Constitutional arrangements for the use of armed force - Constitution Committee Contents

Chapter 4: Summary of Conclusions and recommendations

65.  The Government's intentions as to the role Parliament should play as the civil war in Syria has escalated have been unclear. It took some time for the Government to give a commitment that the House of Commons should vote before any arms are supplied to the Syrian opposition, and it is unclear how they intend to involve Parliament should Her Majesty's armed forces become further engaged in the conflict. (Para 21)

66.  Though other Government bodies have important roles in advising the Cabinet, preparing discussion there and implementing its decisions, we consider that it continues to be constitutionally important that the full Cabinet is the ultimate decision-maker on whether to use armed force overseas. (Para 25)

67.  Although the Defence Council possesses potentially significant legal powers, it is not in practice a meaningful part of the decision-making apparatus of the Government as regards the use of armed force overseas. In terms used by Bagehot, it could be seen as a dignified, rather than efficient, part of the constitution. (Para 33)

68.  The Government should amend the Cabinet Manual so that it includes a detailed description of their internal arrangements for advising and deciding on the use of armed force. (Para 35)

69.  The legality of a deployment is of overriding importance. The analysis and conclusions in this report are made on the basis that a proposed deployment is legal. (Para 41)

70.  We share the concerns expressed to us about the negative effect on the morale and operational independence of the armed forces of courts scrutinising operational decisions. (Para 55)

71.  The House of Lords is well-placed to debate the merits of deployment decisions. However, the decision on whether to approve a deployment decision should be vested in the House of Commons. (Para 60)

72.  Neither primary legislation nor a resolution should be introduced as a means of formalising the role of Parliament in approving deployment decisions. (Para 61)

73.  It seems that much of the impetus for formalising Parliament's role is to make a political statement about where decisions should be taken, rather than to correct deficiencies in the legal or military process. (Para 63)

74.  We conclude that the existing convention—that, save in exceptional circumstances, the House of Commons is given the opportunity to debate and vote on the deployment of armed force overseas—provides the best framework for the House of Commons to exercise political control over, and confer legitimacy upon, such decisions. It is flexible, effective and consistent with the existing structure of parliamentary scrutiny of the executive. Parliamentary control over the Government in this area should remain a matter of constitutional convention. (Para 64)

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