Amendment 56A

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

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Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:15, 22 June 2021

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.