Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 1st October 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Trade Bill 2019-21 View all Trade Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 128-III Third marshalled list for Grand Committee - (1 Oct 2020)
Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC) [V]
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My Lords, I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Beith, in the thrust of his comments, although I agree very much with them. The overuse of Henry VIII powers is certainly a matter that we need to give considerable attention to.

I apologise if the signal is breaking up. I have a download speed of 1.45 and an upload speed of 0.57, which makes the signal unstable. That is obviously a problem when working remotely, as I am doing.

I strongly support the thrust of Amendment 12 and all the rest of the group. There can be no doubt that the EU has rightly placed considerable emphasis on environmental and climate change matters. If—sadly, to my mind—we are moving away from having a significant proportion of our trade with the EU to a position whereby our trade is likely to be much more with third-world countries, valid concerns arise. That is not to say that changes in trade patterns are necessarily a retrograde move; they are not. Clearly, there are opportunities as well, provided that we are not trying to secure imported goods that are cheaper because they have been manufactured or extracted in a manner that ignores the need to safeguard our planet with regard to the impact of manufacturing on global warming or biodiversity.

It is not acceptable, in this day and age, for the UK to duck its international obligations in these matters to get cheap goods or, particularly, cheap raw materials. When one considers the way in which the environment is being despoiled in many countries, particularly in South America, we must flag up these concerns from day one of our new international trading era. We must establish a firm understanding that we shall not trade away our duties to the planet to make a quick buck.

How we in this Committee can flag up our firm commitments in these matters is to write such safeguards as provided by these amendments into the Bill. Indeed, I find it incomprehensible that Members in the other place should not have done that already. In the absence of political will in another place to make such obviously desirable and necessary steps, we, if not in this Committee then certainly at Report, should insist without hesitation that we have such provision in the Bill that we eventually return to another place.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lansley has eloquently made one of the points that I was going to make, which is that most of the amendments in this group relate in practice to continuity agreements only, because they relate to regulations made under Clause (2)(1) of the Bill, and Clause 2 relates only to continuity agreements. I accept, however, that noble Lords are trying to frame their arguments in a broader context of any trade agreement. If that is the case, their amendments will not do that—although some of them do—so they are not achieving their desired effect.

It is important to recognise that the Government have been clear in their policy towards the environment and the Paris accord. In rollover agreements that have been agreed to date, there has not been a single issue of concern to those who seek to reinforce those agreements to which we have committed in relation to environmental protections and other matters. As a general principle, we do not clutter up every single bit of legislation with general policy positions unless they are absolutely necessary, which clearly they are not in this case, or you would end up with an impossibly long list of items that you are trying to remind the Government is their policy.

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I shall start with Amendments 51 and 75, dealing with protecting the NHS and access to medicines. The Government’s position on this is clear: they are committed to the NHS and to high standards of public health, and they are committed to ensuring that any trade agreements will respect that. We have been quite explicit on that. What noble Lords think that other countries such as the US might want from a trade agreement is, frankly, not relevant and should not be driving the content of this Bill.

In my view, these amendments are part of the continuing public scaremongering about my party’s approach to the NHS. Indeed, I was surprised to find noble Lords mentioning the existing and long-standing involvement of private sector companies in the NHS, some of which are owned by non-UK interests, in derogatory terms. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Patel, I celebrate the fact that we use private sector services where it makes sense in the delivery of healthcare services, and the fact that we use them to a marginal extent in the NHS does not affect the Government’s commitment to the NHS nor their determination to protect it. I wish that noble Lords would hear that. I was frankly shocked to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said about not trusting the Prime Minister on the NHS.

The real reason I put my name down to speak on this group is that my attention was caught by Amendment 13 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton. I know that he is an old-fashioned Labour man and that, deep down, he will want to nationalise or renationalise anything that moves. Indeed, I first met the noble Lord when we were debating private finance initiatives back in the 1990s. Needless to say, the noble Lord opposed anything to do with the private sector being involved, and I have to say that I lost that debate, but it was, of course, before the Labour Government of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, came in and took up PFI with such misguided enthusiasm that they practically wrecked the finances of the NHS. However, I say to the noble Lord that he cannot seriously think that a Conservative Government will put in a Bill introduced by them references to public services being subject to monopoly or exclusive rights or, more importantly, allowing them to be brought back into the public sector as if those are good things. I accept that sometimes they are necessary things, but the thought that we would legislate as if they are good values to protect in legislation is, frankly, for the birds.

Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I want to take up one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about today’s drugs not always necessarily being the cheapest. I accept that, but on the other hand, I am sure he would agree that in the overwhelming range of medicines, today’s drugs are highly valuable and economic.

I remember that during my time as director of VSO, I attended a training course for medical personnel of all kinds, doctors, nurses and so on, who would be going off to take up exacting assignments in the poorest parts of the world. The lecturer was absolutely brilliant. He was an eminent physician who has gone on to even more eminent positions. At a certain point he dished out two pieces of paper each to everyone in the room. He said, “Please write down on one piece of paper the last drug that you prescribed for a patient. On the second piece of paper, please write down the name of the last drug that you took.”

The lecturer collected these in and then went into a state of outrage—he was a very effective performer—saying, “You are going to do vital medical work in various parts of the world”. As he went through the bits of paper, he said, “Look at this! You know that, for this patented drug, there is a generic drug available at a cheaper rate. You know that—why have you done it?” People were just flummoxed; they did not know why they had done it. They had got into a culture where too much of the sale of medicines was in the hands of PR and advertising companies that were, on the back of drugs, making a lot of money by finding more attractive ways of presenting things that were available generically.

I also remember at that time that, in Bangladesh, there was a great deal of concern because we were trying to support a factory—an enterprise—that was making generic drugs available in Bangladesh. My goodness, the moves that were afoot to try to undermine the viability of that company.

I thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for having introduced her amendment because, if there is one thing that we must hold dear, it is that we cannot allow any further privatisation of the health service by the back door. It is inadvertent sometimes, but sometimes it is quite deliberate by those who try to manipulate trade deals in the interests of their own countries and industries.

I also commend very warmly my noble friend Lord Bassam. He is absolutely right that it is vital that Governments of all persuasions have available without inhibition the opportunity to introduce public ownership where it becomes essential. We again know that there have been too many dangers that these rights may be curbed. We have had a peculiar situation in Britain where, because of the curbs that already exist, we have had nationalised companies in other European countries running British rail systems. That is just absurd. We must not open the door to the possibility that more of that could occur. My noble friend is absolutely right to have brought his amendment into the context of the Bill.