Belfast Telegraph

Wilson hails new move to make 'health tourists' pay

By Steven Alexander

Northern Ireland will benefit from measures announced in the Queen's Speech to recoup money from people crossing the border to use the health service, the DUP has claimed.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson welcomed the news that patients from the Republic and overseas visitors who take advantage of free health services in Northern Ireland will have to pay up in the future.

Mr Wilson was speaking in the wake of the latest Queen's Speech, which set out a relatively modest agenda of 20 new Bills for the coming year.

The bulk of the Government's plans are focused on England and Wales, as devolution of most powers means the legislative blueprint for Stormont will be contained in the Programme for Government, due to be agreed over the next few days.

The Queen announced Government reforms to prison, adoption and universities in Britain, that largely avoided the kind of contentious legislation which might fuel controversy during the crucial EU referendum period.

Eye-catching measures to push forward the economy included legislation to pave the way for spaceports, driverless cars and wider use of drones.

Households will be given a legal right to high-speed broadband, while age requirements will be introduced for those watching porn on the internet.

Despite the lack of legislation affecting Northern Ireland, Mr Wilson said there was some good news for the health service here.

Mr Wilson said: "The health service in Northern Ireland will especially benefit from the requirement for foreigners - including those from the Republic of Ireland - to pay for hospital treatment, and people who are dissatisfied with the treatment they receive from banks will benefit from new laws to make switching accounts easier.

"Some of the measures are gimmicks - such as building a launch site for space travel and driverless car legislation - which won't apply to Northern Ireland anyhow."

Mr Wilson warmly welcomed the Bill to give every household a legal right to high-speed internet broadband.

"This will be very good news for tens of thousands of rural dwellers who are frustrated at the way in which BT has squandered public money granted to extend broadband but making little impact on rural areas," he said.

Also announced were proposals for a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, though it is unclear whether the Government aims to pass legislation during the current session.

The move had already drawn criticism from lawyers who fear the Good Friday Agreement could be put at risk. Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said her party will oppose a British Bill of Rights.

"The 1998 Human Rights Act underpins the Good Friday Agreement, the internationally recognised peace treaty which helped usher in peace and power-sharing in the North of Ireland and is lodged formally with the United Nations," she said.

Delivering the speech amid the traditional lavish ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament, the Queen made only a passing reference to Northern Ireland. She said: "My Government will work in Northern Ireland to secure further progress in implementing the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements."

But Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott said he was concerned that the outworkings of those deals will "once again be a failure for the innocent victims in our society and bring further intense scrutiny on the security forces".

"Throughout talks on dealing with the past we have been clear we will not tolerate any rewriting of history and that those responsible for the majority of deaths should be placed in greatest focus. We will be scrutinising any legislation that comes forward in this session to make sure this is the case," he said.

In what may be seen as an attempt by David Cameron to signal that remaining in the EU does not mean giving up the UK's independence, the Queen stated: "My ministers will uphold the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons."

But there was no mention of a Sovereignty Bill to assert the primacy of UK courts over the European Court of Justice, which was floated as a constitutional safeguard during the Prime Minister's renegotiation of the UK's EU membership earlier this year.

Belfast Telegraph


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