Duty to consult with devolved administrations

Part of Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 29 Tachwedd 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 2:15, 29 Tachwedd 2018

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.