Lords Constitution Committee

Lords seek evidence on war making powers

Thursday 11 August 2005

The Lords Constitution Committee is to conduct an inquiry on the use of the royal prerogative power by Government to deploy the UK’s armed forces. The Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, Lord Holme, said:

“This has been one of the most important constitutional issues of the past few years, on which feelings run understandably high.  It is important to conduct a thorough inquiry to identify how the requirements of democracy and national emergency can best be reconciled.”

The Committee invites evidence on the following themes:

  1. What alternatives are there to the use of royal prerogative powers in the deployment of armed forces?

  2. Can models, drawn from the practice of other democratic States, provide useful comparisons?

  3. Should Parliament have a role in the decision to deploy armed forces? 

  4. If Parliament should have a role, what form should this take?

    a) Should Parliamentary approval be required for any deployment of British forces abroad, whether or not into conflict situations?
    b) Should Parliamentary approval be required before British forces engage in actual use of force?  Is retrospective approval ever sufficient?

  5. Is there a need for different approaches regarding deployment of UK armed forces:

    a) required under existing international treaties;
    b) taken in pursuance of UN Security Council authorisation;
    c) as part of UN peace-keeping action;
    d) placed under the operational control of the UN or a third State?

  6. Should the Government be required, or expected, to explain the legal justification for any decision to deploy UK armed forces to use force outside the UK, including providing the evidence upon which the legal justification is based?

  7. Should the courts have jurisdiction to rule upon the decision to use force and/or the legality of the manner in which force is used.  If so, should that jurisdiction be limited by considerations of justiciability of any of the issues involved?

Constitution Committee Contact: (Thursday 11 Aug) Jennifer Smookler, tel: 020 7219 3871; (Friday 12 Aug) Jillian Bailey, tel: 020 7219 8659


Under the royal prerogative powers, a government can declare war and deploy armed forces without the backing or consent of Parliament.

However, the Government did allow Parliament a vote before the Iraq war in 2003, leading to calls that it should be required to seek Parliament’s approval before taking action in future conflicts.

In 2004, the House of Commons’ Public Administration Committee published a report on Ministers’ prerogative powers [HC 422], recommending that “any decision to engage in armed conflict should be approved by Parliament, if not before military action then as soon as possible afterwards”. The Government responded that they were “not persuaded” that replacing prerogative powers within a statutory framework would improve the present position. Since then, three Private Members Bills have been brought forward in Parliament, which seek to give Parliament a greater role in the exercise of these royal prerogative powers.

Written evidence

Submissions by e-mail are preferred (as attachments in Word) and should be emailed to constitution@parliament.uk. A single hard copy should also be sent to The Clerk to the Constitution Committee, House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW.

The Lords Constitution Committee was appointed “to examine the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before the House; and to keep under review the operation of the constitution”. 

Further information on the Constitution Committee’s work is available at http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/lords_constitution_committee.cfm

Committee Membership

Viscount Bledisloe
Lord Elton
Lord Carter
Baroness Hayman
Lord Holme of Cheltenham (Chairman)
Lord Monro of Langholm
Baroness O’Cathain
Lord Peston
Lord Rowlands
Earl of Sandwich
Lord Smith of Clifton
Lord Windlesham