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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:00 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Lansley, who has paved the way quite well for some of the remarks I will make on this issue. This amendment, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raises an important issue which the Government are committed to addressing, and that is our future relationship with the European Medicines Agency.

Medicines regulation is inextricably linked to the UK’s fantastic life sciences sector. The UK has one of the most productive health and life sciences sectors in the world. The sector is critical to the UK’s health and economy, contributing over £70 billion a year and 240,000 jobs across the country.

We have been clear since the referendum result that our overarching aim for medicines and medical device regulation is underpinned by three clear principles: first, that patients should not be disadvantaged; secondly, that innovators should be able to get products to the UK market as quickly and simply as possible; and, thirdly, that the UK should continue to play a leading role in promoting public health. This is why the Government, in their White Paper The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, set out their aim to secure active participation in the EMA. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, used the word “imperative”, and that is very much noted on this side.

However, the clause binds our hands ahead of negotiations with the EU on our future relationship. We have always been clear that continuing to share our skills and expertise is the best outcome for UK and EU patients. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, cited part of the political declaration; that declaration underlines the UK and EU’s mutual commitment to working together in the future on medicines regulation, and to negotiating the UK’s ongoing co-operation with the EMA. That particular area was raised by my noble friend Lord Lansley, but I will go slightly further, because the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, picked up on the word “co-operation”. I say again that we want to retain a close working partnership with the EU to ensure that patients continue to have timely access to safe medicines and medical devices. The political declaration explicitly makes allowance for a spectrum of outcomes and commits both the UK and the EU to exploring the UK’s relationship with the EMA.

The Government, as I said earlier, set out their ambitions for the future relationship in the July White Paper, making it clear, again, that we are seeking participation in the EMA. I can provide the Committee with some additional detail, however, some of which has been alluded to by my noble friend Lord Lansley. The UK is seeking an agreement that will allow the UK regulator to be able to conduct technical work, including acting as a “leading authority” for the assessment of medicines, and participating in other activities, such as ongoing safety monitoring and the incoming clinical trials framework.

I hope these brief comments provide enough reassurance to the Committee. Given that continued EMA participation is already a negotiating objective of ours, we do not believe that this amendment is necessary. The Government are already committed to ensuring that, after we leave the EU, UK patients can access new medicines at the same rate as they do now.