Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:12 pm on 9th July 2015.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (International Affairs and Europe) 5:12 pm, 9th July 2015

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Ahmed-Sheikh on securing this debate. I thank her and the Minister for agreeing to my making a brief contribution on this subject.

I saw a few minutes ago at the closure of the Budget debate that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was in his place. Of course, he goes by the acronym IDS. He is a very controversial Minister at the present moment, as he should be, because he is at the heart of plans to impoverish millions of people across the United Kingdom and hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland. If IDS is a controversial acronym, then so is ISDS—the investor state dispute settlement mechanism that is at the heart of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership arrangement.

I congratulate my hon. Friend not just on securing this debate—her first Adjournment debate in the House—but on its topicality, because only yesterday in the European Parliament, by a vote of 447 to 229, there was an approval to revamp the disputed investor court that will be part of TTIP. The text proposes to

“replace the ISDS system with a new system for resolving disputes between investors and states.”

I know that the Minister will appreciate the extraordinary importance of not offering additional avenues for corporate challenge to democratic decision making. We have seen many examples in these islands over the past few years. The Government I led as First Minister of Scotland had to battle through the courts the insurance companies that were trying to prevent those suffering from pleural plaques from having access to compensation for industrial injury. I am delighted to say that the Scottish Government’s position was upheld first by the inner house and the outer house of the Court of Session—our highest court in Scotland—and then by the UK Supreme Court.

The Scottish Government are currently battling the Scotch Whisky Association, which is trying to prevent the implementation of the legislation that was passed and then endorsed by a democratic majority of the Scottish people in 2011 on the minimum pricing of alcohol, which we believe will save a substantial number of lives in Scotland and rebalance our relationship with alcohol. However, that is being challenged, blocked and tackled through the courts.

The United Kingdom Government are facing a legal challenge from British American Tobacco and other tobacco companies, such as Philip Morris, to the proposal on plain packaging for tobacco products, despite the fact that tobacco, as the Department of Health reminds us, costs 80,000 lives in England each year and a slightly higher pro rata number of lives in Scotland, where there are similar proposals from the Scottish Government.

We see corporate interests challenging the decisions of democratic legislatures and Governments. However, those challenges have happened through the domestic and European courts. The danger is that through the system of ISDS, a whole new dimension of challenge will be offered to corporate interests.

Does the Minister support the revamping proposal that was carried in the European Parliament yesterday? How can that give us assurance that the public interest will be protected from corporate challenge? Is he satisfied that we will arrive at a position where each and every democratic decision of this Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and other Parliaments across Europe will not be challenged by corporate interests, who see, as is demonstrated by the precedents cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire, in what otherwise might be seen as a welcome move toward free trade, an avenue to advance their own corporate interests?

In the Minister’s response, will the Government shape up and give us a position that shows that they recognise the danger, and will they assert, as all Governments and Parliaments should, the primacy of democratic decision making to protect the welfare of their people and the right to pursue democratically agreed policies without vested interests challenging them through a court process?