“(5) Any statutory instrument which contains regulations issued under this Act may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.”
This amendment would make all regulations issued under this Act subject to the affirmative procedure and require approval from Parliament before they become law.
This amendment is probably one of the most important items that we will discuss in Committee. As I made clear when we discussed clause 2, there are widely held concerns about the scope of the regulations, which are exacerbated by the fact that these extraordinarily wide powers, necessary as they may be in the circumstances, are subject only to the negative procedure.
“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. Of course, these examples will not be priorities for any Secretary of State in this country.”
I hope that is the case, but we are here to look at how the powers could be used over, possibly, the next 100 years, and not just how we would expect them to be used in the foreseeable future.
Nobody knows where this process will take us, and when examining legislation there is always merit in considering the unlikely as well as the stated intentions of the Government at the time. The Minister’s comments about wider objectives reaffirms the importance of our scrutinising the regulations as much as possible. We find ourselves in an unprecedented situation in Parliament, and it is therefore important that we consider all eventualities.
If Committee members need further persuasion that the amendment should be carried, that Lords Committee set out a devastating list of reasons why the negative procedure is inappropriate. It said:
“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…on anyone anywhere. The regulations can delegate functions to anyone anywhere.”
The Committee concluded:
“In our view, the powers in clause 2(1) are inappropriately wide and have not been adequately justified by the Department. It is particularly unsatisfactory that exceedingly wide powers should be subject only to the negative procedure.”
The most significant reason why we do not object to the legislation is that the biggest risk at this stage is that arrangements are made that do not safeguard the ability of our constituents, when they travel abroad, or of UK citizens who currently live overseas to access healthcare, as they do now. However, because of the way the Bill is drafted, we will find that we are unable to debate whether those safeguards are in place as a matter of course. We have heard many references to the 190,000 UK expats living abroad and the 50 million or so nationals who travel to EEA countries every year. These are huge numbers of people, and the impact of the legislation on them is potentially huge. We owe it to all those people to ensure that any future arrangements are properly scrutinised.
“Both clinicians and health organisations are concerned that we could end up with a system that is both administration-intensive and time-intensive.”––[Official Report, Healthcare (International Arrangements) Public Bill Committee,
He went on:
“In practical terms, the idea that if you are a GP or a hospital doctor trying to work out whether there are different arrangements for 32 different lots of patients sounds pretty much like a nightmare set-up.”––[Official Report, Healthcare (International Arrangements) Public Bill Committee,
If we do not agree to the amendment, Parliament could end up in that scenario without any voice.
While there is scope for the affirmative procedure to be used in cases where Henry VIII powers are invoked to amend primary legislation, I think it is pretty clear that potentially the most significant changes to reciprocal agreements that could be enacted under the legislation are those that are subject only to the negative procedure. As we know, the negative procedure means that an instrument is laid in draft and cannot be made if that draft is disapproved within 40 days, normally via a prayer against, which is usually by way of an early-day motion. If that does not happen, the legislation is then passed. That is a 40-day process in the best-case scenario.
If I am correct, and if we leave without a deal, the Secretary of State will have to reach agreement with each of the 30-plus countries no later than Friday
Will the Minister concede that, on a practical level, it would be better for regulations moved under the Bill to be moved using the affirmative procedure? We could then get them through scrutiny in both Houses much quicker than the 40-day procedure currently allows.
The hon. Gentleman raises some important issues, including the issue at the heart of the clause—the appropriate, necessary and correct scrutiny arrangements for Parliament. Let me be clear at the start: the Government absolutely recognise the importance of appropriate levels of scrutiny of the Bill and its subsequent secondary legislation. It is clearly the hallmark of any effective parliamentary system that there are processes in place by which we draft, consider and test legislation. After all, that is what we are doing today.
The appropriate parliamentary procedure for the scrutiny of regulations made under the Bill that do not amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation is the negative procedure. If I am not able to reassure the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston and he chooses to press the amendment to a Division, I am afraid the Government will resist it.
The powers in the Bill give the Government the flexibility and capacity to implement deeper, detailed and complex arrangements concerning healthcare abroad. It is also clear that the regulating powers enable the Secretary of State to make provision to fund that healthcare, or to provide funding in connection with the provision of that healthcare, but that the subject matter to which the regulations relate is narrow. The remit of our regulating powers is tightly focused. They can be used only to give effect to healthcare agreements, or to arrange, provide for or fund healthcare abroad. Therefore, the subject matter is focused and provides the necessary reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens.
Where the UK negotiates an international healthcare agreement in the future, the most important elements setting out the terms of the agreement will be included in the agreement itself, as I am sure hon. Members would expect. Those agreements are likely to contain all the detail that Parliament should consider, such as who is covered by their terms. In contrast, the regulations implementing the agreement would not include anything fundamentally new. They would contain procedural, administrative and technical details, such as the types of document or forms to be used. Therefore, it is right that those regulations issued under the Bill are subject to the negative procedure. I think most colleagues would consider that to be the right use of parliamentary time.
I hope I can persuade the hon. Gentleman and reassure the Committee further that when we strike a comprehensive healthcare agreement with the EU or individual states, it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Such agreements would come under the ratification procedure in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which would provide an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of the substance of healthcare agreements that are given effect by regulations made under the Bill.
I remind Committee members of the Government’s intention. I am sure all Committee members welcome reciprocal healthcare arrangements. We heard from the witnesses who presented evidence to us that the administration of the current arrangements works well and is, on the whole, extremely popular. Regulations made under the Bill will simply provide for the effective and efficient administration of those arrangements.
As I set out at the outset of my remarks, we will ensure that the affirmative procedure is in place for anything that amends, repeals or revokes primary legislation. For technical regulations, it is appropriate that the negative procedure is used. Given my remarks about the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act and my reassurances about how we intend to deal with the negative and affirmative procedures, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured and does not feel the need to press the amendment to a Division.
I am afraid the Minister has not managed to reassure me, despite his best efforts. When a Bill would confer power on the Executive, we have to be very careful about giving that power away. It cannot be done without good reason, even in these extraordinary times. I have not heard any justification for giving such sweeping powers to the Secretary of State without adequate scrutiny. No matter how well-intentioned the Minister is in his responses—I acknowledge his sincerity —we do not know who will be doing what in 12 months’ time. As we said earlier, we could be handing a future Secretary of State the ability to enter into arrangements for hip replacements in Australia or such like.
As the Minister said, the regulations will enable the Government to enter into detailed and complex arrangements on future healthcare. That is precisely why we need them to be subject to the affirmative procedure. I appreciate the point about the treaties possibly containing more detail, but this is about how Parliament will be able to scrutinise and challenge those arrangements.
The hon. Gentleman will have heard that the treaty arrangements will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the normal way. We are discussing the regulations as to how we enact those treaties. I was hoping that he might be reassured by that.
I am afraid that I am not reassured.
The Minister has not really addressed the practical issue about the 40-day waiting time for the negative procedure. If we enter a no-deal scenario after
Division number 1 - 8 yes, 9 no
Having failed to reassure the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, I will have another attempt in this stand part debate. Clause 5 supplements the substantive regulation-making powers in clause 2. It provides detail on the parliamentary procedure, as we have already discussed, that will apply to regulations made under the Bill. Subsections (1) and (2) introduce standard provisions, and are consistent with regulation and direction-making powers in many other Acts of Parliament, such as the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and the National Health Service Act 2006.
The clause is required to ensure that regulations and directions made under the Bill will be fit for purpose. As I have said, the powers in the Bill provide the Government with the flexibility and capability to ensure and implement detailed and complex arrangements concerning healthcare abroad. For example, the Government may use regulations to confer different functions on different bodies, in order that they may implement and operate effectively what may be provided for in an agreed reciprocal healthcare agreement. We do that now in relation to the EHIC scheme, which, as I said earlier, the NHS Business Services Authority administers on behalf of the Department. That administration includes the registering and issuing of EHICs and the processing of EHIC claims.
Future administrative arrangements to implement reciprocal healthcare agreements may reflect the current situation, or may involve conferring different functions on other bodies, as appropriate. Once the arrangements are negotiated, we will be in the best position to decide what the appropriate bodies to administer those arrangements are. We will be able to provide for the practical processes and implementation arrangements through the regulations. Clause 5 provides the Government with the flexibility to ensure that any healthcare arrangements can be implemented effectively and efficiently.
Subsection (3) provides that regulations made under clause 2
“may amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation…for the purpose of conferring functions”,
“to give effect to a healthcare agreement.”
I want to try again to reassure the Committee about that. The Government are conscious that Parliament rightly takes an interest in this area and, of course, we share the view about the importance of scrutiny.
This is a consequential power to make amendments to primary legislation, which is limited to three restricted uses: for the purpose of conferring functions, to give effect to a healthcare agreement and to make modifications to retained EU law. It is not a free-standing power; it is a focused power to ensure that we can implement healthcare arrangements effectively. That may involve conferring functions on healthcare bodies, which could involve amending primary legislation.
Subsection (4) provides that:
“Regulations under this Act may amend, repeal or revoke retained EU law”,
which is the body of existing EU law that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will convert into domestic law, together with the laws we have already made in the UK to implement our EU obligations. It is vital that the regulation-making powers extend to amending, repealing and revoking retained EU law, because the bulk of the existing provisions that relate to current reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU will be EU retained law.
Subsection (4) will ensure that domestic legislation in that area is clear and accessible. It will allow us to amend EU retained law, where appropriate, to give effect to new reciprocal healthcare arrangements. It would be an oversight if the Bill did not provide for such amendment, given that current reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU are entirely bound up in EU law.
I stress again that, of course, Parliament will be given the opportunity for the appropriate scrutiny of regulations made under the Bill that amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation. As such, subsection (6) makes it clear that regulations that contain provisions that make modifications to primary legislation will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and, therefore, Parliament will have the opportunity to debate them. That is the parliamentary scrutiny procedure befitting Henry VIII powers, and one that allows for proper scrutiny.
Regulations made under the Bill that do not contain provisions that amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation will be subject to the negative resolution procedure. It is our job—and I think it is only right—to ensure that legislation is afforded the appropriate level of scrutiny. Therefore, regulations that are made under the Bill that do not amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation should be subject to the negative procedure, as is normal.
The remit of our regulating powers is focused. They can be used only to give effect to healthcare agreements or to arrange, provide for or fund healthcare abroad, as is clear in the enabling powers found in clause 2(1). Where the UK negotiates a comprehensive international healthcare agreement, whether multilaterally with the EU or bilaterally with EU members, the most important element that sets out the terms of that agreement would be included in the agreement itself, as hon. Members would expect. Regulations that give effect to such an agreement would likely focus on procedural, administrative and technical details, such as the types of documents or forms that could be used to administer those reciprocal healthcare arrangements, which is a point I made earlier.
In a scenario where a comprehensive healthcare agreement is being implemented through regulations made under clause 2(1)(c), that agreement would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny under the ratification procedure contained in section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. That ratification procedure provides an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of the substance of the healthcare agreements being given effect to in the regulations made under the Bill. It is for those reasons that I rejected amendment 2, which the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston moved a moment ago.
The final provision of the clause, subsection (7), sets out the definition of “primary legislation”. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, and the Committee, the Government absolutely understand and appreciate the necessity for appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. The level of scrutiny must reflect the substance of the piece of legislation. That is what I believe the clause does, and I therefore recommend that it stand part of the Bill.
The Minister and I will not agree on that, unfortunately. I will not repeat the arguments that we have already gone through, but I will remind hon. Members that the Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee described the powers and regulation as “breath-taking”, and said that
“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…on anyone anywhere.”
The scope of the clause is breath-taking. Although the Minister is trying to reassure us, as parliamentarians, we need the security of the affirmative procedure.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for giving way. Would he have been a little more reassured by the Minister’s attempts at reassurance if this was not part of a process and of a pattern of behaviour by the Government? There have been power grabs and the use of Henry VIII clauses throughout the Brexit process.
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for his intervention. He is absolutely right. One of the things that was stated during the referendum campaign was that Parliament should take back control, and that is what I believe should be happening following the result. Parliament needs to make sure that, as much as possible, the legislation that will be necessary in the coming months is subject to full parliamentary scrutiny. That is why the affirmative procedure should be included in the clause, which we cannot support as it currently stands.
Division number 2 - 9 yes, 8 no