Amendment 56A

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 22nd June 2021.

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Baroness Finlay of Llandaff:

Moved by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

56A: Clause 14, page 11, line 2, leave out subsections (5) and (6)

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

My Lords, I start by apologising to the House, as I wrongly said previously that nursing associates are not regulated. Actually, the Nursing and Midwifery Council now holds the register of those who meet those criteria.

In moving Amendment 56A, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd for his support. We have already had a discussion about exactly which regulators are affected by this Bill. There are two regulating bodies based in Wales that this legislation would affect: the Education Workforce Council and Social Care Wales. There is no valid reason whatever that the Westminster Government should have a say over these bodies, as they operate in wholly devolved areas.

The letter previously referred to, which was sent by the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town and Lady Noakes, concerning the professions and regulators within scope of the Bill, exemplifies a key concern that my amendment tries to address. The letter failed to clarify that the Education Workforce Council is a Wales-only regulator, but also failed even to mention Social Care Wales. This was clearly a mistake, as we have now heard, and I hope it has been corrected, but it also flags a wider issue: Wales and Welsh bodies are clearly an afterthought for this Government when considering this Bill.

In its current state, I fail to see how the Welsh Government would recommend that the Senedd consent to the Bill, unless a number of issues are satisfactorily resolved. Clauses 1, 3 to 6, 8 and 10 confer various regulation-making powers for different purposes on the “appropriate national authority”. Of particular and cross-cutting concern to all these clauses is the way “appropriate national authority” has been defined by Clause 14. This means that the powers of the Welsh Ministers, along with those of the other devolved Governments, are exercisable concurrently by the Secretary of State or Lord Chancellor. Hence, the Secretary of State or Lord Chancellor could make provision, through regulations, on matters that fall within devolved competence.

In addition, as we have heard, Clause 13 contains provisions that mean that the powers to make regulations, conferred by Clauses 1 to 6, include powers to modify primary legislation, such as UK Acts of Parliament and Senedd Acts, as well as secondary legislation. The combination of concurrent functions and Henry VIII powers means that the Secretary of State could exercise these regulation-making powers to amend Senedd Acts and regulations made by Welsh Ministers. While Ministers may claim they do not intend to use these concurrent powers in areas of devolved competence, the wording of the Bill does not reflect this sentiment. The Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor would be able to exercise these powers in devolved areas without requiring any consultation with, or consent from, Welsh Ministers. That is clearly unacceptable.

Clause 14(5) requires Welsh Ministers, when exercising the regulation-making powers in the Bill, to obtain the consent of a Minister of the Crown when such regulations would, if made in an Act of the Senedd, require the Minister of the Crown to consent under Schedule 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006. This effectively imports the restrictions imposed by paragraphs 8 to 11 of Schedule 7B to the 2006 Act into the regulation-making process. This restriction is unique to Welsh Ministers’ powers; Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers are not subject to a corresponding restriction. However, it is not without precedent—a similar restriction was imposed by the Fisheries Act 2020.

What does this mean in practice? It means that the Welsh Ministers would, when making regulations using the powers conferred by this Bill, need to obtain the consent of a Minister of the Crown in certain circumstances, including where, for example, the regulations modified or removed a function exercisable by a reserved authority. Further, the removal of this provision via a future Act of the Senedd would also engage the Minister of the Crown’s consent requirements. Again, this is not a suitable state of affairs. Therefore, I must question whether some of these powers are even necessary.

For example, the power conferred by Clause 1 enables the “appropriate national authority” to make regulations that require specified regulators to consider and assess whether qualifications and experience gained outside the UK should be treated as if they were specified UK qualifications for the purposes of practising that profession in the UK. Both the Education Workforce Council and Social Care Wales already have powers enshrined by Welsh Ministers in Welsh legislation to recognise international qualifications and determine whether they are equivalent to UK qualifications, so I ask the Minister why the Bill now gives powers to override this. The solution, I suggest, is simply to accept my amendment.

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

My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I shall take a moment to express my concern about the chaotic state of this Bill. I will not waste more of the time of this House by repeating what the noble Baroness said, but the omission of the social care regulator from the Minister’s letter was such an obvious error. I cannot help thinking that a lot of work still needs to be done to make this Bill ready to pass into legislation.

As the noble Baroness has said, as the Bill is drafted, the regulator confers a suite of regulation-making powers on the appropriate national authority. Welsh Ministers are that authority for the devolved professions and have a right to be fully recognised as that, not to have to ask for permission from the UK Government nor to have their existing powers overridden by this legislation. According to the Bill, those powers are to be exercised concurrently with the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor, who could legislate in devolved areas and, as the Bill stands, would not need the consent of Welsh Ministers on those regulations.

It is worth adding that the situation in Wales is always slightly more complex, because of the nature of Welsh devolution; it started from a bad place, has moved forward significantly in gaining clarity and logic, but is not 100% there yet. There are areas where Welsh Ministers have some Executive powers that are not reflected in the legislative powers of the Senedd, and that has to be recognised.

The reassurance that we received from the noble Lord the Minister—I realise that the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, will respond to this group of amendments—that the power to override Welsh Ministers would not normally be taken is of no great reassurance to us, because the UK Government have said that in the past and then overridden the decision of the Senedd or the wishes of Welsh government Ministers.

This is a serious issue for the Government and this Bill. I warn them that, as the Bill stands, the Government will not get consent from the devolved Administrations or the Senedd in Wales. They have to take that into account as, to get this on to the statute book, they must start by overriding Welsh Ministers and Senedd powers.

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

My Lords, the issue on which I speak will be brief and parallels what I said earlier on Clause 13. It is important to keep this Bill as defined as possible. This amendment tries to do that by forcing the Government to explain why the relatively simple issues on Wales cannot be dealt with in the Bill. If there is a real need for the consent of Ministers of the Crown for Welsh Ministers to exercise powers, can a reason be given?

As the Minister knows from her own experience, the Welsh devolution settlement is extremely complicated, and all this part of the Bill does is make it even more complicated again. I can see no reason why the consent of Ministers of the Crown is required for just two regulators in Wales. Therefore, if there is no real need for these powers, this clause should not be in the Bill. Otherwise, I entirely agree with what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lady Finlay of Llandaff. I hope the Government can explain why this clause is needed and, if there is no satisfactory explanation, remove it.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, in the face of such Welsh expertise, I rise apprehensively as an Englishwoman to add my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend Lady Randerson, and to support Wales and the Welsh Assembly. We all recognise that the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Welsh Assembly have different powers, remits and terms of reference. However, it seems strange that the Welsh Assembly is the only one to require the consent of a Minister of the Crown before being able to act, whereas the others do not. If devolution is truly to mean that the different nations have mastery over their countries, this surely cannot be necessary. The noble Baroness has already pointed out that Wales has prestigious bodies which could undertake these tasks.

The other thing which puzzles me is that the Bill talks about the consent of “a” Minister of the Crown, so it is not necessarily the Welsh Minister or a Minister who knows anything at all about Wales. It seems it could be any passing Minister who has a few minutes to spare, regardless of his or her Welsh knowledge. I do not know whether that is how the Government intend the legislation to read, but that is how I read it. This really is unnecessary, for all the good reasons that have already been said. These sections should be withdrawn. We need to retain the friendly regard and respect which the nations of the UK should have, one towards another. As my noble friend Lady Randerson said, there should be no right to override the Welsh Assembly in these matters.

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) 4:30 pm, 22nd June 2021

My Lords, I really do not want to add to what has been said because it is slightly strange that the UK Government will have to consent to regulations made by a Welsh Minister. I am sure the Minister will say, “But the Welsh Government saw this and did not object.” Can she tell us exactly what discussions took place with the Welsh Government, and what assurances they were offered if they did nod it through, which I think is unlikely? What assurances were they given to allay their fears about it?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Hoffwn ddiolch i bawb a siaradodd yn y dadl byr ond bwysig hon. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short but very important debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, for her amendment, which relates to Clause 14 and the Welsh Minister’s powers to make regulations under the Bill. I note that it is supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. The amendment would remove the subsections within Clause 14 whereby a Minister of the Crown’s consent would be required before any provision is made by Welsh Ministers in regulations that would, if contained in an Act of Senedd Cymru, require such consent.

First, I reiterate that the Government fully respect the devolution settlements. Devolved matters should normally be for the devolved Administrations to legislate on. It is hard to conceive of a scenario where this would not be adhered to. I remind noble Lords that the Government are seeking legislative consent to the Bill in line with the Sewel convention. The conditions in Clause 14 that the amendment would strip out are entirely in line with the devolution settlements. To deviate from the agreed position under the Welsh devolution settlement purely for the purposes of regulations made under the Bill would be inappropriate and unnecessary.

On the concurrent powers in the Bill, some professions are regulated on a UK-wide basis, and the regulation of some professions is entirely at devolved level. The Bill will apply to the entirety of the UK and, in line with the devolution settlements, allow the devolved Administrations to make regulations within devolved competence. The inclusion of concurrent powers ensures that professions which fall within devolved competence but are regulated on a UK-wide basis can be dealt with under the Bill by the relevant appropriate national authority. Of course, we shall always consult the relevant devolved Administration before these powers are used in devolved areas.

In answer to the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Finlay of Llandaff, officials met the Education Workforce Council at the end of April and are meeting the social care regulators next week to discuss the Bill. Social Care Wales was on the first indicative list and came off the second one following clarification from departments. As noble Lords know, the Education Workforce Council was on both lists. Because we are meeting the regulators so shortly, I will agree to write to noble Lords and update them on the progress of those discussions when they have actually happened. To that end, I hope that I can persuade the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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

My Lords, I think I should start by saying “Diolch yn fawr iawn” to the Minister for her reply.

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for supporting me and the noble and learned Lord, Thomas of Cwmgiedd, in this amendment. I am also grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, and for her interpretation when she described it as “any passing Minister” being able to make some power, which is how it did feel when I read this in the Bill.

As has been said, the devolution settlement is indeed very complicated, and the problem is that the Bill appears to worsen those complications. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, really put her finger on it in explaining what is, in some ways, the delicate nature of all this. I look forward to having a written reply from the Minister, because this is very complicated indeed. I do not think that we have clarified it adequately and, following that letter, I may well want to come back to it on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 56A withdrawn.

Amendment 57 not moved.

Clause 14 agreed.

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

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 58. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.

Clause 15: Parliamentary procedure for making regulations