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 wholly agree. In terms of both Iraq and Afghanistan, we are currently unclear about what the Government believe will happen. We have not had adequate parliamentary scrutiny. I supported the operation in Afghanistan, and I was against that in Iraq. There is no argument against Parliament's considering a serious substantive motion about the future conduct of operations in both places. It would not be remotely unpatriotic for this House to address that. The circumstances in both countries are plainly wholly different from those that we thought we would face when we first intervened.

The second thing wrong with the process was the way in which, at every stage, the Government controlled all the information on which Parliament acted. Of course the Government have to be the principal source of information, but there are certain types of information that our conventions and statutes should require them to lay before the House as a matter of duty, not just of choice. The legal basis for the war should obviously be placed in a clear statement before the House. As it happens, I am not one of those who believe that the Attorney-General's full opinion should ever be made public and placed before the House, because that would get in the way of fearless advice. Moreover, if the whole thing had to be drafted for public consumption, that would alter every nuance of it. Rather, the conclusion should be set out as such, and as a declared statement of the legal basis on which the Government are proceeding. That was done during the Iraq war, but again, not willingly or in a straightforward fashion. It was pretty messy, and arguments continued about the whether the Attorney-General had wavered. It would have been much better to have had straightaway a requirement that the Attorney-General draft the legal basis for proceeding to war and place it before Parliament.