Baroness Walmsley raises HDA’s concerns in Brexit debate.
Following a briefing from the HDA, Baroness Walmsley raised concerns over the potential for cost increases, decreased access and even shortages of vital medicines. Baroness Walmsley was speaking at the Lords Second Reading - European Union (notification of Withdrawal) Bill (Day 1).
Her speech, in full, was as follows:
My Lords, every day we start our deliberations by asking for wisdom and understanding. We pray that our counsels may result in,
“the public wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same”.
Whether or not we are religious, these objectives should unite us all. Currently this country is very divided and very angry.
When I came to the House of Lords, I knew that I did not represent a geographical constituency. I understood that I was here to represent all the people of the United Kingdom and to do what I judge the right thing according to my conscience. That is what I propose to do. Last time I looked, every Member of this House was equal. His or her opinion was equal and his or her conscience was equal. Last time I looked, it was customary to treat the opinions and consciences of other Members of the House with some civility and respect. I have to say that the speech before last did not do that and did not serve that Member’s cause very well.
Your Lordships’ House has a duty to scrutinise legislation in detail and to ask the Government to think again when they are going in the wrong direction. There is precious little detail in the Bill but I judge that the Government have chosen to take the country in the wrong direction. There is no mandate for it. There is no majority to leave the single market. If we continue along this path, our people will be poorer and our country will be more isolated and less influential in the world. So I will be supporting amendments to protect the rights of citizens of other EU countries who live and work here, to protect our access to the single market and to allow the people of this country to have the last word, for the sake of our unity and democracy. That is what I believe democracy is.
As your Lordships will be aware, I speak for these Benches on health and social care. There are three main healthcare reasons why I believe the Bill should be amended. They boil down to: people, healthcare and Donald Trump. There are tens of thousands of EU citizens working in our health and care system and the Government are using their future, and the future of those they care for, as a pawn in a misguided game of cat and mouse with the other 27 countries. Without them, the staff shortages we are already experiencing will be a lot worse and patients will suffer. 1 am pleased there has been a cross-party outcry from your Lordships about this, so I hope all will vote for an end to that foolishness.
Secondly, the businesses which provide the drugs, medical devices and treatments that British people need will be badly affected by a hard Brexit. That is why I support access to the single market rather than just waving a white flag and not even trying. The pharmaceutical products most of us depend on are developed by research by networks of scientists working together across Europe. These networks are already suffering and the massive EU funding from which they benefit is being put at risk. Clinical trials taking place here in the UK are at risk. UK patients get access to new and cutting-edge treatments because of them. The UK has played an enormous role in the regulation and licensing of medicines for the whole EU. Indeed, much of the expertise is here. It makes no sense to develop our own system. We could lose a lot of that expertise.
Companies will always develop products for big markets where the profits are. Why would they want to develop a product to satisfy the regulations in a market of 68 million people when they could sell to a market of 400 million? Medicine distributors warn of cost increases, decreased access and even shortages. Harmonised regulation is not a burden. It gives us the freedom to sell and the confidence to buy. Why throw it away? Medcare products frequently cross borders in the course of their manufacture, packaging and labelling. Having tariffs imposed on them will increase their costs and decrease their competitiveness. So, for the sake of UK patients and their access to affordable and cutting-edge medicines and treatments, I will be supporting an amendment to give us continued access to the single market and the customs union.
Then there is Donald Trump. Our NHS is probably our most valuable asset. Already a lot of American healthcare companies are sniffing around to see what they can pick up. We all heard what Trump said about trade deals putting America first—America first, not the UK first. So anyone who thinks a trade deal with the USA will not result in a lot of our health services being run by American companies must be completely mad.
Finally, I will be supporting an amendment to ensure the approval of the British people for the deal put before them by the Government. All those who are most affected should have a say, including those who were denied one in the last referendum with its gerrymandered electorate, such as: citizens of other EU countries who live here; British citizens who have lived for many years in other EU countries; and 16 to 18 year-olds whose future study and work opportunities will be damaged by Brexit.
We have a representative Parliament and we are not used to referenda. But perhaps, having ventured into that area, we should have taken a leaf out of the book of the Swiss. Here, our future wealth and well-being are being hijacked by an advisory referendum in which only 37% of a gerrymandered electorate voted for the change. That means that 63% did not. I believe I am here to speak for the 63%, along with all those groups that were not allowed to vote at all. So for those reasons, and, as other noble Lords have mentioned, because times have changed since 23 June, we need a referendum on the final proposals. You cannot start the process with some form of democracy and finish with a stitch-up. The long-term future of the UK and its population is at serious risk and this House must do its duty and ignore bullying threats about its own future.