There is an urgent need for greater clarity on Parliament’s role in decisions to commit British forces to armed conflict abroad, concludes the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
In its report, the Committee recommends that “the Government should as a first step bring forward a draft detailed parliamentary resolution, for consultation with us among others, and for debate and decision by the end of 2011”. The Committee points out that “much work in this direction has already been completed, and the process for decision should be relatively swift”.
Enshrine in law
The Committee welcomes the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to enshrine Parliament’s role in law, but says this is likely to be a longer-term project. Concerns around the feasibility of a statutory solution would need to be explored and resolved.
The Committee also recommends that Parliament’s current role in conflict decisions should be clearly described in the Cabinet Manual. The Manual, when published, is intended to be a single source of information for Ministers, civil servants and others on how government works.
The Chair of the Committee, Graham Allen MP, said:
“Iraq and more recently Libya have shown us that we need a clear statement of Parliament’s role in decisions to go to war, and we need one soon. The Government has said that Parliament has a role, but there isn’t an agreed position on what this role is, certainly not one that Parliament has ever agreed to. What we need now is a proposal from the Government that Parliament can debate before the end of the calendar year.”
The issue of Parliament’s role in decisions to commit British forces to armed conflict abroad was an area in which considerable work was carried out before the 2010 general election, particularly in the context of the war in Iraq, but without any concrete result.
In its recent report on the constitutional implications of the Cabinet Manual, the committee commented on the “surprising” omission from the draft Manual of any mention of Parliament’s role in decisions to commit troops to armed conflict. The issue became topical once again in the context of the ongoing military action in Libya.