Previous Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: 10th December 2015

Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest concerns about the whole process is the lack of transparency? Nobody knows exactly what is happening.

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
It is on the internet!

Roger Mullin
Absolutely. That is a particularly important reason why it is not only this House that needs fully and properly to debate any final settlement; it also needs to come to the devolved authorities, and not only in Scotland, but in Northern Ireland and Wales—I assume that Members from Northern Ireland and Wales would welcome that opportunity. If there is anything that new Members, who have been here for a mere six months, have come to understand, it is that this Government have no interest whatsoever in the concerns of the Scottish economy, and it is matched only by their complete ignorance of it.

Anna Soubry
indicated dissent.

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
I think you are too young, Madam Deputy Speaker, to remember Sanatogen wine, but yesterday I was unfortunately on my sick bed. In fact, I was so ill—I do not expect any sympathy—that I could barely sip water, never mind Sanatogen wine, but today’s debate has been an absolute tonic. At times my blood pressure rose a little too high for comfort, but I think we have had a really good debate about this important agreement.

Unfortunately I have only about seven or eight minutes to try to answer all the points that have been raised, and I will fail in that. The usual rules apply, and anybody who has raised an important point will get a letter in response to it, because time—as ever—is against me. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on securing this debate, and hon. Members on the quality of almost all the speeches.​

My hon. Friends the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), and for Newark (Robert Jenrick) raised a point about the unfortunate scare stories that have been put around. I gently chide the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) who spoke about the fact that the Government Benches were empty. In fact, many Members seem to have disappeared by the time he rose to speak—I am sure that was not a comment on his oratory. There were about 15 SNP Members in the Chamber, and it would be silly to suggest that those who were not present do not care about this important matter.
 
Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
Will the Minister give way?
 
Anna Soubry
No I will not.

It does not enhance the reputation of the Chamber when hon. Members refer to the lack of people present, because that does not mean that other hon. Members are not in their rooms working and following the debate, or that they will not read it in Hansard. We all care, on all sides of the House, about this matter.

My hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Goole, for Aberconwy and for Newark made very important points about the scare stories. There has been a lot of unpleasantness around this matter. I would just say to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) that perhaps he and others on the Labour Benches are now experiencing the sort of abuse and attack that, frankly, most of us on the Conservative Benches have been receiving for many, many years. This is really a rather good example of it. We have been told that we do not believe in our national health service, although we do, and that we want in some way to privatise it, which we do not. Equally, we have been told by an SNP Member that such was his concern that he decided to write to the Prime Minister and that the Prime Minister wrote back giving an unequivocal guarantee that neither the NHS nor any other public service was under threat from this agreement, at which point he—the hon. Gentleman—said it was not worth the paper it was written on. I do not think that that advances democracy; it is grossly insulting to the office of the Prime Minister and it does the hon. Gentleman no credit at all.

We then have the letter from the European Commission. I will not repeat it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole read out the most important points and put them on the record. Well, I hope hon. Members will take the view of the European Commission. It is a remarkable document from the EU. It is succinct and it answers good questions with good straight answers. It is absolutely clear that this trade agreement poses no threat to the national health service or any other bit of the public sector. It is most unfortunate that too many Opposition Members refuse to listen to the reality and take those assurances, and instead scaremonger and whip up a storm where no storm exists.

There has been criticism about an apparent lack of transparency. I am very grateful to the European Union, which during the course of the debate has tweeted a link to its website. I have visited its website. If Members follow me on Twitter, I will very happily provide a link to it. Again, I have to say—perhaps remarkably, although ​I am a firm supporter of our continued membership of the European Union; that is well known and has been known for donkeys’ years—in all seriousness that it absolutely lays out everything that is being negotiated very clearly in good plain English. The idea, therefore, that this is all being conducted in a secret manner is absolute nonsense.

It is very important to make the point that there have been six debates about TTIP in this place, and rightly so. That is exactly what this place does extremely well. Backbench Business debates, Westminster Hall debates—it matters not. They have all been opportunities, like today, for hon. Members quite properly to stand up and raise their concerns, as the hon. Member for Swansea West so ably did.

Helen Goodman
Will the Minister use the last three minutes to respond to the questions that have been raised about ISDS, instead of telling us what she drinks?

Anna Soubry
The hon. Lady has just wasted 30 seconds in which I could have provided exactly that response.

May I now deal with the actual subject of the debate, even though others seem to have drifted off? This is an important trade agreement and it is all about free trade. It will bring huge benefits to the economy of this country. We have heard mention, quite rightly, of independent assessments that say that the benefit to the United Kingdom economy is somewhere in the region of £10 billion—that is real benefit to everybody. We have many examples of previous treaties. The hon. Lady should know all about these investment treaties and ISDS clauses, which she says she does not like in this treaty. She should like them. She should know all about them, because when she was in government she approved 20 of them—20 of these sorts of treaties were signed by the previous Labour Government, and rightly so. We have a great record of creating the right environment in the United Kingdom for investors and for treating them fairly. We have over 90 such agreements in place with other countries, and, as other hon. Members have said, there has never been a successful claim brought against the United Kingdom. To date, 90-plus existing bilateral investment treaties have not led to any regulatory chill. The European Union wants an improved approach to investment protection, and ISDS in TTIP guarantees the right of Governments to legislate in the public interest fairly and without discrimination.

I will deal quickly with the point about small and medium-sized businesses. I take exception to the idea that they will somehow suffer disproportionately under TTIP. On the contrary, large companies can often overcome non-tariff barriers, such as differing regulatory standards, because they have the necessary resources that small businesses simply do not have—small businesses cannot afford the time and the costs involved. TTIP is likely to be most beneficial precisely to small businesses in our country, because it will help them trade, notably with the United States.

I can assure hon. Members that these provisions will not prevent the Government from taking regulatory action to protect the public or the environment, nor will they force the Government to change laws, to open markets, or, as I say, to privatise public services such as the NHS. I want to make it absolutely clear that climate change policies are not on the table in the TTIP negotiations, ​so TTIP will not hold back action on climate change or undermine current or future legal obligations, under the United Nations framework convention on climate change, to reduce carbon emissions.

TTIP is not a secret negotiation. It is there for everybody to read on the internet, and it is reaching the right conclusions. When it has concluded, it will be for this Chamber to ratify it. It will lie here for 21 days. At that point, any hon. Member could put before the House a motion to reject it. However, I hope that when that day comes Members will accept this agreement because it is about free trade and it is the right thing to do.