Government to implement IAC recommendations on trade agreement scrutiny
19 May 2022
We welcome the Government’s implementation of our call to publish a formal record of commitments in support of Parliament’s scrutiny of trade agreements.
These commitments have been formalised through an exchange of letters. This should ensure that there is a clear and predictable framework, so that trade agreements can receive consistent and thorough scrutiny across both Houses of Parliament.
The commitments include promises to publish negotiating objectives and a “scoping assessment” before the start of negotiations; facilitate a parliamentary debate on the negotiating objectives; publish regular updates on the negotiations; provide written and oral evidence to the IAC and the Commons’ International Trade Committee, including private briefings by officials; and ensure that the committees have a “reasonable amount of time” to scrutinise new trade agreements and produce their reports, before agreements are formally laid before Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.
A debate on the IAC’s 2021 working practices report, which first recommended that the various promises made by Government on trade agreements should be transformed into formal commitments to Parliament, was also held today in the House of Lords.
Comments from the Chair
Baroness Hayter, our Chair said:
“We are pleased that the Government has engaged with us constructively and taken the positive step of ensuring we have a clear framework for Parliament to scrutinise new trade agreements. We are especially grateful to Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, the Minister for Investment, and his officials for acting upon my committee’s recommendation.
“We now have an official record of what Parliament can expect, as a minimum, from Government in support of scrutiny of trade agreements. This official record should not be amended without prior consent from my committee and the International Trade Committee in the Commons.
“While a significant step in the right direction, this is not the end of our conversation on treaty scrutiny. For example, we are very concerned that not all substantial amendments to international agreements have to be notified and made available to Parliament. The same is true of political agreements, which although not legally binding, can have political, financial, and human rights implications. We will continue to press Government to close this scrutiny gap.