Defending Public Services

- Monday, 23rd May 2016

 

TTIP

Peter Lilley:

 

It is a great pleasure to follow Keith Vaz, who, as always, spoke very thoughtfully on a range of subjects, and with great passion in favour of curry and against sugar. However, I was rather surprised that he implicitly endorsed the fundamentally racist immigration policy we currently have in this country whereby any number of white Europeans can come and settle here, with or without jobs, whereas a curry chef from Bangladesh related to people in this country, with an offer of a job, cannot. That is implicit, inevitable and unavoidable for as long as we remain members of the European Union, and that is why so many members of the ethnic minority community in my seat and elsewhere will be voting to leave on 23 June.

 

I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is in order for me to speak to the amendment in the names of 54 right hon. and hon. Members, including me, which says that we

 

"respectfully regret that a Bill to protect the National Health Service from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was not included in the Gracious Speech."

 

I believe in free trade—I always have and always will. I think I am the only surviving Member of this House who has negotiated a trade treaty—the Uruguay round in the 1990s when I was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Therefore, when the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership treaty was presented, my instinct was to support it, but the more closely I looked at it, the more parts of it came to worry me. TTIP is not primarily about free trade. The average tariff imposed by the United States of America on goods from the European Union is 2.5%, and that of the European Union on goods from America somewhat higher. Getting rid of them would be worth while, but it is not a big deal.

 

However, other aspects of the treaty are worrying. My main concerns relate to the investor-state dispute settlement system. That creates a system of tribunals—special courts—in which foreign multinationals can sue Governments, including the British Government, but the British Government cannot sue them, nor can British companies use those courts should they wish to.

 

These companies can sue the British Government if they feel that Government policies are harming their investments. For example, US companies could sue a British Government who wanted to take back into the public sector privately provided services in the NHS or education, or to open fewer such services to private provision. The British and EU Governments have denied that such suing is possible, but a cogent counsel’s opinion argues that, because these tribunals can award unlimited fines, and have different evidence criteria from British courts, they could, at the very least, exert "a chilling effect" on Government decision making.

 

Up until now, most of the concern about this has been expressed by people who have opposition in principle to any private provision in the health service. I do not have opposition in principle, although I have always believed that the scope for it is limited in practice.

 

I found an example in my own constituency that illustrates the problem that could arise if TTIP were in force. A surgicentre, privately owned, set up by Tony Blair and working alongside the NHS Lister hospital in Stevenage, which serves my constituents, ran into terrible problems. The whole system under which surgicentres were set up was daft; it did not work. So I lobbied against it, as did my right hon. and hon. Friends from Stevenage and north Herts—all of us Conservatives. We lobbied that it should be brought back into the NHS, and we were successful.

 

However, had TTIP been in force and the company fallen into the hands of an American health company—most private hospitals in this country are now American-owned—the company could have sued the local NHS for taking back that service. At the very least, it might have won massive damages. It might even have been able to prevent that from happening entirely. Even if it had lost, the case would have cost the local health service a massive sum, because the average cost of these cases is $8 million. It seems to me that Members should be very cautious about signing up to a treaty that might have such a consequence.

 

These tribunals were originally invented to encourage investment by American and other companies in developing countries that had poor systems of government. Their courts were, frankly, unreliable and sometimes corrupt, so a parallel system of courts was set up with the agreement of the local Government. Such Governments were prepared to suffer the indignity of having courts that could overrule their own judiciary and laws in return for encouraging investors to invest in their country, in the knowledge that, should those investors be expropriated, either directly or as the result of Government policies, they could get fair compensation. That was fine, but such courts are not necessary to encourage investment in the UK. America invests more in the UK than in any other country in the world. American companies, like those of many other countries, choose to have cases heard in British courts because they trust our courts system. We do not need a parallel system of courts to encourage and promote investment in this country.

 

The Government say, "This is impossible. It won’t happen." If it is impossible, does it really matter if they make such an assurance doubly sure by exempting the NHS from TITP, as amendment (c) suggests, just as the French have exempted their motion picture industry and artistic endeavours from the scope of the treaty? The very fact that the Government are not willing to do so, or have not been so up till now, raises some doubts, at least in my mind, about how secure we will be.

 

However, the Government have now accepted the amendment, although it is true that they did not have much choice, given the wide support for it in the House. That means the Government are now committed to bringing forward a Bill, and it is very important that they do so speedily, so that we can see whether it will achieve what we want to achieve and so that Members with wider concerns than mine—indeed, I have some further concerns about whether environment or health standards should be taken entirely out of the purview of Parliaments in the ways envisaged—can amend and adapt the Bill accordingly. If the Government do not bring in such a Bill or delay it until after the referendum, we will realise that something fishy is afoot.

 

John Redwood:

 

Is the TTIP draft treaty not just another example of what I was trying to say, which is that more and more things are no longer under the control of British law makers and electors, but under the control of unelected people in Brussels, and that such things are not amendable once they have been agreed?

 

Peter Lilley:

 

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we let TTIP through, it will be a further transfer of law-making power away from this country to international bureaucrats and multinational companies.

 

There is a referendum dimension to the TTIP treaty issue. First, the only absolutely certain way of preventing it is of course not to be part of it—by leaving the EU on 23 June. We might be able to exempt ourselves or to prevent the treaty from going ahead if we remain in, but that is far from certain. Secondly, as my right hon. Friend has said, there is a certain similarity between such courts of a supranational nature—run by bureaucrats to enforce laws negotiated by bureaucrats, which have never be endorsed by this House and are not open to rejection by it—and it is natural that those courts should sympathise with each other and carry the treaty forward. If we were outside, we could negotiate our own deal with the United States, which I hope would not need any such system of courts. Why should America need such courts to invest in this country or for us to invest in the United States? That deal would require a stripped-down and far simpler Bill, and it would be far quicker and easier to negotiate.

 

Some people have said, "But President Obama has said we won’t be allowed to negotiate a deal and we’ll have to go to the back of the queue", but the House of Commons Library has revealed that there is no queue. After the negotiation of TTIP, there are no countries with outstanding negotiations with the US. Not only was President Obama trying to bully us, but he was doing it on the basis of a bluff. We will be not only at the end of the queue but at the front of it, and we will no doubt be able to negotiate with his successor.

 

I hope that hon. Members will consider the EU dimensions of TTIP seriously. I accept that people who are very optimistic about what we can achieve within the EU, and about what the EU might be able to achieve in negotiating TTIP with the Americans, might want to take the risk. It is not a risk that I want to take. It is not a risk that those who give high priority to the NHS, or those who are worried about environmental standards, health protection standards and potential threats to our education and other public services, will want to take. In the light of the topic of today’s debate, I hope that we will give priority to protecting public services rather than going along with something that none of us has ever seen—we are not allowed to see it, and it is being negotiated in secret—and that has aspects that most of us ought to find offensive to the House and dangerous to the people of this country.

 

Later...

 

Nick Herbet:

 

I congratulate Gill Furniss on her maiden speech. It always takes courage for an hon. Member to make a maiden speech in this daunting Chamber, but it must especially have been so when she paid tribute to her predecessor—her late husband—whose untimely death robbed this Chamber of a promising new Member who spoke with equal passion for his constituents in her city of birth, Sheffield. She will clearly be a great champion for her constituents, and will speak with the bluntness that she declared. I am sure she will be a much respected Member.

 

I did not intend to address the issue of the European Union, but will respond to the points made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) and for Wokingham (John Redwood), to whom I listened with great interest. I listened with care to the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It is surprising that those who have been campaigning to leave the EU, and who for so long have criticised the EU for not completing enough trade deals despite the fact that the EU has more trade deals than any other country—it has far more than the United States—find themselves in the position of criticising trade deals. In my judgment, the benefits of TTIP include a £10 billion a year trade boost to our economy, which would enable us to invest more in public services.

 

Peter Lilley:

 

First, may I clarify to my right hon. Friend that I have long campaigned against TTIP? Secondly, Switzerland has more deals than the EU, including deals with China, Australia and India. The only countries with which the EU has deals that China does not are with very minor states.

 

 

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