The House of Lords Constitution Committee published its report into parliamentary scrutiny of international treaties, recommending substantial reform amounting to constitutional change. International treaties, such as trade agreements, can have direct impact on both the private and public sectors. Previous treaty actions have forced authorities to revoke planning decisions, public sector contracts, and equalities, human rights, and environmental measures. After Brexit the UK must potentially agree hundreds of new trade agreements. Treaties will, therefore, have a significant impact on local authorities, the private sector, and national government.
Cornerstone's Dr Sam Fowles gave evidence to the committee, arguing that the current system of scrutiny (currently set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010) was created over 100 years ago when international treaties did not have domestic impacts. He recommended that the system be reformed to provide for an enhanced role for parliament, a dedicated "treaty scrutiny committee", and greater transparency in negotiations.
The report's significant conclusions included:
1. The existing system of scrutiny is outdated and inadequate. Parliament must play a significantly greater role and must be involved throughout the process of treaty making. The government must allocate time for Parliament to debate treaties.
2. A treaty scrutiny committee should be established with the power to scrutinise treaties, (in due course) review confidential documents, and recommend full parliamentary debates.
3. A presumption of transparency should be established in government policy under which it would be the norm to disclose documents at all stages of treaty negotiation and ratification.
The full report can be read here. Sam Fowles' evidence can be read here.
Sam Fowles has a broad practice in public and constitutional law. He has advised on a number of key pieces of constitutional litigation around Brexit, and regularly provides advice and representation to NGO, MPs, and private clients on matters of public and constitutional law.
For more information on Sam Fowles' work visit his video blog, "The Three Minute Brief".