by Dick Barry
Rail Franchising: InterCity East Coast
On 10 December last, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin informed MPs that the contract for operating the East Coast line was completed. He had previously announced his intention to award the contract to Inter City Railways Ltd, a joint venture of Stagecoach Transport Holdings Ltd and Virgin Holdings Ltd.
On 27 November 2014 I announced my intention to award the InterCity East Coast rail franchise to Inter City Railways Ltd, a joint venture of Stagecoach Transport Holdings Ltd and Virgin Holdings Ltd, following the completion of a standstill period. I am happy to confirm to the House that the standstill period has now ended and that we completed the contract after the markets closed last night—9 December 2014. This means that Inter City Railways Ltd can now begin the mobilisation process that will mean the new franchise will start on 1 March 2015.
The new InterCity East Coast franchise will last for eight years and will deliver massive benefits for passengers, taxpayers and staff. Inter City Railways Ltd will oversee and facilitate the introduction of the new state of the art Intercity Express programme trains and will increase total capacity on the franchise by around 50%. They plan to deliver new services, including providing direct connections to London to five destinations that have not had services on the franchise before—Huddersfield, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Dewsbury and Thornaby—and faster journey times to many destinations along the route. Passengers will benefit from an investment of £140 million in improving facilities at stations and on trains and the taxpayer will benefit from around £3.3 billion of premium to be paid to Government over the lifetime of the contract.
Inter City Railways have great long-term plans for the Intercity East Coast and are the right company to take them forward with passengers at the heart of the franchise. I am delighted with this award and look forward to working in partnership with the new operator for the benefit of passengers, taxpayers and the industry.
Directly Operated Railways, a public company, which took over the running of the East Coast line from National Express in 2009, and which was barred from bidding for the new franchise, performed outstandingly and ploughed back millions into the Exchequer. National Express had failed to meet its promises, similar to the promises which McLoughlin now says will be delivered by the new franchise holder. The £3.3 billion payment to the Government over 8 years referred to by McLoughlin will largely come from new business created by government-funded improvements. McLoughlin deliberately misled MPs on this. The massive benefits promised by McLoughlin will come, if at all, about 23 years after privatisation. It’s interesting that McLoughlin fails to include the shareholder in the massive benefits. An odd omission given that the franchise holder is a private sector company.
Ukraine (UK Relations With Russia).
On 11 December, Conservative Backbencher John Whittingdale introduced a debate on Ukraine and UK relations with Russia. His speech is of little interest. Of much greater interest are the speeches of two other Conservative Backbenchers, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Sir Edward Leigh. Extracts from their speeches are published below.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) for securing the debate. He and I went to Ukraine about a month ago and visited the Prime Minister, Mr Yatsenyuk. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway) when he says that the situation in Ukraine is extremely serious. I have used parallels before, and there are parallels with the German annexation of the Sudetenland. First, they caused trouble with their own German speakers, then they used that as a pretext to go in with military force. That is exactly what has happened with Ukraine. Let us see where this might go.
Sir Edward Leigh:
I must intervene. It is a grotesque insult to Russia, which suffered appallingly at the hands of the Nazis, to equate in any way the Russian Government, for all its faults, with the Nazis. That is just the sort of remark that fills the Russian people with absolute despair. They were raped and pillaged and there were 50 million dead. I hope that my hon. Friend is not making any kind of equation.
Well, I’m afraid I am. Actually, if we look at what happened to the Russian people after the war, we see that they experienced significant suffering, just as some of the German people did during the war. I am just pointing out that what the Russians have done in Ukraine is just as unacceptable as what the German Nazis did during the war. As long as we understand that, we will appreciate which way we should go forward.
Ukraine is resolute against more land grabs by Russia. The Ukrainian Government are maintaining solidarity, as we heard, with their citizens in Crimea by continuing to supply them with food and water. The Prime Minister was most resolute that most Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine did not want to secede from Ukraine and be reunited with Russia, and that in the west of Ukraine there was almost 100% support for closer relations with Europe. Given that support for a united Ukraine, the Government are and should be committed to maintaining their territorial integrity, and we should support them in any way we can in that.
However, Russia, has until now not been listening to the democratic results in Ukraine. The universal view we found in Ukraine was that Putin is not finished yet. So what is likely to happen? A minority thought he would carry out a big military offensive, including establishing a Mariupol corridor to supply Crimea. That is difficult in the winter because the barges cannot go across the Black sea. We were told that in such circumstances Ukrainians would defend themselves with whatever they had. However, as my hon. Friend said, we were also told that 70% of their tanks had already been taken out by the Russians. The majority view, and possibly the one to which I would subscribe, is that Putin will keep causing relatively minor trouble wherever he can in order to destabilise the whole country, with the aim of bringing about a failed state. At this point, the Americans and the EU would have to decide whether they wanted to bail Ukraine out. Many people think that Putin’s aim is to gain control of the whole of the north coast of the Black sea, including Odessa, and eventually, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said, move along to Transnistria in Moldova. Certainly, the Romanians and the Poles, in neighbouring states, are very alarmed by that prospect.
If tensions between Ukraine, Russia, the UK and the rest of the EU are to be reduced, we must develop a more intelligent relationship between all these players. We must recognise that deep within the Russian psyche is the perception that their hegemony is being encroached on by the west; the Russians’ fear is that if Ukraine integrates further with the EU, their geopolitical influence will diminish. Geopolitics is incredibly important to Russia, perhaps more important than economic success. That could be why, despite the deteriorating economy, Putin’s personal approval ratings are running at 80%. (my emphasis).
To improve relations between Ukraine, the UK and Russia, we must remind Russians that we are all Europeans and that, instead of suffering from sanctions, we could all enjoy much greater economic success by putting geopolitics to one side and co-operating. Allowing Ukraine to flourish, as Poland did, could be a huge benefit to Russia. We should be encouraging closer economic co-operation, which will in turn develop into closer political relations.
The ignorance of these comments is breathtaking. According to Hollobone, the enclosure of Russia by NATO military power is not an actual fact; it is simply a perception within the Russian psyche. And geopolitics is an activity specific to Russia, in which the West doesn’t indulge. Moreover, how are the people living in the Asian territory of Russia to be reminded (and persuaded) that they are Europeans? Finally, Hollobone is expressing the policy of the Americans, the UK and the rest of the EU that Russia conforms to their demands. Putin refuses to do so and that is why he is demonised. The British press carries regular anti-Putin comment. Fortunately, his colleague Sir Edward Leigh was on hand to remind Hollobone of the political history of Russia and the reality of the current conflict. Leigh is not a Putin supporter but he has a better understanding of him, Russia and Ukraine than any of his colleagues.
Sir Edward Leigh:
What we are witnessing over Ukraine is a clash between two systems of international relations; the western liberal system held up by the US, the UK and Europe versus the more traditional power politics epitomised by Russia. That was highlighted by a comment by the US Secretary of State who said: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in a 19th century fashion.” With all respect to Mr Kerry, Russia has, quite simply, proved him wrong. We in the west like to imagine that our liberal system is the universal way, but the reality is that traditional power politics is much more dominant in the rest of the world. I make no defence of that; I just make the comment. Although our own actions are coated in thick veneers of liberalism and democracy, to which we no doubt generally adhere, this idealistic terminology masks the reality that we ourselves deal with the world through old-fashioned power politics.
For years, the EU, the US and the west generally have interfered in the internal politics of Ukraine in an effort to draw that country away from Russia and towards us—Ukraine has for three centuries been part of Russia. Russia has tried to counter these moves, and even though we might demonise Mr Putin, there is no conceivable leader of the Russian Federation who would not have done the same. The fact is that we are the liberal democrats and they are the strong men, but that is incidental to what is being done. We should also recall that Russia, Ukraine and other nations of the former Soviet Union do not enjoy the same advantages that we have enjoyed, so it is inherently unfair to judge them by the same yardstick.
We know that the Whig narrative of history is a myth. Anyone who believes in the myth of progress after Auschwitz and Hiroshima must be wearing blinkers. Look at those photographs of modern free women studying in the universities of Tehran and Kabul in the 1960s and 1970s and then witness their condition, rights and appalling position today. Our rights and freedoms do not just arise out of the primordial fundamental; they are contingent on certain circumstances. We in Britain are not destined to be a parliamentary democracy with a prosperous economy; it has taken centuries of slow and gradual development with often quite arbitrary situations that has allowed our tradition of parliamentary democracy to emerge.
Seventy years of communism perverted the spirit of the people of the former Soviet Union and prevented them from developing the institutions, the habits and the traditions that we all too easily take for granted, whether here in the House or in the United Kingdom as a whole. It is precisely why we traditionalists and Conservatives have been so defensive and circumspect when it comes to altering the traditions of this House or the British constitution. To alter, change or abolish one portion thereof, no matter how small, may have numerous unintended and unforeseen consequences, with the potential to wreak havoc on the rights and freedoms that we have inherited from those who came before us.
Taking this into account, we must recognise how important it is to understand the Russian mentality. Russia suffered for decades under communist rule. Russia has experienced at first hand the future that we are marching towards and rejected it. We here all believe we are wonderful, enlightened, modern liberals, and of course we have totally and wholeheartedly rejected nationalism and all those nasty things, but the Russians feel very keenly that they have been wronged. They were allowed to sit at the western table only when they were weak and ineffective under Yeltsin as their economy was plundered by criminal oligarchs.
Moscow has definite security concerns regarding NATO expansion in Ukraine. Likewise, I am sure we would have had definite security concerns had Ireland or Belgium considered joining the Warsaw pact. The US would have similar concerns if, for instance, Mexico had tried to join some Russian sphere of influence.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con):
I want to back up my hon. Friend’s point. Twenty years ago, as the chief of policy at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, I repeatedly sent in papers saying that the expansion of NATO eastwards was poking the Russians in the eye, when we consider their history. That is exactly what we have done. Might it not be worth at least attempting to see things from the perspective of others and the perspective of most Russian people? Is it not wise to try to understand how we and our actions are perceived by them? How can we possibly make correct decisions about what to do if we have zero understanding of what makes other people tick? That is especially true if those people have extraordinarily different histories, not the least the fact, as I said before, that Russian people suffered the most appalling tribulations as a result of invasion by the west within the lifetime of many Russian people.
Sir Gerald Howarth:
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend, but he is trying to paint Russia as a victim. What would he say about what Stalin did to the people of Ukraine? He starved them to death when that country was the bread basket of the Soviet Union. What about the Ukrainian people who have that deeply seared in their memory? Are they not victims too?
Sir Edward Leigh:
Absolutely right. I agree entirely with that. I am not pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian. I fully accept the appalling suffering of the Ukrainian people, particularly under Stalin, and the dreadful suffering that they experienced from the Nazi invasion. I am not making that point; I am simply trying to explain that the Russians have a point of view, and if we are to do the right thing, we must understand that. We may not agree with it. Nothing I say militates against a free, independent and prosperous Ukraine. We have to wake up to the reality that many Russians think, act and feel differently from us, and that no amount of bullying on our part with sanctions will turn them into western liberals with our point of view.
Not all Russians agree with what I am saying but many do. Many take quite the opposite point of view from us. We in the west seem to have lost our critical facility. We make the fatal error of believing our own propaganda and, worse, expecting other people to believe it too. None of us here believes Mr Putin’s propaganda. I do not support him or believe in him or defend him to the remotest degree, but why do we expect people in Russia, the Crimea or eastern Ukraine to believe our propaganda? They judge us not by our words but by our actions. Why should they do otherwise? Look at our immediate recognition of the seizure of power in Kiev this past February, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). I make no defence whatever of the previous corrupt Ukrainian regime, but we preach respect for the law then completely disregard the Ukrainian constitution, article 111 of which lays out specific provisions for the impeachment and replacement of the President of Ukraine. These provisions were not applied, thus a secession, in the view of many, is at best irregular, at worst unconstitutional.
Let us remember 1993 in Russia. Yeltsin unconstitutionally dissolved the Duma and sent in tanks against a democratically elected Parliament, and the west backed him. What may have been the beginnings of a Russian idea of parliamentary sovereignty and the accountability of the Executive were nipped in the bud, with western powers nodding approvingly. It is all very well to pronounce the sacred inviolability of the borders of sovereign states, but when one does so, having undermined the borders of sovereign states as we did in Serbia, which many Russians point to, when we went to war over Kosovo, whose independence we now recognise, in their view it begins to look hypocritical.
Russia, we know, is certainly involved in the supply of weapons to the rebels in eastern Ukraine, but in Kosovo NATO forces—this is often mentioned in Russia—effectively acted as the air force for the Kosovan Liberation Army. In the war against Serbia, NATO forces bombed hospitals—this is what many Russians say—bridges, journalists’ offices, public markets and even the Chinese embassy. Russia has done wrong, but it has not done what the Nazis did in Ukraine.
Economically speaking, we are continually arguing for globalisation, the integration of world economies, free trade, allowing everyone to grow in prosperity together—all things that I and everyone else speaking in this debate agree with. Why, then, are we allowing politics to interfere with our economic links to Russia, which are very strong, and to frustrate Russia’s further integration in the world economy? Those who seek to undermine Mr Putin would be much wiser to seek to seek to strengthen these links, to incorporate Russia much more closely in the wider world. Surely that would strike more deeply at the heart of Mr Putin’s separate way of doing things, drawing the Russian people in rather than casting them out. Instead, we are playing into Mr Putin’s hands. Our cack-handed sanctions allow him to portray us as anti-Russian, thus further legitimising his position as the defender of Mother Russia.
Global economic recovery, we know, is extraordinarily precarious. Provoking crises with Russia risks unsettling the recovery, not just that of Russia but ours. With all due respect to Ukraine, for Britons is it worth this possibility? One need not add BP’s significant investment in Russia, the billions of pounds of Russian money involved in the City of London, and European reliance on Russian energy. We must always remember that the existential threat to us is global Islamic jihadism, and Russia is an absolute crucial ally in that. Why put that at risk? Particularly at this time of commemoration, when we are looking back to the events of a hundred years ago, we must force ourselves to learn the lessons of 1914. Does anyone really think that the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne was worth the suicide of Europe? We do not want to sleepwalk into a war, the likes of which we cannot imagine.
Ukraine is a beautiful country. It has deep traditions, a proud culture, a long history. We should wish the Ukrainians all the best in their journey as an independent people. But it is obvious, I am afraid, that there is no intrinsic British interest in Ukraine. Ukrainian relations with Russia, Belarus, Poland and others are for Ukrainians to sort out, no matter how divided a people they are, and they are divided. But there is unequivocally no single shred of a reason why the United Kingdom should risk war over Ukraine. Our priority should be de-escalation, and then facilitating dialogue between the warring Ukrainian factions and between Ukraine, Russia and the west. We need to foster a breathing space in which Ukraine can make suitable constitutional reforms to allow for autonomy, as has been said. We should not put the global economy at risk, and we certainly should not risk a European war—1914 is ever present.
Perhaps I have been a bit too harsh on liberal democracy. Let me finish on a positive note. I am profoundly pro-life and anti-war. I want, if it is not too naive a thing to say, for Ukraine to be at peace. I really believe in this noble theme. I believe there is a role for Britain and France, in particular. We have no historical axe to grind. Unlike Poland and the Baltic states, we have not been invaded or suppressed by the Russians. As for the Russians, they still harbour some justifiable historical fear of German expansionism, and with some reason today in economic terms. Unlike some Americans currently in power, we also have a sense of history. We recall from Woodrow Wilson’s time that good intentions are not always enough and can lead to war. We know that western Ukraine around Lviv was never part of Russia; it was part of Austria-Hungary and then Poland. We know that in western Ukraine they 100% want to be part of Europe. However, many of us are also sensibly sceptical about the expansion of NATO and the EU into former Russian lands.
I believe a solution can be brokered, and I believe that we can play a role. We must convince Russia that we have no intention of trying to detach Ukraine from Russian influence to bring it under our own. We want Ukraine to be what it should be: free, independent; not part of the Russian sphere of influence or the NATO or EU sphere of influence; and with a strong federal structure and home rule for the east. Why should we want to break the Russian economy? Why should we want to destroy Mr Putin? If he goes, we could get somebody far worse. No feasible Russian leader would ever accept the permanent loss of eastern Ukraine. Let us be a honest broker. Let peace be our watchword, not war without end.
Falkland Islands: South Atlantic Medal
The following statement was made to the House of Commons on 18 December last.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): I am pleased to inform the House that in 2015 the South Atlantic Medal will be presented, on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, to the Falkland Islands, in recognition of the assistance provided to the forces of the United Kingdom during the liberation of the Islands in 1982. The islander’s individual acts of courage exemplified the indomitable will and personal commitment to defending the islands’ right of self-determination.
And some say satire is dead. What else could the people of the Falkland Islands do in the circumstances but assist the UK forces who put their lives on the line to defend a people who claim to be British but who made no financial or military contribution to the defence of their islands? And who continue to make no contribution.
An Act Of Treason?
Conservative Backbencher Philip Hollobone wants British jihadists to be tried for treason. On 6 January he asked the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, “if he will take steps to encourage the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute people for treason in cases where that offence is suspected to have been committed.” To which the Attorney General replied, “In all cases referred for a charging decision, the CPS should use whichever offence, including treason, is appropriate to the facts of the case. However, modern criminal offences, including terrorism offences, usually offer a better chance of a successful conviction than would a prosecution for treason.”
However, Hollobone’s question was aimed specifically at British jihadists. He said, “British jihadists who go abroad to support ISIS are aiding and abetting the Queen’s enemies, and now that we have the horrific spectacle of British citizens beheading other British citizens and citizens of allies on international television, should it not be made clear to these people that it is worse than murder and terrorism—it is treason—and that should they ever be apprehended they should be prosecuted for such?”
The Attorney General:
“I have a good deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. The point I would make is a purely practical one. I think it important that treason remains available to prosecutors in appropriate cases and I wish to see that continue, but I also think it important to recognise that there are specific practical difficulties in the prosecution of treason—whether it be the establishing of the direct or constructive levying of a war under one limb of the offence or indeed defining the sovereign’s enemies under the other. It is important that we prosecute effectively.”
Hollobone’s question contains an elephant in the room: Saudi Arabia. “Allies” in the so-called war against terror, Saudi Arabia is simultaneously responsible for the export of Sunni Wahabism which is fuelling the war. It therefore stands accused of aiding and abetting the Queen’s enemies, Hollobone’s words to describe the actions of British jihadists, and yet not a word is spoken against the Kingdom. Such is the hypocrisy and double standards of western politicians. The same politicians who stood shoulder to shoulder in Paris in protest against the killing of twelve journalists by Islamic jihadists, but barely said boo to Netanyahu, who shamelessly protested in Paris alongside Cameron and co., when the Israeli military killed thousands of civilians in Gaza, including hundreds of children.
Transatlantic Trade And Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Who does one believe when TTIP is discussed? Politicians in particular seem to have a different take on its potential effect on key public services, including the NHS. This much was revealed when it was debated in the House of Commons on 15 January. Labour/Co-op’s Geraint Davies moved “That this House believes that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and any investor-state dispute settlement provisions should be subject to scrutiny in the European Parliament and the UK Parliament.”
Davies spoke in general terms about the TTIP but two other Backbenchers focused on the potential impact on the NHS from very different perspectives. They were Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative Member for Totnes and Liz McInnes, Labour Member for Heywood and Middleton. ISDS, frequently referred to in the debate, is the investor-state dispute settlement.
DR Sarah Wollaston:
“I share the sentiment, which was expressed by many hon. Members, that trade is the cornerstone of our national wealth. We heard my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) speak about its impact on our economy. Without that trade and our national wealth, there would not be funding for vital services such as our NHS; it is that long-term economic plan that will guarantee its future. However, I would like to speak today about the NHS and express some of my concerns.
The Leader of the Opposition has spoken about his desire to weaponise the NHS. It is shameful in itself, but it also detracts from some of the genuine arguments and important issues that we need to raise about health within the TTIP. Initially, I would like to clear up the points raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. They are important and I would not support the deal if I thought that it would have the effects she outlined, but I think that they have been rather used as part of that weapon to try to damn this partnership and to damn the Government’s record. That is regrettable.
After reading the letter from the European Commission about the NHS, I wrote back because I wanted to clarify some points. As Chair of the Select Committee on Health, I heard back from Jean-Luc Demarty, the director-general for trade. He wrote to me on 11 December and a copy of that letter is available on the Health Committee’s website if people want to look at it in detail. He made it absolutely clear that all publicly funded health services, including NHS services, would be protected under TTIP.
I pressed him further on that point, asking about the definition of publicly funded health services—in other words, would they include organisations such as those in the third sector? He was very clear that as long as the services are publicly funded it does not matter how they are delivered. That is an important point of clarity. He also made the point that any investor-state dispute settlement provisions in TTIP could have no impact on the UK’s sovereign right to make changes to the NHS. In other words, that deals with the concerns that have been raised that this is somehow a one-way street and that no future Government would be able to change policy. He is very clear on that point and I urge Members to look at his letter. The issue of ratchet clauses is also very important, and the ratchet clause will not apply in this case.
If an incoming Government decided to terminate a contract in the NHS or in the public social care sector under which that company claimed that a very large investment had been made in building a care home or something similar, would the company be able to use TTIP to prosecute the Government for the potential loss of investment?
Already within domestic contract law there are provisions that mean that one cannot arbitrarily reverse a contract. A state would be able to announce that it was changing policy and moving forward, but the point about TTIP is that it works on both sides of the Atlantic. We would not wish to have British companies arbitrarily lose their investment in the US. It is about that; it is not some conspiracy of an evil empire, which is how it has been portrayed. I think that would be a reasonable process.
Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con):
May I make the point that an ISDS tribunal is empowered to award compensation for genuine loss but is not empowered to overturn policy or national regulation?
Indeed, and that is the point that we want to make clear. The concern is legitimate and if the NHS were threatened by TTIP we should be explicit about that, but it is not. We need to be clear about that and it would be helpful if Opposition Members withdrew the insinuation that is constantly being put out to our constituents that this is a conspiracy to do so. I also pressed the Commission on whether it would be sensible for the Government explicitly to ask to exclude the NHS, and it could not have been clearer that it was not necessary because it was going to do so itself. May we please bring that aspect of the debate to an end and focus on the issues that matter?
The issues I think are important are those to do with public health in areas such as smoking and alcohol. Other Members have pointed out the impact on the Uruguayan Government of their being sued by a tobacco company. The company’s profits dwarf the domestic product of Uruguay. We cannot allow that to happen. This has serious implications. I would like the Minister to respond specifically on whether, during these negotiations, the tobacco industry—an industry that kills half its customers—can be specifically prevented from using the investor state dispute procedures in such a manner.
I would also like protections in relation to alcohol. Of course, part of our transatlantic trade should legitimately cover alcohol, a product enjoyed by many. However, the Scotch Whisky Association has been able to use legal mechanisms to delay the proposed minimum pricing measures which are desperately needed in Scotland and which I fully support. I would like further detail on what measures the Government propose to protect public health as TTIP goes forward.
Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab):
In my previous employment as an NHS scientist, I was extremely concerned about the implications of TTIP for our NHS, and for all public services, and I remain so. In my new job, I have been contacted by many constituents expressing their concern about TTIP, which is a subject on which the public appear to be very well informed.
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. Members of Parliament are not putting pressure on their constituents, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) claimed; constituents are saying they are concerned. They are concerned, for example, that small businesses are being advantaged in comparison with large businesses, that monopolies are being encouraged among pharmaceutical companies, and that the NHS is in danger of privatisation. We have a duty to give them an explanation. There is huge disquiet out there among the public, and we ought to address it. There is terrible complacency among Government Members about this.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments; he has pre-empted what I was going to say. I am not going out scaremongering; my constituents and my previous colleagues are expressing to me their real and legitimate concerns about this agreement. As I said, this is a subject on which the public appear to be very well informed. That surprises me, given that a major concern expressed to me is that the negotiations seem to be taking place in secret. Perhaps there is a lesson here: the more secretive a deal appears to be, the more effort people will make to try to seek out the truth. If ever we needed an argument for openness and transparency, this is it.
We have already heard a lot about the ISDS mechanism, which is causing my constituents and ex-colleagues major concern, particularly in relation to public services—specifically, our NHS. People are telling me—again, this is not about me going out scaremongering—that they are really worried that this could result in private companies seeking compensation from our public bodies for loss of potential earnings. We have already heard about mechanisms in agreements in other countries whereby those countries are being sued for things such as regulating medicines and energy prices, raising minimum wages, and putting health warnings on cigarette packets, to name but a few. There is a real fear that this mechanism is not about enforcing contracts but about giving businesses huge new powers to intimidate policy makers. There is a major concern that the ISDS provisions could lead to enforced privatisation of our NHS and other public services. Governments have a right to be able to legislate in the public interest, and that should be protected in any dispute relation mechanisms.
The European Commission has instigated several changes that have improved the transparency of the agreement, and that is welcome. However, it is right that the Commission has decided temporarily to suspend negotiations on ISDS until the final stages of the negotiations. I urge the Government to use this opportunity to call for greater transparency on exclusion for legislation that is in the public interest, such as that relating to the NHS.
An online consultation by the European Commission has revealed huge public opposition to TTIP. Again, this is not about me or any other member of my party going around scaremongering. The Commission received an unprecedented 150,000 responses, more than a third of which were from the UK, mainly opposing TTIP and many calling for the NHS and other public bodies to be exempt from it. Other countries have sought to exempt areas from the agreement, but this Government have not done so. Instead, their position on the NHS and TTIP has been muddled. They have told the British Medical Association that the NHS will be “protected”, and the Department of Health have said: “We have no intention of allowing the TTIP to dictate the opening up of NHS services to further competition, and it will not do so.” However, the Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord Livingston, said in September that TTIP would not have any impact on the NHS and therefore the UK negotiating team would not be pushing for its exclusion. Those mixed messages are of great concern and are troubling. This Government need to commit to the NHS being exempt from the final TTIP agreement and look carefully at its impact on other public services.
Liz McInnes is right: there is confusion about the impact the TTIP may have on the NHS. The obvious question to ask is: if the NHS will not be affected in any way by the TTIP agreement, why is it there within the negotiations? Why not simply exempt it, thus satisfying the public that it remains safe from predators? Dr Wollaston implied that the Commission is going to exempt the NHS. Well, we shall see. Assurances from the Commission and this Government that the NHS is not in any danger are not enough. It is not unknown for Commissioners and politicians to mislead the public.
It was resolved “That this House believes that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and any associated investor-state dispute settlement should be subject to scrutiny in the European Parliament and the UK Parliament.”
The reply by The Minister for Business and Enterprise, Matthew Hancock, will appear in the next issue of Labour Affairs.