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)
There are two prongs to these amendments, as I see it. One is the actual wording and one is what happens when you do not have the wording and how exposed are the Government? As we look forward, as most noble Lords have said, we want to ratchet up our standards, our laws and the way we tackle the environment and climate change, but it would be a tragedy if we let this Bill go through and it did not give us the chance to help to protect the Government to be able to do that as and when they wanted to in the future.
Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I regard this group of amendments as vital. I thank my noble friend Lord Grantchester and the others who have put their names to the various amendments and given us the opportunity to express our support.

Already in this debate, various speakers have particularly attracted my attention, but I would like to say how much I appreciated the thoughts of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who seemed to talk about the real nature of the world and our responsibilities within it and how these amendments relate to that. I think he was right.

What do these amendments deal with? First, they deal with food security, which is obviously vital to the British people. Food security covers not only the adequate supply of food but means that the quality of food is such that it sustains the well-being of the population. At a time when we are deeply concerned about the pressures on the health service and the rest, we are preoccupied—or we should be—with the problems of obesity in our society. A healthy diet is vital. Therefore, anything that is done to strengthen commitment in this area is important.

These amendments also deal with vital subjects such as biodiversity. Biodiversity is in major crisis at the moment. It is not just in decline; it is a catastrophic decline which can begin—indeed before very long—to threaten the human species itself. They also similarly deal with endangered species. We know in the same way how far our existence is interlinked with nature and the glorious variety of species in the world. Again, the decline in the number of species is not just a matter to note; it is a matter of profound concern.

We all know about climate change. There is no way that we can stop it, of course, because sometimes we assume in our arrogance that the human race is infinite, but we are not; the planet is not infinite. Eventually, we know that it will disappear back into the sun or whatever, but we can at least prolong the span of life of our own species and, by recognising our interdependence with other species, those as well. We all care deeply about environmental standards. We have spent hours considering the Agriculture Bill which is to have its Third Reading today. It puts the importance of animal welfare to the fore and we spent hours debating that. All of these things are central to the quality of the life we want to live—the very continuation of the life we want to live and which our children and their successors will able to live. These amendments meet that.

We have heard it asked today: why are we worried about these issues? The Government have given us assurances. I hope I will be forgiven, but I think that there is a certain amount of scepticism in society at large, not least among people like myself, about what the assurances really amount to in terms of effective commitment. That is why it is so important to put these things into the Bill. If Ministers say, “We have already committed ourselves, so why do we need this?”, why not put it into the Bill? The Ministers who have given these undertakings will not be there forever and we do not know what their successors will want to do or the attitude they will have. That is why, again, it is important to take every opportunity to ensure that the commitment is set out in the Bill and thus cannot be easily avoided. I thank those noble Lords who have put forward these amendments and I am glad to support them.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. He is not available at the moment. We will move on to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.

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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.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I say first that I very much agree with everything that my noble friend Lady Noakes had to say, which means that I can save myself saying some of those things by thoroughly agreeing with her, in particular on the point she made about the disinformation about private ownership in the NHS.

When the noble Lord, Lord Patel, whom I regard as a friend, makes his points, he has to answer the following question. Is it his proposition that when the Priory Group, which was a UK company for many years, was bought by an American company, that should have been prevented by the UK Government? That is the question that he has to answer. In fact, it was not prevented by the UK Government, and indeed for decades Governments in this country have allowed foreign ownership of UK companies. If we were to stop that, it would of course have very big implications for the investor relationship that we have with other countries. However, that is not what we are proposing, and I do not think that it is what either the Official Opposition or the Liberal Democrats are proposing, so it does not really have any force as an argument.

More to the point is whether anything in our trade relationships and trade agreements that we enter into prejudices our ability to have a National Health Service free at the point of use, paid for out of general taxation and controlled by us as a public service? There is nothing in those trade agreements that allows that. In response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee—she might care to look at the evidence that has been given—is examining in detail the Government’s proposals for negotiations with the United States on a prospective free trade agreement. That expressly excludes any measures that would have any impact on the NHS or on our ability to control our pharmaceutical pricing and supply system. That is very clear; she can look at it.

All three amendments relate to rollover agreements; they do not talk about future trade agreements. Therefore, the debate about the American free trade agreement is irrelevant to these amendments. I looked at one example —the Canada-EU agreement, which is able to be rolled over with the benefit of implementation through this legislation. A description on the EU legal database of Chapter Nine of the agreement on cross-border trade in services says that

“this chapter fully upholds governments’ ability to regulate and supply services in the public interest.”

On Chapter Eighteen, which relates to state enterprises, monopolies, and enterprises granted special rights or privileges, it says, in terms:

“The rules ensure that both parties have the full freedom of choice in the way they provide public services to their citizens.”

There is a general exception which says that provision can be made

“to protect human, animal or plant life or health”.

I think that the proposers of amendments of this character have to look at what they are proposing and ask whether it changes anything. The rollover agreements comply with those requirements, and therefore the legislation is entirely robust.

I rather deprecate the idea that one proposes amendments and, before listening to the debate, says, “Well, I might bring it back on Report”. I suggest to noble Lords that they listen to the debate and, if they propose to bring back an amendment back on Report, they redesign it so that it bites on future trade agreements. At least we could then have a debate that was relevant. There is nothing in what is proposed here in relation to health or public services, in particular, that bites in any sensible way on the existing trade agreement.

We should remember that these trade agreements do not change domestic law. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for example, that the law of the land says that you cannot introduce charges for NHS services other than by new primary legislation. That is the only way in which it can happen. Therefore, we do not need to trust the Prime Minister; it is in the law. Of course, one can change anything through primary legislation, but the Prime Minister has not done so, and I can confidently say to noble Lords that I know that he will not do so to introduce charging for NHS services. He would not get it through even if he tried.

Therefore, I do not quite get any of this. Frankly, Amendment 13 feels a bit as though the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, wants to ignore the result of the last general election. If the election had gone another way and Jeremy Corbyn had become Prime Minister, he could have done these things and trade agreements would not have stopped him. It is the election that stopped him, and not trying to legislate to stop trade agreements being irrelevant.

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Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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My Lords, next to speak are the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, but they are not present and are not logged on to Zoom. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has withdrawn. I call the noble Lord, Lord Judd.

Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, Amendments 15 and 16 speak for themselves, but I just want to take a moment to say how glad I am that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, has brought her amendment on safeguarding. The significance and importance of this cannot be overemphasised, and I hope that she will find support from across the House.

Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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I call the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. No? I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.