Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 29th November 2022.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord in expressing my regret that this major piece of legislation has not attracted more speakers. Nevertheless, it is quality that counts, not quantity, and I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. As I previously set out, this instrument makes a series of technical amendments to reflect the current position regarding the UK’s access to the IMI. By updating the statute book, this instrument provides clarity for public authorities, businesses and citizens about how and when data previously shared between UK, EU member states and the European Commission is now treated following the UK’s departure from the EU. As I said in my opening speech, it introduces no new obligations, costs or powers and will not change the service provided by public authorities to UK businesses and citizens under the Northern Ireland protocol.
In response to the noble Lord’s question about what businesses would be affected, the answer is none. This instrument removes references to legislation which previously facilitated IMI access. Access was necessary to enable the UK to comply with its obligations under single market legislation while we were a member state. Now that we have left the EU, this instrument updates the statute book to reflect the areas where access has already been terminated by the European Commission on the grounds that UK access is no longer required. In other words, access is no longer necessary to support compliance under the Northern Ireland protocol. Therefore, this instrument removes references containing legislative areas in respect of which the UK does not have access to the IMI, including the services directive, recognition of professional qualifications, patients’ rights relating to cross-border healthcare, posted workers, public documents and non-road mobile machinery.
Public authorities will nevertheless continue to have access to the IMI modules relating to disputes concerning mutual recognition of goods, the return of cultural goods and firearms transfers, as I outlined earlier. This will support continued communication, administrative co-operation and data-sharing between regulators in those areas. As required by the specific legislation, it continues to apply in Northern Ireland. The instrument facilitates such co-operation where required without the need to establish new secure channels of information and communication with individual EU member states and the European Commission.
In response to the noble Lord’s question about why this instrument is so late, the answer is that the UK was given a right of access to the IMI under the withdrawal agreement for a period of nine months in order to finalise any outstanding applications for professional qualification recognition under the European professional card route from general system nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists. The UK agreed to the EU’s decision to extend the UK’s right of access to the IMI beyond the deadline, as applications were still outstanding beyond that period. The making of this instrument therefore had to be delayed so as not to remove the UK’s ability lawfully to access the IMI for this purpose. The need for temporary access has now been resolved, and we are in a position to progress the instrument. I hope that resolves the noble Lord’s query.
As I have set out, this instrument ensures that UK public authorities can continue to access the IMI where necessary to allow them securely, effectively and efficiently to deliver their obligations under the protocol, while ensuring that the UK statute book accurately reflects the changes in access to the IMI following the UK’s departure from the EU.
I hope I have resolved the noble Lord’s query, and I commend these regulations to the House.