Armed Conflict (Parliamentary Approval)

Part of Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 15th May 2007.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal 4:19 pm, 15th May 2007

If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a little more progress, I will give way to him shortly.

As Professor Lawrence Freedman explained in his evidence to the Lords Constitution Committee, since the end of the second world war Britain has been involved in

"more military operations than any other country including the United States".

Some of them were against "anti-colonial independence movements", but

"most were either interstate conflicts or interventions in intrastate wars".

The Lords Committee records that there have been 60 British deployments overseas since 1990, some of them minor, but five major—the Gulf war and the deployments in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, and, in the 1980s, in the Falklands. In each of the cases before Iraq, Government reported regularly to the House in the form of statements, and the issues were often debated, too.

Let me return to the first occasion in my parliamentary career when war was debated: in April 1982 in respect of the Falklands. There is no question but that Ministers at that time recognised the need to gain—in one way or another—the consent of Parliament. Indeed, Parliament was called to a special sitting on a Saturday. However, the debate was short—it was three hours long—and on the Adjournment, and those that followed were also on the Adjournment. I thought at the time that the Commons should have been able to express whether it consented in a tangible way—by vote. I thought that as a supporter—not an opponent—of military action against Argentina, because I considered that to be the proper role of the Commons. To echo a point made by Lord Bramall in the other place, I also thought that because I believed that our troops, some of whom came back maimed and others of whom never came back at all, deserved to know the level of support that was behind them from the people's representatives in this Chamber.