I am grateful to the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North for tabling these amendments on migrants’ access to healthcare in the United Kingdom. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West for tabling her new clause. Given their similar effects, I will consider them together.
The Government have been very clear in everything we have said since the referendum that, although the United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union, we are certainly not leaving Europe. Our relations with the European Union and the whole of the EEA will continue to be close and cordial. As part of that, immigration from the EEA will certainly continue. We want EEA citizens, who have contributed so much to our society, to continue living and working in the United Kingdom. While they are here, they will of course need access to healthcare. We are fortunate in this country to have a world-class health system, thanks to the NHS. The proposals, in different ways, would exempt EEA and Swiss citizens from the requirement to pay for healthcare in the UK. However, they are unnecessary.
Amendment 37 and new clause 12 are also technically deficient, because they do not reflect the nature of devolved health legislation. Entitlement to free-of-charge NHS care is not, and should not be, based on nationality. It is based on a concept of ordinary residence in the United Kingdom. For EEA nationals, that means living in the UK on a
“lawful…properly settled basis for the time being.”
I thank hon. Members for their comments on specific proposals, and I will make a number of points. Operating fair and proportionate controls on access to the NHS is not about outsourcing immigration control; it is about protecting a vital taxpayer-funded service from potential misuse. The Department of Health and Social Care’s policy of up-front NHS charging for non-urgent treatment for overseas visitors was upheld by the courts in a judicial review last year. Treatment for specified public health conditions, such as the infectious diseases mentioned earlier, is not subject to overseas visitor charges.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West asked whether it was fair that EEA nationals should pay the health charge, given that they would pay for the NHS via taxes and national insurance contributions. Whether EEA nationals pay the health charge following the introduction of the new skills-based immigration may depend on the outcome of our negotiations with the EU about our future relationship. The health charge currently applies only to non-EEA temporary migrants. Although some non-EEA nationals will pay tax and national insurance contributions, they will not have made the same financial contribution to the NHS that most UK nationals and permanent residents have made or will continue to make over the course of their working lives. It is therefore fair to require them to make an up-front and proportionate contribution to the NHS.
When we debated this in Committee some months ago, the issue of the level of contribution was raised, and it has been again this afternoon. The Department of Health and Social Care undertook a careful study with NHS England of the NHS resources that temporary migrants to this country generally used over the course of a year. It came out in the region of £470 per individual. I hope that hon. Members will note that the immigration health charge is set below that level at £400 per person, or the reduced rate of £300 per year for students and those on youth mobility schemes.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston raised maternity care. The Department of Health and Social Care is responsible for guidance on overseas visitor charges in England. Maternity care is always urgent and must never be withheld pending payment. That is clear in the Department of Health and Social Care’s guidance. However, charges are applied to protect maternity services for those entitled to live in this country.
The hon. Lady asked whether I would speak to DHSC Ministers about the review of charges, which I understand has not yet been published. I am happy to make that representation to my fellow Ministers.