NHS and Future Trade Deals — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:00 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade) 5:00 pm, 22nd July 2019

I am concerned about that. I am concerned that, even now, we are seeing relationships, partnerships and academic work being restricted, and doubt being cast on their continuation, for those very reasons. It would be tragic if health improvement work was not done or was lost from the excellent universities that undertake those studies.

The weaknesses that I speak about are where many of the concerns about the NHS lie, particularly in relation to a US-UK deal. They drive the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the UK will be involved in some kind of investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, and that Governments or other public bodies could be sued simply for protecting our health service.

I will give three examples to demonstrate why there are real concerns and why the public are extremely anxious. The first took place between 1995 and 1997. The Canadian Government banned the export of polychlorinated biphenyl waste to comply with obligations under the Basel convention, to which the US was not a party. The waste treatment company SD Myers then sued the Canadian Government for £20 million in net damages under chapter 11 of the North American free trade agreement—an ISDS-type arbitration scheme. That claim was upheld under NAFTA, even though Canada had taken action to remain in compliance with an international treaty.

In the second case, in 1997, the Canadian Parliament again banned the import and transport of the petrol additive methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl over concerns that it caused a significant public health risk. Ethyl Corporation, the manufacturer of the additive, sued the Canadian Government, again under NAFTA chapter 11, for $251 million to cover losses resulting from what it called the “expropriation” of its plant and to its “good reputation”. That action was upheld by the Canadian dispute settlement panel. The Canadian Government repealed the ban and paid Ethyl Corporation $50 million in compensation.

Cases that involve toxic polychlorinated biphenyl waste and a petrol additive that was deemed to have a public health impact were overturned. It is quite wrong for any corporation to be able to sue a Government simply for taking steps to protect the wellbeing of their citizens. I use those two examples on purpose; they may not have a direct clinical NHS procurement characteristic, but no one could doubt they were public health measures that were overturned as a result of a trade deal that allowed private investors to do certain things.

My final example is more local. Some time ago in Scotland, we had an increase in the prevalence of hospital-acquired infection. One of the actions the Scottish Government took was to remove private cleaners and return cleaning to NHS staff. Lo and behold, the incidence of hospital-acquired infection reduced dramatically. It does not take an enormous leap of the imagination for non-core work, such as cleaning, to be put out for competition. Had that been an international company, utilising an ISDS-type arbitration scheme, one can easily see how it may have sued the Scottish Government to win back that work and continue to make profit, irrespective of the health consequences.

I have heard what the petitioners have said, and I welcome the commitments made so far that the NHS will not be included in any future trade deal. However, it would be foolish not to recognise the concerns the public have or that fraying around the edges, when it comes to what appears to be non-core, non-clinical work, can still lead to the kind of problems the petitioners are concerned about. I await with interest what the Minister says. I congratulate those who signed the petition and brought this important matter before us today.