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Inquiry into post-Brexit scrutiny of international treaties

26 March 2021

The House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee has issued a call for evidence for a new inquiry into the scrutiny of international treaties.

While the UK was a member of the European Union (EU), the EU had the power to negotiate and conclude treaties, which were binding on member states, across a wide range of sectors. The EU has institutional systems to scrutinise the negotiation and implementation of international agreements, and the Commons’ European Scrutiny Committee provided a forum for UK scrutiny in Parliament.

These scrutiny mechanisms are no longer in place, and Parliament may now have less access to information from the Government than it had while the UK was in the EU.

The UK has returned to arrangements largely based on the situation 100 years ago when international agreements were very different. Since then, there has been a huge expansion in the volume and scope of international treaties, affecting almost all areas of everyday life.

Under the current legislation, Parliament does not have a statutory or formal role in setting the negotiating objectives for an agreement, monitoring the progress of negotiations or overseeing treaty implementation. The House of Commons is currently reliant on existing Committees being able to scrutinise treaties on a case-by-case basis.

In summary, the inquiry is looking to answer a series of key questions. To set the parameters of its work it will establish the role and purpose of international treaties. It will ask about the ideal balance between the roles of Parliament and the Government in agreeing to and legislating for treaties. The implementation and scrutiny that follow will also be examined, with particular emphasis on the role of the House of Commons.

How you can take part

The Committee welcomes written evidence. If you have direct experience of the issues under investigation, we would love to hear from you. You can find out more about how to send us evidence (including the format and maximum length of your submissions) by visiting our inquiry page here. The deadline for submissions is Monday 7 June 2021 18.00 HRS.

The inquiry will look at the following areas and your submissions should be organised along these lines:

  1. Role and purpose of international treaties/agreements
  • What roles and functions do treaties and international agreements perform in the 21st century?
  1. Constitutional relationships
  • Where should the balance lie between Parliament and government in developing, agreeing and implementing international treaties?
  • To what extent is there tension between the sovereignty of Parliament and the ability of the government to sign treaties that require or constrain future legislative changes, and what can be done to resolve any such tension?
  • What role should devolved governments and legislatures, Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories have in relation to international treaties and arrangements? 
  1. Effectiveness of current scrutiny mechanisms
  • Does the government’s current legislating framework for treaties, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, as well as constitutional conventions operating alongside it, enable effective parliamentary scrutiny of international treaties and other agreements?
  • Do these conventions need to be formalised through, for example, further legislation or resolutions of the House of Commons?
  • Should scrutiny of treaty-making be more integrated with scrutiny of corresponding implementing legislation?
  • How effectively is the implementation of international treaties, including the decisions of new decision-making bodies, being scrutinised?
  1. Role of the House of Commons
  • What role should Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular, have at different stages of the treaty-making and implementation process?
  • What role should Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular, have in relation to different types of treaties, and on what basis?
  • Given that international agreements affect people’s lives, how can the House of Commons increase the democratic accountability of international agreements?
  1. Information and resourcing requirements
  • How, and at what stages of the treaty making process, should the government share information with Parliament?
  • Should Parliament have access to confidential information and, if so, what mechanisms might assure the continued confidentiality of that information?
  • What treaty information should be publicly available in respect of the UK’s current treaty obligations and to facilitate scrutiny of new treaties?
  • What sort of expertise does Parliament need to scrutinise treaties?

Further information

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