MPs demand greater say in approving use of military force in wake of Iraq war

Posted On: 
6th August 2019

MPs must be given more access to sensitive information as part of a “fundamental” shift towards making sure they sign off on any military action, a cross-party committee has said.

The PACAC said "the landscape has shifted in the wake of the Iraq war" on the role of the Government and Parliament
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The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said “regular” information sharing was needed over “selective disclosure” following a shift in the role of MPs after the Iraq War vote of 2003.

The MPs said there had been an “evolution” in convention following the Commons' decision to back Tony Blair’s government and later regarding strikes on Libya in 2011 and Syria in 2013.

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However, in a new report they said: "Nothing should compromise the ability of governments to use military force when our national or global security is threatened, but a clearer role for the House of Commons is necessary in order to underline the legitimacy of the use of military force, and to give the public confidence that the Government is being held to account."

The committee added: "Expanding the role of the House of Commons, and of its committees, and giving them greater and, in some instances, full access to information would strengthen both the scrutiny and development of policy in relation to foreign affairs and defence…

"The House of Commons must have access to as much of the information as possible so it can carry out effective scrutiny of the Government’s use of military force.

"In the twenty-first century, this means access to all but the most sensitive information at the earliest opportunity."

The group called for a Resolution of the House that would formalise the precedent, but would stop short of a change in legislation which could hamper the Government’s ability to react quickly.

The MPs said: “We are persuaded by the evidence that any attempt to legislate for all possible contingencies and exceptions would lead to unintended and unfortunate consequences, including the unwelcome possibility of judicial review of government decisions as well as legal action against members of the Armed Forces and consequent uncertainty in relation to the deployment of military force, which could be detrimental to the national interest.”

It added that when circumstances do not allow for prior approval, ministers must take "the earliest opportunity" to make itself available to Parliament to be held to account.

“The report fully accepts the need for nimble, discreet decision-making, and acknowledges concerns expressed by military personnel about the impact of protracted deliberations on preparations."

'LACK OF EDUCATION'

However the committee also raised concerns about a “lack of education and knowledge” among MPs on defence and foreign affairs, which needed to be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.

"One of the most serious concerns raised with us during the inquiry was the widespread lack of knowledge and education of many Members of Parliament in these areas," they said.

"It is the responsibility of every Member of Parliament to keep themselves educated so that they are prepared to engage effectively with these most serious of issues when the nation needs them to do so.

"It is also vital that the Government provide the House with the necessary information to enable effective policy scrutiny."

Committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin said: “The decision to embark upon military action is the most serious that a country can take, and the ability to do so rapidly and with discretion when our national security is judged to be under threat should never be compromised.

“However, our report recognises that the landscape has shifted in the wake of the Iraq war, creating new expectations for both Government and Parliament.

"It is beyond dispute that the legitimacy of the Government’s decisions to use military force comes from its ability to command the confidence of the elected House of Commons. This should be reflected in a new Commons Resolution."