Armed Conflict (Parliamentary Approval)

Part of Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 15th May 2007.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea 6:08 pm, 15th May 2007

I broadly agree. It is hugely important that we do not get so involved in our debates in this Chamber that we forget the potential implications for the people doing the actual fighting and risking their lives on the country's behalf.

There is a second aspect to the question of retrospective approval. It is very important that, if that retrospective approval were to be refused, the Government have maximum flexibility in respect of how our troops would be withdrawn. It cannot be demanded that, because the House of Commons has declined to give its support, our troops must be brought home in days or week, regardless of wider implications. I repeat that we must trust the Government to handle such matters in a sensible and flexible fashion. We must not tie their hands too much.

I shall make only two additional points, as I do not want to detain the House much longer. The first is that the motion asking the House to approve the Iraq war was incredibly complex. I have it here: debated on 18 March 2003, the motion was 32 lines long—a massive attempt to justify what the Government had in mind. A danger arises when it turns out that some part of a justification such as that turns out to be invalid. I shall read out part of the motion, although I stress that I do so not for partisan reasons but to illustrate my point. The motion seeking approval for the Iraq war began by requesting that this House

"recognises that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction...pose a threat to international peace and security"—[ Hansard, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 760.]

That was accepted in good faith, but we now know that no weapons of mass destruction existed. If the basis on which the House is asked for approval turns out to be totally invalid, what does that do to the legitimacy of a conflict? What message does it send to the armed forces in the field?

If a similar resolution is required in the future, I propose that, far from having 32 lines, it should have only one and a half. Of course, any Government arguing their case from the Dispatch Box will have to explain their views, and of course such matters will be debated on both sides of the House, but I believe that the motion itself—the formal, legal endorsement for going to war or entering into armed conflict—should be kept to the minimum possible length in order to avoid the risk to which I have referred.