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Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010

Part 2 Background - Ratification of treaties

33.The non-legislative convention for the Parliamentary scrutiny of treaties was known as the Ponsonby Rule. It provided that treaties which did not come into force on signature, but which instead came into force later when governments expressed their consent to be bound through a formal act such as ratification, should be laid before both Houses of Parliament as a Command Paper for a minimum period of 21 sitting days. The Rule gave no legal effect to a resolution of either House that a treaty should not be ratified. Since 1997, the practice of laying a memorandum alongside treaties to explain their effect has been routine. In addition, in 2000, the Government undertook that it would normally provide the opportunity to debate any treaty involving major political, military or diplomatic issues, if the relevant select committee and the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons so requested (Government response of 31 October 2000 to the House of Commons Procedure Committee’s Second Report of Session 1999-2000, Parliamentary Scrutiny of Treaties (HC210)).

34.The Governance of Britain Green Paper (Cm 7170, July 2007) set out the Government’s belief that Parliament should have the right to scrutinise treaties prior to their ratification. In the Green Paper the Government went on to propose that the procedure for allowing Parliament to scrutinise treaties should be formalised, and committed to consulting on an appropriate means for putting the Ponsonby Rule on a statutory footing.

35.A consultation document The Governance of Britain – War powers and treaties: Limiting Executive powers (Cm 7239) was published on 25 October 2007. The document can be found at:

36.The document invited comments on an appropriate means to put the Ponsonby Rule on a statutory footing. The consultation period ran until 17 January 2008. A detailed analysis of the consultation responses can be found in The Governance of Britain – Analysis of Consultations (Cm 7342-3). The Government published clauses in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill which provided for treaties to be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days prior to ratification, and to give effect to the consequences of a negative vote in either House of Parliament, with provision for flexibility and exceptions based on established practice.

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