environment in which this is taking place is important—is that this Bill replays exactly the same problems as we had with the internal market Act. At first glance, the use of concurrent powers looks like a rather deliberate, perhaps subtle, undermining of devolution because it allows the Secretary of State to amend or repeal Welsh primary and secondary legislation and regulations even in areas of devolved competence, as we have heard. Also, in the case of Wales—like the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I come from there, so I am always much more aware of the differences there—it would apply to devolved regulators such as the Education Workforce Council and Social Care Wales.

The Minister has said that these powers will not “normally” be used but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, that does not offer a lot of comfort. Nice man though the Minister is, his words are not law and are not binding on the UK Government. We very much hope that the Government will accept Amendment 41, tabled by my noble friend Lord Foulkes, which seems to strike a really good balance. As in the 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. So it is not an absolute veto, but it starts on the assumption of working towards consent, which is really important. I am absolutely confident that my noble friend will bring that back on Report.

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)

I thought he might. I think he can probably expect us to support him in that.

Amendment 49, which is in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, would specifically allow the common framework approach, which we have been discussing, to trump the use of these powers in instances where the common framework procedure is developing a mutual recognition of professional qualifications framework. As we have heard, in its update covering the fourth quarter of last year, the Cabinet Office reported that discussions on the MRPQ framework had made progress, though the development timelines have had to be extended. As the Government and the devolved Administrations want the MRPQ framework to be completed, we want nothing from this Bill to be done outside of its remit.

The significance of how the devolved authorities are treated in this Bill has ramifications beyond the issue with which we are concerned today, which is the regulation of professional qualifications. I urge the Minister to engage with the relevant Ministers in the devolved Governments and do everything in his power at least to shore up, and hopefully strengthen, devolution rather than undermine it.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said that the Government are chipping away at the devolution settlement; I think that that is what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, was referring to when he talked about collateral damage. Something that happens in this Bill is chipping away at a really important part of the devolution settlement. I must ask the Minister whether he understands that. Does he understand those feelings? If so, does he feel an obligation, for the sake of the union, to amend the Bill to alleviate these concerns? I hope that we will hear a thoughtful and positive response from him on this.

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, these amendments have brought about a fulsome and entirely appropriate debate about respecting the devolution settlements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the Bill continues its passage through the House.

Let me start by saying, in a direct answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that I, too, find her a very nice person, although I must say that I think she has a suspicious mind in relation to this Bill. I assure her and other noble Lords that there is nothing going on about the timing of FTAs which is driving this Bill.

On a point of fact, the Bill was seen by the Administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on 22 April. This was just eight days after I first saw it, so it was not hidden or kept in a drawer away from the DAs until the last possible moment. It was seen by them pretty much as soon as I saw it after it had been prepared.

I assure noble Lords at the outset that the Government fully respect the devolution settlements. Devolved matters should of course be, except in the most exceptional circumstances, for the devolved Administrations to legislate on. The Government have no desire for this Bill to chip away at that in any way. I can confirm that we will seek legislative consent for the Bill in line with the Sewel convention, and we do not in any way intend to use this Bill to chip away at the devolution settlements.

I can confirm for the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, that it is not part of our trade policy to compromise our standards. We have had many debates about that in this House. Free trade agreements will not compromise our standards or those of regulators. No free trade agreement will have the power to do that.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for tabling Amendment 57 concerning the authority by whom regulations may be made and concurrent powers. I suggest that it is entirely fitting that the current definition of “appropriate national authority” in Clause 14 means that Scottish and Welsh Ministers and Northern Ireland departments are the appropriate national authorities and may make regulations, provided, of course, that they fall within the competence of the relevant devolved legislature. In direct answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, let me say that the Government do not intend to disturb this in any way.

The issue is that this is a very complex landscape. As I have said before, it involves 160 professions and 50 regulators. Regulation varies between professions. Some professions are regulated on a UK-wide basis despite being within devolved competence. Some professions are also regulated across Great Britain. So the complexity of the regulatory landscape makes the use of concurrent powers important to the Bill’s operation in a purely practical sense. They are meant to be entirely practical and are not intended to undermine the authority of the devolved Administrations in any way. They make sure that professions that fall within devolved competence could have regulations brought forward across several parts of the UK by the relevant national authority. This will provide those professions with certainty and continuity.

Amendment 49, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, aims to ensure that Clause 9 does not affect the establishment or operation of a common framework. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, also made this point. I am a huge enthusiast for common frameworks to make our systems work as efficiently as possible.

As noble Lords know, the common framework on the regulation of professional qualifications is under development between the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure a common approach on powers that have returned following our exit from the European Union and which intersect with devolved competence. Although this amendment relates specifically to Clause 9, let me assure noble Lords that we are committed to ensuring that the provisions in this Bill work alongside the common frameworks programme. We absolutely will consider this as we develop the framework further. The Bill does not constrain that.

There was a hiatus in the development of this framework, while work paused during the election period in Wales and Scotland. We are very keen now to resume discussions to seek collective agreement on the timeline for delivery of the framework, including concentration on interactions with this Bill.

I now turn to Amendments 13, 24 and 35, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, that relate to consultation with the devolved Administrations and other interested parties. 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.

Starting with Amendment 13, we have already spent considerable time debating the purpose and mechanics of Clause 1. In determining which professions meet the conditions set out in Clause 2, and before making any regulations under Clause 1, there would, of course, be close engagement with interested parties, including the devolved Administrations.

Amendment 24 seeks to introduce a similar requirement to consult before regulations are laid to implement international agreements under Clause 3. 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. As noble Lords have perhaps heard me say before, the Department for International Trade already engages with a range of parties, including regulators and devolved Administrations, to understand their priorities and inform the UK’s approach to trade agreements with future trade partners. Under these amendments, the appropriate national authority would be required to consult before laying regulations to implement these agreements. 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.

Turning to my noble friend’s amendment to Clause 5, which introduces a requirement to consult before laying regulations that make consequential amendments following the revocation of the existing EU-derived recognition system, 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.

I now turn to the assistance centre, to clarify some of the misconceptions that perhaps exist about this. I would like to thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their amendments. For their comments made during the debate, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and others. I think where the confusion arises is that the assistance centre is already in operation, and the contract that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to is already in existence. The assistance centre is in operation because that was a consequence of the EU legislation. When the EU legislation is no longer in operation in relation to this area, if we are to continue with an assistance centre, we need new legislative cover to do it.

Perhaps I can correct a misconception about the size and nature of this centre. It is basically a focal point —a signposting mechanism that tells people where to go to get more information about professions. I think it employs either two or three people. So I hope I can assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that this centre is de minimis and meant to be very helpful, as shown by how it is used. I looked up some statistics: it received 1,600 queries between June 2020 and May 2021. These queries can be as simple as saying, “What is the address of the place I have to write to, to find out how I become a nurse in Great Britain?” Its website received 2,000 hits in May 2021. So it is a signposting service, as opposed to the more grandiose service that I suspect some noble Lords suspect it is.

Of course, we support the aims of close collaboration with the devolved Administrations that underpin these amendments. However, we believe that, given the nature of this assistance centre, the duties as set out in the amendments introduce unnecessary, disproportionate burdens. The existing contract for the assistance centre comes to an end in 2022—this is the contract that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to. Commercial confidentiality means that I cannot give the value of the contract, but I can tell noble Lords that it is a surprisingly small sum, given the extent of the work that the assistance centre does.

I can absolutely reassure noble Lords, and give a commitment to this effect, that my officials will work closely with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations as we consider the future of this service. No new contract will be entered into without officials consulting their counterparts in the devolved Administrations. So I hope noble Lords will accept that there is no need to place this requirement in legislation, given the scale and scope of this assistance centre. Of course, my officials already engage with the devolved Administrations on this matter. They need to get contact points, to know where to refer people to who are coming to the assistance centre. Naturally, the consult with the devolved Administrations and the devolved regulators about that.

Finally, I would like to reassure the House that, as well as working closely with the devolved Administrations, the Government have engaged with regulators and professional bodies that fall within devolved competence, such as legal and education sectors, as we developed the proposals in the Bill, and we will continue to do so.

Before I conclude, I turn quickly to the question that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about the interaction between the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and this Bill. I hope I can reassure noble Lords by saying that there is no direct interaction between the framework for recognising overseas qualifications in this Bill and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. This is because the recognition framework in this Bill, as and when applied, would be limited to the recognition of professional qualifications and experience gained overseas. The principles and processes, under the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, are limited to the recognition of professional qualifications held by UK residents, and experience obtained mainly in the UK.

The question of fees was raised again by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on this group. I think it might be helpful to noble Lords if I was to write to the noble Lord, and place a copy in the Library, setting out exactly and clarifying the policy on fees, and how the various bits about fees interrelate in this Bill, so that, frankly, everybody knows what we are arguing about, as and when we argue about that.

That brings to an end my points on this group. I hope that I have managed at least in part—although I am well aware that my assurances from the Dispatch Box are not always taken with the weight that I would wish them to be—to reassure noble Lords about our approach with regard to engagement with the devolved Administrations, as well as the use of concurrent powers. I would also like to reassure once again the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that there is nothing funny going on in relation to this.

I will of course be happy to discuss these matters further. Anyone who has listened to our debate could not help but be struck by the conviction of those who have spoken about these matters. I am happy to discuss them further with noble Lords, but I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:30 pm, 9th June 2021

My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Lord Purvis of Tweed. We will start with the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

I thank the Minister for his response to several of the issues that I have raised. I welcome his assurances on the common framework on this issue and I look forward, along with colleagues across the Committee, to scrutinising it in due course. I also welcome the information that he has provided on the assistance centre. That is helpful, but it would have been even more helpful if it had been included in the impact assessment so that we would not have had to waste time today seeking that information.

Finally, I want to make an important point. To me, it sounds as if the Minister has been really surprised by this Bill and therefore it should not be unexpected that the devolved Administrations have been surprised by it too. Since the vast majority of the Bill touches on devolved powers, why were not the officials of the devolved Administrations, if not the Ministers, involved at an earlier stage in the development of this policy? That would have improved trust if that had happened. Perhaps I may urge the Minister to make up for lost time by having some fairly intensive discussions with the devolved Administrations over the coming days.

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 accept the point made by the noble Baroness about the assistance centre. In response to her other points, many things have surprised me since I became a Minister, so I am no longer surprised by them.

I should add that my officials have been in very regular contact about this with officials in the devolved Administrations. I have pulled out the Bill date as a specific one, but of course officials have been working hard on this for some time, right back to the call for evidence that was asked for last year. A lot of consultation has been going on, but again it is the complexity of this Bill that has led to perhaps there still being some rough edges, which I think the debates in our House are helping to iron out.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I am interested in the revelation that the Minister saw the Bill only eight days before the devolved Administrations, Can the Minister tell us which Minister supervised the drafting of the Bill?

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 am the Minister responsible for the Bill and the policy; I am not just the Lords spokesman on the Bill. Of course, the work that goes on before a Bill appears on one’s desk is enormous: instructions to parliamentary counsel, development of the policy and so on. I am the policy Minister in relation to this Bill as well as the Minister who has the pleasure of addressing your Lordships’ House on the matter.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development) 5:45 pm, 9th June 2021

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response to the points raised by my noble friend and myself about the assistance centre. I thought he might reply along those lines, which is why I have the EU directive with me. The directive has never stipulated that a member state has had to have one centre. I shall quote from recital (33):

“In particular, it does not prevent the designation at national level of several offices, the contact point designated within the aforementioned network being in charge of coordinating with the other offices and informing the citizen, where necessary, of the details of the relevant competent office.”

There has never been a requirement under EU law for there to be a single member state office, but I welcome the fact that the Government recognise that the small, efficient European office that he claims was in place has to be put, as the very first thing the Government are doing, on a statutory basis in the post-Brexit world. I think that it is worth saying to the Minister that there was never that requirement, so I look forward to further debates about why the Government are insisting that there should now be a statutory office as the single point of contact.

My question to the Minister is this: he did not quite give a reassurance about the professions within Scotland that have been excluded from the internal market. However, I heard what he said about the interaction with the internal market Bill. I welcome the fact that he will be writing to me, so perhaps he might add that element about the legal and education professions. Regardless of the reassurance, my reading of the Bill is that it could potentially bring into scope those professions which have been excluded from the internal market Bill.

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 thank the noble Lord for his question. As he spoke, I was reminded that I had not fully answered it and I will certainly write to him on it. I hope that he and other noble Lords will agree that having four statutory assistance centres would probably be to overegg the pudding.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I have received a further request to speak from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, so I will call the noble Baroness now.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I return to the question that I raised both at Second Reading and in my comments today. As the amendment seeks to address, it would appear that there is the possibility of the Government here in Westminster overruling on this. There are currently no requirements to consult or to interact with the devolved Administrations, but as I say, there is a possibility that the Government could overrule—and that indeed is referred to in the guidance for this legislation. I will ask the Minister again: under what circumstances would he imagine that the Government would overrule a devolved Administration if it objected to arrangements?

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 thank the noble Baroness for that point. Frankly, I can conceive of no circumstances in the area of professional regulation and the mutual recognition of professional qualifications where the Government would wish to overrule any devolved Administration.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to it, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.

I regret to say that I am not completely assuaged by the replies of my noble friend. I will take as an example the wording of Amendment 13, which seeks to ensure that there is

“a formal consultation with the devolved administrations, regulators and the Lord President of the Court of Session.”

I take the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that I do not expect the Lord President to be involved in every case, but I listened carefully to what he said at Second Reading and that is why this is included.

At Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, also highlighted the fact that while consultation with professionals is essential, as I think we would all agree, there is no mention of that either in the Bill or in the Explanatory Notes. I therefore remain discontent and dissatisfied. While in his summing up, my noble friend the Minister said that a lot of consultation had taken place, he did not say what form that consultation would take.

I have a further cause for concern, referring back to what the noble Lord said yesterday. I had hoped to intervene in the debate on the trade deal with Australia, but I was told that it was heavily oversubscribed. He made the point that the Trade and Agriculture Commission will only look at future trade deals literally just before they are to be signed. As we have heard in the debate on this group of amendments—and as the practice seems to have been—any consultation seems to be left to absolutely the last minute. It concerns me greatly that that is not doing justice to the complexity of this. I will look carefully at the Minister’s response before the next stage of proceedings. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 14. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division must make that clear in debate.