Armed Conflict (Parliamentary Approval)

Part of Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:27 pm on 15th May 2007.

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Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 9:27 pm, 15th May 2007

This has been an extremely good debate, throughout which the House has been seen at its most thoughtful. It has involved a number of clear principles. It has been about making Government more accountable, about improving the standard of Parliament, about providing security along with accountability but without tying the hands of the Executive in operational matters, and about ensuring that the armed forces are strengthened by the knowledge that the public, through Parliament, are behind them.

Why did we table the motion? It was for a number of reasons. My right hon. Friend Mr. Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said that in recent history a wide range of parliamentary mechanisms had been used to confer legitimacy on military action, but that what was generally used was the mechanism that was least inconvenient to the Government of the day.

It is merely stating the obvious to say that the process in which we are involved today has been given impetus by the disquiet surrounding the current Government's handling of the run-up to the war in Iraq—a subject mentioned by many Members today—but there have also been positive drivers of that process. Both my right hon. Friend and the Leader of the House spoke of their long-standing personal commitment to improving the standing of Parliament. For my own part, I have long believed that the power to conclude treaties should be exercised ultimately through Parliament, and also that we should find better ways of holding our judges to account.

As was pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, the debate has given us an opportunity to make a significant constitutional change. What we have witnessed in recent decades is nothing less than the asset-stripping of Parliament. We have seen powers systematically taken to the Executive. We have seen powers taken to Europe. We have seen powers given away under human rights and devolution legislation. Today's debate has been a small, but none the less significant, attempt to start to take powers back to the House of Commons.

That brings me to the motion and the Government's approach. In essence, the Government have already accepted the case presented in the Opposition motion. It is a shame that the Government felt that they needed to table an amendment, in what was a Pavlovian party political step.