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Backbench Business — Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Part of National Insurance (Renaming) – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 25th February 2014.

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Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran 4:01 pm, 25th February 2014

It is a pleasure to follow Zac Goldsmith. I congratulate members of the all-party group on securing this debate. They have done a huge service to the House in the work that they have done to draw attention to this matter. This treaty could have massive consequences for all of us, many of which are good. However, many concerns have been raised that the Government need to address and to provide a lot more detail on as we move forward.

There is absolutely no doubt that this trade deal potentially has huge significance for all of us. I therefore congratulate the mover of the motion, my right hon. Friend John Healey, on the four tests he set out in relation to which we should consider it. The three points put by my hon. Friend Jim Sheridan go to the heart of many of the concerns that Labour Members have about aspects of the treaty.

A great deal of concern has been expressed about multinationals, particularly their ability to use investor-state dispute settlement procedures where the nation’s regulatory framework is deemed to be a barrier to free trade. There is a huge amount of concern that this treaty could be yet another device that is used to thwart the wishes of Parliaments, as democratically elected bodies, to make decisions, particularly in relation to public services. We have heard a number of references to the health sector, which, in England in particular, is very politically contentious at the moment because of this Government’s attempts to open the health service up to enable private providers, many of which may well be US multinationals, to enter the sector. However, the concerns raised about these provisions in relation to the health service are equally valid in relation to many other aspects of the services and utilities on which the public rely, whether they are currently in the public sector or the private sector.

We have to recognise that this treaty will simply be a piece of international legislation that sits alongside a range of other legal obligations that we have in place. I am very aware of that because in North Ayrshire and Arran the Scottish Government have spent many millions —indeed, tens of millions—of pounds in restructuring the ferry services that serve my constituency so that CalMac, a publicly owned body in Scotland, could take part in a tendering exercise that some private organisations also took part in. At the end of that procedure, we ended up with exactly the same ferries providing exactly the same services between the ports in my constituency. That example is relevant because of the European procurement regulations.

Many of the concerns raised today could already be seen as problems when it comes to decisions being made by democratically elected bodies about public services. Genuine concerns are being raised about the ability to use public procurement to achieve social and environmental outcomes, and about whether the provisions of this partnership treaty could restrict the ability of Governments —whether they are the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Assemblies or local authorities—to make decisions about not just health, but other sectors, including transport.

Will it be possible for local authorities to retain provisions relating to public transport and public ownership? Will it be possible to bring public transport back into public ownership, if that is what democratic bodies decide to do? That is why the CalMac issue is relevant. Many of the restrictions may already be in place because of our pre-existing commitments, but this Government owe this House and, indeed, the British public the highest levels of transparency.

The British public do not want to be told by multinationals how we should organise our country. We have fought for democracy and we want those bodies for which we have fought and which exist to protect the individual and our communities to have the democratic ability to make decisions. I say to the Minister that that goes to the heart of many of the concerns being raised by Opposition Members about whether we are signing up to something that, while it may result in huge benefits for this country, may have a lot of devil in its detail and may cause huge problems and restrict the democratic ability of this House and, indeed, the British people to make decisions about how we want to organise our society. I hope the Minister will provide assurances that the treaty will not do any of those things, that it will have positive consequences and that the concerns raised are not justified in any way.