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Future Trade Deals: NHS and Other Public Services

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 14 March 2019

4. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the delivery of (a) NHS and (b) other public services are excluded from future trade deals. (909802)

7. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that contracts for the delivery of (a) NHS and (b) other public services will be excluded from future trade deals. (909805)

9. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that contracts for the delivery of (a) NHS and (b) other public services will be excluded from future trade deals. (909810)

Existing EU trade agreements, such as the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement and the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement, contain provisions that ensure that it remains for the United Kingdom to decide how our public services are run. As we leave the EU, the Government will ensure that all future trade agreements continue to protect the UK’s right to regulate public services.

Technically, there is little that MPs and the public can do to prevent the Government from signing trade deals that could negatively impact on the NHS. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will expand the transparency and scrutiny mechanisms that pertain to any future trade deals?

I recommend the Government’s Command Paper on this issue, which we published last week. It sets out the scrutiny plans that will provide greater scrutiny in this country than most of our fellow countries in the European Union have.

Conservative Ministers chose to include the NHS in their approach to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which could have made it impossible to bring privatised NHS services back in-house. The Secretary of State will know that privatisation is proceeding apace in the NHS—it certainly is in my constituency, in our cancer-scanning services—so will he give us a cast-iron legal guarantee? That is what we will need to show that his Government are committed to excluding the NHS from future trade deals.

Where do I start? First, this Government did not negotiate TTIP; the European Union negotiated it on behalf of this country, so it was not for the United Kingdom to determine the mandate. None the less, the hon. Lady should look at the agreements that are already out there. For example, article 9.2 of CETA talks about the exclusion of

“services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority”.

It is quite clear from what the Government included in the CETA ratification that we intend to make provision to ensure that Governments have the right to regulate public services. I think that is a good idea, so I cannot understand why the Labour party voted against it.

The Secretary of State has publicly stated that he supports CETA as a model for future trade agreements—an agreement that prevents future Governments from tackling the failed privatisation agenda in both our health and transport services. Does he agree that trade agreements cannot be allowed to constrain future policy decisions?

I do not know where that briefing came from, but the hon. Lady should ask for her money back. There is nothing in CETA that stops the Government regulating their own public services; that is specifically what the exclusion is for. It is in the interests of the country that we get Government regulation of our own public services so that we can have proper scrutiny, including through this House, and that is what is included in the agreement.

Last year I saw at first hand how the New Zealand Parliament handles the scrutiny of trade agreements to ensure that they deliver for the country’s economy and protect key public services. What learnings and reassurances is my right hon. Friend taking from the experience of the New Zealand Parliament in scrutinising trade deals and ensuring that they deliver their promised benefits?

We have looked widely at what other countries are doing, particularly when they have similar legislatures and legal systems, but what we have set out in the Command Paper is a bespoke arrangement for the United Kingdom. For example, our consultation period is longer than the European Union’s because we thought that it was right to have increased scrutiny in the UK. It is a UK policy, made for the UK.