Armed Conflict (Parliamentary Approval)

Part of Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 15th May 2007.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 3:46 pm, 15th May 2007

As I have said to other hon. Friends who have intervened, it is not possible to set out a precise number or quantification, even when we come to Standing Orders or however such matters are embodied. It has to be a matter for the common-sense judgment of the Government and Parliament at the time. Any of the five military deployments of the past 10 years that I referred to—Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq—would count as substantial deployments in the common-sense view of the Government and Parliament. It may not be as difficult to answer my hon. Friend's question on a case-by-case basis as he might think.

We call in our motion for this principle to apply to

"situations of war or international armed conflict", thereby excepting, of course, all domestic and routine military deployments. It is a matter for debate whether peacekeeping operations, which can also involve forces being drawn into danger and conflict, should similarly require parliamentary debate and approval.

We have drawn attention to the work of the Public Administration Committee and the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution as the basis of parliamentary consensus because we believe that the latter Committee's recommendation to consider changes by parliamentary convention rather than by Act of Parliament may provide the best way forward.

Finally, we have stressed in our motion that the Government's proposals to give effect to this principle should include

"mechanisms to ensure that the capability to react rapidly in emergencies is maintained."

No parliamentary procedure should stand in the way of the defence of the nation when it is under attack, when coming to the immediate aid of an ally or in meeting our treaty obligations. That is an extremely important point, because in NATO and the European Union we have obligations to take part in rapid reaction forces. Governments should not be constrained in taking action very quickly when necessary, provided that they are confident of being able to justify their actions in Parliament.