Armed Conflict (Parliamentary Approval)

Part of Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 7:54 pm on 15th May 2007.

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Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham 7:54 pm, 15th May 2007

I shall wait to have my facts corrected, but I was trying to give an example of circumstances in which matters become deeply complicated.

Let us consider other areas of conflict in the world. I think that this was mentioned by Dr. Palmer. If we were ever to intervene in areas such as Darfur and Zimbabwe, the mission could creep and we might again be faced with a rapid escalation, which could mean a second vote in Parliament and a change.

I know that my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague has long opposed all aspects of the royal prerogative. It is a curious animal. When the Bill of Rights removed the royal prerogative from the King and gave it to the Prime Minister, it gave the Prime Minister more power than the monarch. The monarch depended on Parliament to give him the wherewithal to fight a war; once the removal of the royal prerogative had transferred that right to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister could deliver not only commitment to the war, but the money and equipment that he needed in order to pursue it. It is curious that history has been slightly misinterpreted in that respect.

Several Members have said that too much power is centred on the Prime Minister—I see nods across the Chamber—but are we seriously talking about diminishing that power? The power of the Prime Minister has been built up for various reasons, but not the least, and one of the most crucial, is that the media always want to focus on individuals. They convey politics to a mass audience by personalising the individuals involved. They believe that the grey areas of Parliament such as Committees are of no interest, whereas personality, such as that of the Prime Minister, is important. I consider it most unlikely that we shall ever be able to row back from the presidential era in which we live.

Overshadowing the whole of our debate has been the issue of trust. That, I think, goes to the heart of the debate. Trust in Governments has been declining throughout the world for a long time. At the time of the second world war and the conflicts that followed it, such as the war in Korea, the natural instinct of the British people was to rally around the political leaders and our troops. The Vietnam war changed that hugely, although it did not involve us. It changed the mood in America: people saw the media, and although they were being told that the war was a fight against communism and that the interests of the South Vietnamese Government must be defended, they did not consider that to be a cause worth fighting. They did not think that the South Vietnamese Government were a desirable Government in any case, and trust in what American Presidents were saying to them broke down. That influenced many people here. Over time, we have ceased to believe anything that our leaders tell us as a result of Iraq.

If the motion is passed tonight—if the Government genuinely want to introduce this change, and are able to overcome some of the serious handicaps and reservations that may have existed—I think that it may ultimately be of great benefit to Parliament, and do something to restore the very damaged trust that the electorate have in us.