I was pleased to see that the Private Members Bill, tabled by Clive Efford MP, passed its second reading in the House of Commons last week. The Bill, titled 'The National Health Service (amended duties and powers)', aims to eliminate privatisation of the NHS. The Bill ensures that the TTIP Treaty cannot impose procurement or competition obligations on the NHS.
I would like to assure you that myself and my colleagues within the European Parliamentary Labour Party will not support any EU measures which would lock-in the Coalition Government’s privatisation of the NHS, or indeed hamper the ability of any future Labour government to renationalise private health and social care services.
While the proposed agreement between the EU and US has the potential to give the EU economy a significant boost by increasing trade and helping job creation, particularly by making it easier for small and medium sized businesses in the UK to export to the US, it is crucial for us that any future agreement does not reduce any health, safety or worker protection standards. On the contrary, as this trade deal would cover almost half of world trade, and it could therefore begin to set the global standards we have collectively fought for in the Labour and trade union movement, and improve the collective rights of US workers. For this reason it is vital that we get it right.
As regards public services, all existing trade agreements include general and specific provisions for national governments to keep services such as publicly run health care. In general terms this has confirmed that all EU member states are able to nationalise, or renationalise, any industry which it considers a public utility. In specific terms, previous EU agreements have also singled out certain sensitive sectors such as healthcare and confirmed that, even in cases where the service is partially privatised and put out to tender, the Member state has the ability to restrict the number of providers and discriminate in favour of a European provider rather than a provider from a third country. We fully support the inclusion of these conditions in the TTIP.
However, the EU has changed its approach through the negotiation of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada by using a so called ‘negative list’ by which all services not explicitly excluded are included. We have expressed our strong reservations about this approach.
Since the elections, we have made it clear in the European Parliament plenary (in July 2014) and the International Trade (INTA) committee (3 September 2014) that we will not support any deal that fails to prevent further privatisation or liberalisation of public services, and in particularly health and social care.
Therefore, we have requested absolute clarity from the European Commission on the specific services that are being considered for inclusion in this agreement, and the multilateral Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). We have also stressed our opposition to a clause on Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in the TTIP agreements.
In the coming weeks we will raise these issues with the candidate for Commissioner for International Trade, when she is presented to the INTA committee. It is important to note that nothing at EU level can force privatisation: only the UK government has the ability to privatise the NHS. In addition, there is nothing in existing EU trade agreements which would prevent the renationalisation of these parts of the NHS by a future government. We are working closely with our colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party to ensure a joined-up approach.