Q&A on the Trade Bill, the NHS & Trump

Dear Constituent,

Thank you for writing to me about last week’s Trade Bill and for the Public Sector pay rises.

Forgive me answering you all together: I will try to respond to the various different points raised through a Q&A that I’ve drawn up (not a Party position paper, so I alone take responsibility for it):

Why did you vote for the Trade Bill?

Because it was required to allow government to implement Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with those countries with whom we used to have FTAs as part of the EU. It’s effectively an EU legacy issue.

But I understood this Bill was about future FTAs with eg the USA?

No: “Regulations..may make provision for the purpose of implementing an free trade agreement only if the other signatory (or each other signatory) and the EU were signatories to a free trade agreement immediately before exit day.’ The key word is only i.e. this is for the rolling over of old agreements.

So will there be separate legislation for a US FTA?

Yes.

Why did you not include legislation on that here?

Because a US FTA is not a legacy issue: that would be something new

Will you have specific clauses prohibiting the import of chicken washed in chlorine or hormone injected beef in any Trade Agreement with the US?

No because these are already banned in UK law, whether domestically raised chickens/cattle or from elsewhere, so there is no need for it (otherwise you might as well copy all UK laws into an FTA). If something is illegal it is illegal full stop. Trade Agreements cannot change UK law.

What about selling the NHS – why has that not been banned in this Bill?

Because the NHS has never been is not and never will be for sale – it is a priceless 72 years old state owned asset. In FTAs you do not put a list of what the state owns and whether it’s for sale or not: there would have to be separate domestic legislation to privatise anything and especially the NHS. That has been publicly ruled out by the PM and confirmed in our manifesto.

If that still isn’t convincing enough perhaps the ultimate guarantee of the NHS being owned by the people through the state is that any attempt at privatisation would see the party that proposed it being completely routed in any election..

But Labour’s amendment would have ruled it out, so why not just include it?

If they thought there was a problem (and a risk to the NHS) in the many FTAs we had through the EU, don’t you think they would have done something about it when they were in power (1997-2010)? They didn’t mention it then because it was not an issue, especially in an FTA: it still isn’t and never will be.

So why did they put the amendment forward?

Because it remains easy to frighten the public into believing that our much-loved NHS is suddenly about to be sold to that big bad Mr Trump – even though this Bill has nothing to do with a new US FTA at all.

Has this come up before?

I have fought 4 elections against Labour slogans of ’24 hours to save the NHS’ and this variation (‘Save our NHS from Trump’) will last as long as Trump does (which may not be long). I imagine if Trump lost the presidential elections we’ll then go back to ’24 hours to save the NHS..’. No election is complete without that bit of Labour scaremongering (I know: all parties do a bit of scaremongering..)

So if you’re so pro NHS why are you not giving nurses and others more pay?

Because we’ve already done that. Let me explain. The latest agreement for an above inflation increase was to 900,000 public servants (where there wasn’t an existing agreement ahead) eg for teachers, police, Armed Forces and doctors. Teachers, for example, will now get 3.1% more (or an average of £1,250 more) per year.

But in the case of nurses we agreed a 3 year settlement with Unions in 2018 for them called Agenda for Change. The starting salary for a newly qualified nurse has increased by over 12% since 2017-2018 and the lowest starting salary within the NHS group has gone up by over 16%. Before that agreement expires in 2021 new negotiations will take place.

Aren’t you just a typical Tory who has private medical health insurance and is out of touch with the NHS?

My family does not have private medical insurance. In fact four generations of us are currently looked after by NHS Gloucestershire. The NHS here has literally saved my father’s and my lives (in different ways at different times).

Perhaps I should add that I’ve been a summer volunteer in the GRH for our Hospitals Trust for the last ten years and spend about 3 days a year with the Health and Care Trust as well. I’ve lobbied successfully on many occasions for NHS funding, including the current £40m improvements to the Hospitals Trust happening now. I worked for the government to introduce the new category of Nursing Associates a few years ago and for the Uni of Gloucestershire to be approved to offer that pilot scheme course, which has helped so many Health Care Assistants be promoted and increased the number of home grown nurses. I have helped open both the new Mental Health HQ by the then 2gether Trust and the George Whitfield Centre (including the NHS Homeless Hub), and this year worked to ensure the testing facilities introduced at Oxstalls and now Hempsted Meadows came to Gloucester.  

I write this just after finishing chairing a regular meetings between all of Gloucestershire’s MPs with all our NHS Trust, Public Health and Primary Care Heads in Gloucestershire throughout the pandemic. About ten days ago I met doctors, nurses and cleaners in meetings on several wards and departments in the GRH to hear about their experiences: and will be back as a volunteer there shortly.

Should anyone be worried about the future of the NHS?

The NHS will always evolve. The structure of the whole huge organisation, our local Trusts, internal hospital layout and what services are provided where are in constant flux, like every organisation. There are always new ideas, medicines, scientific solutions and technology. Crises invariably speed up medical technology – and this pandemic, with (for example) many more virtual GP appointments, is no exception. It has seen stronger relations between GPs Care Homes and NHS than ever before – a precious development.

But the NHS is for ever, and although political parties and campaigns will always try to weaponise it, doctors and nurses will go on trying to save lives as best they can. That is what matters, and politicians and residents must do our best to make this vital task easier not more difficult.

As for selling off the NHS to the Americans the Russians the Chinese or any other bogeyman – well I hope the message is clear. It just won’t happen. And yes I’ll still have to go on writing that for as long as I’m a Conservative politician: such is life.

Thank you all for writing and please do follow my updates through tweets (@richardgrahamuk) or FB page (@richard4gloucester): if you’d like to get my regular non-party political e-news – eg news on the new City Health Centre, Mental Health and other important topics, just let me know by mailing me.

Best regards

Richard