The Trade Bill is a continuity Bill. It can only be used to transition the free trade agreements that the UK has already been party to through EU membership. All these agreements have themselves already been subject to scrutiny as underlying EU agreements, through the European Scrutiny Committee process or equivalent.
The Trade Bill cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with other countries, such as the US.
I find it extremely disappointing, to say the least, that the opposition have chosen to hijack this legislation with amendments that are simply unnecessary and irrelevant. The government has said time and again that the NHS is not for sale. There is no proposal in the Trade Bill that would even enable that to happen. So an opposition amendment to stop it is, frankly, pointless and simply a scaremongering tactic. Let me therefore say again, in the simplest and most direct terms - the NHS is not for sale. The Conservative Manifesto on which I was elected makes that absolutely clear.
Specifically, protection of the NHS will be achieved through the following measures in the Government’s detailed negotiating objectives for new free trade agreements:
- Protecting the right to regulate public services, including in the NHS;
- Maintaining the right to regulate in the national interest and continue to protect the NHS;
- Ensuring patent provisions do not lead to increased medicines prices for the NHS;
- Making sure that Government Procurement maintains existing protections for NHS health services.
On the issue of food standards, I can be equally clear. I have personally raised this issue with the prime minister on the floor of the House of Commons, when Boris responded to my question with an assurances that our high food standards will be protected. My question and the Prime Minister's response can be found in Hansard here: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2020-07-15b.1508.5#g1512.1. The Department for International Trade has announced its plan to set up a cross-departmental Trade and Agriculture Commission, which has support of the National Farmers’ Unions in England, Scotland and Wales as well as the Ulster Farmers’ Union.
The Government have committed to maintaining our high food standards many times, and once again this is not a subject that needed to be added to a Continuity Bill.
All future trade agreements are subject to public consultations prior to negotiations to inform the Government's approach, and regular updates are also provided to Parliament on the progress of negotiations. I know that my Ministerial colleagues at the Department for International Trade will also be engaging closely with the International Trade Committee and the Lords International Agreements Committee as negotiations progress.
Moreover, the Government has also made repeatedly clear that where necessary it will bring forward primary legislation to implement new free trade agreements, which will be debated and scrutinised by Parliament in the usual way.