Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:28 pm on 15th January 2015.
I inform the House that the amendment in the name of Caroline Lucas has not been selected. I call Geraint Davies, who has 10 to 15 minutes to move the motion.
I beg to move,
That this House
believes that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and any associated investor-state dispute settlement provisions should be subject to scrutiny in the European Parliament and the UK Parliament.
I thank the 60 or so MPs who supported this Backbench Business Committee debate, as well as the Committee’s Chair and those who supported the early-day motion and my International Trade Agreements (Scrutiny) Bill. This debate is supported by trade unions, business and environmental movements, and 38 Degrees has also got involved. Many people are encouraged and Members are glad that they are able to engage with hundreds of constituents on this important issue.
This issue is fundamental to the balance of power between democracy and multinational giants who want to impose their interests on our democratic rights. Our right to scrutinise this very important and strategic trade agreement, which will have global ramifications into the future, is imperative. If we end up with a situation where multinational companies are able to sue democratically elected Governments over laws they have passed to protect their citizens, we will be in the wrong place altogether.
Hundreds of my constituents have contacted me about this issue, and there is concern about things being stitched up behind closed doors, such as the use of genetically modified crops and so on. It is welcome that the issue is debated and kept under scrutiny by this Parliament.
I very much welcome that intervention. The harsh reality is that this deal is being stitched up behind closed doors by negotiators, with the influence of big corporations and the dark arts of corporate lawyers. They are stitching up rules that would be outside contract law and common law, and outside the shining light of democracy, to give powers to multinationals to sue Governments over laws that were designed to protect their citizens.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Does he welcome, as I do, the suspension of the investor-state dispute settlement section of the negotiations, and does that hopefully mean that we can be in a better place, without some of the concerns to which he has correctly alluded?
I will move on to those issues and I do, of course, agree.
There is a current risk that the agreement struck behind closed doors is only subjected to yes or no—take it or leave it—in the European Parliament, and that ratification in this House occurs after the implementation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. That is hardly democracy. Today I am calling—it is not much of a call—simply for parliamentarians here and in Europe to have the right to scrutiny. The mechanics for that would be to empower us to recommend amendments that could be made by other representatives in Europe.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm to the House who has access to the reading room in Brussels for the documents on this treaty? There is significant access, and I hope he will clarify how many people, and who, can look at those documents.
Until recently, it was just Lord Livingston from our point of view. He could go in without any photocopier or camera and try to memorise what was there, and move out. More recently, access has been enabled for some of our MEPs. However, this is a case of thousands of people—indeed, 1.2 million people have signed a petition because they are concerned about TTIP—banging on the door and wanting access, and realising belatedly the real risks in front of us.
Order. Sixteen people want to speak in the debate, as well as those on the Front Benches. Those who are intervening also want to speak, and they are in danger of dropping down the list. I am trying to keep the debate tight, so I hope Members will think about their interventions. It is up to Geraint Davies whether he gives way to Mr Spellar.
Briefly, does my hon. Friend think that this will be a mixed competence agreement?
I very much hope it will be, as I said, but I do not know, and that is the whole point. We do not know whether it will be mixed competence— in other words, we do not know whether it will be railroaded through without any ratification here before implementation, as was the case with the Peruvian and Colombian treaties. This has not been made up; this is the sort of lack of democracy that has already been railroaded through, and there is real fear that it will happen again. I say that because we face austerity in Europe in the aftermath of the banking crisis, and a Prime Minister who has naturally said that he can see the flashing red lights on the front of the global economy, and that he wants to put a rocket booster under TTIP. There is enormous pressure to have a quick deal.
I am in favour of trade. I think trade is good, and any one with a rudimentary knowledge of economics—I like to think that the Minister has that—will know that the law of comparative advantage will normally generate the fruits of trade. Those fruits are meant to be something in the order of £93 billion per year for Europe, and £74 billion to the United States. Cecilia Malmström, the negotiator and commissioner on this, has said that there will be growth and jobs, although I realise that there is a lot of controversy and different figures are being thrown around. However, it is generally accepted that trade generates added value.
One question for us concerns where the fruits of trade go. Do they go to the many, or are they stockpiled offshore by multinational giants in untaxed profits? Fundamentally, we are talking about whether the trade deal will undermine our democracy, our public services, our rights, our health, our environment and so on.
Briefly. I am aware of the time constraints.
I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way to so many interventions. The ripples of laughter from Government Members at somebody on the Opposition Benches supporting the free market are surprising. One area of TTIP is food and food production, the biggest manufacturing sector and employer in the UK. TTIP could have huge opportunities for the food sector, but only if it involves a race to the top in standards, protection of animal welfare and standards of food hygiene, and not a race to the bottom. Does my hon. Friend agree that we can support good competition and trade agreements, but we have to ensure that standards applied are good?
I completely agree. We certainly do not want to open the backdoor to genetically modified foods or cloned meat or “McClonie” burgers or whatever they happen to be. We want to keep standards up. This is part of getting all the detail right and having a proper level of scrutiny. I am not complaining about TTIP itself. It could be a vehicle to deliver prosperity and regulate globalisation. Globalisation is occurring and it needs regulation. Who better to engage with that than the most developed and civilised part of the world, which is of course Europe.
I want to return to the principle my hon. Friend enunciated a few moments ago. It is possible to be in favour of free trade, but not in favour of raising the potential for public services to be up for grabs for anyone who cares to bid for them. Does he agree that that is the essential principle?
That is very important indeed. I agree with my right hon. Friend. The thorn in the rose is the investor-state dispute settlement—the ISDS. As has been mentioned, this is an opportunity for deals to be struck behind closed doors to empower multinational companies, within a new system of law outside the law with which we govern ourselves, to sue democratically elected Governments for passing laws that protect people.
Following on from the point made by my right hon. Friend Mr Howarth about public services, is there not another issue we have to careful about: the erosion of employment rights?
My hon. Friend is completely right. There are people who say there is no risk from ISDS, but there is a lot of evidence and a track record of multinationals using the powers at their disposal to extract money where laws are passed undermining future profit flows. Philip Morris is the obvious example: it is suing Uruguay and Australia for something like $100 million. Lone Pine is suing the Canadian Government for about $250 million, because Quebec wants a moratorium on fracking. Achmea, the Dutch insurer, is suing the Slovakian Government who tried to reverse some of their health privatisations. Argentina has paid more than $1 billion to US and EU energy giants, because it froze energy and water prices. If these powers are available, they will be used to fleece the taxpayer. In my view, they are unnecessary. I accept that some protection may be needed between developed economies and democracies and rogue states, but rogue states are certainly not the United States. Mature democracies and economies, namely the EU and the US, do not need anything more than contract law to protect investors.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the United Kingdom is a party to some 90 international trade deals that involve the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. Does he know how many cases the United Kingdom has ever lost using the mechanism?
I do not have the numbers to hand.
I can tell Mr Walter that the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, who are in trade agreements that include this kind of investor-state relationship, have been sued 127 times and have lost an amount of money that could have employed 300,000 nurses for a year. The idea that this is not a problem is patently wrong. This is about a corporate takeover and that is why it is right to oppose this particular mechanism.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention, which underlines why, of the 155,000 people who contributed to the consultation by the Commission on TTIP and the ISDS, 97% were against the ISDS. As has been pointed out in other interventions, there are dangers to our procurement, food standards, rights at work and environmental protection. My personal view is that we should pull the teeth of corporate wolves scratching at the door of TTIP by scrapping the ISDS rules, so we can get on with the trade agreement without this threat over our shoulder.
Is not one of the main concerns, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman shares as he is from Wales, that the UK has four different health services? There is no member state health service, so if one of those health services opens a certain door, the other health services could also be open and vulnerable.
All sorts of assurances have been given on health and social care but they are by no means watertight. We have not got a copper-bottomed agreement like, for example, Finland has with the United States and with Canada, which explicitly excludes all public and private social care and health. As case law has not been established in Britain, the NHS remains at risk. The opening door created by the endless privatisations from the coalition Government creates more scope and risk for intervention, which could lead to possibly billions of pounds-worth of legal action if a future Labour Government reversed a lot of the privatisation that has already occurred. Frankly, that would be in contrast to, and conflict with, the democratic wishes of the British people—if we get in.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on his remarks so far. Does he agree that the combination of opening up the NHS to competition law through the Health and Social Care Act, together with the refusal to exempt the NHS from TTIP, makes this effectively a privatisation of our NHS?
There have been various assurances about trying to close the door on the NHS but it is fundamentally at risk. Due to the lack of case law, at any point a judge could say “Here is an area where there is already private competition. We will allow TTIP; why shouldn’t we?” The more it goes forward, the more we are exposed, which is a real problem.
I must continue as I will be told off by Mr Deputy Speaker if I do not. I will try to give way later.
MPs should have the right to scrutinise the TTIP Trojan horse and remove from it the ISDS weapons from the corporate lawyers inside.
The hon. Gentleman has been waiting so I shall give way.
The hon. Gentleman, like me, is a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and I am sure he is aware that Lord Livingston is coming to the Committee on
I will be at that meeting.
The Labour party is standing on a pledge of freezing energy prices; again there could be a risk of challenge. If we wanted a one-off tax on privatised utilities, such as the one introduced by my right hon. Friend Mr Brown, on, for instance, Royal Mail, we could be at risk. If there were a move to partial or actual renationalisation of the railways or whatever, it could be subject to fines. The point is not whether one agrees with these policies; it is whether one thinks that we have the democratic right here on behalf of the people to pass those laws and not face financial intimidation.
In conclusion, I know that much of what I have said is shared by the Green party. The difference is that it would like to abandon the trade talks altogether and to freeze what we are doing. I would say that we cannot pretend that globalisation is not there. There are risks that I have identified, but it is our duty and opportunity to regulate globalisation with gold standards to protect democracy, public services and people’s rights. This is not just for Europe; it is for the world. What we do will be the benchmark for the future to protect ourselves and others from the possible crack of the whip of corporate giants.
I agree with fair trade. In 1945 Clement Attlee put forward the general agreement on tariffs and trade as the forerunner of the World Trade Organisation. We need to engage and regulate and not have the law of the jungle. As part of that process, I hope that all Members—whatever they think about the balance between public and private, or about the level of protection for the environment, health or workers’ rights—agree that these matters should be decided by democratically elected parliamentarians, and not by corporations with the whip hand of financial intimidation and that they will agree wholeheartedly with my call for scrutiny in this place and in the European Parliament.
Order. There will be a six-minute limit. Members should try to stick to that; otherwise it will go down.
I agree with Geraint Davies that this is an important debate, I congratulate him on securing it and I welcome the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has granted it. I think the hon. Gentleman has drafted a motion with which no Back-Bench Member could disagree—whatever their views on the value or otherwise of TTIP. [Interruption.] I am glad to hear that the same goes for Front-Bench Members. There can be no doubt that having more parliamentary scrutiny is a good thing.
I shall talk about the Select Committee scrutiny that has taken place. The European Scrutiny Committee and its work have already been mentioned. I am a member of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, which has an ongoing inquiry into this issue. As a member, I have been engaged in this work, and I believe we will be able to produce a balanced and useful report. I pay tribute to Mr Bailey who has conducted the inquiry so far in an even-handed and rational way. We still have some sessions to go and I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the inquiry, but I would say that on the issue of ISDS, my hon. Friend Mr Walter was absolutely right to mention the precedent of all the free trade deals in which the UK has ever been involved and ISDS has played a part—and the fact that the UK has never lost a case.
That said, we heard from a lot of different bodies—the CBI, for example, the Institute of Directors, which provided written evidence, and the TUC, which has acknowledged the benefits that could come from the deal while having genuine concerns about it. I welcome the way in which most of those bodies engaged with us. Even some on the Conservative side of the Committee have concerns that TTIP is not sufficiently transparent. Much of that relates to the fact that the negotiations are being conducted by an unaccountable European Commission rather than Ministers directly accountable to this House and capable of answering questions.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the only possible justification for having a separate judicial system for business is that existing courts are failing to arbitrate business claims fairly? If that is the case, we really need it, so can he provide some examples of where the courts in the countries involved in trying to get TTIP off the ground have been unable to secure the proper judicial remedies?
I give the hon. Lady the example of the fact that the UK has never lost a case in ISDS resolutions, showing that this system is functioning in almost all trade deals around the world. Some of the purported threats I have heard simply do not stand up.
Moving on, I want to address a real concern about parliamentary scrutiny of this issue, particularly in respect of one particular organisation that has given evidence to our Select Committee and caused a significant amount of distress to members of all parties on that Committee. I regret to say that that organisation is the executive—not the members—of 38 Degrees. We heard from a wide variety of interests, including many who approached us with a view to getting their concerns discussed, accepting that parliamentary scrutiny is important. I really welcome that approach being taken by so many organisations.
Like many Members, I get letters from 38 Degrees and respect the concerns that their members raise. I have met 38 Degrees members in my constituency to discuss their concerns. I do not always agree with their campaigns, but I respect the interest in political discourse that they are encouraging. However, when it came to their evidence to the BIS Committee, I am afraid that the executive of 38 Degrees has let its members down. The attitude that their representative arrived with appeared to be that parliamentary scrutiny—the very purpose of this motion and the object of our inquiry— was secondary to the campaign in which he was engaged, and that it was for MPs to passively accept the views that he was there to express and in no way to question them.
When asked by the Committee Chairman about the approach the organisation had taken to the campaign, the spokesman immediately became defensive and started to attack politicians in general and the parliamentary process in particular. When asked whether public or official information that disagreed with their assertions was being provided to 38 Degrees members, he first sought to avoid the question and then misled the Select Committee.
The specific issue in point here is the letter from Commissioner Bercero to John Healey in which the Commissioner actually handling the TTIP negotiations at the time answered concerns that the Labour party had legitimately raised about the impact of TTIP on the NHS. The letter made it clear that there was no threat of privatisation of the NHS as a result of TTIP, and that as a public service it could be protected. It said that it was up to the UK Government and UK political parties what changes they made to the UK laws affected by it. On the issue of a risk about which Labour was concerned—the ability to change the Health and Social Care Act 2012 owing to ISDS—the letter said:
“If a future UK Government, or a public body to which power has been devolved, were to reverse decisions taken under a previous Government, for example by discontinuing services provided by a foreign operator, it would be entirely at liberty to do so. However, it would have to respect applicable UK law.”
Having been briefed about this letter and seen it in the brief for our Select Committee, I did not think it was unreasonable to ask whether this information had been shared with 38 Degrees members to reassure them where they had concerns on this issue. The response of Mr Babbs was immediately to say, “Yes, we have shared that.” However, in supplementary evidence sent to the Committee a few weeks after the meeting, a representative of 38 Degrees had to admit that that this was untrue, writing:
“The Committee has requested further information about a letter from John Healey that I said I believed was on our website. Having reviewed all of the information on our website (as you will have seen, there is a lot there), I can confirm that this letter is in fact not on the website.”
Misleading a Select Committee is a serious matter, but I am sure that, if that were the only case, we would all understand that mistakes can be made. However, in the same conversation, Mr Babbs was asked about an article on Buzzfeed which bore the 38 Degrees logo, was headed “TTIP—Four ways a four letter word could ruin your life” and included the headline “Goodbye NHS hello permanent privatisation”. He disclaimed all knowledge of this article, and sought to imply that members of the Committee were out of touch if they did not understand that organisations have no editorial control over what appears on the internet, saying:
“I do not know if you are familiar with the way Buzzfeed works. Anyone can create a Buzzfeed article. It is not something that 38 Degrees produces. I have not seen that piece, so I cannot comment on it.”
In supplementary evidence, 38 Degrees has now written to the Committee as follows:
“I can confirm that the article was written and uploaded by a member of staff at 38 Degrees.”
It is, perhaps, welcome that 38 Degrees has acknowledged its mistakes and accepted some responsibility for the arguments that it has published. However, despite repeated questioning from a number of members of the Committee, the representative of 38 Degrees was not prepared to acknowledge any flaws in the way in which it had presented its arguments. Indeed, it has launched an aggressive campaign of letter-writing and intimidation. A Labour colleague’s researcher has been reduced to tears, and a Conservative colleague who is always softly spoken and reasonable has been accused of being a harridan. I do not think that that type of campaigning strengthens parliamentary scrutiny, or our ability in this place to hold the Government or the European Commission to account.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Geraint Davies not only on securing the debate but on making it clear in his introduction that he is in favour of trade, and free trade. However, I think he must also accept that he is in some strange company with that particular argument. Many of those campaigning on this issue are definitely not in favour of trade, and I have been on public platforms where they have actually declared as much. I think that they are also against capitalism, and they are definitely against anything to do with the United States. It is interesting to note that, whereas we have a huge number of trade agreements, this issue has only become contentious when the United States has become involved.
We are talking about the creation of a free trade area and a trading and investing bloc amounting to about half the world’s GDP. That is significant to all of us who argue strongly that engagement in the European Union as part of a wider market is enormously important to working people in this country. Engagement in that much wider market, and, in particular, setting better benchmarks for world trade, is also enormously important, but it does not seem to have any impact on organisations such as 38 Degrees. Like other Members who have spoken, I have a slightly ambivalent attitude to 38 Degrees. It has some very decent supporters, many of whom are very concerned and engaged citizens, but it also has a nihilist, hysterical leadership.
Order. If the hon. Gentleman is taking advantage of the Chamber’s good nature, I should say to him that to intervene immediately after making a speech is slightly unfair.
I note that all these publications mention a number of cases, including that of Philip Morris Australia. That case has been proceeding for some time. Can anyone tell me what is happening to it? Has it gone anywhere? Anyone can sue, but securing an outcome is very different, whether or not the case is being heard in the domestic courts. I understand that it is not classified as a trade deal, but is governed by World Trade Organisation rules. In any event, I do not think that that case and a number of others have gone anywhere.
I do not exonerate the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which has not dealt with the matter. I raised it with the former trade Minister, and I have raised it with the current trade Minister. Various cases are cited—normally the same cases—but no one seems to come up with any explanation of what they are actually about. If they are about breach of contract, that is one thing. Regrettably, in my view, but perfectly legitimately, or lawfully, the Government are entering into long-term contracts in the probation service. If a new Government wanted to change that, there would be breach of contract proceedings, and they might well be better dealt with in domestic courts, but they also might be better dealt with through arbitration, which we have in a whole number of other areas. We have industrial relations courts and we have various arbitration systems in this country. Therefore, having the full panoply might not be right, but I do accept that there are concerns. There are concerns about whether there would be a ratchet effect. That is why it is very commendable that the EU has been undertaking consultation, and that is also why it is very welcome that there is a possible pause at the moment, because we need to be assured that, for example, changes made to the NHS would be reversible, although I have to say that—this message should be very clear between now and
In many respects the effect of TTIP on this has been dealt with in letters to Dr Wollaston and my right hon. Friend John Healey from the EU, spelling out the protections there.
Does my right my hon. Friend accept, however, that there is a disagreement between many eminent lawyers as to whether TTIP will apply to the NHS, regardless of what the Government say? The other thing not in the Government’s favour when they argue about protecting the NHS is that the intent of many of the provisions in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is to impose marketisation on our NHS, so the direction of travel is very much in favour of trade under TTIP. That undermines the Government’s case against it.
They are not in favour of trade; they are in favour of privatisation—and that would be true with domestic companies as well, by the way. That is the major threat, but my hon. Friend is right that we need to insist on an absolutely clear exemption of the NHS from these provisions.
At the same time we also need to be arguing about the benefits of trade, however. Trade has not only been the basis on which the wealth and prosperity of this country and our people have been built, but over the course of just about 20 years hundreds of millions of people in China have been lifted out of poverty by the favourable impact of trade, in what has probably been the biggest movement of social progress in numbers terms in history. That is why the new Indian Government are seeking to open up their economy as well.
Who benefits from trade restrictions? It is not the workers, nor the consumers. The people who benefit have almost universally been—this has been the argument for the last two centuries in this House between and within parties—the monopolists, the middlemen, and the incompetent or corrupt bureaucrats. We need only look at the situation in Africa where a very small percentage of trade is between African countries because of restrictions there. That is why it is so regrettable that the Bali agreement to free up that trade has not happened; the stalling of that is undesirable.
Those are the benefits, and they are benefits for our engineering companies and many of our food manufacturing companies. That is why it is so important that we resolve these other issues, because the benefits are there and the prizes are great.
There are those who are against this agreement on principle. I am in favour of trade on principle and in favour of this agreement, but in order for it to be effective we must make sure that we get these safeguards.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Spellar, who has made a convincing argument in favour of this trade deal. I support the motion of Geraint Davies because I, too, am a democrat and I believe in parliamentary scrutiny. I believe the European Commission should ensure the regular publication of documents on the state of the negotiations and they should include more detailed information on what TTIP is all about. The current information that is floating around is based on leaked, rather than officially released, documents and therefore on myths rather than on facts. As the motion suggests, this House—and the other place—should be closely involved in the process, and I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the Government are committed to it.
We must also encourage the European Parliament to pursue its involvement in the negotiations. I hope that the European Commission will live up to its promise to give Members of the European Parliament access to all the negotiation documents. I also hope that, in the forthcoming meetings between the United States and the European Union, the negotiation teams will take into consideration the concerns that we have raised. I hope that the European Commission will secure an agreement on safeguards for the highest environmental and consumer standards, which are already in place here in the European Union and in the United States. I am convinced that achieving a satisfactory compromise on both sides of the Atlantic is both possible and desirable. The European Union has already successfully established an internal market among its 28 member states, but bridging the space between the United States and the European Union by adapting common rules and standards while maintaining the highest levels of regulatory protection is a challenge. I do not believe that it is an impossible task, however.
Today’s debate should be about the substance of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. It provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance the economic security and prosperity of the British people while at the same time making a real contribution to the welfare of the peoples of Europe, north America and beyond. I wholeheartedly believe in free trade, and I subscribe to the goal of global trade that is both free and fair. However, achieving that goal is a slow and grinding process. In my view, it will be many decades before there is any meaningful World Trade Organisation-led, top-down framework that we can call global free trade. That is because the parties involved range from the richest nations on the planet to the poorest, and from the prairie farmers of north America to the subsistence agriculture of sub-Saharan Africa.
If we truly believe in free trade, we should use the building blocks that we have today. The European Union is the world’s largest market, and we are part of it. It is the biggest building block in this equation. Let us consider the numbers. European Union GDP is 19.4% of world GDP, and United States GDP is 18.9% of world GDP, so together that makes nearly 40% of the world’s productive wealth. Between us, however, we still maintain some of the most stringent tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. Below the wire, 30% of the European Union’s stock of foreign direct investment is in the United States, and 29% of the United States’ FDI is in the European Union.
I believe that this debate is a no-brainer. If we can create free trade across the Atlantic—with Canada as well, of course—and have a transatlantic trade and investment partnership, that will be good for world trade, for the United States, for Europe and for Britain. There are some who want us to turn our backs on all this and leave the European Union, and therefore leave a trade deal representing 40% of world GDP. The TTIP negotiations will not be easy, because there are many vested interests, as well as the many concerns that have prompted this debate today. I am optimistic that we can achieve this, however, because the prize is so great and the balance of power so favourable to a deal. Of course, as some eurosceptics would argue in spite of the hard facts, we would still be better off out and better off negotiating our own free trade deal with the US alone. That is a fantasy. Can the UK afford to squander the strategic and economic opportunity that is TTIP? I do not believe we can.
I reiterate my support for the Government’s commitment to keeping us firmly in the European Union, and for the Government’s commitment to making sure that these TTIP negotiations are a success. I believe this House should have a role to play in that.
I support fair trade, but properly regulated trade. Countries that trade are less likely to end up fighting each other. We would be daft, as Mr Walter said, to turn our back on a market that includes the biggest consumer society in the world. If we have the opportunity to work those people properly, why would we not do so?
However, experience tells us to be wary. At the heart of the matter is trust, or the lack of it, in the people we deal with, the failure to be able to hold people accountable, and the worry that the power of Government and big business will be used to abuse people, exploit people and get away with things that it should not get away with.
I have personal experience of going to the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle in 1999 and the one in Qatar in 2001. The 1999 summit was a summit of hope. People from around the world went there with a belief that we would make great strides. The big stride that we were looking for from the labour movement was to build into trade negotiations core labour standards whereby nations that wanted to trade with the rest of the world would not use child labour or slave labour. Unfortunately, those talks fell apart because of the behaviour of some people on the ground and the over-reaction of the Seattle police, which led to the stalling of the conference.
Two years later in Qatar there was no such hope. Two years later, in the aftermath of 9/11, there was only one game in town—George W. Bush wanted to go through Pakistan to Afghanistan to chase al-Qaeda. Nothing else mattered. The Pakistanis, who were crucial to a discussion on core labour standards, did not engage at all with anybody. Because they did not engage, the Americans did not engage. That led to the failure of that round, which has resulted in the stalling of world trade discussions ever since.
We are now 15 years on. The hon. Member for North Dorset described the process as slow and grinding. It is not slow and grinding; it has virtually halted. That is why we are talking today about another way round what went on or did not go on in those discussions. To have any chance of going forward, we need safeguards, as my hon. Friend Geraint Davies pointed out. We need the right of scrutiny and the people need reassurance. When he was in opposition, the Prime Minister lectured the Labour party time and again about the need for transparency and the benefits of letting the sunshine in. That is what we are talking about here.
It would have been better if, since he became Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman had put that policy into practice—for example, by releasing the papers relating to the miners strike and behaviour of people at the Orgreave coke works, and the papers that go back 42 years to the Shrewsbury pickets. Some of those men are now nearly 90 years old and still cannot access the papers held in the Cabinet Office and other Government buildings that would prove they were innocent.
Lectures on transparency do not work; facts do. If there is nothing to hide in the negotiations, give us the scrutiny we need. Give us the scrutiny we demand and deserve. Cut out the secrecy and closed doors, and stop using the confidentiality claim. Shine a light so that people can see what is going on.
Let us be clear. The huge doubt that exists is not engendered solely by organisations such as 38 Degrees or the trade union movement. There is huge doubt in the public mind about the role of these trade negotiations in undermining vital public services.
No. There is not much time.
The truth is that people in this country are sick to death of the way public services have been treated over the past three decades. We have the nationalised train companies of other countries running our train services. We have multinational energy companies fleecing the old and poor in this country who are trying to keep their lights on and their houses warm. We have foreign postal companies undermining the universal service obligation. We have water companies—dealing with the basis of human life—that do not know where the people they provide the service to live. We have a coal industry where 200,000 people lost their jobs and communities were devastated, and we buy in coal from some of the most unstable regimes on earth. And now we worry that the health service will be fragmented before our very eyes.
That is why people do not trust, and are very worried about, these negotiations. That is why they are saying to us, “We are sick to death of seeing privateers feast on the goodies of privatisation. If TTIP is another opportunity for them to do the same, we do not want it.” The Government—and my party, if it wants to get behind this—have to say to the people of this country, “We are going into these negotiations in the proper manner. We will open them up to people in this House and Europe”—MEPs from all parties have said they are concerned about the lack of scrutiny—“We will do it properly. We will come back to the House and the country and say, ‘This agreement is sound. It covers your concerns. It works in these areas, but we will not allow it to work in these other areas.’” If we do not do that, TTIP will not deserve the support of ourselves, the nation or the EU.
I rise to challenge the premise of this rather cynical motion, which is yet another example of a cynical approach to scaremongering on many aspects of what is, in essence, an exceptionally positive deal for our country. The motion seeks to add to the many worries that our constituents are writing to us about, and it completely avoids looking at the work that has been done over the past 18 months since the deal began being discussed.
If we look at the press release—
I will give way shortly. If we look at the press release from the sponsor of this motion, we see that Geraint Davies ends by saying:
“We need to engage responsibly to deliver regulation of trade and to avoid the social and economic Darwinism that is the inevitable result of disengagement.”
I say to him that there has been nothing but engagement from this place on this deal. This is the third debate in this Chamber about TTIP. The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has already had one and it is to have a second. TTIP was discussed during the Bill on the NHS promoted by Clive Efford. There has been a House of Lords—
There has been a House of Lords report on TTIP and a Government response to it. The Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills has interrogated Ministers about TTIP. The all-party group on European Union-United States trade and investment, of which I am the deputy chair and which John Healey chairs, has had multiple meetings, in Brussels, London and America, with the negotiator, with Members of Congress, with members of the US Administration and with the EU trade negotiator, Ignacio Garcia. There has been nothing but engagement, both from Brussels and from our Government on TTIP.
I will give way later. On the issue of parliamentary scrutiny when the deal is done, I ask hon. Members to look at a letter written by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable on
“The UK Parliament, including the House of Lords…will have a full opportunity to scrutinise the deal before it is finalised.”
There does not seem to be anything but clarity in that statement.
On the investor-state dispute mechanism, we have heard earlier that the EU has made it clear on multiple occasions that the freedom of national Governments to regulate would be explicitly protected. The investor-state dispute settlement provisions being discussed cannot overturn policy laws; the purpose is to protect our investors from discriminatory treatment by protectionist Governments. There are 90 other examples of ISDS in deals we have around the world. As we have heard, there have been two cases against Britain, neither of which was successful.
I will give way later. The Commission itself has consulted carefully on the issue, and that consultation will be coming to a conclusion shortly. On the NHS, the chair of the all-party group, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, has had a letter from the European Commission.
It says that,
“we can already state with confidence that any ISDS provisions in TTIP could have no impact on the UK sovereign right to make changes to the NHS.”
Our Government have made it clear that there is no threat to the NHS from TTIP. The focus is on allowing innovation between companies in the EU and the US on health-related issues. It is not about changing policy on free-at-the-point-of-delivery national services.
I will give way later. What surprises me about the hon. Member for Swansea West, who at the start of this Parliament wanted to be head of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, is that he has not given any focus to the benefits of TTIP. This is our biggest export partner; the biggest trading relationship that we have. The huge focus of our attention here should be on saying and explaining that this deal will mean hundreds of pounds less for British consumers when they buy their jeans, cars and other products. It will primarily benefit not big corporations, but small businesses—the businesses that we have in our constituencies. TTIP will made trade easier with the most easy market to trade with—that which speaks our language—the United States of America. I say to the hon. Gentleman that this is a ridiculous motion. He should focus on the benefits of the partnership. It is a key part of this Government’s long-term economic plan and he should be celebrating this deal when it comes to a conclusion.
May I start by commending Geraint Davies for bringing this debate to the House? Like others, I have had hundreds of constituents in touch with me about TTIP, particularly about the potential implications for the NHS. That brings home to me not just how preciously people hold their access to health care and how anxious they are about the future of the NHS, but that we are debating a treaty that does not actually exist yet, and that we are not yet in a position to analyse or assess. That is exactly why this process should be open to more effective scrutiny now, and we need to have a much wider debate.
Having waded through some of the papers released by the European institutions—the Commission and others—in recent days, I do not think that they provide definitive answers to the key questions I am being asked, and we really need better answers. When it comes down to it, we need an explicit exclusion of public health care and associated services from TTIP.
Ministers must try to understand why there is such public concern. The negotiations have been shrouded in secrecy, and Ministers have failed to address fully the questions posed by the devolved Governments that arise as a consequence of the distinctive structures and policies of the NHS in the home nations. We need more transparency in this process and cast iron assurances that the treaty will not be a route to the backdoor privatisation of our NHS.
The bottom line is that Scotland must not be bound by a trade deal that could undermine public ownership of our NHS and our ability to make accountable, democratic decisions about public health care and that could usher in creeping clandestine privatisation.
I do not know whether the hon. Lady received the same letter as I did on
“And the new Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, has also stated explicitly that ‘public service, including health, education and water management, are not on the agenda.’”
I have read those documents, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raises that point. What we have had repeatedly are assertions. I read the Commission’s latest publications, which do appear to indicate that state monopolies will be protected. But elsewhere in the text, relating to services of general economic interest—namely utilities and public services—it says that they would be governed by normal competition law
“in so far as the application of such rules does not obstruct the performance in law, or in fact, of the particular tasks assigned to the enterprises in question.”
That does seem to water down the seemingly categorical assurances we have heard elsewhere. In reality, it is not at all clear that the requirement will protect public services in the absence of an explicit opt out.
The hon. Lady heard Henry Smith quote many assurances, which came from many different sources. Does she believe that they are any more reliable than the promises of Julian Smith to give way “later”?
As ever, the hon. Gentleman makes an astute and telling point.
We need to know that there will be no obligation to open up the NHS in Scotland to US private providers, even if that is what England’s NHS decides to do, and we need to know that there is no chance whatever that the treaty will expose the Scottish Government to investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms.
People’s legitimate fears are not being assuaged. The Commission has sounded a note of caution regarding these mechanisms, because they are being misused around the world. We have seen an escalation in the number of aggressive cases being brought against countries that have made perfectly legitimate decisions. The fact that it has only happened a couple of times here does not mean that it will not happen more in future. That is why we need to debate the issues now.
I appreciate that Members will hold profoundly different views about the wisdom of opening the NHS to privatisation; indeed, some Members might see it as a one-way street, but in Scotland we have chosen a different direction of travel, and we need to be sure that that will not be derailed by complacency over the drafting of a trade agreement. I am also of the view that any disputes need to be resolved in our domestic courts, not through ISDS mechanisms.
Before I finish, I want to address some of the implications of TTIP for Scottish agriculture. There are undoubtedly potential benefits from better market access for our food and drink producers, but a number of non-tariff issues have potential downsides. My questions to the Government today focus on how they plan to address and mitigate those issues. I am particularly concerned about our livestock sector—which is key to the economy of my constituency—where risks as well as opportunities are likely to emerge from TTIP.
For example, Aberdeenshire produces some of the best beef in the world—Scotch beef that commands premium prices, is fully traceable and is produced to the highest standards of animal welfare. US beef is notably cheaper to produce. Producers in the US have some economies of scale, climate, and less rigorous compliance regimes, and they are allowed to use hormone growth promoters that are not permitted in the EU. I would like an assurance from the Minister today that TTIP will not lead to a dumbing down of production values, whether in the way animals are farmed or in the quality of the food that ends up on our plates.
It has also been suggested that protected geographic indicator labels could be a stumbling block within the TTIP negotiations. For many of our most iconic food and drink products, their origin is a core factor in the success of their brand and, critically, in the premium price it is able to command. Protected geographic indicators are essential to sustaining the livelihood of smaller-scale producers who rely on the high quality and uniqueness of their product to add value. Will the Government take the opportunity today to outline what they will be doing to ensure that PGIs are not undermined in the TTIP process, and assure Scottish beef and lamb producers that the markets for their distinctive premium products will not be harmed by opening the market to cheaper imports?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. From my own experience, I would want to ensure that Stornoway black pudding, for instance, had its protected status maintained.
Marag is, as my hon. Friend knows, the food of the gods, and any steps should be taken to protect that vital aspect of our culture and economy.
Governments need to legislate and regulate in the public interest—not in the interests of corporations or shareholders, but in the interests of citizens. As things stand, there are entirely legitimate fears that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could significantly restrict our ability to do that. Until the Government can provide meaningful and detailed assurances, public scepticism is unlikely to be assuaged, and I urge the Government to take a lot more action to spell out the detail of how it will affect different sectors of our economy.
It is a pleasure to follow Dr Whiteford. I hope to be able to respond to some of the concerns she voiced. I congratulate Geraint Davies on initiating this important debate.
I share the sentiment, which was expressed by many hon. Members, that trade is the cornerstone of our national wealth. We heard my hon. Friend Mr Walter speak about its impact on our economy. Without that trade and our national wealth, there would not be funding for vital services such as our NHS; it is that long-term economic plan that will guarantee its future. However, I would like to speak today about the NHS and express some of my concerns.
The Leader of the Opposition has spoken of his desire to weaponise the NHS. It is shameful in itself, but it also detracts from some of the genuine arguments and important issues that we need to raise about health within TTIP.
Initially, I would like to clear up the points raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. They are important and I would not support the deal if I thought that it would have the effects she outlined, but I think that they have been rather used as part of that weapon to try to damn this partnership and to damn the Government’s record. That is regrettable.
After reading the letter from the European Commission about the NHS, I wrote back because I wanted to clarify some points. As Chair of the Select Committee on Health, I heard back from Jean-Luc Demarty, the director-general for trade. He wrote to me on
I pressed him further on that point, asking about the definition of publicly funded health services—in other words, would they include organisations such as those in the third sector? He was very clear that as long as the services are publicly funded, it does not matter how they are delivered. That is an important point of clarity. He also made the point that any investor-state dispute settlement provisions in TTIP could have no impact on the UK’s sovereign right to make changes to the NHS. In other words, that deals with the concerns that have been raised that this is somehow a one-way street and that no future Government would be able to change policy. He is very clear on that point and I urge Members to look at his letter. The issue of ratchet clauses is also very important, and the ratchet clause will not apply in this case.
If an incoming Government decided to terminate a contract in the NHS or in the public social care sector under which that company claimed that a very large investment had been made in building a care home or something similar, would the company not be able to use TTIP to prosecute the Government for the potential loss of investment?
Already within domestic contract law there are provisions that mean that one cannot arbitrarily reverse a contract. A state would be able to announce that it was changing policy and moving forward, but the point about TTIP is that it works on both sides of the Atlantic. We would not wish to have British companies arbitrarily lose their investment in the US. It is about that; it is not some conspiracy of an evil empire, which is how it has been portrayed. I think that that would be a reasonable process.
May I make the point that an ISDS tribunal is empowered to award compensation for genuine loss but is not empowered to overturn policy or national regulation?
Indeed, and that is the point that we want to make clear.
The concern is legitimate and if the NHS were threatened by TTIP we should be explicit about that, but it is not. We need to be clear about that and it would be helpful if Opposition Members withdrew the insinuation that is constantly being put out to our constituents that this is a conspiracy to do so.
I also pressed the Commission on whether it would be sensible for the Government explicitly to ask to exclude the NHS, and it could not have been clearer that it was not necessary because it was going to do so itself. May we please bring that aspect of the debate to an end and focus on the issues that matter?
I am afraid I do not have time to take further interventions, so I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.
The issues I think are important are those to do with public health in areas such as smoking and alcohol. Other Members have pointed out the impact on the Uruguayan Government of their being sued by a tobacco company. The company’s profits dwarf the domestic product of Uruguay. We cannot allow that to happen. This has serious implications. I would like the Minister to respond specifically on whether, during these negotiations, the tobacco industry—an industry that kills half its customers—can be specifically prevented from using the investor state dispute procedures in such a manner.
I would also like protections in relation to alcohol. Of course, part of our transatlantic trade should legitimately cover alcohol, a product enjoyed by many. However, the Scotch Whisky Association has been able to use legal mechanisms to delay the proposed minimum pricing measures which are desperately needed in Scotland and which I fully support. I would like further detail on what measures the Government propose to protect public health as TTIP goes forward.
Finally, I would like to make a point on behalf of transition town Totnes. Will the Minister explain the implications of this for our obligations under the climate change legislation? The transition towns movement has done a huge amount of work on local food networks and sustainability. Will he assure me that he will continue to look after the interests of those vital food networks and make sure that that they are protected alongside trade? We need to strike a balance. I know that it is a difficult issue, but it is important.
In my previous employment as an NHS scientist, I was extremely concerned about the implications of TTIP for our NHS, and for all our public services, and I remain so. In my new job, I have been contacted by many constituents expressing their concern about TTIP, which is a subject on which the public appear to be very well informed.
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. Members of Parliament are not putting pressure on their constituents, as Dr Wollaston claimed; rather, constituents are saying that they are concerned. They are concerned, for example, that small businesses are being disadvantaged in comparison with large businesses, that monopolies are being encouraged among pharmaceutical companies, and that the NHS is in danger of privatisation. We have a duty to give them an explanation. There is huge disquiet out there among the public, and we ought to address it. There is terrible complacency among Government Members about this.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments; he has pre-empted what I was about to say. I am not going out scaremongering; my constituents and my previous colleagues are expressing to me their real and legitimate concerns about this agreement.
As I said, this is a subject on which the public appear to be very well informed. That surprises me, given that a major concern expressed to me is that the negotiations seem to be taking place in secret. Perhaps there is a lesson here: the more secretive a deal appears to be, the more effort people will make to try to seek out the truth. If ever we needed an argument for openness and transparency, this is it.
We have already heard a lot about the ISDS mechanism, which is causing my constituents and ex-colleagues major concern, particularly in relation to our public services—specifically, our NHS. People are telling me— again, this is not about me going out scaremongering—that they are really worried that this could result in private companies seeking compensation from our public bodies for loss of potential earnings. We have already heard about mechanisms in agreements in other countries whereby those countries are being sued for things such as regulating medicine and energy prices, raising minimum wages, and putting health warnings on cigarette packets, to name but a few. There is a real fear that this mechanism is not about enforcing contracts but about giving businesses huge new powers to intimidate policy makers. There is major concern that the ISDS provisions could lead to enforced privatisation of our NHS and other public services. Governments have a right to be able to legislate in the public interest, and that should be protected in any dispute resolution mechanisms.
The European Commission has instigated several changes that have improved the transparency of the agreement, and that is welcome. However, it is right that the Commission has decided temporarily to suspend negotiation on ISDS until the final stages of the negotiations. I urge the Government to use this opportunity to call for greater transparency on exclusion for legislation that is in the public interest, such as that relating to the NHS.
An online consultation by the European Commission has revealed huge public opposition to TTIP. Again, this is not about me or any other member of my party going around scaremongering. The Commission received an unprecedented 150,000 responses, more than a third of which were from the UK, mainly opposing TTIP and many calling for the NHS and other public services to be exempt from it.
Other countries have sought to exempt areas from the agreement, but this Government have not done so. Instead, their position on the NHS and TTIP has been muddled. They have told the British Medical Association that the NHS will be “protected”, and the Department of Health has said:
“We have no intention of allowing the TTIP to dictate the opening up of NHS services to further competition, and it will not do so.”
However, the Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord Livingston, said in September that TTIP would not have any impact on the NHS and therefore the UK negotiation team would not be pushing for its exclusion. Those mixed messages are of great concern and are troubling. This Government need to commit to the NHS being exempt from the final TTIP agreement and look carefully at its impact on other public services.
I congratulate Geraint Davies on securing the debate and agree about the ongoing need for scrutiny of this and other important trade deals.
The US is the UK’s biggest single trading partner, accounting for nearly £90 billion of exports in 2013. With both economies doing so well, the opportunity afforded by TTIP has huge potential, with the right safeguards in place, for growth on both sides of the Atlantic.
At present, a lot of non-tariff barriers, as well as tariffs, are making it impossible for some companies—and far too difficult for others—to export to the US. The food and drink industry is our largest manufacturing sector, but many of its brands are too little seen in American supermarkets. The cost for food and drink companies in complying with US tariffs and regulations is equivalent to a tax of 13%. That is the tip of an iceberg that the trade negotiations are seeking to address. As other Members have said, if successful the trade agreement will generate GDP growth of £10 billion a year to the UK.
In my region, the automotive industry alone estimates that its exports to the US would grow by £1.4 billion more than would be the case without a deal. Production would increase by 7%, which would create jobs in the supply chain to the bigger companies that are so important to my constituency.
Building exports to the US is a sure-fire way to create growth and jobs. Last year I visited a company called Vee Bee Filtration in my constituency. Some 90% of the filtration systems it manufactures are exported, mainly to the US. It got started in the US with help from UK Export Finance in 2012, and since then sales have grown exponentially.
The growth that will be generated by a free trade agreement will benefit not just companies big and small, but employees, people taking up new jobs, families and consumers. The benefit in money terms to households in my constituency is estimated to be the equivalent of £400 a year.
Many of my constituents travel to the US for work and pleasure, and they often express frustration at how much cheaper consumer goods in many sectors are there. So far, I have talked about the benefits in terms of increased exports, but there are benefits for consumers from the potential removal of EU tariffs on American goods in that cars imported from the US would be 10% cheaper and jeans would be 12% cheaper. A free trade agreement, properly negotiated, will improve people’s standards of living in many ways, so it is very important to overcome any barriers to its successful conclusion.
I am not complacent about the difficulties. I agree that the negotiations should be subject to ongoing scrutiny. I have mentioned that the food and drink industry faces particularly costly barriers. I want the elimination of tariffs, but it is important to do so without jeopardising food safety, or the rights of Governments to establish public health policies, such as to prevent the increased use of trans fats in packaged foods.
Some of my constituents have raised concerns about the possible impact of TTIP on public services, particularly the NHS. I commend John Healey for his work as chair of the all-party group on TTIP, and for the reassurance he sought and has received directly from the European Commission on many points.
The Commission has confirmed that existing EU bilateral trade agreements either exclude or make specific reservations for the delivery of publicly funded services. Furthermore, the letter to the right hon. Gentleman reassured us that all member states are free to maintain measures, and even to adopt new ones, to control access to their health service by foreign suppliers—without constraints—under existing EU trade agreements. The Commission has confirmed in writing that the EU will not change its approach to health services in negotiations for TTIP. The provision of publicly funded health services will not be affected by the ISDS regime either. The Commission has guaranteed the rights of Governments to legislate in the public interest and to prevent unjustified claims. Virtually all of our 94 bilateral investment treaties include an ISDS regime, and the UK Government have never lost a case brought under the regime. Many safeguards are therefore already in place.
Members should be more positive about the benefits in jobs, growth and the standard of living of our constituents that TTIP offers, and they should grasp this opportunity, but with open eyes.
Had it not been for a great deal of campaigning, I suspect that we would not have been able to debate either TTIP or many other things. Julian Smith suggested that there has been plenty of parliamentary debate of this issue. There has been some debate, and perhaps the amount is increasing, but it is largely because people have raised the issue and kept campaigning on it that we have got to this stage. The Government have not initiated the debate or said what they are trying to achieve, and it seems that Ministers at times answer questions only grudgingly.
When TTIP was first raised with me a considerable time ago—a year ago, if not more—by members of a constituency peace and justice group that is involved in international development issues, I confess that I had not heard about it. I did not know what they were talking about, and I had to research and find out about it; it was not on our agenda in this place. We must give credit to such people, even if we sometimes think that they get particularly exercised about such issues. I am firmly convinced that we would not be having this debate had it not been for them.
We have to ask our Government: if we do not need to worry about such issues, what is the problem with stating that explicitly? Some months ago, when the Prime Minister made a statement on a recent summit, he said, “No, we don’t need to worry about the health service in all of this.” I asked him whether that could be explicitly stated in the agreement. I did not get a clear answer that that was his position. It was more, “Well, it’ll be all right because it is understood by everyone in some way that it will not be included.” If we are saying that the health service and public services are safe and will not be undermined by the treaty in any way, there is no harm in making that explicit in the wording of the treaty, because apparently there is no problem.
I am concerned about what constitutes a public service: it is not just the NHS; there are many other public services. Many countries, including the UK, have a mixed provision of services, and whether we think that is good, bad or indifferent, it exists. For example, a lot of social care services are provided by private companies and sometimes third sector companies. Whether good or bad, are those covered by the exclusion for public services? We must be clear about that because more and more is being provided by private companies that, perhaps rather oddly, describe themselves as “public service companies” and provide a variety of services in various fields. We must be clear about the definition of public services—I think Dr Wollaston suggested that such a definition should exist for something that is publicly funded, but we need that to be explicit in the treaty.
To reassure the hon. Lady, it was not that I said the definition should exist, but that I was reassured by Jean-Luc Demarty that it would exist. It is about who funds the service, not who provides it.
That would be clear if such a definition was in the treaty and there were no caveats, provisos or wiggle room. The same point applies to opportunities that might exist for companies to sue outwith our normal courts. I agree that if there is a clear breach of contract under our existing law, people have the right to take action to protect their financial interests. We do not always like that and it sometimes causes problems when a Government change, or indeed change their course, but on the whole we accept that because we can see clearly where it is happening, what criteria are being applied, and it is publicly reported. That is the concern about the potential tribunals.
The reason often given for having special tribunals to deal with such issues is that certain countries with whom we may be trading may not have a legal system that we trust to uphold the agreement and protect our traders. That is not the case with this treaty, given the countries involved. If that was the derivation of this provision, I argue that we do not need it, and if we do not need it, it should not be there. It is not good enough to say, “It will be there, but it will not cover this or that; it will be all right because we have always won in the past.” If we do not need the treaty because we are equal partners—perhaps not entirely equal, but much more equal than has been the case with some trade treaties—we do not need a special regime. I do not say that there will never be a need to litigate. If some of our companies felt that they were being barred illegitimately from the United States despite the terms of the treaty, they might want to litigate, but I argue that the opportunity to do that through normal court processes in the United States exists and we do not need anything special.
This treaty must be as public and open as possible. That is the purpose of the motion, but it must also be ongoing. The people who contact us are deeply concerned and want to know that their interests are being protected. The onus is on the Government of the day who are negotiating the treaty to bring it back at regular intervals and update us on what is happening and what provisions they have managed to include. They should not expect us and our constituents to accept some reassurance that things are all right and we should not be worried or frightened. If we have nothing to be frightened of, the Government have nothing to be afraid of in keeping us fully abreast of negotiations.
I congratulate Geraint Davies on securing the debate.
TTIP, if it goes ahead, will be the biggest and boldest free trade agreement of all time. Like it or hate it, it is huge and it will impact on our constituents in any number of ways. It is therefore welcome that we are discussing it, albeit on the very margins of the parliamentary calendar, but we are nothing like as involved as we should be. If trends continue, we will find ourselves bound into a staggeringly far-reaching agreement without having given it anything like the kind of scrutiny it merits. We should be grateful to the public, both here and abroad, who have understood the significance of TTIP. Well over 1 million European citizens have signed a petition calling for, among other things, greater transparency. In response, the EU has reluctantly agreed to publish some, but not all, the texts relating to the TTIP negotiations. At this stage, no one can talk with any real certainty about the minutiae of TTIP—that is just not possible—but we can see the direction of travel. For my part, I think it is incredibly worrying.
The most obvious concern relates to the investor state dispute settlement mechanism, which has already been discussed. Up until a few days ago, it was an absolutely core component of the proposal. I welcome that public pressure is forcing a rethink on that for now. The ISDS effectively allows foreign businesses to sue Governments for policy decisions that impact on their future profits. That would happen not through our domestic courts, but through new investor tribunals.
The ISDS is not, as many hon. Members have pointed out, a new concept. It exists in other free trade agreements. There are many examples of countries having been sued successfully for policy changes they have made: limiting coal mining in sensitive areas in Indonesia; attempts to raise standards for coal power plants in Germany; attempts to impose oil spill controls in South America and so on. The best known example, which we have already heard about, relates to Australia being sued by tobacco giants for taking measures to dissuade people from smoking. There are many other examples. Canada has been sued 35 times under current ISDS mechanisms. In one appalling case, Canada was sued by Ethyl Corporation for $250 million, via an ISDS mechanism, after it banned the highly toxic chemical MMT, which is an additive for fuel. Despite unequivocal evidence of harm—no one disputes the scientific case—Canada not only had to settle with Ethyl but reverse its ban. I accept that the ISDS has a role to play in limited circumstances. It exists to help companies do business in volatile countries with unreliable judiciaries, but the mechanism being proposed in TTIP will apply here, not in Venezuela or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I have asked the Government repeatedly for any examples of EU companies in the US, or US companies in the EU, being discriminated against by the courts of the host nation in the past five years. The answer is always the same:
“The Government does not have access to relevant information.”
If we do not have that information, how on earth can the Government make the case for ISDS? One fundamental problem with ISDS is that its very existence would act as a permanent inhibitor for legislators. Where new evidence emerges, for example, of the dangers of a pesticide, Governments would have to think twice before introducing a new regulation. Essentially, it will give the companies that are big enough to use this system the power to freeze policy evolution and buy what is effectively a risk-free environment.
The power that vests in giant international corporations is hard to exaggerate, but it does not stop there. I understand that massive public pressure has meant that ISDS has been suspended and will not be part of next month’s negotiations. I do not believe that the issue has been resolved but, with or without ISDS, I believe TTIP is still structurally geared towards satisfying the interests of multinational corporations above all else. I do not see this as a question of trade or no trade; this is a question of basic democracy.
Let us consider the so-called regulatory co-operation councils being proposed by the EU as part of TTIP. They involve formally giving stakeholders early opportunities to intervene in the regulatory process; that is, seeing proposed legalisation before it is handled by Parliaments. Hon. Members do not need to be told what kind of stakeholders will end up on that council. It is worth considering what changes we might see under TTIP. What is it that big business wants? Free trade agreements are normally about reducing trade tariffs—taxes on imports and exports. There are very few tariffs between us and the US, so the focus will be on standards. In many respects, it is hard to imagine a harmonisation of standards between the US and EU resulting in better standards for us.
Food is, I think, the best example. Our standards are undeniably higher than the standards that apply in the US on a whole range of issues; hormones in beef, milk and pork, the use of steroids, chlorine-treated chicken meat and the clear labelling of processed food. We have a fundamentally different approach. We are told by our Government that food standards are safe and that nothing will happen. Try telling that to US agribusiness giants who have been engaging in an orgy of lobbying and have very high expectations.
On food, the hon. Gentleman will know that many in the food sector are very keen to trade significantly but really do worry about the implications of the treaty and the terms under which it is done. They feel that it will potentially undermine them rather than giving them a floor of confidence on which they can trade.
I very much agree and the same is true of chemical regulation. In Europe, our approach, while being very far from perfect, puts an emphasis on the precautionary principle. Again, we are told that our approach will not be affected, but there is plenty of evidence—including today—that that is not true. For example, the EU proposed in 2013 that endocrine-disrupting chemicals—chemicals that mess with the sexual development of children—should be banned, at least until they are proven to be safe. For the record, there is no scientific doubt at all about the effect of endocrine disruptors; none at all. But on the back of savage lobbying by the chemical industry, the US Government weighed in and pressed the EU to consider the impact of their proposals on fledgling trade negotiations. Bingo; a few months later, the proposals were suspended. The lobby groups had won. Our Government, to their shame, were involved in that process; the first European Government to step forward on the side of the lobby groups and say, “Yes, let’s back off and not jeopardise our trade deals.”
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the precautionary principle in the EU. Does he agree that there is a risk to air and water safety from fracking and that we will get sub-standard environmental controls, as there are in the United States, through the back door of TTIP, with ISDS?
I am going to skip the question of fracking as I am running out of time but, for the record, the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point.
So why are we moving heaven and earth for this vast trade deal? We are told that it is about jobs and growth, and that Europe might benefit by £100 billion. But there are any number of reports that say the opposite. But it is all nonsense. We have no idea. The history of these sorts of predictions in relation to big free trade deals is pretty woeful. We were told that the north American free trade agreement, for example, would create a million new jobs. There is more or less a consensus now that it cost America 870,000 jobs.
What specific problems will TTIP resolve that merit ceding our sovereignty in this spectacular fashion? I ask Members of my own party specifically; why is it not okay to hand the reins of our ancient democracy to an unelected EU bureaucracy, but absolutely fine and great to allow those same unelected Eurocrats to delegate our democracy to multinational corporations?
I wonder how much support there would be in my party or on the Opposition Benches for this treaty if people fully and truly understood the implications. I remember interviewing the famous consumer activist Ralph Nader for The Ecologist about NAFTA. He told me that he was reaching the end of the campaign and that Congress was going to give it a green light. He did not believe that anyone in Congress had read the report. He said that he would give a cash reward to anyone who could answer his questions. Months passed. Finally, Senator Brown of Colorado accepted the challenge and got every question right, to everyone’s amazement. He then turned to the cameras and said that having read the report he was going to vote against it as he could see how dangerous it was.
I believe that any self-respecting Member of this House should demand–no, insist—not only transparency and scrutiny by this House, but the right to approve or reject this treaty before our country is bound to it.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend Geraint Davies on securing a debate on an issue that is important for the future economy of the UK and of Europe and for globalisation. We should broadly welcome the principles behind TTIP but obviously we need to take into consideration a lot of the issues raised by Members, especially Zac Goldsmith, and to ensure that we have continued parliamentary scrutiny.
Any trade agreement that can give the UK and Europe greater access to US markets can only be welcomed. There are obviously certain caveats to that and I will come on to them. I believe that this agreement has the potential to help regulate a globalised economy so that it is pro-business but also pro-fairness. It is also critical that we take part in the negotiations from the start and continue with them because we cannot close the door on the world. To be opposed to TTIP as a matter of principle without any regard to jobs and investment opportunities is counter-productive. It would seem to me to be fundamentally wrong to say no to something before the negotiations have really started and a framework decided upon.
I shall say a few things about the importance of US-UK trade and investment. US investment in the UK in 2013 was $571 billion. UK investment in the US was $519 billion. US exports to the UK were $107 billion, while US imports from the UK were £101 billion. With $1 trillion in investment and £204 billion each year in trade, the UK-US economic relationship is one of the largest and most important anywhere in the world. The US and the UK are each other’s largest foreign investors, and this investment supports over 1 million jobs in each country, and the Government estimate that TTIP could boost the UK economy by as much as £10 billion a year.
As far as trade and investment is concerned, the UK can benefit the most through TTIP in comparison with any other EU economy. The impact on the north-east, where my constituency is based, could be significant, too. Some £2.4 billion of north-east exports go to our single biggest market—the US—which is equivalent to 66% of all north-east air freight. The North East chamber of commerce estimates that 42% of its members want to export to the US in the next 24 months, while the trend for the numbers of exporters in the north-east is increasing every year to the point where more than 2,500 businesses are exporting to Europe. Over 200 medium and large US-owned companies in the north-east exports products around the world.
US-owned companies such as Sevcon, Caterpillar, AAF Ltd, Esterline Darchem, GE Wellstream and Union Electric Steel are all based in the north-east of England. Newcastle airport is starting direct flights to New York to prove the significance of the north-east/US relationship. Any deal that can bring down business tariffs and raise standards by harmonising regulation, including the labour market, and that can promote trade and investment can only be worth negotiating.
It is not only US companies that can benefit; UK-based companies can, too. I am thinking of Kromek in my constituency; it is based at Netpark, which is a science park. It produces systems for airline security and state-of-the-art X-ray technology, which has great trade significance for the US.
There is obviously some scepticism about the deal, especially concerning ISDS. However, EU Trade Commissioner Malstr?m has said:
“Let me be clear: the TTIP that the European Commission will negotiate and present for ratification will be an agreement that is good for citizens—good for growth and jobs here in Europe. It will be an agreement which strengthens Europe’s influence in the world, and which would help us protect our strict standards. The European Commission would never even consider an agreement which would lower our standards or limit our governments’ right to regulate. Neither would EU Member States, nor the European Parliament.”
A letter from another Commissioner to my right hon. Friend John Healey, who chairs the all-party group on TTIP, says on the question of ISDS:
“We can already state with confidence that any ISDS provisions in TTIP could have no impact on the UK’s sovereign right to make changes to the NHS.”
I hope that this information clearly demonstrates that there is no reason to fear either for the NHS as it stands today or for changes to the NHS in future as a result of TTIP.
It seems to me that the problem is not with TTIP, but with the Government. Judith Kirton-Darling, Labour MEP for the north-east, has said:
“The European Commission mandate prevents it from including services that are still publicly funded…TTIP must guarantee our full ability to provide any service publicly if the British people choose to do so. The coalition government claim that the NHS is safe but refuse to specifically exclude it from the draft text. That can only lead…to the conclusion that the biggest threat to our NHS is not TTIP but the Tory-led government.”
Finally, let me say that TTIP is something on which we have to negotiate. It was Clem Attlee 70 years ago who got us involved with the general agreement on tariffs and trade because he wanted to regulate the global economy. That was 70 years ago—and we want an opportunity to do exactly the same now.
Order. I am afraid that I must reduce the time limit for Back-Bench speeches to five minutes,
I, too, congratulate Geraint Davies. I will of course give his motion my full backing.
Eighteen months ago, TTIP was little more than an obscure European Union acronym. Barely a word of caution had been uttered in the House, and barely a headline had been written about the risks that it poses to our democracy. How fast things change when people realise how much is at stake! I have received hundreds of e-mails from residents in my constituency who are concerned about TTIP—and yes, one of the things that concerns them is the national health service. I believe that TTIP and its investor protection provisions still pose an unacceptable threat to the ability of future Governments to, for example, repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and reverse creeping privatisation in the public health sector.
We have heard assurances from the European Union, and from advocates of TTIP on both sides of the House, that such fears are unfounded, but I think it significant that, less than a month ago, the British Medical Association confirmed that it was continuing to lobby against the inclusion of health in TTIP. We are not helped by the fact that the Commission seems to convey a whole set of mixed messages when it talks about the issue. I think that, when that is added to the general secrecy that surrounds all this, we have grounds to be deeply concerned.
However, the case against TTIP, like the concern felt by my constituents, goes far beyond that. It comes down to an issue that many Members have raised today, the issue of the investor state dispute settlement. People are increasingly opposed to an agreement that could fatally undermine democratic law making in relation to food standards, animal welfare and environmental protection. Workers’ rights, consumer protection and education policy are also in the firing line.
Much has come to light about the true nature of the investor state dispute mechanism. Its central purpose is to give private companies new rights to sue Governments, in secret tribunals, for passing laws or regulations in the public interest if that might get in the way of making higher profits. I am not the only person to say that. A rampantly pro-TTIP briefing from a lobby group representing the City—bankers, private equity firms and so forth—is quite illuminating. It emphasises the central importance of so-called investor rights, and makes it clear that TTIP would
“set a precedent for future trade and investment agreements” .
Perhaps most alarming is what it says about how those investor rights should be upheld, namely:
“Some critics have suggested that investors should seek redress through the judicial system of the country where the investment is made before asserting a claim in investor-state arbitration. Such a requirement undermines the very reason why ISDS is included in most investment agreements—to depoliticise the issue in dispute and to provide for a neutral panel to examine whether a host government has breached its treaty obligations.”
Most of us would probably have assumed that our own judicial system, along with those in all the other member states, was designed precisely to guarantee neutrality and freedom from political interference. Why should we need a separate, corporate-only mechanism? No one has explained why it is required. The idea that it somehow depoliticises the issue strikes me as completely wrong. I believe that the aim is actually to remove issues from public scrutiny.
The briefing appears to suggest that the current judicial system with which we all live in our various member states is fine for our constituents—those who can still gain access to it after the cuts in legal aid—but private companies are somehow entitled to something that they should think is better. I find that disregard for the independence of our judiciary incredibly worrying, and there is no justification for it. Pieter de Pous, the policy director of the European Environmental Bureau and a member of the EU’s TTIP advisory group, has said:
“The EU and US have well-developed legal systems which have more than adequately handled foreign direct investment until now. ISDS would only lead to the erosion of laws that deliver public benefits, notably those that protect consumers’ and workers’ rights and the environment.”
I am still waiting to hear from someone, in the Chamber or elsewhere, who can explain why we need a separate corporate-led dispute settlement mechanism. I am glad that it is on hold—and that is not despite but because of huge civil society outrage in the United Kingdom and throughout the European Union. I think that we should be grateful to the campaigners who have helped to put the issue centre stage, and that we should not be complacent until the mechanism has been ditched completely. This week, the results of the European Commission’s public consultation showed that more than 97% of the 150,000 respondents opposed its inclusion in TTIP.
Even if we spent the rest of this so-called zombie Parliament scrutinising TTIP in minute detail, the ISDS would simply not be an acceptable proposition. Fashionable as it is—in some circles—to have a pop at the EU, let us make sure that we point the finger in the right direction. It is the Commission on which we should focus: it should be listening to the public, not dismissing and overruling them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Geraint Davies on securing this debate and also on his work in the European Scrutiny Committee whenever we have had the opportunity to meet Foreign Ministers from other EU countries and MEPs. I should stress, however, that TTIP is not being decided by the ESC, and that is one of the big concerns we all have. I am very pro-European, and I think we have done an enormous amount across Europe to raise uniform standards for manufacturers so they are not different in every country but protect the consumer, but this agreement seems to be rushed through with huge secrecy, whereas normally there is significant consultation.
I am certainly not against a trade agreement. Trade is important and we want to make sure that the way forward is through trade, but we must get the balance of power right between big business and democratically elected Governments. That is the key point here, particularly in respect of the ISDS mechanism. It is only through public pressure that we have had this pause for consultation on the mechanism and the report that was produced this week. I am pleased to hear Commissioner Malmström say:
“The consultation clearly shows that there is huge scepticism against the ISDS. We need to have an open and frank discussion about investment protection and ISDS in TTIP with EU governments, with the European Parliament and civil society before launching any policy recommendations in this area.”
We need to make sure that happens.
We must use this opportunity to rethink the whole issue of ISDS. Numerous examples have been given by hon. Members, including Zac Goldsmith, who has just left his seat, such as on the issue of forcing the reversal of environmental legislation. We have courts and the US has courts, so there are perfectly legitimate ways in which breaches of contract can be raised. The question is: why do we need the ISDS mechanism at all in this trade agreement?
We in the UK strive to develop high food quality and animal welfare standards and try to have a level playing field across Europe. Recently, UK poultry farmers, who have implemented higher standards for cages for hens here, have raised concerns that some European countries are dragging their feet, thereby distorting the level playing field, but obviously we will get that put right by the EU. Our standards are in many respects higher than those in the US, and the great danger in TTIP is that the standards in the US and the EU might be mutually recognised, so we would have to accept US goods even if they did not meet our standards. That would create an enormous problem for us. It would create a very uneven playing field and the obvious solution for many farmers here would be to want to downgrade standards to meet US standards. It is very unlikely that that would be working the other way round because of the pressure of price.
If anyone thinks this is just some myth we have dreamed up, we should note that the US Agriculture Secretary has said the EU needs to
“rethink its current bans on chlorine-washed chicken and beef from cattle raised with growth hormones.”
So we know there is huge pressure coming from the US to try and drive its standards forward at the expense of our higher standards. The same goes for protecting labour rights. We know there have been some weak outcomes already in trade agreements on workers’ rights abroad, so we have to be very careful.
I am not going to repeat some of the examples already mentioned about the problems with the ISDS, but I want us to make sure that we are not complacent about the NHS. It worries me that Lord Livingston said in September that TTIP would not impact on the NHS so the Government will not push for its exclusion. We want to be absolutely certain about that. It is no good leaving it to some future secret court to decide. We need to be absolutely certain that the NHS is not in any way compromised by TTIP.
The NHS European Office is part of the NHS Confederation. It has tried to be as balanced as it can be, and it says:
“If the final agreement includes ISDS, we would wish to see very strong safeguards built in so that this mechanism cannot be used to frustrate the public policy intentions of elected member state governments.”
It also states:
“There is a need to be vigilant that the TTIP wording does not lower standards for the approval of pharmaceuticals”, in the same way as we have talked about for food standards.
I urge the Minister to make certain that the UK is fully involved in those negotiations, and that we do not leave any i undotted or t uncrossed, and we make sure that we safeguard our NHS, our food standards and our environmental standards.
I commend my hon. Friend Geraint Davies for securing this debate. It is long overdue, so well done to him for pressing for it. I also want to thank all the campaigning groups that have done so much work on this subject, including War on Want, the Global Justice Movement and the TUC. To the irritation of Conservative Members, I also want to thank 38 Degrees. There is no harm in members of the public e-mailing us. There is no harm in them getting together and asking MPs what they think, what they are doing and, above all, what they intend to do about a particular issue. That is what an interactive democracy is about, and modern technology gives us the opportunity to do these things. We should not be afraid of that; we should welcome it, even if it means replying to 300 or 400 e-mails at a time. That is not complicated, and I am sure that Members will eventually get used to the idea that there is going to be a lot more interaction in the future.
The Government have sent—perhaps only to Conservative Members, I do not know—a very unhelpful document called “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: separating myth from fact”. It actually raises far more questions than it answers. It states rhetorically that it is being suggested that
“TTIP is being agreed by a European institution which was not democratically elected”.
Its response is:
“The UK Parliament will have an opportunity to scrutinise the final agreement through debates in both Houses.”
However, it goes on to say that the eventual deal will be agreed by the EU Council and the European Parliament—which is of course not the same as a national Parliament—and prays in aid the fact that
“TTIP is also the subject of a House of Lords enquiry and an All-Party Parliamentary Group.”
That is hardly a wholehearted endorsement of the democratic scrutiny of an arrangement that will be crucial to the work and ordinary lives of the people of this country.
What is the objective of TTIP? It is to increase trade between Europe and north America, but that trade is not without a cost. It benefits the companies that undertake it and, yes, that could be beneficial if it means more jobs. But let us look at other trade agreements that claimed in advance that they would offer the same great advantages. An example is the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico. Severally, companies in those countries were all told that free trade would increase trade and opportunities and help to eliminate poverty. Who have been the losers? Those who have been de-industrialised in what is now, unfortunately, known as the rust belt in the USA; those who have seen their working conditions damaged in Canada; and those working for companies that have been set up in Mexico in a virtual tax haven zone on the border, who are paid disgracefully low wages and have appalling working conditions. Has NAFTA actually benefited any of the people it was claimed it would benefit, or has it in fact enriched those who were already doing very nicely, thank you very much? There are some serious questions to be answered there.
There are seven areas of concern: food, climate change, small businesses, policy making, medicines, jobs, and public services. All of them would be affected by TTIP, and all are examples of areas in which private businesses would become empowered to prosecute Governments if they took decisions that were seen to be damaging to private interests. Do we think that this is a cri de coeur? Well, yes it is. It is a cri de coeur for democracy and for the right of people to elect a Government who can decide what goes on in their country. Let us examine the power of global corporations to attack the Government of South Africa for trying to buy generic anti-retroviral drugs, the Government of Ecuador for trying to protect the environment, or the Government of Argentina when the vulture funds bought up debts and are now penalising the people of that country. There are many other places where similar things are happening.
I conclude by asking why there is secrecy surrounding the negotiations. Is it because there are ante-rooms on either side of the Atlantic stuffed full of highly effective corporate lobbyists doing their best to develop their own interests? Should we not instead be demanding a free trade agreement that narrows the gap between the rich and the poor, that protects the advance of public services such as the national health service, that fundamentally protects food production, and that ensures that the best standards become the universal standards, rather than engaging in a race to the bottom that results in the worst standards becoming the norm on both sides of the Atlantic? I hope that the House will reject TTIP.
In my traditional role as the last Back-Bench speaker, I thank my hon. Friend Geraint Davies, as others have done, for bringing the subject before us.
These Back-Bench debates enable us to come to a view on a particular matter. It does not look as though there will be a vote today, apart from a shouted vote, in favour of my hon. Friend’s proposal, which aims for some element of democratic involvement in the process. For the record and for my constituents, if there were a vote today with regard to TTIP, I would vote against it. I think the majority of Members would vote against it because it is a pig in a poke. We do not know what it is.
I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr Spellar. It is a good job that he is not here, as he would probably have a heart attack hearing that. He described TTIP as the establishment of the biggest institutional trade agreement since we joined the Common Market. That is true. If one considers the scale of this agreement, the population that it covers and the immensity of the world trade that it covers, it is bigger than the Common Market agreement. I cannot understand why we are not going through the same process. When we entered the Common Market, we went through a lengthy process. There were Green Papers and White Papers. There were consultation papers that went to every household, and there was eventually a referendum because we thought it had such significance for the sovereignty of the people of this country.
The TTIP agreement passes over economic sovereignty on a scale that is equivalent to the establishment of the Common Market and the European Union, so I cannot understand why the Government are allowing that to happen without the full involvement of the people. Well, I think I can understand it, because most people have guessed it by now. This is about the corporate capture of policy making in this country and in parts of Europe. The only direct response MPs have had from the Government dates back to last September, when our constituents started contacting us. Eventually we got a letter from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills trying to assuage the anxieties expressed to us by our constituents. He went through a series of points.
We need to start having a real debate with our constituents on the points that the Secretary of State made. He argued that there would be immense economic benefits. We heard that today—at least £10 billion of increased trade as a benefit to this country, and a significant number of jobs. The bizarre thing about it is that the work commissioned by the Government and the Centre for Economic Policy Research states that there is a risk of a million jobs being lost in this country overall.
Each point the Secretary of State made is now contested. On small businesses, he argued in his letter that the trade agreement would be good for small business in this country. That is contested by the small business lobby in this country and right across Europe in every sector, particularly agriculture. On deregulation, the Secretary of State tried to allay fears about deregulation and said that there would be a levelling up rather than a levelling down. We heard today from a range of speakers. I commend my hon. Friend Liz McInnes and Zac Goldsmith, who went through a series of areas where there is a risk to the standards we have set in this country across the provision of services.
With regard to the NHS being under attack and the assurances that we have been given, the person who said that TTIP would cover the NHS was not on the Opposition Benches. It was Mr Clarke. He was asked whether the NHS would come within the ambit of the agreement and he confirmed that it would. We have had assurances since then, but Dr Whiteford pointed out that since those assurances, if we look at the detail of the paperwork provided to us at last, it demonstrates that there is a series of caveats. That means that the NHS is still at risk.
We come to the main issue at stake, the ISDS process. This is a transfer of power and decision making from democratically elected sovereign bodies to a group of corporate lawyers sitting in private and in secret. This country might not have lost cases, but in countries where this process has operated and where sovereign Governments have made decisions about the provision of public services, the countries have lost out, and it has cost them billions. In some instances, it has impoverished whole countries and whole sectors of a particular industry.
TTIP presents a huge risk. I hope that if we pass the motion today unopposed, the Government will recognise that there needs to be a democratic process in place, not just for this House to scrutinise at each stage, but for the people of this country to be involved in the process. That is why I commend all those who pressurised us to have this debate today.
It is always a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend John McDonnell—indeed, I always follow him because he always seems to be called last in these debates. I do not know what he has done to upset someone in this House, but I am sure Santa delivered him some presents last month. He rightly pointed out the concerns about TTIP, and the Minister might wish to reflect that my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend Mr Spellar are agreeing on something, which shows there must be significant problems with the TTIP negotiations. I hope that the Minister realises that people have significant concerns across the House, and those have been expressed today.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Geraint Davies for bringing this important debate to the House. Everything he said in his opening remarks has been reflected across all the contributions made this afternoon, and I am glad he stated at the end of his contribution that his aspiration was for a gold standard in trade deals to properly regulate trade from the EU and across the Atlantic. That is the way we want this to go, and the proper debate in this House is about ensuring that we can get the information, the scrutiny and the transparency we need to make those proper decisions on behalf of our constituents.
TTIP does command considerable public interest, and I was slightly disappointed that Mr Walker railed against 38 Degrees. I appreciate that there have been some problems on this issue but, as my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn rightly says, if constituents are e-mailing us with concerns and the information they are getting is inaccurate, that gives us an opportunity. I am glad they e-mailed me in their thousands, because that gives me an opportunity to put the record straight and give them further information.
Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that I agree with him completely; I am always glad of the opportunity to put the correct facts to my constituents. The problem occurs where a group is misleading its own members, and I do think it is legitimate to raise concerns about that, especially where a Select Committee has been misled on a number of occasions.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman to a certain degree, but as for the way the campaign has been run by a number of organisations, let me say that they are rightly raising concerns. That is a symptom of the transparency and the debate in this House, and the fact that Members have not been given the information that their constituents are seeking. It is incredibly disappointing that this is the third debate we have had in this House but each has been brought by Back-Bench Opposition Members. We really need the Government to debate this properly and in a much more transparent fashion.
The truth is that this place lacks proper ways to hold Ministers to account for what they do or decide in Europe on these trade deals. This is not just a criticism of this place and the Government, because the EU has also had to be persuaded to be more transparent. Although it has improved transparency to a certain extent on TTIP, the EU has an incredibly long way to go to give the public confidence that it is actually responding to their concerns.
In what has been termed a “zombie Parliament”, the Government can hardly argue that we do not have time to spare to talk about very important issues such as TTIP.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we often talk about the zombie Parliament. We seem to have done very little in this House for the past year to 18 months, and we could have used some of that Government time to explore these issues. Perhaps if we had done so, we would not have had some of the misinformation that is perceived to be around, and we would have been able to address some of the concerns of the constituents who have e-mailed us in great numbers. That was rightly emphasised by my hon. Friend Liz McInnes, who stressed that a lack of scrutiny and transparency had led to widespread suspicions about TTIP, and those have to be addressed.
The economic impact of TTIP is debated, but it is important to bear it in mind that it will entirely depend on the final scope of the deal. To a certain extent I agree with Julian Smith; we have to analyse this on the basis of benefits and we have to make sure that they are actually tangible benefits to our constituents. We know from recent history that balanced trade deals have a positive impact on economic activity and job creation, but people’s concerns mean that we are here to debate them and whether or not those positive impacts are actually real. Until we address those, we cannot get on to what the positive impacts might be—and there should be such impacts, because Europe and the US are our most important markets today.
Indeed, the US is the UK’s biggest export market and TTIP could be transformative, but only if it is allowed to be and only if the deal is good for the UK. It does provide a real opportunity to regulate global trade, and it could benefit the UK. We should not shy away from that, because unregulated trade creates a race to the bottom. Many Members have stated in this debate that it is the race to the bottom that concerns them, and it is this process that is creating that race to the bottom, especially when it comes to standards and the way that the negotiations are perceived to be progressing.
As many Members have mentioned, including my hon. Friend Phil Wilson, Labour Governments, going back to the Attlee Administration, have engaged positively in attempting to regulate global trade, making trade agreements to ensure that everyone benefits, and that is an important point to make.
Labour lends its support to the principle of TTIP and trade, but not unqualified support. We should not accept any deal that is not beneficial to the British people, and the benefits from any deal must filter down to consumers and small businesses. That point was made by the Federation of Small Businesses in the submission that it sent to all Members. We are not prepared to accept a deal that does not protect our public services and the NHS, and which does not satisfy the concerns that we have heard this afternoon on safety, food and environmental and labour standards. That was a point that was made quite forcefully by my right hon. Friend Mr Spellar. We must have a deal that has transparency and accountability at its heart.
There is widespread interest in these negotiations. Organisations such as Global Justice Now deserve tremendous credit for ensuring that TTIP is in the consciousness of both the public and politicians. It is the topic on which I have received the most correspondence as a Member of Parliament, which shows the thirst that the public has for gaining more information on what this trade deal means for them personally.
What is clear is that this cannot be a backroom trade deal done between Brussels and Washington. In a debate last February, my right hon. Friend John Healey said:
“Like justice, good trade policy must not only be done but must now be seen to be done.” —[Hansard, 25 February 2014; Vol. 576, c. 189.]
Any legitimate agreement must command broad-based confidence that it will deliver on the benefits that it has claimed.
Pressure from interested politicians and the public through some of the campaigns has led to advancements in the deal. Let me start by mentioning the NHS and public services. We have said all along that unless the NHS and public services are fully protected we cannot and will not support any TTIP deal. It was Labour and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne who were the first to insist on full protection for the NHS. With Labour colleagues in the UK and European Parliaments, we have been campaigning hard for this guarantee, and it is that campaigning that has secured the commitment from the EU chief negotiator that the NHS can and will be fully protected. He said that
“full policy space has been reserved for publicly funded health services” and, further, that any provision will have
“no impact on the UK’s sovereign right to make changes to the NHS.”
However, Labour will not support a deal unless that commitment is totally honoured. It will take a strong UK Government in the EU to ensure that that is delivered, but Government Ministers have done nothing to secure that commitment at EU level. What is clear is that the biggest threat to the NHS and public services in the UK—this has been said by many of my hon. Friends—is not this or any trade agreement, but the re-election of a Conservative Government in May. Of course EU negotiators need the agreement of member state Governments to be able to take these things forward. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will not support any TTIP treaty that includes the NHS and public services? He can give that commitment at the Dispatch Box this afternoon and take the matter off the table.
As my hon. Friend Sheila Gilmore said, if the Government are so convinced that the NHS and other public services are not to be included in the deal, why do they not take a belt and braces approach and put it into the negative list to give everyone the comfort that they seek? This is important not just for the NHS and public services but because Labour will repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012 in May 2015 without impediment. The failure to put public services, including the NHS, on the negative list might, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield said, undermine the assurances we have been given. So it would be very good to get the Minister’s response to that.
The second area that many Members have focused on is ISDS. There is a case for saying that private arbitration mechanisms are best used among partners with uneven levels of protection and where a due process of law cannot be guaranteed, but that is not the case in either the US or the EU, and many Members have said that in those particular advanced jurisdictions, contract law should suffice. There are huge concerns that ISDS would prevent Governments from legislating for the benefit of the country. TTIP must not challenge the ability of this House, and of elected Members, to adopt and implement laws and regulations as we see fit and as we are elected to do.
If the Labour party were given an opportunity and were in charge of these negotiations at any point in the near future, would they insist on the removal of ISDS from TTIP? Is that a red line for them?
We have said clearly that ISDS in its current form is not desirable in this trade deal, and the Government have said they do not think that ISDS will ever be used in the context of an EU-US trade deal, so my question would be, if it will not be used, why have it in that deal? We very much welcome the European Commission’s consultation. We very much welcome yesterday’s announcement that ISDS has been suspended, but we are unconvinced at this stage that ISDS in its current form is either necessary or desirable in the agreement, and we would have to see what its pausing would do.
On the basis of that intervention, my question to the Minister would be: how will he respond to the pausing and suspension of the ISDS negotiations in the trade deal yesterday, and what will the UK Government be doing to express the serious concerns on those issues expressed in the House today?
I shall mention some of the views expressed by my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend Mr Anderson emphasised that we want free trade but that it is important to engage to ensure that it is fair and regulated. He was right to talk about the power of trade agreements to drive up standards, and to say that that should be the goal, and that we should not support the dilution of standards. He gave personal examples of where that has happened. I absolutely agree with Dr Whiteford, who highlighted the potential benefits for the Scottish agricultural industry, but spoke about what the impact would be, in that particular economy, on food standards.
I was slightly confused by Dr Wollaston, who seemed to say that the NHS was completely and utterly secure, but then argued that the tobacco industry should be removed from the deal in case it could use ISDS provisions to sue the UK Government for acting on public health grounds. That was a slightly contradictory response. That highlights the fact that ISDS is a real problem as regards what TTIP is intended to deliver.
As time is running out, I shall pose some questions to the Minister, who may be able to answer them in his reply. What plans do the Government have to ensure that this House is kept fully informed as to the content of those negotiations and the Government’s response to them? Will he keep the public informed and engaged, because it is clear from this afternoon’s debate that the public are not engaged in this process directly by the Government but by other organisations? Will he outline how the business community will stay engaged in this debate and how he will respond to what looks as though it will be the unanimous passing of the motion moved by my hon. Friend from Cardiff West?
I am sorry. That is a slip that should never be made in this House, but never mind. Cardiff West is probably the best place to be. I have often been called the Member for Glasgow South, and been very happy to be so.
We need more engagement on TTIP in this House and at EU level, and I hope the Government will respond positively to this debate so that everyone can benefit from a robust and effective treaty, and so that the concerns that were exposed this afternoon can be dealt with properly.
It is a pleasure to respond to this crucial debate on TTIP. We must set the debate in the context of Britain’s great trading history, from the wool trade of the middle ages and the spice routes of the 17th century to the Pax Britannica in Victorian times, which saw the Navy deployed to keep the lanes of trade open around the world. As a nation, we are deeply committed to free and fair exchange, and with remarkably few exceptions that was the consensus in today’s debate. With the abolition of the corn laws by a Conservative Prime Minister, we were the first country in the world to open ourselves up to foreign competition. Peel knew that one tackles the cost of living not by fixing markets but by setting them free, and that is a lesson that holds true today.
Is—[Interruption.] Is TTIP really about setting markets free, or is it about having a single regulatory system across the Atlantic whereby people will be forbidden from selling things unless they comply with those regulations?
Order. Before the Minister replies, if the hon. Gentleman has not been in the Chamber for the debate, and I judge by the mood of the House that that might well be the case, he should think carefully before intervening on the Minister and taking up time.
TTIP is about fair and free trade and since 1970 the percentage of people worldwide who live on less than $1 a day has fallen by 80% when adjusted for inflation, not because of public works or central planning but because of the dawn of market liberalism in countries that once embraced state control. That point was made by Members on both sides of the House. Indeed, Geraint Davies, whom I congratulate on obtaining the debate, set out how TTIP can demonstrate trade liberalisation and, alongside the trans-Pacific trade partnership, or TPP, which is proposed between the US and countries around the Pacific, and the EU-Canada deal, can form the basis of a global free trade area with global standards to which others could aspire. I very much agree with him on that point.
Does the Minister agree that there is a strong case for a trade relationship with Africa, particularly north Africa, given that a lot of the pressure for migration comes from inequality? We should be sharing the fruits of global trade rather than hoarding it for the rich nations.
Yes, I agree wholeheartedly, not just about Africa but about progress on the India trade deal. This raising from grinding poverty of billions of people has come about because they have been able to access the world market economy. That is a vital way of fighting poverty around the world.
Will the Minister explain why the Government’s leaflet on “TTIP myths” claims that a family of four would benefit by £400 a year yet makes no mention of the peer-reviewed paper from Tufts university that predicts that over 10 years the average working Briton will be more than £3,000 worse off as a result of the lower wages that TTIP will fuel? Why is that not included in his myths?
The conclusion that trade raises wages and prosperity is borne out not only in the theory but in the evidence. The evidence of my lifetime has been that enhancing trade increases prosperity. That has happened in the decades for which I have been on this earth in a greater way than in any other time in history. About £1.5 billion in goods and services is traded between the US and Europe every day and 13 million jobs are linked to that. This ambitious agreement has the target, which it could meet, of adding as much as £10 billion to the UK. What does that figure mean? It is almost meaningless to all but the very largest companies.
This is what it means. Let us picture a small business owner who, five years ago, might nearly have gone under through no fault of his own thanks, in part, to the economic circumstances. Like so many smaller business owners, he did not give up and recently things have got better. The recovery might have delivered for him here, but he might want to expand and take on more staff and he might find people in America who want to be customers. He wants to sell his product to more people, but if margins are tight the prohibitive extra cost of the trade barriers means that that simply is not an option. Now, let us picture a post-TTIP world in which those costs do not exist. We have not only increased the UK’s GDP but managed to ensure that someone can trade, creating an apprenticeship or a job to fulfil those orders, and in America somebody can get a product that they could not get before. That reciprocity—that “something for something”—explains why free and fair exchange makes us all better off.
So how do we make that a reality? First, we must significantly reduce cost differences in regulations by promoting greater compatibility while maintaining high standards of health and safety and environmental protection, especially for cars, pharmaceuticals, food—which was mentioned by Members in all parts of the House—and financial services. Secondly, while tariffs are low on many goods, we must tackle the high remaining tariffs on, for instance, food, clothing and other goods that impede exports and hurt consumers. Thirdly, we must push for better market access for service companies, which make up almost three quarters of the UK economy. Where possible, we will seek a guarantee that our service companies are treated in exactly the same way as US providers and do not face any additional regulatory requirements beyond those that US businesses face. Fourthly, we must have more open and transparent public procurement opportunities. Why, for instance, should US rules require that only US steel is used in certain projects? Fifthly, we will target trade facilitation, removing some of the red tape and bureaucracy at borders, and cut unnecessary costs while speeding up the movement of goods.
This is a historic deal. I want to tackle some of the challenges and objections head on. Several Members raised concerns about regulation. In fact, TTIP provides an opportunity to take stock of existing rules on both sides of the Atlantic and to remove unnecessary duplication while ultimately making sure that we support a well-regulated market. This will be done without lowering environmental, labour or consumer safety standards. Nor will the inclusion of the ISDS provisions affect the ability of Governments to regulate. As many Members mentioned—my hon. Friend Mr Walter brought it up first—we already have 90 such agreements in place and there has never been a successful claim brought against the UK.
Others expressed concern about the impact on jobs, yet time and experience show that trade creates jobs and supports higher wages. This is backed up by independent assessment. The overall impact on labour markets will be positive in the EU and the US, as real wages, whether of unskilled or skilled workers, will be able to increase.
The Minister relies on history in saying that the UK has never lost an ISDS case. With regard to the way in which the ISDS regime will operate under this treaty, whether or not one can be confident that the UK will not lose a case, if a case is lost by another member state, or a firm in another member state, what would be the implications for the UK?
If a case is lost in another member state on its domestic regulation, I would not expect that to have any implications for the UK.
As on regulation, so on the NHS, which has been brought up many times. We are quite clear that there is no threat to the NHS from TTIP. Public services and publicly funded health services are not included in any of the EU trade commitments. I will go further and read what the former Trade Commissioner said to the BBC:
“Public services are always exempted—there is no problem about exemption. The argument is abused in your country for political reasons but it has no grounds.”
My hon. Friend Dr Wollaston, the Chair of the Health Committee, gave a very clear enunciation of the exemption of the NHS set out by not only the EU but the US side in these negotiations. I would say this to anybody who continues to campaign against the inclusion of the NHS in TTIP: you have already achieved your aim, and continuing to campaign is continuing actively to mislead, because public services and publicly funded health services are not included in this negotiation.
May I clarify one thing? It is probably not as important as the whole thrust of this debate, but when I was badly hurt in the Army and the NHS took responsibility for helping me get better, we used an American system to put me back on my feet. I hope, and assume, that use of American techniques and systems by the NHS is still allowed.
Of course that will be allowed, but the point is that we would still have control over our public health policy. I can give that reassurance, which was sought by Ian Murray on the Labour Front Bench, so I hope he will now remove that objection. I do not want to conclude that some Opposition Members do not want to be reassured, but increasingly that is the only view I can reasonably come to.
That was not the question I posed to the Minister. The question I asked was: if there is any threat whatsoever to the NHS and the UK’s wider public services, will the Minister and the Government sign a TTIP trade deal?
The Health Secretary has already made it clear that if a trade deal threatened the NHS, he would not support it. However, as the former Trade Commissioner has said:
“Public services are always exempted”.
I am glad that we can finally put that issue to bed. I doubt that Labour Front Benchers will raise it again, because they now know that they would be misleading the nation if they did so.
The reason for the inclusion of ISDS is to make sure that people who want to make investments have the confidence do so because they know that recourse is available.
In the couple of minutes remaining, I want to address the issue of scrutiny. As my hon. Friend Julian Smith has said, there has been huge scrutiny and engagement, including four debates in both Houses; four Select Committee inquiries; regular updates to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee and the chair of the all-party group on TTIP, John Healey; regular stakeholder meetings; endless piles of letters that I and the Minister for Trade and Investment have signed; constant consultation with the European Parliament; four online public consultations by the Commission; and we even have a TTIP roadshow.
Let no one be in any doubt: enormous consultation is taking place both inside and outside this House. The commissioners have come to this Palace. Last week, 150 pages of text, eight proposals for legal text and 15 position papers were published. Following the passage of this motion, we will ensure that I and other Ministers continue to engage with this House.
Let us once more assume our historic role as the pioneers of free trade, not only for the sake of the British people, but for the sake of all people around the world for whom liberty and prosperity go hand in hand.
I briefly thank Members for the massive attendance at this very important debate. We have heard a series of excellent speeches focusing on the benefits of trade, particularly if it is done on the right terms. On ISDS, however, no argument has been made as to why it is a good idea, other than that it has not been used against us, which sounds like the argument that there should be no gun control because we have not been shot.
This has been an informative debate and we should now unite as one to demand more scrutiny and to determine a future without multinationals breathing down our necks while we make democratic decisions on behalf of our constituents. Yes, we should trade, but we should not trade our democracy, public services or the rights that we have enjoyed and should bequeath to our sons and daughters across Europe. We want more trade, which is good for everyone as long as it is done on the right terms. We are elected here by our constituents to ensure that fair trade is delivered in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House believes that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and any associated investor-state dispute settlement provisions should be subject to scrutiny in the European Parliament and the UK Parliament.