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Treaty Ratification Procedure

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

26. What consideration she has given to the modernisation of parliamentary procedure relating to the ratification of treaties. (204041)

Proposals on parliamentary scrutiny of treaties are included in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, which is currently being considered by a Joint Committee of Parliament. Under the proposals, the Government would be legally required to lay treaties before Parliament for 21 sitting days prior to ratification. A vote by either House against ratification would mean that the Government could not simply ratify the treaty without further steps. In particular, the Government could not ratify a treaty that the Commons had voted against, unless they relaid the same or a revised proposal and the House did not vote against it again. The Government believe that the right of Parliament to scrutinise treaties before ratification should be based on statute. This will transfer power from the Executive to Parliament and make the rules clearer and more transparent.

I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for that answer, but in a previous case where we had parliamentary scrutiny of a treaty—namely the Lisbon treaty—it was not a rip-roaring success. The Government broke their promise on having a referendum and then we were promised detailed line-by-line scrutiny in the House, which was also not delivered. If the Government are going to bring forward the proposals that the Deputy Leader of the House described, they had better listen, learn from those experiences, deliver on their promises and ensure that the House has a genuine say in the ratification of treaties, because if the Lisbon treaty process is any example, people will be left feeling let down by the Government yet again.

The hon. Gentleman has not taken account of the fact that European treaties will not be covered by the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, because they have a higher barrier to pass. European treaties must be incorporated into a piece of legislation and go through all the normal legislative processes of the House, and that is precisely what the Government did with the Lisbon treaty.

The statement by the Deputy Leader of the House on the Government’s plans for the future is welcome. However, she will be aware that even since the beginning of this Session, the UK has entered into five international treaties, including an important one on sentencing with the International Criminal Court. Will she consider a proposal to allow us to look at treaties that will come down the pipeline between now and the eventual passage of a Constitutional Renewal Bill, which could take two or three years to come into effect? All colleagues, in both Houses, would welcome the chance to see the treaties in draft and express a view on them, and that cannot be too difficult to arrange.

As the hon. Gentleman understands fully, the procedure for treaties currently follows the Ponsonby rule. The convention is that they are laid on the Table in both Houses for 21 days. Obviously that will continue until we have the Constitutional Renewal Bill. As he may also be aware, on some occasions there are time limits that make giving full notice particularly difficult. However, I will look into the suggestion that he made.