Many people living in Bristol West are quite rightly concerned about the potential impact of the trade agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and the USA, TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) on the NHS. I'm therefore posting this blog to make my position and that of the Labour party quite clear.
The Labour Party believes it is right that the Translatantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a trade agreement currently in negotiation between the EU and the USA, is debated in Parliament. We also agree that these proposals deserve proper scrutiny at both a UK and EU level and I support this. If I had been Labour MP for Bristol West I would therefore have voted for the Geraint Davies’ MP motion on Thursday 15 January 2015 to require the government to hold a debate in Westminster on TTIP.
- The Labour Party supports trade agreements, which can bring significant benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, and bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers. However, I and the Labour party do not support trade agreements at any cost – there have to be proper safeguards for workers, environment and vital public services. I agree with the need for better and more trade, provided safeguards are in place, clear and enforced.
- It is a straight choice in May. We have a Tory government who are refusing to agree to ensure that the NHS isn’t included in the TTIP, which puts our NHS at risk of being taken over by private US companies. And we have the option of electing a Labour government who would insist that the NHS is not included and would therefore ensure that we do not put it at risk. If you want to protect the NHS from US companies you need to elect a Labour MP in Bristol West to help create the Labour majority we need to take this stance with the EU on TTIP. Without a Labour majority, we will struggle to protect the NHS.
- The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement between the US, the world’s largest economy, and the largest single market, the EU, has the potential to bring significant benefits. Europe and the United States are our most important markets today. The US is the UK’s biggest export market and many of us enjoy being able to buy goods from there. I want us to be able to buy and sell goods and services to more nations and with fairer conditions so UK firms can grow and employ more people, with better conditions and greater security, I also believe we benefit from greater choice as individuals, with proper safeguards.
- The Labour party therefore supports the principles behind these negotiations and recognises that more and fairer trade is good for the UK. More can be done to make that easier, including tackling barriers to fairer trading and improving market access. This would benefit our industries and thus help to develop sustainable jobs and growth.
As your (Labour) MP I would see it as an integral part of my duty to argue strongly for greater ability to trade fairly and for consistently enforced worker/consumer protection in trade agreements. More and better trade does not have to mean unfettered, unregulated commercial operations pushing workers' rights and environmental protection downwards in a race to the bottom. It can be a way of promoting these to higher standards, and for all nations. This means fairer trading standards - good for businesses including small businesses who want to trade with customers in other nations - and therefore good for workers' job security and protection for workers.
We in the Labour Party have four main areas of concern:
1. Public services: we/I share the concerns that people in Bristol West have raised about the impact that TTIP could have on public services, particularly the NHS.
- People, including me and every member of the Bristol West Labour Party I know, are concerned that TTIP could encourage commercialisation of public services. Labour is against this - we believe that the NHS should be exempt from the agreement. Other countries have sought to exempt areas from the agreement but this Tory-led government has not done this. In any case the Tories appear to believe that there should be more private provision in the NHS, whereas Labour will reverse the sell-off of the NHS to ‘any willing provider’ in the private sector by repealing the Health and Social Care Act.
- ISDS: the other main concern is that our plans to reverse privatisation of the NHS could result in those companies seeking compensation for loss of potential earnings as per the ISDS provision (see below)
2. Investor State Dispute Settlement: Labour is also questioning the inclusion of the investment dispute mechanism - Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) - in TTIP and I support this questioning:
- It should be the right of all governments to legislate for legitimate public policy objectives to be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms. In recent months, the European Commission has made some progress but it can and must go further.
- That is why Labour has been calling for far greater transparency around an exclusion for legislation in the public interest.
- I was pleased to see that it has been reported today (14 January 2015) that when trade negotiations resume next month, ISDS will not be covered and has been suspended by the European Commission (Further information here - http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/ttip-activists-triumph-as-contentious-us-free-trade-deal-clause-suspended-9976090.html)
- The Labour party welcomes the stance the Commission have taken following the public consultation on ISDS last year. We want to contribute to the future discussions on this matter and if elected to government in May we will do so.
3. Standards: employee rights and consumer rights should be integral to trade treaties to ensure we move to the highest standards globally, not
- Treaties can cement and even increase labour, consumer, environmental and safety standards. The principle behind the treaty is to keep or raise standards rather than reduce them. A Labour government would argue strongly to ensure this and as your MP I would support this pressure on EU negotiators to ensure these protections.
- Labour will only support an agreement that avoids a race to the bottom and promotes decent jobs and growth and would safeguard standards. Labour will hold the UK government and the European Commission to account on these specific issues.
4. Process and accountability:
- The process so far has not been transparent and the Labour party has made this point strongly. I hope that the new Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmstrom, appointed in November 2014, will change this.
- Other member states have raised similar concerns about transparency. I believe that these should be considered by the new Commissioner and a Labour government would express this strongly to her.
- The process is likely to continue to the end of the year so it is critically important that we have a Labour majority government. We will express these concerns as strongly as possible and who will consult the UK parliament properly to show that these concerns are shared by the majority of parliamentarians. This highlights the importance of electing a Labour government in May 2015. This would give the UK a government with a mandate and determination to act and to argue for these positions to be taken on by the Commission during the remainder of the negotiations.
Government ministers have been inconsistent and unclear in their approach and have not committed to protecting the NHS in these negotiations. The Tory-LibDem government must be explicit and state clearly that they will not support a treaty which includes the NHS and that they will strongly express this position to the EU Commissioner negotiating TTIP and ensure that the NHS not included, as is our right to insist. A Labour government would do this and as your Labour MP I would strongly support this. This is one of the many reasons why it is vital that we make the choice in May to vote to remove this Tory-Lib Dem government and replace it with a Labour government who will protect our NHS and those dedicated staff who work in it.
Please see also a statement from Clare Moody, our Labour Member of European Parliament for the South West, on this topic.