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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 powersvestiges of the power of the Crown in bygone dayshave 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.
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 systemin fact, it was an English parliamentary system at the timebut there was not. A separation of powers is built into the US system, which is why the legislatureCongresscan 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.
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 practicethis is a point that I will make in the context of a number of other constitutional settlementsis 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?
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
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absolutely right as he isis that it would be curious if Dutch marines could be deployed pursuant to a NATO commitment or obligation[Interruption.]
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