Amendment 61

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 22nd June 2021.

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Lord Palmer of Childs Hill:

Moved by Lord Palmer of Childs Hill

61: Clause 16, page 12, line 40, at end insert “, or a chartered accountancy profession (see subsection (3A)(a)).”Member’s explanatory statementSee explanatory statement for the amendment in the name of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill to page 13, line 19.

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

My Lords, it is my great pleasure to speak here in the graveyard spot on this Bill to the amendments in my name. I thank the Minister for his letter of 20 June concerning the professions and regulators to which this Bill applies. It would have been a bit more helpful to have had it earlier.

It seems that BEIS has recognised the point I made in my amendments that the ICAEW and other accountancy professional bodies are in the scope of the Professional Qualifications Bill, owing to their role as recognised supervisory bodies for the purposes of statutory audit, insolvency, probate and administration of oaths. This has been referred to by many noble Lords from around the Chamber during the course of this Bill. As this addresses the point made in my amendments regarding the rationale for including the ICAEW, of which I am a member, in the scope of the legislation, I hope that the Minister will acknowledge when he replies that it helped to review the actual impact of the Bill, as his letter helped me in making this speech.

It feels like the Government are rushing through this legislation without having thought through the detail of the Bill and its consequences. Noble Lords are now having to try to fix this. For the list of regulators and professions affected by this Bill to have changed so substantially while the legislation is being scrutinised by your Lordships’ House does not help give certainty on such an important and wide-ranging legislative measure.

Between this Bill’s conclusion in the House of Lords and it eventually beginning to go through the lower Chamber—and eventually when it comes to Report—it is vital that BEIS takes stock of this legislation, reviews its intended and unintended consequences, and engages with those regulators and professional bodies in scope to iron out any remaining concerns. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said earlier in this debate that there needs to be a pause to the Bill. There needs to be a certain something which does not just carry on as we are now.

A remaining concern—and my last words on this—is on the need for the regulation of accountants and tax advisers. At present, anyone can set themselves up to give this service—and maybe they should. I hope that the Government will consider whether any regulation in some form is required. After all, where pig farmers go, accountants should surely follow. I beg leave to move the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, has tabled these amendments, which I know were suggested by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, so I felt somewhat obligated to speak on the amendment. I know that the ICAEW is pretty keen to be included in the Bill’s scope. As the noble Lord explained, its wish has been granted to some extent, but only for certain aspects where it regulates professions. The noble Lord’s amendments would actually go considerably further by making chartered accountancy a regulated profession. Amendment 64 names the ICAEW as the “chartered accountancy regulator”, thus relegating all the other chartered accountancy bodies to also-rans. If the noble Lord was even thinking about pressing his amendment, I would strongly oppose it. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will resist it.

The inclusion of chartered accountancy is not logical. The ICAEW already enters into mutual recognition agreements, so Clauses 3 and 4 would have no relevance whatever. I cannot believe that the Government would ever make a determination under Clause 2 that there is a problem with meeting a demand for accountants’ services. There is no shortage of accountants.

The ICAEW’s rather grandiose briefing to me said that it wanted to be in the Bill so that there could be

“a debate on the role of the profession in shaping global business practice, reporting and governance”.

In other words, the ICAEW wants to be seen as important. Legislation should not be used to support the egos of anybody, let alone professional bodies.

Right at the end of his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, raised whether the provision of accountancy and tax advisory services should be regulated. That is pure protectionism and not something I would ever support, even for my own profession of accountancy. I know that the noble Lord will not press his amendments, but if he does I hope that my noble friend the Minister will strongly resist them.

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)

My Lords, my sister is not a chartered accountant, but she is an accountant. I do not know whether that is an interest to declare, but I should note that.

Unsurprisingly, I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said. In fact, when the noble Lord first raised the possibility of this with me, I was really interested, but we were both quite surprised that somebody actually wanted to be regulated. As someone who has worked very much on the consumer side, I have tried to get people regulated and on the whole they have resisted. However, that falls apart, because we have now discovered in the letter that the ICAEW will be there.

Earlier, I read out the note that I had had from the ICAEW as a result of the Minister’s letter on Sunday, saying that it seemed as if the Government were “rushing through the legislation”. I did not quote this, but I will say it now:

“Between this Bill’s conclusion in the House of Lords and it beginning to go through the lower chamber, it is vital that BEIS take stock of this legislation, review its intended – and unintended – consequences, and engage with those regulators and professional bodies in scope to iron out any remaining concerns.”

As I said on the previous group, I hope that we will use the time between now and Report, rather than between now and when the Bill arrives in the other House, but it sounds as though the ICAEW and the other accountancy bodies have not yet had a discussion with departmental officials. I hope that that can be put in hand. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm, although maybe not at this moment, that those meetings have taken place so that, as the ICAEW says, any intended or unintended consequences are fully understood and any problems can be ironed out. I look forward to hearing from the Minister that that will take place.

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, for his amendments. I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify the Government’s thinking on whether the chartered accountancy profession is one to which the Bill applies, as well as the situation in respect of other chartered professions. I hope that noble Lords have noted, as I have responded to this, that we have been listening to their concerns and that we are looking to engage and make improvements where we can. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that officials are already in discussion with the ICAEW.

As a short digression, I have to say that it is nice to hear regulators are now clamouring to join the bandwagon of this Bill. I hope that marks a turning point for us. I will be going home with a spring in my step this evening, having heard that.

I should begin by acknowledging that the UK’s chartered accountancy bodies set the highest standards with their qualifications and require continuous professional development, rightly. As a result, the UK’s accounting sector is highly respected and valued both domestically and across the world. We are rightly proud of it.

I would also like to highlight that, as we have heard from noble Lords, the ICAEW is a regulator to which the Bill applies, by virtue of its role as a regulator of auditors, insolvency practitioners and some other distinct specialisms. The professional activity of audit is regulated in statute by the ICAEW and the other recognised supervisory bodies for audit, all overseen by the Financial Reporting Council. We continue to deepen our understanding of these relationships as a result of the mapping work that I described much earlier today.

One of the objectives of this Bill is to revoke the current EU-derived system for recognising professional qualifications and experience gained overseas. We are taking away this prescriptive system and leaving it to our autonomous regulators to decide what recognition arrangements they require. If our regulators need help to create recognition routes to meet demand, or to agree reciprocal agreements with overseas counterparts, we can use the powers in this Bill to give them what they need.

Chartered titles are, in general, a form of self-regulation. Chartered accountancy is not a profession regulated in law, and there are no statutory impediments to the chartered bodies having whichever international recognition routes they deem appropriate. So there is simply no need for government intervention under this Bill to help chartered bodies set up recognition routes or international recognition arrangements for professional activities not regulated in law. Indeed, the ICAEW already has many overseas members and international agreements relating to accountancy. Therefore, the profession of chartered accountancy does not need to be included among those professions to which the Bill applies.

This is true of all voluntarily regulated professions. Professional bodies for those professions continue to reign with autonomy over their unilateral recognition routes and over the formation of the content of recognition agreements with overseas counterparts. So, I repeat: they do not need any help under the powers of this Bill. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured by this explanation, and I ask that he withdraw the amendment.

We are now reaching the end of the 27th grouping, which marks the end of the Committee stage for this Bill. I would like to express my sincere thanks to all noble Lords for their excellent and insightful contributions. I think it is fair to say that Ministers and officials have learned things from these insightful contributions. I will be reflecting on all the points made. If the noble Baroness would like to tell me where she will be for her summer holiday, I will make sure that the letters are delivered to her expeditiously.

I look forward to continuing to discuss this Bill with noble Lords. I will hold further round tables; I, and officials, will meet further with regulators; I will meet with the devolved Administrations; and I will do this before we return for Report.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees 6:00 pm, 22nd June 2021

Before saying that there are no requests to speak after the Minister, I will just confirm this time that there are no such requests. No? Excellent—I therefore call the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill.

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

My Lords, I am glad that the Minister understands the mood of the House, which has been very clear over the course of our proceedings on the Bill. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes and Lady Hayter, for contributing on these amendments, which noble Lords will appreciate were put down at a very early stage of the Bill, on the basis of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales indicating to me—but not to everybody—that it wished to be named in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, quite rightly said that it is not the only accountancy body. I raised this with the ICAEW, which said that it did not at this late stage want to be seen as speaking for all the other bodies but to test the water on behalf of the accountancy profession.

Noble Lords made the point that there is no shortage of accountants, but inclusion in the Bill does not necessarily mean shortage—I am not sure whether there is a shortage of pig farmers but nevertheless they are in the Bill; therefore, there is an argument for this. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, quite rightly said that some accountants feel that they need to be seen in, and part of, the Bill, but they have come very to it very late. I hope that this can be ironed out.

I thank the Minister for replying positively to many of the points that concerned me and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 61 withdrawn.

Amendments 62 to 64 not moved.

Clause 16 agreed.

Clause 17 agreed.

Clause 18: Commencement

Amendments 65 to 67 not moved.

Clause 18 agreed.

Clause 19 agreed.

Amendment 68 not moved.

Bill reported with amendments.

House resumed.

Sitting suspended.