Lib Dems hear your concerns on TTIP and the NHS
By Alan Bullion
Many constituents have contacted me about the proposed US-EU trade deal (TTIP) and the future of the NHS.
I agree it's vital that our NHS is protected and Liberal Democrats have a strong track record in this area.
Liberal Democrat ministers have listened to people's concerns on the issue of TTIP and the NHS. We pushed for reassurances from the European Union that TTIP will have no effect on the powers of the NHS at a local level.
In January, after determined negotiations, we now have a clear guarantee from the EU that member states' rights to provide public services directly, are enshrined in TTIP explicitly, including the case where outsourcing had previously taken place.
A letter from EU Trade Commissioner Malmstrom received by Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable specifically mentions the case of the NHS in Britain as an example of the rights of member states that are over and above TTIP.
This letter categorically states that under TTIP, "member states do not have to open public health services to competition from private providers, nor do they have to outsource services to private providers."
Also that "EU member state governments (at all levels, from central government to local authorities) can continue to manage their public services however they see fit." Vince wants the Commissioner's assurance reflected in the drafting of any TTIP treaty.
Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has been absolutely clear at all times that we will protect the NHS as a top priority. Local GPs - who we put in charge of commissioning services - will continue to decide what is best for patients.
On Investor protection clauses - Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) - these cannot force governments to open markets or privatise public services. TTIP is the chance to set the standard for a modern form of ISDS but Vince Cable has been very clear that we will only support ISDS if it works for Britain and if there is proper disclosure about what is being discussed.
He has been calling for as many of the negotiations to take place in public as possible so there cannot be suggestions that either the EU or US has something to hide. So, where Britain's interests are not harmed by disclosure, then disclosure must take place.
We want to keep a reformed ISDS on the table, but we need a package of substantial reform. It is already a big win for Britain that the EU has been consulting and has paused negotiations on ISDS to take account of the reforms people are pressing for which include for example transparent, open tribunal processes to deal with complaints about them being held "behind closed doors"; changes in the treaty text so that future loss of profits cannot be included in the calculation; and using an improved ISDS in TTIP to update earlier, less developed ISDS arrangements in other trade deals to put right the gaps in those agreements.
While I accept, like previous governments, that there may be a role for private sector provision of NHS services, I strongly believe that the NHS should always remain free and be based on patients' needs and not on their ability to pay. That's why I'm delighted that Liberal Democrat ministers have successfully pushed for extra investment in the NHS. We've secured an additional £2bn funding for the NHS beginning in April. We've also called for the Conservatives and Labour to match our '£8 billion a year by 2020' funding commitment.
I will always resist any attempts by other parties to privatise the NHS. For example, Liberal Democrats have stopped the Conservatives' privatisation plans and we reversed Labour's policy of allowing private companies to 'cherry pick' lucrative NHS contracts and get special favours. The Labour Government paid private companies £250 million for operations they didn't perform and in Government, Liberal Democrats have made sure that can never happen again.
Lib Dem PPC for Sevenoaks and Swanley