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Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Volume 586: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2014

1. What progress he has made on negotiations relating to the potential effect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership on the NHS. (905538)

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership on NHS services. (905543)

The Government’s aim and my central mission as the new Minister for life sciences is to accelerate access for NHS patients to the very latest diagnostic devices and drugs by making the UK the best place in the world in which to develop innovative treatments. The US is a world leader in medical technology and TTIP will help NHS patients get faster access to those innovations. Let me be clear: the treaty excludes the NHS from binding commitments. Parliament will retain sovereignty over how we organise and fund our health system and NHS England is free to decide how best to commission NHS services in the clinical interests of local patients, as it does today.

I thank the Minister for his answer and I welcome him to his new post. If his assurances were remotely credible then surely the British Medical Association would not have called for health to be excluded from TTIP entirely. Will the Minister confirm that under the investor-state dispute mechanism, US corporations will be able to challenge our national health policy decisions for ad hoc arbitration tribunals and potentially sue us for millions of dollars in damages for loss of profit in the event of any moves to reverse the coalition’s privatisation agenda and bring the NHS back fully into public hands?

No, I will not confirm that, but the hon. Lady does not have to take it from me. She can take it from the people who are doing the negotiations. The US chief negotiator confirms that the United States has no provision in its trade agreements on health. The EU chief negotiator says:

“I wish… to stress that our approach to services negotiations excludes any commitment on public services, and the governments remain at any time free to decide that certain services should be provided by the public sector.”

Before the election, there was a promise that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS. Given the concern of the Opposition and the BMA, will the Minister meet the BMA to work out how we can get a cast iron assurance that these TTIP talks will not be used to privatise the NHS?

I will happily meet the BMA, but such a request is a bit rich coming from a Labour party that legislated to introduce competition in the health service and to pay private sector providers 11% more, which is now illegal under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Let me be clear about this, and I can be no clearer than the Labour member of the all-party group for TTIP, who said that

“my direct discussions with the EU’s chief negotiator have helped produce an EU promise to fully protect our health service…TTIP could have no impact on the UK’s sovereign right to make changes to the NHS.”

I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that these negotiations will have no effect on NHS services and how they are provided. With his life sciences hat on, will the Minister also confirm that this treaty gives us a real advantage as UK companies will be able to compete in the American market?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As well as providing a £10 billion boost to the economy, which I am surprised to see that the left is not in favour of, and securing 13 million jobs in the EU, this treaty also helps our NHS pioneers and innovators and our UK life science companies generate revenue for this country from our innovations in health care in the world’s biggest health care market.

Is it not the case that free trade agreements have always grown the economies that have contracted within those agreements, and a growing economy can only benefit the NHS in the future?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The truth is that we cannot have a strong economy without a strong NHS, and we cannot have a strong NHS without a strong economy. In a modern society, health and wealth go hand in hand, which is why this treaty, with the safeguards that we have secured, is good for Britain and good for NHS patients.

Some 3 million people with diabetes have not received their full health checks, and 630,000 people have diabetes but do not know about it. Will the Minister give us an assurance that nothing in this deal will affect the ability of people to have free diabetes tests?

The last time I checked the TTIP negotiations do not make any specific provision for access to those services within the NHS. All I can do is remind the right hon. Gentleman that over the course of this Parliament, we have invested another £12 billion, hired more doctors and nurses and increased the provision of diagnostics in the NHS. This treaty does not affect that.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is absolutely no requirement in TTIP for this or any future Government to open NHS health care services to further competition and private sector provision, and that TTIP will have no effect on the ability of local NHS commissioners to decide who delivers services to patients?

I can absolutely provide that guarantee. UK sovereignty on health is not in any way threatened by TTIP. As I have already told the House, safeguards on this are being built in by both the American and the European negotiators. As my right hon. Friend points out, clinical commissioning decisions in the NHS will rightly remain with the clinical commissioning groups, which include the people who are closest to the patients.

For the avoidance of any doubt, given that health is devolved to Northern Ireland, what assurances can the Minister give us that not just the UK Government, but the devolved Administrations, will be safeguarded from the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism?

The treaty’s provisions apply to the whole United Kingdom, so it will be for the delegated authority of the people of Ulster and their Administration to give effect to the treaty locally.