Review of investigative and scrutiny committees: strengthening the thematic structure through the appointment of new committees Contents

Chapter 3: Scrutiny of International Agreements


28.In January the Liaison Committee agreed to the establishment of an International Agreements Sub-Committee (IAC), until the end of 2020 as a sub-committee of the European Union Committee. As it was clear that the scope of the IAC’s work would extend beyond the EU Committee’s existing terms of reference, these were then amended to include a requirement “To consider matters relating to the negotiation and conclusion of international agreements”.14 The IAC was duly established in April.

29.The IAC has quickly established itself as a very active sub-committee. By 17 November 2020 it had:

30.The IAC has engaged extensively with stakeholders, conducting 10 public evidence sessions, with 24 witnesses. It has also received and considered large volumes of written evidence, in response to its various calls for evidence:

Inquiry topic

Number of written submissions

Working practices


UK–US trade negotiations


UK–Japan trade negotiations


New Zealand trade negotiations


Australia trade negotiations


UK–Norway fisheries negotiations




Key themes of the IAC’s work

31.Thematically, the Committee’s work can be broken down into three key, interrelated areas, which are likely to remain priorities over the next six to nine months:

32.Under the first of these headings, the IAC has taken up the work done in the previous Parliament by the Constitution and EU Select Committees, gradually developing and confirming new working practices with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. These address issues such as the publication of amendments to treaties (to which the Government made a commitment in its response to the IAC’s report on working practices);16 and the level of scrutiny of agreements that fall outside CRAG, like Memoranda of Understanding.

33.Members of the IAC have also been engaged in consideration of the Trade Bill, and this raises the prospect of further involvement in both primary and secondary legislation in future. In particular, the IAC could add significant value in informing debates about the implementation of treaties, whether they be trade deals or other agreements.

34.The IAC has continued the previous practice of the EU Committee (which scrutinised Brexit-related ‘rollover’ agreements up until March 2020), in either drawing agreements to the special attention of the House or reporting them for information. Over time it is hoped that this ‘sifting’ function, which is comparable to that of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, will help Members to focus attention on those agreements that are most important or controversial, contributing to better quality debates, and enhancing the House’s reputation for informed, expert scrutiny of international agreements.

35.The IAC is already adding value to the House’s work in a number of areas:

36.In so doing, it has drawn on a growing expertise in the process of treaty scrutiny, allowing it to identify examples of good practice across departments, and helping Government collectively to ‘raise its game’.

37.It has also provided a valuable forum for stakeholders, including the devolved bodies and businesses across the UK, to ask questions and raise concerns about ongoing treaty negotiations. It is hoped that this will in turn feed into better informed, more engaged debates in the House—at the time of writing three motions relating to treaties were awaiting debate.

38.We recommend the appointment of an International Agreements Committee in January 2021, for the remainder of the current Parliament. Upon that appointment the work of the current EU sub-committee on International Agreements should come to an end.

39.As a sessional committee, the new International Agreements Committee will need its own terms of reference. In keeping with the thematic approach to House of Lords committees we suggest that these should be broad:

“To consider matters relating to the negotiation, conclusion and implementation of international agreements, and to report on treaties laid before Parliament in accordance with Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.”

40.It may also be necessary to update the terms of reference of the European Union Committee, by removing the limb that refers to international agreements with effect from January 2021.

14 Procedure Committee, First Report (Session 2019–21, HL Paper 29)

15 Published on 20 November 2020. European Union Committee, Scrutiny of international agreements: UK–Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (16th Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 175)

16 Government response to the European Union International Agreements Sub-Committee report: Treaty Scrutiny, working practices:

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