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House of Lords Hansard
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Foreign Policy: Parliamentary Participation
19 March 2018
Volume 790

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to Parliament being offered a more meaningful participation in foreign policy, including by restricting the extent of the royal prerogative.

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My Lords, the FCO attaches great importance to engaging with Parliament on foreign policy issues through Statements, Questions, debates, evidence to Select Committees and, indeed, informal discussion. The Government observe the convention that there is a debate in Parliament before UK military action is taken except where there is an emergency and such action would not be appropriate. In relation to treaty-making, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 requires treaties to be laid before Parliament before ratification.

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I thank the Minister for that response. With many more issues and challenges on the global stage than current mechanisms can properly undertake, would the Government, including a diminished Foreign Office, keep an open mind and encourage the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the International Relations Committee to jointly consider revamping foreign policy decision-making processes, with necessary discretions factored in, knowing that the combined wisdom and shared responsibilities of Parliament as a whole should be made better use of by assisting in the creation of visionary policies and addressing the multiple challenges, including our country’s position in and future contribution to tomorrow’s world?

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My Lords, it is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Far from it being diminished, the fact that I have used the word “Commonwealth” underlines the importance of the broad nature of its foreign and Commonwealth responsibilities. We look forward, as I am sure does the noble Viscount and the rest of the House, to welcoming leaders from across the 52 nations of the Commonwealth—the 53rd of course being the United Kingdom—in the next few weeks. As for parliamentary contributions, I alluded in my original Answer to the importance the Government attach to parliamentary debates, and I respect the wisdom of Parliament in that regard. I draw to the noble Viscount’s attention that only this morning, in my capacity as the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence, we had a very good engagement on that issue with many different voices. I am delighted to report back with my noble friend Lady Hodgson, who leads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security, and my noble friend Lady Nicholson, who leads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict. I believe the Government work constructively with all parliamentarians on the issues that matter in foreign policy.

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My Lords, has the Minister seen the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s recent report entitled Global Britain, which asks the FCO to produce a,

“coherent strategic direction, supported by adequate resources”,

and notes that resources are now being moved from embassies in fast-growing Asia to Europe? Given the decisions about going to war or even leaving major trading blocs, would it not be wise to include Parliament far more in working out a foreign policy that is multilateral and realistic?

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I have of course seen the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee. Having been before the committee on three occasions over the last month, I was asked about Britain’s position in the global world. Look at our leadership in the area of development—at how we are working hand-in-glove with Commonwealth countries on preventing sexual violence and ensuring reforms in the United Nations. Our membership of NATO underlines Britain’s global position in the world. Of course we will continue to work with parliamentarians. I say to all colleagues across your Lordships’ House and in the other place that it is on all of us to ensure that the voice of global Britain is heard in all corners across the world.

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Does the Minister agree that post-Brexit it will be even more important that parliamentarians are encouraged to build relationships with their counterparts in EU countries? To that end, does he agree that the parliamentary scheme should be such that it does not disadvantage parliamentarians who participate in it, so it should be put on a par with the emoluments for those who go to international parliamentary conferences?

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I am sure all those who are involved with the various committees and bodies will listen carefully to the noble Lord’s suggestion. From the Government’s perspective, I reiterate that we have bolstered many of our positions in European capitals in preparedness for the post-Brexit world. As for parliamentary support, I am sure that the extra support within our different missions across Europe will also assist. If I may say so as Minister for the UN, we are also adding to our support in our missions in New York and in Geneva, which will also assist parliamentary colleagues when they visit those offices.

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My Lords, something of great concern to many noble Lords is the EU withdrawal Bill going through the House, which represents the biggest power grab by the Executive. This Question relates to Parliament and its right to scrutinise legislation. The Minister may not have heard it, but last week at 2.30 in the morning I moved an amendment. It was a shame it was so late, but I had a good audience on his side. That amendment sought to empower Parliament to do its job to scrutinise international treaties. Will the Minister ensure that he is present at 2.30 tomorrow morning when we debate these issues to ensure that Parliament can keep its power to scrutinise?

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I would not be as brave as the noble Lord and predict how long Parliament will sit tomorrow but, as he conceded, on the government side, we listen carefully to his words, as was demonstrated only last week.

In terms of ensuring parliamentary scrutiny, this is about taking back control and ensuring that every piece of legislation is scrutinised by Parliament. Indeed, when we discussed the EU sanctions Bill, I responded positively, I hope, on ensuring the affirmative nature of secondary legislation. As for parliamentary scrutiny of the EU withdrawal Bill specifically, look at the number of hours it was debated in the House of Commons. I turn to my noble friend who sits not too distant from me to consider the hours he and his team and other noble friends on the Front Bench are spending on this issue. I am sure the noble Lord would acknowledge that the Government are ensuring that there is full scrutiny of all legislation, including the EU withdrawal Bill.

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Reverting to the form of the Question from the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, is it not an established constitutional convention that where legislation trespasses into the territory of the royal prerogative, the royal prerogative simply falls away? If that is right, it is not an exercise in making fresh legislation to determine when, how and why the royal prerogative should have status in any particular context; it is simply a question of whether the new legislation traverses the territory of the royal prerogative. Does the Minister agree?

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The issue of the royal prerogative is well understood. EU legislation is currently scrutinised by different committees within Parliament but, as I alluded to in my Answer, where the UK is directly a party to a particular treaty, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 requires treaties to be laid before Parliament, which includes their scrutiny, before ratification.