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Cameron brushes aside MPs’ concerns over TTIP’s impact on NHS

At PMQs yesterday, there were a number of exchanges about the NHS and TTIP - but David Cameron denied the international agreement posed any threat.  Ed Miliband, Caroline Lucas  and various Labour MPs tried to push the Prime Minister on whether he could offer reassurance about the impact of TTIP on the NHS and public services. But he failed to offer any convincing replies.

You can read the relevant parts of questions and responses here.

(with kind thanks to Paul Eagle from the World Development Movement for compiling this. We should also highlight that there is going to be a day of action against TTIP on 12 July and the days leading up to it - https://www.facebook.com/events/231572717052962/ )

PMQs Wednesday June 18th

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab):

Turning to the G7, we welcome the G7’s commitment to open trade. What discussions did the Prime Minister have with EU leaders and President Obama on whether the TTIP—transatlantic trade and investment partnership —negotiations for the free trade agreement are on track and when they are likely to be completed? Can he specifically reassure the House—this point has been raised by a number of people—that there will be no impact on our public services, particularly the NHS?

The Prime Minister:

On TTIP and the deal between the EU and the US, I can report that there have been five good meetings on progressing it. We are pushing very hard and trying to set some deadlines for the work. No specific deadline was agreed, but it was agreed at the G7 that further impetus needed to be given to the talks and, specifically, that domestic politicians needed to answer any specific questions or concerns from non-governmental organisations, or indeed public services, that can sometimes be raised and that do not always, when we look at the detail, bear up to examination. Perhaps I will do that with regard to the NHS and write to the right hon. Gentleman about that.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab):

I am sure that we are all reassured by the Prime Minister’s kind offer to write to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the TTIP. I urge him to go further and to commit today to using future G7 gatherings to convince his fellow EU leaders and President Obama of the case for safeguarding our national health service from the impact of the TTIP. 

The Prime Minister:

I do not believe that our national health service is under threat in the way that the hon. Gentleman says. There are many parts of international co-operation and trade from which our national health service can be a huge beneficiary. For instance, we lead the world in sequencing people’s DNA and building up a vast databank, so that is a huge opportunity, and some of the leaders of our best hospitals are talking to new cities that are being built in China about how to establish health services. We should not be frightened of our NHS being a great British success story, parts of which can be exported to the rest of the world. We need to ensure that the TTIP and other such things make that possible.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green):

Does the Prime Minister recognise that the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in the transatlantic trade and investment partnership agreement is deeply controversial, because essentially it allows private companies to sue democratic Governments? Given that sovereignty is an issue that the Prime Minister is obviously very fond of, will he explain why he is so relaxed about the potential very serious loss of sovereignty if TTIP goes ahead?

The Prime Minister:

The hon. Lady is right that this is a contentious and difficult issue, but I do not believe that it is one that cannot be solved through negotiation. After all, these sorts of issues come up in every bilateral trade deal. If we are going to get the full advantage of these trade deals, so that they include services and financial services as well as goods, we have to address those problems. If we made trade deals simply about reducing tariff barriers, most of that work has already been done though international agreements, so we have to do the difficult things to get the full benefit. 

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab):

Many of my constituents, and no doubt many of the Prime Minister’s, are very worried about the possible impact of TTIP on public services. I heard what the Prime Minister said about the meetings taking place, but there is no timetable yet. Will he assure me that the impact on the NHS is at the forefront of his discussions?

The Prime Minister:

As I said to the Leader of the Opposition, I will write a letter to him—[Interruption.] No, I am sure that I have written to him about something before, if only to wish him a very happy birthday or something like that. I do think this is important because all of us in the House feel—I would say instinctively—that free trade agreements will help to boost growth, but we are all going to get a lot of letters from non-governmental organisations and others who have misgivings about particular parts of a free trade agreement. It is really important that we try to address these in detail, and I would rather do that than give an answer across the Dispatch Box.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab):

The Prime Minister’s answers to the Leader of the Opposition and others about the TTIP and its potential effect on the NHS seem to be that if he just explains it better, all will be fine. Many people do not want to wait until somebody makes a legal challenge at some point in the future, and it is too late to do anything about it. Would it not be easier to craft an exemption for the domestic operations of organisations such as the NHS so that we do not have to face that risk?

The Prime Minister:

Perhaps I will include the hon. Lady on the mailing list for the letter that I am going to write. Having looked briefly at this issue, my understanding is that the NHS is not at risk, but I understand that people believe it could be, so we need to set out why we do not think that that is the case and what the negotiations will consist of. We must ensure that hon. Members who want to support the TTIP have good answers to give the NGOs. Although some NGOs talk a good game on trade and its importance, when it comes to the crunch they often take quite an anti-trade position. I think that they are on the wrong side of history on this because trade has been a great way to lift people out of poverty, but I am happy to address these issues as fully as I can.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con):

When our all-party parliamentary group visited Brussels to support the TTIP, we found there was not one representative of small business on the advisory council that was looking at the deal. I thank the Prime Minister for his support of the TTIP and urge him to make the case that its benefits will be for our smallest businesses throughout Britain and the EU.

The Prime Minister:

It is very important that we listen to the voice of small business as we go about this. Sometimes these issues can be dominated by the big lobbies and it is important that we let small business speak clearly.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con):

Remaining with trade, global markets are becoming ever more competitive as newer economies develop. Does the Prime Minister agree that despite the remarks of the Labour party, it is important to get on and achieve an early and successful outcome at the TTIP talks?

The Prime Minister:

My hon. Friend is right. There are always concerns from people who see free trade as a zero-sum game: there must be a loser, there must be a winner, and somehow there will be a hollowing out of middle-class, middle-income jobs in our world. I do not believe that is the case. Britain has a lot of goods and services that the world wants to buy, and arguably a lot of those—particularly things such as intellectual property, patent protected services, and financial, banking and insurance services—require a greater opening of other markets to get in there, perhaps more so than just manufacturing and selling a particular good. It is really important for our whole future and prosperity that those deals go ahead.

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