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Westminster Hall

Thursday 19 June 2014

[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair]

Conflict Decisions and Constitutional Reform

[Relevant documents: Twelfth Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Parliament’s role in conflict decisions: a way forward, HC 892; Fourth Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Do we need a constitutional convention for the UK?, HC 371; and the Government response, Cm 8749.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(John Penrose.)

1.30 pm

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. Thank you for opening our proceedings. There could barely be two more fundamental issues for our country than thinking about or actually being at war, and the state of the Union. Where the Union goes is probably more relevant now than at any other time in my lifetime in politics, and we will watch anxiously and with great interest for the result of the referendum in Scotland. We are trying to pre-empt that. If people want to be taken seriously in their views on the Union, they cannot wait for circumstance; they must build their position on principle. The Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform was keen to put into the field the concept of a constitutional convention in order to give people that opportunity.

These two issues are important, but before I go into them, I should say that I am willing to take interventions throughout my speech, as I know that several colleagues have to get away and might choose to intervene rather than make a speech.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Allen: First, I want to pay tribute to my Select Committee and its members. For the last four years, we have worked diligently on these issues, and I hope that we have a reputation for working sensibly, crafting answers and working in partnership with Government. Although we are occasionally disappointed by the fruits of that partnership, we are none the less ever hopeful of making progress on numerous issues by working with Parliament and Government constructively, rather than grandstanding and getting nowhere. I pay tribute to the members of my Select Committee, a couple of whom—very distinguished Members—are with us here.

Dr Coffey: On a point of clarity, given what the hon. Gentleman has said in his opening statement, are we combining the two debates, or are we having a debate on conflict and a separate debate on the constitution?

Mr Allen: For the convenience of Members, I asked the powers that be whether it would be possible to take the two together, which will allow people such as the

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hon. Lady to catch their trains back to their constituencies if they intervene early, rather than having to wait for the second debate. I thank the Chair for assistance in that.

If I may, I will introduce the first of the two topics: Parliament’s role when the country goes to war. It is an onerous responsibility, and in many ways we have been relieved of it over the years, because the Executive, exercising their control over the legislature, have often not bothered to involve Parliament. In a modern democracy, that is no longer a tenable way to run our affairs and govern ourselves. For me, the most obvious abuse of the system—one that demonstrated that a new, clear, honest and open relationship between Government and Parliament was necessary—came with the events around the Iraq war.

As our troops were gathering in the desert, it was pretty evident—every news channel was certainly briefed—that something was going to happen and that serious engagement was going to take place, but Parliament had gone into recess. I and numerous others were keen for Parliament to return and have a debate and discussion. Our Prime Minister was popping off to Camp David for regular discussions with President George W. Bush, who was keen to go into Iraq, yet our own Parliament had not been convened. Members of this House from all political perspectives and with all views on Iraq were not allowed to vocalise those views in the forum of the people.

It got to such a point that I and others organised petitions to the then Speaker to reconvene the House. They fell on deaf ears, and it became evident that in fact it was not within the power of the Speaker to recall Parliament; he could only do so at the behest of the Government. Perhaps my Committee needs to have another look at how Parliament is recalled. The power vested in Government was obviously not being used to request that the Speaker recall the House. I remember that it got to the point where I asked whether it would be possible for a Member or many Members to get together and hire, rent or be given permission to use a place to have our own debate, without having to recall the full panoply of the House. Of course, that was dismissed without a thought. We were getting ever closer to war—to a decision that some of us felt would make millions of terrorists, rather than reduce the chances of global terrorism. It was a very important question—not a little bush fire war, but a regional war that would have consequences for decades, possibly centuries—but no, the House could not come back.

I started to organise a way for my colleagues in all parts of the House to create their own parliament, to give Members of Parliament a chance to get together and voice the concerns that were clearly out there among the British people. We hired Church House over the road. I asked Members if they wanted to come to our parliament—a Members’ parliament, rather than an official Parliament—and we got to critical mass when a majority of the non-payroll vote replied “Yes” to the invitation to Church House. The former Speaker, Jack Weatherill, agreed to put down his name as speaker, with the proviso, which he and I discussed, that every Member who attended had at least 10 minutes on their hind legs to say what they felt about the impending war, even if that meant—this is the first time you will hear me say this, Mr Weir—an all-night sitting, something I opposed when we, thankfully, won the battle on that

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issue many years ago. Everybody would stay there, and Lord Weatherill would sit there, until everybody had had their say.

Even that did not get Government to reconvene Parliament. What did was that I communicated with the BBC, which agreed to cover the parliament in Church House gavel to gavel, as the BBC called it—from the opening moments until the close. Within a matter of hours, I received a phone call from the then Leader of the House, Robin Cook, who told me that the Government were going to reconvene Parliament.

We should not have to do that. Members of Parliament should not need to organise their own parliament to consider such issues. It is an abuse of our democracy that that takes place. Although in the end there was a vote, despite the biggest rebellion in a governing party in British political history, people on the payroll vote sided with the Prime Minister of the day, and people were threatened, intimidated and cajoled into supporting the Prime Minister. Sadly, my soon-to-be good friend, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who was then the leader of the Conservative party, led most of his troops through the Prime Minister’s Lobby, although the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and many others, including Liberal Democrat Members, sided with the incredibly large number of Members of Parliament who said that now was not the time, and that the case, importantly, was not proven.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Allen: I will in a second. What that underlines to me is the need for process. In a democracy, in which a Parliament and a Government need to work together, there must be an accommodation, a form of words that both Executive and legislature can agree on that allows sensible debate. I will define “sensible debate” in a moment, when I have given way.

Mr Gray: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is making an extremely interesting speech. He has spoken on these matters extremely interestingly for 10 or 15 years, to my knowledge. However, I am slightly puzzled by his line of argument. First, he is of course right about the recall of Parliament, but that is entirely separate from the matter that we are discussing. Of course Parliament should be recalled when something important has to be discussed, but that has no relevance whatever to what we are discussing now. Secondly, he may not like the outcome of the vote on Iraq, and he may say that people were cajoled and persuaded by the Whips to vote in a particular way and all those things, but that is precisely what happens for every single vote in this place, and quite rightly, too; that is the nature of democracy.

The interesting thing about the Iraq vote is that for the first time in 250 years this Parliament voted to go to war. Incidentally, the hon. Gentlemen is wrong in saying that there was simply that last vote on 13 February—I think that was the date. There was also a vote in November and another in December. The House of Commons voted three times to go to war in Iraq, and

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that was the first time in recent parliamentary history, going back to the 18th century, that Parliament had in fact voted to go to war.

Mr Allen: I do not disagree with any of the facts that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. In fact, we are in the middle of an interesting discussion in The House magazine. It is one of those debates in which one person writes a paragraph, then their opponent writes a paragraph and then the first person comes back. It is very interesting stuff, and I am having great fun with the hon. Gentleman; I hope that he is, too.

This is not about the facts. It is about the interpretation; it is about the judgment. Above all, for me, it is about process; that is the point that I am trying to make. It is about having the right process. To be told what to do and “This is the way we’re doing it” is not my definition of process. Process seems to involve more than one party, and in this case the Government of the country and the Parliament of the country, I think, can work out a sensible way to go forward.

Mr Gray: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Allen: Let me just make this argument first—

Mr Gray: This is a central point—an absolutely central point.

Mr Allen —and then I will give way.

Mr Gray: I thought you said you would give way.

Mr Allen: If the hon. Gentleman allows me to speak and does not heckle me, he may get in a little faster than he is currently likely to do.

The process is very, very important, and I believe that my Select Committee, with its members from all parties producing unanimous reports, could not have done more in attempting to craft words that would satisfy all parties. It may just be a rumour, but I understand that most of the Departments in Whitehall and most of the Ministers involved are content with the words that we have all come up with, apart from one Department—I understand that it may be the Ministry of Defence; I do not know—which still feels that any legitimate process would be inhibiting, so let me just address one remark to the Ministry of Defence, if indeed it is the MOD or its Minister who is doing this.

It is a great strength, when people go or have been to war, if they have legitimacy in what they are doing. In a modern democracy, if people choose to push and cajole elected Members of Parliament, members of the public and others into a particular view without making their case—not without voting for or against; I am not even suggesting that—they lose the moral high ground. They look as though their case is weak. We need to develop a process and a procedure whereby we strengthen our democracy, particularly when we are fighting against people who care nothing for moral or ethical values and will, at the drop of a hat, ride roughshod over democratic process. We above all should not do that.

The final—

Mr Gray: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Allen: The final point that I will make on this—

Mr Gray: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Mr Allen: I will not give way any more to the hon. Gentleman. The final point that I will make on this part of the argument is that no one, to my knowledge, and certainly not my Committee or me, has ever said that there has to be a vote before we go to war, because there may be occasions when the Executive have to be free to respond. If bombs were falling on London as we were speaking, Mr Weir, I would not want Parliament to be convened and to have a debate in a couple of days’ time. I need to be able speedily to execute—that is where the word “Executive” comes from—action in defence of our nation. However, at an appropriate moment, the House should be reconvened, should look at the reasons why we took military action and should, we hope, endorse that. If it does not—if the decision does not go my way—I have to accept that due process has taken place. I accept that the vote did not ultimately go my way on Iraq, but I do not think that due process, on that occasion, did take place.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): This is a matter of the gravest importance, in that the decision that we took in March 2003 resulted in the deaths of 179 British soldiers. Even now, 11 years later, we do not know the full truth of how Parliament was bribed, bullied, and bamboozled into voting—

Dr Thérèse Coffey: Bribed?

Paul Flynn: Yes, all those words I would be happy to defend. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) think that the fact that, even now, we are being denied the—

Dr Coffey: On a point of order, Mr Weir. I am surprised that it is parliamentary to suggest that Parliament has been bribed, because that implies corruption. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to make that suggestion—that people took bribes to vote a particular way.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): I think that the hon. Gentleman was making a debating point. I do not think that he was suggesting that Parliament as a whole was bribed in any way, and I do not think that that is a point of order.

Paul Flynn: I mean bribed by political favours. The full story of this is available. Is it not astonishing that on this matter—these are the most important decisions that Parliament takes—we are still to be denied the full truth of what happened? The Chilcot report will be published in expurgated form, and many of the reasons why we went to war, many of the influences, will not be included. Will not the impression left behind, if that happens, be that the Chilcot report is a cover-up by civil servants and politicians to protect their own reputations?

Mr Allen: I am probably less interested in the history of this, although we need to learn from the history and the ins and outs of what happened—all the dossiers, the weapons of mass destruction and so on. What I am interested in as a parliamentarian is that we all learn the lesson of how we can do this better. That is the main thing that my Select Committee is pursuing. There are people on my Select Committee who voted one way,

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people who voted the other, and people who were not even in the House at the time, but we have an interest in saying, “In the future, let there be clarity, to the degree that we can obtain it, on how we take the most important decision that any of us will ever face.” My Select Committee—

Mr Gray: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Allen: No.

Mr Gray: Why not?

Mr Allen: If I may continue—

Mr Gray: You are supposed to be giving way.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order.

Mr Allen: This is a rather important issue, Mr Weir, and I know that the hon. Gentleman is agitated about it. If he wishes, I can make a case even on the back of what has happened in Iraq this week, with thousands of people dying and with individuals being executed on television for the benefit of people with particular views. These are really serious issues, so I would like to explain how this Parliament and this Government can work together to ensure that on similar, very serious occasions, we get this right in a way that perhaps we have not before. Again, we have made no outrageous demand that not a soldier should be deployed anywhere at all without the wise words of this House—of course not. We have made five reports to Government and the House, trying to get a clear resolution of this issue.

We have had three or four wars during the time we have been trying to get Government to come to the table and make an agreement that will take us all forward together, united as a nation in the most difficult circumstances we are ever likely to face. Have we been tolerant? One could argue that we have been far too tolerant.

In our first report, we suggested—this is not outrageous language—that the Government should

“bring forward a draft parliamentary resolution for consultation with us among others, and for debate and decision by the end of 2011.”

Similarly, the Government responded to our second report by saying:

“we hope to make progress on this matter in a timely and appropriate manner.”

That was in September 2011.

Our third report concluded:

“The Government needs to honour the Foreign Secretary’s undertaking to the House to ‘enshrine in law for the future the necessity of consulting Parliament on military action’”.

That was not me or my Committee, but the Foreign Secretary. He still is the Foreign Secretary, and one hopes that his words will come to pass. Our report continued by saying that the Government should

“do so before the end of the current Parliament. In the absence of any other timetable, this is the one to which we will hold them.”

Let us move on to the fourth report on this issue by a Select Committee of this House—my Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. In September 2013,

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after the House had debated the Iraq question, we called for the Government to

“provide a comprehensive, updated statement of its position on the role of Parliament in conflict decisions.”

Again, the language was hardly inflammatory. The report went on:

“We also recommend that it precisely details the specific steps which will now be taken to fulfil the strong public commitment to enshrine in law the necessity of consulting Parliament on military action.”

That shows a Committee trying to make the system work for everyone’s benefit.

Finally, in March this year we published the fifth report, on which the Minister may like to comment in his speech. We drafted a resolution—a draft resolution means that the House and the Government can discuss it, change it and make it more workable if we have failed to make it as workable as possible. We produced a resolution that set out the process we could follow in order to get approval from the House of Commons on future conflict decisions. We called on the Government to consider the resolution and come forward with a revised draft by—we were getting a little frustrated, so specified the time—June 2014, with a view to having the House agree a resolution by November 2014.

We are now in June 2014. So far, we have received no Government response, but I hope that we get one this month. Knowing the Minister as I do, I hope very much that it will be a positive, creative and constructive response. I hope it will be in a form of words that can take us forward for perhaps 50 or 100 years, and will agree with us on a sensible way in which the House, its Members having been duly elected by the public, can be involved with the Executive, who have a vital and necessary interest in sometimes being able to move swiftly and expeditiously on conflicts that we would hope to avoid in other circumstances. I hope that the Minister has had the chance to prepare, and will give us some good news today on how we can go forward together on such a vital issue.

Just to show how forgiving I can be, I am going to let my friend the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) intervene.

Mr Gray: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, although I am not quite sure what he is forgiving me for.

Mr Allen: You talk too much, James, that is your problem.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order.

Mr Gray: All I did was to seek to intervene at a crucial point in his speech. The hon. Gentleman’s entire thesis seems to be based on the fact that he did not approve of or agree with the Iraq war. My question to him is simple: if indeed he is basing his entire report and thesis on that fact, how could it be that, of all wars in the past 250 years, the Iraq war was the only one in which there was not one but three substantive votes in this place before the deployment of troops? If his answer is that he does not like the way in which his party whipped its Members, and all the cajolery, bribery and other things he mentioned, I am afraid to say that that has absolutely nothing to do with going to war; it is to do with processes in this place.

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Mr Allen: I will just let the Members present make of that what they wish.

Mr Gray: Why not try answering it instead?

Mr Allen: I will have to put the hon. Gentleman on the naughty step if he carries on.

I would like to move on to the report issued by my Select Committee on the need for a constitutional convention for the United Kingdom, on which I will be happy to take interventions from colleagues.

Dr Thérèse Coffey rose

Mr Allen: I see that the hon. Lady would like to intervene.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and other Members: I mistakenly thought that a meeting with the Serjeant at Arms and the superintendant at 2 o’clock had been cancelled, so came to the debate. Before I go, I wanted to check on a point of correction. Page 6 of the report refers to the vote rejecting the motion by 332 to 220. My recollection—and I have just checked Hansard—is that that was the vote on the manuscript amendment tabled by the Leader of the Opposition, and that the main motion was defeated by 285 votes to 272. I remember that so vividly because it was probably the most extraordinary moment I have experienced in the Chamber in my four years as a Member of Parliament.

Mr Allen: Is the hon. Lady referring to Syria?

Dr Thérèse Coffey: Yes.

Mr Allen: I am happy to accept that as a statement of fact. It certainly was an interesting moment. The Prime Minister gave an incredibly statesmanlike response. In a short statement, he gave those of us who believe in democracy a great boost, because although some may say that there was technically a little confusion or muddle, the House had very clearly spoken, and he dealt with that excellently. Of course, that had repercussions, which thankfully mean that now, as the leader of Syria is undergoing a steady rehabilitation in the eyes of many people—it is all relative, of course—we are not enmeshed in a situation with great difficulties on all sides. Instead, we are adopting a position that is not going to replicate the awful consequences we see in Iraq on a daily basis.

There are no easy decisions in this field. Any people who pretend that everything would have been wonderful had we gone to war are people whose judgment is not of great value. Such decisions are incredibly difficult, but through the Syria vote the House indicated a way forward that the Prime Minister accepted. He made absolutely the right decision.

Paul Flynn: As the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) said, the vote on 29 August was one of immense significance. It was the first time for centuries that, a Prime Minister having come to the House of Commons to suggest that we go to war, Parliament rejected that suggestion. It is extraordinary; had that decision gone the other way, and had we found ourselves opposing Assad in Syria—although there are three sides there—we would now be on almost the same side as the ISIS rebels. Is it not crucial that we learn that if

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we are to go to war, we should rely not on a Prime Minister writing his page in history, full of hubris and vanity as he takes the decision, but on the good sense of 650 Members of Parliament?

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): Order. Before we proceed, I must say that interventions are becoming very long. I appreciate that these are complex matters, but will Members please keep their interventions short? There will be chances for you to make speeches later on.

Mr Gray: On a point of order, Mr Weir. As you will have guessed from my interventions, I had intended to contribute to this debate, but I have just had a message from outside that my stepdaughter has collapsed and is in difficulty. I had intended to express my view, but if the House will forgive me, I will push off and sort her out.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): That is perfectly understandable.

Mr Allen: Our debate is lesser for the absence of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire. I am sorry that we will not have more chance to debate these issues today, but as we are in the middle of an exchange that will appear in The House magazine, I am sure that Members will be able to read his views. Best wishes for his stepdaughter’s speedy recovery, too.

I will avoid the lure of the clear views of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) on Syria other than to say that, in a democracy, decision making always benefits if we allow the voices of elected representatives to be heard. Whether we wish to take advantage of that advice, which comes in many different forms and from many different directions—a synthesis takes place—is a matter for the Executive and for the Government. Let us hear those views, and let us define a process that allows that to happen sensibly and appropriately. I look to my party colleagues, who may or may not soon be in government, to ensure that the issue will not go away. Sadly, armed conflicts will not go away, and it is much better to be prepared and to have a position ahead of time so that we can try to resolve what might be a problem in the future, rather than wait until a calamity happens and have to react in a crisis. Although it is hard to say so when we see awful pictures, particularly from Iraq and Syria at the moment, believe it or not this is a moment of relative quietude for the involvement of our country in which we can make sensible, sober and careful judgments about how to involve Parliament and Government in this most horrendous and responsible of decisions.

I will now move on to my Select Committee’s other report before the Chamber today. The report is on the need for a constitutional convention. The report was timely when it was agreed by the members of the Committee who are present, and it has become even more pertinent as time has gone by. With every moment that passes, as we come closer to the referendum in Scotland, and as other issues related to the whole concept of the Union and devolution start to appear on our agenda, the need to work that out becomes ever more pressing. How difficult it must be for Ministers living the day to day, the red boxes and everything else, to take a pace back and try to anticipate problems, but we need to do that in government and in Parliament. At the

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moment, there is a sense of, “Well, let’s just wait and see what happens in the Scottish referendum, and then we’ll react and respond.” That diminishes our position because it will be seen as a reaction to events, rather than a decision based on a principle on which we can all agree.

I believe that we can all agree on certain key principles. I take great strength from the fact that all the Union parties in Scotland—the Labour party, the Conservative party and the Lib Dems—have signed up, not to every dot and comma of a common position but to a sense that there should be greater devolution. They all have their different views. My party is lagging behind a little at the moment. Believe it or not, zooming by on the right-hand side of the debate has been the Conservative party, which is putting many of us to shame with its proposals on devolution for Scotland. The Lib Dems are there with their strong traditional views on serious devolution, too. A debate is going on, but all three parties are pointing in the right direction and share a common platform of greater devolution, which gives them great strength ahead of the referendum. Had they adopted such a platform after the referendum, people would have laughed, depending on whether the vote was yes or no.

Such a demonstration needs to be echoed in the United Kingdom. I believe that the leader of the Conservative party, the leader of the Labour party and the leader of the Lib Dems should similarly get together and make a simple one-line statement to the effect that, as principles governing our United Kingdom, we believe in Union and in devolution. That should not be after the event but now, and I think it would underpin much of the debate between now and the referendum. It would make the position believable for all of us. Rather than being an expedient because someone is shouting or has won a vote, we would be talking about devolution because we believe in it as a principle.

The Union and devolution are two key principles for our governance, and I would love to see that position put into the public domain. If the parties agree on nothing else, even if they do not agree on the detail, agreeing on those two principles would be immensely strengthening. Why? Because we would then separate the visceral separatists—those who are driven by hatred and dislike—from the rational devolvers, such as me and perhaps most people in this room. I am glad you cannot participate from the Chair, Mr Weir.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): I am strictly neutral.

Mr Allen: I know these things may come back to haunt me later.

To be serious, though, many of us—even people sitting in Nottingham, as I do—feel that Whitehall telling us what to do and when to empty our bins, and not allowing us to get on and run our affairs, is an unacceptable imposition in a democracy. Many of us work away in our own way to make the case for rational devolution, wherever we are. If we do not have rational devolution, where do the rational devolvers go? Some of them become attracted to nationalism and see it as the way forward. It is ludicrous that we do not say to such people, and to people such as me in the east midlands, or whatever nation or English region we may live in, that we can run our own affairs.

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How do we do that? I have some views of my own, but why do we not have a constitutional convention? Why do we not say that there has been a very serious schism? I hope that that schism starts to heal, but it will heal only if we take serious heed of how we can devolve power not just to Scotland, not because it is a reflex and not because it is a response but because we believe in it. The way to demonstrate that belief is seriously to consider devolution in England. That is one of the things that could come through in a constitutional convention.

There is no one in the House of Commons to whom the Minister takes second place on devolution. If there is one person in the House who has done more for devolution than any other, it is him. Long may he continue. Those Trojan, individual efforts of will and drive need a process. I hope he will be with us for many years, but just in case he is not, we need a structure that allows devolution to take place because, regardless of party, there is a means for it to do so.

Fundamentally, if the English get devolution, it then becomes believable not as an expedient for every other nation but because it is seen to be a principle and something that cannot be taken away. I wish that were not the case, but to prove that devolution is a principle we need to be clear and honest about English devolution. Creating a convention does not have to be a formal thing after an election; it could be an informal thing before an election and it could start to outline where we can go and how we take this process forward.

My Select Committee has been looking seriously at what that means for England and how it might shape things. We have not always come to complete unanimity on it; there are many different views and many different parties. However, we managed to get a sense of direction, if nothing else, and recently we produced our report on the codification of the relationship between local government and central Government. I hope that, as an individual Back Bencher, I can produce a Bill on that matter shortly, which will go a bit further and define independent local government of the sort that is commonplace in every other democracy. People are not like us. We are the weird one in the democratic family, in not having independent local government; in being unable to raise revenues locally to meet our budgets; and in being told what to do by a massively over-centralised Whitehall, in this case. That does not happen in many of our neighbours in north America, Europe and elsewhere in the democratic family.

We can get up to standard—up to modern democratic standards—by doing those things. If we do that; if it is written down and cannot just be thrown away on a whim by the next Government, or the one after that, or the one after that; and if it is part of what we are and what we believe in, which is union and devolution, it will be something that will see us through for a long, long time. That was the heart of what we were trying to say as a Select Committee—working together—when we put forward the paper on our proposal for a constitutional convention for the United Kingdom.

One of the key things that we opened up in our other report on codification of local government was how we finance things. We can have all the nice codes written in Brussels, which get shipped over here every so often and

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go straight into the waste bin in Whitehall, but if we are really to do this thing we need, of course, to have powers—they are relatively easy to define—but we also need to have finance.

At the moment, local government is financed. Where does that money come from? It comes largely from the income tax payments of every individual in this country. Maybe it is not possible to devise a system whereby we can link income tax to local government. Oh, yes—let us look up the road, and we see that they are doing it. Again, Scotland has led the way, winning over even the Treasury to the concept of assigned local income tax. Right now, it is only 10p of the income tax, but the foot is in the door; it is possible to go further and indeed the Scottish Conservatives have demonstrated how that can be done.

Such an offer—the current offer—has been made to our good friends in the Welsh Assembly. I hope that they will bank that, I hope that they will pick it up and I hope that they will be greedy and come back for more, because all they would be asking for would be to retain some of the income tax in their own nation and put it to work. It would not be income tax on a different rate; it would not be without equalisation; it would not be collected in a different way; and it would not involve setting up a local income tax bureaucracy. It would just be income tax the way that we do it now, but using the equalisation mechanism. If we wanted to use one in England, it would be the Department for Communities and Local Government, which would take that allocation—the amount of money currently spent on local government, paid for by income tax—and equalise it there, before distributing it to the local authorities.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present yesterday at the Margaret Thatcher conference on liberty, but if he had been he would have heard Dr Art Laffer explaining to those present that in the United States the nine states without local income taxes have grown faster and provide better public services than any of the states that have local income taxes.

Mr Allen: That is a very good argument to ensure that, under this new arrangement, we will make sure that there is an opt-out for Christchurch, so that it can carry on without any of the income tax that its residents pay going to its local government, but I suspect that most people would want to continue a system of equalised funding.

The beauty of tax assignment is that it changes nothing in terms of the money values and the collection, but it brings transparency and accountability to the line of account from someone’s pocket to their local government. One of the suggestions in our report is that everyone’s personal wage slip or salary slip should show not only national income tax as x pounds and national insurance as y pounds but local income tax—the element that goes to support their council—as c pounds.

People would look at that and soon start to become interested, once again, in their locality, in their issues, in a bond issue, in joining their local parties and in getting involved with the constituencies, councils and boroughs throughout the land, because they would own and pay for their own local government. That is happening in Scotland, it is soon to happen in Wales, so let it happen

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in England soon, and then we will be going back again to those two key principles of union and devolution, and of doing what is appropriate at the most appropriate level: at the Westminster level, or the federal level of central Government; at the national level in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and for us in England, that level or vehicle could be local government.

That issue just happens to be something I care about and feel I have thought through, but there may be dozens and dozens of other issues out there. Again, rather like being convened to discuss a major issue—such as whether the nation should go to war—let us convene on other issues. Perhaps our Parliament could be the convention, but let us convene what we may call a convention to hear the voices, and not pretend that something will go away if a vote goes our way in Scotland, or if Wales or England adopts a particular set of legislative expedients.

Let us hear the voices, and that is all my Committee has been doing. It is a thread right the way through four—nearly five—years of work. To have a fixed-term Parliament in which a Select Committee can set its stall out and start to do some thinking has been useful for us. Not everybody does it that way—that is okay, because people have different ways of running Select Committees—but we have taken advantage of that fixed term to craft some of those answers and some of those debates.

I will say why that is important, and then I will start to wind up. It is not just about whether our Select Committee comes up with a particular answer on a particularly nifty bit of procedure. Our politics has changed. I would say that it had not changed much for most of my life in the House of Commons, but it has changed in the last five or six years—big time. There are lots of reasons for that. But what we now have, and we are in the middle of a big inquiry into voter engagement, is serious voter disengagement. It may be that people are taught this cynicism about our politics, or perhaps they pick it up, or it may be that people in this House have a large share of responsibility for it, but whatever caused it, we are where we are. And we are, as conventional parties, disparaged and disrespected—often with good cause. However, the answer is not to go forward and build a new politics; the answer is currently seen as anti-politics, anti-democracy and anti-the parties in this place. That is the choice that the nation as a whole is considering at the moment and we need to supersede it, because it could be quite dangerous unless we come up with something that goes beyond it.

Looking at the big picture again, looking at the principles again, getting away from tomorrow’s headlines and looking at how we build that future is very important. It may be just about process in how we go to war; it may be about pulling together a constitutional convention; it may be about looking in the year that we commemorate Magna Carta at what the last 800 years have meant in terms of the conflicts that led to Magna Carta; and it may be time for a new Magna Carta. I do not think we should be telling people that. People should be deciding that for themselves. There should be a debate, which all parties should be encouraging, because some of those big principles need to be revisited.

I am worried that, unless we revisit those principles quickly, if we just continue to respond to events, not only will a Scottish referendum dictate our futures reactively but possibly even the next general election

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will do so. If a quarter of the population votes for a party that does not get any seats, what legitimacy will there be for a party that just manages to cobble together a coalition or manages even to get an outright majority in Parliament? Will that be a strong pillar of democracy?

We have to look at these issues before they happen. My Committee has made a serious contribution to the future of that debate on those issues, on the ones I have spoken about today and on many others. I hope that this House and the Government listen seriously and take us forward, so that we build a stronger democracy and put reactiveness and expediency behind us, because if we do not we may be threatening the very democracy that we say we love.

2.21 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I had not intended to participate in this debate, but I have been stimulated into action by the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen). He and I have been on this Select Committee since the beginning of this Parliament. I pay tribute to him for the work he has done.

We do not agree on everything, as I think will be obvious. Even the Minister responding to our report on having a convention said:

“The Committee itself did not agree on the need for a constitutional convention. According to its report, ‘There is a range of very different opinions. This is true, not only among the witnesses but also among the members of our Committee, some of whom do not accept either the need for further review of constitutional arrangements or that a constitutional convention would be the right vehicle for any such review.’”

I count myself in the last category, as somebody who does not believe that a constitutional convention would be the right vehicle for any review. If we wish to review the constitutional arrangements for our country, that should be initiated by Parliament and by the Government. It is a matter of regret that, for example, we have not yet got a clear response to the McKay commission. These commissions are set up and the Government are often rather slow to respond to them.

The Government also said that they are

“grateful to the Committee…which has added to the broad-ranging conversation that is taking place on the UK’s constitutional arrangements, including the shape of the UK’s devolution settlements.”

It has been a great asset for the Committee to reflect and, in a sense, take part in this conversation. That is probably why the Government’s response to quite a thick report looks rather thin. Unlike most Government responses, it does not deal with our recommendations paragraph by paragraph, but puts all the responses together, forgetting some of the most important recommendations. Anyway, that is how it is.

The response is quite short, is it not, on issues to do with Scotland and the United Kingdom. Where did the Edinburgh agreement come from? The hon. Gentleman says that Parliament should be consulted on when we go war. Was Parliament consulted in advance of the Edinburgh agreement, which is potentially far-reaching? If the result of the referendum in Scotland is a vote for independence, that agreement, which effectively guaranteed that the Scots would be able to have their will, as reflected in their referendum, implemented without question by this UK Parliament, could be the makings of a constitutional crisis. If, say, there is a small turnout or a

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small margin of difference between one side and the other, people will ask, “Why wasn’t the House of Commons engaged in this?”

A couple of weeks back, I was told by a taxi driver in Catalonia how difficult it is in Spain because of the unemployment problems—this was before the results of the World cup. He wanted Catalonian independence. He said that this year is the 300th anniversary of Spain’s conquering Catalonia and that 1 million people are going to join hand in hand along the old boundary, to try to re-establish the case for a separate Catalonia. The difference between Catalonia and Scotland is that the Spanish will not allow the Catalans to have a referendum.

The hon. Gentleman talks about constitutional arrangements in other countries, but we should not rush off and say, “It’s always much better.” If an established part of a country, such as Catalonia, is not allowed to have its own referendum, one is riding an impossible horse. Spain could say that, before any action is taken, a two-thirds majority will be needed in support of that, but to say, effectively, “You can’t have a referendum”, is rather backward in terms of democratic principles.

Let us give credit where it is due: we have said that the Scots can have their referendum and they are going to have it. Effectively, the question has been chosen by the Scottish Government, rather than being imposed on them by the UK Government. We will have to see what happens in the aftermath of that referendum. Increased powers for a devolved Scottish Administration are being talked about by political leaders at the moment, albeit without their having discussed those powers with the House of Commons or with members of political parties represented in this House. However, people seem to be making ex cathedra statements such as, “Don’t worry, we’re going to do this”, or “We’re going to do that”. I do not know how much that will impress the electorate. However, if there is a vote against a separate Scotland, there will be significant pressure for even more devolved powers.

The hon. Gentleman talks about income tax, but that cannot be separated from the total amount of income that the country has. Scotland seems to have such good public services compared with England because the English are paying significant contributions towards the provision of those public services. One can conceive of a situation in which the English say, “We are not going to sustain that amount of subsidy for Scotland. We are going to reduce the subsidies,” and the Scottish Government say that they will have to increase their income tax. There is a balance between the yield of income tax in Scotland and the amount that comes direct in grant from British taxpayers.

Mr Allen: I shall be brief, because I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, as always. Of course, he should not forget that even if it is just England there will be equalisation. Poorer areas will benefit from the tax take of wealthier areas. That is an all-Union principle, but it could and should apply if we were able to have assigned income tax by nation within the UK.

Mr Chope: Equalisation is an inevitable consequence of having a single currency. If there is no equalisation, there will be the sort of problems that the eurozone has

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at the moment. Who will decide on the detail of that equalisation? In my view the UK Parliament should decide that, rather than ad hoc statements being made, suggesting that this has all been thought through. I fear that it has not been thought through. How a vote for a separate Scotland, if that happens, would impact on membership of this House and what would happen at the end of a fixed-term Parliament, and so on, have not been thought through either. It was significant that Government Members abstained when one of my hon. Friends brought forward a ten-minute rule Bill raising that particular issue.

That example is an indication that a constitutional convention would be an incredibly bureaucratic and time-consuming distraction. It is not what we need. We need to be much more fleet of foot and much more responsive to changing circumstances. It is a cause of immense frustration, particularly among Conservative Members, that an agreement that was incorporated into the coalition and passed into law—namely, that we should have a fairer distribution of constituencies, so that they are of a more equal size—was effectively vetoed by the Deputy Prime Minister and his party. Although the considerations of the coalition programme have been delivered in other respects, they reneged on that agreement. That was a constitutional outrage and we are now within months of a general election where there will be a significant and avoidable disparity between the size of the electorates in the largest and smallest constituencies. We have not even been able to respond adequately to that challenge. The conversation needs to continue, but I am rather with the Government in their response, which said that they do not see a convention as being justified.

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Minister was responsible for it, but some of the language in the Government response seems to be opaque in the extreme.

Mr Allen: Surely not.

Mr Chope: I will quote just one example. Paragraph 3.9 of the Government response states:

“The Government is committed to constitutional reform driven from the ground up. Inevitably, as a result of this approach constitutional reform may not be neat or consistent across the UK. The Government is of the view that an approach which is built on public demand will reflect local circumstances and have a greater chance of success.”

Mr Allen: I agree with the Government on that point.

Mr Chope: I am not even sure that the Government know what they are saying. As their response states, there is no public demand for a lot of these changes.

Briefly, on Syria and the other report, which is on how we should be engaged in decisions on going to war or entering conflict situations, we have to pay proper tribute to how the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have brought Parliament into the process in a way that it never was before. That happened most recently with the Syria vote, which not only caused an enormous earthquake in our country, but had a ripple effect on the United States and France. I have no doubt that, if our vote had been different, the United States would have engaged in the conflict, and the French would have gone in with them. We were setting a lead

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for the west in debating that openly. I do not hear anyone now say that we took the wrong decision. That gives those of us who did not support the Government on that occasion considerable satisfaction.

So far as Libya goes, we debated engagement in Libya. Everyone thought that it was the right thing to do, because it would avoid a massacre in Benghazi. That was avoided, but where we are now with Libya is not a pretty place. Next week, we will be debating in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe a report that references the fact that there might be as many as 800,000 people on the Libyan coast waiting to get into Europe, often risking their lives in ramshackle boats to get across the Mediterranean and make a new life. What they all have in common is that they are victims of armed militias, traffickers and so on. It is an unpleasant situation. Whether our military intervention there made the situation worse or not, history will be the judge. It again emphasises, however, that if parliamentarians are involved in the process, it is not so easy for us, having supported engagement in Libya, to turn around and say, “Well, it was an awful mistake.” At the time, with our eyes open, we thought it was for the best, although it might not have turned out that way.

The Committee’s reports are important, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister will be able to add in value. In particular, we need to have an answer to the point that the hon. Member for Nottingham North started with: when will we get what the Foreign Secretary has said he wants us to have, which is an agreement in Parliament that is an effective guarantee for subsequent Parliaments?

2.36 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): It is a fine example of the trials and tribulations of the job of chairing these sittings that you, Mr Weir, had to endure in silence some parts of the speech by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). You would have been entirely justified in breaking new ground by asking to intervene on his speech at certain points.

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): The Chair remains neutral.

Paul Flynn: It must be painful for you to do that, Mr Weir. The Committee that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) chairs, brilliantly and with great wisdom, contains the entire political spectrum, from the deepest red to the densest blue. Somehow or other, the reports, with compromise and good sense from the Chairman—he acts as a peacemaker and compromise seeker—turn out to be unanimous. The Committee’s work is not on the immediate, the current or the things that are in the headlines of the day, but on issues that are of deeper importance when we take a broad look at the way things are going.

Going to war is one of our gravest responsibilities, and there have been few times in our history when Parliament has been divided on such decisions; it is normally well united, with the possible exception of the Boer war, which was rightly opposed at the time by Lloyd George and others. I believe, however, that there has never been a division in opinion in the country as there was in 2003, when at least 1 million people—some say 2 million—marched in the streets. Some 139 Labour

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Members, six Conservatives and virtually all the Liberal Democrats voted against that war. The nationalist parties were passionately opposed, as was public opinion, and public opinion was right. It was in advance of opinion at the top of the political tree at the time.

The decision to go to war was reported with equal enthusiasm by the leaders of both the major parties, and that is the great difficulty. There is a splendid book by David Owen that I commend to people, if they have not read it, about hubris in politics. He writes about what happens to Prime Ministers when they hear the drumbeats of war. It is their opportunity to escape from the dreary minor matters of the day and write their page in history, which is usually, sadly, a bloody page. They become different people, and we can see it. They walk in a different way. They strut and stand with a Napoleonic stance. They talk in a different way, dredging up all the Churchillian rhetoric and speaking in these great rounded phrases. It is the most exciting time of their lives. In David Owen’s view, they become at least a little mad, and their judgment is in question. That thesis is absolutely right.

By example, by convention and by the fact that MPs were allowed to vote in 2003 because the then Government were convinced as to how we would vote—we would not have been allowed otherwise—a principle has been established and cannot now be reversed. Power has moved from the exercise of the royal prerogative by the Prime Minister to a decision by the House of Commons. Thank goodness for that. As I said in an earlier intervention, it is far better to trust the wisdom of 650 Members of Parliament with differing views than the overexcited hubris of a Prime Minister, who might be motivated by vanity or seeking a place in history for himself or herself. It is a major advance.

Returning to the heroic work done at the time by my hon. Friend, it is good that we are reminded of what happened during that period. Many of us regard it as the most important vote—or votes as it turned out—that we will take part in during our political careers, even if we are here for many more years. There was huge pressure at the time to vote a certain way. The political establishment was united in going one way. The Intelligence and Security Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defence Committee, the Government and the main Opposition were absolutely united that we had to go to war to defend ourselves against what turned out to be non-existent weapons of mass destruction that threatened to attack us within 45 minutes. We were not deciding whether there would be an Iraq war, which was going to happen anyway. Saddam was going to be deposed. We were deciding whether to collaborate with George Bush in that war. George Bush said that he did not want us and made it clear, publicly, that we were not needed, but somebody wanted to take us into war and we deserve to know the truth about what happened between the then Prime Minister and President Bush.

The reasons why we need to know are crucial. The first is for the loved ones of the 179 brave British soldiers who died in that war. They died because we in the House of Commons made a decision in March 2003. They would not have died otherwise. Many of their relatives have expressed, some of them publicly, the torment of not knowing whether those soldiers died

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in vain. They deserve some closure for their grief. That is why every word and syllable of the letters should be published.

The second reason is our soldiers. They are entitled to know that when Parliament decides to order them into battle and to put their lives at risk that that decision has been made on the basis of the most rigorous examination of the evidence and not on untruths or politicians’ vanity. The other people who need to know are the hon. Members of this House. Unless we can discover what happened in 2003, are we in a position to judge new wars now?

However, there was a worse decision than the one in 2003 and it was made without a vote in the House. In 2006, we moved into Helmand province on the basis of a claim that we were going to clear up the opium trade and to perform a bit of reconstruction and with the hope that not a shot would be fired and that we would be out in three years. There was a debate about that in this room, during which one Member said that it would be like the charge of the Light Brigade and would stir up a hornets’ nest. This time it was:

Bush to the right of them,

Blair to the left of them,

Holler’d and thunder’d,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die,

Into the valley of Death,

Into the mouth of Helmand,

Drove the five thousand.

The number of soldiers killed in combat in 2006 before we went into Helmand was two. The number now is 463, which is three times the number who died in the charge of the Light Brigade. We should look not only at declarations of war, but at what happens when we escalate wars. If we had had a vote on going into Afghanistan, it would have been supported by perhaps 95% of Members, but it was the escalation that did the great harm. We must take that into account when we look to war.

The extraordinary events of 29 August 2013 have changed Parliament for the better and represent a change of view in that no longer do we have absolute trust in the claims of Prime Ministers in such situations. History will tell us the real tale of what happened during that week, but there was unanimity among the leaders of the three main political parties at the beginning of the week that we needed to go into Syria. Soundings were taken, meetings were held by the political parties and different views were expressed, all of which meant that a majority could not be obtained in the House. Part of the reason was the collapse of faith in the decisions taken on Iraq and possibly on Helmand. The House made terrible blunders. MPs made those blunders and 620 soldiers died as a result.

We must have the courage to face the truth and to decide our future. We are still obsessed—it happens at the top of all parties—with punching above our weight as a nation, but doing so militarily means that we spend outside of our interests and we die beyond our responsibilities. We would be greatly helped as a nation and our soldiers would be well served were we to accept

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our position in the world. We are not the masters of the universe or the leaders of empires, as we were in the past. We should escape from the idea that every crisis in the world is Britain’s crisis when it often is not. Our involvement in such crises leads to intense problems and enormous costs and, in future, we must look to the decision on Helmand.

The report, “Parliament’s role in conflict decisions: a way forward”, cannot be expurgated in the same way as the Chilcot report. John Major, the former Prime Minister, has said that if the full truth is denied, the whole issue will continue to fester and doubts will persist. A Minister recently told the Public Administration Committee that Chilcot did not report to Ministers, but he reports to the Prime Minister. Changes can be made. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee offers this report to confirm the improvements that have taken place and to ensure that decisions on warfare are not made by a tiny clique at the top of the tree. Looking at the first world war, errors were made and the reasons for getting involved were extraordinarily trivial, resulting in a tremendous number of casualties. The Committee has served us well and we will serve our nation well if we look at Parliament’s role in warfare and strengthen it to the benefit of all.

2.48 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I shall make a short contribution. As I mentioned earlier, I had anticipated not being able to participate. This is such an important debate, and I am slightly disappointed that more Members are not here, but we all know that people like to go back to their constituencies.

I take a different view from some of the hon. Members who have spoken today. What happened on 29 August 2013 is a matter of regret. More people have been killed since then than in the years running up to it. Nevertheless, as has been articulated, the House spoke and the Prime Minister responded graciously by recognising the voice of Parliament.

The reason why I have already drawn hon. Members’ attention to page 6 of the report, and why I am speaking, is that I do not agree with the Committee’s central premise, on the grounds that we have imperfect information, and in those circumstances, any decision becomes a judgment call. Furthermore, when I wrote to or contacted by e-mail many of my constituents to get a view, a lot of the issues in the responses that said “Don’t vote for this” related to the Iraq war. People felt that Parliament had been misled—I am not suggesting that it had—and we know that apologies were subsequently made about the 45-minute claim. I was not then a Member of the House, but I have a strong political memory of the seriousness of the potential situation. The claim was later retracted, although the retraction did not feel very public, if that makes sense. Those who were Members at the time say that if they had known that what was claimed was not the case, they might have voted differently. If my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) was still present, it would be interesting to have a semantics debate on that point.

Members of Parliament have to make a judgment on what is presented to them at the time. To be fair, although I cannot remember which witness—Lord Wallace of Saltaire, perhaps—restated the point that as a rule

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the Attorney-General’s advice is not disclosed to Parliament, last year the Attorney-General did disclose parts of the advice in order to help some Members come to a judgment. However, there was seen to be so much double questioning of the intelligence services, that I thought it was a sad day, in a way. In effect, Parliament and a lot of our constituents who contacted us—principally through the 38 Degrees campaign website—seemed to lose faith in our intelligence services; if they did, that is a worrying sign for Parliament.

I believe that to declare war on others is the prerogative of the Queen—the sovereign—advised by the Prime Minister. Going back to what happened last August, that was not the motion we voted on; indeed, the Prime Minister did not seem to be setting that out. Even on the day of the debate, however, he was limited in what he was able to share with the House and, to some extent, people again had to make a judgment call.

I do not endorse the comments in the report, although it was thoroughly done and I respect the views in it, because I am concerned about the stage towards which we are moving. I am starting to hear regular comments such as, “Why aren’t we spending more on defence?” but there is a greater reluctance to see our armed forces engaged in action at all. There is an interesting judgment to be made there, too: do we need such a large defence budget if that is the expressed will—rather than the actual will—of all our constituents?

I will leave that point there, except to say that we do not have perfect information. I still think that we should try to trust our intelligence services and the good people in the Government. We are all Members of the House, but at the end of the day they have had access to more information than the rest of us. Perhaps more Privy Counsellors should be made aware of the knowledge available at the time—that might be a way forward—but if the Committee’s proposal is ever put to Parliament, my instinct will be to vote against.

Mr Allen: The hon. Lady is making a rational and sensible contribution, which echoes many of the debates that we had in Committee before we came to our position. I need to reassure her immediately that there is no blanket need for some sort of armchair guesswork in Parliament before anyone is deployed in a zone of activity. On many occasions, the Executive—the Government—will have to respond quickly. When the hon. Lady was at her previous appointment, I mentioned that if bombs were falling on London as we were speaking, we would not check the time and say, “See you next Tuesday. Let’s have a chat about it.” We would want our people up in the air and responding. I put on the record again, for her benefit, that our recommendation is not clear-cut and black and white. That is why, through engagement with the Government and Parliament, we could find a form of words that satisfied not only me but, perhaps more importantly, the hon. Lady if she came to vote on a motion of that sort.

Dr Coffey: I respect what the Chair of the Select Committee says. I will leave that point about conflict and speak briefly on the convention.

My last memory of a constitutional convention is the one pertaining to the European Union. Under the leadership of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the great and the good met, including hon. Members on behalf of the

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House—I am trying to remember which ones; it was perhaps the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the former Member for Wells. We all know what resulted: a constitution, in a huge, thick book, including a huge transfer of powers, with no popular endorsement in most countries. Even when certain countries had a vote, they were invited to vote again when they got the wrong answer. In this country we expected a referendum on that constitution, which, but for a few niceties of minor detail, suddenly became the Lisbon treaty. There was no popular vote to endorse it.

I am glad that the Government introduced the European Union Act 2011, so that we will have a vote on any major transfer of powers. I am pleased that the Opposition now have policy proposals to go even further, with an in/out referendum on every single potential transfer of powers. I prefer the solution favoured by the Conservative party—I will not say by our Government—which is to have a decisive referendum in a few years’ time. That is why I am anxious about the idea of another European Convention.

I recognise the work in the report on how we should engage people more. Members of Parliament continuously try to engage their constituents in issues of the day. Let us be clear, however, that even on the most contentious issues, when we have had votes in the House, less than 1% of my electorate have contacted me. The challenge will be interesting.

I recognise that there is growing anger about the so-called English question. I question, though, whether regional devolution is what matters. Regional assemblies have already been rejected resoundingly up in the north-east; proposals for a mayor have been rejected in most of our cities, when put to the vote; and in consequence, we almost have a happy medium on most things involving local government in England, with the exception, I would argue, of the imbalance in the size of constituencies. It still amazes me that when I ran for election against the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) in 2005, there were fewer than 50,000 electors, in a constituency where all those powers have been devolved; I now represent 77,000 electors in a place where all the powers are essentially within the English Parliament. That issue needs looking at, but whether it needs a constitutional convention I am not sure.

Ged Fitzgerald, the chief executive of Liverpool city council, made the following point when he was interviewed in 2012—I mention Liverpool a lot, because I grew up there. In essence, 91% of Liverpool’s revenue is based on Government money, so the local population feel a lack of empowerment. Contrast that with many other councils whose Government-sourced income is less than half of their total income, meaning that they have to levy a lot of often unpopular charges. Councillors feel those things more, which is why they are so adept at lobbying MPs and the Government to get a fairer funding settlement for local government. I suggest that one of the ways we should go about that is to work towards a situation in which no council relies on the Government for more than—I am plucking a figure out of the air—60% of its budget. We have made a step in the right direction by reducing the grant, and substituting it with the proportion of business rates retained. I may be wrong about this, but I think that the budget in Liverpool, with the business rates, was higher this year than it was last year, although not in real terms.

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Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op) indicated dissent.

Dr Coffey: The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, so I will accept that. I will do some more work. It is, however, right that we put power back more locally. I simply sound a note of caution. I grew up in Liverpool in the 1980s. That is why I became a Conservative: it is thanks to Derek Hatton. When the council had control of all the different levers, dare I say it, a lot of tax rates went up and a lot of people and businesses left. It is one reason why the population dropped suddenly, as those people went to other areas around Liverpool to escape the high-tax regime.

I apologise to hon. Members: I said I would speak for a short time, but this is probably one of the longest speeches I have made in Parliament. The topics are interesting, and having two debates in one is a novel and wonderful idea.

3 pm

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I am trying to resist the temptation to be drawn into a debate about Liverpool. All I will say in response to the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) is that the current Labour council there, led by Mayor Joe Anderson, is hosting an international festival of business, attracting business, and working well with central Government through its city deal.

I join others in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) for his brilliant chairmanship of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, and to all members of that Committee for their work. That work is critical to our efforts to address the issue my hon. Friend spoke of at the end of his speech. Frankly, there is a crisis in our democracy because of the disconnect that people feel between their life and what we politicians do, in this place and more generally.

It is good to set that as the frame for our debate on these two important, thorough and rigorous reports by the Committee. Each report is on an issue of profound significance for our constitutional arrangements, and both concern the fundamental principles on which our system is built. I shall address them in turn.

I will begin by talking about Parliament’s role in decisions about conflict and war. As other hon. Members have said, it is an issue that goes to the heart of how our constitution can ensure the effective separation of powers, a long-standing and vital principle that ensures that the judiciary, the Executive and the legislature have separate roles and functions, so as to protect the nation and its people from tyranny. The power to deploy troops in a conflict situation goes to the heart of the principle of the separation of powers.

As my hon. Friend has said and as the report acknowledges, this is a difficult issue. We want the flexibility that the royal prerogative has allowed the Executive, but as democrats we rightly expect that Parliament, on behalf of the people, should have a say. At the same time, as the report acknowledges, there are enormous challenges in keeping the courts out of decisions about peace and war, as those are rightly decisions to be made by elected politicians. The powers that derive

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from the royal prerogative remain, in a sense, an oddity of our parliamentary democracy. The constitutional writer A.V. Dicey said that they are the

“residue of arbitrary and discretionary authority”.

I do not think that prerogative powers sit easily with our modern concepts of democracy, and those of us who favour further reform feel slightly uneasy about them.

Nevertheless, the power to deploy troops is a prerogative power and is arguably the one of utmost importance. The decision to take military action should never be taken lightly. It is literally a decision of life or death, and as others have said, it can have long-lasting consequences for our nation. As my hon. Friend said, we need to learn lessons about how to do things better in this regard in future. Putting our troops in harm’s way should not be a decision made without due diligence and consultation.

There is a case to be made that the convention that has developed in recent years that Parliament should be consulted on such decisions shows the maturity and flexibility of our constitution. My hon. Friend reminded us of the events in the build-up to the war in Iraq 11 years ago, and in his exchanges with the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) we relived those moments. What was clear was that we had a vote in 2003; indeed, as the hon. Gentleman said, we had several. That, in a sense, was unprecedented and has created the new convention, which is crucial to this debate. Since then, when action was taken in Libya, Parliament was consulted immediately afterwards, and, as we have already heard, a potentially momentous constitutional moment occurred when the Government attempted to secure parliamentary support for action in Syria. Parliament did not provide that support, and the Prime Minister rightly said that he respected its decision.

The report sets out in a helpful way the options for taking the matter forward. One option is simply to have a strong convention—a development of the convention that has built up over the past 11 years from the experiences on Iraq, Libya and Syria. Others advocate new legislation. The report proposes that Parliament adopt a resolution. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that there are wide-ranging views on the matter, and suggested that he would support attempting to make the convention as strong and solid as possible, but we know that previously the Foreign Secretary intimated that legislation may be the preferable route.

Of course, it would be best to have a single view from Government. I do not say that in a partisan sense, as this is clearly a matter of utmost importance, and it is right that it be debated within the Government, as well as in Parliament. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North acknowledged, the decision to deploy troops is a difficult one, which sometimes has to be made very quickly and may sometimes be unpopular but nevertheless be deemed necessary.

One concern is that putting the convention into legislation could open such decisions up to judicial review. Although the courts have previously made it clear that certain royal prerogative powers should not be challenged through judicial review, where there is legislation there is always the potential for judicial review.

The report also points out, as did several contributions to the debate, that there are definitional issues. The nature of war has changed fundamentally since the 19th

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century, and indeed since the 20th century. There is a vast array of different operational options. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) spoke about Helmand; the action there was in the middle of the conflict in Afghanistan, so would that be covered by legislation on this issue? The threats we face in the 21st century are real and dangerous, and no Member would want us to compromise on security.

My view is that the report’s proposal of a parliamentary resolution is interesting and should be considered seriously. Questions remain that would have to be thought through thoroughly with independent legal advice. Would the resolution merely state that Parliament must be consulted, or would it give Parliament the power of veto? What language would be used to cover the definitional issues? It is critical that we work together on the matter, on a cross-party basis. The Labour party is happy to take the issue forward, working both with the Select Committee and with the two Government parties to see whether we can achieve consensus, based on the Committee’s proposal for a resolution.

I turn to the second report, which assesses the case for a constitutional convention. I welcome the diligent work and research that the Committee and its staff have obviously undertaken in producing the report. It goes without saying that it comes at a critical time. We are fewer than 100 days away from the people of Scotland going to the ballot box to decide the issue of independence.

Our view is that the United Kingdom has been a successful political union. The Acts of Union in 1707 brought our countries together and placed power in this place, the Westminster Parliament. Since then, the rules and principles of our constitution have evolved. The report quotes Professor Vernon Bogdanor, and it is worth repeating what he says, as it is often forgotten quite how much constitutional reform there has been in the past two decades:

“We have all been living through an unprecedented period of constitutional change, an era of constitutional reform which began in 1997 and shows no sign of coming to an end.”

After such a period of transition, and with seemingly more change on the horizon, there are strong arguments in favour of having a constitutional convention to discuss the direction we are heading in, to give a voice to the whole United Kingdom, and to ask the most basic question: what can we do better? I very much support the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North that any further constitutional change should be rooted in the two principles of union and devolution.

The report helpfully looks at international examples of such conventions. In Iceland, a national forum took place four years ago, involving 950 citizens selected randomly from across the country. In an age in which the public feel disconnected from their politics, such an initiative has real attraction. In Canada, which established a citizens’ assembly, the fact that the public felt involved clearly meant the process had some worth, even though the final proposals were not implemented in practice.

At the same time, there are reasons for caution. In his evidence, Iain McLean pointed out that successful conventions usually require overwhelming political support for change. Setting up a convention without the political will for change risks creating a fine exercise in democratic citizenship, but without an outcome at the end. There is a danger that we could see the existing disenchantment with politics worsen.

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As the report acknowledges, there needs to be a question for a convention to answer, but there also needs to be a broad political coalition that wants the answer to that question. The example I want to highlight is the Scottish constitutional convention before 1997. At that time, there was a clear commitment from the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and a large swathe of Scottish civil society to the principle of devolution. The convention was therefore asked not to answer the question, “Devolution—yes or no?” but to say what Scottish devolution should look like, and that proved a great success.

The Labour party is therefore not against the idea of a convention outright, but more groundwork needs to be done on exactly what question we need to answer. There is—let us be frank about this—no lack of potential questions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North described some of them: the English question; the West Lothian question; further devolution to the nations of the United Kingdom; devolution to the regions and the cities of England; localism; regionalism; broader political reform; and reform of this place, including, crucially, of the second Chamber.

We may well be coming to an appropriate moment for a constitutional convention, but further groundwork needs to be done to make sure it has a clear remit for change and is supported by as wide a political consensus as possible. A convention must not be an exercise in kicking difficult issues into the long grass; however, if it provides an opportunity to engage the people of the United Kingdom in a serious debate about how we best improve our democracy, it is certainly an option worth considering.

3.13 pm

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Greg Clark): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir, and to respond to two reports by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. May I say how useful it is that the Committee has given us the opportunity to debate these issues? The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) presides with great accomplishment over the Committee, which the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) accurately described as comprising a lot of the most thoughtful and well-motivated people dealing with this issue. However, I am not sure that the hon. Member for Newport West chose his adjectives correctly when he talked about opinions on the Committee ranging “from the deepest red to the densest blue”—I think he meant the most brilliant blue, but we know what he means.

Let me start with the constitutional convention. I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham North for his generous remarks about my involvement in that particular question of devolution. Given that the Government responded to the report in November—however opaquely, in the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope)—I will be relatively brief, although I hope I can clarify some of the opacity he alluded to.

As the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said, there needs to be a compelling case for establishing a constitutional convention, but none has been made at this time. Indeed, some members of the Committee, including my hon. Friend, took the same view.

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When we say that our approach to constitutional reform should be guided by public demand and responsiveness to local circumstances to have the greatest chance of success, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch regards that as unclear. However, having known his views for many years, I should have thought that that was exactly the kind of Conservatism he would espouse—that things should emerge in the most appropriate way, rather than being engineered by some central body and imposed on a surprised nation. That—I perhaps put it less elegantly than he could—was the intention behind the Government’s response.

Like other members of the Committee, my hon. Friend knows that, unlike the constitutions of other countries, the UK constitution was not born out of revolution or an independence movement—it evolved. Nor do we owe our constitutional settlement and political institutions to a single point in time or a uniform set of principles; we owe them, of course, to centuries of history, throughout which the differing cultures and traditions of these islands have woven together.

Indeed, if we look at the devolution settlements to date, we recognise that. We have different arrangements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, reflecting their different historical and political identities, their differing needs and the appetite for devolution in different places. Each took a different path to devolution, and their individual settlements reflect that.

In the same way, the original devolution Acts contain a range of order-making powers, which have allowed for adjustments over time to make each individual settlement work better. This Government, too, have made commitments on devolution, and we have delivered. For example, in Northern Ireland, the transfer of policing and justice functions to the Assembly and Executive in 2010 reflected the continuing development of the political process there. Last year, the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive committed to examining the potential for devolving additional fiscal powers.

In Wales, we delivered a referendum, which resulted in the Assembly assuming primary law-making powers. We have established the Silk commission to consider the Assembly’s powers. The outcome of that work is the Wales Bill, which sets out a significant package of reforms giving the Welsh Government more levers to deliver economic growth and strengthening their accountability.

In Scotland, the Scotland Act 2012 will see the Scottish Parliament take on responsibility for raising as well as spending money, which will see the amounts it is responsible for increase from 16% of devolved spending in Scotland to nearly a third of the total block grant.

In each case, devolution has been driven by, in the words of the Committee, a continuing conversation about the differing needs of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. Devolution in England is a case in point. The previous Government promoted the prospect of greater regional devolution—an idea that did not resonate. With some justification, many people in the north-west, for example, feel a greater attachment to, and identification with, cities such as Manchester and Liverpool than with an administrative Whitehall-conceived region called the north-west, which would submerge those historical identities.

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This Government have not, therefore, continued to pursue devolution to those regions, and the Committee’s findings support that. We have established the McKay commission to explore how the House of Commons might deal with legislation that affects only England, and Ministers are considering its recommendations, so I am afraid that, on this matter, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will have to continue showing his legendary patience a little longer.

The fact that devolution has not happened in England in the same way as in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland does not mean that power is not being pushed out from the centre. The remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham North underlined that. I have had the great privilege of being associated with a Government programme that has decentralised more power than has happened for decades. In fact, members of the hon. Gentleman’s own party have been generous enough to acknowledge that the present Government have made greater progress, in many respects, than was achieved in the 13 years of the previous Government. We have introduced local enterprise partnerships, and we signed two waves of city deals. I shall be in Cambridge this evening to sign one, and I was in Teesside and Sunderland on Monday to sign another.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby mentioned the city deal struck with Liverpool. I was at the international festival for business in Liverpool, which is already proving a great success at establishing a new reputation for the city; that contrasts with the reputation that it acquired in the dark days of the ’70s and ’80s, which my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) correctly said was injurious. It is now deliberately creating a reputation as a good place to do business, and an attractive location for businesses from around the world.

The approach to decentralisation and localism in those initiatives gives localities the right of initiative; they can tell central Government what can be done differently, so that they, knowing their economy and people, can operate in the way most likely to help them grow and prosper. We are totally committed to further empowering communities right across the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Nottingham North mentioned the evidence that Professor Iain McLean gave to the Committee, but I was struck by another part of his evidence, when he said:

“The main problem for a proposed UK constitutional convention is that nobody in England, representing 85% of the population, seems to feel much urgency about it.”

I think that is a fair reflection of the state of debate in the UK at present.

Against the backdrop of continuing reforms and without a strong political impetus, especially in England, for a constitutional convention, it is doubtful whether it would be as successful as some previous initiatives, which went with the grain of public opinion, might suggest. However, I know that the hon. Member for Nottingham North will accept my assurance that I and the Government will not give up. I sincerely hope that he is right in wishing me the opportunity to continue doing my job for many years; his Front-Bench colleague, for whom I have the highest regard, may want to enter a caveat about that. Nevertheless, I reiterate on the Government’s behalf the commitment that we share to the further transfer of powers outwards from the centre.

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Mr Chope: I have a question about Scotland. Perhaps the Minister’s constituents are not like mine, but mine are increasingly concerned about the fact that people living in England seem to have no say over the future relationships of the United Kingdom. There is a prospect that on a simple majority vote the Scots could become separate from the United Kingdom, so where does that leave ordinary people who live in England but want to stay in the Union?

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend and I share a view, which you, Mr Weir, may not share but are constrained from commenting on, that that eventuality will not arise, and that the people of Scotland will commit themselves to being part of a United Kingdom that has proved an extraordinary success for all its nations. The McKay commission of course was set up to address those matters, and did so in a considered way, with a recommendation. My hon. Friend pointed out that the Government had not responded formally to the commission; we will do so, and it would be wrong to pre-empt that collective response to the advice we have been given.

We have had a useful and lively debate on the role of Parliament in conflict decisions. I must beg the Committee’s patience again, and say that we will respond to its report soon. It is right, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North said, to weigh things carefully, because the decision to deploy British troops in overseas conflicts is one of the most momentous that a Government can take. In 2011 the Government recognised that a convention had developed in Parliament that before troops were deployed overseas the House of Commons should have an opportunity to debate the matter except when there was an emergency and such action would not be appropriate. That convention has since been recorded in the Cabinet manual and the Government’s commitment to it was most recently demonstrated by the decision to request the recall of Parliament on 29 August 2013 to debate the role that the United Kingdom should play in relation to the conflict in Syria.

There have been suggestions that the convention should be formalised, either by parliamentary resolution or by statute, and both the House of Lords Constitution Committee and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee have held inquiries to explore the matter. The hon. Member for Nottingham North will know that they reached different views. Their lordships concluded against formalisation in their report of 17 July, arguing that the existing convention was the most appropriate mechanism by which Parliament could be involved in conflict decisions. In our response to the Committee’s report, the Government communicated our continued support for the convention and advised that we would carefully reflect on the case for formalisation before informing Parliament of the position. Since then, of course, the Committee has put forward its case for formalisation.

The first recommendation from the Committee was that the Cabinet manual should be updated to include a reference to the events in the House of Commons on 29 August 2013. The current manual refers to the fact that

“In 2011, the Government acknowledged that a convention had developed in Parliament that before troops were committed the House of Commons should have an opportunity to debate the

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matter and said that it proposed to observe that convention except when there was an emergency and such action would not be appropriate.”

The Committee makes a reasonable point in suggesting that that should be updated to reinforce the importance and value of that convention by reference to the events of 29 August. The Government accept the recommendation. We will respond in due course to the other recommendations, but it seems reasonable to tell the House today that we will change the Cabinet manual at the time of the next major revision.

The Committee requested that the Prime Minister should give a specific Minister responsibility for making progress on formalising Parliament’s role in conflict decisions, and appoint a senior civil servant to support the Minister in that work. The Government already have a clear governance structure in place, and of necessity that is an area that cannot be devolved to a single individual. It must command the attention and involvement of very senior Ministers in different Departments and cannot be compartmentalised in a pure way. Overall responsibility for constitutional policy rests with the Cabinet Office and is overseen by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, but he works on those matters in close consultation with other relevant Cabinet Ministers, including the Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and Attorney-General. Support to all Ministers is informed by advice from the national security secretariat. Decisions on the Government’s legislative programme are made collectively by the Cabinet.

The Committee ultimately recommends that the convention that Parliament be consulted before UK troops are committed overseas should be enshrined in law and that, as an interim and more immediate measure, a parliamentary resolution clarifying and formalising that convention should be adopted. The report contains a draft resolution.

It is worth noting the success of the existing arrangement, which has ensured that this Parliament has been consulted on both the major conflict decisions that have arisen since 2010: Libya and Syria. The Government believe that the Prime Minister’s decision to recall Parliament to debate involvement in Syria on 29 August 2013 further demonstrated the Government’s unwavering commitment to the existing convention.

The Government have been considering the complexities and risks associated with formalisation of the current convention, either by legislation or by resolution. As the Committee recognises, formalisation by statute risks rendering deployment decisions justiciable. The Government’s view is that either a statute or a resolution could increase the risk of challenges being brought in the courts to various aspects of Government deployment decisions or decision-making processes. They are concerned that, even when there would be good arguments against such challenges, the potential involvement of the courts could undermine the operational independence and effectiveness of the armed forces, as well as international reliability and credibility.

Furthermore, formalisation by legislation or resolution of the House presents significant definitional challenges, which would require the resolution of difficult questions on the type of action or deployment that would trigger parliamentary involvement, as well as the nature of the exemptions that would apply for reasons of urgency

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and secrecy. I readily acknowledge that the Committee not only reflected on and noted those issues but proposed some solutions.

If the nature of the military operation were to change, perhaps suddenly, the terms under which approval had been given might no longer apply, and there might be ambiguity about whether they did or did not apply. That could limit the ability of UK forces to conduct operations until the matter was clarified or Parliament had been consulted, or could require the Government to seek retrospective approval, which could undermine the authority and initiative of commanders in perilous situations in battle.

The nature of armed conflict is evolving, driven by the development of advanced military technology and the range of situations in which armed forces might be deployed. Any definition could quickly become redundant, which could constrain the activities of the armed forces when deployed on operations. In relation to any exemptions for urgency or secrecy, as well as presenting similar definitional problems, it would be necessary to accept certain important constraints on the information that could realistically be provided to the whole of Parliament—for example, if action were taken on the basis of sensitive intelligence information to which only certain Members of Parliament were authorised to have access.

There is no doubt that this is a particularly complex matter that presents challenges associated with effectively capturing the existing convention in statute or resolution. There has been much deliberation of the matter and the hon. Member for Nottingham North, who chairs the Committee, is aware that it has been and continues to be subject to serious reflection by the Government.

A range of views was expressed to the Committee and the two Houses of Parliament came to different views on the same subject. The Government continue to reflect carefully on those positions and to examine the available evidence, including the differing conclusions and recommendations of the two Houses of Parliament, and to reflect thoroughly on the experience of the current convention. We will provide the Committee with further details of our position in our formal response shortly.

The Government have demonstrated that they remain totally committed to the existing convention that, before UK troops are committed to conflict, the House of Commons should have the opportunity to debate and vote on the matter, except in an emergency when such action would not be appropriate. We expect future Governments to observe that convention, which is why it is outlined in the Cabinet manual and, as I noted earlier, we will certainly accept the Committee’s recommendation that the document is updated to include a reference to the debate on Syria next time a major revision is undertaken.

I am grateful to the Committee for its report on Parliament’s role in conflict decisions. The Committee, because of its character, makes an important, considered and thoughtful contribution to the debate on this important constitutional arrangement. I would like to thank others who have contributed to the discussion, not least those in their lordships’ House and the individuals who submitted

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evidence. I assure all contributors that the Government remain committed to ensuring that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise decisions to deploy our armed forces overseas. We have not rushed to a judgment, which is a reflection of the seriousness of the issue and our desire to ensure that the right decisions are made instead of peremptory and perhaps wrongly based ones.

3.35 pm

Mr Allen: With your leave, Mr Weir, I will respond briefly to the debate. One beauty of a five-year, fixed-term Parliament is that it has a known final year. We are now in that known final year—a privilege that was not accorded to any of us in our previous political lives. It allows us time to think and to pause ahead of the clash that will take place in the 290-odd days, or whatever it is, before the general election. We can suspend hostilities, and a Parliament and a Government can look back on four years and perhaps think about the next five years. It provides a space where a bit of thinking can go on. I hope that my Committee has put into that space some thoughts that may be of interest and help to all those who aspire to government.

I am very grateful to the Minister for what he said about putting the new situation in the Cabinet manual. My Committee was in many ways partly responsible for securing the Cabinet manual being in the public domain. It is something that we can work with, and I am very grateful for what he said.

We should use the space that I referred to because both issues will not go away. When they revisit us, they could do so as crises. They could revisit us in a very different political environment. We have a moment when I hope that, as we are not in the midst of active war as we have been in the recent past, we can consider in a sober and quieter environment what we would do in those circumstances.

The constitutional convention and matters such as separation and devolution are key issues in our democracy. There is a demand from a growing and quite broad alliance, from the Mayor of London to the leaders of the core cities, the Local Government Association and even the RSA with its review of cities under Jim O’Neill, for a push now. People want greater power, a greater say and greater expression in their localities and, indeed, their nations.

In conclusion, I am grateful for what the Minister has said and for what my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), has contributed. We have a period now when some thought can go into what we might all want to put into our party programmes at the next election. It might even be possible, in my dreams, that the parties could see a consensus when one is jumping up and down and waving its arms in front of their faces and produce something that we could all agree on after the next general election.

I thank you, Mr Weir, for your tolerance over the time we have taken, but these are two very important debates, and we are better for having aired them publicly today.

Question put and agreed to.

3.39 pm

Sitting adjourned.