Armed Conflict (Parliamentary Approval)

Part of Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:14 pm on 15th May 2007.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton 5:14 pm, 15th May 2007

I understand that point. In practice, that may well be the case. It is extremely difficult to envisage a Prime Minister losing a vote on a matter of such weight and still proceeding. However, my point is that it is simply unacceptable, however unlikely it might be, that the constitutional position remains that he or she would be entitled to take that course. If Parliament has any sense of its own dominance in the final decision, that is not a situation that we can allow to continue.

It is equally true that there is at present no requirement to have a parliamentary vote on a substantive motion to take the country to war. That was the case when Britain went to war in the Balkans in the 1990s. There was lengthy fighting in Bosnia and in Kosovo for which there had been no parliamentary approval. It is also true that even where a vote is called, it can be arranged, as I am sure that all Members remember extremely well, at the last minute when British troops are fully deployed, just before the outbreak of hostilities, as of course happened on 18 March 2003. It is then extraordinarily difficult for Parliament to abort a build-up to war. Frankly, a pistol is being held to Parliament's head. In effect, Parliament would humiliate the Prime Minister as well as calling a halt to a process, which, by that stage, is almost unstoppable. That is not acceptable as adequate and proper consultation in a parliamentary democracy on a matter of such gravity.