Duty to consult with devolved administrations

Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Before issuing any regulations under this Act, the Secretary of State must consult the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Government and have regard for their views on the regulations.—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour)

I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.

I hope this is a straightforward and uncontroversial new clause. We have already spoken about the importance of reciprocal healthcare arrangement to citizens in Northern Ireland, and of course there will also be an impact on patients in Wales and Scotland. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have clearly and robustly articulated their support for a continuation of reciprocal healthcare agreements, and why would they not?

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was clear in its recommendation that there should be active participation of the devolved Administrations in setting out the UK’s position in future arrangements, but I am not aware that there have been any discussions. I would be grateful if the Minister could set out what conversations have taken place, because we did not get clarity on that on Second Reading.

The new clause repeats some of the issues that we raised this morning, which you did not have the pleasure of hearing, Mr Streeter. It is about the scope and power of the Bill and the wide range of duties given to the Secretary of State, which will be subject to the negative procedure. We think it is important that, as part of the Bill, when those wide powers are given to the Secretary of State, there must be a clear duty to consult with the devolved Administrations before those regulations are enacted.

The Fisheries Bill and the Agriculture Bill have dealt extensively with the need to involve the devolved Administrations. I think this is the bare minimum that we need. It would represent a consistent and equitable approach across the devolved nations, in terms of our future relationship with the EU.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

It is a pleasure to respond to this new clause, which addresses the extraordinarily important issue of engaging and working with the devolved Administrations. We completely agree that regulations made under the Bill may relate to devolved matters, by which I mean domestic healthcare. The Government will engage and meaningfully consult with the devolved Administrations in line with our existing arrangements, as found in the 2012 memorandum of understanding between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, and the principles that underlie relations between us. That reinforces the positive work that the UK Government continue to do with the devolved Administrations daily for the benefit of the whole of the UK on this matter.

I am forced to reflect that, though the hon. Gentleman’s new clause is not necessary, the sentiment behind it is shared by everyone in Committee, I suspect. The regulation-making powers in the Bill provide us with a legal mechanism to implement international agreements domestically. The Bill will ensure that we can broadly continue reciprocal healthcare arrangements, where agreed with the EU, to the benefit of the residents of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The powers offer flexibility and can be used to implement comprehensive healthcare agreements with third countries in the future for the benefit of all UK nationals.

The reciprocal arrangements, as governed by EU regulations, predate the devolution settlements. International affairs is a reserved matter, but domestic healthcare is devolved. As we take the Bill forward, it will be important that we do so in a way that is collaborative and respects the devolution settlement and the conventions for working together. To that effect, to answer the hon. Gentleman directly, significant and ongoing constructive discussions are taking place with the devolved Administrations, at ministerial and official levels, on the Bill and the underlying policy.

The UK Government are committed to working closely with the devolved Administrations now and in the future to deliver an approach that works for the whole of the United Kingdom. The Bill has a strong international focus and is predominantly concerned, as we discussed at length, with the welfare of UK nationals outside the UK, including the making of payments and data sharing to support that. We recognise that in some parts of the Bill, however, powers may be used in ways that relate to domestic healthcare. We are therefore seeking legislative consent motions to that extent only.

We will of course engage with and consult the devolved Administrations where regulations may relate directly to devolved matters, but it would be inappropriate to do so where regulations do not relate to devolved matters. Furthermore, as a measure of how important we consider this issue, we can and will only consider amendments to the Bill that concern the devolved Administrations where we have discussed those fully with the appropriate officials.

In keeping with the spirit of the new clause, therefore, I tell the hon. Gentleman that not only are discussions ongoing, with constructive engagement with the devolved Administration, but we intend that to continue through the Bill. We will continue to support in every way our collaborative working arrangements. As a point of principle, we guarantee to undertake meaningful consultation with the devolved Administrations on regulations under clause 2, which I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about, where they relate directly to devolved matters. The hon. Gentleman’s concern is to ensure appropriate consultation with the devolved Administrations, but that has happened, is happening and will continue to happen.

I believe that the Committee is drawing to a close, so I will take the opportunity to thank all my colleagues, and all hon. Members in the Opposition, for giving this small but important Bill the line-by-line scrutiny that it deserves. I thank you, Mr Streeter, for chairing this afternoon’s proceedings.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour) 2:30 pm, 29th November 2018

The Minister has put on record pretty clearly his intention in respect of ongoing and continued engagement with the devolved institutions. He is right that we are concerned that the powers under the Bill are wide. Those concerns remain, but in so far as they involve the new clause, his comments have done enough to assure us that it will not be necessary for us to press it to a vote.

I echo the Minister’s sentiments, given that we are now making the closing remarks of this Bill Committee. I thank you for chairing, Mr Streeter, and hon. Members for participating in Committee today.

I look forward to Report. We need to continue to explore some important issues, but we must move forward with this legislation, as is necessary in this uncertain time. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.