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It is the Governments position that the current arrangements reflect the constitutional position. There is more than sufficient parliamentary involvement in that, and it would be both wrong and damaging to change the position.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 1 May 2007; Vol. 691, c. 1028.]
However, the Governments amendment today proposes a change to the position, which raises the obvious question of whether the Lord Chancellor has been consulted on the matter, or whether his views have simply been ignored. The looks on the faces of Government Front Benchers suggest that his views have been ignored.
Let me make it clear that I welcome the Governments abrupt change of mind, although given that, I have to observe that there is no reason why they could not have simply accepted our motion. One suspects that the only reason why they have not is not invented here syndrome. They have tabled an amendment that appears to say much the same as the motion, except that it refers to a more explicit role for Parliament, rather than a clear principle. In respect of emergencies, the amendment has a dig at some quarters, without saying who those mysterious quarters are, or where they might be lurking. It remarks that it is
inconceivable that any Government would...depart from this precedent
of voting on military action against Iraq, even though no parliamentary vote has ever taken place on a succession of deployments in Afghanistan. Despite those difficulties, the amendment represents progress, and a major change from the Governments position of two weeks ago. Although we prefer our motion and will vote for it accordingly, if it is defeated we certainly will not oppose the Governments amendment.
the time has come to look at those powers exercised by Ministers,
a greater role in the exercise of these powers would be an important and tangible way of making government more accountable.
we believe that Parliamentary assent...should be required to commit British troops to any war, international armed conflict or peace-keeping activity.
There will need to be exceptions under conditions of dire emergency, but with a requirement for the Prime Minister then to secure retrospective Parliamentary approval.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): May I say how strongly I endorse my right hon. Friends comments, which reflect what has been said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)? Where a military campaign has run out of constructive purpose, and is being pursued only to satisfy the hubris of a departing Prime Minister and a soon-to-depart American President, would it not be consistent and right for Parliament to have the right to vote to discontinue that campaign, too?
My right hon. and learned Friend is introducing a particular instance into the general argument; I had, conveniently, been pursuing my argument without raising particular instances. However, he raises a legitimate question: if Parliament has the right to hold votes of the kind that we are discussing, how often should the issue be revisited, and in what circumstances would another vote be required? I do not think that it is possible to lay down hard and
fast rules about that. It is important to stress that both our motion and the Government amendment call on the Government to produce proposals after consultationconsultation with Opposition parties, I hopeand it is very difficult to lay down rules that cover every eventuality. My right hon. and learned Friend has made his point about the situation in Iraq, but I do not necessarily draw a simple conclusion from it.
Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): Is not one important difference between the motion and the amendment the fact that concern is expressed in the Governments amendment about the security of our armed forces, in the context of the overall point that we are debating? That is missing from the right hon. Gentlemans motion.
Mr. Hague: No, I do not remotely think that that is a major difference between the motion and the amendment. [Interruption.] Well, it is one textual difference, but there are several textual differences between them. It is not a distinction that makes any tangible difference to the matter on which the House is to decide. The idea that any of us, whether in the official Opposition, the Liberal Democrat party or the nationalist parties, are not concerned with the security and well-being of our forces is pretty fanciful, so that is not a very relevant point.
Mr. Hague: I was absolutely right to say that the intervention would not be relevant. I will go on to explain how Governments of both parties have done things in very different ways, in respect of the procedures for armed conflict, but if I were to go into the merits of going into, or not going into, a particular armed conflict, we will be heading way off course. This debate is about the procedures for entering into armed conflict. There are grounds for criticism of all Administrations in that respect, and I want to come on to that point.
Mr. Redwood: Does my right hon. Friend think that the right time to hold the vote is just before a significant number of troops are committed, or should the vote take place before a high-level bombing campaign begins? These days, that is often in advance of the committing of troops.
Mr. Hague: Again, the conclusion that we come to on such matters must be the result of consultation between the parties. Indeed, there should be consultation outside Parliament, too. My view is that it would be impossible to lay down hard and fast rules that would cover every eventuality. I think that there ought to be a parliamentary debate and a vote before a major deployment of forces overseas, because, of course, there could easily be mission creep that took us from a deployment to actual fighting. As for a bombing campaign, we would have to distinguish between different circumstances. In the case of Kosovo, the international pressure and the build-up of forces were well flagged up before military action took place. In that case it would have been possible to hold a parliamentary debate and a vote. Of course, in a case where bombing is to be carried out as a surprise, it would not be wise to conduct a parliamentary debate beforehand.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend has said so far. Does he accept that if the security of this country was urgently and immediately threatened, that would be justification for the Government to commit forces without a debate in Parliament and prior approval of the House? To me, that is essential, and it is one of the reasons why I am concerned about the motion as it stands.
mechanisms to ensure that the capability to react rapidly in emergencies is maintained.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being extremely generous. He has stressed several times that we cannot make hard and fast rules for every situation. Does he agree, then, that legislation in this context would be inappropriate, and that what we need is some kind of cross-party consensus, and perhaps a consensus between the two Houses?
Mr. Hague: I tend to agree that we need some kind of convention, as advocated by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, or changes in the Standing Orders of the House, rather than legislation which has the additional disadvantage that it could be subject to judicial intervention in circumstances of armed conflict. I agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentlemans remarks.
a case now exists for a further restriction of executive power and a detailed consideration of the role of Parliament in the declaration of peace and war.
In April 2003 the right hon. Tony Benn and I, in what some regarded as a highly unusual alliance, made
a joint presentation to the Public Administration Committee, calling for the whole of the royal prerogative now exercised by Ministers, including the power to conclude treaties, the right to reorganise Government Departments, and the administration of the honours system, as well as the power to enter armed conflict, to be brought under parliamentary scrutiny and control. I cannot claim that anything so sweeping is at present the policy of my party or any other party, but the recent splitting of the Home Office with nothing more than a parliamentary statement to accompany it is an illustration of how much vital public business is removed from parliamentary consideration by being conducted under the royal prerogative.
The royal prerogative has no place in a modern western democracy
has been used as a smoke-screen by Ministers to obfuscate the use of power for which they are insufficiently accountable.
That politician was the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), now the Leader of the House of Commons, who is anxiously ensuring that he opens the debate for the Government so that he can have his right to move back to the Foreign Office, rather than the Home Office, when the reshuffle is conducted.
for ensuring full Parliamentary scrutiny of the following Ministerial prerogative actions: decisions on armed conflict; the conclusion and ratification of treaties; the issue and revocation of passports.
the prerogative has allowed powers to move from monarch to Ministers without Parliament having a say in how they are exercised. This should no longer be acceptable to Parliament or the people. . . It is now time for this unfinished business to be completed.
The Public Administration Committee considered the royal prerogative as a whole, but the House of Lords Constitution Committee looked into Parliaments role and responsibility on the issue of waging war. Its witnesses included military, academic and diplomatic experts. Its central conclusion was that
the exercise of the Royal Prerogative by the Government to deploy armed forces overseas is outdated and should not be allowed to continue as the basis for legitimate war-making in our 21st century democracy. Parliaments ability to challenge the executive must be protected and strengthened.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):
I am sure that there should be full parliamentary scrutiny. However, one of the issues that concerns me is whether there should be a requirement for a vote in this House and in the second Chamber. If one had two different outcomes in the two different Chambers, that might hamper the Government and the nation in a very serious way. Might not a more
sensible approach be to return to the practice of previous centuries whereby this country never went to war unless we had granted supply, which was granted only by this House, not by the two Chambers?
Mr. Hague: There are various ways of dealing with the problem that the hon. Gentleman describes. The favoured option of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, which was not a bad one, was when time allowed to have a debate in the upper House which would help to inform the debate in this House, but there would be no binding vote on the Government in the House of Lords. In that way, the nation could benefit both from the expertise of the upper House and the democratic legitimacy of the lower House in an appropriate sequence. However, there would be other ways of dealing with the matter.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I commend to my right hon. Friend the speech by my noble Friend Lord Norton of Louth in response to the report by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, in which he pointed out that to exercise such restraint we need not only mechanisms but the political will? May I take it that the appearance of the name of the Opposition Chief Whip on the motion means that when we are in government he will encourage colleagues to exercise their political will in respect of these matters?
Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend is right. Our noble Friend Lord Norton of LouthI was going to refer to him latermade an important speech about the provision of information to Parliament and the political will. My hon. Friend can be assured that the presence on the motion of the name of my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip means that that will be fully borne in mind in a future Administration. It also means that it is very important to vote for the motion.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that things could change if we have a reform of the upper House, which we are waiting to see whether the new Prime Minister will take through? If we have an upper House that is largely elected, and where no one party has a majority, it might be important to respect that House by having both Houses of Parliament involved in giving approval to the deployment of troops, thereby making Parliament even more effective in its control of these matters.
Mr. Hague: Although my right hon. and learned Friend and I usually agree automatically on these issues, all I can say is that that must be something that can be borne in mind. It would introduce an additional complexity to matters if the approval of two Houses had to be secured, and one would always have to be sureat least, most Members of this House would want to be surethat the supremacy of the House of Commons was guaranteed. However, that is a further matter on which consultation should be held before final proposals are framed.
The House of Lords Constitution Committee argued not for an Act of Parliament, which could subsequently be subject to judicial intervention, but for a parliamentary convention, which could presumably be reflected in the Standing Orders of both Houses, that
determined the role that Parliament should play in the deployment of armed forces overseas. It recommended that the Government should seek parliamentary approval if they propose the deployment of British forces outside the United Kingdom into actual or potential armed conflict, and that they should indicate their objectives, the legal basis and the likely duration and size of the operation. It recommended that, if for reasons of emergency and security, prior discussion were impossible, the Government should provide retrospective information in seven daysor as soon as is feasibleand seek approval at that time.
It is not difficult to understand why so many informed and authoritative commentators and Committees of both Houses have concluded that matters need to be changed. In the past 10 years, the UKs armed forces have been deployed in five major military operations overseasin Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraqand in each case the procedure for parliamentary involvement has differed. The House had a fiercely contested debate and vote about the Iraq war. The Leader of the House subsequently acknowledged that that set an important precedent for the future. On Kosovo, about which there was widespread, cross-party agreement, the debate was held on the Adjournment of the House. We have had many Government statements on Afghanistan, but there has never been an opportunity for a parliamentary vote, despite the fact that it is now the most substantial overseas commitment of the British armed forces, and is likely to remain so for some time.
I draw attention to the variety of procedures not to criticise the current Government but to show that those of us who believe that the accountability of Ministers to Parliament is important to our democracy cannot sit back and think that current procedures are adequate. The number of overseas deployments in recent years has highlighted the problem, as has the controversial nature of at least one, but it is also true that the procedure has similarly varied in previous decades. There was a substantive vote at a late stage on the commitment of troops in the Korean war and the first Gulf war. On the other hand, the debate on the Falklands war took place on the Adjournment of the House. No substantive vote took place on the deployment of forces at Suez.
The arguments for ending the extraordinary variety of procedures, which generally results in the adoption of the one that is least inconvenient to the Government of the day, are strong. There is the case for strengthening Parliament vis-Ã -vis the Executive across the board. Whether or not the Government in this country have the characteristics of an elective dictatorship, there is widespread concern that the power of Parliament to influence Government decisions has become weaker over the years and that the trend needs to be reversed.
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