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Government responds to Committee's Parliamentary Scrutiny of Treaties report

9 July 2019

Government responds to the Constitution Committee's report on the Parliamentary Scrutiny of Treaties


The Committee's report called for urgent reform to strengthen Parliament's role in scrutinising treaties. The Committee described the current parliamentary processes of treaty scrutiny as limited, anachronistic and inadequate, and recommended the establishment of a new treaty scrutiny committee. While recognising that treaty-making is a function of the Government, the Committee says that Parliament needs to be able to hold the Government to account for its treaty actions.

The Committee's key recommendations were:

  • that a new treaty scrutiny committee be established;
  • the treaty committee should sift all treaties and either scrutinise the significant ones itself, or refer them to other select committees for scrutiny;
  • the Government should commit to extending the 21 sitting day scrutiny period if the treaty committee requests it;
  • the treaty committee should be able to recommend debates on significant treaties;
  • the Government should commit to providing time for such debates during the 21 sitting day period;
  • Parliament should be informed when negotiations begin and better explanatory information should accompany treaties once they have been agreed;
  • there should be a general principle of transparency and disclosure of information to Parliament; and
  • the Government must work closely with the devolved institutions throughout the treaty-making process. Where appropriate, representatives from the devolved governments should form part of the UK Government's negotiating team. 

The Government's response is that:

  • they are committed to the principle of parliamentary scrutiny;
  • they accept that any treaty scrutiny committee could have access to sensitive materials not suitable for wider publication on the understanding of confidentiality;
  • they would seek to meet requests by committees to debate international agreements if desired;
  • they were committed to engaging with whichever committee assumes responsibility for treaty scrutiny as it has previously done so with the Lords European Union Committee; and
  • they share draft treaty texts once they are stable with the devolved administrations.

Further information