Jill Barrett advises new International Agreements Committee of the House of Lords 

July 13, 2020

In April this year Parliament set up its first ever treaty committee, to improve scrutiny of the UK’s increased treaty-making since leaving the EU.

Chaired by Lord Goldsmith QC, its formal name is the ‘International Agreements Sub-Committee’ as it is, for now, a sub-committee of the European Union Committee of the House of Lords. Its remit covers the negotiation and conclusion of all the UK’s international agreements, whether related to Brexit or not.

It began by conducting a short inquiry into working practices, starting with a private roundtable meeting with Jill Barrett and two other treaty experts on 20 May. The committee also asked Jill to submit written evidence to the inquiry, which is published here

On 10 July the committee’s report on ‘Treaty scrutiny: working practices’ was published. It sets out criteria for scrutinising treaties and assessing whether they are politically, economically or legally important, its plans for building relations with stakeholder groups and issuing public calls for evidence, and its demands that government provide adequate time and information for effective scrutiny. The report cites Jill’s evidence on several key points, in particular on sifting and prioritising treaties (paras 57-58), on setting standards for Explanatory Memoranda (para 69) and on scrutinising treaty amendments, which is an important issue to look out for in trade agreements (para 108).

The committee has opened two further inquiries on the UK-US and the UK-Japan trade negotiations, both of which are currently accepting written submissions see here

Jill comments: ‘The establishment of the UK’s first ever parliamentary committee devoted to treaty scrutiny, with a broad remit to cover international law-making on all subjects, is an important and long overdue development. I hope that there will be an equivalent development in the House of Commons and eventually a joint treaty committee of both Houses. Meanwhile, it is good to see that this committee intends to work co-operatively with the Commons’ International Trade Committee with regard to scrutiny of trade treaty negotiations to ensure that Parliament holds the Government to account.’

The Government’s response is awaited. When it is received, we understand that the report will be debated on the floor of the House of Lords.