I thank the Minister for his opening remarks and the reassurances that he seeks to give us about health, social care and data. We return to this issue because we raised it in Committee and on Report and there has been considerable support across your Lordships’ House. A Division took place on
The reason this is so important is that although the Government have repeatedly promised that the NHS will be “off the table”—those promises were repeated at some length by the Minister, for which I am very grateful—to ensure that this is the case, and that future Governments are able to reform the NHS and the interface with social care moves towards a more collaborative model, the Bill must ensure that the health and social care sectors are excluded from the scope of all future trade agreements, including services and investment chapters.
While the Government have repeatedly pledged that the NHS is not on the table in trade negotiations, we also know that there have been detailed conversations between the UK and US negotiators, revealing that health services have been discussed and that the US is probing the UK’s health insurance system and has made clear its desire for the UK to change its drug pricing mechanism. I was reassured by many of the things the Minister said, but he repeated what the Government have always said about the NHS—they guarantee that it will be free at the point of use. That is great, but it does not say, “We are protecting the public ownership of our NHS.” That really is the point; many things can be free at the point of use that are not publicly owned. It is important to recognise that that takes us only so far.
The Bill is being discussed in the context that Parliament does not yet have adequate powers to guide and scrutinise trade negotiations; I sat in on the end of the previous discussion, which was about work in progress. The current process provides no legal mechanism to directly influence or permanently block trade agreements—hence the amendments which we have discussed throughout the passage of the Bill. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Patel, Lord Freyberg and Lord Fox, who supported this amendment on Report.
This amendment is a merging of the important amendment about NHS data tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, with the one about the NHS and public health. These are national assets which must not be put in jeopardy or squandered in whatever the future holds for UK trade with the world. To guarantee protection, the Bill must ensure that the health and social care sectors are excluded from the scope of all future trade agreements. It is important that the Minister says that this is the case, and he has done so this evening.
The Bill must rule out investor protection and dispute resolution mechanisms in UK trade deals to ensure that private foreign companies cannot sue the UK Government for legitimate public procurement and regulatory decisions that we decide to take with regard to our public services, including the NHS. If a future Government want to change the structure of the NHS, they must not be prevented from doing so by trade deals that this Government might agree. The Minister needs to guarantee that this will not happen. I beg to move.
Motion E1 in my name is on the non-regression of standards in international trade agreements. Your Lordships’ House will remember the outcome of the Agriculture Bill—now the Agriculture Act—on the subject of standards on imported food and the inclusion of Clause 42 in the legislation. Indeed, the Minister has referred to this already. The three key areas in relation to international trade negotiations and agreements are listed in subsection (2) as
“human, animal or plant life or health”, together with animal welfare and environmental protection. To this, the basic non-regression of standards underlined by the withdrawal agreement and the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, clarity and certainty must be provided in relation to the UK’s ability and competence to be able now to diverge in its standards.
As befits the non-regression of standards in an international trade context in the Bill, certain other fundamental standards across society and how the United Kingdom operates must be added to that list. The earlier amendment supported on Report by your Lordships’ House included the importance of employment labour law as well as human rights, child and women’s rights and international obligations, but this amendment now also includes two further key vital areas on which the House and the public have spoken loudly and clearly, which were also listed in subsection (2): online harms and the National Health Service.
Once again, the Government will assert that they have no intention to regress, but this must be clear in a fundamental area of UK law. The public are rightly fed up with the abuse on social media of their black footballers and heroes. Anonymity should no longer be somewhere for abusers to hide. The Government are treading slowly towards more detailed legislation to come on online harms, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and others, who have so boldly paved the way for this to happen.
The National Health Service is another fundamental area, cherished throughout all four nations of the UK. I thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for her introduction of her Motion D1. She is correct that the NHS is a national asset, not to be jeopardised as the UK begins to make new trade agreements but to be guaranteed protection in her amendment and in my amendment as part of the non-regression of our nationally recognised standards.
This amendment has heard and recognised the debate in the Commons on your Lordships’ amendments sent to them in previous weeks. This amendment signals that I wish to resolve with the Government by returning to the agreement secured on the last Trade Bill, so ably guided through your Lordships’ House by the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead. This reflects her drafting that implemented trade agreement provisions, including any primary or secondary legislation, must be consistent with maintaining the existing statutory protections as listed.
At the time, the focus was on leaving the EU and securing rollover deals to the existing EU agreements. The Government will say that they have abided by their commitments without legislation. Certainly, I congratulate them and the Minister on having secured 62 rollover agreements; the process is very nearly done. I now assert that this amendment is needed more than ever, as work is under way in the next phase of trade deals. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm in his response, first, that he agrees that we need a clear, all-embracing statement of our commitment to the non-regression of standards on the face of the Bill; and, secondly, having said that, and understanding that the Government will not proceed with a new deal if they consider that Parliament may not be supportive, why do they undertake deals piecemeal, as they contend, deal by deal? Surely this sort of amendment can help us to do better. Is the Minister expecting Parliament to be tied up with detailed consideration of each individual deal from now on? However, I am heartened by his opening remarks.
I would also like to mention the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott—Motions H1 and J1—and thank her for returning to the important subject of food. The Commons has now had a chance to reflect on the wording of the Trade Bill, in conjunction with the wording of the Agriculture Act, and I thank the Minister for our continuing discussions. I also thank Heather Hancock, the chair of the Food Standards Agency, for discussions with her as well. However, certain issues may remain on which it would be helpful if the Minister could reply to provide clarity and certainty regarding how this non-ministerial government department will work with the Trade and Agriculture Commission to provide advice to the Minister, which will then become part of reports to Parliament on all future trade agreements in relation, importantly, to the new arrangements under earlier amendments taken already today.
The Minister is aware of the questions I have raised. After the debate and his responses, I will write to him—if I may—with any that require further deliberation, and ask that, as decisions are taken, they be announced as ministerial Statements.
I therefore conclude by stressing the importance of my amendment on standards, on which I will be seeking the opinion of the House. Standards define who we are as a society and as a nation. Standards define how we nourish ourselves as human beings. Standards define how we cherish the world in all our environments. Standards define how we respect our relationships with all other animals. Standards define how we treat each other in all our working relationships. Standards define how we treat each other online as in our interfaces with each other. These reflect our values; all this will be reflected in our laws. I conclude that this amendment is how we should insist we will continue in all our trading relationships.
I rise to speak to Motion F1 in my name and to speak in support of Amendment 6B. I refer the House to my interests, particularly as founder and chair of the 5Rights Foundation. I noted the Minister’s words at the outset, and I will return to them. But for the purposes of the House and those who might be drafting such an amendment, I want to set out my reasons for the amendment that we have before us.
Since we last debated this amendment, a number of significant things have happened which have made it necessary to re-present it. First are events in Canada: against the will of many politicians of all stripes, the free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico saw the inclusion of Section 230-style protections for tech firms. At the time, the Canadian Government promised parliamentarians that nothing in the agreement would impinge on their ability to regulate companies under existing or future Canadian law.
Canada is the base for Pornhub, the largest pornography site in the world. But when Pornhub was found to be monetising child rape and child sexual abuse material, the Canadian Government representative in the Senate, Senator Marc Gold, had to admit that
“there are provisions in the”
“that make it difficult to deal with a company like Pornhub.”
Canadian parliamentarians scored one small concession during the passage of that free trade agreement: to keep domestic criminal laws on prostitution, sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. It is agreed by the Government that these are now the only Canadian domestic laws in this policy area that take precedence over the terms of the agreement.
Motion F1 does not refer to a theoretical concern. This is a clear and present danger, and it is designed to prevent the powerlessness currently experienced by Canadian lawmakers as we speak. It would, if it were adopted as a whole, put UK online protections beyond doubt.
I have been very grateful for the time given to me and Members of the other place by the Minister and his colleague Greg Hands, the Minister for Trade, and I actually agree with them that we are entirely aligned in this policy area and that the Government have reason to be proud. None the less, I have to challenge their assurance that it simply could not happen on their watch—because it already has.
In the recent Japan-UK trade deal, 98% of the text is a carbon copy of the EU-Japan FTA, but slipped into this continuity deal is wording that is almost identical to that of the USMCA. While it stops short of inserting Section 230 wording—since it is not a US deal—its provision on domestic regulation says:
“Each Party shall ensure that all its measures of general application affecting electronic commerce, including measures related to its collection of information, are administered in a reasonable, objective and impartial manner.”
By contrast, the wording it replaces in the EU deal says:
“The Parties reaffirm the right to regulate within their territories to achieve legitimate policy objectives, such as the protection of public health, social services, public education, safety, the environment including climate change, public morals, social or consumer protection, privacy and data protection, or the promotion and protection of cultural diversity.”
That is the wording that allowed the UK to introduce the children’s code into the Data Protection Act, and the wording that allowed the Government to put forward the provisions they are suggesting for the online harms Bill, including a duty of care, and all the other provisions and progress that we might make in this area.
Public Citizen in the US—renowned experts on international trade—suggests that, if UK data protection and the provisions envisaged for the online harms Bill were contested under the language in the Japanese deal, in the way the Pornhub case was in Canada, it would fall foul of the law. But more important even than whether I am right or wrong is the fact that, whether or not this vague wording would result in blocking UK policy, it would take years of legal action with the companies with the deepest pockets in the world—and therefore a lack of protection for all that time—while we found out.
I acknowledge what the Minister has already said, and I want him, when he reappears on the screen, magically, to wind up, to assure me that what he is proposing is sufficient for the protections not only that children need but that the Government need in order to protect their own policy programme. I understand that the Government are not minded to accept my amendment and that the parliamentary maths allows them that privilege, but I want to make three brief points in favour of doing so.
Since we first divided on this matter, TikTok announced changes to its platform, across the globe that are a direct result of the regulatory requirements of the ICO’s children’s code. Similar changes have been and will be announced by Silicon Valley companies that have resisted such changes for years. It would be simply devasting to the UK’s reputation to put this landmark piece of legislation at risk just as legislators and regulators from Australia to Africa are seeking to mirror its provisions. The global community looks to the UK for leadership on this issue. A clear provision in the Bill that these advances will be protected would confirm that leadership.
Secondly, there is a growing consensus, in and out of Parliament, that we must tackle the harms of the digital world in a more fundamental way. The vote in the Commons was on party lines, but the machinations of Parliament do not actually reflect the true feeling. If my inbox is anything to go by, it does not reflect, either, the feelings of the Government Benches in this House or the other place. When I went to see the Minister for Trade on two separate occasions, I was accompanied each time by a very senior member of his own party, and I thank them both. I believe it would commend the Government to Members of both Houses and all parties were they to find a way to insert an absolute protection for children—not a fig leaf—into the Bill.
Thirdly, as the Canadian example exemplifies, there is no promise made at the Dispatch Box that can offer the level of certainty that UK children deserve.
As well as what the Minister suggests will be in the non-regression amendment, I ask him to confirm that keeping Section 230 language, or language like it, out of all trade deals is a stated objective of UK negotiators. I would like him to defy expectations and parliamentary maths and give an unequivocal commitment that, by hook or by crook, the online protections for children in the Bill will be fit for purpose.
I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I thank the noble Lord for adding, in paragraph (e), online protections of children and vulnerable adults. For the reasons that I have set out, it would be insincere to say that it was equal in scope to what I originally suggested, but to my knowledge this is the first time that online protections for children have been included in the same breath as the long-standing issues of workers’ rights, protecting the NHS and food and environmental standards. That is a huge step forward in acknowledging the importance of online protections for children.
I worry on behalf of children and indeed on behalf of the Government that it does not affect the protection for the Government’s flagship online safety Bill unless a trade deal, by luck, happens to come about after that Bill completes its passage. I hope the Government intend to move very fast. I am confident that the House wants to see non-regression of existing standards, but again I appeal to the Minister that his commitment is clear and profound and that the government amendment in the Commons, in a further round of ping-pong if necessary, will reach the same objectives.
Lest anyone forget, in listening to the intricate detail of the language of trade deals, what we are talking about here is our ability to prevent the wholesale spread of harmful material such as those offered by self-harm and pro-suicide sites, the nudging of children to meet stranger adults in online settings and the egregious targeting of children with cosmetic surgery and other inappropriate advertising, and the ability to prevent sites such as Pornhub freely monetising rape. The harm is not theoretical—it is manifest in the lives of millions of children—and neither is the danger of undermining our world-leading legislation by means of a trade deal. I thank the Minister for his words and I hope he will join me in building the digital world that children deserve.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, who is such a champion. I think her words will have moved people a great deal. I shall speak to Amendments H and J, which are to do with public health, an issue that I feel has been kicked from pillar to post over the last few months. I hope it has not slid entirely down the agenda and I was encouraged by the Minister’s words, but I would like to make a few points and ask a few questions.
I remind people about where we are right now. We have just passed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from Covid. One of the main reasons why that death toll is so high is that we have extremely poor public health. The NHS has identified clinical vulnerability to Covid as obesity and being overweight, which affects 28% of our population. Another key morbidity is diabetes. At the start of 2020, just a year ago, 3.9 million people had that diagnosis—that is up 100,000 a year. The causes of it are primarily, indeed almost exclusively, poor diet. Our NHS is spending £6 billion a year treating diet-related disease.
Yet, at a press conference to launch the trade negotiations with Australia, the Prime Minister extolled the benefits of the deal, saying that we could get more, cheaper chocolate Tim Tams—those rather irresistible chocolate biscuits that are like our Penguins. Just last week, the UK’s International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, said she intended to cut what she called the “Tim Tam tax”, referring to the tariffs on these same Australian biscuits. Although we have notified the WTO of plans to introduce limits on the promotion of unhealthy food in England, this policy could be seen by trading partners as a barrier to trade and thus be removed. We will have to wait and see.
How are we going to monitor public health? The Minister referred to the fact that this issue began to be discussed during consideration of the Agriculture Bill and I agree, there was a lot of discussion about it. The views of the public were well known at that point, and 2.6 million—that is a lot of people—signed petitions calling for our standards to be protected in law. The Government opted instead to introduce the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Section 42 of the Act committed to reports being put before Parliament explaining how free trade agreements impact on, at this point,
“human, animal or plant life or health, animal welfare, and the environment.”
In previous debates we called for a public health representative to be included in the TAC. We sent an amendment to the Commons for consideration; it was rejected. Ministers say that public health is so important that reports on the impact of trade deals on public health will therefore be presented to Parliament alongside any other FTAs, and that this will not be the responsibility of the TAC as it would overburden the organisation. So, where is it going to go?
The plan is obviously for it to end up in the Food Standards Agency, which is an excellent organisation. It is an independent government department, working to protect public health and consumers’ wider interests in relation to food in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland—note, not Scotland. Its mission is to have “food we can trust.” If we have this independent department charged with looking after public health, why have Ministers not been more upfront about it? If you look at that little story of how public health has been taken from one place to another, I think many people would be forgiven for thinking that it was not really very high on the Government’s agenda.
I would like to know tonight from the Minister exactly how this is going to work. How is the FSA going to be staffed? Its funding is down: from £114 million in 2011 to £98 million now. It currently employs 1,718 staff—again, down from the 2011 figure of 1,950. How exactly is this going to work? What will be its relationship to the TAC? How exactly is it going to put things in front of Parliament and, crucially, how does this work with Scotland?
I will reiterate a point I have made before, and which is really the big thing I am trying to say. It is no good focusing just on food safety. We need to consider what kills us slowly, as well as what kills us quickly. The Food Standards Agency has explained its role in regulating novel products and that it will consider safety, but also always the consumer interest. Will this cover public health issues such as the degradation of antibiotics through overuse in farming on imports, increases in pesticide residues, or possibly even the re-introduction of banned pesticides? What powers might it have to advise on the impact of trade policies that sweep away tariffs on the very high fat sugar and salt products—HFSS—that we are trying to limit the promotion of? Indeed, the Government, the Prime Minister and the obesity plan are all attempting to tackle this.
Once again, public health is slithering down. At this extraordinary time in our nation’s history, when we have seen the devastating impacts of an unhealthy nation and how much misery and sadness that can lead to, this ought to be an extremely important issue. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
The following Members in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak: the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy.
My Lords, I endorse what was said by my colleague on Labour’s Front Bench: standards define us. They reflect our values, and we in turn put them into our contractual relations and our law. It is vital that, in any urgency to acquire trade deals, we do not in any way lower those standards.
Concerns have been expressed in this House about maintaining standards in agriculture, food, the environment, employment protections for workers, the healthcare of our citizens, encroachment on our proud National Health Service, the misuse of the data of patients and those who use that service, and the protection of our children, who are at the mercy of big tech companies—more powerful now than most other companies in the world. I really listen to the words of the Minister, who seeks to reassure us that there will be no reduction in standards as we go forward into trading deals, having now left the European Union.
I added my name to this list to speak in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, who raised issues that should be a source of real alarm to this House. It was a source of regret to me when I saw that she was not receiving the support of my Benches for her amendment, because the protection of our children is absolutely paramount. She gave the recent example of the US-Mexico-Canada trade deal, and how Canada found that what looked like the innocuous phrasing of a contractual commitment was unable to protect it from the encroachment of pornography on an incredible scale. It is one of the things causing such disturbances and unfortunate consequences among our young, because accessing it is so easy. It was interesting that she made the parallel with the wording used in our own recent Japanese trade deal. Some noble Lords will not know this, but I am a criminal lawyer. I alert the House to the fact that Japan is one of the great producers of pornography, and that wording—lawyers are trained to do this—that may look innocuous but which is sufficiently vague can be used to block the many things that concern us about standards.
The legal firepower of big corporates is such that it is very difficult to meet it—I promise noble Lords—particularly when you are talking about the big tech companies, so I put a warning before this House. I listened to the reassurances and I trust the understanding of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, of the full measure of those commitments; I have not attended those meetings.
This will be quite a treacherous path in securing trade in the months and years to come, because it is where the lawyers step forward. As a lawyer, I can tell noble Lords that when it comes to the negotiations and the drafting of the trading agreements, it is very difficult to nail down standards in the way that we seek. I hope the words of reassurance do not come back to bite the Minister in time to come. I too wait to hear what the Minister has to say when he returns to the screen. Had Amendment 6B been put forward, I would certainly have supported the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, but if she chooses not to put it to a vote, of course I accept her judgment.
On other matters, maintaining standards is one of the things the British public expect of government—and it is mighty difficult, when you are involved in negotiations, not to retreat even slightly from them.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to support my noble friend Lady Thornton and to agree with my noble friend Lady Kennedy. I obviously listened with great care to what the Minister said, and the reassurance that he gave, but I hope that in winding up he will actually respond to the points raised by noble Lords. Essentially, he is asking us to take this on trust, but the problem is that, in relation to the issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, talked about, the same argument could be just as well used in relation to health issues.
As the BMA has pointed out, unless the health and social care sectors are specifically carved out from the scope of deals, common elements within free trade deals, such as standstill and ratchet clauses, could lock in and deepen the fragmentation of services. That could block new models of care. Other unintended effects might be to prevent NHS hospitals bringing support services back in-house, as they now seek to do.
Investor protection and dispute resolution mechanisms in UK trade deals open the door to the Government being sued for making legitimate public procurement and regulatory decisions. We heard of the Canadian example, but another is that of an EU investment treaty which resulted in the Slovakian Government being ordered to pay over €22 million in damages to a foreign private health insurance firm after they decided to reverse the privatisation of their national sickness insurance market. Investor protection mechanisms have also been extensively used to challenge public health initiatives such as plain packaging for tobacco.
I really must endorse the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, because it is exactly as she said: there are necessary interventions in health in relation to, say, issues of pricing and other things on foods that we might regard as harmful, but this can be extended to other health interventions as well. The noble Baroness talked about clever corporate lawyers, but take, for instance, the tobacco companies; globally, they fight their corner very fiercely indeed. The idea that they would use some free trade agreements to argue against some of the protections that the Government might want to put in strikes fear into my heart.
As my noble friend Lady Thornton said, we know that UK and US negotiators have had conversations about the health service. The US has also made clear its desire for the UK to change its drug-pricing mechanism. I am certainly with those noble Lords who say that trade deals could risk compromising the safe storage and processing of health data. We will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, in a moment and I will be very interested in his remarks.
In the end, this amendment cuts to the chase of the debate about whether the NHS is on the table in trade negotiations. I am convinced that it has to be taken off the table; that is the only way that we will protect it. In this short debate, frankly, we have exposed the arguments of the Minister. I say this to him: we deserve an answer, because it is no good giving bland assurances about the Government’s intent. A lot of this is about unintended consequences, with the examples there are now globally of how trade deals can impact on the sovereignty of individual national Parliaments. I will not put Brexit in at this stage, but how ironic indeed that the Government who talked about taking back control are busy agreeing trade deals where they are in fact at great risk of losing control.
My Lords, it is obviously a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. He told me off earlier for giving the Government a hard time. I thought about that and, in fact, until very recently, if I criticised the Government, I always offered another policy, a greener idea. I tried to be positive towards the Government, but I am afraid that my optimism is failing me. I shall come back to that.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, on her incredibly hard work, nudging the Government towards a more ethical stance on the protection of children. I hope that she can get them over the line. If she puts her amendment to a vote, I shall of course vote for it. The noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Boycott, gave such good ideas and sound arguments that it is difficult to imagine that the Government can overrule them.
There is a lot in this non-regression area. I assure noble Lords, as the only Green allowed to speak in this debate today, that Greens very much support the NHS, which has done the most incredible job during the pandemic and is now doing a fantastic job of vaccinating the population.
Children, animal welfare and human rights are all very close to my heart—but I shall speak about the environment. Environmental protections are always in danger, with any government, because it is so hard to understand how you can change from where we are now to where we really ought to be, given the climate emergency that we are all facing. I hope that the Dasgupta review that has been published will help all of us to understand the threat that we face.
I welcome the review—the good thing is that it actually uses the language that most politicians use, and it looks at the economic value of nature and natural resources. Greens tend to use the phrase “natural capital”. The Dasgupta review stresses that the economy is a complete subset of the environment and not the other way around. It uses the language that growth-oriented 19th-century political perspectives can get a handle on. When it says things like, “we can’t exist without a healthy world”, that is not only about air, water and having enough pandas and elephants and things like that; natural capital includes the soil and geology—it includes everything that we are destroying very fast. That review could be a moment when all politicians make the seismic shift to understanding that it is not all about growth. Quite honestly, with the Trade Bill, you really have to have that understanding. Embedding environmental considerations into our current systems will not work; you actually have to change the systems. We have already overshot our planetary limits—we are already in huge danger, and we are still failing to meet the basic needs of billions of people all over the world.
These amendments are absolutely crucial, not only for individuals but for every part of our planet, our system and our society. I really hope that we have another massive defeat for the Government on this, so that they might have pause in their complete lack of understanding of green issues.
My Lords, as I rise to speak to Motion D1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the House will recall I have spoken at length in recent weeks about my support for Amendment 4 and, in particular, the protections it would afford publicly funded data processing services and IT systems in connection with the provision of health and care.
The Minister has mentioned in his replies, and again tonight, the importance that the Government place upon data protection for individuals, although I note that he was more sparing in his responses to my other substantive questions on Report. By contrast, the Minister of State for Trade Policy in the other place, Greg Hands, failed to provide even vague reassurances about the Government’s ongoing commitment to UK data protection provisions.
However, notably, the former chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, Damian Collins, voiced reservations about the potential for digital and data rights to be “traded away.” In fact, he asked the Minister to consider a formal role for the Information Commissioner to advise Parliament on future trade agreements and, in particular, to make sure that they comply with our data protection laws. I put it on record that I share his concerns and echo his call for the Government to provide additional assurances at this critical juncture. I also underline what to many of us is already self-evident—that the near future of our NHS will be data-driven and increasingly digital, both in inclination and composition.
Other noble Lords have rightly drawn attention to concerns about the potential for overseas companies to access contracts for the provision of traditional health and care services in the UK via international agreements. However, I emphasise the added protections contained in Amendment 4 which would, among other things: safeguard state control of, and involvement in, policy-making and the use of publicly funded health and care data; prevent the outsourcing of digital infrastructure that is already critical to the nation’s health and wealth; and harness the value of data controlled by our NHS in future to ensure that the public can be satisfied that the value will be safeguarded and, where appropriate, ringfenced and reinvested in the UK’s health and care system.
It is incumbent upon all of us to serve as enlightened and forward-thinking custodians of the precious resource our health and care data represents in the context of the ongoing public health emergency, as well as with an eye to the health and care needs of future generations. As such, I urge the Minister to reconsider his position. If he is not willing to support this amendment, how do the Government propose to protect data as outlined in the amendment? I would be grateful if the Minister could set that out this evening.
My Lords, we have had a wide-ranging debate and covered some important topics. I welcome the Government’s amendment made in the other place, but it does not go far enough. I fully support the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on the important issue of the public ownership of the NHS contained in Motion D1, and agree with the comments from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, on taking back control and ensuring the safety of the NHS.
I wish to speak chiefly in support of Motion E1 on international trade agreements, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. This is an important amendment which was heavily supported on all sides of the House during the passage of the Agriculture Act. Others have referred to this. The standards of protection of human, animal and plant life and health should be at the top of everyone’s agenda. Following the Brexit agreement, there are significant numbers of statutory instruments being debated around animal and plant life and health. This is to ensure the welfare of animals, environmental protection and the prevention of importing into Great Britain animal and plant diseases.
However, all those safeguards are in secondary legislation and are therefore open to change and amendment by succeeding Governments or due to changes in government priorities. In order to be certain that standards affected by international trade agreements are safeguarded not only for our generation but for future generations, it is necessary for that to be stated on the face of the Bill and not tucked away in a plethora of statutory instruments which might contradict each other.
As everyone who took part in the Agriculture Bill and those taking part in the Trade Bill know by now, the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. We are rightly proud of our plant welfare regulations that help to protect against the importation of foreign pests and diseases, which can decimate our native trees and plants. However, many diseases and pests are airborne. We are an island country but are geographically very close to our neighbours in Europe, so, despite rigorous import controls, we are vulnerable to airborne diseases.
The importation of high-quality food is at the top of the agenda; I am grateful to the Minister for his reassurance with regard to the Food Standards Agency, but that is not the whole picture. We have confidence in the FSA, but it is the monitoring of trade agreements that is of concern. Trade agreements need to be strict and monitored closely so that countries with endemic animal and plant diseases which are not currently prevalent here take steps to ensure that their outbreaks are kept under control. This will not be a failsafe mechanism for protecting GB from those diseases, but it will make a significant difference.
Polling shows that there is unequivocal public support for maintaining our current food standards relating to a few issues, including pesticides, antibiotics and other products. This approach must also be applied to other areas to safeguard against downward pressure on environmental standards in the UK—for example, those relating to chemicals and manufacturing.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, spoke eloquently to his amendment. It covers some vital issues, including standards on employment and labour. If he moves his Motion to a vote, we will support him. New subsection (2)(e) proposed in his amendment provides for
“online protections for children and vulnerable users.”
That echoes the theme of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. There are many reasons why protection of children from online harms should be on the face of the Bill. We heard from the noble Baroness about the distressing case in Canada whose Government are not able to take action against a company called Pornhub due to the trade agreement between Canada, the US and Mexico. This has slipped in unnoticed and, as a result, the Canadian Government are powerless to protect children and young people. We should do everything possible to ensure that that does not happen here.
The UK has a proud record of protecting children and young people, but the rapid advance in technology and digital communications means that we must be vigilant on all fronts, including in the Trade Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, gave stark warnings about trade deals that are not rigorously drafted. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, did not indicate that she would press her amendment to a Division. However, should she do so, we on our Benches will be happy to support her.
Lastly, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke knowledgeably, as always, about public health and health inequalities being included in the remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and in the role of the FSA. Given the current state of public health caused by Covid and the health inequalities that this has shown up in very sharp relief, it would seem important for there to be someone sitting on the TAC who has expertise in, or some knowledge of, public health and health inequalities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, sections of our communities are currently suffering considerable health inequalities.
No doubt the Minister will say that health inequalities are covered elsewhere and that this is not the place for them. However, confidence in the Government’s ability to ensure that health inequalities are covered elsewhere is currently somewhat thin. After severe cuts to public health budgets in previous years, we are now seeing just how dangerous those cuts were to the most vulnerable residents in the country and just who is paying the price for those inequalities. I urge the Government to seriously consider agreeing to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this debate and hope that he has some concessions to offer us.
My Lords, this has been a very good debate, which has demonstrated clearly why the celebration of our existing high standards, which might be affected by international trade agreements, is justified. We lead the world, and we should be proud of that. The speeches from the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton, Lady Kidron and Lady Boycott, and other noble Lords were redolent of that. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, is right to say that we still have much to do on online harms. We on this side of the House fully support her on that.
We welcome the announcement by the Minister that he will table an amendment modelled on the one inserted into the 2019 Bill by your Lordships’ House. We have discussed this with him at length in recent months, and I know he has worked extremely hard to convince his colleagues in government—who are, I gather, often sceptical of what is going on in your Lordships’ House—to allow him to do so. However, why are we being offered the protections that are listed in Amendment 6B, which is a very full list, and includes in subsection (2)(a), (b) and (c) statutory protections that are already in place through the Agriculture Act, and also includes
“employment and labour … online protections for children and vulnerable users … health and care, and publicly funded data processing services and IT systems in connection with the provision of health and care” but not also human rights? There are standards for human rights in this country. What have we done to deserve not having them in the list?
In addition, why is this limited to rollover agreements? We have heard that we now have signed 63, I think, rollover agreements, and we are about to engage in a whole raft of new trade agreements with the United States, Mexico and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So what are we left with? Are we not in a bit of a dilemma here? Is the Minister saying that there will be stability protection for rollover agreements and that that has worked—although the information given in the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, is extremely worrying—but that statutory non-regression will fall away as soon as the first new trade deal is done?
What will be there to protect us? Are we back to the same litany: “Trust us. We have high standards. We are the envy of the world and these standards are our prop and support in future negotiations, so don’t worry”? Is that what we are being told? Does this mean that every time there is a new trade deal and it turns out that in order to complete it changes in primary legislation are required, the business managers of both Houses will be able to find time to ensure that the necessary legislative changes are brought forward? I am sure the Minister has enjoyed every minute of his time as Minister for Trade in your Lordships’ House, but is he really looking forward to spending all his remaining time arguing about whether changes proposed in, say, our online harms legislation are sufficiently necessary and proportionate to require changes in primary legislation, with all that that implies in terms of trying to make sure that both Houses agree with him and pass that legislation?
I put it to him that the wording of the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Grantchester, which is before your Lordships’ House today, provides a sensible, logical and coherent way forward, and I ask him for an early meeting to see whether we can find sufficient common ground in Amendment 6B to make it the basis of his promised amendment. If he is able to do that, he will have our full support.
However, we are where we are. I hope that we can build on this important concession by the Government, but I understand the Minister’s concern that it would be much easier to do a deal if we were working on a single amendment. We have worked closely with my noble friend Lady Thornton and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, to get the essence of their amendments into my noble friend’s Amendment 6B and I hope therefore that they will agree with us that it is important to ensure that it goes to the other place and receives consideration—with, we hope, an alternative in lieu being brought back which will mirror its wording and cover both rollover and new trade deals—and that it would not be helpful at this stage to have other amendments put in front of the Commons because it will not be clear where we in this House wish to go. I hope I have persuaded your Lordships’ House that we want a composite amendment based on the wording before us and inclusive of all the issues that have been raised today. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, we have listened to another very interesting debate, with many fine comments made by noble Lords. I have learned during the many hours of debates on this Trade Bill that no subject is ever closed or finished with, and that there is always more to say that is well intentioned on everything that is debated. For example, on ISDS, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is deeply concerned about the matters that he brought forward, but even at my age I do have a clear memory of a debate that we had earlier on that matter. I remember it well, because I think it was the only amendment to the Trade Bill that the Government managed to win in our many hours of debate.
On the fears expressed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Thornton, about the NHS, I must repeat categorically, yet again, that the NHS is not and never will be for sale and that no free trade agreement will affect that. I am happy to repeat that phrase as many times as your Lordships want, but I am trying to make it as straightforward as I can.
The UK has a long track record of high standards across all areas. I say categorically that this Government are not going to see the UK turn into a so-called Singapore-on-Thames. This is not something that we could ever countenance. That is for a very good reason. The people of this country do not want to see the UK’s high standards diminished, and we hear them say that loud and clear. We have signed agreements with 63 countries worth more than £200 billion, and not one of them undermines in any way British standards in any area, whether it be agriculture, labour, climate, online harms, or health. In more than three and a half years spent on this legislation and its predecessor, taking in nearly 150 hours of debate, no noble Lord has been able to find one standard that has been undermined by our continuity programme.
To make our commitment in this area completely clear, the Government propose to bring forward an amendment in the other place modelled closely on the amendment introduced the last time the Trade Bill was debated. I shall go through the list of what it provides for one by one, so that I am being crystal clear. There will be no regression of standards in regulations made under this Bill—I remind noble Lords that the regulations made under the Bill relate only to continuity agreements—which in any way affect the maintenance of UK publicly funded clinical healthcare services; the protection of human, animal or plant life or health; animal welfare; environmental protection; employment and labour; data protection, which of course includes health data; and the online protection of children and vulnerable people. That will be the basis of the amendment that we will bring forward in the other place. Of course, I would be delighted to discuss it with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and other Peers as we move towards that point. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will be satisfied with that all-embracing commitment. I repeat to him and to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell—yet again—that the intention of the Government is to recognise the importance of our independent food standards agencies and the advice they provide.
The only reason we thought it best that the statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission did not itself cover human health is that we have excellent agencies already doing that. We felt that it would be wrong—worse than wrong, nonsensical—to seek to duplicate the advice of these agencies or undermine their expertise. That is why we set out that human health should be out of scope for the TAC advice. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, I have heard no suggestion that in any way it does not feel resourced to do this, but I will inquire about that and write to her if there is any such suggestion.
We will continue to protect the UK’s high standards in agri-food, human and animal health, workers’ rights, the environment and the climate, and we will continue to protect the NHS and the most vulnerable in our society, as we have done in every single negotiation that we have concluded. To reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, we will not allow anything to be put into future FTAs that would harm our children or vulnerable people. Why would we want to do that? Why would we be so foolish in negotiations as to allow something to be included that would harm our children or our vulnerable people?
Yet again, we have had an excellent debate. I hope that my words have at least reassured noble Lords, although I suspect that, until they see the colour and fine print of the amendment that we intend to bring forward showing non-regression in these areas, they will not fully believe what I have said—not until they see it in black and white. As I have said, the continuity agreements that this Bill implements do not undermine any domestic standard or our ability to provide an NHS free at the point of use. I reaffirm yet again the Government’s commitment to bring forward an amendment in the other place to address these concerns. I sincerely hope that that will put your Lordships’ minds at rest and enable it to be taken for granted that we will do what I have said we will do.
I asked to put a question because I created absolute confusion earlier by not saying whether I was going to divide the House; in this virtual world, I have been inundated with texts and emails. So I just want to say that I intended to ask the Minister to make his assurances and then step back from my amendment. I choose to fully believe him and, in doing so, I hope that we will see a result in writing. I am not sure whether that was a question, but I thank noble Lords.
My Lords, this Government have proved themselves capable of constructive engagement and compromise on the MMD Bill, which I have been working on for many months. In that spirit, and in the sincere hope that the Minister will do as he has said, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Motion D1 withdrawn.
Motion D agreed.