Armed Conflict (Parliamentary Approval)

Part of Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:31 pm on 15th May 2007.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee) 5:31 pm, 15th May 2007

I have debated many times over the years with Mr. Meacher, but I cannot remember another occasion on which I have agreed almost completely with everything that he has said. For the sake of his left-wing credentials, and of my own position in my party, I will also say that I cannot think of any other subject on which we would get so close to each other's views. I endorse what he has said today, however, and I particularly agreed with him when said that the motion tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague had provided the opportunity for a significant constitutional change. We are not debating a small matter here.

Suddenly, resistance has crumbled to the important assertion of the role of Parliament in a modern democracy, and to the way in which we will establish legitimacy for going to war in future. This is therefore an important occasion. So far, the debate has attracted only what I would call the true believers, and only a few weeks ago they would have found themselves in a small minority. The Leader of the House was able to find a 1994 book, in which he put forward admirable sentiments—which, alas, were not adopted by the Government in which he has served for 10 years. Everyone else who has spoken has form on this issue, including through supporting private Members' Bills seeking to make this change, which have been flatly opposed by the Government.

It is important that we true believers not only rejoice on seeing the sinners coming to repentance, but take advantage of the occasion to give an indication of what we want to come out of this. The Government's amendment to the motion is expressed in broad generalities, but we must ensure that the process is changed, so that in some highly controversial future situation of which none of us can yet be aware, some future Government do not try to rely on the wrong bits of the proposals or slip back from where we appear to be going.

This change seems to be one of the few beneficial outcomes of the recent Iraq war. We are not, of course, debating the merits of the war today, but it is the controversy surrounding it that has led to this change. It has revealed how weak our constitutional arrangements for going to war have been, and the dissatisfaction with that process has produced this significant shift in position. The decision to take part in the invasion of Iraq was based on the Prime Minister's power to advise on the exercise of the royal prerogative, and it is long overdue that we should assert, in contradiction to that, that the Prime Minister and the Government derive their power from Parliament, not from the monarch, and that the arrangements resulting from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 are totally unacceptable to Parliament in 2007. I very much hope that the Lord Chancellor's defence of the 1688 Glorious Revolution and the royal prerogative on this subject, made only two weeks ago, will be the last defence of that arrangement heard in British politics from any sensible source.