PASC 03-04 PN 14

Session 2003-04

Press Notice No.14


New plans would give Parliament a real say in crucial decisions over war and peace

Proposals to ensure that future armed conflicts could only be started with the express permission of Parliament are put forward today by PASC-the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee. A new PASC report (HC 422) also urges Parliament to play a bigger role in the approval of many other important government actions, carried out under ancient "ministerial prerogative" powers, handed down from Monarchs to Ministers over many years.

These powers, up to now enjoyed by ministers without the need to consult Parliament, include the right to conclude international treaties and the power to grant passports. PASC says that Parliament and citizens should have the right to know much more about the way these powers are exercised, and to intervene where it is appropriate.

The report suggests that a new Act should be passed to make Ministers list their powers so that Parliament can consider them and decide whether to play a more active role. This might affect functions such as:

·    the conduct of diplomacy,

·     the use of armed forces both within and outside Britain,

·    the granting of honours,

PASC accepts that many of these powers need to be held by Ministers, and that action often has to be taken quickly "in a complex and dangerous world". But, it says that the extent of the powers is "uncertain" and complains that for Parliament "there can be no effective accountability without full information".

The report commends the approach taken by Professor Rodney Brazier of the University of Manchester, who has drafted a Bill which would require the Government to list within six months the prerogative powers it uses. This list would be examined by a parliamentary committee which would consider whether statutory safeguards should be put in place to ensure that Ministers exercise these powers properly. The Bill is attached to the report. Specific urgent measures are recommended to ensure that decisions on armed conflict, treaties and the granting of passports are only made after Parliament has been fully consulted. There is special provision to allow governments to act quickly in military emergencies, while still requiring decisions to be approved by Parliament soon afterwards.

Commenting today, PASC Chairman Tony Wright MP said:

"For reasons of good government, Ministers need powers which allow them to take a wide range of executive actions. But democracy is ill-served by the current situation, which enables governments to hide behind the centuries-old shield of prerogative when they want to avoid or deflect the scrutiny of Parliament.

"It is especially frustrating that the Government is so coy about listing its prerogative powers. Parliament has the right to know what is being done by ministers, so that it can properly hold them to account.

"Fortunately a way forward is becoming clearer. There is a developing consensus that the prerogative should be subject to Parliament. Our report urges Ministers to consult the public on this issue and to come up with its own proposals. It would be a major step forward on the road to reasserting the central place of Parliament in our constitution".

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For further information please telephone Philip Aylett, Clerk of the Committee on 020 7219 3498.  Tony Wright may be contacted for press inquiries on 020 7219 5583.

Publications and evidence, including uncorrected evidence, is also available on the Internet at

For information regarding forthcoming meetings including venues and times please call the House of Commons Committee Information Line on 020 7219 2033 (updated daily).