NHS and Future Trade Deals — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:43 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet 4:43 pm, 22nd July 2019

It seems to me that we are debating that old chestnut, “public good, private bad.” We must take into consideration the fact that 7.6% of all NHS spending goes on what we might call private-type enterprises. They are not all for-profit enterprises; many are in the not-for-profit sector, such as community interest companies and charities. This issue is often portrayed as uniquely Conservative, with the suggestion that we want somehow to privatise the NHS, but all the facts, including the additional expenditure on the NHS in the past few years, demonstrate completely the opposite. In 2010, when the Labour Government left office, 4.4% of NHS spending went on the alternative, non-public sector. That figure is now 7.6%. The rate of growth has been exactly the same since 2010 as it was under the Labour Government.

I am sure that what underlies the petition is the petitioners’ fear of what might happen in future trade deals. One deal did not come to pass—the old TTIP, which the rest of Europe have decided not to pursue. I for one would very much welcome a future US trade deal, and I am sure we will be in a better place to negotiate one, given the rather sluggish way the EU seems to approach international trade deals. I pay tribute to Mike Hill for acknowledging that international trade deals generally are for the good; they expand investment and much more besides in terms of international relations. At the time of TTIP, the same fears emerged, with people asking, “Will our NHS be up for sale?” Love her or loathe her, Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s then Trade Commissioner, made it very clear that national health services were not on the agenda in the UK or anywhere else in the EU.

We saw something similar with the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Canada, which is deemed to be what we might call best in class. It is seen as a good free trade arrangement, which, obviously, I would like the UK to have with the EU in the future. CETA is an advanced trade deal that allows for the sort of good things that happy, friendly trading nations can achieve, such as reciprocation on many qualifications, but that deal has always contained a specific exemption for Government-procured public services

“supplied in the exercise of governmental authority.”

I can only envisage that we would do the same in any trade deals the UK might make as an independent country. That is in our hands. That is for this place to decide.

This country has always been open for business. I do not know the figures, but we have very few restrictions on foreign ownership of our companies. I do not know whether I use them myself, but frankly, I do not much care if an outsourced Indonesian company provides blood testing. I want the service to be provided at the best possible price and the best quality to the taxpayer. I am sure there are many services paid for by the NHS that are owned by foreign companies—American, French, German, Swiss, Swedish and so on. I really do not care too much, because what is important about the NHS is that it is free at the point of delivery. I am sure that in very many hospitals we enjoy equipment that is made overseas. We have the World Trade Organisation pharmaceutical tariff elimination agreement, so there are very few tariffs between any of the major countries on pharmaceutical products. We should take a wider view in these discussions than just, “public good, private bad”. We need some common sense.

Remarkably—this needs to be put on the table—many Opposition Members seem to want a customs union that goes on forever, and perhaps single market rules that go on forever. However, we would not have a seat at the table as the EU negotiated future trade deals around the world. We would be caught on the coat-tails of a customs union, just as Turkey has to suffer. We could find our NHS on the table in trade negotiations between the EU and the rest of the world on deals that, as customs union members, we would just have to follow. We would be completely powerless. To me, that would be the worst of all worlds. At the moment, our Parliament—Opposition Members and Government Members—will be in control of what is on offer.