Clause 1: Power to make healthcare payments
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out “outside the United Kingdom” and insert “in a European Economic Area country or Switzerland”
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 1 and speak to consequential Amendments 2, 12, 13, 14, 45, 46 and 47. The House will realise that these are the same amendments that we discussed in Committee. I am grateful for the support for them that I have received from across the House: from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee —who, we learned yesterday, cannot be with us today—and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. I like to think that the reason for their support, and that of other noble Lords in Committee, is the amendments’ simplicity in revising the scope of the Bill to deal with the healthcare arrangements for the EU/EEA and not the whole world.
Like other noble Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for the time and effort she and her team have put into discussing the Bill with noble Lords. We can see from today’s amendments that the Government have listened to concerns expressed during the Bill’s stages. That is to be welcomed. I am afraid, however, that on this issue—the scope of the Bill—we find ourselves some distance apart.
We need to remember that the DPRR Committee noted the Bill’s breathtaking scope and commented that the scope of the regulations could hardly be wider. The committee said that it was one thing to introduce skeletal legislation needed in the event of no EU withdrawal agreement, but that this Bill was as much to do with implementing future reciprocal healthcare arrangements with non-EU countries—indeed, that it went much further than merely giving effect to healthcare agreements and covered the provision of any healthcare by anyone anywhere in the world. It concluded that the powers of the Bill were inappropriately wide and had not been adequately justified by the department.
This view was expanded in many ways by the Constitution Committee, which said that while the exceptional circumstances of the UK’s departure from the European Union might justify legislation containing broader powers than would otherwise be constitutionally acceptable, this did not extend to giving effect to new policy unrelated to Brexit. It concluded that the Bill should be limited to future reciprocal healthcare arrangements with countries that participate in the existing European health insurance card scheme. We agree. These are the tests that need to be brought to bear on the Bill, as was so eloquently expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in Committee.
During our discussions with the noble Baroness, it was suggested that it would be in some way inappropriate for this House to reduce the scope of the Bill. If the Constitution Committee and the DPRR Committee think that this revision is appropriate, we are bound to give the matter serious consideration. Surely it our job to offer the elected Chamber the opportunity to reconsider the breathtaking scope and powers of this Bill.
Then there are the issues of practicality and policy. On the practicality test, in this pre-Brexit period—and, my goodness, we are now at possibly the most exciting bit, with the discussions that are taking place in the Commons—surely it should be the Government’s priority to ensure that the millions of British citizens currently benefiting from reciprocal healthcare agreements with the EEA and Switzerland, by virtue of our membership of the European Union, continue to do so. The same should be true for European citizens in the UK. A significant proportion of the many UK citizens living in the EU are pensioners, and they will be personally liable for healthcare costs after exit day unless a new agreement with the EU, or new bilateral agreements with individual member states, are in place. It would cost the UK taxpayer more to treat British nationals who have to return home for healthcare.
We completely accept the need for a Bill to deal with these important issues, and we wish to support the Government in getting the appropriate Bill and powers to achieve the right protections and the transfer of access to healthcare. Furthermore, as this is an enabling Bill, the impact assessment cannot and does not indicate the potential costs of administering all sorts of new arrangements with the European Union, the EEA and the rest of the world. We suggest the administration of international healthcare agreements, but this is a herculean task, and we do not think this Bill is the appropriate way to do it.
In addition, surely we need to focus on the finances of the EU reciprocal healthcare arrangements. Many trusts struggle to recoup the money owed under current EU arrangements, and some costs are never recovered. The UK is getting back less than £50 million a year for the cost of treating European patients, while paying out £675 million for the care of Britons in Europe. It seems to me that the priority is to get on top of recouping EEA healthcare costs before we start thinking of making non-EEA agreements.
The policy issue is very serious. The scope of the Bill introduces new policy into the Brexit considerations. Last year, during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the Government gave an undertaking not to introduce new policy. We do not believe the Minister has argued a compelling case for the urgency of global scope, and the global scale of the Bill flies in the face of that undertaking. The policy agenda that leads to a Bill with global scope, as this one does, does not, to my knowledge, even have the cover of having been in a Conservative manifesto. There has been no consultation and we have seen no compelling evidence of the urgency, need and demand, unlike that for European healthcare arrangements.
As I have said to the Minister, a global healthcare arrangements Bill may be a legitimate aspiration. Therefore, it should be included in the upcoming Queen’s Speech. It would then have the necessary wide consultation with the many stakeholders involved that such a proposal deserves; there could be pre-legislative scrutiny; and it could be brought forward as a fully fledged Bill. That is what the global healthcare issue deserves. Trying to shoehorn an important issue such as this into a Bill that needs urgently to address EU matters, and to do so by giving the Secretary of State huge powers, is not the way to proceed. It leads to bad legislation and outcomes, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, told us in Committee.
I am aware that the UK currently has reciprocal agreements with several non-EEA countries, including New Zealand and Australia. The Minister has explained that these agreements are less complex, and that post exit the Government,
“may want to strengthen these to ensure that we are delivering important opportunities for UK nationals abroad”.
In her letter to all Peers dated 8 March, she states:
“This is key to delivering greater security and certainty for UK nationals post-exit, and the powers of the Bill enable us to do that”.
I agree with that aim, but this is absolutely the wrong way to go about achieving it. The Minister’s colleague in the other place put it more bluntly. He said it was the Government’s ambition to implement such agreements where it would be,
“cost-effective and support wider health and foreign policy objectives after the EU exit”.—[Official Report, Commons, Public Bill Committee, 29/11/18; col. 22.]
We suggest that this aspiration for global healthcare arrangements needs to be left until post Brexit. Nothing in the statements by the Minister justifies the sweeping powers and the blank cheque from the taxpayer which this Bill as drafted contains. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her efforts to improve the Bill and her courtesy in accommodating my concerns, meeting me and discussing various amendments. I am particularly grateful to her—I emphasise this—for her amendment, which we will consider later, that delivers us from the tyrannous shackles of King Henry VIII. Perhaps this might be the start of a new understanding that the ghost of that monstrous ogre should no longer walk about the corridors of power in this country. Chance would be a fine thing but I commend a little touch of Blackwood to the House.
However, although the Bill has been significantly improved, it is still not good enough. We are faced with nine major regulatory powers, which are put before us as examples of regulations that the Bill might have in mind, or extend to. It works on the basis that we must—as we must—recognise the need of our citizens living in the EU to have their healthcare properly attended to. That puts great pressure on all of us. If it were not for that pressure, I would not accept that the scope of the Bill should be allowed to extend as far as the EU and Switzerland but I understand why it must be so. We are brought, in effect, to face up to the creation of unacceptable powers, and we have no choice, so far as the EU and Switzerland are concerned.
However, we have a choice in relation to international places other than those in the EU. There are many countries to which these powers could be extended, payments made and so on. Last time I said I was being modest. My real worry is about the creation of legislation for such places as Guadeloupe and the Galapagos; and these powers would extend to Venezuela, where the present Government may not be in power indefinitely. We therefore need to think carefully. Introducing out of the blue nine regulations, which are only examples of the powers that would be given to Ministers, goes too far. It is not the way in which we should legislate.
My objection to the Bill, and the reason why I support the amendment, is simple. We must not legislate in this way. We need time to think, reflect and ponder on what limitations and constraints should be put on the power of Ministers. We are therefore being asked to go too far under the pressure of events surrounding Brexit.
My Lords, I have in my name Amendment 4, which has a great deal in common with the other amendments in the group. It is intended to achieve two objects, the second of which is to restrict the operation of the Bill to the EU, the EEA and Switzerland—as do other amendments of the group—by ensuring that the object of any regulations under the Bill would be limited to replicating existing arrangements. The first sentence of my amendment would delete subsections (2) to (4) and thereby drastically narrow the regulation-making power to replicating the reciprocal healthcare arrangements we have now. That part of my amendment fits more sensibly with the amendments in the second group, and I shall address it then. I will be brief in speaking about this group because I agree with every word that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said.
This House has shown conclusively that it supports ensuring that we can continue to provide EHIC cards to the 27 million British citizens who enjoy them and guarantee continuing healthcare to British pensioners living elsewhere in the EU along with the other arrangements for reciprocal healthcare that we enjoy as members of the European Union. Those arrangements are in place. They work extremely well in providing guaranteed healthcare across the countries that they cover. They enjoy very wide public support and are clear. Millions of our countrymen and countrywomen would be very unhappy to lose them as a result of Brexit, but there is absolutely no urgency for introducing legislation now for healthcare deals around the world.
Throughout the debates on this Bill, the Government have not come up with a single reason why we should not now pass this legislation limited to agreeing the continuation of our existing reciprocal healthcare arrangements while deferring legislation for new healthcare agreements with third countries to another time, and then considering the Secretary of State’s powers in the context of those arrangements in another Bill. Before we legislate for new international healthcare agreements, we should be able to consider in detail the criteria for making them, what should be their objects and limitations, what they should contain, who should be in charge of monitoring them and how we might seek to improve them. We should also have clear arrangements in place for their parliamentary scrutiny better than exists under the existing CRaG rules for consideration of treaties by the House of Commons.
It may be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, that international healthcare agreements could be beneficial to Britain and British citizens, but they could also be detrimental, with unacceptable increases in pressure on the NHS and with the potential for healthcare agreements being offered without proper scrutiny in exchange for trade deals on terms that many would find offensive. All we are asking on this side of the House and, as we have heard, from some of the Cross-Benchers, is to give this Bill a fair wind and pass it quickly only to enable the reciprocal arrangements that we have to be continued but giving Parliament a chance to consider carefully the far wider and more difficult issues involved in agreeing new healthcare agreements across the world. This Bill does not do that.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Thornton who has done a splendid job in dealing with this Bill, in analysing it and bringing forward amendments for consideration by the House. According to the Delegated Powers Committee, this Bill has “a breath-taking scope”. I have not heard that said about any other Bill coming before the House. All the other Bills and statutory instruments that we have considered deal with providing exactly the same arrangements that we have at present in the event of no deal. They have been precautionary for that. This is the only one, as I understand it, and this is the only department that is trying to include something completely new, very wide and extensive, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and my noble friend Lady Thornton said.
If the Government want to do that, as my noble friend said, they can wait until the Queen’s Speech. We know that the Government Chief Whip does not know when that will be, but there has to be one eventually and that is the right time for us to consider it. We can then look at the proposals in detail and, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, examine them then. These additional powers are opposed by the trade unions, the BMA and a whole range of people. Indeed, I have not found anyone except Conservative Members and Ministers in favour of this wide extension, this “breath-taking scope”, of the Bill. I hope that the House today will support my noble friend’s amendment and reject the proposal put forward by Her Majesty’s Government.
My Lords, I too support the amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lord Marks. I repeat the view that he and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, expressed: we should be producing only legislation resulting from the decision to leave the EU. I thank the Minister very much for meeting us and for the government amendments—particularly to those Henry VIII clauses, which have absolutely no part in modern legislation.
I agree with previous noble Lords, but any Bill dealing with healthcare agreements outside the EU is different. I would be happy to look at these issues in another Bill at another time. As has just been said, the expansion in scope of the Bill looks opportunistic and is completely inappropriate at the moment.
My Lords, I cannot agree with these amendments. As we pointed out during the progression of the Bill, we live in a global world, with more people travelling internationally for all kinds of reasons. There is obviously a huge demand for healthcare systems between countries, giving the traveller peace of mind that the foreign country they are in can respond to healthcare needs.
As was also mentioned, we already have simple reciprocal agreements with non-EU countries. The domestic implications are limited, and our current powers to charge domestic overseas visitors, and the regulations under such powers, provide for domestic implementation. Importantly—
No, let me finish. The Bill will not replace or limit the prerogative power to enter into international healthcare agreements. My understanding is that agreements will still be subject to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.
It is surely right for us to take advantage of the Bill and look at the opportunities it can offer us. We are not trying to shoehorn something dastardly into it. It could offer all kinds of things. It seems to me that planning ahead is a refreshing thing to do. Many of the arguments raised have nothing to do with protecting or giving peace of mind to travellers. As a nurse, my main priority will always be those needing care. The Bill allows them reciprocal healthcare outside the EU and just that. Should there be a Division, I hope that noble Lords will keep in mind those people who, under the Bill, will be able to travel globally with renewed peace of mind about their healthcare.
My Lords, this is an enabling Bill and no more. In a letter to the chairman of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on 8 March, the Minister confirmed that these powers would be used only in the exceptional circumstances of EU exit. We will discover the outcome of that tonight.
In these circumstances, the regulations’ implementing powers would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The assurances and clear message from our debates in Committee—when the Minister was very clear, in answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, that reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the United States would present significant challenges because of the different payment systems and such an arrangement was unlikely—should surely be enough to satisfy those who believe that the Government still have a cunning plan to sell the NHS to Donald Trump and others.
As I said in Committee, I believe that the implementation of our international arrangements should be phased, giving priority to our overseas territories, as has been noted; our Commonwealth partners, of which Australia and New Zealand have already been mentioned; and our important international partners, perhaps excluding Venezuela and the Galapagos Islands from that list, as suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge.
Anything enabling this to happen should be considered seriously, given the risks of what I believe is likely to be a no-deal Brexit. I do not support these amendments and I hope that the Minister will be able to come up with suggestions for how this can be implemented to overcome some of the concerns expressed from the other side.
My Lords, both the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm of Owlpen, are missing the point of these amendments. While this is only an enabling Bill, it increases the scope of reciprocal health agreements with countries outside the EEA and Switzerland to include trade agreements. The noble Lords, Lord Lansley, and Lord O’Shaughnessy, at earlier stages of the Bill, raised exactly this point about setting up trade agreements. We are extremely concerned, for all the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton; this is the sort of large change that requires considerable consultation with the public prior to Green Papers, White Papers and bringing it through the House. We should not try to rush it through as one of the Brexit Bills, which it is, regardless of what happens over the next few days. This is one of the Bills that we were told must be passed by 29 March. Increasing the scope of the Bill means that we are moving into another area that the country, let alone this House, has not had a chance to consider.
I do not believe that reducing the scope would prevent some of the agreements already made; in fact, as the Minister has said when summing up previously, a number are already available. What it does is protect the NHS from being a bargaining tool, particularly—although not only—with the United States. Until the country has a chance to have that debate, it is important that we reduce the scope.
I endorse entirely the comments made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton, and Lady Jolly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Foulkes. Our task is solely to replicate the arrangements that may become out of date on 1 April; it is important that we remain focused on that.
My Lords, I too find this amendment imperative. The Bill as it stands has some exciting prospects, which are worth looking at, but if we are to go down that road we must recognise that the implications are highly complex and potentially demanding economically. It is quite unthinkable that we should move along that road without primary legislation that has been properly considered by a wide cross-section of Britain, including the professions. It is extraordinary to bring in exciting, challenging ideas of this kind on the back of a Bill concerned with making sure that the excellent arrangements that exist within the European Union are protected.
The most imperative words that we have heard in the remarks so far—apart from the, as usual, exemplary speech by my noble friend Lady Thornton—came from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who, with all his experience, said that this is just wrong and that we cannot pass major legislation on this basis. That is exactly how I feel. To dilute our commitment to those in the European Union and, indeed, to people from the European Union living in this country—arrangements will be reciprocal—would be very unfortunate. I hope the House will warmly endorse the amendments.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the last two speakers; they have eloquently made the case for supporting the noble Baroness’s amendment, as I do. This is not about supporting Brexit or wanting to remain; it is about the tension that exists between the Executive and Parliament, and the duty of this House, and of Parliament, to scrutinise the proposals of the Government to ensure that good government, as far as possible, is provided in this country.
I am very glad that the Minister has tabled the amendments that will follow later. However, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge: they are a step in the right direction, but that is not enough. The sweeping nature of the powers proposed in the Bill are in many ways offensive to the proper conduct of legislation. I accept that they are needed in the current situation in relation to the EU and Switzerland, but to go wider than that is wrong, I think. We have to insist on legislation being properly prepared, properly debated, properly scrutinised and properly consulted on. If, in the middle of the current turmoil, we let go of some basics of legislation, we will do ourselves harm and set a bad precedent. I shall support the noble Baroness’s amendments.
My Lords, although I do not agree with it, a lot of scepticism about the scope of the Bill has been eloquently expressed at every stage of the debate on this group of amendments so far. However, I remind noble Lords of the human consequences of restricting the Bill in the way proposed by these amendments. I think we all agree in general on the benefits of reciprocal healthcare agreements—many noble Lords have paid testament to those—and we all want to see continuity of arrangements with the EEA and Switzerland. So far, so good. However, we have also debated and agreed in principle—in Committee, at Second Reading and in this group—on the desirability of having such arrangements with more countries. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, talked in Committee about the opportunities of travelling to the USA, which people with long-term conditions can no longer do because they are now uninsured.
Let us be very clear what is at stake. Accepting the amendments in this group would mean that we miss out on a golden opportunity to achieve a shared goal. What are the reasons for that? I do not agree with them, but very good reasons have been given about the kind of procedure and scrutiny that ought to be applied to the new reciprocal healthcare arrangements that we may strike with countries outside the EEA and Switzerland. This is not a disagreement about the principle of having such arrangements; it is a disagreement about the process of agreeing such arrangements. However, the consequence of these amendments is not to deal with these issues by changing procedure, scrutiny and process, but instead to strike them out on principle. That does not seem to me the right approach to very well substantiated and perfectly reasonable, but ultimately procedural, concerns. By changing the Bill in this way, we will lose the opportunity to deepen relationships with key partners such as New Zealand and Australia, as my noble friend Lord Ribeiro said. We will miss out on the opportunity to give people with long-term medical conditions the chance to travel outside the EEA to visit family or to work, and for young people to broaden their experiences. We will miss out on the opportunity to deepen—
I think the noble Baroness knows that that is not what I am saying. We will miss out on the opportunity to turn the fairly shallow arrangements that we have at present into the kind of deep arrangements that we enjoy with the EEA and Switzerland. We would also miss out on the opportunity to deepen relationships with EU accession countries and to provide reciprocal healthcare arrangements that would underpin any other international arrangements that we may want to strike in the future. All this would be lost if we were to accept these amendments.
There are other factors that we must also take into account. Amendment 9 provides greater opportunities for scrutiny and restrains the Government’s powers. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, spoke of the untrammelled ability to organise agreements with countries such as Venezuela and others, but there are natural limitations—not simply the scrutiny available through the processes my noble friend Lord Ribeiro talked about, but also the need for data adequacy. We will not be able to strike such arrangements with any country we want, and they would have to be under the aegis of an international agreement scrutinised and passed in the other place and this House.
It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, in Committee that I had unwittingly made the case for another Bill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, talked about that. Another Bill is easier said than done, and anyone who has been in Government knows that you cannot just pitch up with a Bill. There is a complicated and often painful process of going through the PBL Committee and other committees to get such Bills. This Government are constantly accused of doing nothing other than Brexit, and here they are doing something other than Brexit. Surely this is a welcome opportunity to do something beyond the thing that, frankly, we are all a bit tired of talking about.
If not now to extend the scope of our powers to strike these arrangements on a global basis, then when? We cannot assume that another opportunity will come this way soon, and what will the human consequences of that be?
My Lords, I am privileged to follow my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy, and I am sure that Peers from all sides of the House will have been impressed by the thoughtful letter which the Minister has sent to us all. In it, there are a number of concessions, which will be subject to later amendments in this debate. The insertion of a sunset clause is a valuable safeguard, as are the requirements that arrangements are limited to a public authority, and the statutory duty to report to Parliament on an annual basis. All of these are important concessions. Finally, on the Henry VIII clause, the Minister’s letter refers to removing the powers in the Bill to make regulations containing consequential amendments to primary legislation. Individual healthcare waits for nobody.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Jolly, and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, who I am sorry could not be with us today, for giving me the opportunity to deal with the important matter of the global nature of the Bill. We have already had a good deal of debate about this during our progress on the Bill, but it is a pleasure to return to it today yet again.
It is important that the Government explain why we believe it appropriate to seek powers which are global in nature. As I mentioned in my response in Committee, the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee of this House, which is very wise, remarked that:
“Reciprocal healthcare oils the wheel of the day-to-day lives of millions of citizens”,
and brings the,
“greatest benefit to some of the most vulnerable members of our society”.
I am grateful to noble Lords from across the House, not only in the debate today but during the progress of this Bill, who have been clear that there is widespread cross-party support for the current EU arrangements, and for providing the people who rely on these arrangements with the assurance that the Government are taking all the necessary steps to support them in these uncertain times.
We clearly all support the arrangements we have with the EU. It therefore does not seem logical to preclude the possibility of seeking new arrangements or strengthening existing ones outside the EU. Where the Government have a good policy in one place, it seems logical that we should want to extend it to others. Reciprocal healthcare agreements promote tourism and facilitate economic exchange and growth by enabling people to study, travel and work abroad without worrying about their ability to access healthcare, or the cost of doing so. As we have discussed in our debates on this issue, reciprocal healthcare arrangements are particularly important for older people, people such as me with chronic conditions, or people with disabilities, for whom access or costs can be a genuine barrier to travelling.
Reciprocal healthcare agreements enable people to travel overseas for planned treatment, which enables patient choice. One of the genuine benefits of the current EU arrangements is to enable mothers to travel to a home country to give birth close to their families and support networks. That is available only to EU citizens at the moment, not to those from other countries who live here. Our existing arrangements with the EU enable around 1,350 UK residents to receive planned treatment or maternity care in another EU member state. We do not want to be forced to limit choices only to EU countries in the future.
Reciprocal healthcare agreements can also help to support international healthcare co-operation through fostering closer working relationships between countries and states. We can be proud that the UK is a prominent voice in the global healthcare community and is a key driver in global attempts to raise standards of patient safety. We could help to further drive that agenda through developing even stronger relationships with our close partners. I have heard the concerns raised by noble Lords about the costs of these arrangements. Reciprocal healthcare agreements enable countries to reimburse one another on a fair and transparent basis. Noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, have queried why we cannot simply rely on waiver agreements. Fair reimbursement is the key reason why. Without this Bill, we would be restricted to waiver agreements outside the EU without a way to establish fair and transparent payment and cost-recovery mechanisms.
Agreements with other countries predate the EU and have never been limited to Europe. This is one reason why the concept of restricting the Bill to the EU does not make sense. We have agreements outside the EU now and will continue to have them in the future. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my noble friend Lord Ribeiro raised the matter of scope—the countries which the Bill would apply to. As Clause 4 sets out, data can be shared only in accordance with the GDPR and our data protection regulations. This means that no reciprocal healthcare agreement could be reached with a country that does not meet data adequacy standards. Over and above that, as my noble friend rightly noted, this scope would be further narrowed by the need to agree reciprocal healthcare arrangements only with countries that have a compatible healthcare system. This would mean that countries such as Venezuela, raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, would simply be out of scope for an international healthcare agreement. Safeguards built into the Bill would be in place.
I make it clear that I have heard the concerns raised at Second Reading and in Committee about the global scope of the Bill and the breadth of the delegated powers. We have taken considerable steps to address the concerns about the breadth of the powers—the root cause of the concern about the global scope. As has already been referred to, we have tabled a large package of concessions, which I worked hard to try to deliver. The first was to remove the consequential Henry VIII powers; I am taken by the terminology for this now being a “Blackwood amendment”. We have limited the ability to confer functions to public bodies. We have provided greater parliamentary scrutiny over regulations relating to data processing and greater transparency over the financial aspects of future reciprocal healthcare policy in the form of an annual report. I hope that this reassures the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. We have placed a statutory duty to consult the devolved Administrations where regulations make provision within devolved competence. Finally, and very significantly, we will sunset two of the three regulation-making powers at Clause 2, so that they can be exercised only for a period of five years after exit day. This final amendment means that it is not possible for the Secretary of State to set up any kind of long-term scheme to unilaterally fund mental health treatment in Arizona or hip replacements in Australia, as the DPRRC proposed. In tabling these amendments, we have limited the delegated powers and therefore the scope of what can be done under the Bill around the world. We have also provided additional parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms and greater transparency.
During the debate on Amendments 1, 2, 11, 12, 13, 27, 28 and 29, from the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Jolly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my noble friend Lord Dundee—who cannot be in his place—I have not heard any concerns raised on the fundamental principle of reciprocal healthcare in countries outside the EU. Rather, I have heard the need for reassurance that in implementing agreements with other countries we seek to appropriately cost such arrangements, protect the NHS, and ensure that those countries which we strengthen or make new agreements with have appropriate healthcare systems and are able to process data appropriately. We are firmly committed to all these principles.
When the Bill was debated in the other place, questions were raised concerning the possibility of a reciprocal agreement with Guernsey, which is something we will need to look into following EU exit. This was seen as a positive possibility of the Bill; it is just one example of how our relationships might evolve and how the Bill can offer people new opportunities which they are currently denied under our legislative framework. If the scope of the Bill is limited to matters relating only to EEA countries and Switzerland, the Government would be unable to implement a reciprocal healthcare agreement with countries such as Guernsey where we are able to reimburse one another fairly. We would also be giving up the opportunity to support people, to bring them confidence and comfort outside the EU.
As the UK considers its relationship with the rest of the world, it is appropriate to take this opportunity to consider strengthening our existing agreements while exploring possible agreements with other countries. The powers under this Bill allow us to fund healthcare overseas to support UK nationals who live in, work in, study in, want to visit or give birth in other countries, while ensuring that we also have appropriate scrutiny powers within this Bill. They also allow us to extend similar opportunities to overseas nationals to use the NHS funded by their own country, making the NHS more sustainable and fit for the future. This is what we would be giving up with these proposed amendments.
There has been much debate in this House and outside it about whether there should, in fact, be two separate Bills: one to provide for implementing agreements with EU, EEA countries and Switzerland, and the other at a later date to provide for countries outside that group. I believe that this is the intent of Amendment 4, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. That would not be an effective use of parliamentary time; it would prove a barrier to the development and implementation of policy in this area that is clearly in the interests of the people whom I have already discussed. I am also not clear how different a different implementing Bill would look, as it would simply be for the implementation of international healthcare agreements and would be rather similar, whether they are for the EU country or for a country in another part of the globe. It seems to be doing the same work twice.
With the Bill, we seek to ensure that we have an implementing mechanism for reciprocal healthcare now and into the future. While it may be appropriate in other policy areas for the Government to seek new primary powers to implement specific, individual international agreements, it is simply not the case with reciprocal healthcare agreements. These agreements are not far-reaching in nature and are very limited in subject matter: they are about reciprocal healthcare. As has already been discussed, the Government already rely on the royal prerogative to enter into these agreements with other countries. This Bill is simply a smarter implementing mechanism for these agreements.
I also have concerns that Amendment 4 risks our ability to effectively implement a future relationship with the EU. Recognising the broader benefits of reciprocal healthcare, we want a long-term relationship with the EU but, as with any area of policy, we must have flexibility as to how we negotiate with the EU and how we arrange our broader relationship with it. EU law evolves and, as we discussed in Committee, there are proposals currently before the European Parliament that would mean that elements of that model might change in the near future. This amendment would prevent the UK from implementing that evolved arrangement even if that was the desired negotiating position of the UK. If we put this on the face of the Bill, we would have no flexibility on how we would do that, including agreements already concluded with Switzerland and the EEA and EFTA states. The noble Lord himself acknowledges in his amendment that flexibility is needed, but through this amendment that flexibility would be difficult to apply in practice.
In relation to all the amendments in this group I firmly believe that, in pursuing future reciprocal healthcare policy with close partners outside the EEA and Switzerland, the Government are providing hope and opportunity to people. Our colleagues and friends in the other place overwhelmingly supported this endeavour. We have introduced significant restrictions on what this Bill can do globally. However, I regret that these amendments would prevent us from being able to look to the future and embrace an opportunity for EU exit. It would be a great shame to miss that opportunity.
I recognise the valuable contributions from many Members of the House on enhancing and improving many elements of this Bill; I thank them for the time that they have given me, but I am unable to accept these amendments. I hope noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments on that basis.
I thank the Minister for her remarks and for the attention that she has paid to this matter all the way through. Everybody appreciates that enormously. In a way, she has made my argument for me, as has the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, because nothing in the Bill says that healthcare agreements have to be reciprocal. In a way, that proves that we do not need an international healthcare arrangements Bill: we need a European Union-EEA healthcare Bill to deal with reciprocal arrangements and do the job that we have in front of us.
I do not accept the argument put by the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, tugging at our heartstrings, about the human consequences of this. Actually, there is nothing to stop the Government bringing forward a global healthcare Bill. I am absolutely sure that the Minister and her colleagues, with the help of the noble Lord and others, could get this into the Queen’s Speech in two months’ time, when we could have all these discussions about how it might work. He said that we do not have any disagreements in principle about this. Actually, we do not know whether we have any disagreements in principle about international healthcare because we have not had that discussion: that is the discussion we would have if we were dealing with a Bill that was being consulted upon, going through pre-legislative scrutiny and all those other things that we have been arguing need to happen if we are to have a Bill of the scope that the Minister and her party wish to have.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Jolly, and my noble friends Lord Foulkes and Lord Judd for their support. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, who, in his brief remarks got the argument absolutely right yet again. As I was preparing for this, I looked at the agreements we have with Australia and New Zealand, for example. These things are complicated—of course they are— and in a way that is why they deserve and need further consideration. I fear that we are not convinced by the Minister’s arguments and I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Clause 2: Healthcare and healthcare agreements
2: Clause 2, page 1, line 8, leave out “outside the United Kingdom” and insert “in a European Economic Area country or Switzerland”
Amendment 2 agreed.
3: Clause 2, page 1, line 10, at end insert—
“and may not exercise the power conferred by section 1 otherwise than in accordance with such regulations.”
My Lords, as I should have done at the beginning of the first group, I thank the Minister for her help and courtesy in discussing this Bill and in engaging with Peers across the House to see how we should proceed with it. I echo the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, including his tribute to the Blackwood amendment in respect of Henry VIII powers. As the Minister will have appreciated and has recognised by her actions, there is a real concern about the use of delegated legislation to amend or revoke primary legislation and EU legislation.
Amendment 3 is intended to bring a constitutionally acceptable structure to the Bill. It will ensure that the powers of the Secretary of State can be exercised only within the context of regulations. I will start with a word or two about the other amendments in this group: Amendment 5, on the words “for example”, and government Amendments 6, 7 and 8, which limit the delegation of powers to public authorities.
As we have heard, Clause 2 contains the principal regulation-making powers. We had considerable debate, both at Second Reading and in Committee, about how unacceptably wide those powers are. The use of “for example” at the beginning of Clause 2(2) speaks volumes as to the disrespect shown in the Bill for the proper restriction of ministerial powers. The Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee have exposed how outrageously broad these powers are.
My amendment is directed at the absence of anything in the Bill that would limit the Secretary of State to exercising his Clause 1 powers only in accordance with regulations. One does not have to read far into the Bill to appreciate that, under Clause 1:
“The Secretary of State may make payments, and arrange for payments to be made, in respect of the cost of healthcare provided outside the United Kingdom”.
This is wholly without restriction. It is this glaring deficiency—the failure to tie the Secretary of State to the exercise of powers in accordance with limitations either in the statute or contained in regulations—that my amendment is intended to cure.
The Minister frankly and commendably, if I may say so, recognised on our first day in Committee that the effect of Clause 1, if not amended in the way I suggest, would be to enable the Secretary of State to make or arrange payments without any regulatory limitation. She justified this untrammelled power—which, frankly, I find frightening—on the basis of urgency. She said that the Bill was unlikely to secure Royal Assent before March, so regulations would not be laid before the summer. If there were no deal, she explained, Ministers might need to use the powers before then. She mentioned—again, frighteningly—sharing data as well as making healthcare payments before the Government had a chance to get regulations passed to deal with these matters “more transparently”, as she put it.
This clause alone, unamended, would justify this country ruling out a no-deal exit and ensuring that our leaving date is delayed. It is an extraordinary travesty of the notion of the United Kingdom Parliament taking back control that we are asked to pass a Bill which involves ceding to Ministers an entirely unconstrained power to pay money out across the world on the sole professed ground that the Government failed to introduce legislation in a timely way, and to permit Ministers to spend public money and make arrangements of great public importance without any parliamentary scrutiny or authorisation.
I turn briefly to the other amendments in the group. Many of us still take the view that their scope is breathtakingly and unacceptably wide. The Government’s proposal to limit possible delegation of the Secretary of State’s powers so that such powers may be conferred only on a public authority is of course welcome; so is the limited five-year sunsetting provision, to which we shall return later, but, taken together, they barely scratch the surface of the massive transfer of unrestrained power from the legislature to the Executive set out in Clause 2. Of course, the sunsetting clause should be more restrictive—at least as restrictive as proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. Again, we will come to that later.
It goes without saying that the ridiculous and offensive restriction-busting words “for example” should be removed, as proposed in Amendment 5. However, the only satisfactory way to restrict the Government’s power to what is necessary and acceptable is for the House of Commons to now accept the amendment we just passed restricting the use of the Bill to replicating the arrangements we have with the EU, the EEA and Switzerland. We hope that it does that.
This Government and future Governments must show more restraint and respect for the proper limits to the scope of delegated legislation. In the Bill, as in others to do with Brexit, they have not done that. It is to be hoped that they return to a wiser path in future.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for his exposition, which saves me from exploring yet again the powers in the Bill. I shall speak to Amendment 5, which is a simple amendment but one that we think might be quite clever in its intent. It states that regulations under the Bill can be made only for specific purposes.
When the clause was debated in Committee, noble Lords discussed the nine regulation-making powers mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, which brought comment from the DPPRC, about the widest possible scope. However, as drafted, Clause 2(2) appears to bestow infinite powers on the Secretary of State to make regulations by virtue of the seemingly innocuous phrase “for example”, which effectively grants the Secretary of State carte blanche to bring regulation forward outside the listed examples in relation to pretty much anything and everything. Just deleting those words will assist with the accountability that needs to be built into the Bill.
Amendment 5, which has the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, would ensure that regulations can be brought forward under the Act only for the purposes specified. We will, of course, support the Minister in the amendments she has tabled in this group—Amendments 6, 7 and 8 —and I think the combination of our amendment and hers significantly improves the Bill, so I hope she will accept it. I probably need to say that, unless there is a very good reason why she does not want it and why it should not be there, we will seek support from the House for this amendment.
My Lords, we have here a new example of constitution-making. We have now got rid of Henry VIII in this Bill and we have something rather more subtle—not something that that great, mighty ogre could have conceived of for himself.
The new example is:
“Regulations under subsection (1) may, for example”.
Those of your Lordships who were in the House when we discussed the Trade Bill last week will remember another regulation-making power—another blockbuster like this one—only the words used were not “for example” but “among other things”, in relation to regulations under whichever subsection it was. What kind of primary legislation is this? It is really rather alarming. The primary legislation provides:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations”,
do this, that and the other: (a), (b) and (c). Well, fine. The regulations “may” do nine things—there is an amendment to one of them to come later, but this is not relevant to present purposes—specifying just about anything you can think of.
Why do we not say, even in relation to the EU, that the regulation-making power should be defined as widely as it is in Clause 2(2) but not extend further? The reality is that, with these words, in truth there is no limit to the regulation-making power. I find that astonishing, and I suspect that many Members of your Lordships’ House will find that astonishing. So we now have within the terms of the Bill—subject to the Henry VIII point, which is going—in effect an undefined, unconstrained power given to the Secretary of State to make regulations. It will not do.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge; he has been totally consistent in this field, and I very much sympathise with the point he has just made.
I serve on the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and, although I cannot speak on its behalf, I think it would share with me the view that the way in which the Minister has responded to our concerns and corresponded with us has been exemplary. We thank her, I am sure, for that; it is very valuable. However—she probably anticipated a “however”—in our report of 14 February there were two critical paragraphs to which she has not responded in the various exchanges we have had with her. I hope your Lordships’ House will not mind if I read them, because they are extremely important, not just for this Bill but for a whole series of Bills that have been coming before us in recent weeks. The paragraphs refer to some of the correspondence we had with the Minister, and go as follows:
“The Minister repeatedly refers to the need for ‘flexibility’, given that reciprocal healthcare arrangements remain subject to negotiation. She says that there must be flexibility as to the meaning of healthcare, as to the persons who can be funded and as to the persons to whom functions can be delegated. The Minister says, at paragraph 19: ‘This is a forward-looking Bill and so flexibility is key’”.
We then put in our report, in heavy type:
“Powers that are too wide are not the more attractive for being part of a ‘forward-facing’ and ‘forward-looking’ Bill”.
“At paragraph 29, the Minister says again that the Bill is a ‘forward-facing Bill’, this time to justify taking powers to go beyond replacing current EU arrangements”.
Again, in heavy type the report continued:
“Given that post-Brexit reciprocal healthcare arrangements are the Bill’s principal target, the powers in clause 2 to make law governing the provision of healthcare by anyone anywhere in the world could have been more effectively circumscribed”.
Those two paragraphs are not just appropriate to this Bill but demonstrate how, on many occasions in recent weeks, we have been effectively offered a skeletal Bill, with very considerable primary legislation made subject to largely unspecified future executive powers. Very often, it would seem, there is good reason, because of urgency or expediency. We are, however, establishing precedents for the post-Brexit situation. At the moment this can be used as an excuse—perhaps only for a few more days before the other place decides that the timescale is ludicrous—but it is not acceptable that we are constantly given legislation for a particular purpose and told that Ministers must have very wide-ranging, unspecified future powers simply for reasons of urgency. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, have said, if we are not very careful we will establish precedents in this way.
I hope that when the Minister responds—having not previously done so in her exchanges with the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee—she will comment on the particular points that were made in the report’s recommendations.
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is right in saying that we are establishing a precedent, but I have been looking at the word “example”, and wonder whether the Minister has examples of this kind of legislation being used elsewhere. I cannot think of any. I examined the withdrawal Bill, which was very wide-ranging, and as far as I can recall this phrase does not appear in it even though it contains many provisions about delegated legislation. It would, therefore, be helpful to me if it was demonstrated that this is not the kind of precedent that has been described. In general, however, I congratulate the Minister and her Bill team on going a very long way to meet our objections in later parts of the Bill. I am, however, worried about this bit of it and would like to be reassured.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for tabling Amendment 3 and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for Amendment 5, both of which seek to place limits on the powers in the Bill.
I will first address the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on Amendment 5, and clarify the purpose of Clause 2(2). We have had some debate about this already but this will be helpful. Clause 2(2) is intended to be an illustrative list of examples of the type of provision that may be included in regulations made under Clause 2(1). It is not itself intended to be a delegated power. The intention has always been to be prudent and transparent in the use of the delegated legislation, and the list was included to be helpful, by demonstrating the types of provision that the regulation-making powers at Clause 2(1) could enable, in order to effectively implement international healthcare regulations in the same way as under reciprocal healthcare regulations. This is not uncommon in primary legislation.
The list is reflective of the kind of provision already included in our current, more comprehensive, reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU, and it is intended as a guide to how the powers in Clause 2(1) can be exercised. Regulations under this clause need to be able to do everything that they might need to do to provide healthcare outside the UK, or to give effective agreement. I described in some detail during our debate on this clause in Committee why each of the descriptive lists were included and what they would be used for.
This amendment could mean that future Administrations would be unable to effectively implement reciprocal healthcare agreements with the EU, individual member states or other countries. The reason for this, which has already been alluded to in the debate, is that we have not yet concluded those negotiations and so it is not possible to rule out what we may need to provide for in regulations to give effect to an agreement. In addition, it would not be appropriate to circumscribe in the Bill the Government’s negotiating mandate with the EU, EU member states or countries outside the EEA and Switzerland.
The examples in Clause 2(2) are not exhaustive, but they are useful pointers to aid understanding of how Clause 2(1) is capable of being exercised. I think they have served their purpose, given that we have had such robust debate about them. They offer additional transparency and assistance in understanding how the regulation-making powers in Clause 2(1) would work for the purpose of implementing reciprocal healthcare agreements. This is not an unusual statutory construction; there are examples of where regulation-making powers are accompanied by illustrative lists of what may be included in regulations in order to provide assistance in the understanding of what the powers are capable of doing. As to whether those illustrative lists include the words “for example”, I have an example from Clause 11(2) of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, which states:
“Regulations under subsection (1) may, for example—”,
include paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). That is perhaps a helpful example for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope.
As this important policy area continues to develop and progress both in the EU and outside the EU, it is appropriate for the Government to be able to respond to protect the continuity of care of those already in receipt of reciprocal healthcare, as well as to explore whether we would like to extend it to others. Were we to accept this amendment, it would, as I said on the previous group, restrict the implementation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements to current processes. That is clearly inappropriate when implementing dynamic agreements in which there are two parties.
Regulations under Clause 2(1) need to be able to do everything they might need to do to provide for healthcare outside the UK or give effect to a healthcare agreement. One small example of why it is right that the Government retain the ability to do this is developments in IT or new technology. As technological change continues to gather pace, it is right that the Government should be able to make the best use of those changes and ensure the most effective and efficient systems for the people accessing these arrangements. That is why we might need to bring in another regulation-making power. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, as a former Health Minister, would agree that technology has the power to change the way people access healthcare and can make a real difference in people’s lives, especially perhaps those who are restricted from accessing healthcare because of long-term conditions or distance from services.
While the illustrative list at Clause 2(2) does not expressly make reference to this matter, it may well be necessary to make arrangements to ensure that the most effective and efficient technological processes and systems are incorporated into the implementation of future reciprocal healthcare agreements. The Government are working, through this Bill, to ensure that we have the necessary ability to implement future international healthcare agreements with both EU and non-EU countries.
Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, speaks to concerns about the breadth of the powers in the Bill. Clause 1 follows a long line of general payment powers found in primary legislation, further to the Public Accounts Committee’s concordant that government expenditure should flow from a specific Act of Parliament. It is a free-standing payment power and needs to be so. Notwithstanding that, we have deliberately chosen to include a power in Clause 2(1) that can be used to support the exercise of the payment power. Therefore, it is not possible for the Government to accept this amendment. Indeed, the DPRRC recognises that general payment powers are not delegated powers.
As I said in my response to this amendment in Committee, the Bill is making good progress through Parliament but clearly will not have Royal Assent until later this month. So, with the best will in the world, we will not be able to lay regulations until the summer. However, in the undesirable, unprecedented situation of no deal, we may need to use these powers before then. That would be specifically for a scenario concerning citizens’ rights agreements with the EFTA states and with Switzerland, which will protect reciprocal healthcare for people living in those countries on exit day, or in other specified cross-border situations.
It is good news that we have operative agreements in the context of no deal, as they will guarantee healthcare for those covered by them. It is likely, though, that we will need to use the power in Clause 1, together with Clause 4, to temporarily implement those agreements. We cannot therefore accept the amendment because we would not be able to protect the healthcare arrangements of people in those countries. We will bring forward further detail in coming weeks when we can be clearer about bilateral agreements, and on the need for any further arrangements. I hope that noble Lords will agree that the Government must have the ability to provide for people at this unprecedented time. I emphasise that stand-alone funding powers such as those in Clause 1 that operate without the need for delegated legislation are not unusual—so this is not being brought in simply because of a no-deal situation.
I have listened carefully and considered the comments of noble Lords about concerns about the scope and breadth of the power. That is why we have sought to address concerns about it, with a large package of amendments to which I have already referred. We have specifically limited the delegated powers and the scope of what can be done under the Bill, and provided additional parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms and greater transparency.
Finally, I will speak to government Amendments 6, 7 and 8. They are in direct response to the concerns raised that regulations under the Bill could be used to confer functions on anyone, anywhere. It is understandable that noble Lords raised the possibility that the regulation-making powers in Clause 2 could be extended to confer functions on private bodies. There is not and has never been an intention to confer functions on private bodies in order to implement reciprocal healthcare arrangements. This was always the case but, given the concerns raised, we are taking action to make this clear.
The proposed government amendments limit Clause 2 to the operation of Clause 2(1) to ensure that any conferral or delegation of functions may only be to a “public authority”. The definition of “public authority” is a person who exercises a function of a public nature. This ensures that public bodies maintain autonomy over how services are procured, contracted and delivered. When making regulations to implement such healthcare agreements, we wish to confer relevant functions on appropriate public bodies according to their part, giving them clear legal responsibility and an operating mandate. Our amendment does not prohibit us from doing this.
I therefore hope that noble Lords will withdraw or not move their amendments.
My Lords, I shall seek leave to withdraw my amendment, because I feel very much under pressure from what the Minister has just said. It is the case that the free-standing power is needed, as she said, because of the delay that there has been in order to ensure that the payment power can be used before regulations can be laid. My amendment would therefore imperil the continuation of our current European arrangements. I feel under pressure because it the wrong way to do this. It is a great shame that this legislation was not introduced timeously, but I do not wish to divide the House on my amendment and I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
4: Clause 2, page 1, line 11, leave out subsections (2) to (4) and insert—
“(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may be used only to the extent necessary to replicate so far as possible the model of reciprocal healthcare for the European Union, the European Economic Area and Switzerland in place before the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”
Amendment 4 is, I think, consequential on Amendment 1.
Amendment 4 not moved.
5: Clause 2, page 1, line 11, leave out “, for example”
I listened very carefully to the Minister and I am not convinced, partly because the regulations under Clause 2(2) are very helpful. They give the Government everything they need to take forward the negotiations on reciprocal healthcare, and as the Minister herself said, we have put the regulations in place to help with a no-deal situation, which I hope will not occur. But the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Judge, made the point that those words are, while dangerous might be an exaggeration, certainly not appropriate.
Does the noble Baroness agree that, with “for example”, you may not be extending the jurisdiction of the regulations but actually limiting their range? That is what the Minister was seeking to tell us in her eloquent description of her case. If you say “for example, cows”, you have the example of animals that fall within the range of cows. Without that phrase, some cases would not apply to cows.
I hate to disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, but the words “for example” expand the list rather than decrease it. That is the point of this amendment. Given the huge weight of regulations that we are dealing with in this House, if something is not included in that list, I am sure that that can be remedied. We are getting very good at remedying those situations. We on these Benches think—and other noble Lords have certainly agreed—that “for example” expands the range and that is not necessary or appropriate, so I beg to move and wish to test the opinion of the House.
Amendments 6 to 8
6: Clause 2, page 2, line 1, leave out “on the Secretary of State or on any other person”
7: Clause 2, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
“(2A) But regulations under subsection (1) may not confer functions on, or provide for the delegation of functions to, a person who is not a public authority.”
8: Clause 2, page 2, line 8, at end insert—
“(5) In this section “public authority” means a person who exercises functions of a public nature (but does not include a person who does so only because of exercising functions on behalf of another).”
Amendments 6 to 8 agreed.
9: Clause 2, page 2, line 8, at end insert—
“(6) No regulations may be made under subsection (1)(a) or (b) after the end of the period of five years beginning with exit day.”
My Lords, the Bill’s delegated powers and their global application have been a source of spirited debate since this Bill’s introduction, and noble Lords have rightly given considerable scrutiny to this matter. A number of amendments were tabled in Committee, including those by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Jolly, the noble Lords, Lord Patel, Lord Kakkar and Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. This issue has concerned Peers across the House. I am pleased to say that the Government have listened carefully and tabled an amendment that significantly curtails the scope of the delegated powers in the Bill.
Amendment 9 directly addresses the concerns raised by restricting the exercise of the delegated powers, and, as we have already discussed, limits the global scope. The Bill is intended to support the implementation of comprehensive reciprocal healthcare arrangements with countries within and outside the EU, and to implement possible future partnerships. It was drafted to fulfil this purpose in a number of different scenarios, and that remains the Government’s intention, but we have listened closely to the points raised by Peers both inside and outside of this Chamber, as well as to the views of the DPRRC and the Constitution Committee, and concluded that the regulation-making powers that can be used to set up schemes for unilateral healthcare overseas should be time-limited.
The powers in Clause 2(1)(a) and Clause 2(1)(b) would primarily be needed, in the event of a no deal, to mitigate any detrimental effects of a sudden change in healthcare access for UK nationals living in the EU. These powers would be required in the event that reciprocal arrangements are not in place. Our aim remains to reach an agreement on reciprocal arrangements, but as a sensible Government, we need to plan for all eventualities.
In the unprecedented event of leaving the European Union with no deal, we would need to have the option of establishing support mechanisms for people in exceptional circumstances where there would be a serious risk to their health should any member state not agree to maintain reciprocal healthcare. However, we have listened, and want to ensure that while the Government have the ability to provide for people in this unprecedented time, we are still respectful of the constitutional roles of Parliament and the Executive. In response, we feel that the delegated powers that implement healthcare arrangements outside of reciprocal healthcare agreements with other countries should be sunsetted.
During the five years before the sunset, we will retain the flexibility to deal with exit scenarios using regulations under Clause 2(1) as appropriate. These powers can be used to offer UK nationals reassurance and certainty, which we intend through this Bill. After the sunset, making use of the regulation-making powers under Clause 2(1) would be limited to Clause 2(1)(c) only, which provides the Government with a mechanism to give effect to future complex global healthcare agreements. However, it is important to state that this amendment will mean that it is not possible for the Secretary of State to set up any long-term scheme to unilaterally fund mental health treatment in Arizona or hip replacements in Australia, as has been suggested. Of course, this is not something a reasonable Government would intend to do, but I am happy to provide that reassurance. However, we would want to remove any perceived risk regarding this power, and that is the intention of this amendment.
In tabling the amendment, the Government have sought to clarify the intended use of the important powers in Clause 2(1)(a) and (b). This represents a significant restriction of the Government’s use of delegated powers, in direct response to concerns raised by parliamentarians across this House. It also represents a significant check on the global scope of the Bill. On that basis, I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend will forgive me if I ask for a point of clarification. If Amendment 9 is passed, after the sunset clause is implemented, powers could only be made in relation to a healthcare agreement. However, Clause 3 says that a healthcare agreement can concern either healthcare provided outside the United Kingdom and paid for by the United Kingdom, or healthcare provided in the United Kingdom with another country paying. It does not require reciprocity. Is that quite the restriction my noble friend was suggesting, since it could still be unilateral, not reciprocal?
I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for his question. This power enables a unilateral scheme, so it does not require reciprocity and is intended to be used only in an emergency scenario where a group of individuals are in difficulty. That is why it is appropriate to sunset it in this way.
I thank the House for its support for the amendment and hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, will withdraw his amendment on that basis. I beg to move.
Amendment 9 agreed.
10: Clause 2, page 2, line 8, at end insert—
“( ) No regulations may be made under subsection 1(a) or (b) in relation to countries outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland after the end of a period of two years beginning with exit day.”
Amendment 10 not moved.
Clause 3: Meaning of “healthcare” and “healthcare agreement”
Amendments 11 to 13
11: Clause 3, page 2, line 16, leave out “outside the United Kingdom” and insert “in the European Economic Area or Switzerland”
12: Clause 3, page 2, line 18, leave out “outside the United Kingdom” and insert “in a European Economic Area country or Switzerland”
13: Clause 3, page 2, line 22, leave out “outside the United Kingdom” and insert “with which the agreement has been made”
Amendments 11 to 13 agreed.
Clause 4: Data processing
14: Clause 4, page 2, line 38, at end insert—
“( ) The processing of personal data in accordance with subsection (1) must comply with—(a) the seven Caldicott principles outlined in the Caldicott Committee’s Report on the Review of Patient-Identifiable Information and subsequent reports;(b) the Government’s Data Ethics Framework.”
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 14, and your Lordships will be pleased to hear that I will be brief.
During the passage of the Bill, considerable concerns have been raised by a number of noble Lords about the use and sharing of data within the NHS. It is a hotly contested subject, and one of the best briefings on it is from our Library, prior to a debate on 6 September initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. It unpacks a number of the concerns and issues about data within the NHS, and I am sorry that I have been unable to be at Second Reading or in Committee to expand on some of those issues.
During our Select Committee inquiry into artificial intelligence, there were a number of witnesses who talked about the use of data in the NHS, and we drew a number of conclusions, namely that the data was not in good shape to be utilised for beneficial purposes such as research, diagnosis and screening. That is another issue, however; what concerns noble Lords is the question of sharing. Now that we have seen Amendment 1 pass, maybe we will deal only with countries where there is a level of data adequacy which gives us an assurance about the use of NHS data. As the King’s Fund said last year in its report, Using Data in the NHS:
“National policy has to keep a balance between responding to legitimate public concern about the security and confidentiality of data and enabling data to be shared and used by NHS organisations and third parties. It is also essential that NHS national bodies are transparent with the public about how patient data is used”.
It went on to suggest that the level of opt-outs for patients would be key to the quality and validity of future research, and that NHS England and NHS Digital should keep this under review. One of the issues in the NHS is that there are several organisations responsible for NHS data. It is not just NHS England, NHS Digital, the National Information Board and Public Health England. The Caldicott Guardian—the national guardian for health and care—has a responsibility as well. It is quite a disparate, rather balkanised issue.
I was reassured on reading what the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, had to say when she responded, as the Minister, to this set of amendments in Committee:
“Under the Bill, personal data can be processed only in accordance with UK data protection law, namely the Data Protection Act 2018 and the general data protection regulation, which will form part of UK domestic law under the EU withdrawal Act 2018 from exit day”.
I am not going to go into all the questions about data adequacy and so on. I take what she said as quite reassuring, but it was less so when she later responded to what was then Amendment 23—this amendment is identical. She said:
“I assure the Committee that the Government are committed to the safe, lawful and responsible processing of people’s data”.
However, she then said:
“As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy noted, the Caldicott principles and the Government’s Data Ethics Framework are admirable standards to apply to the handling of patient data. Both of these non-legislative frameworks are in line with the Data Protection Act and the GDPR, which are enshrined in the Bill”.—[Official Report, 19/2/19; cols. 2261-63.]
That is not unequivocal in terms of those standards applying. As the Minister knows, we discussed this between Committee and Report. I had hoped to receive correspondence from her, but sadly I have not done so. She may need to repeat whatever text of the letter she may be able to find in her outbox. I hope she can give the House reassurance that the national data ethics framework and the Caldicott principles will apply to any sharing of data. The data ethics framework is a cross-government standard, of course, but the Caldicott principles are specific to the NHS. It is important to make sure they apply both domestically and internationally.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for giving the House the opportunity to talk about this issue again. He has been deeply involved in this topic and, as he said, I spoke on it in Committee. Compliance with this country’s very robust data protection rules is critical in general and particularly important in healthcare. This was discussed in the debate instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg; it has been a topic of conversation in this House, both in and out of the Chamber, on many occasions.
The noble Lord talked about the number of bodies that have some responsibility: he called it balkanised. It is important that we do not create a balkanisation in the law, even if a small one is in operation. One set of law should take precedence over all data protection, security and connected issues. That is, and should be, the Data Protection Act 2018. This means that there are operational guidelines, frameworks, principles and so on about how these ought to operate within individual contexts. That is precisely where the Caldicott principles come in. They take a general piece of legislation and translate what good practice in interpreting it ought to mean in a health setting. In that sense, it is important to say that we should not put those principles in a legislative setting. They are interpretive of the core, primary legislation and may need to change over time. They may need to adapt; there may be an eighth principle as we get into interesting questions about the value of data and so on.
It is important to recognise that the Caldicott principles bring to life what the Data Protection Act ought to mean in health settings. It would be a mistake to create competing law. Of course the Government agree with the noble Lord about the importance of giving force to the principles. That is one reason why we supported the Private Member’s Bill brought into this House by my noble friend Lady Chisholm to put the national data guardian on a statutory basis. I hope that that gives him the strength of reassurance about the way that the framework is constructed, which is not to create an opportunity to do funny stuff at the edges, but rather to make sure that there is primacy of one set of legislation.
My Lords, the noble Lord used the expression, “giving force”. If those principles are given force, it means that the Government treat themselves and put on the record that they are bound by those principles. That is what giving force would mean in those circumstances, because these are novel circumstances set out in the Bill. That kind of reassurance is needed with the data ethics framework.
My Lords, I had amendments that the Minister responded to at the Dispatch Box and I accepted her explanation at the time. Now I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is trying to raise, that those principles that she enunciated about data protection included the Caldicott principles. As that reassurance was given at the Dispatch Box, I think it will cover the issue.
My Lords, I added my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and I am grateful that he has made the argument so I do not need to repeat it. Of course, I spoke about this in Committee and, like other noble Lords, I was reassured at the time by the explanation given by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor. Since then, however, the Bill team has actually made available the Bill data processing factsheet, which is very useful. It explains things in great detail, so I wondered whether it might be a good idea if this was given to everybody involved with this Bill. I do not know whether the noble Lord has seen this, but it is a very useful piece of information. Otherwise, I was satisfied in Committee, and if the Minister answers the questions, I am sure that I will remain satisfied.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Thornton, for tabling Amendment 14 and raising the issue of the lawful and responsible processing of data. I start with an apology to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. My noble friend Lady Blackwood did write to the noble Lord, and I am sorry that he has not yet received the letter. We will endeavour to send him another copy as soon as possible.
As my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy said—and I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Patel, that—data sharing is a necessary and crucial aspect of maintaining effective complex reciprocal healthcare arrangements, and the Government are committed to the safe, lawful processing of people’s personal data. There are, as the noble Lord said, safeguards in place in respect of processing personal data for the purposes set out under the Bill, for which the Bill makes express provision. The Bill makes it absolutely clear that it does not authorise the processing of data that contravenes UK data protection legislation.
Data processing will be permitted only for the limited purposes set out in the Bill. Personal data will be processed in accordance with UK data protection law—as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, observed—namely, the Data Protection Act 2018 and the general data protection regulation, which will form part of UK domestic law under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 from exit day.
I assure the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Clement- Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that the Caldicott principles are an important part of the governance of confidential patient information in the NHS and a guiding mechanism for organisations in how they should handle confidential patient information on a practical level. The NHS is expected to adhere to these principles.
Since 1999, NHS bodies have been mandated to appoint a Caldicott Guardian. These principles are therefore ingrained in the current operation of the NHS and confidential patient data handled by the NHS for purposes in relation to reciprocal healthcare will be subject to these principles. The principles are consistent with the requirements of the GDPR and a breach of the Caldicott principles would most likely amount to a breach of the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018. The principles are not intended for statute but are of real practical and operational importance when confidential patient information is processed. This will be the case when confidential patient information needed for reciprocal healthcare arrangements is processed.
It is also worth noting that reciprocal healthcare arrangements will not normally involve the processing of confidential patient information, except in particular circumstances, such as facilitating planned treatment. However, where this information is processed through reciprocal healthcare arrangements under the NHS, it must comply with UK data protection legislation. NHS organisations, as they do now, will be required to adhere to the Caldicott principles. The data ethics framework that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, mentioned sets out collective standards and ethical frameworks for how data should be used across the whole public sector, as well as the standards for transparency and accountability when building or buying new data technology. Where the framework refers to personal data, it consistently cross-refers to the principles in the GDPR, which is the relevant legislation that policymakers must consider when processing personal data.
Personal data processed for the purposes of reciprocal healthcare arrangements would therefore also take into account the data ethics framework. In addition, from 1 April 2019, the National Data Guardian will be put on a statutory footing and will therefore be able to issue formal guidance and informal advice to organisations and individuals about the processing of health and adult social care data in England. This will provide patients statutory independent oversight of the use of health data, with health bodies being required by law to have regard to the guidance issued by the National Data Guardian. This is another way in which NHS organisations in England which are processing data in respect of reciprocal healthcare will be monitored and personal data can be further protected as necessary.
It is important to note that express reference to these principles in the Bill would not provide any additional protections for personal data or confidential patient information, as the standard of protections required is the same as the existing data protection legislation already provided for in the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and others for their support in observing this. Furthermore, as I have said, these principles already apply to NHS organisations and will continue to do so in respect of reciprocal healthcare. As a result, it would be inappropriate to put these in the Bill and I am therefore unable to accept the amendment. However, the Government have listened carefully to concerns surrounding the list of persons who can lawfully process data as a part of implementing new reciprocal healthcare arrangements under the Bill and have tabled an amendment on this issue.
Currently, the list of authorised persons under the Bill includes the Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and a Northern Ireland department, NHS bodies and providers of healthcare. Of course, over time, public bodies change, are reformed and refashioned, and functions are transferred between them in consequence. Clause 4(6)(e) gives the Secretary of State the ability to respond to such changes so that systems can operate efficiently and data can follow in an appropriate and lawful way to enable such operation. We propose, however, subjecting any regulations that add to the list of persons authorised to process data for the purposes of the Bill to the draft affirmative procedure. This would allow Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise authorised persons handling personal data while ensuring that the Government have the ability to guarantee that future agreements are administered in the most efficient way possible.
The Government are firmly committed to the safe, lawful processing of personal data, and to ensuring that patients have enforceable protections under data protection legislation. I hope, given my assurances that any data processing under the Bill would comply with the Caldicott principles and the data ethics framework as appropriate, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, kindly mentioned the factsheet. Of course, if it is useful, we would be very happy to put this in the Library. Officials do a tremendous job and I am very grateful to them. I hope, with the assurance I have given noble Lords, and the fact we are providing greater scrutiny, that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, that was exactly the kind of robust response from the Minister that I was hoping for. It is very rare that I listen to a government response and nod all the way through, so I thank her for that very careful response, both on the Caldicott principles and the framework for data ethics, and for going into the accountabilities, and the affirmative procedure guarantee at the end—that was a bouquet. It is not that we on these and other Benches do not understand the value of NHS data and the real importance of that balance. This is not designed as a negative approach to the use of NHS data; it has huge potential benefits, but we have to make sure that it is kept within that ethical framework. The Minister has demonstrated that that kind of culture is ingrained—or is certainly expected to be ingrained—in the NHS and that Caldicott Guardians, post 1 April, will be very much on the case. In those circumstances, with pleasure, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
15: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Requirement for consultation with devolved authorities
(1) Before making regulations under section 2 that contain provision which is within the legislative competence of a devolved legislature, the Secretary of State must consult the relevant devolved authority on that provision.(2) In this section—“devolved authority” means the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers or a Northern Ireland department;“devolved legislature” means the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly.(3) A provision is within the legislative competence of a devolved legislature if—(a) it would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament if it were contained in an Act of the Scottish Parliament;(b) it would be within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales if it were contained in an Act of the Assembly (including any provision that could only be made with the consent of a Minister of the Crown); or(c) the provision, if it were contained in an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly—(i) would be within the legislative competence of the Assembly, and(ii) would not require the consent of the Secretary of State.”
My Lords, in Committee, the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton, Lady Jolly, and Lady Humphreys, tabled amendments on devolution and specifically sought to place an obligation on the Government to consult with the devolved Administrations when making regulations under this Bill. We listened very carefully to that debate and were committed to bringing forward a government amendment which set out, on the face of the Bill, a duty to consult the devolved Administrations where regulations under Clause 2 would make provisions that would be within the legislative competence of a devolved legislature. Government Amendment 15 fulfils this commitment.
I am delighted that the Scottish Parliament has granted a legislative consent Motion to the Bill and that the Welsh Government have tabled a consent motion in the Welsh Assembly recommending that the Assembly, which is debating the Motion today, grants consent to the Bill. We have also had positive and productive engagement with colleagues in the Northern Ireland Department of Health and in the Northern Ireland Office. We are grateful for their support and agreement to ensure that this Bill applies and extends to Northern Ireland.
The regulation-making powers in the Bill provide us with a legal mechanism to implement comprehensive international healthcare agreements into domestic law and provide for healthcare outside the UK for the benefit of all UK nationals. It is, however, recognised that these powers may be used in ways which relate to devolved matters, by which I mean domestic healthcare. In light of this, the amendment provides:
“Before making regulations under Section 2 that contain provision which is within the legislative competence of a devolved legislature, the Secretary of State must consult the relevant devolved authority”.
To underpin and facilitate this consultation, we have developed and agreed a memorandum of understanding with the devolved Administrations. This MoU sets out a pragmatic and mutually beneficial working relationship which will ensure that the devolved Administrations will continue to have a vital role to play in delivering reciprocal healthcare for the benefit of all UK nationals. In addition, it will enable devolved Ministers to set out their views at an early stage of reciprocal healthcare policy formation, where their officials will have been involved in helping to develop the proposals. We believe that this agreement, which is both practical and pragmatic, allows us to move forward in a collaborative way with all our colleagues in the devolved Administrations, and we believe that it demonstrates how the UK Government and the DAs can work well together. I hope that noble Lords will be able to give their support to this important amendment.
My Lords, I support this important amendment, to which I have added my name on behalf of these Benches, and I thank the Minister for the proposed new clause.
Our original amendment proposing a duty to consult the devolved Administrations before making regulations under Clause 2 highlighted a glaring omission from the original Bill which has now thankfully been remedied by this amendment. Although we were very grateful for the assurances the Government gave that there was active involvement and discussion on the Bill with the devolved Administrations on matters affecting them, the requirement as a statutory duty was crucial, as many noble Lords stressed in Committee. We underlined that a statutory commitment to consult and seek the views of the devolved Administrations on matters affecting them would enable future discussions on reciprocal healthcare arrangements to take place on a collaborative and constructive basis.
I thank the Minister for updating us on Scotland and Northern Ireland, as also happened in Committee. I note too that a supplementary legislative consent Motion with regard to the Welsh Assembly is being discussed today. I was going to ask the Minister for further news, but obviously she has not had any, and I am sure that she will let us know as soon as there is some.
As the Minister also mentioned, in addition to the requirements contained in the amendment, the memorandum of understanding that has been developed between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government to underpin the amendment provides for devolved Administrations to be consulted on: the negotiation of new healthcare agreements; the development and drafting of regulations under the Bill to implement such agreements; and agreements which apply to or have implications for devolved Administrations, and on regulations giving effect to those agreements. We very much welcome that.
Finally, I ask the Minister for a formal response to the question I raised in Committee on the Constitution Committee’s report on the Bill in February in respect of the devolved Administrations. Paragraph 15 stressed the need for the Government to set out how they intend to manage the overlapping competencies in relation to the Bill and other policy areas. The committee pointed out that the potential for overlapping competencies will increase as all powers are repatriated from the EU, as does the scope for disagreement about such issues, and this will need to be managed. If the Minister prefers to write to me on this matter, that would be acceptable and much appreciated.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing the amendment and for the implicit acceptance that the recognition of the powers of the devolved Administrations was a serious omission from the Bill. I must admit that I find the ineptitude—I think that is the right word—of Ministers and officials who produce Bills such as this without “devolution proofing” them deeply frustrating. Surely it would have been possible someone to take a few seconds at the early stages of the Bill’s production to ask, “Does this Bill have an impact on the powers of the devolved Administrations?” That would have saved so much time, and prevented my blood pressure skyrocketing.
While I am pleased that the amendment calls on the Secretary of State to consult with devolved Administrations on matters that are within their devolved competence, may I press the Minister to explain the implications—and perhaps the limitations—of the word “consult”? My amendment in Committee called for an assurance that the Bill would not allow the Secretary of State to amend, repeal or revoke Welsh primary legislation—which is rather different from mere consultation. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister could clarify this for me so that we have on record a full recognition of the powers of the devolved Administrations.
My Lords, I signed the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, in Committee. Indeed, as I indicated in the speech I made then, when evidence was given to the Scottish Parliament committee that was looking at the legislative consent Motion memorandum issue, there was an expectation that there would be a consent provision in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood of North Oxford, clearly indicated an intention to do so when she replied to the debate; I put on record an appreciation of the fact that we now have this delivered in letter and in spirit.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheeler and Lady Humphreys, for their support for this amendment.
I point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, that of course consent means exactly that. We have gone a long way to set out a memorandum of understanding that is mutually beneficial; it will be a beneficial working relationship to ensure that the devolved Administrations will continue to play a vital role in delivering reciprocal healthcare. We will continue to consult and to work closely with them, both at ministerial and official level. I therefore reassure her on that point.
I will write to clarify the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, raised. As I said, the MoU that we have agreed sets out our future working relationship, which will include consideration of where compliances overlap.
This amendment represents our close working relationship; I give an assurance from the Government that we are committed to ensuring that arrangements will be conducive to the development of a reciprocal healthcare system that operates effectively across the whole of the UK in a way that fully respects the devolution settlements. I hope that, with the assurances I have given, noble Lords will feel able to support the amendment.
Amendment 15 agreed.
16: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Report on payments made under this Act
(1) The Secretary of State must, in relation to each relevant period—(a) prepare a report in accordance with this section, and(b) lay the report before Parliament as soon as practicable after the end of the period.(2) Each report must give details of payments made under the powers conferred by or under this Act.(3) “Relevant period” means—(a) the period beginning with the day on which this Act is passed and ending with the end of the first financial year to begin after exit day;(b) each subsequent period of 12 months.(4) “Financial year” means the period of 12 months beginning with 1 April.”
My Lords, financial reporting in the context of the Bill has already been the subject of debate in Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lord Dundee, who, sadly, is not here today, tabled an amendment on this matter, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton, Lady Wheeler, Lady Jolly and Lady Finlay, also spoke on this important matter.
While we were unable to support the amendment tabled in Committee, the Government supported its spirit, in line with our ongoing commitment to transparency, particularly when it comes to the use of public money. We made this clear in our letter to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee earlier this year, and I am pleased now to introduce this government amendment, which provides a statutory duty to publish an annual report. Government Amendment 16 places a duty on the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament each year. This report will outline all payments made during the preceding financial year in respect of healthcare arrangements implemented by the Bill. I believe this amendment directly addresses many of the concerns raised by noble Lords in Committee, and the clear request for increased scrutiny of the use of public money.
The nature and implementation of future reciprocal healthcare agreements is, of course, a matter for future negotiations. However, we envisage that, through this reporting mechanism, we would also be able to provide Parliament with further information on the operation of future agreements. For example, we anticipate that this report would include details of both expenditure and income to reflect the reciprocal nature of agreements.
The amendment provides for annual reports, which will be published as soon as is practicable after the end of each financial year. Expenditure by the Department of Health and Social Care relating to EU reciprocal healthcare arrangements is currently published to Parliament in the form of annual resource accounts. Reporting on future reciprocal healthcare arrangements will continue in this way. Indeed, as now, the department’s future expenditure on reciprocal healthcare will be subject to the existing government reporting requirements. For example, DHSC income and expenditure accounts, relating to current EU reciprocal healthcare arrangements, are already audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and published by the Treasury as part of the annual report presented to Parliament.
However, the Government have heard the need for greater transparency in our administration and implementation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements. Moreover, we understand the importance of presenting this information in a clear and accessible document, which is why we propose to go beyond the current reporting requirements with this amendment. Our intention is that Parliament should have clear and easy-to-access details of the public spending on healthcare arrangements implemented under the Bill.
Noble Lords have also expressed concern over the scope of the powers in the Bill. This proposal works alongside the Government’s other amendments in providing clarity. It allows for increased parliamentary scrutiny in respect of costs incurred in relation to future healthcare arrangements.
We remain committed to financial transparency. The amendment ensures that we are able to continue providing Parliament with further opportunities for scrutiny. I hope that your Lordships will be able to offer their support to this amendment. I beg to move.
Amendment 17 (to Amendment 16)
17: After Clause 4, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) The annual report laid under subsection (1) must include, but is not limited to— (a) all payments made by the government of the United Kingdom in respect of healthcare arrangements for healthcare provided outside the United Kingdom to British citizens;(b) all payments received by the government of the United Kingdom in reimbursement of costs of healthcare provided by the United Kingdom to all non-British citizens;(c) the number of British citizens treated under healthcare agreements outside the United Kingdom;(d) the number of non-British citizens treated under healthcare agreements within the United Kingdom;(e) any and all outstanding payments owed to or by the government of the United Kingdom in respect of the provision of healthcare outside the United Kingdom made before the passing of this Act; and(f) any and all administrative costs faced by NHS Trusts in respect of implementing healthcare agreements.(2A) The information required under subsection (2)(a) and (b) must be listed by individual country in every annual report.”
My Lords, this is a probing amendment to Amendment 16. I am seeking reassurance about the contents of the annual report. I very much welcome the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, which we shall be supporting.
I realise that lists are a dangerous thing to put in a Bill. In proposing her amendment, the noble Baroness covered some of these points. However, it is very important, given the powers that the Bill contains, that information—for example under Clause 2(2)(a) and (b)—must be listed in every annual report by individual countries. We feel that proposed new paragraphs (a) to (f) in our amendment need to be contained within the annual report.
This amendment seeks reassurance that the contents of this report will be consistent with the powers that the Government are seeking in the Bill.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. Without repeating our debates at previous stages of the Bill, it would be helpful to have reassurance from the Minister that the content of the list in the noble Baroness’s amendment is exactly the sort of detail we need. It is important to reassure people on exactly how any financial arrangements for healthcare will be made.
Further to that point, I think following the list exactly may be the most difficult thing for the Government to do. Amendment 16 sets out to commit to a report on payments. We have healthcare agreements with, for example, Australia and New Zealand where no money changes hands. As I understand the way in which these agreements work, it would be very difficult for numbers of British citizens in Australia or Australian citizens here to be collected to be reported. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked for the list to contain exactly the sort of information we need. While the list may indicate the sort of information we are looking for, if it is not available, it is not available.
The costs are exactly what the Government are proposing to report on. The Australian agreement, for example, does not involve payments to and fro. So costs do not arise. We have mutual, reciprocal agreements about treating each other’s citizens in our domestic healthcare system.
The Minister may wish to advise on this. I understand that we probably do not—because there is no requirement to recover the money—whereas, under an EU agreement, we collect the data because we are required to charge the Governments who are the competent authorities for those patients.
I am really sorry to prolong this point but, if we are trying to make sure that new reciprocal arrangements are effective, this is exactly the sort of data collection that we should be seeking. Even if it is not used initially, the whole point is that we want to understand the costs of each arrangement.
I am making a simpler point: it is no good asking for information that is not collected. There is a good reason why it is not collected. Although, this might happen in future, at the moment I do not think anybody is proposing to switch the Australian and New Zealand agreements to ones where there is reciprocal reimbursement. In this case, I do not think the information is being collected.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her amendment and to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lord Lansley for their contributions. I am not sure I want to go down this route. However, if the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, wants me to write to her to clarify the point she raised, I will certainly do so. From what I have seen, my noble friend Lord Lansley is correct in saying that we have a reciprocal agreement with the countries he mentioned, where money does not exchange hands.
I can reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Brinton, that—as I indicate—the Government have listened to the need for greater transparency in the administration and implementation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements. I welcome the support around the House for our intentions. We understand the importance of presenting this information in a clear and accessible document, which is why we propose to go beyond the current reporting requirements. Our initial commitment to the DPRRC is contained in the amendment that the Government have tabled on this matter.
As I said, the government amendment directly addresses concerns raised by noble Lords. I hope it reassures noble Lords and demonstrates that we have listened to the clear request for increased scrutiny of the use of public money.
The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, would ensure that specific requirements are reported on. The detailed content of the financial report should—and could only—be determined, once reciprocal healthcare agreements have been made and technical and operational details are known. We do not know what these agreements may be in future. If we accepted the amendment, we would be placing a statutory duty on future Administrations to collect and report on data we have not yet agreed to exchange with other countries. This is not appropriate.
Our amendment is a more feasible way of reporting on future healthcare arrangements that does not pre-empt their nature or how they may be implemented, but still allows for transparency and accountability, which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and other noble Lords seek. It is a baseline, and we intend to go further than just reporting on payments, but we cannot provide a statutory obligation to do so.
The Department for Health and Social Care is currently working to ensure that UK nationals can continue to access healthcare in the EU in the same way they do now, either through an agreement at EU level or through agreements with relevant member states. In either case, we will have to agree how eligibility is evidenced, how—and how frequently—that information is exchanged and the reimbursement mechanisms that will govern those new agreements. Such agreements will have to take into account the operational possibilities and limitations of each contracting party to ensure the smooth operation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements. This should include how NHS trusts in the UK can evidence eligibility for the treatment of non-UK citizens in the most efficient and least burdensome manner.
Once those administrative details are known, the Government will be able to speak confidently to the specific measures that can be reported on for each country. There is an annual reporting mechanism in the government amendment to provide such detail. I acknowledge that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is well meaning and agree with its spirit, but the level of detail proposed in it could constrain or create unnecessary burden when administering future healthcare arrangements that have not yet been negotiated.
It is in the interest of neither the Government nor Parliament to force unnecessary administrative burdens on the NHS, which the amendment could inadvertently cause. The level of detail required in the amendment may create new reporting requirements on front-line NHS services.
As always, should the noble Baroness wish, the Minister or others from the department would be very happy to meet her to talk further about the issues, once we have a clear understanding of future negotiations and how they progress. I hope I have reiterated the Government’s commitment to accountable financial reporting, and that the noble Baroness and other noble Lords feel reassured on our commitment to ensuring that sufficient and appropriate checks and balances are in place on reciprocal health agreements. I hope she will agree that her amendment, which places a statutory duty on future Administrations to collect and report on data we have not yet agreed to exchange with other countries, is inappropriate. I hope I have reassured her and other noble Lords and she feels able to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 17 (to Amendment 16) withdrawn.
Amendment 16 agreed.
Clause 5: Regulations and directions
18: Clause 5, page 3, line 38, leave out subsection (3)
My Lords, I now turn directly to the Henry VIII powers of the Bill. As noble Lords know well, the inclusion of the consequential Henry VIII power in the Bill has been the subject of animated debate both inside and outside this Chamber. The Government have been listening closely to these concerns in the Chamber but also in the reports from the DPRRC and the Constitution Committee. In response, we have tabled Amendments 18, 19, 20, 24 and 25, which is a significant step and addresses these concerns directly.
This group of amendments removes Clause 5(3) and amends Clause 5(4). As a result, it will now not be possible to make consequential amendments to primary legislation using regulations made under the Bill.
I want to be clear that the consequential Henry VIII powers were initially included as a future-proofing mechanism. They were never free-standing and we had envisaged using them in only a limited set of circumstances. As negotiations have not yet concluded and the terms of any agreements are not yet settled, there may be situations where it would be appropriate to amend primary legislation. This is why the power was included. We cannot rule out that we may want to amend primary legislation to give effect to a reciprocal healthcare agreement in future, and the lack of such a future-proofing mechanism limits our ability to ensure that the statute book in future is as coherent as it can be.
However, we want to alleviate any fears that we are taking powers which are not absolutely necessary in this Bill. As such we are prepared to take the significant step of removing the entire Henry VIII consequential powers in Clauses 5(3) and (4).
In addition, the Government have listened carefully to the concerns about the list of persons who can lawfully process data as a part of implementing new reciprocal healthcare arrangements under the Bill. To facilitate greater parliamentary scrutiny on this issue, the Government have tabled Amendment 20, which subjects any regulations that add to the list of persons authorised to process data for the purposes of the Bill to the draft affirmative procedure, which we have already debated. This would allow Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise authorised persons handling sensitive patient data, while equally ensuring that the Government can guarantee that future agreements are administered in the most efficient and effective way possible.
I hope that your Lordships will view these amendments, together with the other government amendments, as a genuine and significant effort to reduce the scope of powers in this Bill and respond to the concerns raised by this House concerning the use of Henry VIII powers. On that basis, I commend the amendments to the House.
Perhaps I may add a few words to those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I was particularly concerned by Clause 5(3), as the noble Baroness may remember, and am delighted to see it removed because, as worded, it gave rise to a lot of problems. Together with the other amendments proposed, there is considerable improvement and I am most grateful.
I tabled an amendment in this group. First, I join the noble and learned Lords and all noble Lords in saying thank you very much to the Government and the noble Baroness for removing these Henry VIII powers, which cause so much heartache in this House—we really do not like them at all. I tabled Amendment 21 because I should like an explanation. Given that our Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee have several times said that they find the negative procedure rampant in the Bill, and that the British Medical Association has also voiced its concern about legislation being subject to the negative resolution procedure, in the interests of accountability, I need to ask the Minister to explain to the House the justification for negative procedure throughout the Bill. Should it not be subject to the same level of scrutiny as in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, for example?
I thank the noble and learned Lords for their support for our amendments to Clause 5 and the removal of the Henry VIII operation within the Bill. I shall do my best to continue in the way I have started in this House.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her Amendments 21 and 23. The Government recognise that appropriate levels of scrutiny are the hallmark of an effective and responsible parliamentary system and that the processes by which we draft, consider and test legislation must be robust. It is necessary that we look at the nature of the subordinate legislation in the Bill and balance the need for scrutiny against the appropriate use of parliamentary time.
The draft affirmative resolution offers a greater level of parliamentary scrutiny and may be appropriate for particularly significant or sensitive regulations. For example, that is why the Government have agreed that that is appropriate when amending the list of authorised persons able to process data for the purposes of reciprocal healthcare. It is important to understand that, where the UK negotiates a new comprehensive international healthcare agreement, most of the important elements setting out its terms would be included in the agreement itself rather than in the regulations, made under the Bill, that implement it. The regulations giving effect to such an agreement would be much more likely to focus on the procedural, administrative or technical details, such as the types of documents or forms to be used to administer reciprocal healthcare arrangements. Evidence tabled during the course of the Bill’s passage from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the British Medical Association demonstrates that the administration for current arrangements works well. The regulations made under this Bill would be likely to simply provide for the effective and efficient administration of these arrangements.
We anticipate that, were we to accept this amendment, in future Parliament would likely find itself debating technical updates to operational issues, such as whether forms required to process reciprocal healthcare arrangements should be changed. I do not think that would be an appropriate use of parliamentary time. For that reason, we feel that the negative procedure is appropriate to use for the regulations. With the additional amendments we have tabled today, the Bill allows for effective governance while providing for an improved level of parliamentary oversight. Noble Lords will recognise that it is vital that the Government can make regulations quickly and react to varied possible scenarios arising from the UK’s exit from the EU.
The House is also absolutely right to hold the Executive to the highest possible constitutional standards. We understand that ensuring sufficient scrutiny is a legitimate and ongoing concern. That is why we have worked hard in bringing forward a considerable package of government amendments to increase scrutiny and transparency and to alleviate any fears that we are taking powers that are not absolutely necessary. We took a significant step in removing the entire Henry VIII powers for this reason. We have also placed a statutory duty on the Government to publish the annual report, which has just been debated, to give Parliament greater reassurance on how the Bill will be implemented and scrutinised. Finally, we have proposed subjecting any regulations that add to the list of persons authorised to be subject to the affirmative procedure. We think parliamentarians have rightly demonstrated that data protection is a critical issue, and we have decided that it is appropriate that these regulations be subject to the draft affirmative procedure.
Having explained that and gone through our thinking, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, will agree that it is not appropriate to impose scrutiny processes on all the regulations made under this Bill, as that could see us in future debating technical changes to administrative systems that implement healthcare regulations. That would not be appropriate. On this basis, I hope she will feel free to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 18 agreed.
19: Clause 5, page 3, line 43, after “law” insert “that is not primary legislation”
Amendment 19 agreed.
20: Clause 5, page 3, line 45, leave out “this Act which amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation” and insert “section 4(6)”
21: Clause 5, leave out ““this Act which amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation” and insert “section 4(6)”” and insert ““which amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation””
Amendment 21 (to Amendment 20) not moved.
Amendment 20 agreed.
Amendments 22 and 23 not moved.
Amendments 24 and 25
24: Clause 5, page 4, line 3, leave out “A” and insert “Any other”
25: Clause 5, page 4, line 3, leave out from “Act” to “is” in line 4
Amendments 24 and 25 agreed.
Amendment 26 not moved.
Clause 6: Extent, commencement and short title
27: Clause 6, page 4, line 15, leave out “International” and insert “European Economic Area and Switzerland”
Amendment 27 agreed.
In the Title
Amendments 28 and 29
28: In the Title, line 1, leave out “outside the United Kingdom” and insert “in a European Economic Area country or Switzerland”
29: In the Title, line 2, after “agreements” insert “with such countries”
Amendments 28 and 29 agreed.