The Trade Bill: Report Stage – ISDS

If you wanted to convince the public that international trade agreements are a way to let multinational companies get rich at the expense of ordinary people, this is what you would do: give foreign firms a special right to apply to a secretive tribunal of highly paid corporate lawyers for compensation whenever a government passes a law to, say, discourage smoking, protect the environment or prevent a nuclear catastrophe… a process known as ‘investor-state dispute settlement‘, or ISDS.
(The Economist, October 2014)

This Trade Bill the government has written includes ISDS…

My Lords, one of the things that has often been frustrating in your Lordships’ House in the seven years that I have been here is that we talk about incredibly important things, yet often our language is so obtuse and complex that, although we understand what we are talking about, other people outside do not. Therefore, a lot of these important issues do not get the sort of publicity that they ought to.

Following the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, is a mixed blessing. He gave a devastating outline of exactly why ISDS should not be any part of trade negotiations. At the same time, he has reduced my speech to ashes because that was exactly what I was going to argue. I honestly do not understand how any member of the Conservative Party can support the concept of not just countries but other corporations having any rights over our country. The mechanisms of ISDS are far worse than any charge that could be brought against the EU courts system. I do not understand how the Government think that it ISDS is reasonable.

The rule of law and the right to legal remedy are both important and are best served not by shady arbitration but openness and transparency and our legal court proceedings. The Minister should argue to everyone in his department that ISDS should not be any part of our trade negotiations. Your Lordships should now make it clear that we will reject any treaty that contains ISDS. The Government have made all sorts of promises about reclaiming sovereignty, but how on earth can they claim with straight faces that ISDS is an appropriate mechanism to put in any trade Bill.

While I have the Floor, I should like to say that the Minister in the previous group said something about the Bill being a useful mechanism for fighting climate change. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, mentioned lifting other countries out of poverty through trade. Perhaps he could do something about that in Britain and start lifting out of poverty the millions of people who are on, below or close to the poverty line. There must be some mechanism that this Government could use. In any case, the whole concept of ISDS should be thrown out as fast as possible.

Read the whole debate on Hansard