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My Lords, it is a great honour to speak to the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, on behalf of the Government, as my maiden speech—as my noble friend the Leader of the House put it so encouragingly when we first met, “straight in at the deep end”.
Before addressing the Bill in earnest, however, I hope your Lordships will indulge me as I record my profound thanks to noble Lords from across the House for their warm welcome over the past few weeks. I thank particularly my noble friend Lord Younger, Black Rod and the parliamentary staff who have so patiently guided me through the processes and procedures of this place. I offer special thanks to our wonderful doorkeepers, who have on more than one occasion rescued me from complete disorientation. I must also pay tribute to my two distinguished supporters: my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy, who is, I am sure we all agree, a formidable act to follow, and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, one of our truly great parliamentarians, as well as a former Health Minister himself, of course. I am grateful for their continued advice and support. Last, but certainly not least, I put on record my sincere thanks, and those of my whole department, to my noble friend Lady Manzoor, who has so ably covered departmental business, responding tirelessly on topics ranging from tooth decay to sepsis to breast cancer, not to mention fielding a few lengthy SIs with grace and good humour.
I understand that it is a tradition to treat those of us who have come from the other place to a lesson or two in the nature of truly forensic scrutiny and expert debate. I humbly await my tutorial. However, I am sure the House will also appreciate that I remain very proud to have been elected by the constituents of Oxford West and Abingdon, and the outcome of the 2017 election was a great sadness for me. It was, of course, my home seat. My father was a cardiologist. He met my mother, then a scrub nurse, in an operating theatre in the Radcliffe Infirmary in north Oxford in 1973. On many a doorstep, constituents would tell me how fondly they remembered my father, who had treated or taught them, before proceeding to tell me in no uncertain terms that this did not mean that they would be voting for me.
It was a constant joy to represent such a research-intensive seat, where constituents were always so informed, engaged and unsparingly direct. I used to say that not only was I the only MP to get footnoted letters but I had to spend constituency days constantly at the ready for impromptu tutorials from world experts. Indeed, on one visit to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, a particularly keen particle physicist sequestered me in his office for a full 45-minute lecture on the nature of the muon—and, naturally, why STFC funding for his project should be maintained.
It is for this reason that when Garter Principal King of Arms asked me to choose a title, I had no hesitation in selecting north Oxford, the place where I have grown up physically and intellectually all these years. I have a suspicion that—although my previous roles as chair of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, Health Minister and chair of the Human Tissue Authority will of course prove valuable—my former constituents, who were so expert and so challenging, will actually have done the most to prepare me to serve your Lordships as a Minister in this Chamber.
I am mindful that the Companion states that maiden speeches should be short and uncontroversial. Short, perhaps, is within my gift, but I fear that my subject matter may diverge from strict convention. EU exit raises the collective blood pressure so notably that I have often wondered whether public health language should be developed for just such occasions. However, during its passage through the other place, the purpose of this Bill attracted cross-party support, and for good reason. However varied our views may be on our future relationship with Europe, we can all agree that access to healthcare is essential both for British nationals living in European countries and for EU citizens living in the UK.
In addition, as we look to a future increasingly defined by global mobility and chronic illness, it is the responsibility of government to consider, with all appropriate care and scrutiny, a more comprehensive approach to reciprocal healthcare. Your Lordships will know that current reciprocal healthcare arrangements give people retiring abroad more security, support tourism and enable essential mobility in our economy. The UK is party to a number of reciprocal healthcare agreements, which range from light-touch arrangements with Australia and New Zealand to the more complex EU reciprocal healthcare system.
I will briefly outline the latter: the UK funds healthcare for 180,000 pensioners and their dependants in the EU, living principally in Spain, France, Cyprus and Ireland. We fund needs-arising healthcare in the EU for UK tourists and students. The scheme is hugely popular. There are 27 million EHIC cards in circulation in the UK, resulting in around 250,000 claims each year. We directly fund healthcare for 10,000 posted workers and their dependants in the EU, EEA and Switzerland, and we fund around 1,350 UK residents to travel overseas to receive planned treatment in the EU, primarily maternity care.
The cost of EU reciprocal healthcare is £630 million a year, and at present we recover £66 million each year. This amount is increasing as the NHS gets better at identifying EU visitors and ensuring that the UK is reimbursed for care provided, but it is likely to remain a net spend because many more British pensioners go to Europe than the other way round. Unless there is a dramatic change in the weather across the continent, our models do not forecast that changing much in the near future.
It is clearly in the interests of the British public to ensure that reciprocal healthcare arrangements similar to those currently in place continue when we leave the EU, whether that happens through an agreement with the EU itself, as we very much want, or through bilateral agreements with individual member states in the unlikely event of no deal. For this reason, although this is a short Bill of just six clauses, it is vital. The powers in it are designed to ensure that, no matter the outcome of the exit negotiations, British nationals living in European countries and EU citizens living in the UK, not to mention tourists and posted workers, can have certainty and continuity of care. Should we wish to, the Bill would also allow us to strengthen existing reciprocal healthcare agreements with non-EU countries and to explore new agreements in future.
The Government are determined that we will reach a deal with the EU. With a deal, the withdrawal agreement will enable the continuation of existing reciprocal healthcare rules during the implementation period, and afterwards for people covered by that withdrawal agreement. But it is not a long-term arrangement and does not provide for the unlikely event that the withdrawal agreement is not concluded. In the event of no deal, the powers in the Bill would enable the UK to act swiftly to protect existing healthcare cover for British nationals in the EU, EEA and Switzerland, whether deals are made with the EU or with individual member states. This is clearly undesirable but it is the job of a responsible Government to prepare for all scenarios.
In preliminary discussions with a number of your Lordships, I have been asked about the scope of the powers contained in the Bill. In this regard, I record my thanks to my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the DPRRC for the work that it has already done on this matter and for its characteristically robust report. I wrote last week to the committee in response to its report and have placed a copy of that letter in the Library.
So what, in detail, does the Bill do? There are three key elements. First, it seeks payment powers so that the Secretary of State can make payments for healthcare abroad. Expenditure by the Department of Health and Social Care relating to EU and other reciprocal healthcare arrangements is currently published in this place in the form of annual resource accounts in line with government reporting rules, and will continue to be so to ensure transparency. Secondly, it seeks discretionary powers to make regulations to give effect to healthcare agreements that are entered into. It is important to note at this point that any secondary legislation under this clause that amends primary legislation—Henry VIII powers—would be brought forward under the affirmative procedure, while other regulations that are expected to be technical and administrative in nature, such as replacing or updating the administrative forms, would take the negative procedure. Thirdly, the Bill seeks powers for authorised persons to lawfully share data to facilitate payments or treatments in a safe and effective way. Data would be shared in accordance with UK data protection legislation, including the Data Protection Act 2018.
It is important to note that the Bill does not affect the UK’s ability to negotiate or enter into international agreements; the power to negotiate and sign treaties is a prerogative power and always has been. It simply empowers the Secretary of State to implement agreements once they have been negotiated. The details of new reciprocal healthcare agreements will of course remain subject to negotiation and parliamentary scrutiny. I am aware that there has been some debate about whether CRaG powers are sufficient and that the Constitution Committee, so ably led by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, is currently conducting an inquiry into this very matter. I shall be interested to hear its conclusions.
I reassure the House that there can be no cause for concern that the Bill represents an attempt by the UK Executive to seize power from the devolved Administrations. The Department of Health and Social Care currently funds and arranges EU reciprocal healthcare for people from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We have been working with the devolved Administrations for some time now. I am delighted that we have received a legislative consent Motion from Scotland, and we will of course continue to ensure that we legislate for reciprocal healthcare in a way that fully respects the devolution settlements.
In particular, I note concerns raised in the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee report debate in July, especially by my noble friend Lord Ribeiro, regarding the importance of protecting healthcare in the island of Ireland. I reassure the House that the UK and Ireland are committed to protecting reciprocal healthcare rights fully and appreciate how important it is that UK and Irish nationals can continue to access healthcare when they live in, work in or visit the other country. We also want to maintain co-operation between the UK, Northern Ireland and Ireland on a range of medical issues, including planned treatment, public health and workforce, in both a deal and no-deal scenario.
Having set out the general purpose of the Bill in broad terms, my priority today is to hear from the House so I can begin what I know will be a robust process of scrutiny and strengthening of the Bill. Reciprocal healthcare arrangements enjoy broad public support and the Bill is designed to ensure that we can give British nationals living in European countries and EU citizens living in the UK certainty and continuity of care. It is designed to protect tourism and economic mobility. It is a Bill that looks to the future, giving us the ability to strengthen existing reciprocal healthcare agreements with non-EU countries and explore new agreements in the future.
I look forward to hearing the views of all noble Lords as we enter into the detail of the Bill. I will listen carefully and seek to engage as fully as I possibly can, whether with groups, by party or with individuals, so that we can ensure that proper scrutiny is given to the content and intent of the Bill. It is a necessary and pragmatic Bill. It is one that respects Parliament and the devolution settlements and looks to the future of reciprocal healthcare for generations to come. It is with that in mind that I commend this Bill to the House. I beg to move.
I congratulate my noble friend on a truly outstanding maiden speech and say how delighted I am to see her in her place. Her speech has shown a glimpse of the many qualities that she will bring to this House: her intelligence, her humour and her commitment to public service. She did not mention that she is also a superb singer and flautist; perhaps today is not the day, but I hope she will give noble Lords the opportunity to hear and appreciate her musical skills at some point. I have dropped her in it now—not for the first time.
Not only did my noble friend give me the great honour of supporting her introduction yesterday but we had the opportunity to work together as Ministers for six months. During that time, she gave me one of the best pieces of advice I have ever had: watch your mailbag. It is an early warning signal when things are going wrong and problems need to be seen to. Because I was watching carefully under her very sage advice, I noticed more and more letters about problems with transvaginal mesh and sodium valproate. In many ways, they led to the review that my noble friend Lady Cumberlege is carrying out on medicine and medical device safety. That is the kind of impact that my noble friend has already had in her life as a Minister and she will go on to have an even more profound impact. She will know as well as I do that it is a huge privilege to hold the job that she does and I hope she enjoys it as much as I did. I would also like to join her in congratulating my noble friend Lady Manzoor on holding the fort so ably in the last month.
The Bill before us is an incredibly important piece of legislation, for two reasons. First, it will give the Government the powers they need to continue our mutually beneficial reciprocal health agreements with EU member states. The advantages of these are already enjoyed by many of our citizens: 250,000 British tourists make medical claims every year under the EHIC card, 180,000 British pensioners live in the EU and hundreds of people take planned treatments paid for by the NHS but delivered abroad.
Secondly, as my noble friend said, as we become an independent trading nation once again, we want to be able to enter into similar arrangements with our trading partners. Lighter versions of our reciprocal healthcare arrangements already exist with Australia, New Zealand and some of the EU accession states. However, as we strike new trade and other agreements, it is absolutely right that the British Government make the most of the opportunities these present for our citizens to travel, work and retire abroad.
It is also a necessary Bill because the powers on which we base our current ability to strike reciprocal healthcare agreements derive from EU law, specifically EU Regulations 883 and 987. These will become inoperable once we leave the European Union, however that should happen. At the risk of disappointing the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who will speak directly after me, this legislation does not fit into his category of the no-deal planning which he believes to be a waste of time and money. It is quite the opposite: we need these powers for any deal that we strike with the EU, whether the one agreed by the PM, the one that is official Labour Party policy or any other that might emerge.
For these reasons I strongly support the Bill, which will not come as a surprise since I was the Minister responsible for it until the end of December. However, I also believe it is one that all noble Lords should support because of the benefits it will bring to British citizens. Critically, this point is recognised by the Scottish Government, not the greatest friend of either this Government or Brexit but who have exceptionally agreed to a legislative consent Motion for the Bill.
Nevertheless, as this debate will show, and as debates on the Bill in the other place and the report of the DPRRC have brought out, there are some significant questions about the legislation that must be dealt with. The first, which was the subject of Labour Front-Bench amendments in the Commons, is to do with creating specific reporting requirements on any spending involved in new reciprocal deals. I can understand the desire for such information but there is already a robust annual reporting process, which is used today and which covers reciprocal health and other departmental spending, that allows for scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament as well as by the Public Accounts Committee and the NAO. It is of course also covered in the DHSC’s annual report. If the current procedures are good enough while we are still members of the EU, and if our intention is by and large to recreate the same kind of relationships, then I see no good reason to change this approach.
The second question is the criticism, made forcibly in the DPRRC report, that there are too few constraints on the powers that the Bill gives to the Secretary of State. I always take the opinion of the committee very seriously but in considering its view, it is essential to consider not only the intent of the Bill but its reach. On intent, as I have said, the overall aim is to agree reciprocal deals that are similar to those we currently enjoy with the EU and to strike new, more sophisticated deals with our trading partners. However, with our new-found freedoms it is likely that we will want to consider additional, yet to be anticipated approaches.
The Bill clearly ought to be flexible enough to accommodate this, because it is simply impossible to determine in advance what might be desirable as we agree new trade deals and other international agreements. On its own, I accept that this might be a cause of concern, until one realises that the reach of the Bill is in fact limited because the powers it confers on the Secretary of State can be used only within the scope of an international treaty, which will always be subjected to detailed scrutiny and approval in Parliament. In that sense, the Bill is essentially concerned with giving the Secretary of State implementation powers under the broader aegis of an international treaty, each of which will require parliamentary approval. I believe that this ought to give noble Lords reassurance that the powers in the Bill cannot be misused.
Thirdly, there is the issue of regulation-making powers and affirmative procedures, as already mentioned by my noble friend. It is somewhat ironic to find those who vehemently oppose the UK’s departure from the EU promoting this cause, given that our membership gives the UK Parliament no say whatever in whether EU law should be implemented, but let us not dwell on that inconsistency. The approach outlined in the Bill, using the affirmative procedure only for changes to primary legislation, is entirely reasonable and consistent with other legislation. Nevertheless, my noble friend the Minister will no doubt want to reflect on the findings of the committee and the views of the converts to the cause of taking back control as we move forward.
Finally, there is the issue of data security. The exchange of data is essential to any sophisticated reciprocal healthcare agreement, which is why it features so prominently in the Bill. But as my noble friend the Minister will know—she understands the data issue deeply—it is of great concern to the public, so I hope she will be able to reassure the House that we would enter into such data-sharing arrangements only if the highest standards of security can be met.
I will end by talking about what is at stake here. It is not just our citizens who support the continuation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements with our European neighbours; so do the citizens and Governments of those countries. During my time as a Minister, I went to several EU health ministerial meetings and met most of my European counterparts. As your Lordships might imagine, that involved some interesting and occasionally challenging conversations. But without exception, those countries want to continue the reciprocal healthcare agreements once we leave the EU. Indeed, while my job in those meetings was to present the case for a deep and special relationship with the EU on health and other issues post Brexit—sometimes receiving polite nods and the line “the Commission leads on negotiations”—on reciprocal healthcare, several Ministers initiated discussions with me about how we could continue our partnership in future. This is partially about financial self-interest—the UK is a net contributor to EU member states through the current arrangements—but it also reflects a profound and historical commitment, in some cases dating back pre-war, to partnership and co-operation.
What this Bill represents is not only the chance to do the right thing for British citizens and patients, but also to extend the hand of friendship to our European neighbours and our partners around the world as we leave the European Union. That is a laudable cause, which I hope will draw support from noble Lords across the House today.
My Lords, before I revert to my usual mode of careful scrutiny, I offer a sincere triple congratulations to the Minister: first, on her elevation to this place—she did a great job in the other place and we welcome her here—secondly, on her appointment as Minister; and thirdly, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, said, on a really excellent maiden speech. She comes to us with a great reputation and, I understand, undoubted ability. Given this Bill, she is going to need a lot of that.
This is an astonishing piece of legislation. With respect, relatively few have understood the wide and serious implications—and the consequences—of this Bill. I am astonished that the Scottish Government have not seen the implications, and that some of my colleagues down in the other place have not yet seen them. Thankfully, our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has understood it and produced a very good report. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and his colleagues for it. It particularly refers to Clause 2. I have read a few reports in my time, but this is really quite devastating. I will quote from it:
“We draw attention to clause 2 of the Bill. If the reason for the Bill’s introduction is to protect British citizens if a ‘no deal’ scenario affects current reciprocal healthcare agreements with other EU countries”, which it does,
“clause 2 of the Bill goes considerably wider. It allows the Secretary of State to make regulations”, first,
“in relation to the payment by the Secretary of State of the cost of all forms of healthcare … provided by anyone anywhere in the world”— astonishing—secondly,
“for and in connection with the provision of any such healthcare, provided by anyone anywhere in the world”, and thirdly,
“to give effect to international healthcare agreements”.
It goes on to say:
“Clause 2 has a breath-taking scope. Indeed, the scope of the regulations could hardly be wider … There is no limit to the amount of the payments … There is no limit to who can be funded world-wide … There is no limit to the types of healthcare being funded … The regulations can confer … powers and duties … on anyone anywhere … The regulations can delegate functions to anyone anywhere … the regulations can amend or repeal any Act of Parliament ever passed”— astonishing powers—and that:
“The Government say that clause 2 ‘enables the Secretary of State to address essential matters relating to healthcare abroad’. But the powers in the Bill go much wider than essential matters”.
“All regulations made under clause 2 are subject only to the negative procedure”.
My noble friend Lord Adonis knows that that is a very—
—dangerous procedure, but also that there is very scant scrutiny in that procedure. The report states that the regulations are subject to the negative procedure,
“save where they amend primary legislation. If, without such amendment, the Secretary of State wished to fund wholly or entirely the cost of all mental health provision in the state of Arizona, or the cost of all hip replacements in Australia, the regulations would only be subject to the negative procedure”.
It is really quite astonishing. That is a great report. I could not have done better myself.
Anywhere. That is just a random choice. It could be Texas or Alaska—it would be a bit more expensive in Alaska.
That is a really wide provision. Before we finally pass this Bill, Clause 2 needs drastic amendments. I say to my noble friends on the Labour Front Bench, to my friends—and they are my friends—on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, to members of the committee and to Cross-Bench and Conservative Members that I hope that we will see those amendments in Committee. I hope that we will properly scrutinise this Bill because it has not yet been done.
The inevitable consequence of the Bill is to replace a system that works well and gives peace of mind to many thousands of British citizens with completely unnecessary worry and uncertainty. Whatever the Minister says, it will be about damage limitation. Of course, the worst of all options is no deal, which would immediately remove the guarantees which British citizens living in the European Union and European Union citizens in the UK currently take for granted. That the no-deal option is still on the table is an indictment of the Government and their failure to face up to the consequences of their attempts to appease the hard right of the Tory party. All we are offered by the Bill is uncertainty and “Trust the Minister; everything’ll be okay”. The Bill allows her or him to do just about anything, but instructs them to do absolutely nothing. That is a recipe for uncertainty.
Let us first take the S1 scheme, which is central to this debate. This allows individuals from one EEA member state to receive healthcare in another, with the cost of that care met by the state in which the patient would ordinarily reside. Some 190,000 UK pensioners living in the European Union or the EEA are currently registered for this scheme. What happens to their rights if we leave without a deal? Many would have to return to the United Kingdom in fear of facing astronomical health bills elsewhere. That would affect not only those currently benefiting from the S1 scheme but the NHS, which would have to take the strain of the increase in number of elderly returning citizens. A report by the Nuffield Trust estimated that if expats returned in large numbers, we would require 900 extra beds and over 1,000 more nurses. Where would they come from? It certainly would not be from European Union countries, since the Government are already busy telling them that they are not really welcome in the United Kingdom.
That brings me to the EHIC. I hope that everyone has it. I have mine. Every time I go abroad, I take it with me. We rely on it to make travel abroad a possibility. At present, 27 million active United Kingdom EHICs are in circulation. They are used to pay for around 250,000 medical treatments each year. Incidentally, I tried to find out how to apply for or to renew an EHIC. I put “European health insurance card” into the Google search. I pressed it and what did I get? “This page cannot be displayed”. We cannot find out. Can the Minister tell us why the Government are not allowing people access to the EHIC? Is it in anticipation of a decision relating to it? Is it in anticipation of a deal or no deal?
If we lose this right, the only ones celebrating will be the insurance industry. When I tweeted something about the EHIC no longer going to be available, lots of people tweeted back saying, “Ah, but we can get travel insurance”. That is all right if you are reasonably wealthy, but for ordinary people who have struggled just to get enough money to go abroad, it is an extra cost.
These arrangements are the cornerstones of the freedom of movement principle which the European Union rightly sees as its own but which the UK Government, sadly, are hell-bent on opting out of. There are those who point to the deal that the EU has with Switzerland at present. It is true that, under the Bill in the event of no deal, we would be able to implement new bilateral agreements with European Union states, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. This would be lengthy and costly, ultimately leaving the European Union without reciprocal arrangements for an unknown period. I raised this with the Minister and her counterpart in the Commons when they kindly held a briefing on it. They would be scrabbling around the European Union—indeed around the world—negotiating bilateral agreements. If the Health Secretary is as successful in doing deals as the Trade Secretary, there are going to be an awful lot of sick Britons scattered around the world for years to come.
We need to approve the Bill—of course we do; the Minister said it; the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, said it—but with some appropriate and significant amendments to Clause 2. Without it, the Secretary of State will not even be allowed to do the deals which will protect British citizens abroad. However, there should be no doubt at all that the very good arrangement which we have at present is being replaced by, at the very least, an inferior one. It remains to be seen if the operative word really is “inferior” or if, as I fear, “disastrous” is a better way to describe what we are facing if we go for no deal. I hope everyone in this House will do everything they can to ensure that that does not happen. For the health of British expatriates and of those of us who travel overseas, it is vital that we do so.
My Lords, I join the noble Lords, Lord O’Shaughnessy and Lord Foulkes, in welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood of North Oxford, to the House and to her post. I congratulate her on making an excellent maiden speech. I hope she will forgive me when I admit to spending a great deal of time in her erstwhile constituency and to having campaigned there in the last two general elections—so I may have played a very small part in her elevation to your Lordships’ House.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the Minister’s speech, particularly the passages about Oxford, she did not—perforce, I accept, as did she—comply with the tradition that maiden speeches ought to be uncontroversial. I oppose the Bill in its present form. I am conscious of the fact that it has passed through the House of Commons unamended and that the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was, unusually, produced on
Of course, noble Lords across this House much want to see arrangements for reciprocal healthcare with member states of the EU, the EEA and EFTA continuing as closely as possible to their present form. Indeed, one of the great risks of the calamitous decision to leave the European Union is 27 million UK EHIC card holders, and 180,000-odd UK state pensioners living in the EU who benefit from the S1 scheme, risking the loss of their current rights to reciprocal healthcare.
The Explanatory Memorandum and the Minister say that the Bill has been introduced as a result of the decision to leave the EU and is intended to respond to all possible outcomes of EU exit with new reciprocal healthcare agreements. However, the Bill confers on the Secretary of State exceptional and untrammelled powers that are utterly objectionable. Furthermore, as I will argue, the breadth of these is entirely unnecessary to achieve what is needed to enable satisfactory reciprocal healthcare arrangements to be made on Brexit.
I shall start by turning to the proposed powers. Clause 1 states:
“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”.
There is no limit on the amount of such payments. There is no limit on the type of healthcare to be provided. Indeed, Clause 3 says that,
“‘healthcare’ means all forms of healthcare provided for individuals, whether relating to mental or physical health, and includes related ancillary care”.
There is no geographical limit on where it is to be provided: the power is worldwide. The additional definition of “healthcare agreement” covers providing to other countries healthcare without limit within the UK, and possibly at UK taxpayers’ expense. Clause 2(1) cures none of these deficiencies.
Worse still, Clause 2(2) is entirely unlimited. The regulations may do any of the things provided in subsections (a) to (i), “for example”. So logically they may also do anything else. The Secretary of State may specify, in regulations, levels of payments and their calculation; classes of beneficiaries; types of healthcare to be provided; set-off arrangements; and reimbursement levels, which may include caps. I interpose that this is particularly important because the Secretary of State may decide who pays back what—whether citizens, international organisations, states or the UK Government. The list goes on with processes, appeals, discretion and an unlimited power to boot to delegate any functions under the clause.
Further, the Secretary of State may, in an exercise of absolute power under Clause 2(3),
“give directions to a person”, and under Clause 2(4),
“may vary or revoke directions”, in relation to any function. The Bill does further violence to our constitutional arrangements by providing, at Clause 5(3) and (4), that:
“Regulations under section 2 may amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation—(a) for the purpose of conferring functions on the Secretary of State or on any other person (including conferring a discretion);— or—
“(b) to give effect to a healthcare agreement … Regulations under this Act may amend, repeal or revoke retained EU law”.
These are Henry VIII powers in terms that would have made even that Tudor monarch blush. But we should remember that Henry VIII powers take their name from the Statute of Proclamations 1539, which enabled the King to govern by decree without regard to Parliament. In the context of a process whereby Parliament is supposed to be taking back control, these powers fly in the face of parliamentary sovereignty.
The House will by now be familiar, from speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and others, with the conclusion of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee:
“Clause 2 has a breath-taking scope. Indeed the scope of the regulations could hardly be wider”.
I had the honour of serving on that committee under the distinguished chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester. Our discussions were entirely non-partisan and our reports generally—indeed, I think always—unanimous. They were carefully considered. We were extremely well staffed and our recommendations were almost always accepted and implemented by the Government.
The principles we applied were well known and well understood. First, we considered whether a delegation to a Minister was proper and appropriate. Only if it was would we move to the second stage of considering the proposed level of parliamentary scrutiny. Henry VIII powers were to be severely limited to those cases where the need for them was fully explained and justified.
The passage of legislation around Brexit has seen many arguments about the use of Henry VIII powers, but I regret that the Bill persuades me that the Government have learned nothing. As we are forced into an unholy rush to get Bills through, our constitution takes second place to political expedience and face saving. An important passage in the committee report is at paragraph 11:
“All regulations made under clause 2 are subject only to the negative procedure, save where they amend primary legislation. If, without such amendment, as quoted by the noble Lord Lord Foulkes, the Secretary of State wished to fund wholly or entirely the cost of all mental health provision in the state of Arizona, or the cost of all hip replacements in Australia, the regulations would only be subject to the negative procedure. Of course, these examples will not be priorities for any Secretary of State in this country. But we judge powers by how they are capable of being used not by how governments say they propose to use them. The fact that the powers could be used in this way suggests that they are too widely drawn”.
That last reference to the potential use of powers is an important quote from paragraph 20 of the committee’s guidance to departments, published in 2014:
“If the government has in mind a particular proposed exercise, it is helpful for the Committee to be told of this. But the Committee will judge the power by reference to what could be done under it by the current or any future government and not only what the current government say they intend to use the power for”.
That principle is what makes the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum unhelpful and the caution of the committee essential. I am afraid that the Minister’s speech and that of the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, failed to grapple with this issue. The Minister seeks to reassure the House while she urges the House to accept the possibility of what is unacceptable. I accept the committee’s view that its examples of Arizona and Australia are extreme. However, we have a Government who are, in their own words,
“determined to make a success of Brexit”,—[
The EU’s new economic partnership agreement with Japan, mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, demonstrates how difficult new trade deals may be. Nor should we forget either that the ill-fated TTIP attracted so much opposition in the United Kingdom precisely because it opened up our healthcare market to American competition, to the extent that the Conservative Government in 2016—
The noble Lord is putting a most peculiar slants on some aspects of this legislation. I am following this very carefully. Is there not a good case for being perhaps overgenerous and having a wide scope in this area to ensure that nobody misses out, rather than being too precise and risking the chance that people will suffer as a result?
No, I do not, and I regard that view as profoundly dangerous. The reason is that when we need arrangements that justify legislation, we can specify what legislation we need. As I will seek to go on to show, I believe that the arrangements that could be put in place by the Bill, were it tightly drawn and properly amended, could enable all outcomes from our exit from the European Union to be catered for by reciprocal healthcare arrangements in a way that is constitutionally acceptable—as I do not believe this is. As for giving too much ground and being too generous, that is a slippery slope indeed to allowing the Executive to take undue and unacceptable power from Parliament.
I suggest that it is not unrealistic to foresee a Government seeking to enter into healthcare agreements that would be unfair to the UK and unwelcome to many. The Bill would make that possible by unamendable regulation, possibly passable by the negative procedure.
So what should happen? If we secured a withdrawal agreement, an implementation period to the end of December 2020 and any extension of such a period would ensure that we continued reciprocal healthcare arrangements substantially as at present. That is what the Minister wants; I accept that she wants it, and that many in the Government want it as well. But we cannot guarantee that we are going to get it, and the Government have resolutely set their face against ruling out a no-deal agreement.
There is presently no reason whatever to make fresh statutory provision for any extra healthcare agreements outside the EU, the EEA and Switzerland. Such arrangements can be made if relevant, when necessary and authorised by a proper and detailed statute—nothing to do with Brexit—just as they could have been made at any stage over the past few years.
The need now is for provision in the event of no deal. I suggest that in that ruinous event, the only arrangements that we could practically make for continuing reciprocal healthcare would be the same as, or broadly comparable to, the existing arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, explained that, from his discussion with other European Health Ministers, he regards it as likely that they would want similar arrangements. Similar arrangements might be possible. Something completely different would, I suggest, be entirely impractical.
It might be necessary to agree such arrangements on a bilateral basis with individual states. It might be possible to make such arrangements on a multilateral basis. For such purposes, I accept that legislation is necessary. An appropriate Bill could be drafted without undue difficulty. Indeed, as the Bill is here and has passed through the House of Commons, I accept that amendment of it, while demanding, might be possible. The powers of the Secretary of State to introduce a new scheme and make equivalent agreement arrangements with other member states, whether on a bilateral or multilateral basis, could be carefully drafted in a fashion that was appropriately limited and would command the confidence and respect of this House.
However, I have no hesitation in saying to the House that the Government must come back in Committee with amendments that limit this Bill to that achievable and justifiable purpose. To press ahead with it in its present form for fear of a no-deal Brexit would be unconstitutional and improper. The Government must think again.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the Minister on her excellent maiden speech and the very thoughtful way in which she introduced this important Bill at Second Reading. In so doing, I declare my interest as Professor of Surgery at University College London and chairman of UCL Partners. I should add that my noble friend Lord Patel, who regrettably cannot be in the Chamber at the moment because he is chairing a meeting of your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee, very much wanted to participate, shares many of the views that I shall put to your Lordships and has committed to participate actively in further consideration of the Bill by your Lordships.
As we have heard, the Bill is vital. The current reciprocal healthcare arrangements that exist as part of our treaty obligations with the European Union provide for 180,000 UK pensioners living in other EU nations to be secure in the knowledge that they have access to all their healthcare needs. This is a very important consideration, because we know that, with advancing age, there is a greater demand on healthcare resource. The anxiety that attends any uncertainty about access to healthcare, particularly for those with chronic, long-standing conditions, through arrangements that have been well tried and tested, is clearly unacceptable and something with which no United Kingdom Government would ever wish to be associated.
Equally, we have heard about the 27 million European health insurance cards that have been issued and the important opportunities the scheme provides for students and tourists to be able to travel through the European Union and have their immediate healthcare needs addressed at times of emergency—again, avoiding uncertainty. Then there is the small number of our citizens—the figure of 1,300 was mentioned by the Minister—who are able to avail themselves of treatments and interventions on mainland Europe as part of their healthcare needs as a result of the reciprocal healthcare arrangement. That should not be underestimated.
The question is: with the proposed departure from the European Union, how can Her Majesty’s Government best achieve continuity and certainty in an area that affects the lives of so many of our fellow citizens? Clearly, of course, the best opportunity would be to ensure that the current arrangements of reciprocal healthcare are continued in any agreement that is finally settled with our European partners. If that is not entirely possible at the moment, how should Her Majesty’s Government make arrangements to deal with what the consequences may be? Both in the other place and so far in this debate, we have heard that some form of Bill, accurately and purposefully drafted to achieve those objectives, is essential. In the other place, it was agreed by consensus that impediment should not be put in place of achieving something, by way of the Bill’s purpose, prior to
Having said that, your Lordships must address the important issues raised both in the debate so far and in the Bill’s consideration in the other place. The first concerns data sharing—a hugely sensitive matter when it comes to healthcare data. At the moment, we are confident that, through the Data Protection Act 2018, the position on data protection adopted in the United Kingdom is consistent with that adopted across other European community/EEA nations. Of course, that is reassuring because this framework ensures that we share healthcare data on the same basis, with the same security and with the same confidence.
However, moving forward, it is important for Her Majesty’s Government to be clear that, if at the time of our EU departure there is any divergence away from the recognised data protection standards, there will be an opportunity for this House and the other place to understand what it will be, and that the protection of our citizens and their sensitive healthcare data is maintained. Indeed, as the Bill proposes the opportunity to negotiate broader reciprocal healthcare agreements beyond the current European Economic Area, it is important for your Lordships’ House to understand how those data protections will be maintained if Her Majesty’s Government decide to avail the Bill—eventually to be an Act of Parliament—to negotiate those agreements. How will data security and data protection be ensured across a range of jurisdictions that do not currently sign up to the protections we enjoy as part of the European Union?
Clause 4(6) outlines the authorities that might benefit from data sharing, including HMRC, Treasury Commissioners and so on. It must be clear about on what basis sensitive healthcare data will be shared and the purpose of that sharing with other elements of the state beyond those directly concerned with the delivery of healthcare. I can imagine that the reasons are very good in terms of understanding, for instance, the status of a pensioner living elsewhere in the European Union by reference back to their time as a resident in the United Kingdom. As part of scrutinising the Bill, it will be essential to understand the basis for that.
Noble Lords have asked important questions about the scrutiny associated with the powers in the Bill and, indeed, the resultant statutory instruments and secondary legislation that will be generated by necessity. In this regard, there are important constitutional questions, as well as important practical and clinical ones, about how your Lordships and Parliament in general can satisfy themselves that the regulations to deal with the procedures and practical implications of the powers that the Secretary of State will need to exercise will be scrutinised. I will give an example, if I may. Let us say, for instance, that a settled UK pensioner living somewhere else in the European Union currently receives healthcare and treatment of some form for a chronic condition. As I understand it, under the provisions of the Bill, the Secretary of State will have to make provision for the continued payment of that care. But what happens if that individual receives a therapeutic intervention that is standard and part of a carefully considered and accepted protocol for treatment—let us say cancer therapy with a biological agent—in the other European country, but, in our own healthcare system, NHS England through to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has taken the view that it should not be supported? How will the administrative and procedural arrangements that flow from this legislation be crafted to deal with that situation? There might indeed be considerable unhappiness after the Bill passes if our fellow citizens living in the European Union will have an intervention available to them that we do not believe is necessarily appropriate and should not be available in our own country.
How will the development of that administrative tool be scrutinised by Parliament? It would be seen by convention as a procedural and administrative matter. Under those circumstances it would be subject to the negative resolution procedure, but it has severe and important implications and the benefit of active and thorough scrutiny would help all parties. That is an important issue.
I have one final point. We have heard discussion about the Secretary of State’s powers to make new international agreements beyond the European Union and the European Economic Area and how those might attend future trade agreements. How do Her Majesty’s Government propose to extend the potential opportunities that will flow from the Bill to other jurisdictions beyond those where we have reciprocal healthcare agreements? How will that choice be made? The delivery of healthcare in our country through the National Health Service is a matter of social equity. How can we reassure ourselves that all individuals in our country will have access to the same standard of healthcare and the same opportunities to achieve that access? It cannot be argued that providing reciprocal healthcare for our fellow citizens living in the European Union is anything other than an obligation under a broad treaty, but in the future, when there might be bilateral agreement between certain countries and not others, how will we be able to argue that pensioners living in one jurisdiction and not the other should benefit from the Bill’s opportunities? There might be a simple answer, but as we take forward this legislation and decide to broaden it beyond the current European Economic Area, that might be something that your Lordships need to pay attention to.
My Lords, I join colleagues across the House in welcoming my noble friend to this House and to her new position. I had the privilege to serve in the other place with her. I know how highly regarded she was for her work there and in her constituency. As a former Member for South Cambridgeshire, I think it is very like north Oxford as a place. I had the pleasure of campaigning with my noble friend in Abingdon and had something to do, in a very small way, with getting her elected in the first place. The Commons’ loss is our gain. We are delighted to have her with us. I know that the Department of Health and Social Care is delighted to have its former Minister back.
I very much share the view of my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy, who was instrumental in the Bill’s composition, that it is very important and necessary. It is important that we do not alarm people about the circumstances of their healthcare. We should make it clear, if we can, that we are all setting out to try to ensure that there is continuity in the existing arrangements for reciprocal healthcare across the European Economic Area. We might not be in a position to guarantee that because the withdrawal agreement might not be implemented. If it is, that will be all well and good, but if not, we have to put something in its place. As a consequence, there may be some urgency associated with securing bilateral agreements to deliver that continuity. That is at the heart of what needs to be in the Bill: an ability for the existing healthcare arrangements to be replicated through bilateral agreements in short order, not necessarily waiting on the approval of the two Houses of Parliament in a logjam.
I know that Noble Lords will immediately say, “Hang on a minute, we have to be able to approve this thing”. I bring to the discussion of this Bill the benefit of having just been involved in Committee on the Trade Bill. Because there was a lack of powers, on the Trade Bill we were asked to provide the necessary powers to secure continuity and the rollover of existing agreements. In legal terms, this is not the same. We are not rolling over agreements—we may be implementing agreements—but the substantive purpose is the same: to enable healthcare provision across Europe to be provided for UK residents in the future in the same way as in the past. As we go through the legislation we need to make a distinction between what is a continuity provision and what is a new provision for new agreements. Where the Trade Bill was concerned, we did not need to do that; it was not about new agreements.
“may amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation”.
Yes, it can be,
“(a) for the purpose of conferring functions on the Secretary of State or on any other person”, but he added an “or” before paragraph (b). He said,
“or to give effect to a healthcare agreement”, but it is not this; it is,
“to give effect to a healthcare agreement”.
As my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy said, this is all in order to implement international treaties.
The noble Lord is absolutely right to distinguish between continuity legislation and totally new provisions in legislation. Does he not agree that it is bad enough to push a number of Bills and other legislation through quickly to get it through by the end of next month when it is continuity legislation—but that if it is totally new legislation, there is absolutely no justification at all?
We spent four days in Committee on the Trade Bill. I do not know how much time is planned for this Bill but it is perfectly possible for us to consider this legislation and to put in place the necessary powers for future agreements, as long as it is done with the necessary scrutiny and approval provisions. I will come on to make one or two points about that, and I am sure we will go on to debate that robustly—as my noble friend on the Front Bench said—in the days ahead.
I accept the noble Lord’s point that I should not have said “or”. My point is that outside the context of the withdrawal agreement, which would have been fully debated, any new agreement is a new healthcare agreement, so the limitation of the lack of an “or” does not make a great deal of difference.
I will come on to precisely that point about new agreements and the extent to which we need to amend existing legislation to give effect to such agreements.
I will say a word about what we are trying to achieve here. I do not think we should underestimate that the Government have committed to the significant, continuing—effectively permanent—cost of providing healthcare across the European Union for those who have been resident in the United Kingdom. As we have heard, this is £630 million-plus per year. There is not a corresponding expenditure in this country by other countries because it is only a fraction of that for other EU citizens and residents coming to the United Kingdom. This is quite a generous provision. It is not the case that every beneficiary of this would be eligible for healthcare in the United Kingdom. For example, a pensioner who goes to live in Spain might ordinarily cease to be resident in the United Kingdom and hence to be eligible for NHS care. So this is not simply to provide NHS care to people wherever they happen to be, nor should it be interpreted as such. It is a very specific provision.
Equally, there might be people who are in exactly the same position as a pensioner going to live in Spain but who go to live in Florida. We do not, and are not proposing to, provide such healthcare there. That is not simply because the American Government do not provide a reciprocal benefit for Americans in the United Kingdom, because the legislation does not require reciprocal healthcare. It enables the Secretary of State to provide healthcare for UK residents in other countries. The reason is straightforward and rather ironic. We propose to legislate to give continuing healthcare provision across Europe as a consequence of the freedom of movement provisions, while at the same time proposing to get rid of those freedom of movement provisions.
If we were to follow through the logic of ending freedom of movement, which allows people to live and work in other European countries and pensioners to have access to the social security regulations in other countries, we would scrap all this. But that would not be popular. It would feel very unfair and, as my noble friend Lord Kakkar—if he will forgive me for calling him that—said, this matters a great deal to people. They would be extremely anxious and distressed by the removal of something that they had been accustomed to receiving in the past.
But it may not be available in the future. We cannot say that the European health insurance card will be offered to people and available for travel and work in the future as it has been in the past, although I say to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that I have just looked it up. The website is there. The bit where the Department of Health tells you about the European health insurance card is still online, but it unfortunately has to tell people that, because we do not know where we will be after
The point I come back to is this: we are making a provision and we should recognise that we are doing that so as not to take away something of considerable importance for many people who have come to rely on it. We do not want to create that distress. It is a long-term commitment and I hope that people will recognise the value of that. We cannot go around extending it easily. I am not aware of any proposals for bilateral agreements with other countries to extend this healthcare benefit elsewhere. If there are any I would be very interested to hear of them.
I hope that we will be able to replicate the current structures as far as we can in the way in which this is managed in the future, but it is important that we give proper scrutiny. I will say three things. First, we must be able to have continuity delivered rapidly if necessary. Secondly, like treaties, new agreements must be subject to prior agreement within Parliament about the basis on which the Government should conclude them, rather than Parliament simply being given the opportunity to renege on them or not. Thirdly, when it comes to the amendment of legislation, we should be very clear that not only must any Henry VIII provision that amends primary legislation be subject to the affirmative procedure, but regulations that seek to amend, repeal or revoke direct EU legislation—retained EU law of a significant character—should, equally, be subject to affirmative resolution. The drafting here does not recognise the sources of law with which we have to deal and the way in which we should deal with them in the future.
Subject to all of that, I hope that we will not spread alarm. I hope that noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches will at least recognise that there is a purpose to this legislation and that in our further consideration we will ensure that it is entrenched and the Bill passes with that purpose firmly in place.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood of North Oxford, on the clarity with which she introduced this legislation. On the basis of her speech, I look forward to many spirited debates with her in your Lordships’ House. I have a fair degree of sympathy with her as she has to bring forward this Bill under the constraints of her maiden speech. I thought she did that extremely well.
Before we get lost in a Bill which is bereft of detail, it is important to reflect on the purpose of the law, which is to enable citizens to understand and exercise their rights and to enable them to fulfil their obligations as citizens. It is not to provide a blank cheque or a blanket set of excuses to the Executive. This Bill is deficient in that respect. I do not believe that any citizen of this country reading the Bill would understand their rights and responsibilities under it as of April. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who went first, reported the thunder of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Some noble Lords have heard me use the description of that committee given by Mark D’Arcy, which is that they are a group of people among whom the raising of an eyebrow can be considered severe criticism. A report such as the report on the Bill is the equivalent of throwing a chair through a window because it is pretty strong:
“Clause 2 has a breath-taking scope. Indeed, the scope of the regulations could hardly be wider … There is no limit to the amount of the payments … There is no limit to who can be funded world-wide … There is no limit to the types of healthcare being funded … The regulations can confer functions (that is, powers and duties, including discretions) on anyone anywhere”.
I and many Members of your Lordships’ House have many a time sat through debates in this House about the detail of primary legislation that enables citizens of this country to go abroad for healthcare and the circumstances in which that would be approved by the National Health Service. There is nothing in this Bill about that. I wonder whether the Government are not setting themselves up for a slew of court cases at some point in the future in which people who have been unable to receive treatment in this country see that it is possible to have such treatment in another part of the world, as the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, said, and try to do so. In particular, I am thinking of things such as fertility treatment. I do not imagine that that is the intention behind the Bill, but it is certainly possible.
We seem to be moving from a situation in which over time we have worked with our European partners, who have broadly comparable health systems and systems of publicly funded health provision which exercise similar clinical standards, and are seeking to extrapolate from that agreements with countries across the world where that does not apply and where the public provision may be extremely limited or expensive, as in the case of the United States. I think we are in some difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, was correct when he put it to the House that the Government are putting in place temporary, almost emergency, continuity arrangements for public healthcare but have given us this Bill, which is so bereft of detail that it can be much more widely interpreted. That is a problem, not just for individuals but for business.
I shall tell your Lordships about a young man whom I talked to about 18 months ago on this very subject. He was desperately worried about his future. He is a young man who would expect to go abroad during his career and to be a high earner and highly successful. The problem is that he is HIV positive, which means that it would simply not be possible for him to pursue his career in many places. He would be unable to do so in the Commonwealth because he would have to divulge his status and either he would not be admitted or he would not be allowed to live in a country legally. He cannot go to the Middle East, and he cannot go to America due to the healthcare costs. Therefore, he can see his world and his job prospects shrinking. Coming forward at such a late date with a Bill that is so lacking in detail makes life difficult for people like him.
I noticed during the discussions in another place that questions were put to the insurance industry, which was very honest. It is as much in the dark as anybody else. It was very forthright in saying that there are only two conditions that it can deal with under the changes in our arrangements with Europe: either having the EHIC or not having the EHIC. Frankly, if we do not have it, the cost of travel insurance will go up. Not only that but it will not be as easy for people with pre-existing conditions or disabilities to get insurance to travel for business or pleasure as it is for the rest of us.
I want to concentrate on one area which I do not think has been mentioned so far—the reciprocal provision between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. From what has been said, I understand that citizens of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom benefit from the common travel area arrangements. We also have arrangements that are currently underpinned by the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. I understand that it is not the Government’s intention to cease the common travel arrangement. It is very beneficial to people on both sides of the border: people can access specialist treatment in the Republic of Ireland; equally, citizens of the Republic can travel for treatment in the north.
Ministerial statements are extremely important, so, when the noble Baroness responds, I would like her to explain whether under the terms of this legislation the arrangements between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland will be those in place as of
I think that we are in some difficulty with this Bill, and there is a particular danger for women. They might well get pregnant within whatever the timescale is, depending on what arrangements are agreed, and they might need treatment under maternity and gynaecology services. I would like to think that at the very least we might be able to give them some reassurance that they will, if only on an emergency basis, be able to seek treatment. I have absolutely no doubt that medical people the world over will abide by the oath of their profession; they will not seek to deny treatment to anyone in urgent need. However, that is not the point; the point is that we need to try to secure arrangements around which individuals and businesses can build their lives and construct their future prosperity.
I agree with my noble friend that this is not taking back control; it is a constitutional land grab. As a matter of principle, we should not let legislation as deficient as this pass through without an intense amount of scrutiny, and I hope that the Government are willing to come back with the degree of detail that should have been in the original Bill.
My Lords, it is indeed a pleasure to take part in this debate, and in particular to follow the noble Lords who have spoken and to welcome our new Minister to the Front Bench in her new position. I declare an interest as a member of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee and commend to the House its report, Brexit: Reciprocal Healthcare, published in March 2018.
Like many of your Lordships, although I use travel insurance when I am in Europe, I am always grateful to have in addition my EHIC. Some years ago, while I was on holiday with my family in France, one of my children broke a toe while going down a slide. Faced with having to pay for her surgery and then claim back the cost, I produced my form E111 with a flourish—noble Lords may remember those days. I managed to convince the hospital authorities in my pidgin French, although that was more challenging. The E111 form worked a treat and surgery was performed at no cost to me. The current EHIC is equally reassuring, but mine runs out in May 2019, so I seek reassurance from my noble friend the Minister that I will be able to renew it during the implementation period of the withdrawal Act—if it is finally implemented.
What happens in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the drums for which are continuing to beat in some quarters? Our report confirmed that some 27 million cards, as has been mentioned, exist in the UK, from which only 250,000 claims—less than 1%—have been made so far each year. In relation to UK citizens living in Europe, approximately 190,000 UK state pensioners, as we have heard, rely on the S1 scheme. This provides ongoing access to healthcare, the costs borne by the member state with the social security system to which the individual has contributed the longest. The scheme supports the elderly and ensures that reciprocal healthcare is a portable benefit. On page 10, paragraph 16 of our report says:
“A disproportionate number of UK citizens benefit from the S1 scheme. There are only around 1.2 million UK citizens living in other EU countries compared with around three million EU citizens living in the UK. But some 190,000 of those UK citizens are pensioners, who are more likely to benefit from the S1 scheme, compared to only 5,800 EU/EEA citizens who have registered for the S1 scheme in the UK”.
That is quite a disproportionate number.
In all this, we remain net beneficiaries. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for focusing on the no-deal scenario, but the implications are dire for this group of UK citizens and the 27 million EHIC holders whom I mentioned, many of whom, as we know, voted to leave the EU. If the EHIC is not maintained—which is a distinct possibility with no deal—short–term visitors to the EU would need travel insurance. In giving evidence to the committee, Mark Dayan of the Nuffield Trust told us that the highest cost of travel insurance was the medical cost. Without the EHIC, the cost of travel insurance is bound to rise.
There is also concern about the onward movement of UK citizens living or working in the EU in relation to free-movement rights or rights to reciprocal healthcare, which are not covered by the joint agreement or the withdrawal agreement. It has been suggested that bilateral and multilateral arrangements, as currently occur with countries outside the EU such as Australia or New Zealand, could be applied to the EU. But these arrangements largely cover emergency healthcare and not the arrangements we currently enjoy through the S2 scheme in relation to planned treatments. For example, as I mentioned in my speech on
It is important that we provide reassurance to UK citizens, many of whom are in their twilight years and have chosen to reside in EU member states, that their health needs are protected. This should happen, deal or no deal. If we end up with no deal, analysis by the Nuffield Trust shows that British pensioners will lose healthcare cover in EU states and have to return to the UK to access care. The cost of that care in the NHS is estimated at about £1 billion—pounds, not euros, although it is about the same—which is twice as much as the UK currently spends on the care of people abroad under the S1 scheme, as spelled out earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, when he referred to this. The resource implication of such expatriate return to the UK is the equivalent of two new NHS hospitals the size of St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. We noted in our report a large amount of evidence expressing concern at the additional costs to the UK and the NHS of returning expats. What contingency plans do the Government have in the event of such an outcome occurring?
My Lords, I do not intend to speak for very long but I begin by thanking the House and the Front Bench for allowing me to speak at all. I am afraid that I was wrongly advised about the timing of Motions today. I particularly apologise to the Minister; I was anxious to hear her maiden speech, which obviously was very successful, and I was particularly anxious to hear someone identified with north Oxford, where I have spent some of the happiest years of my life, so I am sorry.
The Bill has been described as very wide-ranging, global in its implications and, according to a House of Lords committee, “breathtaking”, but I want to focus on one aspect nearer home and try to point out how it is possible that the implications of breaking away from one Union, the European Union, can lead to severe and perhaps irreparable damage to another union, that of the United Kingdom. The Bill reproduces issues that we have examined before; we in the Constitution Committee have certainly looked at them. On the European Union (Withdrawal) Act there was much dispute when the UK seemed reluctant, it was said, to honour the devolution settlement and seemed less than straightforward in respecting the reserved powers accruing to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
It seemed to me at the time that quite needless acrimony was created by that, and indeed that it was a gift for nationalists north of the border and the movement for independence, which I do not support and do not wish to see flourish. At present we have the same kind of division and conflict over authority in relation to the Agriculture Bill, with exactly the same points being made about where authority lies. We find there is a persistent threat of conflict every time the Government try to make wider or international arrangements that will follow Brexit and engage in the repatriation of powers from the European Union. We have the same kind of argument, which to me indicates again the lack of care and preparation taken, particularly in the astonishingly few weeks that remain for the implementation of Brexit.
Strong criticisms have already been expressed in this debate about the wide delegated powers given to Ministers—the greater powers of Henry VIII and other monarchs—which are going to be adopted very rapidly. The argument over devolution is more serious still and deeply worrying, since it affects the corporate structure of these islands. As a Welsh person, I find it deeply worrying that an area where no serious argument currently exists is now being fomented.
At the moment, we have deadlock. The Scottish Government have withheld consent from the Bill on principle and claimed that it lacks clarity about their role. The Welsh Government have been a good deal more moderate, but they have also withdrawn their consent to the Bill so far. Both devolved Governments feel that in health—which is clearly a reserved area, like agriculture and fisheries—the Westminster Government are riding roughshod and with little courtesy over their agreed competencies and ignoring much of the context in which the devolution settlement has continued; the Sewel convention seems to be completely set aside at this time. It seems to them—and one can see the argument—to be an almost colonial attitude adopted by English nationalists to unbalance a complicated and careful devolution settlement that has acted in a stable way and been extended over the last 20 years.
There are two issues. One is the simple intellectual issue about authority and whether international agreements about healthcare such as this one have anything to do with devolution. Are they an external matter or, as the Scottish Government have argued, since these measures have to be implemented by the devolved Governments—in areas of competence such as agriculture, fisheries and health—are they therefore their responsibility? The situation is very unclear; it is a permanent, unresolved, intellectual conundrum that has cropped up time after time and will go on doing so, damaging not merely our external position but the internal integrity of the United Kingdom.
The other question that we on the Constitution Committee have been asking in vain for a long time is: who decides how these matters are to be resolved? Quis custodiet? At the moment, we have the Joint Ministerial Committee and I can be completely impartial in saying that over the years it has been totally useless. Even being partisan, I say that it was useless under Labour, under a coalition Government and under a Conservative Government. We raised the fact that it has not been effective in the Constitution Committee the other week with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He said that these difficulties arose because, latterly, we have had different Governments—nationalist, Labour and Conservative—in different parts of the United Kingdom. That is of course a complicating factor but it is not the real issue at all because the essential point has not been decided.
It has not been decided because the Joint Ministerial Committee is an ineffective body, with erratic membership and occasional hours of meeting. There are more meetings at present under Mr Lidington, which is a good thing. But otherwise, speaking as an historian, it rather reminds me of Lloyd George, who did not have proper Cabinets; he had meetings of Ministers, carefully chosen or sometimes not chosen at all but simply those who turned up. It has been rather like that. We have this very important constitutional issue affecting the integrity of our country and decided by a body that is not at all fit for purpose, particularly in handling very sensitive areas of intergovernmental relations in the United Kingdom.
The question of intergovernmental relations has been very unsatisfactory and it is ironic that in discussing Brexit measures, which are designed to point out the centrality and integrity of the United Kingdom in standing up to its international situation, those measures may have the reverse effect. As previous speakers have said, Brexit is a totally disastrous prospect for this country. As we are already seeing, it will make it economically weaker and less confident. I fear that if we continue to have these divisive issues over devolution, the loosely associated union state that is the United Kingdom may find it difficult to be a country at all.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood of North Oxford, and I congratulate her on her fine maiden speech. She has certainly hit the ground running by going straight on to the Front Bench. I thank the Library as well for its excellent briefing for this debate.
I laud the efforts of the Government to recreate or replicate the pre-Brexit arrangements within the EEA and EU, while anticipating the future. It is of course of mutual benefit to EEA citizens as well—the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, referred to this. But given our apparent failure to collect our share of the cost inflicted on the NHS, in my opinion those countries would be mad not to agree. Given the important comments on Henry VIII powers raised by the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Marks, and particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, I should declare my membership of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. We were not preparing furniture for throwing through the windows.
My concern is the failure to accurately calculate the cost of our great National Health services as supplied to foreign nationals. The current arrangement with the EU and the EEA allows for a reconciliation on a pro-rata basis for cost recovery—quite right, very sensible and fair. However, it is evident that we in UK cannot work out how much those users from overseas—possibly not those carrying the appropriate cards—cost the NHS. It appears that there is no universal, accurate mandatory recording system in place at the point of delivery.
In my local hospital, which is a very large NHS one, to try to set about recovering costs, people walk around with clipboards inquiring of people in the hospital who have not given the necessary data information on arrival, trying to find out where they have come from and whether or not they are entitled. It is ridiculous. You can imagine the success rate of the people with the clipboards, trying to find out information from those who are not entitled, in particular from those who know they are abusing the system. There have been attempts to improve these systems, but we see continued—extensive, probably—financial shortfall in this area, partly from Europe and particularly from those outside the European Union.
We proudly boast that our great NHS is free at the point of delivery. It certainly is; it appears to be free for the whole world. There have been attempts to overcome this unintended anomaly, but hospitals and others are reluctant debt collectors; they are, after all, in the healing business, not the banking business. We need to design a system that works without asking the health industry to collect the money. An ID system that works and is not easily abused must be capable of simple introduction—they seem to do it elsewhere very effectively.
I was going to refer to statistics. We have heard a lot about the numbers of UK residents living in Europe, the number of retirees living in warmer climes, those who use medical services in continental Europe because they have been referred, and so on. But the fact is that there are apparently some 3 million EU nationals living in the UK, and 1 million British nationals living in the EU. Yet we recover only 10% of what they recover. I do not get the arithmetic. I am sure I will be corrected—
I can tell the noble Lord the reason for that. It is fantastic to hear somebody from the Cross Benches supporting the efforts that the Government have been making for cost recovery, because it is not always a popular topic in this House. One of the main reasons is that if you are here for six months or if you have made your home here, wherever you are from, you are counted as ordinarily resident and are therefore entitled to free care. That is a founding principle of the way the NHS is set up, and the reason for the discrepancy that the noble Lord talks about. It is not a failure to deliver costs—it is an entitlement that anybody from any country has if they are counted as ordinarily resident under the law.
I thank the noble Lord for his clarity.
Health tourists are a different category. The BMJ reported 18 months ago that in the year before, some 50% of births at a particular London hospital were to mothers not entitled to NHS services. I realise that this is a completely different category, but health tourism is something we are all aware of. The estimates I have read of the cost of this to the NHS vary from £300 million to £500 million; a senior doctor at a London hospital estimates that the figure is well over £1 billion. There appears to be a well-organised shuttle service of sorts from west Africa, giving access to those who can afford the service, no doubt for a great price. Are our doors really that wide open to this abuse of taxpayers’ money?
Why my interest? I am not a ranting, Brexiteering, screaming far-right nationalist, I promise you. I am doing this as a taxpayer and we, the legislature, owe a duty of care to all British taxpayers and citizens. The Second Reading is the first opportunity for us to debate the key principles, the main purpose of the Bill and to flag up concerns. To read that the cost of the mix of inefficiency and fraud may cost the NHS only £300 million or £500 million is insulting. Just try getting that out of the Treasury for your next worthy project. Does the Inland Revenue stop chasing us when it gets down to the last £300 million? We are all taxpayers, all paying for this shortfall.
In 2014, the visitor and migrant NHS cost recovery programme was, I believe, implemented. It sought a target, for some reason, of £500 million per annum. To do this it wanted to improve existing charging systems, laying a health surcharge on non-EU citizens. This Bill provides an opportunity to readdress this programme and so support the principle of fairness by ensuring that those not entitled through treaties pay for their care. It requires that the particulars of NHS access entitlement must be made completely clear to foreigners as they arrive in the UK, in order to avoid confusion for both patients and service providers.
In our great liberal democracy I could easily be perceived as a bogeyman or pariah—no one else has raised these points before in this debate. Please do not do that. It is taxpayers’ money; it is hard cash. We have a duty, as I have said, to stamp out abuse. Please do not turn a blind eye to this shameful state of affairs. The UK is not a rich country at the moment. We are doing our best to recover from the great recession of 2008 to 2012. We had austerity—closing rural schools and closing or reducing hundreds of other public services. Yet we appear to waste hundreds of millions of pounds because this is in the “too difficult” category. At the least, we could let DfID pay for the illegal health tourists through the aid budget. After all, it is foreign aid.
We must create an effective system to record the origin of unentitled users of the NHS, and allow for the accurate reconciliation of costs as the system is set up to do. To stop health tourism, users must pay. It is not a job for medical practitioners, but we have hospitals staffed by highly paid administrators. If remedied, hundreds of millions of pounds could be added to the funding of the NHS. Why is cost recovery not more effective and what, if anything, is being done to radically overhaul the system which allows this shameful waste of taxpayers’ money?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her excellent introduction and her absolutely excellent maiden speech. I have known her since before she was an MP, followed her progress with absolute awe and grown to respect particularly her expertise in health technology—an area which is a huge opportunity for the country but will also need a lot of scrutiny from the kind of expertise found in this House. I look forward to many engagements on that subject.
On this legislation, I thank the members of the Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the EU Select Committee—the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, and his fellows—for their excellent report. What I found striking was the great concern it expressed about the potential loss of existing reciprocal healthcare rights, the dangers of the cost to the NHS and the potential administrative burden, and the large amount of coverage that the report received in the press. It was a brisk reminder of how an overlooked area of policy and machinery of government which is precious to a lot of people needed to be focused on as we approach Brexit.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, for his reminder of the costs of this area of government—it was an important point. I was grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for reminding us that, if we are to take away freedom of movement, we should perhaps get rid of such reciprocal rights—there is a sort of logic to that. I am here to reject both those arguments and to make an appeal in the opposite direction. I want to try just for a moment to extend the debate outside the Chamber, beyond Brexit and Henry VIII powers, to offer a little reminder of how many of the public might regard this as not only a healthcare issue but as one that touches on a subject that is very important to most of them; that is, travel.
Travel has changed dramatically in the public mind. It is not felt to be a luxury any more, as it was when I was a child. It is felt more to be a right and a form of expression; it is a part of one’s education, and it is critical to business. We can all wonder about the sense of entitlement among the modern generation, but I for one celebrate the benefits of travel. It satisfies the yearning to improve oneself personally and, among the business community, enables one to reach exciting new markets. In the context of this debate, we have not really talked much about the benefits of travel both to the country and to individuals. Underpinning that yearning for travel is a desire for frictionless, risk-free and affordable travel. The reciprocal rights that we are talking about are there to provide that kind of cover.
I do not think that there will be a massive change in the country’s mindset in respect of travel just because of Brexit and
People are also relocating in later life. We have heard a lot about the 190,000 people who have already moved to Tuscany, Provence and the costas, but that number is also edging up. We have to accept that we face the possibility of making provision for an ever larger number of people.
Some 27 million Britons already have an EHIC—the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, showed us his; I thank him for that. We in my family have six of them; I do not have mine with me. I was staggered when I heard that the figure was 27 million. That is an unbelievable number. For a public policy to be quite so successful and to get through to nearly half the country like that is a huge achievement. There will be public policy professionals who are incredibly envious of that sort of penetration. There were 250,000 claims against those cards last year. Again, that is a daunting number—much higher than I could have imagined.
My appeal today is for us to try to think about this policy not just in terms of the daunting prospect of Brexit, the constitutional implications of the Bill and the cost, but through the lens of the macro changes that we see in society about people’s yearning to go overseas, to take their business and their families with them and to see other lands. We should think about future-proofing this overlooked part of our healthcare provision and accepting that we may need to extend those arrangements in terms not only of their geographical reach but of the sophistication of how we manage them. We should communicate a clear statement to British people and the outside world that nothing that happens around Brexit is about turning our backs on the world or closing the doors. Rather, we should show through our reciprocal healthcare arrangements that we will guarantee fair and reasonable treatment for people who visit Britain and support our own citizens who might run into difficulties when they travel abroad.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood of North Oxford, and congratulating her on her maiden speech. It is always slightly bizarre for a maiden speech also to be a ministerial introduction to a Bill, but she did it extremely well and set out the case. Along with my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches, I may disagree with some of the things that she said, but she set out the Government’s position eloquently.
In addition to thanking the Library for its very good briefing, I want to thank the BMA for its own. One point that it makes has not been covered so far in our debate today. It says:
“It is essential that any alternative cost-recovery system introduced post-Brexit should not place an undue burden on either the NHS or on doctors or allied health professionals working within the health service”.
In view of the rearrangement of the BBC charter, whereby the BBC is taking on responsibility for the public benefit of TV licences for the over-75s, I worry that a Government in future might take the attitude that it is perfectly acceptable to offset—so I completely support the BMA in saying that it must not affect costs.
Others have spoken eloquently about the number of UK residents who hold EHICs and have received reciprocal treatment. I speak as someone who lost their father-in-law 10 years ago in France. He had the most wonderful treatment over a three and a half-week period after a brain haemorrhage, but sadly died. At no stage of the treatment, moving from a front-line hospital to a big regional hospital of excellence, was there any problem with the card or the E111 form. The only slightly bizarre thing that happened was that, after he died and all treatment was concluded, my mother-in-law received a bill for the ambulance service. It was not that she had to pay it, because if one is covered by E111/EHIC form the cost is met by the state, but every family gets a copy of the ambulance bill because it reminds them how expensive it is—and, guess what, in France there is no abuse of the ambulance paramedic system whatever.
At paragraphs 75 and 76 of the EU Committee report, Brexit: Reciprocal Healthcare, published in March last year—about one year ago—the committee sets out its concerns about making sure that negotiations should start early. It stated:
“We applaud the spirit underlying this ambition”— of wishing to maintain reciprocal healthcare arrangements—
“but it is difficult to square it with the Government’s stated aim of ending freedom of movement of people from the EU”, which is of course symptomatic of the principle of reciprocal healthcare. It went on to state:
“More generally, reciprocal healthcare arrangements will only be achieved by agreement between the UK and the EU. The Government has not yet set out its objectives for the future UK-EU relationship. We … urge the Government to confirm how it will seek to protect reciprocal rights to healthcare of all UK and EU citizens post-Brexit, as part of any agreement on future relations”.
It is worth noting that, 52 days away from
Some of the points made later in the EU Committee’s very good report give a signpost to where we might be. Chapter 6, on reciprocal arrangements, private healthcare and insurance, talks about contingency planning for the S1 and S2 arrangements and the EHIC. I will not dwell on those, because colleagues have mentioned them, but I remain concerned about arrangements with insurers. The chapter’s final conclusions state:
“Time is now short for the Government to provide much-needed clarity to the insurance industry to help with planning, particularly for multi-trip travel insurance policies that will include the period beyond March 2019”.
It goes on to say:
“There will be consequences not just for the insurance industry, but for tourism and individual travellers. While the industry might derive some benefit should it be required to play an expanded role in providing cover, we recommend that any move for greater reliance on private medical insurance by UK citizens travelling within the EU post-Brexit be subjected to careful scrutiny, particularly in terms of the further regulatory oversight that might be needed to ensure that patients and consumers are treated fairly”.
In November last year, my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie asked the noble Lord, Lord Bates, about the arrangements and advice that would be provided to UK residents planning to book a holiday in an EU member state commencing after the end of March 2019. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, in summary, that he did not have details, but went on to say:
“The Government continue to strongly encourage all British nationals travelling abroad, including within the EU, to take out comprehensive travel insurance that covers their personal circumstances and meets their needs. In the unlikely event of no deal, travel insurance policies will remain valid”.—[Official Report, 1/11/18; col. 1424.]
Last week, my honourable friend Tom Brake, who is the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman in another place, reported that we had done some mystery shopping for travel insurance in the preceding week, in January 2019. Of the seven travel insurers spoken to, only two firms said that insurance would be paid out as normal in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Three said that they did not know what would happen if a no-deal Brexit came into force. Most worryingly, two of the companies said that holidaymakers would not be covered in this event because they had not yet got any policy on it. That is why I am really worried by the lack of detail in the Bill, which is symptomatic of the lack of detail and discussions going on with the industry itself.
I will briefly touch on Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has spoken about the importance of arrangements elsewhere in the union. The arrangements that pertain in Northern Ireland at the moment are absolutely not the same as elsewhere in the European Union. Joint health services allow patients to get medicine at any pharmacy, north or south of the border, irrespective of the location of the GP responsible for the prescription. Ambulances on both sides of the border are currently free to travel across it to attend emergencies. People across the island of Ireland are allowed to receive radiotherapy at a new £50 million centre for cancer patients from both sides of the border in Derry. It is important that that specialist provision is available, yet there is no pathway for managing these difficult cross-border issues in Ireland. Will these current arrangements remain in place after
Finally, I move on to the Henry VIII powers. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Marks and Lady Barker and to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for expressing their concerns in detail. I will not repeat them, but I agree with them about the enormous scope of the Bill and of the underlying arrangements it sets in place. The noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, responded to the DPRRC saying that there were “too few constraints” on power by saying that there needed to be flexibility because of future trade deals. He will know of my concerns in this area, because I raised questions with him about the protection of the NHS when he was the Minister. One of the lesser-known pillars currently protecting our NHS is the EU directive on public health procurement. It governs the way in which public bodies purchase goods, services and works and seeks to guarantee equal access and fair competition for public contracts in EU markets.
I was concerned by the noble Lord’s mention of future trade deals. We know that the United States of America wanted, through TTIP, to use trade deals to get a foot in the door of larger contracts within the UK. In the past I have said to colleagues on the Labour Benches that we have the protection of the EU directive. I now worry that that will disappear in a puff of smoke if we have a no-deal Brexit on
“Commissioner de Gucht”— from the EU—
“has been very clear: ‘Public services are always exempted ... The argument is abused in your country’”— the UK—
“‘for political reasons’”.—[
Can we count on the Prime Minister’s statement that all EU law will be enacted fully in the UK and that if changes are to happen they will follow later? Can I take it from that that this EU directive will be enacted and in force on
I am particularly concerned. When I asked these questions in the past, Barack Obama was President of the United States. Under President Trump I remain even more concerned about the protection of the NHS. The Minister may say that this should not be affected, because this is about arrangements, but I worry that the scope which sits behind it might actually allow it to happen—so I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
My Lords, I have the rare pleasure and privilege of congratulating the Minister on her most impressive introduction of the Bill—on only her second day in the job—and addressing the challenge of a maiden speech in such style. We await her further contributions from the Dispatch Box. I welcome her as a Member of your Lordships’ House.
The Government are to be commended on this Bill. Of course, we await the outcome of the Prime Minister’s dialogue with the European Union, but the Bill has the merit of addressing with flexibility every possible outcome of these negotiations and of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. The health of individuals is impatient with political considerations and we can therefore be pleased that the Bill comes before Parliament at an opportune time. Whatever the outcome of negotiations with the EU, the reciprocal healthcare arrangements which currently exist within the EU, the EEA and the European Free Trade Area are an achievement of which all participating countries, and the European Union itself, can be proud. I welcome the flexibility which the Bill introduces, giving the Secretary of State the power to conclude individual agreements with other states, outside and inside the European Union, should they be needed following our exit from the EU.
The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, who is not in his place, referred to countries on the continent which advocate treatment which would not be available under the NHS in this country. For my own benefit, will the Minister clarify whether the Bill will address that problem? The Minister mentioned the light-touch arrangements that Australia and New Zealand have with this country. I was not party to these negotiations and I just ask whether the Bill is intended to enable our agreements with those two countries to be upgraded to the standard currently available in the EU reciprocal arrangements.
I recently undertook to assist a Hungarian friend of my family, who is registered with the NHS in England and who suffers from breast cancer, to obtain consent under the S1 or S2 procedure to be treated in Budapest, which she wished for personal reasons. I certainly had to go around the block getting advice, which was well-meaning but often contradictory. I eventually located the office in Leicester which handles the S1 and S2 requests and the necessary permission was granted. I ask the Minister to take the opportunity provided by the Bill to ensure that the reciprocal arrangements admirably provided for in it are publicised simply and clearly.
To sum up, this is a timely Bill. Going by the speeches of noble Lords, we can look forward to some very lively later stages, but it was admirably introduced by my noble friend in her new role and I join other noble Lords in wishing her all success with it and all other health matters in your Lordships’ House.
I welcome the Bill but I share concerns over a number of its defects. These include: inadequate parliamentary scrutiny; insufficient awareness of cost consequences; and, still left by it, the degree of uncertainty affecting United Kingdom citizens living abroad and foreign citizens living here. As my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy explained, it is sensible that the Secretary of State should be given wide powers. Since any particular Brexit outcome is as yet unknown, that is the best way to protect international healthcare arrangements in a Bill such as this. Thereafter, no doubt, the negative statutory instrument procedure might otherwise have been the right method for ongoing parliamentary supervision. For, as the Government already argue, by then, although not now, the focus of Parliament would be able to be on a specific post-Brexit healthcare agreement. Also, negative statutory instrument procedures are often the means of looking at regulations made under all Bills, including this one.
The alternative is to make use of the affirmative statutory instrument procedure. In this instance, does the Minister agree that we should do that instead? There are clear benefits. These are against a background of public anxiety over all post-Brexit plans and their detailed results, corresponding to a correct and increasing public desire for maximum transparency. The affirmative procedure responds to this demand. Its deployment instead of the negative procedure—against which the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames and Lord Kakkar, among others, have warned—would therefore provide much greater reassurance that ongoing parliamentary scrutiny will be carried out in a proper and accurate manner.
As a number of your Lordships have cautioned, we might also harbour misgivings about excessive costs. So far, these may have been underestimated because meaningful budgeting has to depend upon the terms of a future withdrawal agreement—as yet a matter for speculation, not least on whether there will be one at all. In view of that, as my noble friend Lord Ribeiro emphasised, it is impossible just now to anticipate the financial burden on the NHS of British nationals who might return to the United Kingdom for treatment; equally unable to be calculated at present are the administrative costs of carrying out, as envisaged, all sorts of concordats with the European Union, with the EEA and with other countries across the world. Clearly, we hope for efficient reciprocal healthcare arrangements arising from a competent withdrawal agreement at the outset. However, although germane and even crucial to it, these still lie outside the Bill. Within its scope, conversely, is the opportunity for Parliament to monitor all expenditure and income to do with healthcare plans. Does the Minister therefore concur that reports with these details should be laid before Parliament annually?
On this issue in another place, the Government may have prevaricated slightly and hidden behind the skirts of obvious current circumstances. While they say that the Bill should not prescribe a particular timetable for reporting back until new healthcare plans have come to light, they also claim that a number of reporting processes can anyway be deployed instead. Yet is there not a simple and necessary corollary to this? If we really want to increase confidence and transparency, why not just make sure that Parliament is given relevant healthcare facts and figures at least once a year? Then, if the Government wish to report further through any other processes, they are free to do so.
Then there is the safeguarding of the reciprocal healthcare rights of United Kingdom citizens abroad and foreign citizens here. The aim is to avoid slippage and to maintain equivalence. This is the common theme of all post-Brexit challenges and obstacles, which many of us, including myself, while determined to meet and overcome them, are also regretful to have to confront at all, believing as we do that by far the best deal for the United Kingdom would be not to leave the European Union in the first place. Along with us, United Kingdom citizens living abroad will acknowledge the usefulness of the Bill. Nevertheless, at the same time, and as we do, they will recognise that for the proposed legislation to work efficiently, a robust and reciprocal deal for international arrangements has to be put together to begin with.
Meanwhile, the Bill should be improved in several respects, amended so that parliamentary affirmative procedures and annual reports can enhance supervision and transparency, and, as your Lordships have urged, with a stronger commitment of intentions to the people concerned, through a proper undertaking to those wishing to travel and who suffer long-term medical conditions. There must be a firm resolve not to short-change but to preserve reciprocal medical delivery as it is, and there must be greater clarity on the role of the European court to protect such standards as they are.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood of North Oxford, to the Dispatch Box and in congratulating her on her very fine maiden speech. I hope she learns to love her brief. On these Benches we look forward to working with her, improving legislation and asking fairly regular questions.
One of the privileges of membership of the European Union is that, no matter where we are in the EU, our health needs are safeguarded when we need medical attention. Under EU agreements, the UK has participated in a variety of reciprocal healthcare arrangements with other countries, with the result that all citizens and visitors are protected. This Bill aims to allow the Government to implement new relationships with our EU neighbours, but it goes far further. It aims to give the Secretary of State powers to fund healthcare outside the UK and to give effect to healthcare arrangements between the UK and other countries. It gives data powers to the Secretary of State that exceed what one might think he or she should need.
We know how crucial it is that people’s health is protected after
A Bill of this kind is necessary if we are to leave the European Union. I do not believe that the extraordinary scope of the overall Bill has been adequately justified by the department, and I have several areas of concern. First, I am concerned by the extent of the powers called for. This issue has been raised several times today, but it is important to reiterate it. In November, the House’s Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee described the scope of Clause 2 as “breath-taking”. The committee noted that the clause covers everything from what kinds of healthcare can be funded to whom functions can be delegated to. That would appear to be everyone, everywhere. The Bill does not limit its scope just to Europe. It calls for worldwide powers to make healthcare agreements with any country, anywhere. Why is this necessary? Surely the focus of the Bill should be purely on building new agreements with the EU and EFTA countries.
Clause 4 makes any healthcare provider and anyone the Secretary of State decides an authorised person. Does this mean that confidential health records can be shared with private healthcare providers and anyone else the Secretary of State gives authority to, in the UK or abroad? I appreciate that data is important, but I wonder whether the Government are getting distracted from the key issue at hand.
In direct contradiction to the Government’s promises regarding the Bill, only last week a no-deal technical notice was published by the Department of Health and Social Care which recommended that British nationals living abroad should buy health insurance.
I am seriously concerned by the lack of comprehensive affirmative procedure in the Bill. Under this version of the Bill, regulations which do not contain provisions that make modifications to primary legislation are subject to the negative resolution procedure. Simply put, the Bill does not make provision for adequate parliamentary oversight, is too wide, and is unfocused in what it covers. As the DPRR Committee noted in paragraph 11 of its report, there is nothing that would prevent the theoretical funding of incongruous or excessive health procedures with the blessing of the Secretary of State. It is regrettable that these issues have been raised countless times since November, yet the Government have not fully explained why they request so much power and so much scope. Will the Minister, in her summing up, therefore justify in plain terms the reasons for the Bill being formulated in such a way?
I will spend some of my time considering the issue of devolution. I was glad to catch up with the noble Baroness at a recent meeting before she became Minister, when we were able to share ways of working—probably the nicest way to put it—which could be useful. I was pleased to hear that the Bill team has been working closely with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as the Bill will affect their NHS systems too. Scotland and Wales have already voiced their support for the Bill, but I will draw attention to some reservations. The Senedd noted that,
“given the significant impact on devolved areas it is crucial that Welsh interests are appropriately considered in the development of reciprocal health arrangements and that mechanisms are in place to ensure that the Welsh Government contributes to the making of decisions that affect Wales”.
If the Bill passes, will the Government commit to consulting the devolved nations when new reciprocal healthcare relationships are negotiated?
Northern Ireland, as has already been stated, faces a particularly tricky set of issues with regards to healthcare post-Brexit. For example, children regularly travel from Northern Ireland for cardiac surgery in Dublin, and there is a radiology unit in Derry that is a cross-border initiative available equally to patients on either side of the border. It is co-staffed and co-funded, and ambulance routes cross the border many times a day. While we are on Northern Ireland, could the Minister consider this scenario of a citizen of the Republic of Ireland living in France and returning to live in London? How do they stand with regard to the Bill? I am pleased that the Minister has confirmed that close work is going on between Westminster and relevant officials in Northern Ireland and the Republic to ensure that no individual reliant on cross-border services faces disruption in the case of a no-deal situation.
I am also concerned by the provisions for data sharing in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, referred to that issue in his speech, and we will come to it in quite a lot of detail in Committee. Clause 4 provides a legal basis for “authorised people” to process personal data for reciprocal healthcare after the UK leaves the EU. This could be as part of an agreement with the EU, an agreement with a non-EU country, or in connection with no-deal plans. Clause 4 clarifies that this data sharing must be in accordance with data protection legislation. But how do we guarantee our data safety once it is exchanged with bilateral partners? Health data, by its detailed nature, proves particularly sensitive in this regard even when it is made anonymous.
In the NHS, the Caldicott principles were developed in 1997 to consider how patient information is handled across the system. Principle 4 states that access to personal confidential data should be on a strict need-to-know basis. Clause 4 does not adequately safeguard this need-to-know principle. The purpose of this clause appears to be so that we can know how many citizens of other countries are using the NHS, and vice versa. The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, made the point earlier that it is important that we should know that, but it is not contained in this part of the legislation. In practice, we all know that this is very tricky data to collect. NHS England and the devolved NHSs all use different data management systems. This NHS England data will be in the purview of the Minister; I wish her the best of luck with it, because it needs a strong hand.
A core value of our NHS is that it is free at the point of need. We know already that our hospitals and surgeries are not set up to process treatment charges, let alone to feed this information back into a complex system to be adequately anonymised and passed to the relevant country. We heard about dummy bills; I lived in the Middle East for some years in the 1990s, and in the country where I was living healthcare was free. You went to see the doctor and were given a prescription, you had a conversation and might be referred on, and you were given a dummy bill so that you understood what the value of your care was. That was quite an eye-opener. I am sure that it would be quite difficult to implement here—they were starting with an almost brand-new health service—but it brought you up short and made you think. Have the Government fully considered the practicalities of implementing some aspects of Clause 4?
I fail to understand why the Bill is of global scope when it is brought in in order to mitigate the damaging effects of Brexit. The Bill should refer to future reciprocal health arrangements with EU and EFTA members only. I am also worried by the extent to which data protection and devolution issues have been considered. These are key areas where the Government can achieve their objectives to guarantee reciprocal healthcare without reaching for such powers. It seems that the Bill embraces a somewhat laissez-faire approach to our future international healthcare arrangements. By asking for far-reaching powers, the Government neglect thinking critically about what they will truly need to negotiate future agreements.
I am sure that we will explore these issues in more depth in Committee, when I hope that the Minister will listen to and act upon the concerns that are expressed by this House. Parliament should not, and I am sure will not, lightly hand such sweeping powers to the Executive to do as they please. Parliament has the right to say no. If the Government do not listen to this House and do not act to limit the powers in the Bill, we will have no choice but to vote against its passing at Third Reading.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate her on an excellent maiden speech. It combined the essential description of the Bill before the House with revealing the formidable talent and understanding that she will bring to her new life. I do not recommend that she leave herself so short of time to be in her place, and I apologise to the House—I was just at the door and only just made it into my seat. It is not my normal practice.
The debate has reflected the importance, if not the size, of the Bill, as was remarked on by my noble friends Lord Foulkes and Lord Morgan. It would seem that the Bill is regarded, as the Minister in the Commons said in the helpful briefing we had, as the most straightforward and simple piece of healthcare Brexit legislation. By now, I gulp at what the rest of the legislation will look like if that is the case. Although it has only six clauses, it has potentially profound effects and implications. Our job is to test those and make amendments accordingly if necessary. We must not allow the shortness of time—entirely, I must say of the Government’s own making—to deter us from our job, particularly as concerns the powers that the Government intend to take in the Bill. Of course, the Government always have the option to extend Article 50 if they find themselves in a pickle and not ready on Brexit day.
As most noble Lords have said, and of course we agree, it is blindingly obvious that the Bill is essential. As I said in my speech in the debate on the European Union Committee report on reciprocal healthcare on
“Brexit could lead to obvious and significant changes in these existing reciprocal healthcare arrangements. The BMA has repeatedly warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit could lead to reciprocal healthcare arrangements for UK citizens and residents within the EU, and EU citizens and residents within the UK, ending. This would lead to significant disruption to those individuals’ healthcare arrangements, an increase in insurance costs, and uncertainty regarding access to healthcare abroad”.
This affects millions of people. The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, was interesting, because it recognised that 27 million people is a large part of our population. I cannot imagine many other things where half the population have signed up to something.
Many of our fellow citizens in Spain are watching the progress of the Bill with some anxiety. The Government have said that they want both UK and EU citizens to be able to continue to use the EHIC scheme after Brexit, but that this would need to be agreed as a part of any deal on our future relationship. The future relationship will be negotiated in the transition period—which of course, as we know, is not the same as the withdrawal agreement as we know it. However, in the absence of an agreement on future relations, the right to reciprocal healthcare enjoyed by our 27 million UK citizens through the EHIC will cease after Brexit. When at our very helpful briefing I asked the Commons Minister his advice in those circumstances, he advised us to take out health insurance. That is now on the website. The Association of British Insurers, which gave evidence to the Commons in Committee, said that the estimate of costs varied between 5% and 20% in the increase on travel insurance, but that there is a difference between travel insurance and health- care insurance and there is the matter of pre-existing conditions, which the Financial Conduct Authority has been examining, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out.
I always try to look at practical examples of what might happen under such circumstances. I am thinking about my late mother, living with COPD as she did for the last 10 years of her life, and taking her on holiday to France. This is what happened. Of course, we had the EHIC in place. An agreement with oxygen suppliers in France resulted in a discussion with our oxygen suppliers in the UK and, when we arrived in the place where we were staying in France, there were the oxygen supplies and equipment and a wheelchair if needed—free because of the reciprocal agreement. Perhaps the Minister will write to inform me what I might need to do under the circumstances and what might be the cost to my family today.
I hope that the Minister will have had the chance to read the letter sent to her right honourable friend the Prime Minister last week from the coalition of the British in Europe concerning the potential plight of UK pensioners living in the EU facing no deal. What is her advice to the 190,000 mostly older Brits who face the end of the S1 scheme under which the UK pays for their healthcare, which will come to an end under no deal? That was confirmed by the European Union last week. The announcement on the Government’s website last week is causing panic and alarm among UK citizens who are dependent on the scheme for life-sustaining treatment and medication. That was echoed wonderfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly.
We have a Bill that is small but broad in its intent and goes wider than addressing the issue of reciprocal healthcare in the European Union. Despite the siren calls of the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, and the Minister, it seems to open the door to healthcare negotiation across the rest of the world. In other words, it also lays the basis for trade and foreign affairs discussion concerning healthcare. One must ask: which countries do the Government have in mind, and for what purpose and why is the Bill addressing world issues and not limited to the European Union? On these Benches, we are very concerned about the scope and believe that the Bill does not need to address the whole world at this point, when I think we have enough on our plates just sorting out the 27 million EHIC holders in the UK and their interests.
I suspect that either a Minister or one of their very bright civil servants decided that this was an opportunity to start a discussion about healthcare deals in many other countries by making the Bill an international healthcare Bill. Frankly, where I come from, we call that being too smart by half. We on these Benches are not at all sure that this is good idea. If one thinks of the international aspect of the Bill combined with the regulatory power that it gives the Government, there is justifiable cause for alarm. It is reasonable for us to probe the suspicions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about the USA’s eyes on our National Health Service. To deny that that exists is simply not true: of course it exists. Are we putting a Bill on the statute book which will allow that to happen? That is what we are asking.
The Government will have to go some distance to convince noble Lords that this can be justified and explain to us why we do not have before us a much simpler Bill that is smaller in scope, addresses the very important EU issues post Brexit and gives the Government appropriate powers to deal with them. The Commons Minister said:
“The Bill will support the potential strengthening of existing reciprocal healthcare agreements with countries abroad and around the world, and will potentially add to their number as part of future health and trade policy”.—[Official Report, Commons, Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill Committee, 29/11/18; col. 24.]
I think he rather gave the game away with that. As noble Lords have said, powers in Bills are for ever, not just for Brexit. That is my interpretation of the guidance used by the legislative Committee. The question of international scope is so important because of the powers conferred on the Secretary of State by the Bill. It is not often that one reads that:
“Clause 2 has a breath-taking scope. Indeed, the scope of the regulations could hardly be wider”, in a Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report. The report goes on to list nine areas in which the Bill confers unlimited powers on the Government. Noble Lords have mentioned some examples, so I will do so too. The fifth point in paragraph 10 states:
“The regulations can delegate functions to anyone anywhere”.
The noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, can say that the Government’s intentions are fine, but that is not the point. The point concerns the powers given to Ministers and Governments, which we must look at.
Noble Lords more knowledgeable than me have spoken at length about the report. How does the Minister intend to respond to it? When will we see the Government’s response? I hope that it will be before the next stage. So far, the Government have failed to convince the DPRRC, our colleagues in the Commons or my noble friend Lord Morgan and other noble Lords who raised these issues that these powers are necessary. The Minister can anticipate engaging with the House about these regulatory powers; as she will soon learn soon, this is standard fare to noble Lords and an important aspect of our revising role.
I want to ask the Minister about the interesting challenge created by the regulations subject to the negative procedure. She will be aware that they have a 40-day time limit. When does she intend to put them down? To deal with them before exit day, that suggests
There are very serious issues around the arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and other noble Lords. Finally, the issues of cost, review and accountability are missing completely from the Bill as it stands, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. It is important to reiterate that we on these Benches agree that reciprocal arrangements are vital. They should be straightforward but the Bill’s complexity and scope puts them at risk. The Minister will need to listen carefully to what the House has to say and make good her promises to do so at an early stage.
My Lords, I thank the House for a most robust and incisive debate. It is great for me to be welcomed into a very balanced House, with the noble Lord, Lord Marks, admitting that he campaigned against me and my noble friend Lord Lansley having campaigned for me. I feel as though I have been welcomed into a warm embrace. The debate has been strong and, as anticipated, a great lesson for a former Member of the other place. I will attempt to answer as many questions as I can and address the major issues raised. If I cannot, I will write to noble Lords.
First, I am grateful for the widespread support for the intent of the Bill, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, is essential. As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, reminded us, it has strong public support. There is a desire to maintain robust reciprocal healthcare arrangements, which benefit many people across the country when working, living, studying and travelling abroad. Every day, the lives of people across the country are improved by these arrangements. Examples range from a young British student with severe asthma, able to study for a year abroad at a European university, to a British grandmother with multi-morbidities, able to visit her newly born grandchild—or, in my case, a young bride with a rare disease honeymooning in perhaps one of the most romantic cities in the world: Venice. On the value of this scheme, it is notable that many noble Lords have their own stories to tell about the importance of us maintaining reciprocal healthcare. I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about her mother’s case when I have found out the details for her.
All these journeys are made easier by a reciprocal healthcare system ensuring that if you require healthcare in another EU member state, you will be looked after. The British Government want such arrangements to continue; the Bill provides a legislative framework for that. I recognise that a number of noble Lords have raised important and substantive issues concerning the Bill. I will address as many of them as possible in the time available but I look forward to debating them further in the coming weeks.
The noble Lords, Lord Foulkes, Lord Marks and Lord Thurlow, the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker, Lady Brinton and Lady Jolly, and my noble friend Lord Dundee mentioned the DPRRC report. It was characteristically robust, as I said in my opening remarks. The Government responded to it; I placed a copy of that letter in the Library for your Lordships’ consideration. The committee will consider that response on
It may be helpful for me to outline the five delegated powers in the Bill in a little more detail. Four of those powers come under Clause 2, and one under Clause 4. The first, in Clause 2(1)(a), would be used to set out in detail complex payment arrangements under reciprocal healthcare deals. The second, in Clause 2(1)(b), is needed to provide healthcare abroad outside reciprocal healthcare arrangements. The third, in Clause 2(1)(c), is needed to give effect to comprehensive healthcare agreements entered into in another country or international organisation, such as the EU. The fourth, in Clause 2(3), is needed to allow the Secretary of State to give directions to a person to whom they have delegated functions under the Bill. The fifth, in Clause 4(6)(e), enables the Secretary of State to make regulations to add to the list of people who can process data for the purposes of the Bill, for example a future arm’s-length body that does not currently exist. I know that data issues have been raised by a number of your Lordships, which I will return to later.
I know of a lot of legitimate concern over the inclusion of Henry VIII powers in EU exit legislation. The only Henry VIII power in the Bill comes under Clause 5. It is not a standalone power: it is a tidying power to ensure that the statute book is coherent when implementing future arrangements under the Bill. In particular, I have heard noble Lords’ preference for wider use of the “made affirmative” procedure, which I will reflect on more as we head towards Committee.
The noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Foulkes, and my noble friend Lord Dundee asked about financial reporting procedures in future reciprocal healthcare. In the letter to the DPRRC, we committed to issuing an annual ministerial Statement on the operation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements, which will be published as soon as is practicable after the end of each financial year to allow for accurate financial reporting. The Statement would include, but not be limited to: information on the expenditure and income of healthcare provisions overseas as a whole, which would include aggregated expenditure, income from the financial year and a country-by-country summary of expenditure and income; an update on the operation of arrangements, which could identify areas of successful operation or where arrangements are being improved to promote efficiency; and the strategic direction of reciprocal healthcare arrangements, which could be a statement either on future priorities for the current operation or of where the UK is engaging with other countries to establish new arrangements. I hope that that is helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was absolutely right to identify the importance of EU workers to the NHS. I want to put on record again both my and the Government’s appreciation of the work of EU staff in the NHS. Let me be very clear: we want those staff to stay. I am very pleased to report that more than 4,300 more EU workers are now working in the NHS than before the referendum. We wish to continue with that positive trend.
My noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy has already clarified the point regarding right of access to NHS services for those ordinarily resident in the UK, but the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Jolly, raised the issues of the impact of these changes on the NHS and charging. Let me be clear that we do not need to have any new front-line NHS services to charge visitors or tourists from the EU, either directly or via reciprocal healthcare arrangements. We already have these processes in place as part of our current EU reciprocal healthcare arrangements. EHIC claims and EU visitors are identified for the purposes of whether they are chargeable or directly covered through the current system. This is done by overseas visitor managers in the NHS trusts, who manage charging. The Government have been the first to make significant progress regarding charging overseas visitors and recouping funds. To reassure the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, since 2015 we have increased identified income for the NHS with reciprocal arrangements by 40%. Directly charged income has increased by 86% over the same period. We are not satisfied with that progress, but it is certainly moving in the right direction.
I also reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that we have work ongoing with NHS Improvement, which is now working with 50 NHS trusts, to improve further its practices in this regard, with a bespoke improvement team in place providing on-the-ground support and challenge, and identifying and sharing best practice. That should be of great assistance as we move into this next period.
A number of noble Lords raised the global scope of the powers, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Thornton. As I have noted, the Government’s immediate priority with the Bill is our reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU. That is absolutely right, but we already have a number of existing reciprocal healthcare arrangements with countries outside the EU, such as Australia and New Zealand, as my noble friend Lord Bridgeman noted. The passage of the Bill through Parliament presents us with a natural opportunity to consider how we can best support Britons in an increasingly global world. International travel is under- taken by increasing numbers of people for professional, social, recreational and humanitarian purposes. More people travel greater distances and at greater speed than ever before. Global reciprocal healthcare agreements have the potential to protect public health by supporting international visitors to access emergency and needs-arising treatment when they need it.
In addition, international collaboration through reciprocal healthcare agreements can also make it much easier for people to receive treatment, including specialised treatments, such as those mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, which may be more clinically effective or better for a person to access abroad. For example, as I mentioned in my opening speech, in 2017, 1,352 UK patients received pre-planned treatments in the EU, while 1,241 EU patients received pre-planned treatment in the UK. Some of those treatments would not have been possible if we did not have that scheme in place. We do not want to prevent ourselves being able to strengthen our agreements with non-EU countries by curtailing the Bill’s scope, but we must obviously ensure that appropriate scrutiny and parliamentary oversight is in place as we do that.
I move on to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton, Lady Thornton and Lady Jolly, regarding trade. The Government are completely committed to the guiding principles of the NHS—that it is universal and free at the point of need. Our position is definitive: the NHS is not and never will be for sale. The Bill’s powers are to allow the department to enter into reciprocal healthcare agreements, either bilaterally or with international organisations, entirely independently of any other international organisations or agreement. I hope that that statement is clear enough.
To reassure noble Lords even further, I will briefly set out the scrutiny powers available to the House for the international treaties under which these agreements would be agreed. It is obviously the Executive’s responsibility to negotiate these treaties under the royal prerogative. The Bill does not replace or limit the prerogative power to enter into international agreements, in the healthcare sphere or more generally. We already have international healthcare agreements, as I have stated, with non-EU countries such as Australia and New Zealand, and Crown dependencies, allowing them certain free access to NHS services.
Parliamentary scrutiny of international treaties is of great importance. Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the exercise of those functions. The principal statutory framework providing scrutiny of these treaties is the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—CRaG—established by Parliament under its own powers. CRaG has enshrined in statute the long-standing convention known as the Ponsonby rule that was the product of lengthy consultation and dialogue. The Act enables either House to object to the ratification of a treaty and the House of Commons can block ratification of a treaty indefinitely.
I understand that the House of Lords Constitution Committee has an ongoing inquiry into future scrutiny of international treaties. The Committee will look into all aspects of treaty scrutiny, which is obviously apposite at this moment, including what, if any, new committees need to be set up to deliver scrutiny of treaties post exit. I obviously look forward to the review’s findings, but noble Lords can be reassured that this Bill’s purpose is the implementation of international treaties that can be scrutinised under the CRaG process. Noble Lords can also be reassured that all international healthcare agreements will be subject to the scrutiny route considered most appropriate by Parliament.
At the commencement of the Committee stage of the Trade Bill the House voted for a Motion whose effect was that the Government should bring forward their proposals for the future scrutiny of further treaties before the Report stage. The expectation from the debate on the Trade Bill was that we would go beyond the CRaG legislation. It would be helpful for my noble friend to make it clear that Ministers will be doing that for the Trade Bill and that that bears directly on this Bill. It would be very useful for the Bill to proceed in the light of that same response from Ministers.
I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for that intervention. One of the reasons why I raise that process is because I am aware that there are ongoing discussions in other parts of the House. We will reflect on that as we progress the Bill.
My noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy spoke of positive engagement with his EU counterparts on bilateral arrangements in the event of no deal. A number of noble Lords raised what would happen should the withdrawal agreement not go forward. My noble friends Lord Ribeiro and Lord Lansley both raised the question of no deal. My noble friend Lord Lansley is right that we should be careful and seek to reassure those who currently rely on reciprocal healthcare that they will be able to rely on these arrangements going forward. Great interest has been expressed by our counterparts in the European Union, where we are seeking bilateral arrangements with relevant member states in the event that we reach
The Minister has been really helpful in her reply and has dealt extremely well with the points raised. She has come to a crucial one now. I think that everyone understands that if there is a deal along the lines that have been agreed, reciprocal arrangements will continue. That is one of the positive things about it. However, if there is no deal the Minister and the Government need to be honest with us and the public about it. It will not be easy to negotiate bilateral deals with 27 different countries if we come out with no deal. If the Minister and the Government are honest about that, it will make people understand that it is vital, if we are to leave the European Union, that there must be some kind of deal, because no deal would be a real disaster for healthcare.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, raises a very important point, and he is absolutely right that the Government do not seek to have no deal. The best way to avoid no deal is to have a deal. Under the withdrawal agreement there is protection of reciprocal healthcare arrangements for EU citizens in the UK and for UK citizens abroad, and that is what the Government seek to deliver. We have set out a number of steps to ensure that individuals who currently receive reciprocal healthcare can be protected as much as possible under a no-deal scenario. One of them is to put in place the powers in this Bill so that we can go very quickly to seeking bilateral arrangements. That is why I hope we will receive the support of the noble Lord as we go forward with this legislation.
I think the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was that it is very dangerous to give the reassurance that the Minister was giving and to tell the public that all will be well in the event of no deal. The public need to know that all will not be well in the event of no deal. Even if this Bill and the regulations go through as quickly as they can, there will be a very serious hiatus. It is important that, rather than reassuring the public, the Government—which want a deal, as I know the Minister does—should say how dangerous it will be to leave without a deal on
The noble Lord, Lord Marks, has made an important point. The Government have not in any way avoided the consequences of no deal. They have been very clear in outlining some of the risks associated with no deal and exactly why they are seeking a deal, with strength and authority. Those currently using reciprocal healthcare arrangements abroad can find advice on the GOV.UK and nhs.uk websites. Any of your Lordships who would like more specific advice are very welcome to write to me or to seek a meeting with me on that.
I would like to make a little more progress, as there are only two more minutes before I must close and I have not dealt with a number of issues your Lordships raised with me. On Ireland, which was raised by a number of important Members—the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker, Lady Brinton and Lady Jolly—I reassure noble Lords that the UK is firmly committed to maintaining the common travel area and to protecting the rights enjoyed by UK and Irish nationals in each other’s states, whatever the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The common travel area facilitates the principle of free movement for British and Irish citizens between the UK and Ireland and the reciprocal enjoyment of rights and entitlements to public services of citizens in each other’s states.
In addition, on negotiations with the devolved Administrations, we are very pleased to have received a legislative consent Motion from Scotland and are continuing to negotiate.
To conclude, I hope that I have been able to summarise the main issues and topics. There are clearly still some important questions that need to be answered, and I will write on the further points. It is clear from this debate that there is much work still to be done on the Bill, and I am sure that we will have adequate time in what my noble friend Lord Bridgeman predicts—I suspect rightly—will be a lively Committee to make sure that the Bill is in the best possible shape. However varied our views may be on the future relationship with Europe, I think that we can all agree that access to healthcare is essential both for British nationals living in European countries and for EU citizens living in the UK. We have heard that reciprocal healthcare arrangements enjoy broad public support. This Bill is designed to ensure that we can give British nationals living in European countries and EU citizens living in the UK certainty and continuity of care. With that in mind, I beg to move that this Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House.