HC Deb 05 February 1998 vol 305 cc1213-4
5. Dr. Tonge

If the Multilateral Agreement on Investment will include a legal requirement for parties not to lower environmental and labour standards in order to attract foreign investment. [25688]

Mr. Ian McCartney

Draft text on that issue has been discussed at the negotiations of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment in Paris. The UK is at the forefront of widespread but not universal support for such a legal requirement. We will continue to press the case up to the conclusion of the negotiations in April 1998.

Dr. Tonge

Does the Minister accept that his Department gave full support to the aims of the White Paper on international development? Indeed, does he recall that, in a recent written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor), the Department pledged to sustain development, to protect the environment and to protect labour standards in relation to the agreement? Does the Minister accept that if there are no legal constraints on both parties in the agreement, it should be delayed?

Mr. McCartney

The agreement should not be delayed. It is an opportunity, not a threat. It is the first major investment treaty to have substantive provisions on the environment and labour. The sooner we can conclude it and partners recognise it, the better it will be for many millions of people throughout the world.

Mr. MacShane

I agree with the Minister's last point. Does he accept that the worldwide backlash against globalisation—whether the crisis in Asia, the failure of President Clinton to achieve fast-track trade negotiations or the riots in France—show that free trade and foreign direct investment that does not take social considerations into account is a dead-end street? Will he therefore assure the House that the Government will not be signing any multilateral agreement on investment that does not include exactly the aims that he has been stressing?

Mr. McCartney

The Government are totally committed to international and national standards in these sectors. Those standards are vital to us and, as a consequence, we are trying our best to conclude this agreement to ensure that the objectives as set out are carried through practically.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of reading the hon. Gentleman's speech on age limitations and age discrimination in the labour market in the UK. Have the Government and the Minister done a complete U-turn on this issue—I hope that he will re-read his speech, which was made just a year or so ago—because he wants inward investment to the UK, or simply because the Labour party no longer has any principles?

Mr. McCartney

It is the hon. Gentleman's arguments that are aging. This week, the Government have made it absolutely clear that we oppose age discrimination at work in all its forms. My right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Education and Employment are proceeding with their work to ensure better practice and better standards. I am absolutely certain that, by the end of their five-year term, the Government will have done more than the previous Government did in 18 years to tackle age discrimination.