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NHS: Future UK Trade Deals - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:39 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 1:39 pm, 4th July 2019

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who participated in the debate; it has been very helpful indeed. It needed airing and there is further work to be done. I will need to read in detail the noble Earl’s response in Hansard to see precisely what assurances he gave or what he was instructed to read.

There is a good deal of agreement across the Chamber, which is very comforting. None of us is in any disagreement about the NHS continuing to be free at the point of delivery. That is assured; any Minister will assure us on that and we will agree. That picks up on my noble friend Lord Desai’s point about what will be on the table going into a negotiation. We may say that we do not want the NHS on the table. Some of us have asked for that; I am not quite sure whether the Minister has said that it will be on the table. In any event, the Americans, as parties to the negotiations, could still put it on the table, and the issues that they raise would have to be addressed. I am not anti-American—I hope that we get a good deal with the Americans and seek good trade deals around the world—but we have some basic principles to protect. Speakers from all sides identified a number of areas in which protection is needed. There was unanimity across the House that we do not wish to countenance reaching a deal that would force up the price of drugs in the NHS, which in turn would affect the NHS’s performance overall.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for his expert opinion on our precise arrangements on, the interest of DCMS in and the need for protections for data. I gather that there are some differing views on our approach to how data should be handled. I am not sure whether my noble friend Lord Desai’s view is that we should give it away for what we get back or seek to protect it. The one important thing—I stressed this point earlier—is that it is a very valuable commodity and is, in many respects, quite unique. A lot of people, not just in America but around the world, will have an interest in it. I hope that it will not be on the table; if it is, all efforts must be made to protect it and the benefits that accrue from it. The noble Earl, Lord Courtown, mentioned the “associated benefits”; I hope that they will be maintained primarily in the UK and that others elsewhere will not make a great profit out of them.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, my noble friend and others stated, fundamental to this is that we should seek, if we can, to incorporate the EU directive protection in our approach to trade negotiations. That is fairly fundamental; many of us would rest assured if we saw that.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I hope that we continue to have opportunities for full scrutiny of the Trade Bill that needs to come, particularly on this special aspect—it is so close to all our hearts—to ensure that, while change will always come, the best interests of the British public, not those of other countries, are at the heart of it. In particular, in answer to my noble friend Lord Desai, we must ensure that, during the course of the US trade deal negotiations, others do not gain benefits that we feel should not go to them unless we get an appropriate reward in return.

Motion agreed.