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Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Volume 757: debated on Tuesday 18 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with other European Union member states about investor-state dispute settlement, in relation to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

My Lords, the Government have ongoing discussions on investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, with EU member states, the European Commission, MEPs and other stakeholders. We want investment protection provisions that guarantee the right of Governments to legislate in the public interest while ensuring access to justice for investors who are discriminated against or treated unfairly.

My Lords, I belatedly welcome my noble friend to the Dispatch Box. I think that this is my first interaction with him. He will know that in the past 15 years 1,400 investor protection agreements have been agreed by EU member states. In 2012, 60% of them were brought by the EU states alone and only 7.7% by the US. Therefore, it is very depressing to see that it looks like there may be a real backlash against ISDS. What discussions is my noble friend having with the Commission, which has now split the responsibility for this between the vice-president and the commissioner? Indeed, what are the UK Government doing to assure the public that state regulation for the public good will be exempted from this safeguard and that it will be a very good thing for the UK as part of TTIP?

My noble friend is entirely correct that investor-state dispute settlement provisions have existed for a long time. There are a great number of them and, to the extent that they are used, they are often used by the EU and not by US corporations. We are having detailed discussions not just with other member states and the Commission but with MEPs. I had the joy of two days in Brussels just last week discussing such matters. We are also engaging NGOs—I am meeting a number of them and other interest groups—and we continue to make the clear case that we will ensure that the UK’s interests and public services are protected in all such discussions.

My Lords, what progress has been made on incorporating into TTIP some of the features of the investor-state dispute mechanism that were achieved in the free trade agreement with Canada, which I understand incorporated provisions about transparency of proceedings, costs and other issues that meet some of the concerns that have been expressed?

The noble Baroness is entirely correct. The agreement with Canada is far more the state of the art. Although we are waiting to see the results later next month of the consultation on ISDS, I hope and assume that they will incorporate much of what we have learnt from CETA. From speaking to the US representatives, I know that they too are very much for things like transparency in ISDS clauses, thus meeting some of the genuine concerns about some of the past ISDS clauses.

My Lords, is it not the case that these trade negotiations are probably the most transparent ever? Quite rightly, the negotiating mandate has been published, which is good, and it confirms that EU member states will agree to the inclusion of investor protection and ISDS mechanisms only if they allow EU member states to pursue legitimate public policy objectives, including the regulation of public health. This is a great improvement on the past and gives a guarantee that what matters is the substance.

My Lords, my noble friend is entirely right. The substance of the ISDS clauses is nowhere near as fearful as some of the claims. Although we can improve the transparency of the discussions, and the UK is certainly seeking to do that, the EU should at least be commended on the degree of public consultation that has taken place on these discussions.

My Lords, we share the aspirations for TTIP, as long as the benefits flow to consumers and employees. We welcome the Minister’s mention of discussing the ISDS, which has become a lightning conductor for general discontent about the TTIP treaty. Given that we are talking about mature democracies with strong and robust legal structures, why does he not learn from the great example of Canute, drop the problematic ISDS and get on with selling the rest of the treaty to the country?

Given the scale of investment by our two countries, it is appropriate that companies of all sizes have protections. It is also important that we create the right sort of clause for the future. We should not have two classes of country: ones with which we have ISDS clauses, because we do not trust their legal systems, and those with which we do not. It is important to establish the right sort of clause with the US, which, as the noble Lord says, is a stable democracy, that we can then roll out to the rest of the world, making sure that we have the rule of law.

My Lords, can the noble Lord assure the House that there will be no lowering of current EU standards on things like air quality, water quality, employment standards or animal welfare by virtue of TTIP negotiations?

The President of the EU, President Barroso, has made it very clear that TTIP is not about lowering standards. It was much the same with the single market which did not, I believe, create lower standards. EU laws and fundamental rights are going to be protected as part of these discussions and in discussions with the US. The US is not seeking to change that, although it regards some of the EU regulations as being too low and it also worries about similar matters.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is genuine concern that if there is private investment from overseas in our health service and then an incoming Labour Government want to restore it into public financial control, there could be seriously high claims against us which would cause great difficulties? What is being done to ensure that that kind of claim does not cause great difficulties for the NHS in future?

I can assure the noble Lord that such claims would not arise because of TTIP, although there may be contractual claims which are a matter of domestic law. CETA, which was mentioned earlier, states:

“The EU reserves the right to adopt or maintain any measure with regard to the provision of all health services which receive public funding or State support in any form”.

It is quite clear that the decision about how these services are provided is a matter for national and, in the case of the UK, commissioning authorities. It is not going to be decided by TTIP or, indeed, any other trade agreement.

My Lords, can the Minister give the House an assurance that the influence of major multinational companies will not overcome the rights of individuals and small groups of people?

I can very much give that assurance. The groups we consult with in the UK and the steering group used by the EU are a mixture of large and small companies, consumer groups and NGOs. That will continue and we are hearing their voices very strongly. It must be understood that TTIP is going to be most beneficial to consumers, who will see lower prices, and to small companies which find the barriers caused by trade distortions far more difficult to cope with than the global multinationals. This will be the first agreement to have a small business chapter and I welcome that very substantially.

My Lords, I have listened extremely carefully to the Minister. He said that, provided the Government do not wish our National Health Service to be privatised, it will be protected. Can he give a guarantee that all parts of our current Government do not intend, with or without TTIP, further to privatise our National Health Service, because they have already started doing it?

Decisions regarding the NHS are made by the commissioning authorities. If I recall correctly, substantial privatisation of the health service took place under the previous Government. It will be a matter for the democratically elected Government and the commissioning authorities as to what may be done by private services and what may not.

My Lords, there has been a great deal of scaremongering about the National Health Service and TTIP. Might it be helpful for BIS to highlight the EU directive on NHS procurement which makes it absolutely clear that the NHS will not be caught by TTIP contracts?

That is absolutely correct. In fact, Commissioner de Gucht has been very clear:

“Public services are always exempted ... The argument is abused in your country for political reasons”.

That is pretty clear. The US has also made it entirely clear. Its chief negotiator said that it was not seeking for public services to be incorporated. No one on either side is seeking to have the NHS treated in a different way. The EU is very clear on that and trade agreements to date have always protected public services. That will absolutely continue within TTIP.