Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
Parliament’s role in authorising the use of military force should be strengthened, but the Government’s ability to act should not be compromised, says PACAC report
The post-Iraq consensus that Government should seek Parliament’s prior approval for military action is today strengthened by a report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC). It sets out what should be done, and by whom, when the use of military force is being considered, providing clarification for both Members of Parliament and the public.
- Read the summary
- Read the conclusions and recommendations
- Read the full report: The Role of Parliament in the UK Constitution: Authorising the Use of Military Force
Fundamental shift in interaction needed between Government and Parliament
The report calls for a fundamental shift in the interaction between Government and Parliament on these critical issues, highlighting a need for regular information sharing, rather than ad hoc, selective disclosure.
At the same time, it underlines the seriousness with which Parliament must take this responsibility and sets out a duty for all MPs to ensure they are up-to-date on defence and foreign affairs matters.
It also makes clear that “nothing should compromise the ability of governments to use military force when our national or global security is threatened.”
The report argues that without this knowledge MPs will be unable to effectively scrutinise and analyse Government policies and decisions, particularly in such a complex and rapidly-evolving area.
Commenting on the report, the Chair of the Committee Sir Bernard Jenkin MP 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.
“Governments must ensure that MPs are able to make an informed decision when scrutinising and ultimately deciding whether to approve or reject the use of military force: this means access to documents and sensitive information, and a beefed-up role for parliamentary Committees.
“For their part, every Member of Parliament must keep themselves fully informed of defence and foreign affairs matters with the utmost seriousness. It should be viewed a central part of the job we were elected to do. The ever-changing nature of modern warfare, and the grave consequences of approving or rejecting the deployment of force, demands nothing less.”
Key conclusions and recommendations
The royal war prerogative
The report argues that the power to deploy the UK’s armed forces should continue to reside with Government, under the royal prerogative. The Government’s ability to exercise the royal prerogative depends in turn on its ability to command the confidence of the elected House of Commons.
War power conventions
Following the 2003 decision by the Labour Government to seek prior Commons approval for military action in Iraq – an undeniable evolution in existing convention – there is now a clear expectation, both within Parliament and throughout the country, that wherever possible Government should take a similar approach in the future. This was strengthened by subsequent votes relating to Libya (2011) and Syria (2013).
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. When circumstances prevent prior approval from being secured, Government must take the earliest opportunity to make itself available to Parliament to be held to account. It highlights a lack of clarity in the Cabinet Manual and recommends an update to better reflect development of the conventions.
Formalising the convention: legislation and resolution
The report cautions against attempting to legislate for every conceivable scenario, citing the likelihood of unintended and unforeseen consequences. It nevertheless argues that the principles of Government accountability and effective Parliamentary scrutiny should be reinforced via a Resolution of the House, which clearly sets out the rights and responsibilities of both Government and the Commons. The report includes a draft Resolution to be considered and approved by the House of Commons.
The report argues that strong parliamentary scrutiny leads to better Government decisions and provides Ministers with the assurance that they are acting with the confidence of the Commons. But it also raises a wider concern: a lack of education and knowledge amongst MPs when it comes to defence and foreign affairs. This must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The report recommends that MPs have access to all but the most sensitive information regarding the possible use of military force, to ensure effective scrutiny of Government decision-making and policy. The Committee makes clear that it expects concrete proposals from the Government on how it intends to provide such information in its response and cites the provision of information to appropriate Commons Committees as one possible way of achieving this.
Latest News from
Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
Tougher actions needed to tackle driving while using a mobile phone13/08/2019 10:10:00
The Government should consider tougher restrictions on driving while using a mobile phone and stricter enforcement of the law to prevent the ‘entirely avoidable’ tragedy of deaths and serious injuries from related crashes on the roads, MPs say.
Funding for science research in universities in jeopardy, warns Lords Committee08/08/2019 11:20:00
The Augar Review did not take a holistic approach to the funding of universities and made no attempt to assess the potential impact of its recommended changes in the funding of higher education on the funding of research.
Government “complacent” about cost transparency failings in pensions industry05/08/2019 12:43:00
In its latest major report on the functioning of the UK pensions industry, published today, Monday 5 August 2019, the Work and Pensions Committee says it is “unconvinced” that the industry will rise to the challenge of providing clear, transparent information to pension schemes about the costs and charges of investments.
Post-Brexit agricultural funding must meet the needs of Scottish farming01/08/2019 11:25:00
In its final report on the future of Scottish agriculture, the Scottish Affairs Committee argues that Brexit presents an opportunity to address failings in the agriculture funding formula, which has led to Scottish farms and crofts receiving low levels of funding.
Fundamental shift needed for enforcing the Equality Act31/07/2019 10:05:00
The Women and Equalities Committee yesterday published a report on Enforcing the Equality Act: the law and the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Mainstreaming disability inclusion across DFID’s work is welcome but progress must continue30/07/2019 16:20:00
In a report published today, the International Development Committee has welcomed the Department for International Development’s recent work on mainstreaming disability inclusion but urges continued effort.
Inquiry on UK's financial obligations in the event of ‘no deal’ launched30/07/2019 13:05:00
The EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee launches an inquiry into the UK's financial obligations to the EU in the event of a 'no deal' in Brexit negotiations.
MPs to investigate children and young people in custody26/07/2019 14:20:00
The Justice Committee yesterday launched a major new inquiry into children and young people in custody.