The House of Lords EU Select Committee has today published its report Scrutiny of international agreements: lessons learned.
In January 2019 the EU Committee began scrutinising Brexit-related international agreements, which have been laid before Parliament in accordance with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRAG Act). The Committee has published 12 reports, covering 42 agreements, and drawn nine of these agreements to the special attention of the House.
The way Parliament scrutinises treaties is likely to be of increasing importance once the UK leaves the EU, as the power to negotiate and conclude international agreements in a range of areas returns to the national government from Brussels.
The report finds that the time limit of 21 sitting days, which is allowed under the CRAG Act for Parliament to scrutinise agreements, makes it impossible for Committees to consult widely and engage with key stakeholders.
The Committee also regrets that Parliament is presented with a 'take it or leave it choice' at the end of the Government's treaty negotiations, rather than being able to play a role in shaping those negotiations. In respect of significant treaties, a clear negotiating mandate should be published in draft forming the basis for committee engagement and stakeholder consultation.
The report concludes that committees scrutinising treaties in Parliament and the devolved administrations should see draft texts once political agreement has been reached, rather than waiting for the final text to be published under the terms of the CRAG Act.
The report also concludes that information provided to Parliament during negotiations on future international agreements should normally be made public. Exceptions to that general principle should be specified and justified by the Government.