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Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman implies that he supports the Bill. There were three substantive votes on the matter, one as early as the previous November. Will he explain what would have been different in the run-up to the Iraq war had the right hon. Lady's Bill been law at that time?
Mr. Heath: It might have more sensible for the hon. Gentleman to allow me to make my speech instead of intervening during the opening sentences. The legal advice states a very clear position that would have made a difference[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would stop chuntering from a sedentary position he would hear my answer. I am told that the legal advice would have changed the views of several of his hon. Friends, quite apart from anybody else. It would not have changed the views of any Liberal Democrat Members because, from the start, we were united in our opposition to the war.
I am a Member of Parliament who represents a military establishmentroyal naval air station Yeovilton, which I frequently visit to speak to the people stationed there. I have 40 Commando very nearby, and many of those Royal Marines live in my constituency. The infantry at Warminster are also very close. The serving forces personnel and their families who expressed their concerns to me expected that their Member of Parliament would have some influence, albeit small, on what was going to happen in relation to their futures. The same should go for every Member of this House, as I am sure that we all have service family constituents. I hope that some of us feel that before we commit young men and women to conflict we should, at least metaphorically, walk a mile in their boots in order to understand what we are asking them to do in our name.
The phrase, "in our name", is also a factor for the wider population, because when we enter a conflict, we do so in the name of the people of the United Kingdom, who believe that their democratic systems have some influence on that decision. The right hon. Lady is right to say that this is a matter of democracyit is about democratic renewal and making our democracy fit for the circumstances of a modern country. If one wants to find a reason for the apparent disengagement of the public from the political process, one need look no further than the fact that it appears that the people whom they elect do not have the capacity to play a part in the most important decision that comes before the body politic. Why on earth should they rely on the ballot box if their elected representatives have no say in such a crucial matter?
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I am slightly puzzled by more than one dimension of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but one in particular. There was a votein fact, there were three, as the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) saidbefore taking military action in Iraq. Why does that vote not affect his view of the legitimacy of that conflict? [Interruption.]
The hon. Gentleman asks why that vote did not fit my requirements, but I have to say that in
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large part it did. I am saddened by the fact that the House was not in full possession of the facts at the time, or was sometimes in possession of facts that later proved illusory, shall we say. The decision to put the matter before the House was right. If the hon. Gentleman agrees, he should support the Bill, because it would make it a matter of course for such decisions be put before the House.
Mr. Keetch: At some stage in the future, a Prime Minister will need to return to this House wanting to deploy armed forces again. The concerns that we and many other people had about the run-up to the last war make it necessary to establish correct procedures as to how that is done, so that the House, the country and our armed forces can have confidence in that decision.
Mr. Heath: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The genie is out of the bottle now that the precedent has been set. It would be extremely difficult for an Executive not to bring such a matter before the House in future, so why not make it a matter of statute rather than subject to the discretion of the Government of the day, which might be abused?
In constitutional terms, we are talking about what one academic has described as a relic of fiscal feudalismthe old prerogativa regis. It is extraordinary that that should persist in a modern, parliamentary democracy. I am indebted to Martin Kettle of The Guardian for drawing attention to A.J.P. Taylor's "English History 19141945 (The Oxford History of England)", in which he describes the declaration of war in the first world war as being,
That remains the case, with one exception. The Crown has rather less of a part to play than King George V played in the first world war because the decision is now taken by the Prime Minister and the Defence Council, not necessarily with the support of the Prime Minister's Cabinet colleagues. Indeed, there is no requirement to consult the Cabinet on something so important.
In constitutional terms, there is the concept of royal prerogative and the Crown in Council, but there is also the concept of the Crown in Parliament, which is equally or more important. When we take such essential decisions, we are talking about the Crown in Parliament: the view of the elected Chamber along with the Crown. It does not mean the views of a small number of members of the Executive who may or may not have access to the relevant material in support of the decision taken.
What are the possible arguments against the Bill? The first is simple constitutional intertia: "because that is the way it is, that is the way it shall be". That does not merit a moment's consideration. I hope that the Government remain a reforming Governmentthey claim to be, although, in constitutional terms, they are mired. However, I hope that some of the sentiments that the Foreign Secretary expressed about reform, as quoted by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, still hold true.
The second, perverse argument against the Bill is its supposed impact on military morale; the Leader of the House was cited in one newspaper as suggesting that a
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debate in Parliament on whether to send forces into battle would damage military morale. Exactly the opposite is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) made clear. I have spent some time with the Royal Marines in the past year. They owe their loyalty to the Crown and to the country, not to the Prime Minister of the day.
John Hemming : Does my hon. Friend agree that, in commitment to the rule of law, Parliament is responsible for ensuring that military action is lawful before troops are employed? Does he also agree that it is rather sad that so fewI count about sevenConservative Members are present, thus showing their lack of commitment to ensuring that military action is lawful before troops are employed?
Mr. Heath: I hear what my hon. Friend says but I am not sure that that is a conclusion that one can necessarily draw. However, legality of action is critical to military morale. We live in an increasingly complex world, where increasingly complex rules apply to conflict. The declaration of war of the old days is a thing of the past. Nowadays, that is not a basis for the legitimacy of military action. It is therefore even more important that the members of Her Majesty's forces understand the legality and legitimacy of their actions and that they have the support of the representatives of the people.
When I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) earlier, I was trying to deal with morale. When troops are committed, their conduct is clearly governed by international law. However, if the Bill were passed, they would be bound not only by international law but by the terms of the motion that the House passed prior to their engagement. That would mean the possibility, because of changing circumstances, of their having to operate outside the terms that the House had determined. They would not therefore know the legal status of their further action if the situation developed unless the matter came back to the House. Would not that undermine the morale of troops in theatre?
Mr. Heath: I must say to the hon. Gentleman, in all gentleness, that that is a rather preposterous suggestion. I do not expect Parliament to vote on the precise terms of engagement and deployment of Her Majesty's forces before the commencement of conflict.[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may point at the Bill, but that is not within its terms and nothing will persuade me that it is.
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