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NHS: Future UK Trade Deals - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:20 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 1:20 pm, 4th July 2019

My Lords, perhaps I will be able to get a little further information on this while I continue with my speech, but if not, I will confirm one way or another in writing.

These protections are an integral part of the United Kingdom’s future independent trade policy, rather than being at odds with it. Free trade agreements can enable increased trade and investment, secure access for UK exporters to the key markets of today and the future, give consumers access to a greater range of products at lower prices, and make the UK more innovative, competitive and prosperous.

These benefits also matter for the public services we want to protect. Trade is vital for the NHS, which relies heavily on vital goods and services that come wholly, or in part, from suppliers based overseas. Trade enables the NHS to buy the best possible medicines and medical devices that industry—here and overseas—has to offer. That is in the best interests of NHS patients.

Trade agreements do not prevent Governments regulating public services effectively or require Governments to privatise any public services. The UK Government are committed to maintaining our high standards for consumers, workers and the environment, and to protecting our public services and access to affordable medicines, in any future trade agreements we conclude. Protecting public services, including the NHS, is of the utmost importance for the United Kingdom. The Government remain completely committed to ensuring that the NHS continues to provide excellent care that is, I repeat, free at the point of need for generations to come.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, addressed the importance of a US-UK trade deal. It is too soon to say exactly what would be covered in a future such deal. However, negotiating an ambitious free trade agreement with the US that maintains our high standards for businesses, workers and consumers is our priority.

My noble friend Lord Lansley also mentioned this area, and those standards and our principles will be crucial to any future deal. That includes protecting the NHS and our right to regulate public services. As my right honourable friend the Health Secretary recently commented on social media:

“The NHS isn’t on the table in trade talks—and never will be”.

Several noble Lords mentioned medical pricing and the United States. As I have made clear, the sustainability of the NHS is an absolute priority for the Government. As noble Lords mentioned, we celebrated its 70th birthday last year; I want it to celebrate many more birthdays for generations to come. We are very proud of the NHS and the internationally recognised way in which we assess the price of new medicines on the clinical benefit that they provide to patients.

Her Majesty’s Government recently agreed a deal with the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that medicines remain affordable for the NHS, while supporting a positive environment for the life sciences industry. That is why we are clear that, in any negotiations on future trade agreements, we could not agree to any proposals on medicine pricing or access that would put NHS finances at risk or reduce clinician and patient choice. This does not prevent a free trade agreement with the United States representing an opportunity to increase exports to the world’s largest market for the UK’s world-class life sciences sector. Helping to stimulate investment and innovation in and research into new medicines and technology is of prime importance.

As I have made clear, trade agreements do not force us to open the NHS up to private providers. Decisions about how to operate our public services are for the UK to make. Under existing competition rules, the NHS in England does not discriminate against foreign firms wishing to bid for clinical contracts, provided that they meet UK requirements and standards and are approved by UK regulators.