You can watch my speech in full here.
I commend Conservative Members for sitting through this entire debate; if I had gold, silver and bronze medals to hand out, I would have one medal too many.
I find myself in agreement with the general principles of the motion. It is entirely appropriate for an all-encompassing agreement such as TTIP to be scrutinised by elected representatives in this House and in the European Parliament. As Members are aware, negotiations on the agreement began in July 2013. During the subsequent two and a half years it has been extremely difficult for elected representatives at any tier of government to acquire clear information about it. Holding negotiations behind closed doors rarely instils public confidence, particularly when the results of any agreement will have wide-ranging political and economic ramifications. Unsurprisingly, this lack of transparency has generated widespread public scepticism about the proposed agreement.
On that point, if the TTIP agreement is as benign as we have been told, particularly for the NHS, does my hon. Friend agree that we should get the details out into the open so that they can be debated properly in this Chamber?
I agree with my hon. Friend.
My Scottish National party colleagues, whether MSPs, MPs or MEPs, have held a consistent position on TTIP: although Scotland might benefit from a free trade agreement with the United States, we require a number of assurances before we can give the proposals our full support. First, under no circumstances can TTIP threaten NHS Scotland with privatisation. I previously wrote to the Prime Minister regarding that specific issue, as did the Scottish Government, who urged the UK Government
“to ensure that the NHS is fully and explicitly exempt from TTIP and, if that is not the case, to use its veto at the European Council to prevent TTIP progressing”.
The UK Government’s response expressed the opinion that TTIP poses no threat to the NHS. I know that my constituents will not find the assurances of a Tory Government sufficient evidence that the NHS is safe from privatisation.
Unionist Members will no doubt say that health is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but I remind them that any privatisation of health services in England will have associated funding implications for Scotland. It is unfortunate that no clear evidence has been provided regarding the protection of NHS Scotland and that we are instead reliant on an assurance from the EU and the UK Government that we should not be concerned. Legal advice sought by Unite the union was quite clear in concluding that the NHS is:
“Included in the material scope of the TTIP”.
The concerns of many people in Scotland about TTIP and NHS privatisation could easily be alleviated by an explicit opt-out for the NHS in the text of the agreement. As yet that has not been forthcoming. The SNP will continue to engage and advocate for NHS Scotland to receive adequate protection.
Would it not be better to have a positive list of what is included in TTIP, rather than a negative list of what is excluded?
I could not argue with that. Either way, we need to have the assurances in writing.
Worryingly, there are already examples of Government policy changes resulting in legal action from foreign investors, including in the health sector. We must do everything possible to oppose such a situation in the UK’s nations. I would add that the European Commission’s proposal to replace the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism with the investment court system is little more than a rebranding exercise that will not alleviate the concerns that have been raised. It is unclear to me why an entirely separate legal mechanism is required to “protect” investors from national Governments. Foreign investors should not have the privilege of a special court, and multinational corporations, like individuals, should continue to operate entirely within the existing legal framework.
For those reasons, the text of any TTIP agreement must be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before the UK votes on it at European level. The Scottish Parliament must be part of that process, as Holyrood is best placed to determine the effects of any agreement on Scotland.
I have no objection in principle to free trade agreements, but it must not be free trade at any cost. The potential threat to NHS services, the transfer of powers to the private sector and the lack of transparency in the negotiation process are all areas of serious concern. It may yet be possible to reform TTIP in a positive way, but that can be done only when elected representatives have a more active role in drafting the agreement. Until the European Commission recognises these concerns, I am unable to see how any elected representative can give unqualified support to TTIP.