New Clause 4 - List of current regulators

Professional Qualifications Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 18th January 2022.

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The Secretary of State must maintain a list of current regulators of regulated professions and must publish that list on the Government’s website.—

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to publish and maintain an up-to-date list of regulators on the gov.uk website.

Brought up, and read the First time.

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to publish and maintain an up-to-date list of regulators on the Government’s website. The Financial Times reported the way in which the Government introduced this Bill as the

“chaotic handling of a post-Brexit regime for recognising the qualifications of foreign professionals”.

Remarkably, the Government admitted introducing the Bill to Parliament without knowing which professions were in scope of the legislation. Labour argued in the Lords that we had to know who and what was in the scope of the Bill. It stands to reason that the relevant regulators and professions need to be aware of these changes. Having initially listed 160 professions and 50 regulators affected by the legislation, the Government twice published a revised list, ultimately increasing the numbers to 205 professions and 80 regulators.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

As I said earlier, I am a chartered engineer with the Institution of Engineering and Technology. In order to find out whether my profession was affected by the Bill, I had to write to the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Does my hon. Friend think that is acceptable? Does it not make sense that professionals, wherever they are in the world at the time, should be able to easily find out whether their body is affected by this legislation?

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has explained very neatly with that example why the new clause is important. Due to the increased number of regulators in scope of the legislation, the Government also had to publish an updated impact assessment, with the total cost to regulators increasing by nearly £2 million. That is hardly the way to inspire confidence that the legislation will help businesses or skilled workers.

The Government were criticised from all sides in the Lords, including by those on their own Back Benches. Baroness Noakes said that

“it has all the hallmarks of being a Bill conceived and executed by officials with little or no ministerial policy direction or oversight...we learn that the Bill was drafted with a far-from-perfect understanding of the territory that it purports to cover. This is no way to legislate.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 June 2021; Vol. 813, c. 149.]

My Labour colleague Baroness Hayter said of the list:

“I understand that it has taken BEIS a little time to get it right. I think we have had two updates of the list, with some regulators added and some gone. I see that the pig farmers have gone from the latest list and the aircraft engineers have also disappeared, as have analytical chemists. However, we have in their place chicken farmers, schoolteachers and waste managers—so it seems that the Government can turn flying pigs into chickens.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 November 2021; Vol. 815, c. 1696.]

I thought that was a good line then, and I still think it is a good line today—and so do the Government!

How can regulators and regulated professionals know whether they have equivalence when the Ministers who are responsible for the Bill do not even know themselves? At Committee stage in the Lords, my Labour colleagues Baroness Hayter and Baroness Blake tabled amendments to encourage Ministers to remove any suggestion of doubt as to which professions were covered by the Bill by placing a list of such professions and their regulators in the Bill and giving Ministers the authority to amend that list as necessary. The Opposition realise that Ministers have subsequently published a full list on the gov.uk website. However, there is no duty on the Minister to regularly maintain and update that site. The new clause places an obligation on the Secretary of State and his Department to maintain the website and, as necessary, update it, giving professions and professionals the certainty they need.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

As I rise for the final time, I thank you for your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I thank the hon. Member for the new clause. The Government recognise the need for clarity on who meets the definitions in the Bill. It is for that reason that officials carried out a comprehensive exercise last year across Government, as well as with the devolved Administrations and with the regulators, to determine who the Bill applies to. That extensive engagement culminated in the list of regulators and professions affected by the Bill being published on gov.uk on 14 October 2021—officials are now maintaining that list. We spent a lot of time over that period saying that we were going to publish the list. We have had a series of webinars to which all regulators were invited, and we continue discussions.

The amendment seeks to commit the Government to maintain and publish a list of regulators. Although I understand the desire for transparency, I have reservations about enshrining a list in the Bill. A list of regulators alone does not provide clarity on which regulated professions are affected by the Bill. It might be that organisations that meet the definition of regulator for one or more regulated professions also have responsibilities and functions for professions that do not meet the definition. Listing the regulators would leave it open to interpretation whether it is all or just some of those professions that are affected. If it was some, it would be unclear which were affected.

For example, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales regulates statutory audits and is a profession to which the Bill applies. It also regulates chartered accountants, a profession to which the Bill does not apply. The proposed amendment would not provide clarity in regard to which of the professions is a regulated profession in the Bill. As a result, publishing the list of regulators in such a way risks confusion. That is why the Government have committed instead to maintaining a list of regulated professions and regulators to which they consider the Bill applies, and to keep that list readily accessible and in the public domain. I hope hon. Members are assured that the Government are already delivering that action. It is on the record that the list of regulators and regulated professions will be maintained, so there is no need to further state it in the Bill. I hope the new clause can be withdrawn.

Finally, as well as thanking you, Mr Pritchard, I thank the officials, the Clerks, the Doorkeepers and the Whips, and indeed Opposition Members for the way that they have engaged in the process.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I am grateful to the Minister; I shall accept his assurances. And I thank you, Mr Pritchard. It is a shame that we will not get to see the other Chair in action; we have denied Ms Bardell her moment in the Chair.

I thank the officials, the Doorkeepers, and the Government Members who sat there quietly and dutifully maintaining their Trappist vows—with the exception of the hon. Member for Calder Valley, who had to be woken up earlier in the proceedings. I thank the Minister and Opposition Members for attending. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

The final Question I must put is that I do report the Bill, as amended, to the House. I thank all colleagues for turning up so early in the morning. I thank our extraordinary Clerks, Hansard, the Doorkeepers, and our hidden broadcasting team who make it all work for us and the public, who I am sure are tuning in to this rather than to GB News.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, accordingly to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

PQB01 General Medical Council

PQB02 Nursing and Midwifery Council

PQB03 Universities UK