Amendment 61

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

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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 5:45, 22 June 2021

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.