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The Professional Qualifications Bill [HL] 2021-22 was announced in the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021 and first introduced in the House of Lords. It was presented in the House of Commons on 18 November, and its second reading is scheduled for 15 December 2021.

This briefing provides background to the Bill and summarises the Lords stages.

What does the Bill do?

The Bill would set out a new system for how professional qualifications gained abroad are recognised in the UK. It would also seek to allow regulators in the UK and overseas to mutually recognise qualifications where they cannot do that now.

In the UK, more than 200 professions are regulated by law. UK regulators of professions such as nursing, architecture, or veterinary, have established certain processes to recognise credentials gained overseas.

These rules help determine whether qualifications acquired abroad include an adequate level of skill and training for the professionals to practice in the UK, and sometimes whether they can use a professional title. The UK’s current system to recognise professional qualifications comes from EU law.

A new system

The Government intends to create a new system which would mean that regardless of where the qualifications have been gained, they have to meet the same requirements to be recognised in the UK. The current system inherently treats qualifications gained in the EU and EEA countries, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein differently.

The Bill would create powers to allow regulators of professions in the UK to enter into ‘regulator recognition agreements’ with their international counterparts. The Government states this will “strengthen the UK’s ability to negotiate and deliver ambitious [trade] deals”, where they relate to professional qualifications, and help UK professionals enter new markets abroad.

The regulation of some professions, including teaching, is devolved. The Bill provides for the cooperation of regulators across the four nations of the UK by creating a new system for information sharing. It also establishes an Assistance Centre for individuals who seek to practice in the UK or abroad.

Finally, the Bill amends the Architects Act 1997, creating a new recognition system for architects.

Reactions

Reactions to the Bill have been mixed. Some regulators, including the Architects Registration Board, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and the Law Society have generally welcomed the Bill and the possibilities it would open to work with international partners. Some peers have questioned whether the Bill is even necessary.

Regulators of healthcare professions have raised concerns about its potential to allow professional standards to be “watered down”, with implications for patient safety.

Changes in the Lords and devolved matters

To address regulator concerns, the Lords have added two new clauses to the original Bill:

  • to protect the autonomy of regulators, and
  • to require that regulators are consulted before new regulations are made in areas of their existing powers.

The Government is seeking legislative consent for aspects of the Bill that fall within devolved areas. On recommendation of the Welsh Government, Senedd Cymru has decided against giving its consent. The Scottish Government has also recommended against consent, but the decisions of the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly are pending.

This briefing has been updated on 14 December 2021 to include addditional stakeholder commentary in section 5.


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