One related to the transfer to Parliament of the power to ratify treaties. It is a power that Parliament has not had before. However, there is no point in transferring the power unless Parliament has the resources to examine treaties within the limited time provided (usually 21 days). To ensure effective scrutiny, I favour the creation of a joint committee on treaties. That, though, is a matter for the two Houses and not for legislation. The other element is the provision of information about the treaties. When a treaty is deposited with Parliament, the practice is for the Government to submit an explanatory memorandum. Now that Parliament has to ratify treaties, and not simply have the opportunity to comment, it is important that the provision of information about the treaty is mandatory. That is what my amendment achieved. There is now a statutory duty imposed on the Government to provide explanatory memoranda.
The other amendment is the most important and, in my view, the most significant of the amendments I tabled. It is to Part I of the Bill which puts the civil service on a statutory footing. Senior civil servants are not particularly well versed in the role of Parliament. There are occasions when they are not aware of what material should be deposited with the two Houses and sometimes material, such as EU documents, are deposited late. The Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill toyed with the possibility of placing a duty on civil servants to have some accountability to Parliament. This was problematic in constitutional terms and difficult to enshrine in legislative form. I approached the issue from a different perspective. My amendment provides that:
“In exercising his power to manage the civil service, the Minister for the Civil Service shall have regard to the need to ensure that civil servants who advise Ministers are aware of the constitutional significance of Parliament and of the conventions governing the relationship between Parliament and Her Majesty’s Government.”
This is now a statutory provision. It is up to the Minister for the Civil Service (a post held by the Prime Minister) to ensure that senior civil servants are well versed in the role of Parliament. It has the potential to improve significantly the relationship between the civil service and Parliament.