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April 25, 2015 9:36 PM

Thank you for contacting me with respect to the important subject of TTIP and its potential impact on public services in particular the NHS.

Liberal Democrats strongly support TTIP, which could bring economic benefits to the UK of around £10 billion. That's the equivalent of nearly £400 for every household in the country. TTIP also demonstrates what can be done when, as Liberal Democrats firmly believe, we work closely with our partners in Europe.

However this support is not unconditional it is essential that public services like the NHS are protected from any possible adverse effects. This is why we quizzed Vince Cable at our regional conference on this very point. He said would not sign the deal if it would have an adverse effect on our public services and the way they are run.

In protecting our NHS is protected and Liberal Democrats have a strong record. We 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.

The UK has nearly 100 bilateral trade agreements already in place and not one has threatened the NHS or changed the fundamental principles of the NHS - that it should be based on need and not on ability to pay. The European Commission has explicitly ruled out public services from the scope of any liberalisation in TTIP and TTIP will not require EU Member States to open up their health systems to private companies. Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable has always been absolutely clear on this.

Indeed, far from putting the NHS in danger, TTIP has the potential to benefit NHS users through extra collaboration and opportunities across the pharmaceutical and life science industry. Medical equipment developed in the US may become more readily available and more affordable for the NHS through TTIP and I think that's something to be welcomed.

That said Liberal Democrat ministers have listened to people's concerns on the issue of TTIP and the NHS and as result pushed for reassurances from the EU 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. The letter (click here) 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.

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 service, 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, which is the amount the NHS say they need to fill the gap in future funding.

  • Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb is calling on the Conservatives and Labour to match his commitment to invest an extra £8bn a year in the NHS by 2020. Norman has written to Jeremy Hunt and Andy Burnham calling on them to commit to meet the financial needs of the NHS as set out by Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England in his Five Year Forward View.
  • The Liberal Democrats are the first party to present a plan that commits to investing £8bn a year in the NHS by 2020.
  • In his letters, Norman Lamb invites the Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt and Labour's shadow health secretary Andy Burnham to take part in a non-partisan review of health and care services, as well as to meet the funding commitment. Norman asks for political differences to be put aside in the interests of sustaining a "vital national institution."
  • He also says that mental health services and preventing ill health should be made priorities for the investment. Liberal Democrats in government have successfully pushed for extra funding for the NHS with Autumn Statement confirming an extra £2bn a year beginning in April.

And finally... If and when the EU reaches an agreement in principle with the United States, the text of the agreement will have to be ratified by all 28 EU Member States, as well as the European Parliament. If TTIP doesn't deliver on the objectives of the EU, or the values and standards we have in the UK, the TTIP will not become reality.