I will be as brief as possible to allow as many others in as possible. [Interruption.] I may take slightly longer than four minutes, but I will be as brief as I possibly can be.
The Secretary of State said we should take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the principles of free trade. I think we should take any opportunity to reaffirm principles in support of free and fair trade, but we are not engaged in a general debate on trade; we are engaged in a debate on a specific trade agreement—one which is incredibly important to the whole of the UK, and indeed for Scotland because of our history and record of trade with Canada.
I welcome what the Secretary of State said in response to my hon. Friend Angus Brendan MacNeil, the Chair of the Select Committee—that he was sympathetic to finding other ways to engage and consult with the devolved Administrations, and indeed wider society. That is very important, particularly for Scotland, because we are a trading nation. Indeed, the most recent stats—year-end, quarter 1 of 2018—showed that Scotland’s international exports were growing at the fastest rate of any UK nation: a 12% increase over the year, compared with 8% for the UK—6.5% for England and as low as 5% growth for Northern Ireland. Scotland saw some phenomenal increases in trade—a 48% rise in exports with the Netherlands—and the Secretary of State laid out the trade increase between the UK and Canada.
So we would normally want to be able to support free and fair trade agreements that support and encourage trade, GDP growth, productivity growth and jobs. But trade agreements need to be properly scrutinised and debated, and to contain necessary protections to ensure that our vital public services are protected now and into the future, and there are two aspects of this CETA treaty that we must take issue with and probe. There has not been time to scrutinise it properly, and one might argue that that is now par for the course for this Government, not least in the way that they treat this Parliament. Indeed, in October 2016, the Secretary of State had to apologise to the European Scrutiny Committee after failing to make time for a debate on CETA before the decision was made in the Council by the UK Government to support it, and since then, although there have been outings in Committee, Westminster Hall and oral questions, there has been nothing substantive on the Floor of the House. It is also a disgrace that the Scottish Parliament has not been given any formal role in the negotiation process, particularly when we saw the input of the Canadian provinces and sub-state Parliaments in the EU.
Despite this lack of scrutiny, however, the UK is subject to all the rights and obligations arising from CETA while it remains in the EU, it will be bound by its obligations during the transitional period, and the UK Government’s aim is to roll over the EU trade agreements into an equivalent UK third-party agreement post the Brexit transition. It is therefore all the more important that there is proper scrutiny both in this House and the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies.
We also have concerns that CETA fails to properly secure key protections for Scottish, and UK, public services. According to a note prepared for the European Parliament—the Secretary of State alluded to this today—public services are excluded from CETA, including health, education and other social services. But the counter-argument notes that negotiators have used the so-called “negative list” approach, which means that all services are open to market liberalisation unless a specific and accurate reservation is entered, and entered at the outset. That can, of course, lead to the creeping liberalisation of public services, as negotiators have failed to include sufficiently watertight exclusions.
I am conscious that time is short, so I will end with two quotes. I heard very clearly what the Secretary of State had to say about protections, but Friends of the Earth has said—I am grateful to the Library for this—that the CETA proposals,
“offer no significant improvement to the dangerous” investor state dispute resolution agreement
“and should fool no-one”,
and that the new or renamed
“Investment Court System is nothing but private arbitration under another name”.
The Corporate Europe Observatory and others summed up their objections in this regard by saying that,
“it would empower thousands of companies to circumvent national legal systems and sue governments in parallel tribunals if laws and regulations undercut their ability to make money.”
The very fact that those strongly worded critiques exist and run counter to what the Secretary of State says tells me and my party that there is not sufficient clarity or certainty that the protection for our public services is fully and properly in place in this agreement.