Treaty Ratification Procedure

Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 8th May 2008.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 10:30 am, 8th May 2008

What consideration she has given to the modernisation of parliamentary procedure relating to the ratification of treaties.

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Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

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.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

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.

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Yes you remind them Mark, even Labour supporters (I know a Few)resent this through the backdoor treaty. Blair promised us a referendum and as Brown hasn't got the bottle to seek his own mandate he should at least recognize that his administration is bound by that promise. Some hope of us getting one as they know the answer would be a firm no.

Submitted by ross warren

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

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.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

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.

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Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

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.

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