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Jeremy Corbyn : I am interested in the Leader of the House's speech. Why does he not say what is really behind his position? He is defending the mediaeval royal prerogative to take this country to war. Many other countries, including the United States, do not have such a power, but have parliamentary scrutiny on going to war. Why should this country not have the same arrangements?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point because it is precisely what I am going to deal with next in my speech. If he will allow me, I shall address those points in the next paragraph or so.

Questions of principle underlie the Bill, as my hon. Friend has shown. Several hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, have referred to the application of the prerogative powers. I can well understand why colleagues look at the retention of any such powers, where they are unnecessary, with considerable suspicion. The Government acknowledged in 2004 that in many respects the prerogative was an "historical anachronism". Labour Members are certainly committed to bringing the way in which the country is governed into line with modern conditions and the needs of the 21st century. We have shown that in many areas, including that of parliamentary reform.

To answer my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), we should not be diverted by the archaic term "prerogative powers". We are actually talking about Executive powers, which are necessary and exist in any constitutional arrangement. We are today talking about not unnecessary powers or powers possessed by some historical accident, as my hon. Friend implied, but a key power that is possessed by the Executive as a matter of pragmatic necessity if they are to be properly effective. It is thus not without reason that the old prerogative powers—vestiges of the power of the Crown in bygone days—have been retained primarily in the areas of foreign affairs and defence, for it is in those areas that the Executive need most freedom of manoeuvre to defend our national security and interests.

The Prime Minister has said in the House on several occasions that although he considers that it would be unthinkable for a country to go to war against the wishes of Parliament, it would not be right to constrain the prerogatives that exist at present on the basis that there might be circumstances in which action has to take place quickly. In such circumstances, the Government must retain the power to take immediate action if that is what is necessary and the right thing to do.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend therefore explain what is wrong with the United States' War Powers Act?

Mr. Hoon: I had intended to deal with my hon. Friend's point in a moment because it was raised during
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the debate. It has already been stated that the War Powers Act was considered necessary by Congress as a legislative means of providing a check on an Executive that are not part of Congress. That is a fundamentally different arrangement from our parliamentary system. My hon. Friend seems to be pulling a face, but he must think this though. The US President is the Head of Government and the Head of State, and has a range of Executive powers that are not subject to the parliamentary accountability that operates in a system where the Executive are part of the legislature. The people who drafted the American constitution thought that they were basing it on the British constitution, but they made a fundamental error, because they thought that there was a separation of powers in the British parliamentary system—in fact, it was an English parliamentary system at the time—but there was not. A separation of powers is built into the US system, which is why the legislature—Congress—can pass legislation in the form of the War Powers Resolution to authorise military action.

As I said earlier, there are two problems with the relevance of that legislation to the Bill. First, it can be challenged in the American constitutional system as to whether it is effective in any event. Secondly, in any event, the US President has deployed American troops without any legal sanction from Congress and without resort to the legislation. If my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) looks at a range of constitutional settlements, some of which have been cited in our debate, he will find that most other constitutions give the Executive power to deploy troops, and do not require the close parliamentary scrutiny proposed in the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood.

Clare Short rose in her place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 91, Noes 12.

Division No. 64
[2.1 pm


Alexander, Danny
Austin, John
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Barrett, John
Berry, Roger
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Burden, Richard
Burt, Lorely
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Caton, Mr. Martin
Challen, Colin
Clark, Ms Katy
Connarty, Michael
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Dobson, rh Frank
Drew, Mr. David
Efford, Clive
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Foster, Mr. Don
Gale, Mr. Roger
Gidley, Sandra
Griffith, Nia
Grogan, Mr. John
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Mr. Dai
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hoey, Kate
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holmes, Paul
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Jackson, Glenda
Jones, Lynne
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kramer, Susan
Law, Peter
Lazarowicz, Mark
Leech, Mr. John
Lepper, David
Lloyd, Tony
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Love, Mr. Andrew
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
McCafferty, Chris
McDonnell, John
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Moore, Mr. Michael
Mudie, Mr. George
Mulholland, Greg
Osborne, Sandra
Ottaway, Richard
Owen, Albert
Penrose, John
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Price, Adam
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rogerson, Mr. Dan
Rowen, Paul
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob
Short, rh Clare
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Sir Robert
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Swinson, Jo
Taylor, Matthew
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Stephen

Tellers for the Ayes:

Paul Flynn and
Mr. Neil Gerrard


Blackman, Liz
Chapman, Ben
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Forth, rh Mr. Eric
Heppell, Mr. John
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Kennedy, rh Jane
Levitt, Tom
McDonagh, Siobhain
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Watson, Mr. Tom
Wright, David

Tellers for the Noes:

Claire Ward and
Mr. Eric Joyce

21 Oct 2005 : Column 1157

Whereupon Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 37 (Majority for closure or for proposal of Question).

Mr. Hoon: Before our interruption, we were discussing Executive powers in constitutions. I know that hon. Members were enthralled by the details that I was setting out and I am delighted to have the opportunity of continuing to explain the various different constitutional arrangements that apply in other countries.

The Netherlands is often cited as an example of where there is a constitutional requirement to insist on parliamentary approval, but the reality in practice—this is a point that I will make in the context of a number of other constitutional settlements—is that there is a treaty obligation to participate, where, for example, there is a commitment on the part of the Government of the Netherlands to support a UN or NATO operation. Certainly, the parliamentary requirement does not fully apply to the deployment of its special forces.

David Wright: This is particularly interesting because clearly the Netherlands has a strong partnership with the Royal Marines, as my right hon. Friend will know from his time as Secretary of State for Defence. Will he expand on how it deploys troops alongside the Royal Marines?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It has certainly been my privilege on a number of occasions to witness joint operations between marines from the Netherlands and the Royal Marines from the United Kingdom. The implication of his observation—
21 Oct 2005 : Column 1158
absolutely right as he is—is that it would be curious if Dutch marines could be deployed pursuant to a NATO commitment or obligation—[Interruption.]

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