Hands Off Our NHS

Councillor Alan Hall has written directly to the Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board, Liz Truss calling for the Government to protect the NHS in any trade deal with the US.

Write to your MP now to support the NHS

“While our NHS staff are fighting coronavirus, please will you thank them by protecting our NHS from trade deals? Clapping isn’t enough.” – Cllr Alan Hall

Full text of the letter:

Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities
The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP

Dear Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP,

In a global pandemic, our NHS is more vital than ever, and it has to be protected.

I’m writing because I am very concerned about the effect that a US trade deal will have on the NHS. Negotiations are already underway, despite the pandemic. The Trade Bill is back in Parliament this week, does it contain any measures to protect the NHS from trade deals? We need a legally binding commitment in the form of an amendment to the Trade Bill.

There are the five things that the Trade Bill needs to include if the NHS is to be properly protected:

  • Specific legislation for the NHS, all health-relevant services and regulation: Including a clause that the government will not conclude a trade agreement which alters the way NHS services are provided, liberalises healthcare further, or opens up parts of the NHS to foreign investment.
  • No use of negative listing: these clauses require that all industries are liberalised in trade agreements unless there are specific carve-outs. It is not always easy to define what services count as health services: for instance, digital services may seem irrelevant to health, but NHS data management and GP appointments are increasingly digitised. Negative lists therefore make it harder for governments to regulate and provide health services.
  • No standstill clauses or ratchet clauses: these provisions mean that, after the trade deal has been signed, parties are not allowed to reduce the level of liberalisation beyond what it was at the point of signature. This can make it difficult to reverse NHS privatisation.
  • No ISDS: Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses in trade agreements allow private investors to challenge governments over changes to domestic legislation. We need to be able to control our own laws.
  • No changes to drugs pricing mechanism: the US administration has publicly stated that they wish to use a trade deal to challenge the NHS’s drugs purchasing model, which keeps prices low. Medicines are vital to our health – there must not be any concessions on this in trade talks.

While our NHS staff are fighting coronavirus, please will you thank them by protecting our NHS from trade deals? Clapping isn’t enough.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Alan Hall

Ellie Reeves, MP for Lewisham West & Penge has written:

“The Government argues that a free trade agreement with the US can help create opportunities for UK businesses and benefit the economy. It says that its negotiating objectives call for any future agreement to protect the health service and uphold our high standards on food safety and animal welfare

However, I am concerned that the political situation in the US, alongside the UK Government’s strong desire for an agreement with President Trump will lead to a trade deal designed for the benefit of large American corporations. As you rightly note, this would have hugely significant implications for things such as our NHS, environmental protections and the food we eat.

The British public are clear: they do not want the NHS to be bartered as part of a trade deal. Unfortunately, I believe there are several areas where future trade agreements could threaten the NHS.

First, there is the risk that trade agreements could consolidate privatisation. Free trade agreements often lock in liberalisation measures such as privatisation. This could mean they force us to keep market liberalisation of the NHS, stopping a future Government from bringing services back in-house. The use of “negative lists” in trade agreements, where all services are open to liberalisation unless explicitly excluded, make this a particular concern.

A further concern would be the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms. ISDS allows overseas companies to sue governments outside of the domestic court system for actions that they believe violate their rights as investors. The threat of being sued under ISDS for bringing a service back in-house, for example, could deter the Government from making policy decisions in the public interest.

Finally, I am also worried at the potential impact of a trade agreement with the US on drug prices. The NHS uses its purchasing power to drive down the price of drugs. However, the US has made clear it will seek measures in any trade deal with the UK that could affect our ability to control the prices paid for medicines by the NHS.

The Government has said it will protect the NHS in trade negotiations. However, it has also made a US-UK trade deal a priority. There is therefore a risk that the US could force us to accept provisions in a trade agreement that would undermine our NHS. To prevent this, I believe we need proper parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals. This would give MPs a vote on mandates for trade negotiations and on any signed deals, which we could use to protect our NHS.”

As the Trade Bill reaches report stage on Monday, 20th July, Cllr Alan Hall is backing an amendment to the bill – known as the Djanogly amendment – as this would restore changes made during proceedings on the 2017-19 Bill that are not retained in the current version including: A reduction in the lifespan of the delegated powers that are granted to ministers to implement ‘successor’ (or ‘continuity’) trade agreements; and a statutory requirement on the government to publish ‘parliamentary reports’ on UK successor trade agreements to identify where they differ from previous agreements. By putting this practice on a statutory footing gives greater clarity and certainty.

Amendments that create explicit carve-outs for the NHS have been rejected at Committee stage because they “tie negotiators’ hands”. The British public would never accept a trade deal that damaged our NHS, and so there is no reason to allow for a trade deal like that to be negotiated. MPs are now the last defence against trade deals that would damage our NHS. The Djanogly’s amendment for scrutiny has been backed by ten other Conservative MPs so far, as well as MPs from other parties including Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.

The NHS is too important – hands off.

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