My Lords, I am very pleased to move Amendment 14, which would require the Secretary of State, the Scottish and Welsh Ministers, and the Northern Ireland department to consult when preparing regulations under Clause 1. A number of noble Lords have said that it is important that the UK Government consult the devolved Administrations. It is equally important that the devolved Administrations themselves consult the bodies affected. Sometimes they are quite good at that; sometimes not. It is therefore important that we make it clear that this is a requirement. At Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, pointed out the need for consultation by the appropriate national authorities when preparing regulations. Both the Law Society and I agree strongly with those comments, and on the need for consultation on draft regulations under the Bill. As colleagues have said on a number of other occasions, this is a very important and wide-ranging measure which affects a considerable number of professions—160 as stated in the Explanatory Notes and as other noble Lords have said earlier.
Government across the UK does not possess the in-depth knowledge that would enable it to legislate unless it has such pre-legislative consultation. The Minister said that he would
“anticipate that determining whether professions meet this condition would require extensive close working”.—[
BEIS has made it clear in its engagement with stakeholders such as the Law Society of Scotland that it agrees that it is important for the Government to engage extensively with a range of interested parties before legislating. BEIS may argue that it is already well established that Governments need to consult before making secondary legislation, including through the government consultation principles of 2018, so there is no need to legislate for this. That may be so, but I am not so sure. In a number of recent Acts, the Government have nevertheless expressly legislated for consultation duties such as these.
We certainly agree that aspects of the Bill will require close working between the Government and a range of interested parties, including the professions. However, “close working” does not necessarily include statutory consultation. We also know that legislation has a particular way of concentrating Ministers’ minds in a way which published guidelines do not. That may be why legislation as diverse as the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 have provisions which oblige the Secretary of State to consult before making orders or regulations. That statutory duty to consult is vital; it puts pressure on Ministers much more effectively than any guidelines. I therefore hope that the Government will seriously consider this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I apologise that what I am going to say has nothing to do with devolved Administrations, because the Bill obviously affects them greatly. The Bill is a law of unintended consequences. It has been described as having been written on the back of an envelope; that envelope has got a lot of writing all over it by now. Amendment 52, to which I have attached my name, is about how many organisations have not realised, and still do not realise, the impact of the Bill. They think: “Professional qualifications; that does not really worry us”. Many noble Lords have had consultations with large organisations, chartered organisations and the like, all of which have given us their opinion. Some have given us their opinion twice because they have changed it. However, small and medium-sized enterprises have not been consulted at all. They have probably not even known that this Bill exists and how it is going to affect them—how it is going to impact on the qualifications of their workforce and whether they are going to have problems with their workforce. When I talk about small and medium-sized enterprises, I mean those with one to 50 employees. If they have problems recruiting now, how will it be afterwards?
As the Bill seems to have been created on the hop, without thinking too much about some of the detail, we now come to trying to mop up a Bill which has not been terribly well thought out in the beginning. We have to look at how to rectify that after the Bill becomes an Act. My Amendment 52 is about the Government committing to there being a report back within 12 months of the Act being passed, particularly in relation to small and medium-sized enterprises. By then, they will have realised the impact of the Bill on the staff they have, do not have, and might have. They might then feel that they can contribute. At that stage, one year hence, perhaps we can put the then Act into a better format. At the moment, it certainly does not seem to have been thought out properly from beginning to end.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who has tabled a very useful amendment, Amendment 52, to which I was pleased to attach my name. I will speak chiefly to Amendment 55 in my name, but I will also look at the whole range of Amendments 52 to 55, which are all on variations of forms of reports. It might be useful for us to consider whether we can bring this together for Report. There is clearly a desire, coming from a number of different directions, to see a reporting and scrutiny mechanism for the Bill.
I will, however, briefly comment on and commend Amendment 19 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, which refers to consulting consumer interests. That is particularly interesting when we look back to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, at Second Reading, and the concerns about the way in which many of our professional services are failing to meet the needs both of those using them and of broader society. There is something useful in the suggestion from the noble Baroness that would be interesting to take forward.
I will now address Amendments 52 to 55, on the issue of reporting back. There has been great discussion in this Committee about the complexity of the Bill, the difficulty of fully understanding its impacts and, indeed, the fact that, with its range of Henry VIII powers, much of the detail will come in later regulation of which we have very limited or no democratic oversight.
There is a real argument for saying that we need an assessment point, whether it is one or two years or whatever, at which this House and the other place have a chance to assess the impact of the Bill, see where problems might have arisen and how they might be dealt with them. There is an underlying issue here that addresses much more broadly the functioning of the whole UK Government. I often hear from NGOs and businesses that the Government do things and never assess the impact of what they have done or whether what they are doing should be changed. A similar complaint that we often hear is that the Government or our structures fund pilot projects and sometimes we get assessments of them but even when those assessments are brilliant, they never get rolled out. We have some real structural problems with the way in which the Government work. At least if we built into the Bill an modest assessment and reporting-back process, we could perhaps set a model—a standard, even; let us think big—that could apply to future Bills and operations of the Government.
I come to the precise details of Amendment 55 on which I shall mostly focus and shall set out why it contains the reporting provisions proposed. Before doing so, I have to offer my thanks to the Public Bill Office, which offered its expert assistance in putting this amendment together. I should say that what is listed is not by any means exactly right but I hope that it is a starting point for discussion of some broader issues.
Amendment 55 calls for a report to be made within two years and at five-year intervals thereafter. It seeks to put the Bill in the context of how professional services are provided. We heard from the Minister when he outlined the Bill that addressing skills shortages is an important part of its aims. Proposed new paragraph (1)(a) is saying, “Let’s check to see how the Bill is actually doing”. I have set out the
“medical, construction and food production sectors.”
We can argue about them. The reasons for including the medical sector have been well canvassed and discussed by other noble Lords. We are in a situation in which there are nearly 35,000 unfilled nursing vacancies. In Sheffield, we are about to lose a much-loved GP surgery because it is simply impossible to find another GP partner for it. So including the medical sector is obvious.
I should also point out that the construction industry is included, which addresses the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. I spent a great deal of time recently talking to the Federation of Master Builders, particularly in the context of the hope that we will eventually have a workable retrofitting policy greatly to speed up the work of making our housing stock fit for the 21st century and the climate emergency. That will require an enormous number of skills, and we severely lack highly skilled people. Continental Europe, where there are passive house standards, high levels of building stock and retrofitting has been happening place for decades, is where the skills often exist. The Federation of Master Builders represents many small and medium-sized builders. How will they be able to get those skilled people in? What blocks or speed-in might the Bill offer?
Proposed new paragraph (1)(b) addresses a point that I raised at Second Reading. The Bill addresses only one side of the story on professional qualifications. We find that people are qualified to work in the UK but will we let them in, even if they have jumped through the hoops to find themselves qualified? I think here of the cases that we saw, particularly before the pandemic, although some of the issues have been dealt with in the short term in the light of the pandemic. We found that physiotherapists and nurses in particular were not earning enough money to earn the right to remain in the UK, even after working here for a number of years. They were facing being forced to leave the UK, while the NHS trusts that employed them were flying people around the world to recruit more people to fill the very posts from which we were throwing people out. We were seeing a situation in which the costs of recruitment were significant, particularly international recruitment, while we were losing the skills of people who had been here for a number of years and had acquired knowledge and understanding of the roles that they were being asked to fill during that time. It is therefore important that we look at the interaction between immigration and the professional qualification rules.
Paragraph (1)(c) of the proposed new clause looks at a broader issue and questions an aspect of Government policy. We have heard often from the Government that “We want to attract the best and brightest from around the world to the UK.” We are talking about something that has been going on for decades. Thinking particularly about medical professionals, we are taking people from the global south, who have been very expensively trained in countries that are grossly short of professionals themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, referred to this in an earlier group. We are taking people and bringing them here, and not training enough people ourselves. There are two sides to this and proposed new paragraph (1)(d) addresses whether the demand for doctors, nurses and associated health professionals is being met by training in the UK. There is a very important figure there to be looked at and considered.
As a gesture of good will, I am not going to make any reference to any ongoing debates anywhere else. I am simply going to say that we surely have a responsibility, given how much we have drawn on the resources of the global south in the past, to support the training of professionals in the global south, the professionals that are urgently needed there, and some of whom we will undoubtedly continue to see working in the UK. One of the things I stress is that we need to acknowledge that professionals will want to move around the world for personal and personal development reasons. We need to train more than we need because some of the people we train will go elsewhere. Some people from elsewhere will come here. We need to make sure that enough people are being trained around the world.
In the context of this Bill, there is a question about what we are doing to support professional bodies around the world. If we think about how the Bill is going to work, if someone is registered as a professional with a professional body in another country and that body is strong, well-resourced and has good record-keeping, the process of us recognising that person here should be very simple. We could simply say to the people in that country, “What have you got registered?” If that professional body is well-resourced, has the right data and all the information we need about their qualifications, that could be a very simple process of agreement between two professional bodies.
I have outlined how I see this amendment. I am not saying it is the perfect solution. I obviously will not be moving it now, but I think a lot more discussion is needed around reporting. However, I want to raise a final point that addresses this and other debates. The Minister has often said that the Government need the flexibility of Henry VIII clauses because it is a fast-changing world. I have been thinking about the debate thus far. We have been thinking a lot—I have myself—about people moving to the UK to provide professional services. I was drawn to a case study that emerged a month or so back about what has been happening with the national tutoring programme. It emerged that tutors as young as 17, earning as little as £1.57 an hour, with an average of £3.07 an hour, were, through that national programme, providing tutoring in maths for disadvantaged primary school pupils.
We think about what has been happening in our medical services through necessity throughout the pandemic. A great deal of medical consultations are now being conducted online. There is no requirement for the person doing that; they can be literally anywhere in the world. If we start to think about what has happened to so many professionals in the UK who have seen their employment conditions subjected to casualisation and zero hours contracts—I am thinking here of a lot of university lecturers—we see that how professionals are employed has changed enormously. I suggest to your Lordships that we need to think about how that is going to play out differently in the context of this Bill.
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. She was right to say that we will probably need to think a little further about the subsequent scrutiny arrangements for the operation of this legislation. I fear that the amendments we have at the moment probably do not do it.
Perhaps with the exception of Amendment 54, they all suffer from the difficulty of proposing subsequent scrutiny of the impact of this legislation on issues which will themselves be impacted by a wide range of other legislation, administration and circumstances. It is difficult to isolate the impact of this legislation in particular. When we re-examine it we should, if not legislating, certainly be looking to Ministers to say that we should focus on understanding how it is working after a suitable period. One of the conventional processes would be five-year, post-legislative scrutiny. That would probably be the appropriate route down which to go.
I want to say a word about the issue of consultation, which came up under the previous group. There are a number of amendments in this group, but I am pretty sure that the proposers of Amendments 25 and 29 will recognise that they do not provide appropriate consultation opportunities. If there is a mutual recognition agreement in an international agreement with another country, it will have been subject to its own consultation arrangements. To have another consultation on the regulations to implement it would be inappropriate. It is also inappropriate and unnecessary to consult on regulations simply to get rid of the existing EU directives or retained EU legislation.
Turning to Amendments 14 and 19, in both instances there is a good case for consultation. I am not sure whether it needs to be legislated for in statute, but we too often assume that there is a public law duty to consult when there is not. It may be better to have a statutory duty to consult even if it is framed, pretty much as these provisions are, in broad and general terms, just to ensure that Ministers go through the appropriate processes at the right time. I am quite supportive of Amendments 14 and 19 for these purposes, particularly Amendment 19.
We had a previous discussion about demand. You cannot look at demand for professional services without actually asking consumers, so making sure that consumers are consulted in the process would be a good approach. I hope that Ministers will at least look at whether there is a place for a statutory duty to consult on regulations under Clause 1, and on the question of demand for professional services being met.
My Lords, I will speak mainly to Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fox. I had hoped that he would speak before me, so I could hear his views on the amendment, but I support its intent. I might have some reservations regarding whether a report should be made within 12 months or a longer period, as others have mentioned. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that it is not a question of the impact on innovations of this Bill alone, but the cumulative impact of other Bills, to which this one might add. That is the issue I wish to explore.
The United Kingdom has a big ambition to be a science superpower, as has been said many times by our Prime Minister. In fact, he is the second Prime Minister, including Harold Wilson, to have mentioned science as a driving force for the United Kingdom and the UK’s leading in science. So, we have a great ambition: we are going to invest 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and, depending on the spending settlement to be announced shortly, it looks as though there will be £22 billion for R&D leading up to 2024. A significant amount of resources is being put in. So, what drives innovation? The drivers of innovation are research infrastructure; funding; importantly, career development opportunities for early-career researchers—I emphasise early-career; and collaboration and knowledge exchange through institutions in different countries working together.
I declare an interest as a member of the UK-Israel Science Council, which identifies areas of collaboration in science research, exchange opportunities for middle-level and top-level scientists, and opportunities for visits by lower-level training scientists. Currently it is looking at science research related to ageing. Collaboration programmes such as these offer innovative training opportunities for PhD and Masters students. Regulations that recognise training in technology are therefore important, as are opportunities for PhD students to work not just in one country but sometimes in several.
It is our ambition to attract world-class research and innovators to the United Kingdom in order to maintain the UK’s status as the best place for science. We have hitherto had free movement from the EU, while people from other countries came under the Immigration Rules. With our new immigration rules, the impact of this Bill may in fact be negative in terms of recruiting people at lower grades for innovation. The UK economy needs a productivity boost from innovation and the diffusion of new frontier technologies to support growth. How are we going to achieve that? Will Bills such as this have a negative impact? Despite Brexit, 54% of our PhD students come from overseas. That is good news and we need to maintain it, but there is a risk that the cumulative effect of various legislation, including this, will have a negative impact on innovation in this country.
My Lords, I put my name down in this group in order to speak to Amendments 19 and 29, but I shall say a few words first on Amendments 52 to 55. Normally, I do not support Report amendments, which are a slightly lazy way of trying to open up a debate on wider issues, but in this case I think they have a point.
The Government’s impact assessment is, to use a tactful term, pretty light. It certainly does not analyse very much impact, probably because the Government do not have a clear idea of what they are going to do with the powers in the Bill. If that is not clear from the Bill itself, it is certainly clear from the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Poor impact statements are a widespread problem and we will not solve that for this Bill, but it is incumbent on the Government to be transparent about the impact of a Bill once it becomes law.
I shall therefore be listening carefully to what the Minister says, because it may well be that some or all of Amendments 52 to 55 will need to be considered again on Report. Alternatively, as my noble friend Lord Lansley suggested, we could legislate for post-legislative scrutiny; after five years might be an appropriate time for a report. However, it is very important that we monitor the Bill’s impact.
If the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has one defining characteristic, it is her determination to get the consumer interest felt, and she frequently finds all kinds of surprising ways to do that in Bills, but I want to explain why in this instance she is wrong to try to get the Bill amended with her Amendments 19 and 29. I was particularly struck by a briefing from the British Dental Association that commented that this Bill appears to focus on services, consumers and trade. Those are inappropriate concepts to describe the healthcare professions, which are certainly one of the major reasons given for this Bill being enacted and are cited as the professions likely to be covered by the regulations under Clause 1.
Those terms may well be appropriate for other professions which qualify and oversee professionals who trade their services, though I am not sure that “consumers” is always the right description for those other professions. For example, I do not really know who the consumer is in relation to regulated auditors, who are covered by this Bill via the Financial Reporting Council. The healthcare professions are focused on safety rather than on what consumers want or need from the profession, and we should never lose sight of that.
I do not think that either the consultation requirement in Amendment 19 or the board membership requirement in Amendment 29 fit well within this Bill, given the focus on the healthcare professions that is likely to follow once the Bill becomes law. I completely get that regulated professions and their regulators must not be focused on their own narrow interests but bear the public interest in mind. But that is usually achieved through regulators being independent of the professionals they regulate, and they often have independent members comprising some or the majority of their boards. If they are not on their boards, they are certainly well entrenched in their disciplinary processes. That aspect, the independent characteristic of the regulators, is what we should focus on in this instance, rather than the consumer interests.
This amendment takes a broader view about the nature of skills shortages and human consequences from the recognition of professional qualifications. There are many reasons for this Bill, and one is the failure of the United Kingdom to produce skilled labour, and the relative absence of any coherent government strategy to produce the desired skilled labour force. The problems have been well documented. For example, in 2000 a report published by the National Skills Task Force said that there were
“external skill shortages, that is, recruitment difficulties due to an excess of demand over supply of required skills in the external labour market”.
“highly-paid occupations requiring specific technical qualifications such as engineers and technologists and health and related occupations … and craft and technician vacancies in the engineering industry”.
It also referred to internal skills shortages—that is,
“skill deficiencies among existing employees”.
Similar skills gaps were identified in the 2019 report by the Industrial Strategy Council, which said that about 21 million workers—two-thirds of the workforce—might
“lack the basic digital skills” that employers will need in 2030.
Some businesses have responded to skills shortages by renting talent from external partners—for example, through outsourcing partnerships. Of course, that creates its own logistical and organisational problems. Nevertheless, in the absence of a coherent strategy, neither the Government, the industry nor universities have been able to address the perennial problem of skills shortages.
Finding appropriate PhD students, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned, is also highly problematical. It is simply too costly for many individuals to undertake a PhD in the UK. In supervising PhD students for nearly 30 years, I can only recall about one or two indigenous British students who came to do a doctorate in accounting, business or finance. It is so rare.
At the moment, the Government and industry are not even connecting the dots. The spate of hiring and rehiring workers on inferior pay and working conditions will not address skills shortages and will have a negative effect on attracting new local talent to crucial industries. After all, if the wages and working conditions are poorer, why would somebody want to go into that industry?
The Government’s strategy so far has been to enrol and recruit foreign workers to fill the gaps. That is especially evident in the National Health Service. Brexit has added new dimensions because it has alienated many EU workers residing in the UK. Their departure and the unwillingness of many other EU citizens to work in the UK have deepened and widened the skills shortages.
The Government are now looking to recognise foreign qualifications to address the local skills shortages. The aim, as always, is to poach skilled persons from abroad. The traffic will predominantly be one way from developing countries to the UK. I doubt that many Brits will actually want to go and work in countries such as Ghana, Zimbabwe or Nigeria, where the wages may be lower and the working conditions may not be comparable.
This ability to poach workers from other places will inevitably dilute the pressure on the UK to develop its own institutional structures to address the skills shortages. That development is highly necessary, and we need a government strategy. Therefore, it is absolutely right that Parliament must monitor the impact of this Bill on the management of strategies for addressing skills shortages, as has been extremely well articulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
To be clear, I am not against mutual recognition of qualifications, as this increases opportunities for individuals, but I am very concerned about the negative consequences for developing countries. They spend millions of pounds to educate and train engineers, doctors, surgeons and other skilled persons, but will never see the full benefit of their social investment. It can take more than a decade to train a skilled doctor or surgeon and, at the end, having developed those individuals, the developing countries will be unable to receive the benefits. There are also other consequences. To put it another way, if the UK started to see its highly educated citizens leave on a scale already observed in many developing countries, it would find itself with a smaller and less educated workforce. Such changes would coincide with a more rapidly ageing population due to the fact that emigrants tend to be younger adults.
For a long time, the UK has taken the cream of the skills from developing countries with absolutely no compensation. This brain drain retards the development of local economies and social infrastructure. It results in a huge transfer of wealth from poorer countries to the UK, while they suffer from a lack of sufficiently skilled personnel in both the public and private sectors. With a loss of skilled labour, poorer countries cannot offer universal healthcare to their citizens. That is just one example. The only appropriate redress is a bilaterally managed scheme of direct reimbursement of the value lost to each of the countries affected by migration of skilled labour. I sincerely hope that the Minister will give such an undertaking and, in due course, bring legislation to provide further details and make the compensation to developing countries a reality.
I am delighted to support many of the amendments in this group. Those in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, are very similar to those in my name. I notice that Amendment 38 extends the proposed consultation to Clause 6. I will limit my remarks to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and Amendment 52 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has cleverly married the concept of consultation with specifying the number of bodies that are to be consulted upon. When she comes to move Amendment 27, I would be interested to learn why she picked those specific ones. I am also interested to learn from the Minister why there is no reference in the Bill to any specific professional bodies. What was the thinking behind that?
On Amendment 52 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, obviously, a number of professional people co-operate together in partnership, but many may consider them a small firm, if you like. I see some merit to Amendment 52 in relation to what the Bill’s impact will be on small and medium-sized companies. I look forward to hearing my noble friend’s response to that request.
My Lords, this group is perhaps the inevitable consequence of trying to reduce a highly complex system and situation, as the Minister has highlighted, into a small one-size-fits-all Bill. In other words, we have a mixed bag of amendments in this group. I will speak initially to Amendments 53 and 54 in my name and to Amendment 52 in the name of my noble friend Lord Palmer of Childs Hill.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for his support of Amendment 53. He said that he was disappointed to be speaking before me. I have to say that I am not disappointed to be speaking after him because he gave a much better speech than I could possibly have managed myself. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is right, in that the innovation issue is hard to measure, but I think that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, that this is part of a cumulative effect on innovation is important.
I was hoping to probe the Minister on how the Government have joined the dots between the intention of the Bill and how it will drive the future nature of our economy. To some extent, the criticism of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, of these kinds of amendments as a way of trying to shoehorn in something else is true; I make no apology for that.
At the heart of the Bill, there is a central conceit. 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.”—[Official Report, 25/5/21; col. 908.]
What is a “shortage of professionals”, and what level of omniscience is required from the department in order to identify that particular need in the market for professionals?
Is there a danger that the Bill is in fact solving yesterday’s problems? That is the innovation question—because we need people to create the businesses of the future. Yet we have a Home Office that lets in only people who already have a job, and BEIS, which will measure the current need for people. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, was closer to the mark when he talked about early career researchers—I would add research technicians. Both find it extremely difficult to get Home Office visas because they are paid less than the limit for them to come in.
We are going to have a debate about the availability of people, in the group starting with Amendment 17, and I do not want to pre-empt that, but I want to hear the Minister’s playback on how the department and those drawing up the Bill drew the dots between the Bill and innovation. That is one of my objectives with this amendment.
Amendment 54 looks at a different kind of impact. In fact, in retrospect it should have been grouped with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, Amendment 9, because in a sense it measures the effect that she has highlighted there. As happenstance will have it, she did not get an answer to her questions the first time around, so this gives us a chance to run through them again.
Minister, there is a strong belief that the regulators will come under great influence from the Government on the level of fees. That will either reduce their income or maintain their income at the expense of those registering. This amendment seeks to give transparency to that problem. If indeed it is not a problem, we will see that clearly. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, gave it something of a thumbs-up, in that it is measurable—and I assume that it is data that BEIS is already collecting because, of course, it is going to create a model of the entire professional market in order to manage it on behalf of the national economy. I assume that the data is already available. Therefore, publishing it would be very helpful and perhaps give a lie to the fears or expose them, so that the Government can change things to stop them becoming an issue.
Very simply, the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, about some joined-up reporting is well made. Whether it is the whole hog or just a few key elements—and I would probably prefer the latter to the former—I think that the global south issue can be solved by having a geographic split on where people are coming from, for example, to highlight those issues.
My noble friend Lord Palmer spoke on Amendment 52 about the need for there to be a realisation within organisations of the impact of the Bill, particularly on SMEs. In the past, many SMEs have picked up employees from the European Union without having to give a moment’s thought to the accreditation of their skills. That is now changing, and I absolutely agree with my noble friend that there has been no dawning on the vast majority of Britain’s businesses of that change. I think he has a great point.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, spoke strongly, as usual. I agree with him—I would like the opportunity to intervene and interrupt the noble Lord, although of course I would exercise it with great care. But in the main, I would like the Minister to push back on Amendments 53 and 54 and say how this affects innovation and whether we can see the numbers when it comes to costs and the financial effect on the regulators.
I start by saying that I may have misheard what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said. I think she was asking about Amendment 27, which is in the next group.
I will speak to Amendments 19 and 29 in my name, but also thoroughly endorse all the pleas that we have heard for a very thorough—and, indeed, statutory—requirement on consultations with all the relevant parties. The impact of this will be felt; it could be felt on professionals and on service providers or users of those services. This is not a technical thing, so it is important that the consultation takes place.
Amendment 19 simply specifies that it is crucial that consumers are consulted. Consumers may be users, patients, clients—in the case of lawyers—or customers. When I was involved with the regulation and standard setting for actuaries, which I guess comes under the FRC in this, noble Lords will not be surprised that I chaired the user committee and was on the board. We had pension administrators, pension trustees and other people who used actuarial services, so that we were able to get their input as we were setting standards for actuaries.
The word “consumer” is a broad one and it is always difficult to say what it means, but it seems to me that if one were setting standards or one wanted more actuaries in the country, and the same could be true of other regulated areas, talking to the people who use those services would be highly appropriate. So, despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, says about the use of that word, it seems to me that the people who use the services of the professions covered in the Bill really should be consulted if there is going to be a different way of recognising and approving people to carry out that profession.
As I said earlier, regulation was always set up to protect the consumers or end-users, however they are defined, and therefore, in changing the procedure of how a regulator works in accepting professionals, it should be automatic that users of those services that the regulator was set up to protect should be involved. It certainly should not be just between the Government and the service provider—in other words, the professionals involved—because those affected by the decisions should surely not be excluded. Government always needs reminding that the end-user is what regulation is all about. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for his support on this. It ought to be automatic; we should not have to think about putting it in a Bill, but so often it does not happen.
I was reading earlier in one of the government documents—sorry, I have had lots of letters from the Minister—about the call for comments in a consultation that was put on the BEIS website, I think. I have to say that most people would not think that a call for consultation on the regulation of professional qualifications would affect them as, say, a pension trustee, not realising that it will affect the professionals that they depend on in decisions they take, whether it is about pension holidays or, more likely, making up for deficiencies in a pension. One has to be on the front foot and go out looking for the input of users or consumers of professional services; they will not automatically happen to be watching the BEIS website to see that there is a consultation taking place.
Amendment 29 may be slightly cheeky, but it is really a nudge to the Government. It says that a regulator set up either to create or to maintain standards in the interest of consumers or users really ought to have those end-users or consumers on its board, its council or its executive. Therefore, when we are talking about regulators, we should require them to have this. I think this is possibly pushing the boundaries of the Bill a little far, but if the Minister will accept Amendment 19, I will go quiet on Amendment 29.
My Lords, before I address the important amendments in this group, may I clarify something in relation to the previous group, about consultations with the officials of the devolved Administrations? I am informed that a working group of officials across all devolved Administrations was set up as long ago as last August. I would not like the House to think that my comments about the timing of when I saw the Bill meant in any way that there had not been massive consultations before that, so I am pleased to have clarified that point.
On the amendments before us, noble Lords have spoken eloquently about engaging with a range of interested parties before making regulations, and said that the Government should continue to consider the impact of the Bill after it comes into force. I agree that these are important considerations. However, with the utmost respect, I believe it is unnecessary to add those specific requirements to the Bill.
Amendments 14, 25, 36 and 38, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, would introduce duties on the appropriate national authority to consult people it deemed appropriate before introducing regulations under Clauses 1, 3, 5 and 6. The Government are absolutely committed to working in partnership with regulators, devolved Administrations and other interested parties when regulations are made under the Bill, and of course, consultations are bound to form part of that.
Amendments 19 and 29, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, focus on consultation with consumer representatives. Few would disagree that regulators must have the interests of consumers of services—be they customers, patients, or students—at the heart of their approach to regulating professions. That is an incredibly important point. I appreciate the intention of her amendment to Clause 4, but I can reassure the noble Baroness that any recognition agreement would still have to meet the regulator’s existing standards and duties around public protection—that would not be diluted in any way. Regulators rightly guard their autonomy to decide who is fit to practise a profession, to ensure that only the best candidates can do so. So I think we can expect that regulators will continue to ensure high standards to protect consumers.
Amendments 52, 53, 54 and 55 require the Government to report to Parliament on the impact of the Bill in a range of areas. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, proposes two reports. The first would be on the costs to regulators and applicants. Many regulators already operate in line with the framework set out in the Bill. Therefore, we believe that the anticipated costs to regulators and applicants will be modest. The second report would be on innovation. Innovation is an important feature in the Government’s wider ambitions, and I have carefully noted the sensible points made by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Patel, about this. However, because the Bill is not about immigration, I am not entirely sure about its relevance to the recognition of professional qualifications. However, I will of course consider it carefully.
We should note that a primary objective of the Bill is to allow an appropriate national authority to take action to help enable a profession to meet demand by ensuring that there is a route to recognition for individuals with overseas qualifications and experience. This should help to attract the talent needed from around the world to provide services in the UK—and, on a reciprocal basis, allow our professionals, who provide such a valuable export service to the UK, to practise overseas. I have no doubt that an indirect result of this would be to add to the pool of skills and experience in a profession, which in itself may help to drive forward innovation. However, the primary purpose of the Bill is to help enable service provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, made a very good point on the impact on SMEs. Through my work chairing the Professional and Business Services Council and my regular engagement with this sector, I am well aware of the importance of professional qualifications for services exports.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, tabled an amendment that proposes a report to consider the Bill’s impact on skills shortages, how the Bill relates to immigration, overseas development and skills training, and skills demand in the health professions. Of course, these are all very important points, but I humbly suggest that this would speak to several policy areas beyond the Bill. The Government’s skills strategy, visas and immigration, international development, and how demand for skills is being met in health and social care are, I would say, outside the scope of this Bill. Publishing reports in each of these areas is not a necessary component to assessing the impact of the Bill.
A number of noble Lords were concerned about the impact of regulations brought forward under the powers in the Bill. This will also be considered in line with the Government’s better regulation framework.
I trust that this gives reassurance on the checks and balances that we have carefully built into the Bill. I hope it demonstrates that there is no need to specifically provide for further measures. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Thank you. I did send an email—it is probably lurking in the system. Coming back to the Minister’s assessment that the costs would be low, I am again looking at one of my noble friend’s favourite documents—the impact assessment. It is limited in scope but does have estimates of costs. The Government’s best estimate—this has the Minister’s signature on the front, so I assume that he agrees—is £18.2 million, the majority of which will be absorbed somewhere in the regulatory system. I suggest that that is not a small amount of money for the regulatory sector. Can the Minister calibrate what he just told us or explain how these two numbers meet up?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for that question. I do not think that I can really add to what is in the impact assessment. Those costs are incurred over a number of years, but I think the impact assessment was carefully prepared and that those are the costs.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, in one of his better interventions earlier, this is a mixed bag of amendments and probably represents skilful grouping by the Government Whips’ Office. As a result, we have had a very wide-ranging debate.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill—an area I know very well, by the way, but that is another story—that I agree with him. Although he did not deal with the devolved Administrations, he made some very good and useful points. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned all the reports and very sensibly suggested that they might be looked at and consolidated or reorganised in some way on Report. I hope that that will be considered.
I also thank my noble friend Lord Lansley—he is getting more on my side every day—for his support on a statutory duty to consult. As I said in my introductory remarks, it is important to make it a statutory responsibility, otherwise it is so very easy for Governments —of all shades—to forget that they have a responsibility to consult widely.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.