GEG submits evidence on The Scrutiny of International Treaties
Emily Jones, Danilo B. Garrido Alves and Anna Sands submitted evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee's inquiry on 'The Scrutiny of International Treaties and other international agreements in the 21st century'
This evidence is based on the ongoing research project on the regulation of the digital economy, and is in line with the Blavatnik School of Government's goal to promote evidence-based public policy.
The researchers found that the UK Government had taken some steps to improve the scrutiny process, but that current practice still falls short of what is required for scrutiny to be effective and relies on the goodwill of Government as the changes are not reflected in statute. Their main recommendations are to:
- Provide Parliament with a statutory right to a debate on the draft negotiating objectives for any treaty or treaty action the relevant scrutiny committee identifies as important and meriting such action. This would bring the UK in line with the EU and US where parliaments are fully consulted on the negotiating mandate, could provide Government with leverage in the negotiating room, and strengthen the credibility of the Government as a negotiating partner by reassuring other governments that Parliament is on board with the Government’s approach.
- Provide Parliament with a statutory right to timely and substantive information, including regular public and private briefings to relevant scrutiny and subject specific committees, and access to draft negotiating texts and related documents for all MPs and security-cleared staff, on a confidential basis. This would bring the Parliament in line with the US and the EU, where parliamentarians have a high level of access to information, including to confidential negotiating texts.
- Require Government to make the treaty text public well before the treaty is tabled in Parliament, to allow sufficient time for examination and scrutiny, and oblige Government to extend the 21 sitting-day period for scrutiny if requested to do so by the relevant scrutiny committee. In the US for example, Congress has access to the agreed text 60 days before signature, and access to the final text for 30 days before the treaty is laid before Congress for ratification.
- Require Government to publish preliminary impact assessments at the outset of negotiations and full impact assessments when the treaty is laid in Parliament, which evaluate the economic, social, and environmental impacts of a proposed agreement. The UK Government has started to publish preliminary impact assessments at the outset of negotiations; this recommendation would formalise and systematise an emerging practice.
- Provide that trade agreements shall not be ratified unless Parliament has debated and authorized ratification of the agreement, in cases where the scrutiny committee so decides. This would bring the UK in line with the EU and US, where parliaments must approve treaty texts as part of the ratification process. It also reflects the nature of contemporary trade agreements, which have implications for a wide range of public policy areas; would strengthen the quality of decision-making; and could provide the Government with greater leverage during negotiations.
- Provide devolved administrations with the statutory right to co-determine the negotiating mandate in areas of devolved competence, and fully participate in negotiations on issues of devolved competence; provide devolved administrations and legislatures with the same level of information as the UK Parliament; and create an interparliamentary mechanism to involve devolved legislatures in treaty scrutiny. There are valuable lessons to be learned from Canada, where the Government has found ways to involve Provincial administrations in areas where they have competence, whilst retaining control over the treaty-making process.