International Health Regulations

– in the House of Commons at 1:20 pm on 14 May 2024.

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Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes 1:20, 14 May 2024

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if she will make a statement on the ongoing negotiations on the World Health Organisation pandemic agreement and amendments to the international health regulations ahead of any votes at the World Health Assembly that starts next week.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this urgent question, and I am grateful for the opportunity to update the House. I want to start by making three promises. First, the Government will only accept the accord and targeted amendments to the international health regulations if they are firmly in the United Kingdom’s national interest, and no text has yet been agreed. We will only accept the accord and amendments by the World Health Assembly and adopt them if it is firmly in the UK’s national interest to do so. Secondly, this Government will only sign up to measures that respect our national sovereignty. Thirdly, under no circumstances will we allow the WHO to have the power to mandate lockdowns. That would be unthinkable and has never been proposed. Protecting our sovereignty is a British red line.

Let me now dispel three myths about the negotiations. First, there is the myth that the negotiations are being led by the WHO. They are not being led by the WHO; they are entirely led by member states. Secondly, there is the idea that we would give away a fifth of our vaccines in the next pandemic. That is simply not true. Of course, we are a generous country and companies may make their own choices to donate vaccines, but that would be and should be entirely their decision. Countries are discussing a voluntary mechanism to which UK businesses could sign up, if they wish, to share vaccines in return for information they may need to develop their products.

The third point is about transparency. This is a point I take extremely seriously, as one who campaigned so hard for this Parliament’s sovereignty. It is not common practice for the Government to give an update on live negotiations, but I met some interested parliamentarians last week to discuss their concerns. I also had the pleasure of leading a Westminster Hall debate in December on these negotiations, which was attended by my hon. Friend and many others, and I will continue to meet him and other concerned parliamentarians as we act in the national interest. Effective agreements can help us to deliver smarter surveillance, swifter pathogen and data sharing, and faster development of pandemic vaccines, tests and treatments that would save lives and protect people both in the UK and around the world.

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes

Can I say how much I appreciate the commitments that the Minister has just made? I want to acknowledge the good work that he and indeed his predecessors have been doing in Government ahead of the World Health Assembly that meets next week. I am very pleased to hear the commitments he has just made.

My concern is not with the Government’s position, but with the WHO itself. I appreciate the Minister’s point that member states are leading on these proposals, which is worrying in itself, but we know what the real agenda of the WHO is from the drafts that have been submitted in recent months. It wants to have binding powers over national Governments to introduce all sorts of restrictive measures on our citizens; it wants to be able to direct the health budgets of member states; and it wants to introduce global digital health passports and other measures.

The WHO is an organisation that aspires, in words that are still in the draft treaty, to be

“the directing and coordinating authority on international health work, including on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response”.

I appreciate that no text has yet been agreed, which is why it is important that we have a debate, but the proposals in the latest draft published last month are concerning enough. They require national Governments to agree to a whole series of commitments, which will be binding under international law if the UK signs up to them. These cover surveillance of the health of the population, commitments on funding both in the UK and abroad, emergency authorisation of new vaccines or speeded up authorisation processes, giving some vaccines to the WHO to distribute, potentially authorising national Governments to introduce the compulsory vaccination of travellers, and giving very wide discretion to the director general of the WHO to act on his own initiative.

The Government still have the opportunity to oppose the treaty and the regulations as they are currently drafted, and I appreciate that we are waiting to see the final text in the coming days, but can I ask the Minister to clarify very explicitly from the Dispatch Box what the Government’s red lines are? I heard what he said, but could he go a little further on the detail of what he means? Will the Government oppose any text that binds this or a future Government in how they respond to health threats? Finally and crucially, will the Government comply with the CRaG—Constitutional Reform and Governance Act—requirement to put the treaty to a ratification vote in Parliament?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I thank my hon. Friend for the constructive way in which he and other parliamentarians have engaged with this subject matter and the challenges it presents. As I said in my opening remarks, no text has yet been agreed. I set out some of our negotiating red lines, and I am happy to confirm from the Dispatch Box that the current text is not acceptable to us. Therefore, unless the current text is changed and refined, we will not be signing up to it.

My hon. Friend asks how the treaty will be ratified if we reach a position to which the UK Government could agree. The UK treaty-making process means that the accord is of course negotiated and agreed by the Government. As he will know, Parliament plays an important part in scrutinising treaties under the CRaG process and determining how international obligations should be reflected domestically. However, it is important to remember that, because the exact form of the accord has not yet been agreed, the parliamentary adoption process will depend on under which article of the WHO constitution the accord is adopted.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

This country has a role and a responsibility in protecting global health. It is a part we played during the covid pandemic. British science stood tall on the world stage, and our country donated 84 million vaccine doses to help vaccinate the world. We learned from the omicron variant that, when it comes to global pandemics, none of us is safe until all of us are safe. We also benefited from researchers around the world sharing early knowledge about covid-19, collaboration that was crucial in protecting British people and ultimately in developing the vaccine. However, there is a clear principle when it comes to national security. It is the same one we follow when we get on to an aeroplane: we apply our own oxygen mask before we help others apply theirs. The Minister says the draft text is not acceptable, and I want to be clear that a Labour Government will not sign anything that would leave our population unprotected in the face of a novel disease.

We are debating a treaty that is still being negotiated by member states, and none of us knows the final content or wording, so can the Minister reconfirm for the House that the Government will not sign up to anything that would compromise the UK’s ability to take domestic decisions on national public health measures? Has he consulted the UK’s life sciences sector ahead of these negotiations, and what conversations has he had with international counterparts and our allies about this treaty and our joint pandemic preparedness? As we work with colleagues around the world to bolster our efforts to tackle novel threats, it is vital that we get the balance right between sharing knowledge and protecting intellectual property, so can he set out his approach to any requirements for time-limited waivers of intellectual property related to vaccines and therapeutics in the event of a global disease outbreak? Finally, it is vital that we are led by science and evidence when tackling the threat of global disease epidemics, so can the Minister tell us what his Department is doing to tackle misinformation about pandemics and vaccines?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I thank the shadow Minister for his remarks. I confirm that we are firmly fighting in Britain’s interests for an accord and strengthened international health regulations that fully respect national sovereignty but can save lives and protect people both in the UK and around the world. They have to fully respect national sovereignty, and that is at the heart of our negotiating position. It will therefore always be up to nation states to decide what is implemented within their own borders.

Just to answer a couple of the hon. Gentleman’s specific points, yes, I have met representatives of the life sciences sector to discuss this and some of the specific proposals—the last meeting we had was last week. With regard to dealing with international counterparts, I will be attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva myself.

My final point is that the hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to what this country did globally during the pandemic. Of course, in 2021 we used the G7 presidency to mobilise G7 countries to donate surplus vaccines, and by May 2022 the G7 had donated 1.18 billion doses against the target of 870 million. The UK alone donated over 80 million doses, benefiting 40 countries.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset

We all want better co-ordination in the face of any future pandemic risk, but it is also clear that the WHO wants supranational powers. Will my right hon. Friend guarantee that the UK Government will not accept any obligation that requires the UK to legislate to implement any element of the WHO treaty into UK law?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

At the moment we do not envisage any proposal that would require changes to domestic law, and it is highly unlikely that any proposals will come forward in that shape or form. I have some sympathy with what my right hon. Friend says: most organisations such as the WHO will always look to expand their remit, and look to gain more power in order to co-ordinate things. But these negotiations are being led by member states and sovereignty is a key part of the negotiating position of the vast majority of the countries involved. It is not just the UK arguing for this; countries around the world are arguing that this needs to be a high-level agreement that helps co-ordination and information-sharing but in no way ties countries’ hands in how we respond domestically to any future pandemic.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

We cannot have a repeat of what the WHO called the catastrophic failure of the international community to ensure that covid-19 was fought everywhere with all of our abilities. It will require give and take, with give on the part of OECD countries commensurate with our comparative economic strength and population health. Although there may be disagreements across the House, I think we all agree that pandemics should be fought on an international basis and that other countries should be assisted, where we have the strength and ability to do that. Despite that level of agreement, there has been a persistent barrage of misinformation and disinformation, not least hitting our own inboxes. As negotiations on this proceed, what steps will the UK Government be taking to ensure that the public understand what the treaty will do and to tackle and robustly rebut the misinformation and disinformation that is being spread, particularly about this treaty?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

The Scottish National party spokeswoman makes a very important point. There has been a lot of misinformation and disinformation, but that is in part the result of the transparency on all the amendments being published on the WHO website, for example, as well as various other information, which has allowed people to think that that is suddenly the kind of text that would be agreed. We need to be clear that no text whatsoever has been agreed; the negotiations continue. I think most people in this House, and hopefully outside, would recognise that the working draft text most recently published on the WHO website is a significant improvement on the initial drafts. I think we all share an ambition that we will get to a text that can be agreed, but it has to put national interests and national sovereignty at its heart. I will therefore do my best to ensure that the House is kept updated as further iterations of the text emerge—the latest version was published on the WHO website on 17 April.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

As the Health Minister who represented the UK at last year’s World Health Assembly and the United Nations General Assembly, I stood at that Dispatch Box and confirmed that we would not sign up to any IHR amendment or any other instrument that would compromise the UK’s ability to make domestic decisions on national measures concerning public health. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that His Majesty’s Government’s position on this remains unchanged and resolute?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I pay tribute to my predecessor for the work he did. Let me reiterate that the UK Government have made it clear that we will not sign up to any accord or any changes in the international health regulations that would cede sovereignty to the WHO in making domestic decisions on national measures concerning public health, such as domestic immunisation programmes or lockdowns.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Can the Minister confirm that the WHO was slow to react to SARS—severe acute respiratory syndrome—was slow to react to the Ebola crisis, was slow to react to covid-19, and steadfastly refused to criticise in any way the Chinese regime throughout that period? That being the case, will he confirm again from the Dispatch Box that no outside organisation will ever be able to take any decision to do with the internal health and wellbeing of citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

One of the reasons why the WHO has in the past been slow to respond, and why it might be slow in future, is that it is a member state-led organisation governed by the World Health Assembly, which comprises 194 member states operating under the WHO constitution. Any decisions made by the WHO have to be agreed by all member states, including the UK, beforehand, and that does somewhat tie its hands. However, we and many like-minded countries believe that all these decisions are best made domestically depending on the domestic situation. The domestic situation in the UK will be radically different in any future pandemic from the domestic situation in other countries around the world. We have to work collaboratively on things like the sharing of data, but there are many other areas where it is 100 % right that decisions are made in this country by our Government.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

I welcome confirmation from my right hon. Friend that the Government do not consider the current drafting of the proposed treaty to be acceptable; it is good to have that on the record. On a principles-led basis, I do not believe it is in the UK’s national interest to accede to this. Anything that compromises our ability to make sovereign choices is profoundly unwelcome. Can the Minister give a commitment that, regardless of the technicalities of the precise form that any treaty may finally emerge in, if the UK does decide to accede to this treaty, we will have a vote in this House? We can see, certainly on this side of the House—there is no presence on the Labour Benches—that there are real reservations about what this will mean in practice for our ability to make the right choices for our people.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I appreciate the point that my right hon. Friend makes. As I said in answer to an earlier question, because we do not know the exact form that the accord will take, at the moment it is very hard to say what the parliamentary procedure that flows out of it will be, but I certainly will provide any opportunity I can to facilitate as much debate as possible. He and I agree on many things, but here I would just say that, having looked at the detail, I genuinely believe that agreeing a meaningful accord is firmly in the UK’s national interest.

This accord is an opportunity to enhance UK health, economic and national security. An effective accord will improve disease surveillance and prevention by making sure that globally we have the information we need to raise the alarm early. It strengthens research and development to help stop pandemics in their tracks and enables a better co-ordinated global response to pandemics, including getting vaccines, treatments and tests rapidly to where they are needed most.

I genuinely believe that there is a window of opportunity here to get an accord that is in the UK’s national interest. We are not there yet—the current text is unacceptable—but we will keep negotiating, because I believe there is a window of opportunity here to agree something that is genuinely in the UK’s national interest. But if we cannot agree that, we will not sign it.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Public health is devolved in the context of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Therefore, how often does the Minister engage with the devolved Governments on the UK Government’s negotiating positions in relation to these matters?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, international treaties are a matter for the UK Government, and therefore this is being negotiated by the UK Government. I was appointed as a Minister in the Department of Health back in November, but I am happy to reassure him that I do not see myself as purely the Minister for Health in England—I visited Wales very early on to meet some of the outstanding life sciences companies there, which are developing products that will benefit patients across the entire UK; I visited Northern Ireland to see some of the great universities and outstanding businesses there; and I also visited Scotland to meet Michael Matheson, the then Scottish Health Secretary, and also the University of Edinburgh and various other outstanding universities and businesses. So I very much see the Union, and the impact that everything has on the whole United Kingdom, as being central to these negotiations.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

May I congratulate my hon. Friend Danny Kruger on securing this urgent question? I also congratulate those on the Government Benches—I note that there is no one on the Opposition Benches, apart from the shadow Minister—for addressing the question of whether any meaningful accord is possible. Supranationality has to be out, as I have said on countless occasions, when it is not in our national interest. Sovereignty has to prevail. I remind the Minister of the regulation brought in by the EU at the time of covid, which had to be abandoned because we put our foot down and said that we would not accept its restrictions on our ability to produce the vaccine. That is a good example. Will he please follow it and make sure we do not have any weasel words?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I thank my hon. Friend for his passionate and pertinent point. Throughout the negotiations the UK has made it clear—and we will continue to do so—that we will not sign up to any accord that fails to meet our global health and UK health security priorities. Likewise, the UK would not sign up to an accord that cedes sovereignty to the WHO over domestic decisions on national measures concerning public health, such as immunisation programmes or lockdowns. Any necessary or appropriate changes to domestic legislation or new domestic legislation would be made through the usual parliamentary process. However, because we do not yet know the exact details of the accord, I cannot be any clearer on how exactly Parliament will get to scrutinise the accord, if we get to an agreement.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

The treaty is not just about data sharing and information gathering; it is also about setting up a system of pandemic management under the leadership of the WHO. It has a poor history of management and decision making. Can the Minister give us an assurance that he will not accept any surrendering of UK powers to an international body that can interfere with decisions that will affect the lives of ordinary people here in the United Kingdom? I listened to his response about devolved Governments, and it seems there has not been much discussion with the devolved Administrations. He will not even guarantee a vote in this House on such an important issue. Can he guarantee that we will not undemocratically hand over democratic control to a non-democratic body?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

We will not be handing over any kind of control over what we do domestically; national sovereignty is a clear red line, as I made clear in my opening remarks. It is important to recognise that there are challenges with these things, which are being negotiated within the existing international health regulations. The director general of the World Health Organisation already has the ability to declare a public health event of international concern and issue temporary recommendations that provide non-binding guidance to member states. We believe that we need to stay in a situation where the World Health Organisation has an important convening role internationally to discuss issues, but the domestic response to any future pandemic is for domestic Governments to make. Anything that impinges on UK national sovereignty will therefore be unacceptable to us.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman Conservative, Fareham

I want to put on the record my thanks to the Minister for his hard work and for taking the time last week to meet me and colleagues to discuss the terms of this treaty. He will know that I am profoundly sceptical about the World Health Organisation’s ability to manage a global pandemic, in the light of serious errors of judgment, poor leadership and, I am afraid, well-chronicled conflicts of interest that have subsequently emerged. Of course we can help poorer countries and collaborate with other nations, but under no circumstances must we surrender our sovereignty or sign up to a lockdown charter. I hear what he says about how the text currently on the table does not bind our hands, but he will know, as many of us do, that in the heat of an emergency during a real pandemic, irresistible pressure will mount on a Government to make decisions that may well turn out to be wholly harmful, as we found, and the wrong decisions for the good of the country. Will he agree that, fundamentally, to coin a phrase, no pandemic treaty is better than a bad pandemic treaty?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I 100% agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that no treaty is better than a bad treaty. However, if we scroll back to why this process was originally started, it was the former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip who led the international calls for this accord. The reason behind it is that we believe that commitments on stronger international collaboration and co-operation on global health are crucial to securing the UK’s health and economic security. However, domestic decisions still have to be left to sovereign nation states to take the right decisions for their countries. I think there is a lot of agreement between my right hon. and learned Friend and me, and I thank her once again for engaging in such constructive fashion and for meeting me to express her and other parliamentarians’ views.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

I concur that any new treaty has to be right for the UK. Will the Minister reflect on the meaning of the word “pandemic”, which suggests an element of international spread of disease or a global problem? For the sake of balance in this urgent question, will he emphasise the importance of the UK working collaboratively on an intergovernmental basis with others in how they react to pandemics with restrictions on travel and global vaccine equity? As long as the world is safe, the UK is also safe.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I talked about the leadership shown by the UK Government when we had the G7 presidency back in 2021. In addition to the UK supplying vaccines around the world, as of 2022, an estimated 2.7 million covid-19 deaths had been prevented due to the COVAX-supported vaccination programmes in different countries around the world. We need to work internationally. Sharing data can head off future pandemics, and a good accord would deliver the data sharing and collaboration that can prevent future health emergencies, rather than tie the hands of domestic Governments in responding appropriately to such emergencies.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead

May I say on behalf of the volunteers and others in the vaccination centres around the country during the pandemic, which I had the honour of working in, that the key is that vaccines are available to us before we give them to anyone else in the world? I am listening to what the Minister is saying, but does he agree that collaboration does not mean compulsion in any way or form?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

As a volunteer vaccinator during the pandemic, I 100% agree with my right hon. Friend. We have to look after our own people—our own citizens; the people we are elected to represent—first. We are investing heavily in the British life sciences sector to ensure that it is even more prepared for any future pandemic. We are ensuring that we have more domestic manufacturing capability, so that we can have more vaccines ourselves without being reliant on other countries. However, at the point where a new pandemic is emerging in a part of a world far from our shores, we still need to ensure that the data—particularly the pathogen data—is shared early, so that world-beating British companies, whether the tiny life sciences start-ups or the big pharmaceutical companies, can use it to produce the drugs that will hopefully ensure that it does not become a full-blown pandemic and does not cost as many lives as the last one.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Reclaim, North West Leicestershire

I start by congratulating Danny Kruger on his timing of this important urgent question. Repeatedly during this session, the Minister has stated that we do not really know what shape the pandemic agreement, accord or treaty will take. Under paragraph 2 of article 55 of the international health regulations, all member states must have a full draft of the amendments to treaties to be voted on four months in advance. Despite the fact that the WHO is breaking its own rules, it is insisting on moving forward with the votes in Geneva on 27 May on the pandemic treaty and the amendments to the international health regulations. Will the Minister join me and many others in calling for a deferment of those votes until this House and others around the world have had a chance to examine these important details?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

No, because there is no text that has been agreed. This has been evolving: we have seen new amendments and new, revised drafts. The latest negotiations on the accord took place on 29 April to 10 May and the next round of negotiations will take place on 16 and 17 May and continue on 20 to 25 May, leading up to the World Health Assembly meeting taking place in Geneva on 27 May to 1 June. There has been a lot of progress in getting a text that is more agreeable to a majority of member states, but we are still some way off getting to a text that can be agreed. We are hoping for significant changes in the coming days, and I will do my best to keep the House updated.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

May I firmly tell the Minister that the road to hell is paved with good intentions? I do not trust bureaucracies, and I certainly do not trust this one. Judging by the way in which it behaved last time, with its instinct to lock us all down—we have seen huge damage from that to every part of our national infrastructure—I suspect that the tendency will be to do the same again, to our detriment. Will the Minister reassure me—he has done so already, but I want to hear it again—that he will, in effect, not sign anything? We do not need to sign something to collaborate with other nations for their good as well as for the good of our own country.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I happily reassure my hon. Friend that national sovereignty comes first. We will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that we get an accord that is agreeable, but if the accord would undermine our sovereignty and our ability to act domestically in any way, we will simply not sign it.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I have been contacted by a large number of constituents who have voiced grave concerns about the powers and rights requested and required by this unelected body. While we may support some of the work carried out to help developing countries, I will not sign away the sovereignty of this nation. Our participation in the WHO should not come with a prerequisite of signing up to these demands. Further, if that is the case, we should no longer be a participating member of the WHO.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

Just to reiterate my point, the Government will only accept the accord and targeted amendments to the international health regulations if they are firmly in the United Kingdom’s national interest, and no text has yet been agreed. We continue the negotiations, and I will do my best to keep right hon. and hon. Members as informed as I can without providing a running commentary on the negotiations, but I genuinely believe that we can get to a position where there is an accord that is in the UK national interest.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Will the Minister then publish the amendments that the Government are seeking? He says, rightly, that he needs a very different treaty from the one that we see on offer. He needs to persuade other nations, so he should be making a public case; we would then not be so suspicious. There must be no new legal requirement imposed on the United Kingdom.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

We do not envisage any new legal requirements being imposed on the United Kingdom, and any changes to our domestic ability to react to any future pandemic would be unacceptable and cross one of our red lines. In this urgent question and in the Westminster Hall debate, which I know my right hon. Friend also participated in, I was as clear as I could be on the UK’s red lines in these negotiations. We have been up front with both Parliament and our international partners in saying that the current text is not agreeable to us, and we are seeking significant changes if we are to reach an accord that will be signed by the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

I, too, participated in that Westminster Hall debate. For the record, this urgent question has been running for well over half an hour, during which not a single Labour Back Bencher has been present in the Chamber, let alone asked a question, even though we are discussing, in effect, the medical sovereignty of the United Kingdom.

As there are a lot of Conservatives in the Chamber, may I say to the Minister that we would probably be better not signing this treaty at all? That is not least because many of us have concerns about malign influences on the WHO. If we were to sign it, although I would rather that we did not, will the Minister give us a cast-iron commitment that we will have a vote—dare I say, a meaningful vote—on it in this House before it comes into force?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his powerful point, which I think once again underlines that you can only trust the Conservatives with the NHS. As I have said in answer to a couple of questions, unfortunately, because we do not know the form that the treaty will take, it is hard to set out the parliamentary process for its adoption. There are different parliamentary processes depending on the form that it takes. I make the personal commitment to him that I will do everything that I can to engage the House, but at this point I cannot specify the procedure and processes that would be followed in the House or whether there would be a vote.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I thank my hon. Friend Danny Kruger for securing the urgent question and Mr Speaker for granting it.

The World Health Organisation is a failing, mega-expensive, unelected, unaccountable supranational body, which is increasingly under the influence of the global elite, funded by a small number of non-state actors, and China is a malign influence over it. Surely the initial drafts of this treaty must have set alarm bells ringing even in Whitehall at this attempted power grab. May I urge the Minister not to sign the treaty? We can have enhanced co-operation and collaboration to counter future pandemics without legally binding commitments.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I would argue that WHO membership gives the UK a seat at the table in global health discussions, allowing us to amplify UK priorities at an international level. There are 194 member states. If we can agree a high-level treaty that does not impinge on our national sovereignty via the negotiation between the 194 member states, I think that will be a good outcome, and a better outcome than trying to negotiate individual agreements with all 194 member states.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

I say to my right hon. Friend Mr Francois that it is hardly surprising that a debate that largely hinges on national sovereignty is of little interest to the Labour party.

The principle of national democracy is incredibly important to me, many of my constituents and other people in this place. I am absolutely pro-collaboration, but that needs to be done through the national principle, and nothing must be done that undermines the national principle. This debate keeps on returning—we thought that it would end with Brexit, but it did not; it is now going on with the European convention on human rights and the WHO. Will the Minister confirm that, yes, we are pro-collaboration and co-operation, but that when it comes to national sovereignty we should always oppose supranationalism and the worst excesses of globalism?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

The UK Government have been clear that we will not sign up to an accord or any international health regulation amendments that would cede sovereignty to the WHO in making domestic decisions on national measures concerning public health, such as domestic immunisation programmes or lockdowns. Respecting national sovereignty rights is a distinct principle in the current draft of the accord, and respecting the sovereign rights of states to adopt, legislate and implement legislation within their jurisdictions remains a distinct principle in the drafted amendments to the IHR. I genuinely believe that there is a window of opportunity to negotiate an accord that is in the UK national interest as well as in the global interest.